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

Manliness, Machismo, and Masculinity

mp3 Audio: Sbdn_Jeremy-Manliness-Circumcision_of_the_Lord.mp3

This homily was preached by Subdeacon Jeremy Conrad on Sunday, May 10, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services.

Epistle Reading: James 1:17-27
Gospel Reading: John 16:5-15

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

I’m going to go ahead and allow the girls and the women to stay in here, but this is a message predominantly to men. It will definitely have a lot of key points for women as well.

In the Epistle I read just a few minutes ago, the Apostle James says, “Wherefore my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:19-21).

So what is a man?

A few weeks ago, probably two or three months ago, I was having a conversation with Hunter at [a] shop there in North City. I was explaining to him the difference between a “guy” and a “man.” He said he wanted to be a guy. He said he is a guy.

I said I am not. I said, “I am male, but I’m not a guy.” I said, “I am a man.” And I explained to him the difference between the two.


According to the media and the things that are portrayed to us in our culture, a guy might be someone like Rocky [Balboa]. He’s a boxer. He’s a fighter, the ultimate fighting champion. He’s ripped with muscles, and he fights a lot. Or it might be like the Arnold Schwarzenegger character in the Terminator. [He’s an] action-adventure hero, and he can basically do just about anything – leap over tall buildings, you know, that kind of thing. He can do anything, and he can’t really get hurt.

You might have a man who’s really into sports. Maybe he plays golf. Maybe he plays football. Maybe he’s just watching it, and he’s the greatest fan of the Milwaukee Brewers or the. . . I don’t even know, other games, the Dallas Cowboys, things that people play. I don’t know. He’s their greatest fan.

Sometimes they put a man up as a tool man, Tim the Tool Man Taylor, and he grunts. That might be the portrayal of a man. Sometimes it’s combinations of all these. Sometimes it’s a hunter – a man who’s out gathering food for his family; and he has his gun or his bow and arrow, and he’s out hunting in his camouflage. I’ve heard, “If it’s brown, it’s down.” I’ve heard sayings like that. That’s a very [grunts] manly thing, according to our culture.

Some people put a man out as a partier. He’s a person who’s out with the guys. Maybe he’s got his bowling league that he goes to. [He is portrayed with] his red Solo cup in his hand. He’s a beer-drinking, burping kind of a man, scratching and all that. That’s a man, right? That’s what our culture portrays a man as.

Some of us say this new word I have recently heard called metrosexual. This is a man who is very prim and proper. He’s sculpted. He sculpts his chest hair. He sculpts his facial hair. He has his hair just in place. He even gets manicures. He has his nice car, his manicured suit, and he is out on the town to look his best.

We have farmers.
We have coal miners. We have construction workers – all those hard-working men.

We have girl-chasers. We have playboys and people who have lots of girls always on their arms.

We have the difference here being machismo versus masculinity. Machismo says, “I don’t wear pink.” Machismo says, “[Grunt] This is a man. I drink a beer. Come on, wife.” That’s machismo. Masculinity is something very different.

Our culture also portrays men often in sitcoms and things as the stupid dolt. His wife is dominant. He has no leadership. He’s an idiot.

What’s not included in any of our culture’s representations of masculinity or manhood is religion, Church, holy husbandry, or faithful fatherhood. Most of the time, our culture holds that in low regard while holding all these other things in high regard. Then is it any wonder why we have no men in our culture who are masculine, who will stand up and fight against things that . . .

Maybe [there is] sin in their family.
Maybe they need to protect their family.
Maybe there [are] a lot of things that men need to stand up for, and they’re not doing it, because the culture has given them these other images, these other icons to follow instead of the icons that we want to venerate and want to follow.


According to the Church, and according to the Bible, being a man is a battle. A man is a saint in the making, and there’s nothing more difficult in this life than actually becoming a saint or raising a saint.

There’s nothing more rewarding than being the leader in your home and bringing your wife and children to sainthood along with you.

[A man] doesn’t watch while his wife sits and talks to the serpent like Adam did – a poor example of what a husband should do. Instead . . .

I am not in contact with this man anymore, but I had a friend who used to play professional baseball. He was in Virginia. I don’t remember his name right now.   [He was a] tall, muscled, bearded man who had been a professional baseball player. Apparently he was . . .

. . . But very muscular.

I remember, one time we were at their church. Their family was coming forward to take Eucharist, and he had several children and his wife. They came forward. They all went to the altar rail to receive Communion, and he stood behind them. I don’t think he had his hands on his hips, but it was kind of like, “I’m standing behind my family, bringing my family to the altar rail to receive Communion.” And he didn’t move from there until every one of his family [members] had Communion, and then, when they stood up, he knelt down, and he got Communion.

I remember thinking,

“This man is bringing his family. They’re not following him. He’s not following them. It’s not like that. He brought them, and he placed them in front of the altar, and they took Communion together.”

And he’s a quiet man. I mean, he’ll get in your face if he needs to, but he’s a quiet man. Yet that, to me, when I looked at him, I thought, That is a man.”

The spiritual life is a bigger battle than any movie could portray. That spiritual battle is bigger and has bigger and [fiercer] monsters than any computer graphic artist could ever imagine. There is more combat, more struggle, more hardship, and more adventure in this life of a Christian man than any box office hit could ever put out. It requires more blood, more sweat, more tears, more perseverance and more courage than any superhero could ever muster.

When I was a child, there was a song we used to sing: “Oh be careful little eyes what you see.” Do you remember this song? Have any of you heard this? Then it would go to, “Oh be careful little hands what you touch,” I think. Then, “Oh be careful little feet where you go. Oh be careful little ears what you hear. Oh be careful little mouth what you say. For the Father up above is looking down in love. Be careful little eyes what you see.”

This battle that we are in is on a lot of fronts. It’s a battle for our eyes, for our ears, for our mouth[s], for our hands, and four our souls.


Again, the Apostle James tells us today, “Men, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear and slow to speak.” So let’s talk first about the battle for the mouth, for the tongue.

A few months ago, I did a homily on St. Benedict and silence and the importance of silence in the life of a Christian. Proverbs tells us, “Where words are many, sin is not absent” [cf. Proverbs 10:19]. We are, then, to be practicing silence:

Silence in our speech for sure. That’s obvious.
Silence in our postings on Facebook.
Silence in giving your opinion when it’s not asked.
Silence in joking.
Silence in texting.

Silence doesn’t mean simply not talking either. There are a lot of shy people who will not speak, but they are not practicing silence; they’re practicing fear. That is not manly. The “silent treatment” is also not practicing silence. It’s practicing passive-aggressive anger. That is not manly.

Silence also means listening. James says, “Be swift to hear, slow to speak which leads you to be slow to anger” [cf. James 1:19]. I’ve heard it said, “You have two ears and one mouth. You should use them accordingly.” Listen twice as much as you speak.

Silence means being slow to anger. 

James says, “The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” [James 1:20]. If speaking quickly and listening, taking a long time to listen, doing it in the opposite way, brings about anger, and anger and wrath “worketh not the righteousness of God,” then maybe we should back that up and do the opposite and be slow to speak, swift to hear, and slow to anger so that we don’t have those outbursts of wrath, so that we do exemplify the righteousness of God.

It’s very import, also, to realize that silence doesn’t mean a lack of “nothing.” You replace it with something else. Silence – you replace your talking, the noise that you make with prayer. Prayer is manly.

I sent a link to Father Joseph this morning because I was looking this up. There is a website you might be interested to find. It is called “Cordbands.” They’re manly rosaries. They’re rosaries and prayer ropes made out of paracord that they use in the military. There are beads, but they’re masculine looking. They’re tough looking. That way, if you do have a problem with machismo a little bit, and you don’t want to carry a little dainty rosary, get a Cordband, get a manly rosary, and pray that rosary, because the rosary itself is powerful! The prayers that are behind that rosary are powerful.

That’s where you’re going to find your battle. You’re going to be able to fight in this battle when you’re doing your prayers. So don’t replace silence with nothing. Replace it with prayers. Replace it with manly prayers to our Mother Mary and to the saints.

It is masculine and manly to practice silence, to be the strong, silent, praying type. 


Deuteronomy 6:4-9 has one of the most important commands in Scripture in it. God told Israel,

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” [NKJV].

I was also looking this morning, and I found that you can buy these little boxes with headbands on them, and the box opens up. You’re supposed to write Scripture verses on these papers, and put them in a box, and close it up, and then wear it on your forehead right between your eyes so that you can bind them as a frontlet between your eyes.

They sell these. Okay? They also sell similar things that wrap around your wrist so that it hangs on your hand. That way you’ve obeyed Scripture, right? You’ve bound it as a sign on your hand as a frontlet between your eyes.

What does this mean though for us? I’m not saying that’s bad to do. The frontlets between your eyes, meaning that your eyes are the window to the soul, and if you practice these commandments and remember that you have to keep them always before you – because that is the guard to getting in to you – you’ll realize that what He’s saying is, “Everything that you think about and let enter your mind: Remember this verse. And everything that you do with your hands, remember this verse.” As you rise up, as you lie down, as you go throughout the day, whatever you think, whatever you do, remember these verses. Remember these commands.

So, with regard to the Apostle James in our reading for today, Saint Bede the Venerable says this:

Filthiness [when James mentions the word filthiness] refers primarily to external things which corrupt our hands, whereas naughtiness [the superfluity of naughtiness that he mentions] refers primarily to internal things which corrupt our souls, [and] both [of these] must be overcome if we are to do good.”[1]

We have to protect our eyes and our hands.


Every time we do a Mass, Father Joseph and every priest who is doing the Eucharist, doing the Mass today – there is a period at which he stops using his fingers. You may see it. You may not.

But you’ll notice: It is in your book, in the book that you have there. When he begins to start doing the Canon of the Mass, and he’s starting to say, “In the night in which He was betrayed;” once he begins to touch the bread, he says, “This is My body,” and he places it onto the altar.

[From this point on], no longer can Father Joseph open these fingers except to touch the Eucharist, except to touch the bread, the Body at this point until, at the end, when his hands are washed in the Chalice afterward.

This is called “custody of the fingers,” and it happens every time we do a Mass. Notice today. You’ll see whatever he’s doing. . . I’m turning pages for him, because it’s difficult for him to turn pages like this. Father Michael’s learned to do it. He does it with these [other] two fingers sometimes.

Notice: Father Joseph has his fingers in custody, and he is not allowed to open them except to touch the Body of Christ until he washes his hands.


In Matins, we read from Job. And in Job 31, Job says, “I have made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman” [cf. Job 31:1]. A covenant with my eyes.

Jesus says that if we have looked lustfully upon a woman that we have committed adultery in our heart [cf. Matthew 5:28].

The eyes are the windows to the soul and the primary source of the soul’s corruption. So, just like Father Joseph has custody of the fingers, we have to have custody of our eyes.

I read a book a few years ago called “Every Man’s Battle,” and the term they used was “bouncing your eyes.”[2] Immediately, when you see something, you look away. Bounce them as if it’s something hot, and it burns your eyes. Look away. Look away. Bounce your eyes.

Have custody of your eyes when you walk through that line at the grocery store and those magazines are right there in front of you, right next to the bubble gum and candy bars. Bounce your eyes from movies and TV shows. Turn it off. Change the channel. You know what? Stop following that show. If there’s a television show that you follow religiously, but every few minutes or every episode, there’s something in there that is immoral or impure, don’t just change the channel for that minute, stop following the show! Bounce your eyes. Have custody of them.

Bounce your eyes away from immodestly dressed or even modestly dressed but physically tempting women. Bounce them from her body and look at her face. It’s easier to respect a woman’s dignity by looking at her face than looking at her body. And remember that she is an icon of Christ and a daughter of Mary, and when you look at her in a way that she should not be looked at – with impurity – it not only hurts you, but it’s damaging to her.

Avoid the places where you have difficulty. Don’t go to that beach. Don’t go to that swimming pool. Don’t go to that holiday world water park. If that’s where you have trouble, don’t go there.

The battle for the eyes is a very, very tough one, but we are not victims. We are men! We are strong, and we are relentless. And we fast, and we pray. And we need to build those battlements and defend them. It is very masculine; it is very manly to keep your eyes faithful to God and to your wife.


He says, “You shall bind them as a sign onto your hand and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.” And the battle for our hands includes everything that we do as well. Everything that we talk about, everything that we plan, everywhere we go, and everything that we do – this should be a sign upon our hand. I’m not saying that we can’t like to play sports. I have no problem with people who want to play golf, who like to have a game of pick-up basketball. I have no problem with that.

I have no problem with men who like tools, and who build things, and who create with their hands. I have no problem with hunting even for fun, for trophies, or for food for your family. Obviously we have no problem with farming or mining or things like that.

But that’s not what defines us! That is the arena in which our manliness, our masculinity is played out. That doesn’t define us for our masculinity. James says to put away all filthiness. Angry slaps, punching the wall, immoral sexual conduct with your hands, filthy gestures, video game thumb (Have you ever heard of that? People have carpal tunnel from typing. You can get the same thing from video games!). Do not tear down. You help others fix up and build up.

And men: Teach your sons to do the same thing. Women: Teach your sons to do the same thing. You have to ready them for battle. We are replacing these things that are evil, that are wicked, that are filthy, that are naughty with prayer and fasting. Instead, kiss your wife; hug your children, gesture with the sign of the Cross. Build up and don’t tear down.

And let the world know:

“I am a man. I have custody of my eyes. I have control of my hands. I have put away all filthiness. I have put away all naughtiness and wickedness. I am strong enough to have clean language. I am manly enough to pray and cross myself even in public. I am a warrior in the greatest battle that has ever been fought. I am a man, and I will lead my family to sainthood even if it kills me.”

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


[1] Bray, Gerald, and Thomas C. General Editor. Oden. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (N.T. XI). Downers Grove, ILL.: InterVarsity Press, 2000.

[2]  Arterburn, Stephen, Fred Stoeker, and Mike Yorkey. Every Man’s Battle: Winning the War on Sexual Temptation: One Victory at a Time. Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook Press, 2000.

This homily was preached by Subdeacon Jeremy Conrad on Sunday, May 10, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

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

Posted in James 1:17-27, John 16:5-15, Manliness, Subdeacon Jeremy Conrad | Leave a comment

A Rose-Colored Priesthood

mp3 Audio: 2015_03_22-Fr Joseph-A_Rose_Colored_Priesthood.mp3

This sermon was preached by Fr. Joseph Gleason on Laetare Sunday, March 22, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services.

Gospel Reading: John 6:1-14

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


Have you ever seen a symbol, or a color, or a word be hijacked by somebody else? A phrase, a word, a symbol that means one thing and has meant that thing for a very long period of time, and then some other group says, “Hey, I’m going to take that.”

Just imagine that you and your spouse are thrilled about the upcoming birth of your first child. You’re so excited. You get the baby’s room all ready. You decide to decorate it with Noah’s Ark. It’s a very common theme in the nursery. You put this picture of a big ship on the wall. You put all of these little pictures of furry animals. You put some water. Even though it would be accurate, you’re probably not putting floating corpses and things of all those that have been killed in the waters. You usually leave that out of the nursery. But the one thing you don’t leave out is the rainbow.

When you use Noah’s Ark in a baby’s nursery, one of the prominent themes is not just the ark and the animals, but the beautiful rainbow, the promise from God. Thousands of years ago, God puts this promise in the sky – in the sky! – promising that He never again will destroy the world through water. Have you ever wanted God to write His promises in the sky itself? Well this time He did? A beautiful rainbow!

Now I want you to imagine that somebody from an LGBT group shows up, and looks in your nursery, and sees the rainbow, and says, “Oh! You’re one of us! I appreciate you putting that rainbow up there. It’s a gay rights symbol.”

You scratch your head, and you say, “What? I didn’t… I haven’t even heard about this. What are you talking about?” So you go and research, and you find out that, sure enough, for the past few decades, that particular group has used this particular symbol. They do little lapel pins, and pictures, and tee shirts, and all sorts of stuff.

Now what do you do in response to this? Do you say, “Well, sure, I guess I must be one of you, because I’ve got a rainbow on the wall.”? Not necessarily.

Do you tear it down off the wall in embarrassment and say, “Well, since I, personally, am not part of that group, maybe I shouldn’t use this symbol. Maybe I shouldn’t use a rainbow.”

Or do you simply use this as an opportunity for loving evangelism, to smile at the person, and say, “Did you know that it has other meanings, too? We can talk about the meaning that you have for it some other time, but I want to tell you where this came from. This is really cool! This is awesome! Do you know where the rainbow came from?”

You don’t have to put down the other person. You don’t have to get angry. You don’t have to make a big deal out of it every time. You can talk about the positive thing. You can go to the Word of God. You can go to Scripture and say, “Look. Let me tell you where the rainbow came from. It’s thousands and thousands of years old! I didn’t make it up. You didn’t make it up. Let me tell you where it came from: Genesis chapter nine:

“Then God spoke to Noah and his sons with him saying, ‘and as for Me, behold, I establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that is with you: the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, of all that go out of the ark, every beast of the earth. Thus I establish My covenant with you. Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood. Never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’ And God said ‘This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you and every living creature that  is with you for perpetual generations: I have set My rainbow in the cloud; and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. It shall be when I bring a cloud over the earth that the rainbow shall be seen in the cloud; and I shall remember My covenant which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh. The waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh; the rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth” and God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth.” [Genesis 9:8-18]

See, maybe the other person came to you wanting to start a conversation about what they were interested in, and you simply turn it to the Scriptures. You turn it to Christ. You turn it to the Gospel. You start talking about Noah, and the ark, and salvation, and God, and His power, and creation, and baptism, and you show this person: “Oh my goodness! There is so much more to this rainbow than I ever realized. I just thought it was something pretty in the sky. I just thought it was a symbol for this particular group over here. Oh my goodness! This is a promise from God. This is a promise from God that He will not destroy the earth again for its wickedness using water.”

In fact, the things that that group stands for, the gay rights group, that’s part of the reason He sent the flood. Go to Scripture. See what sorts of sins they were involved in. That’s one of them. It’s not the only one, but it is one of them. And look at Noah himself. In the Bible itself, Noah ends up lying naked in his tent. Two of his sons have honor not to even look upon their father’s nakedness. But one of them is look at naked old Dad, and talking about it, and telling everybody else, “Hey! Dad’s naked in the tent!” Because of this, a curse comes down on him and his descendants while those who had the righteousness to back in, and not look at their father naked, and cover him with a blanket were blessed.

The rainbow does not belong to the gay rights group. It’s our symbol. It’s not theirs. And they can’t have it!

There are other things that have been hijacked too, not just the rainbow. There are other things that marketers from different groups have tried to steal from us, and change our minds about, and make us embarrassed about, not just the rainbow.


If we go to Hebrews chapter nine, we read about one of the holiest items of the entire Old Testament: The Ark of the Covenant. “Then, indeed, even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary. For a tabernacle was prepared: the first part, in which was the lampstand, the table and the showbread, which is called the sanctuary; and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All, which had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant; and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat” [Hebrews 9:1-5, NKJV/OSB].

Have you ever wished you could walk into the Holy of Holies, and peek into the Ark of the Covenant, and see these glorious relics? That’s what these are, by the way. The Church has always had relics, holy items passed down by the saints. Inside the Holy of Holies, we find two different cases of running into almond blossoms, blossoms from the almond tree.

First we look at the seven-branched lampstand. In the Eastern Rite Orthodox Church we still have seven-branched lampstands that go on the altar today, behind the iconostasis. This reminds us of the Light of Christ. Remember Jesus said that He is the Light of the World.

Well, how was this golden lampstand made? Was it just a simple golden lampstand with seven candles, and that’s it? Or was there more to it than that? In fact, the seven-branched golden lampstand was intentionally fashioned to look like it was covered with almond blossoms.  In Exodus 25 we read:

You shall make a lampstand of pure gold. The lampstand shall be made of hammered work: its base, its stem, its cups, its calyxes, and its flowers shall be of one piece with it. And there shall be six branches going out of its sides, three branches of the lampstand out of one side of it and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side of it; three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on one branch, and three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on the other branch—so for the six branches going out of the lampstand. And on the lampstand itself there shall be four cups made like almond blossoms, with their calyxes and flowers, and a calyx of one piece with it under each pair of the six branches going out from the lampstand. Their calyxes and their branches shall be of one piece with it, the whole of it a single piece of hammered work of pure gold. You shall make seven lamps for it. And the lamps shall be set up so as to give light on the space in front of it. Its tongs and their trays shall be of pure gold. It shall be made, with all these utensils, out of a talent of pure gold. And see that you make them after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain. [Exodus 25:31-40, ESV]

Almond blossoms are a central part of what this seven-branch lampstand in the Holy of Holies is. Remember that Jesus said that He is the Light of the world.

The other thing that we see in the Holy of Holies, inside the Ark of the Covenant is Aaron’s rod. Remember Aaron, the high priest, older brother of Moses? Aaron’s rod signifies the authority of the priesthood. It signifies the life-giving wood of the cross, and it signifies resurrection. Remember, Jesus said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.”

Now, God was fully in control over the type of wood that He used to fashion Aaron’s rod. God could have made sure ahead of time that it was made from the wood of some other tree, but God, in His wisdom, specifically ordained Aaron’s rod to made from the wood of an almond tree.


Did you know that almond blossoms are pink? Therefore God has ordained that pink flowers are uniquely representative of the holy priesthood. When you see Aaron’s staff budded out with flowers, which we will read about here in a second, and then bearing almonds, if that staff of Aaron represents the holy priesthood, then when those flowers bloom, what color vestments is the priest wearing? Pink!

almond blossomI have a couple pictures here of almond blossoms. While you are reading that, I am going to talk to you about the blossoming of [Aaron’s] rod.

When the Israelites grumble and complain about who has the authority of the priesthood, God uses pink flowers to settle the dispute once and for all demonstrating that the high priesthood has been granted to Aaron alone. In biblical times, a man’s rod was considered a natural symbol of authority. It was a tool used by a shepherd to guide and correct his sheep. As we read in David’s famous Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. . . and Thy rod and Thy staff  comfort me” [Psalm 23:1,4 in Masoretic Text, 24:1,4 in LXX].

In Scripture, the rods of both Moses and Aaron were endowed with miraculous power during the plagues of Egypt. In Exodus 7, God sends Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh once more, instructing Aaron that, when Pharaoh demands to see a miracle, he is to cast down his rod, and it will become a serpent. When he does so, Pharaoh’s sorcerers counter by similarly casting down their own rods which also become serpents. But Aaron’s rod swallows them all just like Christ swallows sin, and death, and hell on the Cross and defeats them.

In Numbers 16, Korah’s rebellion was defeated. And in Numbers 17, to put a stop to the Israelites’ grumbling over who bears the authority of the priesthood, God causes Aaron’s rod, miraculously, to be covered with pink blossoms and to bear almonds.

Numbers chapter 17, starting in verse [one]:

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, and get from them staffs, one for each fathers’ house, from all their chiefs according to their fathers’ houses, twelve staffs. Write each man’s name on his staff, and write Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi. For there shall be one staff for the head of each fathers’ house. Then you shall deposit them in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you. And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout. Thus I will make to cease from me the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against you.” Moses spoke to the people of Israel. And all their chiefs gave him staffs, one for each chief, according to their fathers’ houses, twelve staffs. And the staff of Aaron was among their staffs. And Moses deposited the staffs before the LORD in the tent of the testimony.

On the next day Moses went into the tent of the testimony, and behold, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds. Then Moses brought out all the staffs from before the LORD to all the people of Israel. And they looked, and each man took his staff. And the LORD said to Moses, “Put back the staff of Aaron before the testimony, to be kept as a sign for the rebels, that you may make an end of their grumblings against me, lest they die.” Thus did Moses; as the LORD commanded him, so he did.

And the people of Israel said to Moses, “Behold, we perish, we are undone, we are all undone. Everyone who comes near, who comes near to the tabernacle of the LORD, shall die. Are we all to perish?”  [Exodus 17:1-12 ESV]

It’s a symbol of life out of death. It’s a symbol of resurrection. It’s a symbol of the authority of the priesthood. It’s a symbol that takes place with a staff made of wood that God created, and the wood that God chose to become Aaron’s staff and to become the symbol of high priestly authority suddenly bloomed into life and was vested in pink flowers which bore fruit as almonds.


Also, in most recreations of Aaron’s breastplate – they had twelve gemstones representing each of the twelve tribes of Israel – at least one of the gemstones is pink. One of the stones, Odem [1], may be carnelian, according to some scholars. This stone ranges in color anywhere from pink to a dark red. It is believed by many to have been the precious stone associated with the Tribe of Judah.

Another stone, Ahlama, [2] is widely understood to be the amethyst. This stone ranges in color from a bright pink to a dark purple. It is believed by many to be the precious stone associated with the Tribe of Levi.

A third stone, Yasepheh [3], is most likely what we call sardonyx. It is a stone which has alternating bands of red and white. When this stone is carved, the resulting effect is often pink as can be seen in certain pink cameos which have been fashioned from this particular stone.

Now, we cannot be too dogmatic about the specific stones used in Aaron’s breastplate. Much of the information about it has been lost to time, and not all scholars are able to agree over the specific precious stones and their colors. But since three of the twelve stones naturally occur in forms which include pink in their color range, it seems fitting that, when artists depict Aaron’s depict Aaron’s breastplate, they usually include at least one pink gemstone. It also seems interesting that two of the gemstones which can be pink are associated with two of the tribes that are most closely associated with Christ Himself, our high priest.

Carnelian has been associated by some with the tribe of Judah, and we all know that Jesus is the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Others have associated amethyst with the tribe of Levi which happens to be the priestly tribe. Of course, Jesus is our great high priest.


Of course, the pink almond blossom is not the only flower which Holy Scripture associates with our Lord Jesus Christ. He is also called the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley. Saint Jerome quotes from the Song on Solomon and provides us with some helpful commentary:

“There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a flower shall grow out of his roots.”[4] The rod is the mother of the Lord— simple, pure, unsullied; drawing no germ of life from without but fruitful in singleness like God Himself. The flower of the rod is Christ, who says of Himself: “I am the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valleys.”[5] [6]

In this passage from the Song of Solomon, Dr. J. Vernon McGee points out some interesting things about this Rose of Sharon. Regarding this passage, he says, “Many of the older translators have tried to make it clear that it is the king speaking here. In the old English Bibles, this is said to be the voice of Christ the Bridegroom. In the French, Italian, and Portuguese Bibles, this is designated as the voice of Christ. Many of the Church Fathers applied these words to the Lord Jesus.”[7]

rose of sharonSo here he says, “I am the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valleys.” These are two very interesting flowers. I suppose that, among all the flowers, the rose has been, especially in the East, the one that tops the list. And the Rose of Sharon is an unusually beautiful flower. The valley of Sharon is that coast valley that all the way from Joppa up to Haifa. It is a valley where you can see a great many flowers.

You have probably heard that the finest citrus fruit in the world is grown in Israel. The valley where most of it is grown – the rose grows in profusion in that valley! It is the very beautiful flower that speaks of Him.

Jesus is this Rose. Jesus is this Lily. Jesus is this King.

And while it is true that roses come in many colors, pink is one of the colors most closely associated with the rose. This fact can be seen by considering how millions of people speak about roses in numerous languages throughout the world. In most European languages, the color pink is the name of the rose flower. Like gulabi in Urdu; rose in French and [roze in] Dutch; rosa in German, Portuguese, Catalan, Spanish, and Italian; розовый (rozovy) in Russian; and różowy in Polish. In Latin, they say [roseus]. And in Finnish, it is called pinkki. I also consulted the RGB color wheel, which is a system used world-wide for standardizing colors, and I looked up the color rose. It is no surprise that what you find is a range of bright, rich shades of pink.

So what is the color rose? If we are to believe the languages spoken by the vast majority of people in Europe, and if we are to trust the RGB color wheel, then the color rose is the color pink, plain and simple.


Of course, by now, everybody’s probably scratching their heads saying, “I thought pink was just for girls.” Thanks to the millions of dollars that large corporations have spent in marketing efforts over the last hundred years, there are a lot of people who take it for granted that pink is just a girl’s color. There are a lot of parents who will gladly don their daughters with pink shirts, pink socks, and pink dresses but would never dream of putting similar clothes on a boy.

But as I said, this is just due to corporate marketing, which is another name they use for brainwashing the masses.

It is similar to what happened with the clothes worn by Santa Claus. A couple hundred years ago, you could find drawings of Santa Claus wearing all sorts of colors. He was shown in clothes of different colors – green, purple, light blue, navy blue, brown or red. Some illustrations even depict him as a multi-color figure wearing blue trousers, a yellow waistcoat, and a red jacket. In some cases, he even wore brown, black, or white furs. On his head he used to have a mistletoe crown, a hat, a nightcap, a bishop’s mitre, or a hood. Other versions showed him holding a glass of wine or smoking a clay pipe. As he was believed to go down the chimney of houses on Christmas Eve, soot stained his clothes.

Everything changed around 1930. Coca Cola decided to use the image of Santa Claus in its winter advertising campaign and took on an artist named Haddon Sundblom. Sundblom chose the official Coca Cola colors – red and white – and designed a loose tunic fastened by a tight black belt. When Sundblom’s campaign was over, Santa’s image in a red robe had become popular over all the world. [This was] less than a hundred years ago.

Well, the same sorts of dollars that went into changing the clothes of Santa Claus to red and white went to convincing people that boys wear blue and girls wear pink. But throughout most of human history, this was not the case!

“‘In the 18th Century, it was perfectly masculine for a man to wear a pink silk suit with floral embroidery,” says fashion scholar Valerie Steele, director of The Museum at the Fashion Institute Technology and author of several books on fashion.”[8] According to Steele, pink was initially considered masculine as a diminutive of red and thought to be a war-like color. In the 1800’s, it was just as common to dress your son in pink as it was your daughter.

1840 - boy in pinkI have a picture from the painting society from the year 1840 – “Boy in a Pink Dress.” 1840 – Less than 200 years ago. Pass these pictures out to everybody.

This was not weird. This was not shocking. This was normal! Literally, for thousands of years, pink could be worn by both men and women without anyone thinking that this color had anything to do with gender:

A June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” . . . Other sources said blue was flattering for blonds, pink for brunettes; or blue was for blue-eyed babies, pink for brown-eyed babies.

Time Magazine chart 1927In 1927, Time magazine printed a chart showing sex-appropriate colors for girls and boys according to leading U.S. stores. In Boston, Filene’s told parents to dress boys in pink. So did Best & Co. in New York City, Halle’s in Cleveland and Marshall Field in Chicago.

Today’s color dictate wasn’t established until the 1940s, as a result of Americans’ preferences as interpreted by manufacturers and retailers. “It could have gone the other way.”[9]

So why do many people think that pink is just for girls? It is because we are the victims of marketing campaigns put on by clothing manufacturers less than 100 years ago.


The custom of using rose vestments is tied to the station churches in Rome [10]. The station for Laetare Sunday [which is today] is the Basilica of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem, where the relics of Cross and Passion brought from the Holy Land by Saint Helena in the 4th Century, mother of the Emperor Constantine were deposited. It was the custom on this day for Popes to bless roses made of gold, some amazingly elaborate and bejeweled, which were to be sent to Catholic kings, queens, and other notables. The biblical reference is Christ as the “flower” sprung forth from the root of Jesse ([Isaiah 11:1] – in the Vulgate flos “flower” and RSV “branch”). Thus Laetare was also called Dominica de rosa…. Sunday of the Rose. It didn’t take a lot of imagination to develop rose coloured vestments from this.[11]

“The rose vestments on Laetare Sunday is a custom originating in the fact that, as a symbol of joy and hope in the middle of this somber Season, popes used to carry a golden rose in their right hand when returning from the celebration of Mass on this day (way back in 1051 [before the schism between East and West], Pope Leo IX called this custom an ‘ancient institution.’) Originally it was natural rose, then a single  golden rose of natural size . . . The golden rose represents Christ in the shining splendor of His majesty, the “flower sprung from the root of Jesse,’ and it is blessed with these words:”

O God! by Whose word and power all things have been created, by Whose will all things are directed, we humbly beseech Thy Majesty, Who art the joy and gladness of all the faithful, that Thou wouldst deign in Thy fatherly love to bless and sanctify this rose, most delightful in odor and appearance, which we this day carry in sign of spiritual joy, in order that the people consecrated by Thee and delivered from the yoke of Babylonian slavery through the favor of Thine only-begotten Son, Who is the glory and exultation of the people of Israel and of that Jerusalem which is our Heavenly mother, may with sincere hearts show forth their joy. Wherefore, O Lord, on this day, when the Church exults in Thy name and manifests her joy by this sign, confer upon us through her true and perfect joy and accepting her devotion of today; do Thou remit sin, strengthen faith, increase piety, protect her in Thy mercy, drive away all things adverse to her and make her ways safe and prosperous, so that Thy Church, as the fruit of good works, may unite in giving forth the perfume of the ointment of that flower sprung from the root of Jesse and which is the mystical flower of the field and lily of the valleys, and remain happy without end in eternal glory together with all the saints.[12]

Why do we call this Laetare Sunday? It comes from the Introit, something which our dear chanter, Christa Monica, chanted for us today (except she did it in English instead of in Latin). The full Introit reads: “Laetare Jerusalem: et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam: gaudete cum laetitia, qui in tristitia fuistis,” and it continues on in Latin.

What does that mean in English? What are they saying? It means: “”Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her: rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow: that you may exult, and be filled from the breasts of your consolation. I rejoiced when they said to me: ‘we shall go into God’s House!'”

Laetare means “rejoice.” Today is Rejoice Sunday. We’re halfway through Lent. I mean, there’s still half of it to go. We’re not to Pascha yet. But we’re half done! Half of it is behind us. We can see the finish line. We’re not at the finish line yet, but we can see it! And we rejoice, for one day, we take off the somber purple, and we put on the majestic, priestly, rejoicing pink.

The old practice of visiting the cathedral or mother church of the diocese on this day is another reason for the name. In England, natural mothers are honored today too. It’s almost a medieval mother’s day. Spring bulb flowers are given to mothers. Simnel cake is made to celebrate the occasion. The word “simnel” comes from the Latin simila, [which is] a high grade flour. It is also, historically, the only day during Lent on which it was permitted to have a wedding.

The Gospel reading from today came from John Chapter 6, on the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes – symbols of the Eucharist to come. Note the language used in St. Matthew’s account of this: “And he took the seven loaves and the fishes, and giving thanks, and brake, and gave to his disciples, and the disciples to the people” [Matthew 15:36]. He takes; He gives thanks; He breaks; and He gives.

[At] the consecration of the Body and Blood of Christ at the Eucharist, what words do we use? “Who, the day before He suffered, took bread into His holy and venerable hands; and having lifted up His eyes to heaven, to Thee God, His almighty Father, giving thanks to Thee, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to His disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat ye all of this.'”

Take, give thanks, break, and give. The multiplication of the loaves and fishes is a premonition of the Eucharist.

See, Jesus wasn’t done with his whole ministry on earth just yet. Pascha hadn’t come just yet. He could see the finish line, but He hadn’t crossed it. The people were hungry, and they needed refreshment. So right in the middle of this time, before He’s even gone to the Cross, before He’s even given them their first Eucharist, He takes bread, and He gives thanks – eucharisto, ευχαριστώ – and He gives it to His disciples. Not even to the Cross yet, not even to the Resurrection yet, but He’s already giving them something to rejoice about. He’s giving them a refreshing!

That’s what Laetare Sunday is. We’re not to Pascha yet. We still have several weeks of fasting left up ahead. We have lots of repentance to do. Many more times we’re going to pray at the Stations of the Cross. We are going to follow Christ through Passiontide, Passion Sunday, Palm Sunday, and then Holy Week all the way up to Golgotha itself when He’s been crucified, and He’s buried, and God is dead.

And then comes Pascha. Then comes the Resurrection. Then comes death defeated, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!

We’re not to Pascha yet, but we’re halfway there, and we can see the finish line. We haven’t gotten the Eucharist yet, but He’s already breaking the bread.


Nobody else can change what the rainbow means. It means Noah’s Ark. It means God’s covenant with man to never destroy the world by a flood. That’s what it means; that’s what it’s always meant; and that’s what it always will mean. Nobody is allowed to hijack that. If I have a child, and I want to put rainbows and Noah’s ark in the nursery, then that’s exactly what I’ll do. In fact, that’s what we did!

Well, they can’t have pink either. And girls, you’re welcome to wear it, but you can’t just have it for yourselves. I get to wear it to, because I am a priest! Because I am a man! Because I am a follower of Christ! Pink flowers represent the high priesthood and by extension the entire priesthood and Rose Sunday reminds us to rejoice.

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


[1] Called Sardios in the Septuagint

[2] Amethystos in the Septuagint

[3] Yašfeh in the Masoretic and Isaspis in the Septuagint and Josephus, but scholars believe that the original Hebrew reading was more properly rendered as Yasepheh.

[4] Isaiah 11:1

[5] Song of Solomon 2: 1

[6] Saint Jerome’s Letter 22: To Eustochium, 19.

[7] McGee, J. Vernon. Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee: The Complete Index. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1988.

[8] Broadway, Anna. “Pink Wasn’t Always Girly: A Short History of a Complex Color.” The Atlantic, August 12, 2013.

[9] Maglaty, Jeanne. “When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink.” Smithsonian Magazine, April 7, 2011.


[11] Zuhlsdorf, Fr. John. “WDTPRS – 4th Sunday of Lent (Laetare) – COLLECT (2002MR).” Fr Z’s Blog: “What Does The Prayer Really Say?” – Clear, Straight Commentary on Catholic Issues, Liturgy and Life by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf. March 14, 2010.

[12] “4th Sunday of Lent (Laetare Sunday).” Fish Eaters.

This sermon was preached by Fr. Joseph Gleason on Laetare Sunday, March 22, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

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

Posted in Aaron's Breastplate, Defending the Faith, Fr. Joseph Gleason, John 6:1-14, Laetare Sunday, Symbolism in the Church | Leave a comment

Fresh Fruit and Old Rocks

mp3 Audio: 2015_03_15-Fr_Joseph-Fresh_Fruits_and_Old_Rocks.mp3

This sermon was preached by Fr. Joseph Gleason on Sunday, March 15, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services

Gospel Reading: Luke 11:14-28

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


There once was a cruel man who owned two slaves. He forced them to toil long and hard. He was very stingy. One day, he sent them on a very long and burdensome task.

He gave each one of them a very heavy, large bucket full of rocks, gravel, and sand. They were straining under the burden of this load. They were pushing hard. They were sweating. They were burdened down, and they had miles to go from the evil slave owner’s house to the town where he had sent them.

Along the road, they [ran] into this man who [had] a big smile on his face. He said, “I bring you good tidings of great joy. I have good news for you! This day, I have gone to your wicked master, and I have purchased your release. You don’t have to follow that slave owner anymore.”

They said, “But how will we live? Where are we going to go?”

He said, “I’ve taken care of that, too.” He said, “I sell fruit. I am a fruit merchant, and I have all of these wonderful wares,” and he showed them his cart. It was full of the most delicious peaches, plums, melons, apples, cherries, strawberries.

He said, “Carrying this is easy. You’ll find it’s much lighter than carrying all the stones, and the rocks, and the sand. Fill your buckets with my good, delicious fruit. Take it into the city. This is what you will do for me. You will find that the burden is easy. It’s light! It’s easy to carry! And as a bonus, if you get hungry along the way, I give you my blessing to eat some of the fruit yourself.”

Both of them responded with joy and said, “This sounds fantastic! Thank you so much. We would much rather work for you than for that other guy.”

So, eagerly, both of them got some of the fruit from the cart.

The first guy got an apple, and, by pushing really hard, he was able to wedge it about halfway down into the sand and the gravel. Then he got another apple, and he was able to push it down in there a little bit. He tried it with a peach, and it just mushed all over everything, and he ruined it. He got his hand all wet with peach juice.

Finally, he gave up trying to get the fruit into his bucket, and he just started stacking some fruit on top. Then he picked it up, and it was even heavier than before. So he’s lugging this heavy, heavy bucket full of gravel, sand, rocks, and fruit!

A lot of the fruit has gotten bruised. A lot of it, he has destroyed. He was hardly able to get any fruit into or on the bucket, and, now that he’s got it there, the bucket’s even heavier. He can hardly carry this thing. He struggles a few feet down the road, and finally, he gives up. He says,

“This is just impossible. I can’t do this! Following you is worse than following the other guy. I mean, it was hard. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t like that other guy. I don’t like serving him. I don’t like being his slave. But at least I could barely get through it. But what you’ve given me is impossible. So here’s your fruit back. You can keep it. I’m just going to go back to being  a slave of the other guy.”

So, strenuously, he kept lugging down the road with his bucket full of rocks, sand, and gravel.

The second guy watched all of this. He took his hand, and he picked some of the sand and gravel up out of his bucket and tasted it. He spit it out! He took his bucket and tipped it over. He lifted it up, and he dumped it out. He looked up in there, and there was still a bunch of wet sand. So he got his hand, and he brushed it clean. He even asked, “could you please give me a rag, a cloth, or something?” And the guy that had the fruit cart handed him one, and he reached up in there and cleansed it out. He got every last grain of sand out of there so that this bucket was totally empty, totally clean.

He turned the bucket back over, and he started putting fruit in it. He filled that bucket with fruit. He got it full all the way to the top. He went to pick it up, and he almost got it too high because it was so light compared to what he had been carrying around.

With a smile on his face, and thanksgiving in his heart, and joy in his step, he started going down the road to the town very grateful to have a new master.

Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” [Matthew 11:30].

He wants us to give up the works of darkness and carry about nothing but the fruit of the Spirit. He says this is easy!

Why did these two men have different experiences? Why did the first man say that it was so hard?


Well, if you are determined to keep your bucket full of rocks and you try to add fruit of the Spirit to that, it’s going to be even heavier. You’re going to find [that] it’s impossible. You’re going to bruise the fruit. You’re not going to be able to have that much of it. It’s going to fall all over the ground, and you’ll just make your burden even worse than it was before.

Everything worldly, everything secular, everything focused on pleasure, everything focused on entertainment can be these rocks, and sand, and gravel in your bucket, even if it’s not sinful in and of itself. Even if you look and say, “Well, there’s nothing that wrong about it,” it still takes up your time – time that you could be using for building up the Kingdom of God.

What is very, very easy is to spend hours a day with your family, with your church, with your friends in prayer, in studying the Scriptures, in reading the lives of the saints. That’s easy. It’s not difficult at all.

You know what’s almost impossible? It’s very difficult to fill your time with all the TV shows that you want to watch, and all the video games you want to play, and all the places that you want to go, all the things that you want to see, all the pleasures, all the entertainments, and then somehow find a few minutes out of the day to stuff the prayers into your schedule somehow.

It’s very easy. It’s not difficult. It’s easy to raise to your kids – daily memorizing Scripture, learning what the Word of God says, spending hours reading about the saints and about the Church, about what Christ has done, thinking on holy things. [They can be] singing (not just reading but singing) the music of the Church, singing the Psalms from Scripture [so that] when they’re just out taking out the trash or working in the garden or cleaning their rooms, and they decide they want to sing something, the song that comes to their mouth is not some profane rock song, or country song, or secular song that they heard on the radio. They just feel like singing, and so they start singing Psalm 51 or Psalm 128 or some chant from the Church. It’s just what comes out of them, because that’s what goes into them. That’s easy! It’s not hard.

I’ll tell you what’s very difficult. I’ll tell you what’s hard. I’ll tell you what’s almost impossible. It’s almost impossible to fill your children’s hours with movies from the world, with songs of the world whether it’s on a TV set, on a Kindle, on an iPad, or on a movie theater screen – the entertainments of the world – and, after they’ve had hours of this poured into them, to somehow try to stuff ten or twenty minutes of prayer and godly singing into their day too. And even more difficult, even more impossible to actually expect, [is that] those ten or twenty minutes that you stuff into them are going to be what they want to sing on their own and what they want to think about on their own rather than all this other junk that you let them fill their days with.

You know what’s easy? You know what’s not hard at all? Giving 10% of your income to the Church, to God, to the Missions. I mean that as a minimum. It’s easy to give 15% [or] 20%. It’s not hard to give a good amount of your money to the work of God whether it’s to the local church or to missionaries overseas building the kingdom with your money.

I’ll tell you what’s really hard. What’s really difficult, what’s almost impossible is to say, “I need my wardrobe to be this big and this new, and I need this many new pairs of shoes, and I need to go on this many vacations, and I want to go to restaurants at least this many times. And, you know, a lot of times I don’t want to cook, so instead of cooking something that would cost two dollars I’ll just go buy something that would cost $20 or $30.” And, after you’ve spent all this money on material things, on your pleasures, on things that are not necessities so you can have something bigger, better, newer, more entertaining, to go back and scrape enough pennies together out of your budget to try to give some money to build the Kingdom of God – that’s hard.


When people say that following Christ is difficult, when people say that following Christ is so hard, that’s because they’re determined to follow Christ only if they get to keep their rocks in their bucket, only if they won’t pour the sand out of their bucket, only if the gravel has to stay. “I want to keep my worldliness. I want to keep my pleasures. I want to keep my comfort. I want to keep my self-indulgence. I just want to add the fruit of the Spirit to that on top. I want to stuff it in there with it.” It doesn’t work. It does make it harder.

It’s as difficult as seeing a fork  in the road, one [path] going to Heaven and the other going to Hell and saying, “Well I have two feet. I’ll just follow them both.” That works only for a little while. Before long you’re going to be hurting. If you keep your feet trying to go in those two opposite directions, you’re going to be in a lot of pain real soon, and you’re not going to make a lot of progress.

Now, at first, you do. At first, your foot is able to go down the right path. You make progress for a little while, and then it just stops because you don’t have any more leg.

When there’s a split in the road and there’s two paths, one going to Heaven and the other going to Hell, what’s easy is to make both feet go the right way. It’s actually easier to do everything right than it is to be double-minded and be half-and-half.

What does that have to do with today’s Gospel reading? Jesus gave us a grave warning! The warning does not go to those people who have lived for the devil all their lives. They’re not even included in this. This is not for them. There’s other passages of Scripture that are for them. This is not it.


Jesus said, “There’s a man possessed by a demon. The demon has a stronghold in his life. That demon lives in there. The demon is in control, and the man is freed from it. The demon has been cast out. He was filthy, but now he is clean. Everything was disordered, and now it is better ordered. The demon was in, and now the demon’s out.”

He’s talking to us. There [are] all these wicked works of darkness that such were you, but now you are redeemed. Now, you’re in Christ. Now, you’re in the Church. You’ve been baptized. You’ve been cleansed. You’ve partaken of the Eucharist. He’s talking to us!

There’s a great warning: He said [that] a man can have a demon in him. He has the demon cast out. The demon goes out and wanders through dry wilderness places and can’t find rest anywhere. The demon has to have somebody to torment, somebody to bring down to Gehenna.

So, just out of curiosity, the demon goes and checks up on the former guy that he was messing with. And sure enough! There’s no demon in there. Sure enough, his house is clean. Sure enough, everything is set in order. Everything’s garnished. It’s a nice, well-kept house.

But the Holy Spirit’s not in it. You see, if that house was inhabited, if the Holy Spirit were filling that house, that demon would hightail it for the hills faster than you can imagine. He just finds it clean but uninhabited.

So he doesn’t just go back inside that house by himself and bring the man back to where he was. No, it’s much worse than that. He gets seven spirits more wicked than himself.

Did you know that there are demons more wicked than others? Any of you ever have to wrestle with the demons? Do you think demons have ever tried to make a stronghold in your life in the past? How does it make you feel to think that there [are] demons out there worse than those? You think you’re run-in with the demons has been bad? There [are] demons out there so bad [that] you haven’t even thought about it yet!

The point here is that the demons are persistent. They don’t give up just because you kicked them out once. [If] you kicked them out once, and you’re clean, and you let your guard down, you’re asking for trouble.

By the way, this would be very incompatible with Protestant teaching of “once saved always saved.” If you’ve ever heard certain Protestant groups (not all of them, but certain Protestant groups) teach “once saved always saved.” Once you’re cleansed, once God’s redeemed you, once you’re ready and following God, you’re set.

That’s not what Jesus says here. No, you’ve started on the right path, but believe you me, that was not your last battle. That’s not the last time you’ll see that demon. Not only that, but the next time, he’s coming back with reinforcements. He thought he had you, but you beat him by the power of God. So he’s going to come back with seven spirits more wicked than himself, and he’s going to see if the eight of them can take you.

Beware. Be sober. Be vigilant. For our enemy, the devil, as a roaring lion, prowls about seeking whom he may devour. Therefore, remain steadfast in the faith [cf. 1 Peter 5:8-9].  “Steadfast in the faith” does not mean “lazy in the faith,” “relaxed in the faith.” 

When was the last time you heard a general talk to his army and say, “Relax.” If it’s a time of war, if it’s a time of battle, is it time to relax? You can relax after you win, and you haven’t won until you are in Heaven. Then there will be an eternity for however much relaxation, and peace, and rest that the Holy Spirit wants to give us. Right now, we are at war, and the first time you beat an enemy, he doesn’t go away. He comes back stronger, harder, and with more reinforcements.

You need the Holy Spirit. You need the fruit of the Spirit. And you’re not going to get the fruit of the spirit in your bucket unless you dump out all the rocks. You only have a certain amount of time in a day. If you do everything that the Scriptures and the saints say that you should do, how much time do you think you’re going to have left for other stuff?

You see, we get it backwards. We look at everything we want to do, we pick out the two or three things that are just obviously wicked and we say, “Okay. I’m getting rid of those.” That leaves a little room in our bucket. So now we’ve got 80% sand, and rocks, and gravel in our bucket [with] a little bit of fruit.

We say, “Man! How much better this is than life was before! Man, I’m holy! I’m godly! This is great!” Well, praise God. You’ve made progress. That is good! God wants your whole bucket [to be] full of fruit though, not just 20% of it. He wants the whole thing, and he knows that, as long as you’re trying to do both at the same time, that you’re double-minded. You’re trying to walk two paths at the same time, and the more you try to keep the rocks and the gravel in your bucket and add fruit on top of that, you’re just making the whole bucket heavier, not lighter.


I like to think that at least some of the people, when the demon comes back, at least some of the people were smart enough to lock the front door – maybe not all of them. You knew that this was a demon. You knew that this was sin. You locked the door. You locked the heart, and you said, “I’m not letting that demon in again.”

So, like any good burglar, like any good thief, he comes in your back door.

You say, “I was smart. I was strong. I was vigilant. I put up this wall. I put up these barriers. I put these locks.” Yeah, but if you left your back door wide open, he’s just going to come in that way. What does the back door look like with sin?

The devil can win the battle against us if he can get us to focus on a few sins that are most wicked and convince us that if we get rid of those in their overt and open forms, then we’ll think we’re holy. Then all he has to do is get us sinning in the same spirit but in a different way.

You see, there are clusters of sins that go together. Imagine that you are a mafia mob boss. You’re a don, and you remember that, in your younger days, you actually murdered some people with your own hands. Somebody comes to talk to you and says, “You, you’re not going to get away with it. If you keep doing that kind of stuff, you’re not going to get away with it especially now that you’re the boss, now that you’re in charge of this crime family. The police are going to be watching you so closely, you don’t dare even give the appearance that you’re putting anybody to death, that you’re killing anybody. I mean, if you even carry a gun around, they’re going to try to nail you.”

So, you say, “Well, in that case, I’m not going to kill anybody. Hey, Mario, you know that guy that we need put on ice? You take care of it.” And for the rest of his life, he never lifts a finger. He never pulls a trigger. He never gets a knife out. He doesn’t kill anybody; he just gives the order, and somebody else does it. In a court of law, if that could be proven, would [the jury] say, “Not guilty”? “Oh! You aren’t the one who pulled the trigger. You weren’t even in the same county when the guy was killed. All you did was, you just ordered the hit man to do it. Well, you’re free. No problem then.” It’s still murder. You may have no blood on your hands, but you still have blood on your record and blood on your soul. You’re still guilty of murder whether you pulled the trigger or not.

So it is with many other sins. Saint John Cassian wrote something called his Conference with Abbot Serapion,[1] and in a portion of it, he talks about clusters of sins, how one sin leads to another. The spirit of one sin causes others.

“From gluttony proceed surfeiting and drunkenness.” So, even if you beat gluttony, and you have no problem with it, if the devil can get you to have a problem with alcohol, he’s just as happy because it’s the same spirit. It’s the same sin. It’s just a different form of gluttony. Instead of gluttony on food, now it’s gluttony on alcoholic beverages.

“From fornication filthy conversation, scurrility, buffoonery and foolish talking.” You say, “Well, in my younger days, I had problems with fornication, but I beat it! I confessed it. I ran away from it. God has forgiven me, and I don’t do that anymore!” So the devil comes in your back door and says, “Yeah, but you can tell some dirty jokes, act like a buffoon, talk foolishly, just joke around.” That’s still the spirit of fornication whether you ever commit the act or not.

“From covetousness [comes] lying, deceit, theft, perjury, the desire [for] filthy lucre, false witness, violence, inhumanity, and greed.” You may think that you’ve beaten covetousness. You may think that you don’t have envy for more than what God has given you. You may think you’re content with what God has given you. The devil will just come in the back door, and, instead of letting you see openly that you have covetous thoughts, you’ll have greed. You’ll have violence. You’ll lie. These are all connected to the spirit of covetousness.

“From anger [proceeds] murders, clamour and indignation.” You say, “I’ve never killed anybody.” Do you get angry? Do you have problems with indignation?

“From dejection [comes] rancor, cowardice, bitterness, [and] despair.” A lot of people today don’t even realize that dejection, and despair, and depression is a sin. They think it’s just a medical condition that you’ve got to take a pill to fix.

“From accidie [comes] laziness, sleepiness, rudeness, restlessness, wandering about, instability both of mind and body, chattering, [and] inquisitiveness.” It’s all connected to sloth. It’s all the same spirit. You say, “Well I’m not lazy! I get up. I do this, and I do that, and I do this, and I do that.” Okay. But are you rude to people? Instead of carefully opening your mouth only when you have something edifying to say to build somebody up in Christ, do you just chatter: “Well this this this, and this this this, and blah blah blah, and yadda yadda yadda, and chatter chatter chatter chatter chatter”? Idle chatter!

Restlessness, even sleepiness: Are you sleeping more than you should when you should be up with prayer vigils, when you should be reading the lives of the saints, when you should be getting deep in the Scriptures? You just get drowsy way too easily. All these things are connected into what’s call accidie. It’s a type of sloth.

“From vainglory [comes] contention, heresies, boasting and confidence in novelties.” You may say, “Well, I’ve had a real problem with pride, and vainglory, and boasting. I’ve tried to get rid of all that. Well, you’re playing spiritual Whack-A-Mole. You knock it down in all these places, and the devil says, “Well, I’ll just come in the back door. Let’s try contention. Let’s see if I can get you to be at odds with somebody else and – friction and just not getting along.” Much, much contention comes from a spirit of vainglory, a spirit of pride, a lack of humility.

“From pride [comes] contempt, envy, disobedience, blasphemy, murmuring, backbiting.” You say, “I don’t have any pride. I don’t have any envy.” Well, wives, do you disobey your husbands? Children, do you disobey your parents? Men, do you disobey your priest or your bishop?

Contempt: “I don’t have any pride. I don’t have any envy, but, oh! I just can’t stand that person!” It’s the same sin. It’s the same demon just popping up in a different place, coming into your house through a different door.


Are you content to keep your bucket full of rocks? Are you content with two or three apples and a smashed up peach on top of that bucket of rocks? Are you going to say, “This is my fruit of the Spirit”? Are you going to let that demon come back? The demon you got rid of, the demon you fought so hard against, the demon you were released from – are you going to let it come back with seven of his wicked friends into your home, into your heart so that the last state of your heart is worse than it was at the first?

Did you know that can happen? You can have and ugly, demon-possessed heart. Christ can cast the demon out of it, and you can have a clean heart. The demon can come back with seven of his wicked friends. They can come in, and your last state is worse than the first. You end off worse than if you had never known Christ. Whatever that is, I don’t want to have anything to do with it! Not in my heart. Not in my marriage. Not in my family. Not in my home. Not in my church.

If the demon has been cast out, and your heart has been cleansed, and your house is clean, then give thanks to God that that battle has been won. And be sober and vigilant, for that is not your last battle! Even as we speak, the demons are trying to come in your back door.

Don’t think that, because you have valiantly and vigilantly barred up and locked the front door, that you don’t need to worry about the back. You need to take this seriously. You need to re-evaluate everything. Everything! Every type of reading material, every type of movie, every type of sports, every type of pleasure, every type of restaurant that you go to, everything you eat, what you sleep on, the type of furniture you buy, the color of paint that you use in your house. I am leaving nothing off the list. Literally anything that you do, any decision that you make, any word that you speak, anybody that you vote for, anybody that you don’t vote for – anything that you do, you need to come back around and say, “Okay. I used to think this was fine [and] no big deal, but let’s look at it again.”

Then you circle back around after a month, and you look at everything again. You say, “Okay. I used to think this was fine, but now let me look at it again!”

You see, when you’re covered in sewage – when you’ve been in the sewer and you’re just covered in filth – you smell so bad that nobody’s going to notice your bad breath. All they’re going to smell is the filth that’s all over you. Here’s the mistake that we often make: We go take a shower. We wash all of that filth off. We give thanks to God that we’re so clean and pure and that we smell so good, and then we say, “Good morning brother,” and they’re knocked over by our rancid, horrific breath. Then we [sniff test and say], “Oh my gosh! I didn’t even know I ever had bad breath!”

Just because you defeat the devil once, just because you’re cleansed of something, don’t assume that you’ve already won the entire war. Don’t assume that that horrific sin that you defeated is the only sin there is.

The spirit of love for Christ, the spirit of obedience to Christ, the spirit of humility says that continually, you keep coming back and asking God to re-assess your whole life from top to bottom to find every room in your heart that is unclean, to find every closet that is unclean. [Humility says] to literally speak nothing, spend nothing, and do nothing except that which builds the Kingdom of God in your heart, in your marriage, in your family, in your home, in your church, and in your community.

God didn’t just say, “Let few impure words come out of your mouth.” He said, “Let no unclean word come out of your mouth, but only that which will edify your brother,” which will build him up in Christ [cf. Ephesians 4:29].

Heavenly Father,

Please wake us up to the seriousness and the extent of this battle.

Please help us to realize that, just because you have graciously granted us victories thus far, that we cannot let down our guard, but we must double up our efforts, for the enemy will return like a flood with reinforcements, with greater power, with greater wickedness; and we must submit to you that you might set up a standard against them.

Please don’t just grant us the fruit of the Spirit, but give us the wisdom and the clarity of thought and purpose to empty every rock out of our buckets – every impure thing, and not only every impure thing, but everything that we think is neutral. We don’t have time for anything neutral.

Lord, please purify our hearts of anything and everything that is not fully in submission to Christ.

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

[1] Gibson, C.S., trans. “Conferences (John Cassian).” In The Nicene and Anti-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. Vol. 11. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing, 1894.

This sermon was preached by Fr. Joseph Gleason on Sunday, March 15, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services. Dormition Text Services offers full service secretarial support (including homily transcriptions, editing services, and publishing assistance) to Orthodox clergy and parish communities.

Posted in Fr. Joseph Gleason, Luke 11:14-28 | Tagged | Leave a comment

Take Your Medicine and Be Healed

mp3 Audio:  Take_Your_Medicine_and_be_Healed.mp3

This homily was preached on by Father Joseph Gleason on Sunday, March 8, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services

Gospel Reading: Matthew 15:21-28

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


There were twelve very sick men. They were still able to walk around, but they an illness which was so severe [that] they knew their life was in danger. They didn’t want to go to just any clinic. They went to the absolute best hospital that was available. [This hospital had] the best doctors, the best medications, the best staff, the best reputation. And they were admitted. There were still twelve beds that were available. They were admitted, they were allowed in. They were to be given care at this fine hospital, and they were very, very happy about this. They were very proud of it, for they knew that there were literally hundreds of people outside that hospital who had not been able to come inside.

Some of them had conversations with one another. They said, “This really is a good hospital. They recognize our value. They recognize how good we are. They recognize that if anybody is going to receive treatment and have their health taken care of, it should be us.” They were very pleased with themselves, and they kept having these conversations one with another. Some of them would look out the window and kind of turn up their noses at the riffraff outside, those undesirable, unworthy people who did not have an entry into this hospital.

The doctor on duty came around and carefully checked out each one of these twelve men, made notes on their charts and gave appropriate prescriptions for medication for each one of these men. Finally, in the due amount of time, the nurses came around to give them their medication. When the first nurse walked into the first room, she said, “Sir, here is the medicine that you’ve been prescribed.”

He just kind of went, “Ha ha ha. I don’t need to take that. I don’t need to take that medicine.”
She said, “Sir, you need to take your medicine.”
He said, “No. You don’t understand. I’m already in. I’ve already been admitted to this hospital.”
She said, “I know, Sir, but you need to take your medicine.”
He said, “You’re not listening to me. I’m not one of those riffraff outside. I understand. They need medicine. I get that. I am already in the hospital. I’ve already been admitted. I’ve already got a room. I’ve got this bed. And you work here! I mean, you should know this is the best hospital around.”
She said, “Well, yes, of course. That’s why I work here.”
He said, “Well, it’s the best hospital around, and I’ve already been admitted to it. I’m already in the hospital. I don’t need that medicine.”
She said, “Sir, you have to take your medication, or you’re not going to get better.”

He got angry, and he started yelling at her, and finally he just threw her out of the room.

So she went to the next man. This poor nurse went to each one of these twelve men, and each one of them treated her the same way. They threw her out. They got angry with her for suggesting they needed to take medication. They all said, “We don’t need your medicine. We’re already in! This is the best hospital. We’re in it. We’ve been admitted. Now leave me alone.”

Of course, in the due amount of time, all twelve of these men died. Being in the best hospital did not heal them. Being admitted to the best hospital did not get rid of their disease because they refused to take the medication.

Meanwhile, downstairs in the ER, one of the riffraff came in, one of the people who had not been admitted to a bed in the hospital. The doctor on duty checked the person out and said, “This is a very serious case. We need to deal with this right away.” He wrote out a prescription. And because these twelve men had not taken their prescriptions, there was still some of this medicine available. They got some of that medication. They brought it down. They gave it to this person in the ER. That person lived. The person was healed. The person did not die.

This is sort of similar to what we are dealing with in today’s Gospel. This foreign pagan woman who lives outside Israel in the accursed region of Tyre and Sidon (read throughout the Old Testament Scriptures and see the curses that God gives to Tyre and Sidon). . . When Jesus speaks of Tyre and Sidon, he speaks of those cities in the same breath as he speaks of Sodom and Gomorrah. [It was a] wicked, pagan, Canaanite area [of] people who were not part of Israel, people who are not part of God’s people, people who did not have the Mosaic Law. They didn’t have the Temple. They didn’t have the true faith that God had set up on earth.

It’s interesting how often in Scripture and in history and even today, there are people who are among God’s people – they’re already in, they’re admitted, and because they are already in, they think they’re already healed. They think they don’t need to take their medicine, and they die just like those twelve men in that hospital.

You had twelve tribes of Israel. They were in! They were God’s people. They had the best Doctor in the world – God Himself. They had the right worship. They had the right God. They had the right temple. They had the right liturgy. They had Scriptures. They were in! And so many of them died because they refused to take their medicine.

Many of the Jews became very angry one time when Jesus was talking to them. They were talking about being in, about being among God’s people, and Jesus hearkened back to the Prophet Elijah in the Old Testament. He said there were many widows in Israel, but Elijah went to the Widow of Zarephath in the region of Sidon. (Remember, we talked about Sidon? That’s the area from which the lady of Zarephath was from – right in between Tyre and Sidon.)[1]


Elijah goes to her [and] asks for something to eat. She said, “I have almost nothing left. There is a great famine. There is a great drought. All I have left is just a little bit of flour, a little bit of oil. There’s just barely enough left that I am going to make just a tiny bit of bread so that my son and I can have our last meal and then die.”

Can you imagine it getting down to the point that you only have enough food left for you and your children to have one more meal and then that’s it? There’s not grocery store. There’s no food in your garden. There’s no more food in your house. Any of the wild game has already been shot in that area, and captured, and eaten. People are starving all around you. Now it’s you and your family. There’s nothing you can do about it. You’ve already tried everything, and your pantry is empty. Your fridge is empty. You have nothing.

To this woman in such a desperate straight, Elijah makes what seems like such an audacious request. He says, “Okay. Make that for you and your son, but first, use some of it to make me some bread.” Now in today’s progressive culture, I am sure that there are a lot of women that if faced with such a request would quickly do the “z-snap” as fast as they could and tell him where he could take his request. But this woman was more spiritual than that, a little more sensitive than that, a little more tuned in to God than that.

This man of God heard her plight; he understood her sorrow. He knew that it was just her and her son and that they had almost nothing left, and even then, he asked her to give. He didn’t come to her with more food or money or anything. He came to her, and he asked her to give even in the midst of her poverty. But he also brought her a great promise from the Lord. He said, “For it has been revealed to me by the Lord that until the day that this famine is over that the oil in your container will never dry up, and the flour in your container will never go empty.”

He promised her an unbelievable miracle, and she believed it. And in obedience to the prophet’s words, she went to her little jar of flour. It wasn’t suddenly full and running over. It wasn’t suddenly full and running over. It looked the same as before. She saw no difference. She went to her jar of oil, just a little bit left, and it wasn’t full and running over. She saw no difference. But in obedience to this prophet of God, she dips into that flour, she dips into that oil, and instead of making food for her and her hungry son, first, in a labor of love and trust, she makes a little loaf of bread. She lets it rise. She cooks it, and she brings that fresh, hot loaf of bread not to herself or to her boy, but to the man of God, and he eats it.

Then she goes, and the little bit of flour still looks the same. [She] dips into it [and] dips into the oil, and she makes a couple loaves of bread for her and her son. It should all be gone. She goes back, and she looks, and there is still a little bit of flour and a little bit of oil. The level hasn’t gone down. There is not very much in there, but it doesn’t go away. It doesn’t get used up. So for the next three years, every day, she dips out a little bit if flour and a little bit of oil, and she makes some bread for herself, her son, and for this prophet of God.

Then something worse than famine, worse than hunger, worse than fear happens: Her son gets sick, and he dies. She is weeping. She is grieving. She is calling out to God and to His prophet. And Elijah goes in, and in prayer to God, the boy is raised from the dead, brought back to life. [This is] miracle #2. The grace of God saving the lives of this woman from the area of Sidon, this area of Tyre and Sidon! He sends mercy to this woman and her boy.


And here in the New Testament we have a woman from the same area, the same region, from the area of Tyre and Sidon. And she, no doubt, had heard the reports. The name of Jesus was not new to that area. Elsewhere in the Gospels, we read that, at times, Jesus would go, and preach, and heal people, and crowds would come from all over, not just from Jerusalem, but from the coast of Tyre and Sidon, and he would heal people. Then of course, they would go back home, and they would talk about what they had seen and experienced. So this woman, no doubt, had heard of Jesus.

In this particular case, Jesus and His disciples had gone to that area trying not to be found. They needed some peace. They needed some rest. They needed some time away from the crowds. So he wasn’t outside preaching, and teaching, and healing. It says in Scripture that they were staying in a house. They were trying not to be found. But this one woman got word: “Jesus is in town. He’s come to where I am. He’s over here in Tyre and Sidon, this area over here. Really?” She left her demon-possessed, sick child at home, and she went out and she sought Jesus. As we know, ultimately Jesus has compassion on her and on her boy, and He heals him.

He does it at a distance. So many times in Scripture, we see Jesus touching somebody and healing them – touching the hem of His garment, and they’re healed. But there’s at least a couple of times in Scripture where we see somebody having great faith in Christ, recognizing that Jesus doesn’t even have to physically walk over to where you are to bring healing, but as the Lord of the universe, He can simply speak and healing will come to you at any point wherever you are over great distances.

As far as I can find, there are only two places in the New Testament where, instead of saying faith or “O ye of little faith,” only two places could I find where Jesus said, “You have great faith.” He’s praising them. He’s honoring them. He’s saying, “You have great faith, a big faith.” Ironically, both times, he doesn’t say it to Jews. He doesn’t say it to those who are called God’s people. Both times that Jesus says, “Oh you have great faith,” he says it to Gentiles.


In the seventh chapter of Luke’s Gospel, a Roman Centurion: He wasn’t born Jewish. He wasn’t part of the people of God. He wasn’t in. He wasn’t brought up in the right religion. He didn’t know the Christian Scriptures. But he had faith in this Jesus. He had faith in Christ, and he asked Christ to heal his servant. Jesus said, “Okay, I’ll come to your house and heal him.” And then, in great faith [the centurion] spoke those immortal words, this Gentile, Roman Centurion, said,

“Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst come under my roof, but speak the word only and my servant shall be healed” [Luke 7: 6-7, Matthew 8:8].

We remember that in our liturgy saying very similarly, “Speak the word only and my soul shall be healed.”[3] We look up to the Roman centurion’s faith, and we in the Church try to emulate it.

He recognized, in humility, that he didn’t deserve for Jesus to come to his house. He recognized that Jesus didn’t even need to come to his house, because he had faith in the great power of Christ to simply speak and have the healing take place miles and miles away. And Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, I have not found so great a faith, not in all of Israel.”

The second Gentile whom Jesus says has great faith is the woman from today’s Gospel reading: this Syrophonoecian woman, this Canaanite woman from the area of Tyre and Sidon. Now, we all know that Tyre and Sidon has been cursed in Scripture. We all know that this is not Jerusalem; this is not Israel; these are not God’s people. They’re not the ones who are in. Oh, but the ones who are in refuse to take the medicine! The ones who are in refuse to accept God Himself in human flesh. But those who are outside, those who are foreigners, those whom God’s people considered outcasts and unworthy of salvation, they receive healing when they come to Him in faith.


Now, Jesus says there needs to be a proper ordering of things: First you must feed the children before you feed the little dogs [cf. Mark 7:27]. The idea in Greek here is not the strays that are running out in the street, but the little puppies, the little dogs that run around in your house and are your family pets.[3]

First, you feed your children. Now what is implied there? “First you feed the children, but later, I’m going to feed you too.” Jesus wasn’t saying no. He wasn’t saying, “I’m only going to feed the Jews. I’m only going to heal them. And Gentiles, I’m going to have nothing to do with.” He simply says there’s a proper order to things, for salvation comes first unto the Jew and then unto the Gentile as we read in the first chapter of Romans.

She doesn’t argue with Him, she doesn’t disagree with Him, but like the centurion, she has humility. She recognizes that she isn’t worthy to receive this great miracle. She doesn’t claim that she is worthy. She agrees with what He says that He must come to His own people first, to those whom He called His own people. He came first to them, and He was healing them, and He was showing the Gospel to them.

But in her great faith, she realizes that, even as He was doing things in their proper order, that He is so powerful that without breaking the rest, breaking that time of rest that He had set up for His disciples in this house away from the crowds, without leaving that house and walking publicly, and going all the way to her house, and drawing lots of attention to Himself, without leaving behind anything that He was doing as He was going about the proper order of things, that He could still heal her daughter.

[This is] very similar to the idea that the centurion had: “Lord I am not worthy that Thou shouldst come under my roof, but speak the word only and my servant shall be healed.” She doesn’t tell Him, “Well, I am just as good as any Jew. If you are going to heal them, then you owe it to me to heal my child.”

No she doesn’t talk back to the Lord. She’s not haughty. She doesn’t even disagree with Him calling her a dog! She doesn’t disagree with Him calling the Jews children and the Gentiles little dogs. In faith, she simply says, “Yes, Master, but even the little dogs are able to eat up the crumbs under the master’s table” [c.f. Mark 7:28, Matthew 15:27].

“Lord, I know I am not worthy of the feast, but healing my child, having mercy on me in the midst of my anguish, healing my family. . . Lord, I know you are so powerful that even one single crumb that falls down to the floor – that’s enough to heal me. I don’t presume to be worthy of the feast. You know what? I don’t even need the feast. You are so awesome that if I get just one little crumb that falls down to the ground while You are feeding the children, if I get just one little crumb, that’s going to be powerful enough to heal my child.”

And He says, “Oh, woman, you have great faith.” You see, with His words, with His waiting, He had tested her, and her faith shone like the sun. Finally, He praises her, and He says, “Woman, you have great faith. Be it unto you even as you will” [Matthew 15:28].

Indeed, she did have great faith. She didn’t stay there and plead with Him begging Him to follow her to her house to heal her child. She believed that He had the power, simply with what He said, to heal her child. So she leaves. She had been so persistent before, but now that He has said that, she believes Him, and she walks away. She goes home to find her child healed.


The Roman Centurion, this Canaanite woman from the coast of Tyre and Sidon, they were not in. They were not in Israel. They were not the people of God. They had not been admitted inside the hospital. They just showed up at the ER, and they had faith in the doctor. And when the medicine was prescribed, they were willing to take it. That medicine is Christ.

The Jews had the right religion. They had the right Scriptures. They had the right God. They had the right liturgy. They had the right genealogy and history. They had the right traditions. But when Christ shows up in the flesh, they reject him, and they die in their sins.

But any of those Jews which did accept Him, which did take the prescription, which did take their medicine, which feasted on the Body and the Blood of Jesus Christ in faith – their souls were healed. And not only them, but all of us in the world who are Gentiles: Formerly we were foreigners. We were outcasts. We were outside the faith. We were not part of the people of God. We were no better than any other pagan on the planet. But in faith, we come to Christ, and we say, “We want whatever You have. Whatever medicine You have for us, we’re going to take it.” We feast on the Body and the Blood of Jesus Christ in faith, which the early Church called “the medicine of immortality. Saint Ignatius called the Eucharist “the medicine of immortality.”[3]

It is not just the Eucharist, but it is all the Lord gives us: It is baptism. It is chrismation, ordination, marriage, the sacrament of healing. It is Lent. It is fasting. It is prayer. It is controlling our tongues. It is not only uprooting our outward actions which are sinful, but it is uprooting every sinful thought from the heart, every selfish inclination, every bit of anger, every bit of pride, every bit of whining and complaining. All these are prescriptions from the Lord that He gives us so that we might live.

Indeed, the Orthodox Church is the New Israel. The Orthodox Church is the people of God. The Orthodox Church is the hospital, and it’s the best hospital you can be in! If you’ve been baptized and chrismated into the Orthodox Church, and you’ve taken Communion, then you are admitted into the hospital. You’re in the best hospital you can possibly be in for your soul. And if you do not take your medicine, you will die.

God doesn’t bring us into the Church so that we can live like the world and go to heaven anyway. God doesn’t bring us into the hospital so we can stay sick and live anyway. God brings us into the hospital so that we can take our medicine and be healed.

I have a nurse in the room. Denise, all medicine is delicious isn’t it? It’s not, is it? Some medicine tastes absolutely horrible. It’s bitter going down! Some medicine, you can’t take by your mouth, but you have to have this big, fat needle stuck right into your back. That feels good, doesn’t it? Then they inject the medication. There are other ways you can receive medicine which are also not pleasant. So you choose: “Do I take the medicine even though it is not pleasant because the doctor has prescribed it so that I might live, or do I say, ‘That medicine doesn’t feel good; it doesn’t taste good; I don’t like it,” and then die?” Die, even as you are sitting in the best hospital around?

God does not give us Lent to torture us. He doesn’t give us daily family prayers to leave a bitter taste in our mouth. God doesn’t give us Scripture to read because He wants us to be bored. God has invited us to be healed. He has invited us to have life! When Jesus died on the Cross and rose again, He paid your insurance policy in full. All your medical bills are paid. All you have to do is take the prescription. You have to take your medicine.

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


[1] The story of Elijah and the Widow of Zarapheth is found in 3Kingdoms (1Kings in Masoretic Text Bibles) chapter 17.

[2] This prayer is used by the Western Rite Orthodox, the Roman Catholics, and the Anglicans.

In Western Rite usage at Christ the King, Omaha, this prayer is used just before Holy Communion:

Three times, the priest says: “Lord I am not worthy that Thou shouldst come under my roof” and the people respond “but speak the word only, and my soul shall be healed.”

Then the people, together with the priest, recite the pre-Communion prayers of Saint John Chrysostom:

I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Who didst come into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. Moreover, I believe that this is truly Thy most pure Body, and that this is truly Thine Own precious  Blood, wherefore, I pray Thee: have mercy on me and forgive my transgressions voluntary and involuntary, in word and in deed, in knowledge and in ignorance, and vouchsafe me to partake without condemnation of Thy most pure Mysteries unto the remission of sins and life everlasting. Amen.

Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, receive me today as a communicant; for I will not speak of the Mystery to Thine enemies, nor will I give Thee a kiss as did Judas, but like the thief do I confess Thee: remember me O Lord in Thy Kingdom.

Let not the communion of Thy holy Mysteries be unto me for judgement or condemnation, O Lord, but for healing of soul and body.

It should be noted that there are several liturgies in use by the Western Rite Orthodox Churches of the Antiochian and Russian Orthodox Church, and that this prayer is used in various places:

  • As presented above with the pre-Communion prayers.
  • In the Ambrosian Mass after the Peace is given, and before the priest communes.
  • In the Gregorian Mass of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, this prayer is optional, and is omitted from the general usage text.
  • In the Gallican Mass, which is a facsimile liturgy with significant Byzantine insertions, in use among the ROCOR Western Rite by only one parish of record, this prayer is not found.
  • In the Sarum Mass, this prayer is not found in the common text.
  • In the Gregorian Liturgy authorized for use by the ROCOR Western Rite as of 2015 and the Moscow Patriarchate in the early 1900’s, this prayer is said by the priest immediately after the Agnus Dei and immediately before communing the faithful. The priest and the faithful repeat the prayer thrice while striking their breast.

One Anglican priest describes it thus:

Just before Holy Communion, the celebrant raises the host and proclaims to the congregation: “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper.” The people respond with [this prayer]

That response is adapted from the centurion’s prayer in Matthew 8:8. The centurion asked Jesus to cure his servant at home. When Jesus said he would come to the centurion’s home, the man responded that he was not worthy to have Jesus visit his house. Besides, if Jesus would stay there and “only say the word,” then the servant would be healed. Jesus did; the servant was cured. Jesus praised the great faith of this gentile centurion.

By substituting the word “I” for “servant,” the Church has adapted this prayer into a preparation for receiving Holy Communion.

How do you know when you are worthy to receive the Eucharist? Strictly speaking, no one is ever worthy. Jesus’ healing makes us less unworthy.

In this prayer before Holy Communion, worthy means that the person has confessed any mortal sins and is properly disposed to receive this sacrament. “Only say the word” is a way of acknowledging that all healing and grace ultimately come from God.

(Fr. Dale Hall, Franciscan Friar, Anglican Mission Chattanooga, TN, April 17, 2016, Interview with Maria Powell).

In the Western Rite Orthodox Churches, the Anglican Book of Common Prayer is frequently used.

[3] The Greek word here is κυναρίοις, which is translated as “house dog,” a diminutive of κύων, dog. Diminutive forms connoting familiarity, this dog would necessarily be a dog with which one is familiar, a pet.

[3] The Epistle of St. Ignatius to the Ephesians, chapter 20: “Assemble yourselves together in common, every one of you severally, man by man, in grace, in one faith and one Jesus Christ, who after the flesh was of David’s race, who is Son of Man and Son of God, to the end that ye may obey the bishop and presbytery without distraction of mind; breaking one bread, which is the medicine of immortality and the antidote that we should not die but live forever in Jesus Christ.”

This homily was preached on by Father Joseph Gleason on Sunday, March 8, 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 homily transcription, editing,  and publishing services) for Orthodox clergy and parish communities.

Posted in Fr. Joseph Gleason, Matthew 15:21-28, Pride, Western Rite Orthodoxy | Leave a comment

Being Tempted In the Wilderness

Mp3 Audio: Fr Joseph-Being_Tempted_in_the_Wilderness.mp3

This homily was preached on by Father Joseph Gleason on Sunday, March 1, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services

Gospel Reading: Matthew 4:1-11

Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil

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

Imagine being alone in the wilderness without a friend anywhere around, and you’re going one-on-on with the devil himself. You’re being tempted by Satan, the most evil of all the angels, the most powerful of all the wicked demons. Have you ever had a period in your life where you felt like you could relate to that experience – where the devil himself has shown up, where the devil himself is tempting you? You wonder how long it’s going to on, and you’re wondering, “When will it end?” What kind of thoughts go through your mind at times like that? “What have I done to deserve this? What sin did I commit to deserve going through this? Why me, Lord?”

Indeed, when we sin, particularly when we sin willfully, we may go through some very, very tough times that are directly a result of our own sins. So it is a question that must be asked. If you identify some sins that you have committed, and you can see that what you are presently going through is a result of those, then repent of your sins. Call out to God for mercy. Go to confession. The Lord will forgive you of your sins if you confess them with a contrite heart, and in time, He’ll bring you healing.

But as we see in the stories of Job in Scripture and of Jesus here in the wilderness, not all difficult times and not all temptations come as a result of our sins. Indeed, Jesus had already, prior to this point, lived thirty years without sin. That’s impressive – to live on this planet as a human being for thirty years, throughout his entire childhood and early adulthood, thirty years, without a single sin! You’d think after that type of an accomplishment that you’d be free from trouble, that you would deserve for no problems to come your way.

Yet we read something incredible. In Scripture, it doesn’t say, “the Spirit was busy somewhere else, and when the Holy Spirit wasn’t looking the devil attacked and started tempting Jesus.” That’s not what it says. It says, “The Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” [Matthew 4:1]. This is exactly what the Holy Spirit led Him to!

Obviously this is not something that we seek out on purpose. In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” [Matthew 6:13; Luke 11:4].

There are times, with the righteous, that the Holy Spirit of God will lead a righteous person into the wilderness, into temptation, to withstand an attack from the tempter. Job endured it. Jesus endured it. We read of other righteous men in Scripture and righteous women who endured it.

Now, if you are not facing the devil because of your sins; if you are not facing difficulty, and trials, and temptation in the wilderness because of something you have done wrong, you have to ask:

“If I have been so faithful to God, if I am a good Christian, if I am walking with the Spirit, why would the Holy Spirit lead me into temptation? Why would the Holy Spirit intentionally put me in a situation where I am alone, out in the middle of nowhere, being tempted by the devil?”

I believe the first reason is simply [that it] is a test. God has every right to test us! He already knows what’s in our hearts, but many times, we do not, and other people who are watching do not know. You may see somebody who seems very pious, very righteous, very good on the outside, but you simply have never seen them when they are in trouble – how they lose their temper, how they cuss, how they are mean to everybody around them, how they lose all their patience, how the things of God suddenly do not become very important to them anymore because they only want to focus on how they can solve their troubles.

There [are] other people who may strike you as very quiet, and meek, and perhaps even weak; and you tell yourself, “now that person – if that person ever faces adversity, man, they’re going to be the first to crumble! There’s no way that person could ever stand up to anything.” Yet, when thrown into the heat of adversity, that quiet, meek person that you never suspected had any strength at all is the only one who sees it through faithfully to the end.

[This is] like the three Hebrew children. These young guys, even when faced with the threats of the king, and with threats of torture and death itself, they would not bow the knee to a pagan god.

Esther – just a Jewish girl. Just a girl! There’s no way she would risk her life and put herself in danger of execution by standing up to the king of Persia. Yet, she did. She fasted and prayed for three days, and, risking her life, she went in before the King Xerxes and laid everything on the line to risk her life so that she might bring salvation to God’s people that they would not be executed.

God can see into the heart, but we cannot see into each other’s hearts. The angels and the devils – they cannot see the depths of our hearts. It is through testing that the wheat is separated from the chaff, that the silver and the gold are purified and that the dross is burned away. Through fire, it is revealed what we are actually made of.

If you are made of gold, silver, precious stones, the fire purifies you, and the heat and the light from the fire makes you shine like the stars in the heavens; it only makes you look better, more glorious. But if you are made of kindling, if you’re made of wood, hay, straw, stubble, then when the fire comes, it burns you to a crisp. We might not know the difference between the two except for the difference that comes by the fire.

In this life, in this world, all of us are being tested. If there is anything within you that is stubble, that’s straw, that’s chaff, that fire comes to burn it away, and by the mercy of God, may He grant that you are not chaff, that you are not all stubble, but that, at your heart, you are gold; you are silver; you are precious stones. In other words, you have a heart that is dedicated truly to God.

If that is the case, then no amount of temptation, no amount of testing, no amount of fire will destroy you. It will be painful. It will be difficult. But when silver goes through the fire, it doesn’t come out destroyed; it comes out purified.

I once heard a story about how a silversmith purifies silver. He’ll heat it up, and heat it up, and heat it up. The impurities come to the top as this scum, this dross, and he’ll clear it off of there. What’s left is silver that is more pure.

Then he’ll do it a second time: He’ll heat it up, and heat it up, and heat it up, and that scum and the dross that come to the top, he’ll take it off of there. Now it’s even more pure. He’ll do it three times, four times, five times, six times! Even seven times.

Do you know how the silversmith knows that his job is done, that the dross is all gone, that the scum is gone, that the impurities are gone, and that what he is left with is perfectly pure silver? The silversmith knows that it is ready whenever he looks down into the crucible, and he looks at the molten silver, and it is so pure and so clear that he can see the reflection of his face in that molten silver.

As you are tried in the fires, as you are literally melted down so that the dross can be purged off you, the point at which God will know that His job is done is when He can look down at you and see His own reflection, when He can see His own face when He looks at you.


How do you stand up under such testing? Jesus, at one point in His ministry, spoke about a demon that His apostles could not cast out of a child, and Jesus easily cast the demon out. Jesus said, “This kind only comes out not but by fasting and prayer” [cf Matt. 17:21]. So not just prayer with your mouth, and with your heart, and with your mind; but your body itself performing ascetic labors, fasting, adding power to your prayers.

Indeed, we see that in the wilderness, Jesus didn’t immediately go out into the wilderness and begin His temptation right off the bat. He goes out into the wilderness, and He fasts for forty days and forty nights.

If there’s any stronghold in your life, a powerful stronghold where Satan and the demons have set up, and it seems like, in so many ways, you are free, and you’re following God. Yet, in this one particular area of your life, it’s just like the devil will not let go. I have to ask:

“Have you only prayed for release, or have you fasted and prayed for release. Are you only willing to pray with your mouth, or are you also willing to use your mouth to push away pleasures, to push away the things of this world, and to fast for a certain period of time so that the strength of your prayers might be increased?”

Jesus didn’t just go face the devil. He fasted, and he prayed. Then he faced the devil.


How else did he stand up under this testing? He had an intimate knowledge of the Scriptures. To each and every temptation that the devil threw at Him, the first three words Jesus used in reply were, “It is written.” Jesus didn’t run back to the synagogue to look through the scrolls and try to find answers to everything the devil was saying. Jesus knew it by heart. These are things Jesus just had memorized.

Anything the devil would throw at him, Jesus would quote Scripture and say, “It is written, man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the Mouth of God [Luke 4:4]. It is written, you shall not tempt the Lord your God [Luke 4:12]. It is written, you shall worship the Lord your God only, and Him alone shall you serve [Luke 4:8].”

We need to know the Scriptures. We need to study the Scriptures. We need to know what has been written by the Saints. We need to know what is in the Ecumenical Councils. We need to know the teachings of Scripture and the teachings of the Church by heart because the moment that the devil shows up, you’re not going to have time to put everything on hold for a few weeks so you can go study the question out and then come back and respond to the devil. You need to have already prepared.


I believe it was one of Aesop’s Fables that talked about this wild pig that was out in the forest just sharpening his tusks up against a tree.  This animal came up on him and said, “Wow! What sharp teeth you have! I see you are furiously sharpening them. Where is the enemy?”

The pig said, “There is no enemy around.”
“Well where is the battle? Where is the fight?”
The pig said, “There is none.”
The other animal said, “Then why are you sharpening your tusks?”
And the pig said, “Because when the enemy shows up I won’t have time to sharpen my tusks.”

And so it is. Do we lazily sit in front of our television set all day long being entertained, filling our mouths with potato chips and everything that makes us feel good, going out and having fun with friends? We go out with friends, and we play video game, sand stay on the computer all day, and just fill all of our days with entertainment, and become couch potatoes. If we do that, do we really think that, the day the devil shows up to tempt us, that we’re going to have strong muscles and be ready to go, to stand up against the enemy?

No. If all you seek is pleasure and entertainment in this life, then when the devil shows up, you’ll be too fat, and too flabby, and your tusks will not be sharp enough for the battle!

Jesus had already prepared through fasting, through prayer, and through years of studying Scripture. Jesus knew what Scripture says so that the moment the devil tempted him with a lie Jesus could identify it immediately as evil.

Something else when you go into this type of testing and temptation from the devil: notice that even the devil himself quotes Scripture. “Go cast Yourself off the temple, Jesus; for it is written His angels will have charge concerning Thee and they will bear Thee up lest Thou dash Thy foot against a stone” [c.f. Matthew 4:6]. And sure enough, it’s in Scripture! Our chanters chanted that Psalm [90 (91)] for us today out of the Psalms. And sure enough, that’s what it says.

If you look at what the devil says Scripture says, and then you go and look at that Psalm, sure enough, he quoted it correctly. Now, if you didn’t know what was in Scripture, if you were too lazy and too ignorant to have spent a lot of time studying it and to really learn what’s in the Bible, you might be thrown for a loop. You might say,

“Hey, I’m going to really fight against the devil, and then, gasp, the devil is the one quoting Scripture to me! Well, I guess if Scripture says that, I had better go along with it. Maybe that’s not the devil after all. Maybe this is an angel of God coming with enlightenment to show me the truth. I mean, he is quoting Scripture!”

I’ll tell you a little hint, another reason why you need to know your Bible backwards and forwards, why you need to be so familiar with Scripture: Whenever the devil or the devil’s followers come to you quoting Scripture, they will be very, very selective about what they quote. But if you know the full context of what they are quoting, if you know the whole story, if you know the big picture, you’ll be able to identify it for the lie that it is.

A good example is this Psalm:

For he shall give his angels charge over thee to keep the in all thy ways
They shall bear thee in their hands that thou hurt not thy foot against a stone.
[Psalm 90(91):11-12]

And then the devil stops quoting. In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with just quoting a piece of Scripture. You can’t quote the whole Bible from cover to cover every time you open your mouth. If you’re not familiar with this Psalm, you might say, “Man, well if the devil quoted from it, what’s wrong with what he was asking Jesus to do? What was wrong with that?”

It’s very interesting that the devil didn’t quote the very next verse. The devil says, “They shall bear thee in their hands that thou hurt not thy foot against a stone.” The very next verse in the Psalm is, “Thou shalt go upon the lion and adder, the young lion and the dragon shalt thou tread under thy feet.”

Who is the lion that goes about, prowling, seeking whom he may devour? Remember what St. Peter said? “The devil goes about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” [1 Peter 5:8].

Who is the adder, the snake, the serpent? The devil. The liar. The tempter.

Who is the dragon? In the Book of Revelation, who [is] the dragon? That’s the devil.

So here in one verse, we have three different animals mentioned all three of whom are representative of Satan himself – the devil. The devil is the lion, the adder, and the dragon, and according to this verse, Christ and all his followers will tread him under our feet.

The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil so that he might be tested and tried. But just like a father who encourages his son to go into a race, just like a parent who encourages their child to go compete in some sport, they don’t encourage them to do it so they can lose; they encourage them to do it so that they can be victorious and win.

That is why God sends us into testings and trials. He is our loving Father. He is up there cheering us on. If you could see God right now, I think He is looking down from Heaven saying, “That’s my boy! That’s my girl! I’m so proud of them! Look! Look!”

God loves you. You’re His kids! He’s proud of you. He didn’t send you into the race so that you’d be defeated. He sent you into the race so that you could cross the finish line with that ribbon streaming behind you. He sent you to win. This is an opportunity to win the race, to beat the devil, to take part in the crushing of the head of the serpent yourself, to be victorious. This is an opportunity God has given you to give glory to Him.

Would you really rather God said, “Oh, I don’t ever want you to be victorious. I don’t want you to win. So just don’t get in a race at all.”? No! God wants you to know what it feels like to cross that finish line victoriously. God wants you to know what it feels like to run that hard race and win it! God doesn’t send you into temptation and trials so that you might be defeated by the devil. He sends you into those temptations and trials so that you might crush the devil.

It’s a time for your testing. It’s an opportunity for you to give glory to God. Then finally, the temptation itself is also an opportunity for you to flex your spiritual muscles and to grow in preparation for something greater that is coming.

You see, this was not the last time that the devil tempted Jesus and attacked him. No, it was going to get worse, and it was going to get worse, and it was going to get worse until finally, a little over three years later, it was going to go all the way, all the way to the mat. It was going to go to the point of torture, crucifixion, and death.

I ask you again:

Do you think that if you indulge yourself in food your whole life without fasting; if you indulge yourself with pleasures at all times without worship and without prayer; if you let your spiritual muscles get flabby for weeks, and months, and years; then when the time comes where somebody holds a gun to your head and they say, “You either deny Christ or you die,” do you think you will have what it takes to be a martyr for Christ? Do you think you will have what it takes to repel the temptations that the devil sends your way? Do you think you will have what it takes to win the whole battle if you do not first prepare?


I guarantee you something: Whenever an Olympic runner runs across the finish line and breaks that ribbon, and wins the gold, never does that winner say, “Whoa! How did I get here? How did this happen?” That never happens, because nobody who fails to prepare, nobody who fails to run for the prize will win the prize. People who are couch potatoes and lazy don’t win Olympic gold medals ever. And the same thing is true in the spiritual realm! If you are spiritually lazy, you will not win the prize. If you want to win the prize, then you must run; you must train; you must prepare.

Think of how it is physically. If you want to win the Olympics, if you want to win the gold in an Olympic race, can you eat like everybody else eats, or do you have to discipline your body? Can you spend your time pursuing trips, and pleasures, and video games, and all these entertainments, or do you have to spend hours and hours in training?

We’re not talking about your body. We’re talking about your eternal soul! We are talking about the biggest stakes the world has ever seen. We are talking about heaven and hell, life and death. We’re talking about eternity in joy versus eternity in torment.

St. Isaac the Syrian said, “This life has been given to you for the sake of repentance. Do not waste it on vain pursuits.” The devil wants to distract us into laziness, into cowardice, into self-centeredness. The Holy Spirit is calling us to fight, to fast, to pray, to resist temptation, and to grow up.

You see, Jesus didn’t start His public ministry and then, a week later, go to the Cross. Jesus went for forty days of fasting and prayer. He resisted the devil valiantly and faithfully. He faithfully followed God for the next three years. Then finally, when the time came, He had every bit of strength that He needed to go to the Cross.

God does the same sort of thing with us as we follow in the footsteps of Christ. He will call you to fast. He will call you to pray. He will call you to all-night vigils. He will call you to study the Scriptures. He will call you to learn the teachings of the Church. He will call you to give alms and to help those who are in need.

If you faithfully do all these things, your spiritual muscles will get stronger, and stronger, and stronger, and stronger. Then, when the fiercest onslaught from the enemy comes in your life, whatever time that is, whether it’s soon or whether it’s twenty years from now, you will be strong enough by the grace of God to stand up under it, and to be victorious.

Those are some of the reasons why the Holy Spirit, at times, will lead you into the wilderness for temptation. It is so that you may be tested. It is so that you may have an opportunity to glorify God and to be victorious, and to win a battle. And it is for further preparation, so that your spiritual muscles might be strengthened, so that you are ready and able to meet those future battles.

May the Lord help us to be faithful.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This homily was preached on by Father Joseph Gleason on Sunday, March 1, 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 homily transcription and publishing services) for Orthodox clergy and parish communities.

Posted in Bible Study, Fasting, Fr. Joseph Gleason, Matthew 4:1-11, Prayer, Temptation | Leave a comment

When You Fast

mp3 Audio: 2015_02_25-Fr Joseph-When_You_Fast.mp3

This sermon was preached by Fr. Joseph Gleason on Ash Wednesday, February 25, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services.

Gospel Reading: Matthew 6:16-21

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

The first three words of our Gospel reading today are “when you fast,” not “if you fast” but “when you fast.” It is a given. If you are a follower of Christ, then you will have times of fasting. If you do not have times of fasting, then you are not a follower of Christ. The very fact that He assumes it, “when you fast,” signals to us that this is something right at the center of what it means to be a Christian and a follower of Christ and a part of His Church.

When you fast, do not do it like the hypocrites. They disfigure their faces, and they look all sad because want other people to see what they are doing.[1] These are the people who are blogging every day on their blogs and on Facebook [saying], “Oh! It’s been so much time without meat. I don’t know how I’m going to survive.” Or, if you’re doing a full fast, “Oh! I’ve gone all day with just water and no food at all. I’m starving!” [They are] looking for sympathy, looking for other people to say, “Oh, how spiritual you are!”

Jesus said, “Don’t fast like this.”
You will fast if you are a follower of Christ, but not like that.
Jesus said, “Wash your face. Anoint your head. Smile! Don’t let people know that you’re fasting” [c.f. Matthew 6:17].

This isn’t something that we do for everybody else to see. This is something that we do for God to see, and it’s something that we do specifically for the case of spiritual warfare. Think of the people in Scripture who have fasted and prayed, and God heard their prayers.


Esther, before risking her life by going in to the king in an attempt to save her people: For three days, she fasted. From my understanding of that particular situation, that didn’t just mean that she laid off Big Macs for three days. That was three days of just water, three days of nothing. Every time her body said, “Man, I really want to eat something,” she just kept praying.

There are a lot of us who would be impressed with somebody who just prays for three days about something. “Man, you’re spending hours a day on your hands and knees, pouring your heart out to God in prayer. Isn’t that enough?” Esther did pray, but she also fasted.


Look at Nineveh. This wasn’t even Israel! This wasn’t even the people of God. It was just a pagan city that worshiped a pagan fish god. The Prophet Jonah came and prophesied destruction upon them for their wickedness and their idolatry. From the king down to the lowest servant, this entire city repented!

Can you imagine if [President Barack] Obama came on TV and said, “I have sinned against the Lord. We have earned great judgment from on high for our many wickednesses, but I call upon everybody in this nation to fast, to pray, to put on sack cloth and ashes, and to call out for mercy before the Most High.”? Across this nation, if hundreds of millions of people were to bow the knee to Christ, and to fast, and to pray, what a revival that would be!

That’s what happened in the city of Nineveh. They prayed. They fasted, and God heard them, and no disaster came to their city. God had mercy on them, because they humbled themselves before Him.


Is there something in your life – whether it’s freedom from a particular sin that has beset you, whether it is a particular relationship that you have struggled with so hard, whether it’s’ something with your spouse or something with your children? You have already tried praying, and praying, and praying. Have you tried fasting and praying? Have you tried a period of time where you go without food entirely and have nothing but water, and pour your heart out to God in prayer?

There are times that when you fast and pray that God hears from heaven.

Think about the disciples to whom Jesus gave the power to perform miracles and cast out demons. Yet, there was one particular child who had been tormented by this demon from early youth. The disciples, the Apostles themselves could do nothing about it. They couldn’t fix it. They couldn’t cast that demon out. Then Jesus easily cast the demon out of the boy.

The Apostles asked Him, “Why couldn’t we do it?” Jesus said, “This kind only comes out by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21).

There are some works of the devil, according to Christ, which you can combat not by prayer alone. It’s not enough. You can pray, and pray, and pray, and even you are an apostle, that demon will not let go. But if you fast and pray, you do warfare on a spiritual level, and you defeat the enemy. Then the devil flees.

There is a joke going around on the internet. That jokes says that Orthodoxy is just Christianity only harder. I used to think it was really funny, but I don’t really think it’s accurate the more I think about it. It’s just Christianity.

Anything easier than Orthodoxy is not Christianity. But it is inaccurate for another reason: Fasting wasn’t given to us just so God could cross his arms, frown, and say, “Ha! See what I am going to force you to go through, peons? You’re going to do it just because I said so, that’s why,” like God is up there trying to be hard on us. That is so far from the truth!

Yes, God requires it of us, but why? Is it just to be hard on us? Is it just to mess with us? Is it just to give us some tough rules so that we have to sweat through life and have difficulty?

God wants you to be free.

He wants you to be from every wile of the devil. He wants you to be free from every demon. If there are some demons that will only let go of you through fasting and prayer, then it is not the hardness of God, but it is the mercy of God, it is the goodness of God, it is the love of God that requires you, at least one time out of the year, to focus on doing the very thing that makes the demons let go.

If there is such incredible power in fasting and prayer that it can make demons let go in cases where even the apostles, without fasting, couldn’t make the demons let go, then isn’t it good of God to require of us that there are at least some times in our lives when we fast and pray?

That’s not hardness. That’s not meanness. That’s saying we are in battle against an enemy that is not merely trying to kill our bodies. We’re not talking about a little, tiny, temporary thing like World War I or World War II. If you get involved in World War I or World War II, you might get your body killed.

No, we’re talking about much higher stakes. We are talking about a battle in which the enemy wants nothing less than your eternal damnation, and the eternal damnation of your spouse, and the eternal damnation of each and every one of your children. Those are the stakes. What kind of a general would send his warriors into battle having never practiced shooting a gun?

[Matushka] Amy, you got to see some of how the United States Army works overseas. When they are about to send thousands of people into combat, is it standard practice to, the day before combat, bring them all into a room, hand each one of them a gun, and say, “All right. You’re going to get to try it out for the first time tomorrow. Good luck!”?

Is that how they do it? When do they give a soldier a gun? When you’re still in basic training and you haven’t been deployed to the combat zone yet. Before you actually go into combat, are you likely to end up receiving weeks or even months of practice in taking the [gun] apart, putting it back together, and firing it?

So it is with spiritual warfare! God is a good general, and He wants you to be well-prepared. So, he assigns times of fasting and prayer. You can add to those.

It can be June. You don’t have to be anywhere near Lent. It can be the middle of June, and you can have something major going on, and you can fast and pray. You don’t have to just do it when the whole Church is doing it. You can fast and pray on your own just like Queen Esther did.

But throughout the year, you get your practice. God assigns times for you to put food off to the side and make it secondary, put your physical and bodily needs off to the side and make them secondary, and first focus on the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

Learn through doing that the power of your prayers during that time of your life. Learn what it means to do spiritual warfare. Part of the point of it is not just for you to practice but for you to be reminded that you are in a war. The demons are invisible to us. The angels are invisible to us.

No matter how long we’ve been a Christian, we far too easily fall asleep and fall into the dream land of this world around us. [We] think that life is for nothing than to eat, and drink, and be merry, and have nice grilled hamburgers, and video games, and TV, and just enjoy life. You only live once! It’s true, you only live once, and then you go to the judgment seat. From that point on you spend eternity in either heaven or hell. So, because you only live once, you need to spend every moment of that life preparing yourself to be able to go to heaven and making sure that hell is not where you end up or you’ll be beating yourself up for all eternity saying, “Why didn’t I repent? I only live once.”

The fact that you only live once is not proof that you need all the pleasure you can get. No. St. Isaac the Syrian said, “This life has been given to you for the sake of repentance. Do not waste it on vain pursuits.”[2]


God has told us that in fasting and prayer he hears us. He has told us that in fasting and prayer we have a power over the demons that we do not have otherwise. We also know from the teaching of Scripture and the teaching of the Fathers that, when sin first entered the human race, it was through sinning in food that we first fell. They could eat everything in the whole garden, but God told Adam and Eve: “this one tree right here – do not eat that. Just one thing. Just fast from that one thing.” 

It would be like if God told you that you could have every hamburger at McDonald’s except for the double quarter pounder. Any of the other ones are fine, just not that one. You can go to Baskin Robbins, and you can have any flavor of ice cream except pistachio. That doesn’t even seem much like fasting, does it? You can have anything you want except for this one thing. That’s how easy God made it! Because they wouldn’t keep that fast, here we are.

That’s why we have a cemetery across the street full of dead bodies. That’s why all of our families in this church, over and over and over for the past several weeks, keep getting sick.

So how do we get out of this?

We die through food, and we gain eternal life through food. God gives us the Eucharist – holy food to eat to restore us to life. He also gives us the chance to be obedient in regard to food and to fast like our forefathers Adam and Eve did not.

They refused to fast from even one food in the Garden. Now that we are following Christ, now that we are seeking to be obedient to Him through food, through obedience to God in regard to food, we say, “You know what? My belly is not my god. I am not going to be enslaved by my stomach and eat just because my stomach says I am hungry.” 

You see, before the fall, Adam and Eve’s spirit and soul were in charge, and their fleshly body was a servant to their spirit. With their spirit, they communed with God and performed righteousness, and their fleshly body was merely a servant.

But today, [for] people who don’t know Christ, it’s flipped upside down. The fleshly body is in charge, and their soul and their spirit have become slaves. They call it freedom. “I have freedom to do whatever I want. I can eat whatever I want. I can sleep with whoever I want. I can watch TV and watch any show that I want. I can play all the video games I want. I can play whatever I want. I can sleep whenever I want.” They call it freedom. That’s not freedom; that’s slavery!

Do you realize what slavery is? For your spirit, for your soul, for your mind to be enslaved to the desires of your flesh so that whenever some chemicals rumble around in your stomach you stop whatever you’re doing and [think], “I’ve got to eat, and I’ve got to eat now;” you’re enslaved to your flesh. 

“Oh, I’m bored, and I’m too lazy to do anything useful. I don’t want to be bored anymore, so I’ve got to watch the TV; I’ve got to play the video games.” You’re a slave to your flesh. 

“Oh, these chemicals are running through my bloodstream, and that girl looks really pretty.” So you drop everything and pursue unclean activities. You’re a slave to your flesh. 

You’re not in control. Your entire life is being run by your fleshly body and its passions. That’s not freedom. That’s slavery. 

Through Lent, through fasting, through prayer, we remind our bodies that our bodies are not in charge.

Our stomach is not here to control our mind and our thoughts. Our mind, our thoughts, and our spirit is here to control our body. So as we go through this, it very important that we do not complain, that we do not grumble against God, that we do not mope around and say, “Man, I wonder why God makes us do this stuff.”

We need to trust Him as a loving Father. We need to recognize that He does this because He loves us, and He’s trying to heal us. Through doing this, He puts us in a position that our prayers have greater power, and this is something to thank Him for.

I am going to end the homily at this point, and before we continue Mass, I would like us to take three or five minutes. We have all, children and adults, been fasting from meat all day. Those of us who are adults have been fasting from all food today – nothing but water.

Christ has promised us that there is a special power that comes in fasting and prayer. What I’d like for us to do at this time – you can either come to these rails, or you can stay where you are and pull out the kneeler. We’ve already had many corporate prayers by the Church, and we will have many more. I’d like us to take three to five minutes and offer up some personal prayers – not just things that you’ve prayed about before at some point, but today, while you are fasting and praying, I want you to get on your knees, and I want you to personally pray before God believing that when you are fasting and praying,

He hears you. 

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


[1] Matthew 6:16, NKJV/OSB: Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting.

[2] Early Fathers from the Philokalia, Faber & Faber 1954; The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian, Holy Transfiguration Monastery 1984; and On Ascetical Life, SVS Press 1990.


This sermon was preached by Fr. Joseph Gleason on Ash Wednesday, February 25, 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 homily and presentation transcription, editing services, and publishing assistance) to Orthodox Clergy and parish communities.

Posted in Esther, Fasting, Fr. Joseph Gleason, Matthew 6:16-21 | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Original Gift

This presentation was given by Subdeacon Jeremy Conrad in February 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services.

mp3 Audio: 2015_Feb-Sdn_ Jeremy-The_Original_Gift.mp3

Hello. My name is Subdeacon Jeremy, and I teach a Sunday School class here at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois. A couple of weeks ago, I did this lesson and was asked to do it again on camera so that it could be shared on our website or our blog. So that’s what I am doing!

Russian Church


In the beginning, the Church was given a beautiful gift by Christ and the Apostles. It has beautiful wrapping. It has chanting. There is ornate architecture. There [are] vestments. There [are] bells. There is beauty. That gift is wrapped so beautifully, and was given to the Church, and it is very important that we maintain this wrapping. However, what’s inside is very important and very beautiful. It is full of priceless diamonds. Let me show you these diamonds and tell you a little bit about them.

One great big diamond that was given to us was one Church and one faith that has been passed on for 2,000 years all the way from Christ and the Apostles. Another diamond that was given to us is the Holy Trinity – our One God shown to us in three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Another beautiful diamond we were given is the Incarnation of Christ – how God, the second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God can come to earth and take on human flesh and join them together so that the created and the uncreated can have communion with each other.

We were given baptism – holy baptism not just to get wet; not just a symbol of something that happened on the inside but actual water baptism to wash away our sins. Included in that, we were also given chrismation, another sacrament in the Orthodox Church where the chrism, the oil, is applied to our body in a sort of anointing that is similar to the anointing of the priests in the Old Testament. Baptism and chrismation are our fourth diamond.

We were given bishops, priests, deacons, and laity – the four orders of the Church, of the episcopacy. We were given that as a gift by Christ and the Apostles and not only given that specifically, but given it through apostolic succession. We have succession of bishops all the way down, laying their hands on the next and the next and the next, all the way back to the Apostles. Our bishops today have tactile, tangible succession from the Apostles.

We also have apostolic succession of doctrine. Our doctrines, these diamonds that I’m giving you, are the same diamonds today as they were when the Apostles had them.

Another diamond we were given is the authority of those bishops in Ecumenical Councils not to develop doctrine, not to come up with new doctrine, but to more clearly articulate the doctrines that go from today all the way back to Christ and the Apostles. Those doctrines are most clearly articulated in the Ecumenical Councils.

We were also given, in this beautiful box, the authority of the Church alone to interpret Holy Scripture. The only interpretation that matters is the true interpretation given to it by the authors. Because the authors of Holy Scripture were members of the original Church who had all these diamonds, it is the Church, the Orthodox Church, to whom the Holy Scriptures were given, and it is the Orthodox Church alone who has the authority and even the ability to interpret correctly all of Holy Scripture.

In this box, we were given the Theotokos, the Mother of God. In Ecumenical Council, they began to use that actual word. We’ve always known that Mary is the Mother of God, but we didn’t always use the term. It is in Ecumenical Council that this term actually came to be used. A little before the Ecumenical Council, but formally in the Ecumenical Council, it began to be used: The Theotokos, the Mother of God.

And this is a Christological term. This doesn’t put Mary above. What it does is it says that the Christ child who was in her womb was God from the beginning. We also have included in this diamond the perpetual virginity of Mary as well.

Another diamond that we were given is Icons and their veneration. We have evidence of icons all the way back to the Church in the wilderness, all the way back to Moses! Even before that, the word icon is used in used in the creation, that man is made as an icon in the image of God. Icons began to be used more readily in worship in the second and third centuries after the Church, but we’ve had them all along. Luke, the Gospel writer, was a very famous iconographer. We have had icons from the beginning.

Another beautiful diamond that we were given is prayers to the saints. We don’t pray to them as God, but we do ask for their intercession for us. We also pray for the departed, those people who have been separated – their body lies in the grave, and their soul is either in paradise or in hades. We pray for them as they most likely pray for us.

We were given another beautiful diamond. One of my favorite diamonds is the Eucharist – the Body and Blood of Christ, the actual Body and Blood of Christ present in the bread and wine at the partaking of the Eucharist.

We were given another one (I am actually going to be teaching a class on this in the next week or so.) – the essence and energies distinction. It’s a long, drawn-out concept. It goes back many centuries. Gregory Palamas was one who wrote a lot about the essence and energies distinction. I won’t go into it here, but it is a very, very, very important doctrine that touches on, in fact, the idea of theosis in the Orthodox Church (and we will talk about that in another Sunday School lesson). That is a diamond that was given to us: the essence and energies distinction.

We were given the complete Bible based on the Septuagint, based on the Greek translation of the Old Testament. The Orthodox Church continues, to this day, to use the complete Bible. We do not take out the Maccabees. We do not take out Sirach. We do not take out Wisdom [of Solomon]. We do not take out Baruch and Judith and several others. We have the entire Bible that was given to us and quoted extensively from by the Apostles and by Christ as well.

We were given incense and candles. Of course we know incense and candles go clear back to the time of the Hebrews. It carried over into the Church as a remnant. It’s very important because it is in heaven. We will have candles and fire lights in heaven in the worship practice in heaven. According to John in the Revelation, we will also have incense up there. We see incense portrayed in some of the prophetic writings in the Old Testament as well. Incense and candles were given to the Church.

We were also given a beautiful liturgy. Beautiful liturgies! There is the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom in the East. There’s the Liturgy of Saint James also used in the East. We have the Liturgy of Saint Gregory in the West. In our church, we use the Liturgy of Saint Tikhon. Very, very beautiful, ancient liturgies and their derivations go back all the way to the early Church with our original diamonds. Included in that, don’t let me miss our church calendar. The calendar of feasts and fasts that we do throughout the year and the saints that we commemorate throughout the year, everything that we do on our church calendar was given to us as well will the liturgy.

Another diamond that we were given is Confession, and not just confession but absolution of our sins. No one in the Orthodox Church believes that the priest is the one who forgives us of our sins. No one believes that. What they do believe is that the priest, because he has been given the power by the bishop who has been given power by the succession of bishops all the way back to the Apostles and ultimately to Christ, has the power to absolve us of our sins through that power.

It is similar to a pastor in a Protestant gathering today at a Protestant wedding saying “by the power invested in me by the State of Illinois, I now pronounce you man and wife.” We have, in the line of our priests and bishops the ability to do absolution not by the power vested in us by the state but by the power vested in our priests and bishops by previous bishops all the way back to the apostles and Christ to absolve of sins based upon that. So [we have] Confession and absolution.

This beautiful gift has been preserved in the Orthodox Church for 2,000 years. For nearly twenty centuries, this beautiful gift has been held, has been protected, has been handed down throughout the centuries in the Orthodox Church. Isn’t this an amazing, beautiful gift? The Orthodox Church has a wonderful and beautiful gift from Jesus Christ and the Apostles, and this is a gift that I am proud to pass on to my children and grandchildren.


Well, the Western church was given this same gift. The Western church, the Roman Catholic Church was given this same gift, but about a thousand years ago, something happened. The Roman Catholic Church opened up the gift, and looked inside, and started seeing some things that they didn’t think were diamonds. They opened the gift, and they started messing with the contents. Thankfully, they did keep most of the diamonds in here, but they removed a very important diamond.

A diamond that they removed is the essence and energies distinction that I talked about a few minutes ago. That essence and energies distinction was removed, and in its place, was put a rock. This rock is called “absolute divine simplicity.” It is a heretical doctrine. It is an unorthodox doctrine, but as yet, it is still a doctrine that has been placed into the box by the Roman Catholic Church. They were given the perfect gift. They have since removed a diamond and replaced it with a rock.

They also began adding some more rocks into this. In the Nicene Creed, we quote, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, Who proceedeth from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.” They looked into this box, and they did not like this concept that the Holy Spirit proceeded only from the Father. The Roman Catholic Church added another rock, and this rock they added is called the filioque. 

Filioque simply means “and the Son.” So when the Roman Catholic Church, they say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit . . . Who procedeth from the Father and the Son, Who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.” They now have the Holy Spirit proceeded not from the Father, as is the truth, but they have the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son, which is a heresy. They have added another rock into the box.

Another rock that the Roman Catholic Church has added is several more “Ecumenical Councils.” I think they’re around 20 or 21 now. I don’t remember, but they have a lot of “ecumenical councils” that they’re calling “ecumenical.” I would put air quotes around it. They’re not ecumenical. The whole Church has not made that distinction.

They also added this concept of original guilt taken from Augustine and maybe Anselm, some ideas that were either misunderstood or were clearly wrong. Even Augustine admits in a book right before he dies that he got several things wrong, and he recants some of his teachings that he said. Augustine is a saint in the Orthodox Church, and yet some of his teachings were unorthodox! This idea of original guilt says that when Adam and Eve sinned, that [particular] sin is imputed all the way through children all the way through today. It’s called original sin.

The Orthodox Church does believe that we inherited the fall. We inherited the effects of the fall. We inherit sickness. We inherit pain. We inherit death, but we do not inherit Adam and Eve’s guilt. The guilt is not imputed to us; the evidence of the fall is. So Jesus, in His body, even had, when He took on flesh, the evidence of the fall just like every one of us. But Jesus was not born guilty. Neither are we. We are not born guilty of sin. We are born with the effects of sin, but the guilt of sin, original guilt was added into the box by the Roman Catholic Church.

Also, another concept I won’t go into a lot is the concept of merit – that we earn ourselves into heaven. Maybe “merit” and “earn” are not exactly synonymous, but they’re close. The idea is that if you die, and you don’t have enough merit to get into heaven, Mary, who is the treasurer of the treasury of merit, can dole out as she wills as people pray merit that was over and above by the saints.

The saints who are in heaven have extra merit that goes into the treasury, and that treasury is then doled out by Mary to people so that they can get into heaven too by merit. This is a very purely heretical doctrine. This is not a doctrine of the Orthodox Church. It’s not a doctrine of the original Church. This is a doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, and it stems from some other heretical ideas. It also has a lot of heretical ideas that come from it as well. So I am going to put “merit” in here, because the Roman Catholic Church put that stone into the box.

Another stone that was placed into the box is how Easter is calculated. In the Western Church, we call it Easter. Roman Catholics and Protestants would call it Easter. In the Eastern Rite Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, we call it Pascha. This means “Passover.” We calculate it based on the way we’ve always calculated it from the earliest Ecumenical Councils. The Roman Catholic Church calculates it differently. So there are times that we celebrate Easter on the same day, but most of the time, we are anywhere from a week to five or six, maybe. I know for sure five weeks can be different. The dates that we celebrate Easter and Pascha: that’s another stone that was added into the box.

The Roman Catholics added the doctrine of Purgatory. Of course you’ve all heard about that – where you go until you have received enough merit, basically. It goes back to the idea of merit. You stay in purgatory until you have enough merit to get out of purgatory and find yourself in paradise. The doctrine of purgatory was added into the box.

Because of the idea of original guilt that came from Augustine and Anselm, another stone that the Roman Catholics had to add in by default was this concept of the immaculate conception of Mary – that, because Christ was conceived in purity and did not ever touch sin, therefore the womb in which He grew could also not touch sin. So they’re saying that Mary also had to be conceived immaculately.

There’s an elaborate doctrine around what happened at the moment of her conception, but the concept is that Mary was conceived differently and was handled differently by God than any other person. Now the funny thing is [that] the immaculate conception of Mary [is] just like we affirm the immaculate conception of every human. We are not conceived with original guilt. But what they mean when they say it is different than what we mean, so we will place the immaculate conception of Mary as a heretical doctrine, a stone added into the box by the Roman Catholic Church.

Martin Luther, a priest in 1517 was very angry at the Roman Catholic Church because of this stone. This is a stone that was added in called indulgences – that people who were in purgatory or people who did not have enough merit could effectually gain more merit by themselves or other people doing things besides prayer to get more merit. For instance, they could go visit holy places. They could donate money to the church which was a big one: the money issue. They would end up buying indulgences. They would spend their money to buy their forgiveness, to buy their way out of purgatory. A person could read so many pages of Scripture, could say the Hail Mary or the Our Father so many times, and they were granted so many days, weeks, or years out of purgatory based on these indulgences.

This is a heretical doctrine in the Roman Catholic Church. Martin Luther saw it as such and rebelled against the Roman Catholic Church on that and wrote 95 Theses on the concept of indulgences. Most people, even Protestants, don’t know that the 95 Theses were predominantly about indulgences.

Another very sad stone that has been placed into the box by the Roman Catholics is one called “universal papal jurisdiction.” To use layman’s terms, that simply means that the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, believes that he has authority over every Christian on the planet. It doesn’t matter whether that person is Orthodox (as we are), is Protestant, is non-Christian. It does not matter. The Pope believes that he has the absolute ultimate authority over every single person on the planet. That was never received by the entire Church in any Ecumenical Council, and it is a stone, a heretical doctrine added into the box by the Western Church.

Another stone, and the final stone we’ll talk about today from the Roman Catholic Church is another one pertaining to the Pope: papal infallibility. This only happened in the late 19th century. In Vatican I, they added in the concept of the Pop, when he speaks ex cathedra, that he speaks infallibly, that he cannot make an error. This is a heretical doctrine, a very new, novel doctrine added in only about 140 years ago.

While the wrapping looks basically the same, and some would even argue that the wrapping has changed since Vatican II in the 1960’s, this box is definitely heavier. They were given a beautiful box with sixteen diamonds, and they now a beautiful box with fifteen diamonds and eleven rocks. Is this the same gift that they were given? Absolutely not! The box, the wrapping is the same; fifteen of the diamonds are the same; but they have taken out a diamond and added in eleven rocks.

This is not the same gift that they were given. This is not the gift from Christ and the Apostles. This is a changed gift which, in that case, is really no longer a gift. This is not something I would be happy to pass on to my children and grandchildren and say, “This is from Christ. This is from the Apostles.” This is not from Christ and the Apostles. This is changed; this is different. This is not the same gift!


Well, I mentioned Martin Luther a few minutes ago. Protestants unfortunately inherited this gift from the Roman Catholics. This is the gift they started with. They didn’t even start with the original gift, so it’s hard to completely put them at fault. And they protested, which is where they got the name “Protestant.” They looked in this box and they found many things that seemed like rocks to them, and they began to take them out. They removed these Roman Catholic rocks.

They looked in and they saw merit and the whole idea of the treasury of merit, and they took that rock right back out of that gift. They knew by looking that that was a heresy.

They looked in there, and they pulled out the rock of purgatory, and they got rid of it.

They also took out the rock of the immaculate conception of Mary (I have heard many people call it “the inaccurate deception!”). But the immaculate conception of Mary was removed by the Protestant churches.

The Protestant churches also threw out all those extra “ecumenical councils” that were added in by the Roman church.

The Protestants took out indulgences. Again, [this is] what Martin Luther was arguing against in his 95 Theses, when he nailed them on the wall in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517.

They also reached in and removed the concept of universal papal jurisdiction, that the pope is the boss; the pope is over every single person, Christian or non-Christian on the planet.

They removed the rock of papal infallibility that says that the pope can do wrong when he speaks ex cathedra. 

They removed those rocks. This is a great thing, because they saw the rocks as rocks, and they rightfully removed them. But there were several things in there that they looked in and thought were diamonds. They thought they were, but they were actually rocks. These are the things that the Protestants kept from the Roman Catholics.

They kept the stone of absolute divine simplicity. They did not keep the stone of essence and energies.

They kept the filioque in their creed instead of, as Christ says in the Gospels, “the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father” as the Creed has always said: “The Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father.” The Protestants had never heard the original Creed. So all along, because they inherited this from the Roman Catholics, the kept the filioque in their Creed, and when you go into most Protestant churches (not all of them but most Protestant churches), they will still continue to say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. They kept that heresy in their doctrines.

A third stone that they maintained is that whole concept of original guilt. There is no original guilt. There [are] original effects of the fall, effects of sin that are passed down, but the original sin, the original guilt is not true. They saw it as true, because they looked in their box, having never seen the original gift to compare it with, and they saw that rock as a diamond.

They also kept the changed date of Pascha. They still celebrate Easter when the Pope tells them to do it! All Protestants do it. Here’s the interesting thing: I’ve been told by Protestants that they don’t want to be Orthodox because some of the things that we do seem too Catholic to them. I would turn that back around on its ear and say, “I’m sorry, but I can’t be Protestant, because you Protestants are too Roman Catholic for me. You have too many things in there that are Roman Catholic that I can’t stand, I can’t deal with. Protestantism is too Roman Catholic for me.”

Again, having never seen the original gift, you can hardly fault them for mistaking some Roman Catholic rocks as diamonds. But now, when the Protestants lift up their box, they feel it, and it’s kind of empty. It didn’t feel very heavy, so they started adding some rocks of their own. The Protestants began to add rocks.

One rock is a rock called sola scriptura. They said that the Bible alone is all that a person needs – no person, no Church to interpret scripture for them. The Bible alone, with the help of the Holy Spirit is all that a person needs to understand and truly interpret Scripture. That heresy was added into the box by the Protestants.

They also added in a heresy, a rock, that throws out all tradition if possible! Now, logically, it cannot happen. That can’t even be the case logically, but they think that it is. So they have a concept that they use no tradition. “We are unto ourselves.” One says “no creed but Christ,” which, in and of itself is a creed! If you say, “no creed but Christ,” that is a creed. So you can’t escape it. They have added “no tradition” as a rock into their box.

They have also added in this concept of a sinner’s prayer. Now, using the idea of sola scriptura, you would think that they would never come up with the idea of the sinner’s prayer, since the sinner’s prayer is nowhere to be found in scriptura. They have taken from somewhere (I don’t know where), and they have this concept of the sinner’s prayer where a person says with their mouth that they believe in Christ, and all of the sudden, they believe they are going to heaven. That is nowhere to be found in Scripture. That is a stone added into the Protestant church box.

They have also added this concept of personal salvation. Have you ever heard, “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?” That concept of personal relationship as opposed to a relationship to the Church is a purely novel idea that is less than 500 years old. That novel idea is a stone that has been added into [the box]. We are saved in community. We are saved in the Church. We are not saved personally. In fact, I’ve heard it said that you go to hell alone, [but] you go to heaven in a community.

Another stone that was added by the Protestants was the concept of the individual interpretation of Scripture – “Me and My Bible. This is all I need is the Bible, and I can interpret it myself. I don’t need any church or any other authority to tell me what that Scripture means.” That has never been part of the original gift, and it still is not part of the original gift. This is part of the Protestant gift, and the Protestant gift, as you can see, is full of rocks!

They have this concept of the invisible church – that there is no hard, tangible evidence that a person is in the Church. The Orthodox [faith] says [that] when a person is baptized and chrismated into the Orthodox Church, you are now a member of the Church.

If you are not baptized and chrismated into the Orthodox Church, you are not a member of the Body of Christ or of the Church. It is very visible. It is tangible. It’s objective. This idea that is subjective, that you can be a part of the visible church and not a part of the invisible church or part of the invisible church but not a part of the visible church – this whole concept, this distinction and dichotomy between the visible and invisible church [is] brand new. This is a novel thing, a novel stone added into the Protestant gift.

[This is] a horrible one! Ecumenism – that there is not one Church, that we’re all part of the church, that it doesn’t matter what religion you are; it doesn’t matter what you believe; it doesn’t matter where you go to church as long as you go somewhere. This whole concept that we’re all part of the Body of Christ; we’re all believers, that is a heresy. It is called the heresy of ecumenism. Look it up. It starts with an “E.” E-C-U, ecumenism. This is a heresy that was brought in, and actually, the Roman Catholics now – it has gone upstream towards them as well. I will admit that it has poked its head into Orthodoxy a little bit, but that is something that we are trying to keep out. Ecumenism is a heresy! Period. Pure and simple.

Also, another stone added into the box by the Protestants is the abridged Bible based on a Masoretic Text. Remember, I said the Orthodox Church has our Bible based on the Septuagint, the Greek text which was translated several hundred years before Christ. The Protestants use a Masoretic Jewish version, a translation by Jews. People several hundred years after Christ made the [Masoretic] translation.

Let me ask you: Would you trust faithful Jewish people who were faithful to the Church several hundred years before Christ to translate Scripture and to have that same scripture quoted from extensively by Christ and the Apostles? Or would you rather trust a group of people who basically deny Christ, who hate Jesus, and who translated Scripture so that there are many places where prophesies of Christ are completely removed or changed? That is what the Masoretic Text is.

If you go on our website, you can look around and find enough documentation there to change your mind if you think the Masoretic Text is it. It’s not! You don’t go off the Masoretic Text which is fairly novel. You go off the Septuagint, which is the historical Greek translation of the early Scriptures. That stone of the Masoretic Text was added into the box.

By default, by adding some of those stones in there, we have to remove other ones which contradict it. So, they took out seven Roman Catholic rocks, and they kept four Roman Catholic rocks, but then they added eight more rocks to their own. Eight more Protestant rocks! But the method of protesting continued and instead of just adding rocks into it, now they start to reach in and throw away diamonds. These are the diamonds that they removed from the box:

They reached in their box, and they took out a beautiful diamond: baptism for the remission of sins and chrismation. They’ve stripped it. Some Protestants don’t baptize at all. Those that do don’t baptize three times by immersion. Those that do that still don’t believe that it really washes away your sins; they believe that it’s an outward sign of an inward work, that it’s basically just a pious skit that you do to show everybody really happened on the inside. Hence, a lot of Protestants don’t even baptize or they don’t think that they need to. That is taken out.

They took out the whole concept of one Church and one faith, and they added in that ecumenism we were talking about. They removed that big, beautiful diamond.

They removed the diamond of bishops, priests, and deacons in apostolic succession. There is no apostolic succession whatsoever in Protestant churches. They are completely cut off from the succession of the apostles. Even if it could be argued that they have apostolic succession by the laying on of hands, you have to have the laying on of hands and doctrine. The two together are what make apostolic succession.

If you take out the doctrine continuity, even if you have continuity of laying on of hands, it’s still not apostolic succession. So there is no way you can argue apostolic succession in the Protestant churches. They took that out! Now, some of them will call themselves deacons, but they don’t really have priests or bishops. Most of them have pastors.

They took out the authority of bishops and Ecumenical Councils. “Because we have no tradition, we have no ecumenical councils. Because we have no bishops, we have no authority of the Church to interpret the Holy Scriptures. It is my personal interpretation of Scripture that matters.” So they take out the authority of the Church, this diamond, and they replace it with a rock.

They took out the diamond of the Theotokos, the Mother of God. Many people, according to the original heresy that started in the Ecumenical Council that started the whole concept, will not call Mary the Theotokos, the Mother of God. They will deign to call her Christotokos at the very most, the Mother of Christ. They would not call her the Mother of God. Most Protestants will not, and they do not believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary most of the time although the early reformers did.

They took out a beautiful diamond of icons and their veneration. Most places, most Protestant churches will have no icons. [They won’t have] religions icons. They may have their pastor on a big jumbotron up there, but they will not have any icons of saints.

They took out the diamond of prayers – prayers to the saints, prayers for the departed. Now most Protestant prayers are pretty well devoid of anything having to do with the saints.

They took out one of my favorite diamonds, the beautiful diamond of the Eucharist being the Body and Blood of Christ. Now it’s just bread and wine. Often times it’s bread and grape juice. It’s not the Body and Blood of Christ anymore. It’s just a reminder; it’s just a remembrance; it’s just a memorial. Christ is nowhere present in the Protestant Eucharist.

They took out the diamond of the complete Bible based on the Septuagint as I mentioned. They now have the stone of the Masoretic Text.

They took out incense and candles, and they left them out of most of their worship services. Some Protestants will use candles during Advent, but other than that, there [are] no candles and incense in their services.

They took out the liturgy, and they took out the calendar. There is still some remnant of liturgy, but mostly, the only thing that they celebrate on the calendar is Christmas and Easter. Maybe those two. Some people will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and St. Valentine’s Day, but every day is a commemoration in the Orthodox Church. Most people have no idea that there is any kind of liturgical calendar or any kind of liturgy in the Orthodox Church. They have been so cut off from the original Church that they don’t even have a calendar or a liturgy.

They took out of their box confession and absolution. Now, they may go to an accountability group. They may go and speak about their sins, because you just can’t get away from some of these truths. But the whole ability for the priest to absolve them of their sins based on the power given to [him] by the episcopacy is gone. It’s completely devoid in Protestant churches.


All of those diamonds have been removed from the box, from the gift that the Protestant churches have been given. Now the Protestants would like to say that, at least, we agree on the basics; “at least, when you look in here, we can agree on the basics!” So we [ask]: What are the basics? What are the basics that we still agree on?

The Holy Trinity

They reach in, and they say, “We still believe in the Holy Trinity. We still believe in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” But, to be honest, most Protestants hardly mention the Trinity. They don’t end their prayers with it the way that we do in the Orthodox Church. Every prayer that we have ends: “In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

They hardly ever use or invoke the name of the Trinity. They won’t cross themselves at the mention of the Godhead. They’ve emptied it so much of all of its meaning, that it really isn’t even a diamond anymore! The Protestant concept of the Trinity kind of looks like a diamond, but it’s really an aluminum foil ball that they’ve dropped into their gift.

The Incarnation of Christ

One more diamond that’s remaining in there, that they’ll say that we have in common is [that] we believe in the Incarnation of Christ. “We believe that Jesus, that God took on flesh in the form of Christ, in the form of Jesus. We believe that in common with you.”

But, if you think about it, denying the Theotokos, denying the Mother of God title given to Mary actually denies the Incarnation. It is a denial of the Incarnation not to use the “Theotokos” word, her title. It is also denying the Incarnation when you deny the veneration of icons. When you look in the Protestant box, they have replaced even the big diamond of the incarnation with another foil ball.

Do we even agree on the basics? There are no diamonds in there. None!

They’ve removed them all. Then, to add insult to injury, in one fell swoop, the Protestants take all of these rocks and these foil balls, and they take them out of the beautiful wrapping that they were given. They throw away the wrapping of chanting, of ornate architecture, of ornate vestments, and bells, and beauty; and they replace it with starkness, with blank walls, with jumbotrons, and with stage bands. They have taken away the beauty of the gift and the wrapping, and dumped all of those rocks and foil balls into a cardboard box.


You know, what’s really strange is that when the Protestants look at their gift and then compare it side-by-side with our gift, they say, “Why did you guys change so much? Why did you add so many things to the faith?” What’s sad is [that] they think that their gift is the original gift even though, as it is now, at best it’s 500 years old at the oldest. Our gift goes back nearly 2,000 years to 33 A.D. and to Christ and the Apostles – nearly 2,000 years of a gift!

Is this the gift that Christ and the Apostles gave the Church? How is it different? How is it the same? Is it even remotely the same? Is this [cardboard box full of rocks and foil] a gift that you would want to pass on to your children and grandchildren? Not me. Not when I can give them this beautiful gift.

Orthodoxy has sixteen priceless diamonds in a beautiful box.

The Roman Catholics would like to say that their gift is the same as ours, that we’re “two lungs” of the same Church. But Roman Catholics have fifteen diamonds and eleven rocks in a beautiful box. [It’s] not the same gift.

Protestants would like to say that we agree on the basics and that basically all believers are in the same church, but Protestants have two foil balls and twelve rocks in a cardboard box! They are not the same gift.

The Orthodox Church alone maintains the original gift: All the diamonds in a beautiful wrapping, uncorrupted, unchanged for 2,000 years. The only place where you can get the gift like this is in the Orthodox Church. Keep your gift, and protect it, and never, ever settle for any other gift except the gift of the Orthodox Church.

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

This presentation was given by Subdeacon Jeremy Conrad in February 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services. Dormition Text Services offers full-service secretarial support (including homily and presentation transcription and editing) for Orthodox clergy and parish communities.


Posted in Christian Education, Heresies, Subdeacon Jeremy Conrad | Leave a comment

On the Feast of Saint Benedict

mp3 Audio: 2015_03_20-Sbdn_Jeremy-Feast_of_St_ Benedict_2015.mp3

This sermon was preached by Subdeacon Jeremy Conrad on the Feast of Saint Benedict of Nursia, Friday, March 20, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha Illinois.

Transcribed by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services.


I have to admit that I am a little nervous right now, not because I don’t like speaking in front of people – that doesn’t bother me- but of what the response is going to be afterwards!

Pull your toes back a little, because they’re going to get stepped on a little. All of us are.

St. Benedict of Nursia

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

Well, today, we celebrate the feast of Saint Benedict. I’ve got a small icon of him over here. We’ll be able to venerate it later, but I will put it up here. Anything that I say, blame him, okay?

During Benedict’s time, much like what is going on around the world today, Saint Benedict lived in a politically and theologically turbulent time. What was going on: About 70 years before he was born, Rome had fallen to some Barbarian invasions, and civil authority during that time was in ruin. This was Northern Italy.

There were a lot of wars. There was a lot of violence. There was a lot of anarchy going on, and even the Orthodox Church at this time was being torn apart as the Copts at this time were just splitting away from the Orthodox Church.

Benedict was born around 480 AD. Right before that, we had had the Council of Chalcedon. So, this whole split with the Coptic Church was going on right then. So there was a lot of unrest both politically and in the Church at this time.

Benedict was born into a noble family. He was sent to Rome to study. They had a lot of money, so he went to Rome to study, but when he got there, he really hated all of the decadence that he found there, and he ended up abandoning the city completely for a solitary life. He went up to live in the hills.

There is  a long story about the things that happened to him. At one point, they tried to kill him. Some monks in one of the monasteries tried to kill him as he was the abbot!

But eventually, he became the abbot of another monastery and developed what has become known as The Rule of Saint Benedict. While this Rule is most often used in a monastic setting, and has actually been followed by monks and nuns for probably around 1500 years right now, it’s also often used by laypeople.

In probably about six to eight weeks, my wife and I are going to become what they call oblates of a Benedictine monastery located in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado about 90 minutes from Colorado Springs. An oblate is just one who has made the decision, with the blessing of your spiritual father, to begin, as much as possible, to begin to apply that Rule of Saint Benedict into your lives and into your home.

We’re not going to be monastic per se, but we’re going to start taking on a lot of the aspects of the Rule of Saint Benedict. We already have been doing this for about a year. But they are going to formalize it. We will be what are called novices in May.

Fr. Michael asked us to live this life as much as we can without a lot of oversight for a year to see if this is something we want to do, and then in May it will be a year. Then we will be – Fr. Joseph will be sent some sort of words or a liturgy to say over us, and we will be brought in as novices in this May. Then, Lord willing, we will be full oblates a year from this May, in 2016 that would be.

Now, if you find yourself wondering, “How can a man, from fifteen centuries ago, who never was married and never had any children of his own have any understanding of what it is like to have a Christian family in the United States of America in 2015 like we do, and tells us how we should live?”, keep in mind that the Rule of Saint Benedict is very easily adapted and applied to family life, because, at its most basic, a monastery is basically just a small family.

[A monastery] is usually men or women separated. Once in a while, they’ve got some men and women in the same monastery under the same authority of one abbot. The word abbot is based on the Aramaic abba, or, as Jesus said it, Abba Father, which Christ used basically to describe His own Father, God the Father. As such, the Rule instructs and abbot or a father how to run a monastery, but it can also be easily applied to the abba or the father within the Christian home.

I would (and I have talked to Fr. Joseph about this, in fact he purchased one today) – but I would encourage every family in our parish (especially the father) to find a copy of this.

[Listen My Son] is a book written by a Roman Catholic priest, but he has taken The Rule of Saint Benedict (and, first of all, get The Rule. We’re going to be given a copy, each of us, a Rule of Saint Benedict. It’s a short book), but this takes the Rule, and breaks it up into four months. It’s basically a daily devotional, and you read daily for four months, and then you start over. So you would actually read through it three times in a year. (Dwight Longenecker if you can’t see it)

It takes the Rule and makes it kind of devotional, but it takes it out of the monastery and puts it into a family is basically what he is doing. So you read a section of the Rule, and then he takes it and says, “How does this work within a family?” Some of it is stretching, because, you know, there’s even a line in here about, “when you sleep, don’t sleep with your swords strapped to your leg, because you might hurt yourself.” I mean, that probably… “Don’t sleep with your knife.” Maybe that’s what that means. There’s a lot of stuff in here that you kind of have to stretch it to fit.

For instance, one thing is, did you guys notice, when you went to Alabama, that they had, at the top of the first set of stairs, they had a candle burning? That’s Benedict. He tells people to do that in the dormitories, to have a candle burning. It symbolizes keeping watch. So things like that, that you can apply into your family life.

There [are] a lot of good nuggets of truth that will help grow into the father and the family that God desires from this book. 

Saint Benedict covers a wide variety of important topics in the Rule ranging from what [constitutes] appropriate clothing to [the inclusion of] a long part on humility.
He talks about how many Psalms should be said each day [and] the jobs that are assigned to each person.
He talks about how discipline in the monastery or in the family is to be handled and how even dormitories are to be arranged and set up.

So there are a lot of things he talks about in here. Each of these can be tweaked to really apply to the life of a Christian family.

Benedict was really centrally concerned with dispelling the mortal sin of sloth. That was his focus. And you’ll read through this. There’s a lot of stuff in here, but he focuses mainly on overcoming sloth.

To him, sloth is not simply being physically lazy, although there is that aspect. Instead, it is a state of mind that makes a person unable to actually take spiritual action. It’s complacency. It’s disinterestedness in moving forward with your life spiritually. Somebody may show you things, teach you things, and you hear it, but you just don’t feel like moving forward. That’s what he’s talking about in this kind of thing.

What happens is [this]: It creates a deadly downward spiral in your life that is basically disobedience leading to more disobedience, because when you get that way, then it is harder to pull yourself up out of it. Although it really seems obvious, it really needs to be said that the remedy for disobedience is strict obedience. So Benedict focuses most strongly on strict obedience to the abbot in order to overcome sloth.

So how do we overcome sloth?

Well there are four practical ways I am going to bring up tonight. There are more in here, but four practical ways directly from The Rule of Saint Benedict:


In the very beginning of The Rule of Saint Benedict, he actually uses the word[s] “wake up.

It’s time for us to move from a state of spiritual complacency to a state of spiritual inertia. We have been lulled to sleep, into a dream world by the world that we live in. We have fallen into the idea that we are here for entertainment, for comfort, for relaxation, and for a life of ease; and we go through our days, each one slipping quickly into the next day, and we don’t really make a lot of progress toward the kingdom of God because we are seeking comfort and ease instead.

Have you ever noticed how fast time goes when you are sleeping? I know sometimes we’ve been driving home from somewhere, even from church, and Landon will fall asleep, and we’ll get home, and he’ll say, “How did we get here already?” When you sleep, time goes by so fast! This is one of Satan’s tricks. We need sleep, absolutely! But one of his ways is, “If I can keep you sleeping longer, that’s time that you’re not focused on Christ. That’s time that you’re not progressing forward.”

So, Benedict noticed, even in his time that sloth and complacency were absolute killers of the human soul and of the family.

It’s also time for us to wake up literally. Stop sleeping so much!

Just like many monastics wean themselves from food – like we eat a lot of food, and over time, I’ve read several stories as we’ve read the Prologue of people who’ve weaned themselves off of food until they’re eating minimally. They’re fasting a lot. They’re eating a lot of bread and water. Their bodies have grown accustomed to less food. We can actually wean ourselves from so much sleep.

I was looking up yesterday, and according to WebMD and the Sleep Foundation (there’s two different websites I looked at), most adults today, they say, need an average of seven hours of sleep a day. Now, kids were a little bit more, and older people were a little bit more too, but [for] most adults it’s seven hours.

Like I said, sleep’s necessary, but it’s become an entrenched passion in so many people’s lives that a lot of people sleep for ten hours or twelve hours. I was reading [of] some people that sleep for 18 and 20 hours a day! That’s just what they start doing. If you’re sleeping for more than seven hours, you’ve got to ask yourself: “Am I being slothful?”

Just recently, I thought, “I need eight hours of sleep.” So whenever I think of what time I need to get up, I always plan, like if I have to get up at six, I go, “Seven, eight, nine, ten. So I need to go to bed at 10:00 at night in order to get eight hours of sleep.” I do that all the time. I rarely get it, but according to these, seven hours is all that an adult needs. If you’re getting a lot more sleep than that, then we need to ask, “Are we being slothful?

And what could be, or what should you be doing instead?

Are there chores that you have that you’ve been putting off?
Dishes piling up?
Repairs that should have been made?
Bathrooms that need cleaned?
Oil in your car that needs changed?
Grass that needs cut?
Are you doing your morning and evening prayers every day?
Are there people that you could be helping?
Are there Orthodox books that you could be reading?

If there are, wake up! 


The second thing is discipline. It might be that sleep isn’t your problem, but when you’re awake, what are you doing?

Saint Benedict set up a strict schedule for the men under his care. This schedule was centered on discipline and obedience, and it’s not just to maintain order, but is to build godly character. Everyone does the same thing at the same time in humble submission to their abbot, to their father.

When the bell rings, you eat, and when it is not time to eat, you don’t eat.When it is not mealtime, you don’t eat, because you eat at mealtime! You live by this schedule.

When it is time for prayers (and, by the way, Saint Benedict has seven times each day and once in the middle of the night, so eight times in a 24-hour period, you’re at prayer), when everybody gets up for prayer, you go to prayer.

When everybody leaves, you leave too. When it’s time to work, everyone’s busy about their assigned duties.

No one grumbles. No one complains. That’s the way that The Rule of Saint Benedict is set up.

When you don’t have a schedule or an agenda, the day gets away from you.

I am speaking to myself right now. How many times I get up, and Landon will ask me, “What are we doing today?” Well, I don’t know, and then here it is 4:00, and I haven’t done anything today, because I didn’t plan my day. You end up getting to the end of your day and realize that you have been busy about nothing, and you’ve accomplished nothing in the day.

In order to overcome sloth, adherence to a schedule is imperative.

If you have a family, make a schedule.
If it is just you and your spouse, make a schedule.
If you live alone, make a schedule, and stick to it, and be disciplined.


I didn’t bring it with me, but I have a coffee mug that I think you bought for me. It says “Benedict: Ora et Labora: Prayer and Work.”

Saint Benedict’s guiding principle is ora et labora. 

Ora is prayer, and as I mentioned, Saint Benedict had scheduled corporate prayers eight times each 24-hour period. This is the monastic bare minimum. Eight times is the minimum for a monastery.

For those of us who are not monastic, what’s the minimum? Well, there’s some debate on this, but it seems that, pretty well, a consensus is that the bare minimum for a Christian is at least twice a day: Once in the morning and once in the evening you and your family stand in front of your icons and pray matins prayers and vespers prayers.

If you are not doing that, you’re not even on the prayer radar. You’re not even meeting the bare minimum scraping by.

Aside from this, we should probably be constantly in prayer, intercessory prayers, prayers to the saints, saying the Hail Mary, saying the Lord’s Prayer throughout the day.

Prayer is our most valuable weapon in this spiritual battle.

Imagine if you’re going to go into hand-to-hand combat with your mortal enemy, and you just stand there and never pick up your weapon. That’s basically what you do when you’re not praying. You’re just keeping your hands down and letting yourself get beat up, letting your family get beat up.

Do you think you’ll last long in the battle doing that? What makes you think you and your family will last any longer against your passions in this battle, in the war against Satan and hell, if you never pick up your weapon of prayer?


The fourth one: We had “wake up.” We had discipline. We had prayer. Ora et labora. Labora is work.

The other half of Saint Benedict’s guiding principle is work.

Our culture has two competing categories when it comes to work: One group says, “I hate to work, and I’m not going to.” The other group says, “I hate to work, and therefore I am going to work only as much as I need to get by and to pay the bills, and after that, I am done.” Both of those are un-biblical ways of looking at work.

Even before the Fall, before the Fall, God assigned work. Man was tasked to do things like: He was a botanist. He was tending the garden. He was a zoologist. He was taking care of animals and naming them. Adam was tending the garden and taking care of the animals, and, even in the perfect world of Eden, man in found working.

This work is not just assumed, but it is commanded. In Genesis, on the seventh day of creation, when God rested from His labors, He said, “six days you shall labor and do all your work” [Exodus 20:9]. So He establishes a day of rest. We hear this, but included in the command is a command also to work. And it says how many days? Six days.

This is not some twenty to thirty measly little hours because that’s what your boss assigned you to work that week. It’s not some measly little forty hours because you have a full-time job. This work is not some five-day work week with a two-day weekend tacked on.

And God said that we are to labor for six days, so that when you get home from your job after working eight hours, congratulations. You’re half-way through your work day, because what happens is [this]: Now you get to come home, and you get to finish the other eight hours. Actually [it’s] nine, if we’re only sleeping seven. So, cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, studying Holy Scripture, reading Orthodox books, teaching your children, being a father or mother, saying your prayers. . .

Where did we get the idea that our days off from our job are meant to be sleeping, browsing the internet, playing games, lounging or resting?

It didn’t come from God. And if it didn’t come from God, where did it come from? God said, “Six days you labor, and then you rest.” Look, do you want to go to heaven or not? That’s what it amounts to. Do you want to climb that ladder of divine ascent or not? Tell the truth. I mean, honestly. If you do, you can’t do that lying on your memory foam mattress or looking around on Facebook. That’s not how it works.

Do you want your children to go to heaven? Is that honestly your passion or your goal? You cannot get them there by lounging in that chair or playing that computer game.

According to our holy father Saint Benedict whom we commemorate today, the only way to overcome the spiritual deadly mortal sloth – it will send you to hell – is to wake up, to get disciplined, to pray, and to work.

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


This sermon was preached by Subdeacon Jeremy Conrad on the Feast of Saint Benedict of Nursia, Sunday, March 15, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha Illinois.

Transcribed by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services.

Through the prayers of Saint Benedict, may the Lord have mercy on us and save us. 

Posted in Icons, St. Benedict, Subdeacon Jeremy Conrad, The Orthodox Christian Family | Leave a comment