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.

STOLEN SYMBOLS

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.

THE TABERNACLE

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.

PINK: A MANLY, PRIESTLY COLOR

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.

AARON’S BREASTPLATE

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.

ROSE OF SHARON AND LILY OF THE VALLEY

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.

MARKETING TACTICS

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.

LAETARE SUNDAY

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.

GUARDING THE DEPOSIT

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.


NOTES AND REFERENCES

[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. http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2013/08/pink-wasnt-always-girly/278535/.

[9] Maglaty, Jeanne. “When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink.” Smithsonian Magazine, April 7, 2011. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/when-did-girls-start-wearing-pink-1370097/?no-ist.

[10] http://thecatholictraveler.com/lenten-station-churches-of-rome/

[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. http://wdtprs.com/blog/2010/03/wdtprs-4th-sunday-of-lent-laetare-collect-2002mr/.

[12] “4th Sunday of Lent (Laetare Sunday).” Fish Eaters. http://fisheaters.com/customslent7.html.


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.

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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

MY BURDEN IS LIGHT

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?

WHAT’S IN YOUR BUCKET?

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.

THE ROAD

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.

THE DEMON RETURNS

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.

LOCK YOUR DOOR?

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.

THE STATE OF YOUR HEART

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
Amen.  


[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.

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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.

THE HOSPITAL

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 AND THE WIDOW

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.

THE WOMAN FROM THE AREA OF TYRE AND SIDON

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.

SPEAK THE WORD ONLY: THE ROMAN CENTURION

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.

THE PROPER ORDER

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.

TAKE YOUR MEDICINE

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.


NOTES AND REFERENCES

[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.

PRAYER AND FASTING

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.

STUDY THE SCRIPTURES

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.

PREPARE FOR BATTLE DURING PEACEFUL TIMES

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?

RUNNING THE RACE

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.
Amen.


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

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.

NINEVEH

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.

ONLY BY PRAYER AND FASTING

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]

ADAM AND EVE

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. 


NOTES AND REFERENCES

[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


THE ORTHODOX GIFT

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.

THE ROMAN CATHOLIC GIFT

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!

THE PROTESTANT 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.

BUT WE AGREE ON THE BASICS. . .

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.

COMPARING THE GIFTS

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.
Amen.


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. 
Amen. 

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:

WAKE UP!

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! 

DISCIPLINE

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.

PRAYER

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?

WORK

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. 
Amen. 

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

Working Until The End of the Day

mp3 Audio: Fr_Joseph-Working_Until_the_End_of_the_Day.mp3

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

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services.


Gospel: Matthew 20:1-16

 

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

This particular parable would do well to teach us not to envy. We currently live in a culture which is very egalitarian. It treats it as a virtue to treat everyone exactly the same. Equal work for equal pay! It doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female. It doesn’t matter whether you’re single. It doesn’t matter whether you have a family to support. Our current culture says,

“The only thing that matters is how much work you do, and you should be paid accordingly.”

Jesus stomps on that idea.

Think about it: In today’s terms, suppose that the very last person at the eleventh hour was offered a full day’s wages. Let’s say that’s $80. That means that he earned $80 an hour for that one hour that he worked. Now, think of the people at the beginning of the day. They put in a good eight or maybe ten hours, maybe more.

Just for easy math, let’s say it was ten hours that they put in that day – ten hours of hard labor, and they got a day’s wage. Say that’s $80. That means that person got $8 an hour for the same work. They were working in the same field doing the same task. Jesus says it is perfectly just and lawful for him to pay $8 an hour to these people and $80 an hour to these people. He says,

“Is it not just for me to do what I will with My own? Did you not agree with me for this amount of money?”

If you agreed to work for $8 an hour, and you work and get paid $8 an hour, you have absolutely nothing to complain about. If the master pays somebody else $80 an hour, it’s none of your business!

He uses this as an analogy for the kingdom of Heaven.

There are some people who come into this early in the game.

Think of Enoch.
Think of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Think of Moses.

They came into this very, very early in the game. They were not given the same things that we’re given. Now, they were given wonderful things, but when Abraham was born, there was no Orthodox Study Bible. We think, “Well, what about the Old Testament?” No, there was no Old Testament. “Well, if there’s no Old Testament, what about the Pentateuch – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy?” Well, if that was going to be written down by Moses, that was still 400 years later.

Think of what Abraham had to do without having any of these Scriptures to read that we have. He couldn’t read about the Israelites crossing the Red Sea or the plagues of Egypt. He couldn’t read about the birth of Christ. He couldn’t take the Eucharist. So many of the things we take for granted, this rich inheritance that we have – Abraham didn’t have that. God dealt with him where he was, and where he was, a shepherd out in the wilderness, he believed God; and God accounted it to him as righteousness. Out of him, He raised up a mighty nation.

I have to wonder, “How well would I fare, how well would any of us fare, if you took away almost the entire history of the Church and Israel? Give us no Scripture, and then stick us out in the wilderness in the Middle East to herd a bunch of sheep. How well would we live our lives for God? How faithful would we be without all of this inheritance to hold us up and to prop us up?”

But, by the mercy of God, even though we have arrived at the eleventh hour, God is merciful and gracious enough to give us the same heaven that He gives Abraham. We inherit the same paradise that he gives to Moses. These great forefathers of the faith, and mothers such as Hannah, Ruth, Mary: We inherit the same heaven that they do.

This is how the kingdom of heaven works. Some were brought in on this very early, some very late. It works the same way during every time according to age.

In our age now, there are some who, like our blessed little ones in this church, get introduced to the Church very, very early. [They are] baptized into the Church as infants, raised up in the Church, raised up with daily family prayer, raised up with a weekly Eucharist, greatly blessed. God charges them to work a full day – their full lives – for the kingdom.

There are others of us that didn’t discover the Church until we were 30 years old or 70 years old. God doesn’t say, “It’s too late. You can’t get in.” He says, “No, it’s for you the eleventh hour. The Church has been around all this time, but you just found out about it at the age of 70. There is still work to be done. Come out into the field. Let’s work. Let’s work for the kingdom, and I’ll pay you a full day’s wages. You can come into the paradise the same as the person who, 70 years ago was baptized into the Church and has faithfully lived the past 70 years for Christ. You can come in now and live out the rest of your life for Christ, and I’ll send you to the same paradise. I will bring you to heaven to be with Me and My Father.”

It’s very encouraging, but it can also tempt a person to be lax, to be careless. That’s a danger that we need to avoid. You see, there is one thing that all these workers in the vineyard have in common. It’s a very subtle point in this particular parable, but it’s a critical point. They all get paid, but what they all have in common is that they all persevered to the end.

In this particular parable, what Jesus does not mention is: “What about the guy that started early in the day, working hard, and worked hard for a whole hour, and after one hour said, ‘This is just too hard. I can’t take this. This is too much work’?” So he leaves, and he walks away. He doesn’t work out there anymore. He doesn’t work in the field; he doesn’t work in the vineyard; he just goes back to being idle.

Now, he put an hour’s work in the same as the guy who was called at the eleventh hour. We know that the guy who was called in at the eleventh hour and worked until the end of the day got a day’s wages. But how much payment do you think was received by the guy who worked an hour early in the day and then gave up and went back to being idle? Do you think he was paid anything? He was not!

Both may have worked the same amount of time; both may have put in the same amount of effort, but one persevered to the end and the other did not.

We read in Scripture about King Uzziah. He’s mentioned in Isaiah 6. “In the year that King Uzziah died, I was high and lifted up, and I saw the Lord” (cf Isaiah 6:1). King Uzziah is portrayed as a very good, godly king. For 52 years, he faithfully ruled Israel in a godly way. After all that, after 52 years of being a faithful, godly king, he succumbed to pride. He saw some of the things that the priests were doing in the temple and said, “Well, I’m the king. I should be able to do that too. I, I, I . . .”

So he presumed to take tasks upon himself which were reserved for the priests, and because of his prideful thoughts, God struck him with leprosy on his head which instantly made him ineligible to even be in the temple at all, and he ran out of the temple. Now, instead of ruling as king, he’s an outcast as a leper. Then he dies, and even in death, they do not bury him with the other kings because he had leprosy. Even in death, he’s a castaway. Now, I pray to God that he repented. I pray to God that he is in heaven.

This gives us a sobering picture of what it means to live faithfully for god for 52 years and then just to get tired, just to give up, to stop working in the field, to stop working in the vineyard, and say, “You know what? I’ve done enough. I’ve done enough! I’m done! I’m not going to persevere. I’m not going any further with this.”

There is another parable that Jesus tells that brings this even more to light, and it is the parable of the talents.[1] There is the man given five talents, the man given two talents, and the man given one.

The one given five talents was faithful to work. He invested it. He did business. He increased that five talents up to ten talents worth of money and presented it to his master. His master said, “Well done thou good and faithful servant. Because you have been faithful in little, I will give you command over much. I will put you in control over ten cities in my kingdom. You’ll be a great governor.”

The man who was given two talents worked faithfully. He invested it. He did business. He multiplied that two talents up to four talents worth of money, and he presented it to his master. His master said, “Well done thou good and faithful servant. You’ve been faithful in little, so I’ll give you command over much. I’ll give you four cities in my kingdom.”

In one sense, they both were paid the same, because both of them, regardless of how much they started with or how much they ended up with, were given a place in the kingdom. Both of them got to be a part of the master’s kingdom. In another sense, the one who had more was granted even more, and that is certainly God’s prerogative. He can do what He will with His own. If He wants to give greater rewards, He’s certainly free to do that.

But the one who only had one talent: He didn’t throw it away. He didn’t go off and spend it on pleasures and steal it. The only thing he did was be lazy, be idle. He didn’t want to work. He said, “You know what? I’ll just bury this and keep it for later. When the master gets back, I’ll give him his money back. No harm; no foul.”

He gives that talent back, and the master says, “You wicked, lazy servant.” He had him cast out. He couldn’t even be in the kingdom. He took that one talent away, and he gave it to the guy that had ten. The other servants said, “Lord, he’s already got ten. You’re going to give him an eleventh one?” And Jesus says,

“Unto him who has, even more shall be given. But unto him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” 

It doesn’t matter whether you are given little or much. If you are faithful with it; if you work hard with it; if you’re like the men with five talents or two talents who are faithful, and you are diligent, and you work hard; if you are like the men in the vineyard who, whether you called at the beginning of the day or the end of the day, if you go out there and work hard faithfully ‘til the end, it doesn’t matter. God will reward you. God will give you a place in His kingdom.

But if you refuse to go in the vineyard at all; or if, having gone out there, you give up, having put your hand to the plow, if you turn back and say, “This is just too hard. I’m not willing to work this hard” like the man with one talent; if you’re so wicked and slothful that you don’t want to do anything with it and just let it sit there and collect dust, then even what little you do have will be taken away and given to someone else. Your very place in the kingdom will be forfeit.

God called them to work in the field. He did not call them to play. He called them to work in the field. He did not call them to entertain themselves or to be comfortable. He called them to work in the heat of the day. He didn’t call them to the shade with pink lemonade. He called them to work. Jesus Himself is the One that says, “This is what the kingdom of heaven is like.” Do you want it? You’re going to have to work!

“Oh! I caught you! You said ‘work’ in the same context as heaven and salvation! So, see, you believe in works-salvation. You just think you’re going to earn your way to heaven, don’t you?” 

Well, let me ask you: The one who only worked for an hour, was the master being very generous to give him a day’s wages, or did he really, truly earn a whole day’s wages just by working for one hour?

“Well, that’s what they agreed on. That was the agreement!”

Fine. Was the agreement set up in such a way that there was an even trade being made? Absolutely not! No one in their right mind would say, “Yeah, it’s worth a full day’s wages just to go out and work for an hour in the field. The Lord was very, very generous, very, very gracious. The fact that they agreed on it together changes nothing.

If a generous man makes an agreement with you that “if you’ll just take care of my flower garden, just keep my flower garden and my front yard nice and trimmed, I’m going to give you a million dollars,” would you be foolish enough to say, “I earned all that money myself. That’s mine. I did that. I deserved it.”?

Then what kind of a fool would think that anything we could do for the Lord would earn us heaven, would earn us an eternal place in glory?

There is nothing you can do to earn salvation, but there are plenty of things that you can do to demonstrate such a disdain of salvation, such a disrespect for the Lord, such a despising of the kingdom of heaven that you can miss out on it. The Lord will say, “Okay, fine, if it means that little to you, then you don’t get it.

If that generous benefactor says, “Look, I really need somebody to take care of my flower garden. Would you please help me with that? It would mean a lot to me. And I’ve got all this money. I don’t need it. I’m going to give you a million dollars to help you, and your family, and your children so you can do whatever you need to do.” If you look him in the eye and spit on the ground and say, “I’m not going to pull weeds around your stupid flowers. That would mess with my manicure,” he’s well within his rights to say, “You know what I just said about that million dollars? Never mind. I’ll find somebody else.”

You cannot work enough to earn your salvation, but you can so despise salvation by refusing to work that, finally, the Lord says, “just never mind. You obviously aren’t that interested. It obviously doesn’t mean that much to you. I promised you something so rich; I promised you something eternal; I promised you something so magnificent, and the tiny, insignificant little thing that I’ve asked you to do? You’re not even willing to do that. Never mind. Never mind.”

Think of the Lord’s graciousness with Naaman the Syrian in 2 Kings 5.[2] He was covered in leprosy, and Elisha didn’t ask any great thing of him. He didn’t say, “You’re going to have to pay me five million dollars; and you’re going to have to do this religious pilgrimage; and after seven years of faithful service with these religious pilgrimages, then the Lord will heal you.” He didn’t do that.

All he said is, “Go baptize yourself in the Jordan. Go dunk yourself in the Jordan seven times.” That’s it. “Just go take a bath in some dirty river water.” That’s all he said.

Is there anybody foolish enough to think that Naaman earned his cleansing from leprosy whenever he dunked himself seven times in the water? “He deserved it. He earned it. He worked for it.”

Of course not. He didn’t deserve a thing. It was the gracious gift of God. Yet, what if Naaman had so despised God’s prophet? What if he had so despised the Lord that Naaman said, “[scoffing] I’m not even going to do that. I’m not going to go to the Jordan. I’m not going to dunk myself seven times. Forget it.” Then the Lord would say, “You know that cleansing from leprosy that I promised you? Never mind. It’s not going to happen.”

Wherever you are in your life, whether you feel like you’ve come in early and you still have many hours left in the day, or whether you feel like it’s the middle of the day (half your life is gone, but half of it still remains), or whether you are 60 or 70 years old and God just recently has brought you into His fold and you feel like the guy called to the field at the eleventh hour, God has a magnificent gift for you: an eternity in His presence. You can’t earn it. You cannot deserve it. And God is graciously looking over the fact that for the first hour, or four hours, or maybe even for the first eight or nine hours of the day, you were idle and not working in His vineyard.

Even if all you have left is just an hour or two, even if all you have left in your life is just a year or two, the common denominator in the story is this: The people who got paid were the people who persevered to the end of the day working, not playing. With however much time you have left in your life, whether it’s six months or whether you still have another sixty years, God calls you to persevere to the end with effort, with work, with labor.

Saint Isaac the Syrian said, “This life has been given to you for the purpose of repentance. Do not waste it on vain pursuits.”[3] Vain pursuits [include things] like always being preoccupied with your own comfort, with the level of your income, with the stature of your success in your particular career. Be about the work of the kingdom.

If God has given you parents, honor them.
If God has given you siblings, love them and care for them genuinely.
If God has given you a spouse, then pray for them daily, pray with them daily.

If God has given you children, then you have a very sober charge on your hands, for Jesus spoke in no uncertain terms when he said, “If you do anything to cause one of these little ones to sin, it would be better for you if a millstone was hung around your neck and you were cast into the sea” (cf Luke 17:2). In short, if you choose not to be a good parent, if you choose not to be a godly parent, you would be better off dead! Those were the words of Christ Jesus Himself. You would be better off dead that to lead any of your children in an ungodly way.

“But it takes a lot of work. All the things I have to do anyway just to get dressed every day, and do my job every day, and to clean the things that I have to clean or cook every day – it takes up so much of my time. Do you realize how much work it would be to actually get serious about my marriage and to spend hours out of every week talking with my wife, talking with my husband about how we can make our marriage a more godly one? Do you realize how many hours of effort I would have to put in if I wanted to take my children seriously – if I wanted to put hours of work into homeschooling them, praying with them, disciplining them, training them up in righteousness? In the Christian walk outside my family, Jesus said that we’re supposed to be generous to the poor and help other people. Well, you see, I’m different. I’m in a different state. I can’t do these things, because the Lord just hasn’t given me enough money. If I had lots of money, then I would be generous to the poor. I would give to the poor. But, you see, I’m off the hook, because I just don’t have much of anything. I barely have enough to cover my three vehicles and my 3,000 square foot house. Then there’s my wardrobe and all the restaurants that I want to go to.” 

Wait a minute. Back off just a little. What about a person who only has a one-bedroom apartment, and they eat very sparsely, and they have very few clothes? Is that person off the hook? No!

Just two or three days ago in the Prologue [from Ohrid], we were reading about this one particular saint. He lived near a lake, and he didn’t have much of any money at all. What he would do is go to that lake and go fishing, and with the fish he would catch, he would go to the market and sell them. This takes work. It takes hours to sit there and fish, and then clean the fish, and take the fish to market, and find somebody to buy them. Finally, after going through all that, after he sold the fish, he would take that money and instead of buying more clothes for himself, instead of going to a nice restaurant, instead of going on a trip, this saint would take that money that he earned from catching the fish and selling them, and he would give it to the poor.

So, even if you have nothing, there is a simple solution. If you want to be merciful, if you want to give to charity, if you want to give to the poor, then do some extra labor, some extra work that you’re not already doing so that you have something to give.

People have asked me why I don’t own a TV, why I hardly ever see any TV shows. It’s because if you’re going to live the Christian life fully, you won’t have any time left for entertainment. I’m not joking. I’m talking seven days a week from the time you wake up until the time you go to sleep, if you are working as hard as you should to take care of your family, if you are working as hard as you should to train up your children daily in righteousness, if you are working as hard as you should to see to it that your family is praying together every day, if you are working as hard as you should to be reading the lives of the saints and studying the teachings of the Church, if you are working as hard as you should to seek out the missionaries and to seek out the poor so that you might show mercy unto them, if you are working as hard as you should so that you have a surplus so that you have something to give to those missionaries and those poor people, if you are working as hard as you should to respond to the needs and the cries of your brothers and sisters and neighbors and family members and church members, there’s just not going to be too much time left for soap operas. There won’t be too much time left for dime store novels. There won’t be too much time left for a lot of things.

These laborers out in the vineyard: they didn’t have time for these things either, because they were working. Jesus didn’t pay everybody in the town a day’s wages. The only people He paid wages to were those worked and persevered to the end.

There’s a flippant old saying that you can sleep when you’re dead, but there’s a lot of wisdom in that saying. A lot of the saints have given up a lot of sleep so that they could pray more, so that they could give more, so that they could work more. And in death, now, they actually can sleep; they can rest. You want to talk about entertainment? You want to talk about pleasure? You want to talk about joy? How about doing that for all eternity – all eternity in peace, and rest, and joy, pain-free?

But to live this way, it almost sounds like a death, because there are these things that I love to do. There are these things that I love to engage in. There are these things that I want to do, and if I literally poured out my entire life from morning until night, seven days a week; if I just poured out all of my efforts and energies into worship, and prayer, and teaching my children, and giving to the poor, there would be nothing left for me. It would almost be a death. It would almost be like I cease to exist, like I cease to matter, like I’m just a dead person already. What point is there in living?

The reason it feels like that is because it is a death, and a death is precisely what you have been called to: A crucifixion of your desires; a crucifixion of your wants; a crucifixion of you so that you might be resurrected in the likeness of Christ.

We see this up close and personal in the lives of the martyrs. There was one particular martyr who was about to be burned at the stake. As they did so often, they still gave him a way out. They said, “Look, you’re about to suffer, and burn in torment, and die, and you won’t see another sunrise. We’ll take all of this away from you and let you go free if you will just deny Christ. Just turn your back on Christ. That’s all you have to do.” And this great man of God looked back at the executioner and said,

“I would have to be a fool to give up this fire that burns for only one hour in exchange for the fires of hell that burn for all eternity.” 

He recognized the truth. He recognized that everything changes when you consider heaven and hell, when you consider eternity. In the perspective of eternity, this entire life is just a hand-breadth. Just a snap of the fingers, and it’s over. He was willing to suffer in the flames and let his body be burned to death so that he might not burn in eternity, so that in eternity he might have pleasure and joy and peace in the presence of Christ. He recognized that a burning now, or a crucifixion now, was nothing in comparison to the glory of heaven, the glory of paradise.

But some of us God does not call to burn at the stake. He doesn’t call us to be crucified on a cross. The Apostle Paul said. “I die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31). What he is saying is, “I daily am crucified to my affections. I am crucified to my desires. I’m crucified to my wants.”

Over the decades that the Apostle Paul lived, he was beaten, burned, whipped, stoned, nearly drowned, ridiculed, spat upon, put in prison, and he didn’t do a single one of those things because it was fun. He didn’t do a single one of those things because he thought, “Man, this is better than going to Florida! This is better than being on vacation.”

It was a crucifixion. It was a death. It was a putting to death of his own desires. But he saw that 30 or 40 measly years on earth with all the suffering that the devil can pour on you is nothing compared to an entire eternity in the glory of Christ.

So back to today’s parable, to working in the fields. You can be encouraged by the fact that Jesus promises you paradise regardless of how early or late you got in the game.

Whether you were brought into Christianity as an infant and raised up as a child, or whether you are 70 years old when you first come into the Church, you can be encouraged knowing that Christ offers you eternity, that Christ offers you paradise.

Also, keep in mind that everybody in the parable who gets paid is somebody who is willing not to just stand around idle but somebody who is willing to work hard and persevere until the end of the day. However much time you have left, however many years you have left, are you going to waste it on yourself?

Are you going to waste it on your pleasures? Or are you going to diligently work hard for the kingdom realizing that you’ve only been given a short life, realizing that the difficulties you’ve been called to are only for a little while?
Are you going to persevere with effort all the way to the very end so that you might be found faithful; so that you might, like the man with five talents and the man with two, you might be found faithful and enter His kingdom?  Or are you going to be like the man who was lazy and idle and wouldn’t even work with the one talent he was given and ultimately lost even that and was cast out of the kingdom?

It boils down to this: Are you willing to be faithful? Are you willing to work? Are you willing to persevere to the end?

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

 

[1] See Matthew 25:14-30, Luke 19:12-27

[2] 4 Kingdoms 5 in LXX/Orthodox Study Bible

[3] 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 homily was preached on Sunday, February 8, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois by Fr. Joseph Gleason.

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

Posted in Fr. Joseph Gleason, Matthew 20:1-16, Parables, Workers in the Vineyard | Leave a comment

Having a Heart of Flesh

mp3 Audio: 2015_02_22-Fr Michael-Having_a_Heart_of_Flesh.mp3

This sermon was preached on Sunday February 25, 2015 at by Fr. Michael Keiser at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois. 

Transcribed by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services 


Gospel Reading: 1 Corinthians 13

Meanwhile, faith, hope, and charity persist all three; but the greatest of them all is charity.

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

We should remember that Orthodox Christians in the West for over a thousand years read their Scripture in Latin not in Greek. Sometimes, that led to some problems like that thing in Romans about faith, but by and large it worked well. The translation was done originally by Saint Jerome, and it was very good. It was not until the Renaissance, which would have been the fourteenth or fifteenth century, that people began going back to look at the Greek to see how it corresponded to Latin.

So we have a bit of a problem here, because the more modern translations will say “love” [in] “faith, hope, and love.” That really doesn’t fly, at least not in terms of the original text. Caritas is the Latin word that gets translated here as “charity.” That’s a weak translation. The problem is that there’s not really a translation that will capture the essence of what that word in Latin means.

It doesn’t mean “charity” in the sense of “charity begins at home” or “soup kitchens are good things” (they are!) or anything like that. We were told to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, but that’s not what the word caritas means.

Like I said, the more modern translations use the word “love,” but that won’t cut it either, because it’s not what caritas means. When we think of love, we think generally of sex or something [to do] with our children or something like that. When we think of love, we’re probably thinking more of friendship, or whatever, but it’s not what the word caritas means.

If you gave it a translation at all (I sometimes think we ought to leave the word in the original language and explain it), if it means anything at all, it means “a continuous and faithful lovingkindness, a mercy that we give to all people at all times.” That’s different from what most people think about in terms of charity.

Paul starts off this chapter [1 Corinthians 13] by saying,

“I may speak with every tongue that men and angels use, yet if I lack charity, I am no better than the echoing bronze or the clash of cymbals. I may have powers of prophesy, no secret hidden from me, no knowledge to deep for me; I may have utter faith so that I could move mountains, yet if I lack charity, I count for nothing. I may give away all that I have to feed the poor; I may give myself up to be burnt at the stake; if I lack charity, it goes for nothing” [1 Cor. 13:1-3, Knox translation].

So, he goes through this list of good things to do. All of these things – having utter faith – this is a good thing, and yet he still says [that] without charity, frankly it’s not going to save you.

Saint Augustine, in one of his sermons, points out the profound difference between the person who gives money through the Church or to the Church to support the poor and does so secretly, and he contrasts that with the person who does it so publicly that, often, it winds up getting published in the bulletin or something like that. His point [was] that acts of charity done publicly to get recognition are worthless.

Jesus says the same thing about the man who tithed in the temple. You can do a good thing for a bad reason, and God’s not going to be particularly impressed. He will certainly be glad that somebody hungry got fed. He will certainly be glad that somebody naked got clothed, but He’s not going to be impressed with our reasons for doing it if, like we tend to do. . .

You know, we have the food for hungry people program in the archdiocese and what have you, which is a wonderful thing. Yet, I always cringe when, at the end of Lent, we print how much we gathered, how much money we raised. Was it more than the year before? It becomes almost a competition between churches as to who can send in the most. This gets printed in The Word magazine, and there I kind of go, “Ooh. I don’t like that. I really don’t like that.”

If ever a church took seriously the verse, “Do not let the right hand know what the left hand is doing” [Matthew 6:3], it was Orthodoxy. One would think we could apply that sort of thing, that we wouldn’t trumpet what we or our congregations are doing, but we would just faithfully and humbly do it without recognition or anything like that.

Faith, hope, and charity are three virtues which come from God. They are gifts. In fact, I think he says in here that charity is a gift. Faith is a gift. “Faith,” Hebrews says, “is the substance of things hoped for” [Hebrews 11:1, KJV]. So faith and hope go together, and those two are gifts. Charity is a gift.

We tend to think, when we think at all about our spiritual lives (and I know a lot of you here do, which is a good thing), that, somehow, this is the result of our effort, that we grow in faith through our effort, that we grow in hope through our effort, that we become more kind, more loving and merciful (which would be caritas) through our effort. There is a lot of effort on our part involved, but that, in itself, doesn’t cause these things to grow within us.

What God does to kind of push the vehicle forward with His one finger is worth more than all our effort through all our lives. Our effort is necessary, because we have to work. Paul says, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” [Philippians 2:12]. We have to work at it.

We’re the ones who need to change, but the fact is [that] we are not the ones who bring about our salvation. We are the ones who try the best we can to follow the very clear instructions that have been given so that we can become transformed into caritas, into merciful lovingkindness, into faith and hope.

These things are implanted in us when we are baptized in Christ. This comes to us then. You received faith, hope, and charity, and much, much more into your souls when you were baptized. When we baptized you in the water, when you went down, when you came out, you came out different than when you went in. You came out dead to this world and its sinful works and alive to faith, hope, and charity, to caritas. God gave that to you.

So it’s not a question of “how can I find this stuff?” It’s not a question of “how can I find faith? How can I figure out where faith is? How can I find love?” All of this is in each and every one of you from the smallest child to the oldest adult (who I guess today would be me).

The problem is: Very often, when you get out of the font, and the warm glow of that has kind of worn off (and it invariably does, because we go back to a world which literally is one blasted thing after another that seems determined to knock us over), we forget. I don’t think so much with most people that it is a deliberate attempt to push away or suppress these things. You just get so wrapped in living your life that you forget.

Last weekend, I was in Washington, DC, where it was like it is here but way colder. I was staying with a friend, and the bedroom was on the second floor. I don’t know whether it was [a problem with] balance or slipping, but I hit the second step and I just went. I fell down from the second floor to the first floor. I felt every vertebra hit every step, my head going back and snapping. I got down to the bottom of the stairs, and I went, “Enough! Enough already! Geeze! Can’t you give me one weekend where I don’t hurt myself?” You know, that’s what happens all the time, and I wasn’t thinking about being charitable, faithful, or hopeful. I was just really PO’ed. And that’s what happens.

It’s like the “Sower and the Seed Parable.” You get out there, and this is hard. This is very hard. If it were easy, this church would be full. Every church would be full if it were easy. The churches that make it easy are full. We can go and hear the pablum preached, and [say] “thank you Jesus” and that sort of thing. They don’t have any trouble attracting people. They’re not telling them what the cost of their discipleship is going to be.

So, we have the faith and the hope and the charity there. What do we do?

I’ve said to you before, and maybe you can remember: What did God say about the people of Israel’s hearts? I think it was in the Book of Ezekiel [when] I brought this up to you before. What does He say their hearts have become? What are their hearts like? Stone. Remember? Stone. Let me try to get it right: “The hearts of My people Israel are stone, and I must replace it with what? A heart of flesh” in other words, a living and a loving heart [c.f. Ezekiel 36:26].

How frightening would it be? It certainly scares the heck out of me. How frightening would it be to have God say, “Your heart is stone”? I mean, God’s judgement not mine being that your heart is stone – that’s scary. That means you’re not just dead to Him, but you’re dead to everyone else: to your spouse, to your children, to your friends. You literally go through this world as if you were an automaton separated from everything. That’s frightening.

But then does say, “I’m going to replace it with a heart of flesh.” How does he do that? By implanting faith, hope, and caritas within you. [He infuses] these things into your soul so that you, in prayer, can turn to them and say, “Yes, I have these gifts. I have these tools. I can work with these. I can try to become more merciful. That’s a hard one. It was hard when the semi tried to run me off the freeway yesterday.” It’s just, I mean, the hope and the faith. Those are gifts that God gives you to turn your heart from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh.

To do that, you have to be faithful in talking to [God]. We call that praying, but it’s basically talking to God. You have to be faithful in refraining from making judgments about people and their actions, because we never know the whole story even when we think we do. We make judgments about what people are doing or what people are saying, and we don’t really know completely why. So we make a judgment as to why. Very often, we find out later, perhaps after some damage, that our judgment about that person was wrong. It doesn’t mean that they weren’t doing something wrong. They were, but it does mean that our judgment about them was way off base.

Many years ago, I was working a mission we started up in Wyoming – beautiful, fun-filled Gillette, Wyoming. The Motel 6 there started life as a double-wide [trailer]. The towels were so thin you could count the threads in them. [There were] 18,000 people who didn’t even veer on demographics, and [the industry was] primarily oil and gas. It was a kind of bleak place, but I went out there.

We started this mission, and it’s still going. The guy who was the pastor there (He is now in Arkansas.) asked me to meet with an Episcopal priest who lived in a town further down and was interested in Orthodoxy It’s amazing how many of those guys are interested in Orthodoxy but have no desire to do anything about it, so you get a little jaded after a while.

I said, “Yeah, when I’m on my way back from Denver I’ll meet Mickey and his wife.” I was simply unimpressed. I was not impressed. The guy didn’t have a parish. He was one of these – you know, they ordain a lot of supernumerary clergy in the Episcopal Church who hang around churches and that sort of thing. [He had] bad teeth, you know, it was just. . . We had a nice breakfast, and I [thought], “This is useless. This guy is not going to come into the Orthodox Church, and certainly we can’t make use of him in a parish.”

So the very next Lent, I was in exactly the same congregation, and we were going to do Forgiveness Sunday (which we will do later here this morning). At the beginning of Lent, we ask people to forgive us. We try to put all of that past us and try to reconcile. We try to do whatever we can to go into Lent with our hearts, minds, and souls open.

He and his wife were there. They had started coming to church! I think they were catechumens by that point. So we’re doing the thing where people are coming up, prostrating, hugging and kissing. It’s going through relatively easily, and this guy comes up to me, and says, “Please forgive me for thinking you did not value either myself or my ministry.” Thank you Jesus! I really needed that. I felt about two feet tall, because that, of course, is precisely what I had done.

We try to overcome those kinds of things as we enter into Lent, and the faith and the hope and the caritas are the tools that we use for that. Remember to ask forgiveness from each other before we go to bed at night: Children should do that of their parents.

Parents should do that of their children. For some reason we have this idea that when we’re adults we can just annoy our kids and not have to apologize for it. In fact, as parents, we make mistakes, and when we do, we should say to our kids, “I’m sorry.”

Also our children have got to learn to say, “I’m sorry.”

We have to ask forgiveness of our spouses. I’m talking [about] every day before you go to bed. I’m not talking [about] waiting until Lent starts. That’s the easiest way to keep ahead of our stuff.

We have the ability to grow with those virtues that have been infused into us. We also have to remember that the replacing of a heart of stone with a heart of flesh is a Godly action. It’s in His control. We open ourselves to it, but He does it. He does it!

Now, this first Sunday before Lent begins (and for us, that’s officially Ash Wednesday, but I don’t think it matters) is kept by many Orthodox who call it, as I said, Forgiveness Sunday. It is a time when we ask each other in the congregation to forgive us of the sins and the false judgments and the gossip done about each other, all those things that we have done to each other. Like I said, we try to clean the slate.

These days, we probably do that more with people by text and email. I was texting people all over North America yesterday asking for forgiveness and what-have-you. They were responding, and so far, nobody said, “Up yours.” That does occasionally happen! If they’re really angry, they may not [forgive you].

But this you have to remember: if you looked at the internet, stop that now as far as religion is concerned. If you’ve got to look for business purposes, do it. During Lent, it is the devil’s playground. Don’t even look at blogs and websites. If you looked at Facebook, there was a minor discussion going on between the Orthodox in the Eastern Rite and Orthodox in the Western Rite. [Eastern Rite Orthodox asked],
“Why do you [celebrate] Ash Wednesday?”
“Well, it’s an Orthodox custom from the fifth century.”
“Well it seemed Catholic.”
“Well should we do this?”

Everybody, of course was making it a Big Deal (capital B, capital D)! We can’t do anything calmly, or passively, or silently.

I have always done in the congregations I am in, because I think it’s an important start to Lent. This you must remember: No external rite, no fiddling with an external rite (if I took the Eastern Rite vespers from that service, which I’m not supposed to do anyway. . .) – nothing like that will change your heart! It will not change your heart of stone to a heart of flesh.

What happens? I have seen people come to Forgiveness Sunday at great anger and enmity with each other and leave with great anger and enmity towards each other. It didn’t do anything at all. I’ve seen other come and, yes, some relationships transform. There’s nothing magical about all of this.

I had a brother priest one time who had a very grumpy congregation to say the least. He said, “I am going to start doing the Forgiveness Sunday Vespers. That will change them.” He had to break up a fist fight! There’s nothing magical about this. The rite will not change your heart. Humility and repentance before others will change your heart, and this becomes an external expression of that. The rite in and of itself does nothing except provide context.

Things that are not spoken are generally not healed. Sins that are not spoken are not forgiven. Wrongs that we have done to others that we have not specifically asked forgiveness for are not covered.

When my wife and I were much younger than we are now (which is getting harder to conceive, frankly), we would go through this thing and say, “What are you forgiving for? Whatever.” It was a blow-off. It was not an actual asking and giving of forgiveness. We mistake that for it. Or with our kids or whatever. . .

You ask forgiveness for the specific things that you have done. They must be spoken to somebody. They should be spoken to the priest in confession, but you also have to (and this is where it gets sticky, because you know I’m not going to say anything to anybody) trust your spouse to deal with it, too, in a mature and responsible way, or your children. Since we frequently (let’s be honest) don’t trust each other to act as Christians, that can be a problem. So we hold back.

My wife one time (who is all of 4’9″) and I got into an argument over something that I can’t even remember. Of course, she’s Greek so it can be a fun ride. At the height of this argument, I was so angry I was going to go down and drink coffee at McDonald’s. That’s about as angry as I get anymore. She says to me, “Go to your room.” I went to my room. You don’t fool around with angry Greek women! But I am sitting there thinking, “How did we get here?”

We got there because we were not being serious about our conversation. She had, quite frankly, confronted me about something I looked at on the internet which I should not have done. I was very sensitive about that. I was insecure about it, and I responded not in repentance but in anger.

Faith, hope, and charity, that continuous loving mercy that God extends to us and which we are called to extend to all people, is the way in which we begin, with God’s grace, help, and leadership, to change our hearts from hearts of stone to hearts of flesh. When you reach the point where your heart is a heart of flesh, you are going to find out that it’s going to hurt more. But it is more alive, and it is more attuned to God’s love.

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


This sermon was preached on Sunday February 25, 2015 at by Fr. Michael Keiser at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois. 

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

Posted in 1 Corinthians 13, Fr. Michael Keiser | Leave a comment

The Resurrection Makes Trials Worthwhile

mp3 Audio:  Fr_Joseph-The_Resurrection_Makes_Trials_Worthwhile.mp3


This sermon was preached on by Father Joseph Gleason Pascha (Resurrection Sunday), April 12, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services


Resurrection


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

In one sense, Holy Week is tough. Isn’t it? There are so many services day after day, often more than one in a day. Many hours! Most of you here faithfully attended every single service, and the number of hours you have given to prayer and to worship this week have been in the double digits and then some.

Holy Week disrupts your work schedule. Some here have even taken off vacation days just so they could get to all the services. In doing so, some have missed pay.

It disrupts your life schedule. Things that you would normally do at certain times, like, say, sleep, you don’t do because you’re at the Holy Week services. You miss sleep because of the late-night services, and the all-night prayer vigil.

It’s tough emotionally. Day after day, you’re focusing on the mocking, the scourging, the death, the Crucifixion of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, which is the greatest crime mankind has ever committed. It’s emotionally very heavy to focus on the humiliation and torture of Christ and to think about the depths of our own sin which nailed Jesus to the Cross.

Holy Week is so demanding, both physically and emotionally, that, with all the prayer vigils and the solemn penitential services, if that’s all we ever had – was just this focus on the sadness, and the sin, and the death, and the burial of Christ – we might be unable to handle the unrelenting emotional gravity of it all. We might lose heart.

So, with all the demands on our time, with all the demands on our sleep, with all of the demands on our work schedules, with all of the physical demands, and all of the intense emotional demands, why do we show up day after day after day for all these services? Instead of dreading Holy Week, why is it that all of us love Holy Week? For so many of, why is Holy Week our very favorite time of the year?

The answer to this question always comes on Sunday morning when we rest in the glorious Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christ is risen from the dead trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.

On Ash Wednesday, we begin the Lenten fast. We receive penitential ashes on our heads as we mourn our sins and begin the long journey towards the Cross. But we are able to bear it, because we know that, at the end of the journey, Resurrection Sunday awaits us.

For forty days, we fast from all food until noon. I don’t even remember what breakfast looks like! And we abstain from meat every day. We deny our fleshly desires so that we may focus on repentance for our sins. But we are able to bear it, because we know that, at the end of the journey, Resurrection Sunday awaits us.

On Palm Sunday, we wave palm branches with the crowds and proclaim, “Hosanna in the highest!” We wince at the thought that only five days hence, the crowds will be screaming, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” But we are able to bear it, because we know that Resurrection Sunday is drawing near.

On Holy Wednesday, we repent of our sins and mourn our sicknesses as we receive Holy Unction and pray for healing of soul and body. We are still in the depths of the Lenten fast. But we are able to bear it, because we know that Resurrection Sunday is drawing near.

On Maundy Thursday, we celebrate the Last Supper with Christ. We see the example of His great humility as He washes our feet. Then the altar is stripped bare, and we proceed with our Lord to the Garden of Gethsemane. We pray with Jesus through an all-night vigil. Then Judas betrays our Lord with a kiss, and the Roman soldiers arrest Jesus, carrying Him away to be tried, sentenced, and executed. But we are able to bear it, because we know that Resurrection Sunday is drawing near.

On Good Friday at noon, we walk the Stations of the Cross. As we follow our Lord to the Cross and the tomb, we see our precious Lord Jesus murdered and laid in the grave. But we are able to bear even this, because we know that Resurrection Sunday is drawing near.

On the evening of Good Friday, we are dressed in black, and we have a very solemn service as we mourn the death of our Lord and Savior. At this point, we weep, for we know that Jesus is dead. But we are able to bear it, because we know that Resurrection Sunday is drawing near.

In eager expectation, we arrive at the church late on Saturday. The world is still in darkness. Jesus is in the tomb but not for much longer.

And then comes Sunday.
Then comes dawn.
Then comes the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
Then comes the light of Christ in our hearts radically changing our lives forever.
Then comes the promise of our own resurrection from death.

For all of those who are in Christ, we rejoice in the blessed hope of eternal life. For all of us who are his disciples, we will live in joy at the right hand of God forever.

Just as the expectation of the Resurrection turns our sadness into joy during Lent, so does the promise of our future resurrection turn our sadness into joy in our day-to-day lives. The Resurrection is what makes all of the trials and all of the sorrows worth it!

We can bear the present day because of the Resurrection of the Son of God. The grave was not able to keep him down, and so the grave will not be able to keep us down either.

Christ is Risen! 
-Indeed He is Risen!
Christ is Risen!
-Indeed He is Risen!
Christ is Risen! 
-Indeed He is Risen!

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


This sermon was preached on by Father Joseph Gleason Pascha (Resurrection Sunday), April 12, 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.


Christ is risen from the dead trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!

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