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.

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.

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


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!

Posted in Fr. Joseph Gleason, Pascha | Leave a comment

The Sin of Charging Interest


“It is a mark of kindly feeling to help him who has nothing, but it is a sign of a hard nature to extort more than one has given.” ~ St. Ambrose

Imagine a man who repents of lying, stealing, and gluttony.  He confesses his sins, and goes to great efforts to stop practicing these sins.

Meanwhile, he commits adultery repeatedly. But he never bothers to repent, because it never occurs to him that adultery is a sin.

On the day of Judgment, what excuse will this man have before the Lord?  Will such a person escape condemnation?

Indeed, the most dangerous sin is the one we fail to recognize as a sin.  Not only do we need to repent of the sins we know we commit, we also need to pray for the Lord to open our eyes to the sins we commit in ignorance.

We find it easy to condemn greed, personified in popular images such as the “Scrooge” of Christmas story fame.  But such extreme examples of avarice can be dangerous, for the sake of comparisons.  As long as we are less greedy than Scrooge, we convince ourselves that we are not greedy at all. But you can be a greedy person, without looking like Ebenezer Scrooge. Indeed, avarice has become so ingrained in American culture–so socially acceptable–that virtually no one recognizes it as a sin anymore.

One example of avarice–one example of sinful greed–is to charge interest on a loan.

Holy Scripture is clear on this point. Interest-bearing loans are prohibited.[1]  And historically, the Church has been remarkably unanimous on this point as well.  It is only in recent years that the word “usury” has been redefined.

Historically, the word “usury” has been synonymous with “interest”. But in recent years, it has been redefined to mean “excessive interest”.  At first glance, this may appear to be a minor change. But in truth, it is an extremely significant redefinition.  It would be similar to redefining the prohibition against “adultery”.  Instead of prohibiting all sex outside marriage, we would just ask people to avoid excessive sexual relations outside marriage. Through redefinition, we would call adulterers “chaste”, and thieves “generous”.

This sort of redefinition brings to mind the prophet Isaiah’s warning:

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness;
Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
(Isaiah 5:20)

Indeed, sex outside marriage is adultery, even if you commit it with only one person. Similarly, charging interest on a loan is greed, even if you charge only one percent interest.

Lending to the Rich vs. Lending to the Poor

Scripture makes a distinction between lending to the rich at interest, and lending to the poor at interest.  Both are prohibited, but for different reasons.

Some people borrow money because they would be reduced to poverty without it.  They need to borrow money today, in order to eat, work, or live.  Thus, for practical purposes, “lending to the poor” covers instances of:

  • Lending money so someone can buy food
  • Lending money so someone can purchase necessary clothing
  • Lending money so someone can pay for a place to live

In short, “lending to the poor” is when we lend someone money for the necessities of life.

Of course, the poor are not the only ones who borrow money. The rich borrow money as well.  But they do it for a different reason.  A wealthy person, by definition, already has enough money available to pay for food, clothing, and housing.

A wealthy person may want to borrow money for luxuries. This includes rich food, jewelry, name-brand clothing, vacation homes, and anything else outside the “necessity” category. By going into debt to purchase such things, they bring about one of two results:

  1. In the future, their income is higher than needed to cover the basic necessities. But instead of being able to donate the excess as alms, their abundance is eaten up in debt payments.
  2. Or, in the future, their income is too low to cover both their necessities and their debt payments. As a result, they default on the loans, failing to pay back the money as promised. In some cases, they become paupers themselves, becoming a burden on others.

Either way, these debts of luxury demonstrate a lack of love for one’s neighbor. Borrowing money to pay for luxuries is just another way of saying, “I don’t care about showing mercy on the poor. I would rather go into debt so I can indulge myself.”

A wealthy person may borrow money, so as to lend it again at higher interest. This is an illicit multi-billion dollar industry, run by the wealthy people who own banks and credit unions. They want to profit from loans to the poor, but they don’t have enough money to service that many loans.  So they borrow money from others–at a much lower interest rate–so they can make double or triple their profit by re-lending the same money to the poor.  The bank pays you 2% interest on a certificate of deposit, so they can afford to lend the same money to someone else at a rate of 6%.

Usury according to Scripture

The first mention of usury is in the book of Exodus:

If you lend money to any of My people who are poor among you, you shall not be like a moneylender to him; you shall not charge him interest. (Exodus 22:25)

We find the same teaching in Leviticus:

If one of your brethren becomes poor, and falls into poverty among you, then you shall help him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you. Take no usury or interest from him; but fear your God, that your brother may live with you. You shall not lend him your money for usury, nor lend him your food at a profit. (Leviticus 25:35-37)

God says to “take no usury or interest”.
He does not say it is okay to take “some usury” or “some interest”.

God says not to lend “money for usury”, nor to lend “food at a profit”.
He does not say it is okay to lend money or food for “some profit”.

Any interest on a loan–any profit at all–is expressly prohibited.

Usury according to St. Ambrose

St. Ambrose of Milan expressly taught that money must be lent without charging interest:[2]

Why, the very law of the Lord teaches us that this rule must be observed, so that we may never deprive another of anything for the sake of our own advantage. For it says: Remove not the bounds which your fathers have set (Proverbs 22:28). It bids a neighbour’s ox to be brought back if found wandering (Exodus 23:4). It orders a thief to be put to death (Exodus 22:2). It forbids the labourer to be deprived of his hire (Leviticus 19:13). and orders money to be returned without usury (Deuteronomy 23:19 ).

It is a mark of kindly feeling to help him who has nothing, but it is a sign of a hard nature to extort more than one has given. If a man has need of your assistance because he has not enough of his own wherewith to repay a debt, is it not a wicked thing to demand under the guise of kindly feeling a larger sum from him who has not the means to pay off a less amount? Thou dost but free him from debt to another, to bring him under your own hand; and you call that human kindliness which is but a further wickedness.

It is in this very matter that we stand before all other living creatures, for they do not understand how to do good. Wild beasts snatch away, men share with others. Wherefore the Psalmist says: “The righteous shows mercy and gives.” There are some, however, to whom the wild beasts do good. They feed their young with what they get, and the birds satisfy their brood with food; but to men alone has it been given to feed all as though they were their own. That is so in accordance with the claims of nature.

And if it is not lawful to refuse to give, how is it lawful to deprive another? And do not our very laws teach us the same? They order those things which have been taken from others with injury to their persons or property to be restored with additional recompense; so as to check the thief from stealing by the penalty, and by the fine to recall him from his ways.

Suppose, however, that some one did not fear the penalty, or laughed at the fine, would that make it a worthy thing to deprive another of his own? That would be a mean vice and suited only to the lowest of the low. So contrary to nature is it, that while want might seem to drive one to it, yet nature could never urge it. And yet we find secret theft among slaves, open robbery among the rich.

But what so contrary to nature as to injure another for our own benefit? The natural feelings of our own hearts urge us to keep on the watch for all, to undergo trouble, to do work for all. It is considered also a glorious thing for each one at risk to himself to seek the quiet of all, and to think it far more thankworthy to have saved his country from destruction than to have kept danger from himself. We must think it a far more noble thing to labour for our country than to pass a quiet life at ease in the full enjoyment of leisure.


[1] Cf. Exodus 22:25, Leviticus 25:35-37, Deuteronomy 23:19, Psalm 15:5, Ezekiel 18:8, Luke 6:30, Proverbs 28:8, Ezekiel 18:13, Ezekiel 22:12, Nehemiah 5:6-11

[2] St. Ambrose of Milan, On the Duties of the Clergy (Oxford: Benediction Classics, 2010).

Written by Fr. Joseph Gleasen
Formatted for Publication by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services. Dormition Text Services offers full-services secretarial support – including editing and online publication services – to Orthodox clergy and communities.

Posted in 40 Days of Blogging, Money, St. Ambrose | Leave a comment

Good Friday 2015

mp3 Audio:  2015_04_10-Sdn_Jeremy-Good_Friday_2015.mp3

This sermon was preached by Subdeacon Jeremy Conrad on Good Friday, April 10, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services

Gospel Reading: John 18:33-19:37

Looking at what we just read: A travesty, a crime was committed when they killed Jesus. They killed an innocent man. Looking at it from this side of the Cross, it’s easy to be thankful and rejoice in that, but there was a crime committed.

Think about all the people who were involved in this crime. We were, actually, last Sunday, part of the crowd that would process around with our palm branches, waving them and crying “Hosanna!” to the Son of David, and here, we’re the ones who are crucifying Him just a few days later. When we did the Stations of the Cross earlier today, and we look at Pilate and the Roman soldiers, the people who spit on Him, and mocked Him, and beat Him; the people who nailed Him to that Cross. You know, in all these pictures except for two or three, there is a common theme: Stations of the Cross.

Of all the players in this, I think I would have least likely wanted to be the Cross in this. Yet, I was reading the other day our hymn for matins that we have been singing for the last several days, and verses three and four in this matins hymn (are you singing this later?) are specifically speaking to the Cross.

Bend thy boughs, O tree of glory!
Thy relaxing sinews bend;
For awhile the ancient rigor
That thy birth bestowed, suspend [1]

It is saying, “you know normally, when you are normally a hard tree, hard wood, just for a little while relax that a little bit. Let your sinews bend.”

And the King of heavenly beauty
On thy bosom gently tend!

Can’t you imagine the Cross just kind of leaning back? Holding the Creator?

Thou alone wast counted worthy
This world’s ransom to uphold

Who else is going to get to hold Him up? The Cross is counted worth to hold our Savior.

That a shipwrecked race preparing harbor
Like the ark of old

Can you think of that? The ark that held up Noah, held up humanity – the ark is holding up the Savior of humanity. The Cross!

With the sacred blood anointed
Of the smitten Lamb that rolled

The Cross had the benefit of being anointed by the blood of Christ. Later on, we’ll hear a song (I think it might even be the same tune): Sweetest Wood and Sweetest Iron.

Today, at 3:00 in the afternoon, after having been on the Cross a relatively short period of time, Jesus Christ died on the Cross, the twelfth station. What happened after that? Yes, we know about the Resurrection, but what happened right now? He died at 3:00 today. What happened right now? What was he doing right now before the Resurrection? Where was he?

We quote the Nicene Creed every time we do a Mass, and often at home. There is a line in there that says, “Who for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, was crucified under Pontias Pilate, suffered. . .” He suffered. He truly did suffer, and He was buried. He did this for real. These things really happened. God became flesh. He came down from heaven. He truly was crucified on that Cross. The real man, Jesus, was crucified. The real man truly suffered on the Cross, and He truly was buried.

The Church and the Bible, especially John, talks a lot about specific things like this. Jesus was speared in the side, and blood and water poured out of Him foreshadowing or showing the Eucharist, the blood and water that we use. Out of the side of the Second Adam, the new Eve was born: The Church comes to life.

Why was he speared though? It was common practice that, when they put a person on the Cross, if they weren’t dying quick enough, they would break their legs. It was their legs that would hold them up to be able to catch that breath again before they were let down again. It was exhausting work. The word “excruciating” actually comes from ex crux, “from the Cross.” That’s where we get the word.

Jesus’s legs were not to be broken, according to prophesy. Why were they not broken? Because he was dead. Jesus, the man, our God, died on that Cross. He was wrapped in grave clothes. He was laid in the sepulcher. He was anointed by Joseph of Arimathea and by Nicodemus. Women came to anoint His dead corpse.

He was dead. I think this is an important point to drive home, because some people have said in the past that He just seemed to die or He appeared to die. You wouldn’t not break His legs; you wouldn’t stab Him in the side; you wouldn’t wrap Him in grave clothes and put Him in a tomb and anoint His body if He wasn’t dead! Jesus died.

His body was in the sepulcher, but where was His soul? Where was Jesus? Where was the Soul of God? It’s hard to even say it. This is really important. We say in the Creed, He descended. Sometimes people say, “descended into hell.” Sometimes people say, “descended into Hades.”

A lot of times the Holy Fathers make it clear that heaven is not an actual place; it’s more of an existence, a way of being. The word sheol is the Hebrew word, and the word hades is the Greek word for the same thing, but it is basically the condition of being dead. Jesus descended to the position of being dead. That’s what that means. It’s another way of saying He really did become a corpse.

It is also dogma that, according to the Hebrew reckoning of time – the way they used to count time, that by the third day in the grave His body didn’t see corruption. He didn’t decay. Without modern embalming or even ancient Egyptian embalming, bodies decay beginning immediately upon death. You start to see the color change. Blood starts to pool. Smells start to emanate. Things start to happen. The eyes might sink in. The cheeks start to sink in. Immediately upon death that starts to happen!

It didn’t happen to Jesus. He did not see decay. He couldn’t see corruption. He could not remain dead. He is the Life, the Resurrection and the Life. He could not remain dead. He has the power of God. Father Joseph [Gleason] mentioned earlier today that every moment of this thing was under His control. Every event that He did, that He went through was voluntary. When He died, it was voluntary. When He entered that condition of being dead, it was also voluntary. He was numbered among the transgressors. He was numbered among the dead. He really did it. Do you get it?

When Jesus entered that condition, there were other righteous dead in that condition with Him. Abraham was with Him. Moses, David, John the Forerunner, all these righteous people. . . I think it was a year or two ago when Father Michael [Keiser] was talking about this. He said that this place of sheol or hades is very cloudy or very dark. He said the food isn’t very good. He said it’s kind of like Cleveland. Remember him saying that?

It’s not a great place in which to be. Yet, those righteous people are said to be in the hands of God. They have a type of consciousness, a hope of liberation. They’re not suffering. They’re looking forward. They are looking toward when the Messiah is to come and to being raised to glory.

There are also unrighteous people in that same state of being. They were there too. They were being tormented by their own evil, by their own lack of faith, and by their own refusal to follow God. They are in the hands of the evil one instead of the hands of God. When the Messiah comes down there, they will be raised, not for glory, but for judgement and condemnation, and they know it. Both groups of people in Hades are anticipating the Messiah – some with joyful anticipation, and others with dread.

At the moment of Jesus’s separation, when His body dies and His soul enters that state, BOOM! Jesus enters into hell! Light enters into darkness. There has never been so much light in that area ever, and now there is light. There had never been so much life in that area where there was always death, and now there is life. Jesus Christ’s death goes down there and shatters eternal death completely.

We say the words, “He trampled down death by His death.” He tramples with his feet, stomps on death with His death. Jesus was not tormented when He was in this condition. He was liberating the righteous. He did not suffer separation from God, from Himself. God was always with Him.

When Jesus commended His spirit to God, He never went to torment. He never went to fire or torture. God in the flesh, dies in the flesh, experiences death and burial in the flesh but does not decay. He goes to Hades, not as a victim, but as the Victor. Jesus went there and preached to the spirits imprisoned and said, “I am the One. I am the Messiah. I AM.”

The gates of hell shuttered, and death lost its power. Jesus went in there and bound that strong man, bound Satan, raided his house, liberated all of his captives. That’s what’s going on right now. Right under your feet, the earth is kind of shaking. Do you feel it yet?


[1] Words: Pange lingua gloriosi praelium certaminis, Venantius Honorius Clementianus Fortunatus (ca. 535-600), 569; trans. John Mason Neale (1818-1866), 1851, with some alterations in Hymns Ancient & Modern, 1868

This sermon was preached by Subdeacon Jeremy Conrad on Good Friday, April 10, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

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

Posted in Good Friday, Holy Week, Subdeacon Jeremy Conrad | Leave a comment

Willing To Be a Servant

mp3 Audio: 2015_04_09-Fr_Joseph-Willing_to_be_a_Servant.mp3

This sermon was preached by Father Joseph Gleason on Maundy Thursday, April 9, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

Transcribed by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services.

Gospel Reading: Luke 23:1-48

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

Play a little fantasy game with me. Imagine something, and pretend that it is real. A very kind and wealthy friend hires a full-time servant to work at your house. He builds a little apartment right next to your house. This servant lives there, and 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at your beck and call, you can ask them to do literally anything, and they will do it. You don’t have to worry about the cost, because this wealthy friend is paying all the cost for this servant. What would you have them do? If you had the choice, what would you have them do?

Are there any of you that would have that servant do the dishes? The cooking? The cleaning? What about nasty clean-ups? The sewer backs up; the kids have an accident in the rest room; the baby has a dirty diaper. Laundry! How many of you would have your servant do the laundry? Anybody?

[There is no response.]

Everybody here must love doing laundry. What would you have them do? The cooking? Would you have them work on your car; maybe wash your car? Maybe change the oil in it? Do your hair? Fold your clothes? Iron your clothes? Maybe be your driver? [You could] have your own chauffeur.

Most people, when they have a servant, want to give the servant the jobs they don’t want to do. That’s why they hire somebody else to do them. The things that person enjoys doing, they do themselves. There is a reason why people pay the servants to change the oil, to cook the meals, to get down on their hands and knees like a scullery maid and scrub the kitchen floors, clean out the toilets, clean out the bathtubs.

Nobody hires a servant and says, “will you please play the X-Box for me for a couple of hours and then watch TV and then order in some Chinese food? Meanwhile, I’m going to get on my hands and knees and go scrub this kitchen. We have servants do those things that we don’t want to do.

Let’s try something different. I want you to imagine something entirely different now. About ten in the morning, Landon walks in and says, “Mom! Give me some ice cream!” Would you just run right in there and say, “oh sure! Here you go”?

Russ, how would it go over if you were sitting in a chair and you said, “Jean, bring me a beer”? Would that go over real well?

Maybe it’s not just ice cream or a beer. Maybe it’s not even a rude tone of voice. Let’s just say it’s some job that we really don’t like. It’s not difficult to get a beer out of the fridge or to get some ice cream out of the freezer. With those things, we may just not like the tone of voice it’s asked in.

Now, Denise, suppose Henry David said, “Sweetheart, I need you to go out and change the oil in my truck please.” Since he said “please,” you’d run out and do it, right?

Amy, I bring in a nice, fat chicken that I’ve worked a couple of months to get ready for the dinner table. It’s already plucked and killed, and all you have to do is gut it. Just rip those guts right out of there, clean that chicken out, and get our supper ready just like Ma Ingles would have done. You’d jump right up and say, “yes, Dear. No problem!”

Of course, when the wives ask things of their husbands, the husbands never balk at it, right? “You know, the grass is really getting tall, Sweetheart. Would you go mow that right now, please?”

“Okay, I like riding on the riding mower. I like the zero-turn. No problem. I’ll do that.”

Yeah, and there’s a sewer leak. Would you just go jump in and do that yourself, or do you call for help? We don’t call them servants anymore. We call them professionals. We pay other people to do the stuff that we don’t want to do.

When you think about having someone to serve you, it’s easy to think about all of the jobs that you would push off to them. I’d have them do the cooking. I’d have them do the cleaning.

I’d definitely have them scrub the toilets, fix the plumbing, and change the oil, and do all the dirty stuff like that. When we start thinking about someone in our own family asking us to be the servant, asking us to do what is difficult, or smelly, or not fun, then, suddenly, we get less comfortable with the idea. Could that possibly be because we are not comfortable with the idea of being servants?

If you thought of yourself as a servant, if you thought of yourself as a slave, if you thought of yourself as lower than every other person in your household, you wouldn’t even think twice about that kind of request, would you? You’d run and do what you need to do, because that is what a servant does.

It’s interesting: If you work with animals, you run into a lot of things that you don’t expect. It doesn’t matter if you work with chickens, or rabbits, or goats. It’s never as easy as it looks.

With my goats, they had little baby goats growing horns. If you’re going to de-horn them, I had to build a little box out of wood, immobilize the little goat in this box of wood with just his head sticking out, heat up this iron to 1,000 degrees, put it on this poor little baby goat’s head, and hold it there while he’s screaming and kicking. Then you can knock the little horn off, and you see this little gooey red-white stump with blood vessels in it, and you take this thousand-degree iron, and you sizzle it on there, and they’re screaming.

I don’t really like doing that very much. Would anybody like to volunteer to handle that for me next year? Ruth? Does that sound good? That’s the kind of thing you’d have your servant do if you had a servant. It’s not the kind of stuff we want to do.

That’s not all. This one goat had this big boil come up on her face last year. We didn’t know what it was. Finally, I got some advice from a lady that’s been handling goats for about forty years, and I got basically a razor blade. One of my daughters helped me with this. I took the razor blade and sliced it. It’s like cream cheese just squeezing out of the sore on the side of this goat. Boy, did it not smell very good when it came out! Then it was bleeding, and you’re kind of trying to stretch it and put disinfectant and iodine [on it].

Okay. If you don’t want to help me with de-horning the goats, who wants to help me with that the next time we have a problem? Sound good, Denise? Do you want to pitch right in and help with the goat boils?

There’s other options. Multiple times, our goats have gotten what’s called coccidosis. It’s a little amoeba that they get. Instead of the nice little brown, what looks like chocolate covered raisins, this turns into full-blown diarrhea. I mean, it’s just going everywhere. Oh boy! You won’t call goats smelly normally when they’re healthy once you’ve smelled that. It’s just a whole new world.

To fix it is a lot of fun. What you do is to take this powder and mix it into water. Get it in this big syringe. Then you have to manhandle this goat, because goats don’t like syringes in their mouths. So you force the mouth open, you stuff the syringe down, and you do what’s called a drench. You make them drink this stuff for five days in a row to help get rid of the problem “down south.”

Christa, is that your new calling in life? Do you want to help goats that have coccidosis?

I’m seeing lots of queasy looks here today. Lots of stomachs are turning. It’s not sounding very good. I’ve got a story to trump all of those. You think those are bad? I’ve got another one for you. I want you to listen closely to this story, because this story is not out in the Middle East somewhere. This story is not somewhere far away. This is us. This is your home. This is my home, and it’s even grosser than the goats.

There’s this husband and wife. They went to church Sunday morning. At least, that’s where they were headed. It started out fine. They were happy, upbeat, and excited, and [were] looking forward to going to church. They had already gotten dressed up. They were almost ready to go. The kids were ready.

Before they got out the door to get in the car, they smelled something. The husband found it first. He walked into the bathroom, and there was this horrible smell. He thinks, “there’s got to be something wrong with the plumbing.” So he gets the plunger and starts plunging, but instead of getting better, it gets worse. Some of the solid waste backed up into the toilet. His stomach about turned, and he walked out of there.

With the smell getting even stronger, the wife came over to that part of the house. She said, “what’s going on? What’s wrong? That’s horrible.” He said, “well, the sewer is backing into the toilet or something. I tried to fix it. I tried to plunge a little bit, but there’s just no way. I’m not going to do it.”

She said, “what are you talking about? It’s got to be fixed. We can’t afford a plumber.” He said, “you’re right. We can’t afford a plumber, but, I’ll tell you what: you go in there, and you do it.”

Her eyes got this big around. She couldn’t believe her ears. She couldn’t believe that her husband had actually asked her to go handle this problem. She takes one step into that bathroom, and she looks and about throws up. The smell overwhelms her, and she gets angry. She starts yelling at him, and says, “you’ve got to be crazy if you think I’m going to even walk into that room! Do I look like a plumber to you? You’re the man. You’re supposed to handle this stuff. Do you actually think I am going to work on that dirty toilet?”

Then he started yelling at her, and they were both upset. Both of them expected the other one to do something about it. Both of them were too proud to do anything about it, because they don’t like that kind of work.

They wanted to make good appearances, and so, angry and grouchy and fighting with each other, the whole mess of them – Dad, Mom, and kids – hop into the car. They come to church. They all smile, greet everybody, and sing. I’m sure that part probably doesn’t ring true for any of our homes. We’ve never fought before church! You can at least imagine it.

They finished worshiping God at church after yelling at each other at home. Then they went back to mad the minute they got in the car, because they knew what they were going back home to.

As soon as they got home, the husband went out to mow the lawn. The wife went inside and was crying, and she could hardly stand it, because now the whole house smelled this way. Finally, she just broke down and said, “you know what? He probably should have taken care of it, but he asked me to do it. I guess I can try to do something. If I can’t figure it out, we can take some money out of the emergency fund. I’m sure he’ll agree to that, and we can just call a plumber.”

So she walks over to the bathroom. She’s going to try the plunger, and she is shocked. She thought that she had seen her husband go out to the shed to get on the lawn mower, but she walks to the bathroom, and lo and behold, there is this man cleaning out the toilet, working on the plumbing, and getting everything working.

She is unsure how it happened so quickly, but he’s already gotten so filthy! He’s been reaching down in there, and stuff has been coming up out of the floor. Because the toilet had to be disconnected, it’s gotten everywhere. He has literally gotten crap all over him. He’s covered in it. He reeks of it.

Now she really starts bawling out crying, because she had been so furious with her husband. She finally just decided that she was going to do something to help out, and now she sees that he actually is doing something about it. She just said, “oh, I am so sorry. I am so sorry. Please forgive me.” He says, “I forgive you.”

Then she gets scared because that’s not her husband’s voice. Then he turns and looks at her, and she sees his face, and she falls to her knees because that’s Jesus that came into her house. She is the last one that used the bathroom, so that is literally her crap all over him. Now, she’s trembling.

The husband walks in, utterly shocked. He can’t believe what’s going on. He falls to his knees too. Again, the Lord Jesus says, “I forgive you.” She says, “but Lord, how can You do something so humiliating?” Then the husband chimes in and he says, “Lord, You are our Creator and our God. You spoke the worlds into existence. You created us. You saved us. We go to church. We went to church this morning to worship You. How could You be doing something so degrading and humiliating?”

[Jesus] said,

With the washing of feet, I tried to teach you a lesson, but you didn’t learn it. In your culture, you forgot what it meant to a middle-easterner to put on the clothes of a servant and to touch somebody’s dirty, smelly feet, and to wash them, as if they themselves were a slave. You didn’t realize the significance of it, living in your western culture. So I wanted to give you the same example again in terms that you would understand.

Man, you are this woman’s husband. You are the priest of your home. You are supposed to be Christ to your wife. But when she asked you to do something about the plumbing, you refused to serve her, because you thought that this kind of work was below you. You thought you were too good to get yourself dirty to serve your wife.

Woman, you are this man’s wife, his help-meet, his very own flesh and bone! You committed to be with him in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, for better or worse, ’til death do us part. Whether he should have asked you to do this or not is beside the point. He asked you to do this, and you refused, because you don’t like to get dirty. You thought this kind of filthy work was below you. You thought you were too good to work on the plumbing. So I, your Lord, and your God, and your Savior am up to my elbows in your feces. I have humbled myself like the lowest of slaves, like the lowest of servants. When you smell me, you smell the smell of your own sin.

Because I am lower than you? Oh, no. For you see, I am God. The entire universe, the worlds, the angels, the entire created order is below Me. I am the King. I am God. But I am humble, and I am willing to be humbled. I am willing to be humbled all the way to servanthood, and slavery, and stench so that I can serve you. I don’t just do it as a one-time thing. I do it as an example, because as your Lord, and as your God, I am telling you: this is precisely how you are to serve one another – not just when it’s something you enjoy doing; not just when it’s something you feel like doing; not when you feel like you have time for it; not when it’s convenient; but especially when it requires total humiliation, humbling yourself as if you are the lowest of servants, the lowest of slaves; doing the jobs that you hate the most. [Do this] not because you have to but because you want to because that is how much you love your spouse. That is how much you love your children. That is how much you love your parents. That is how much you love Me.

In arrogance, you may feel like that other person is below you. You may feel like that job is below you, whatever it is. But I guarantee you this: the distance between you and that job, and the distance between you and that other person are far smaller than the distance between you and Me. If I, your Lord and your God, am willing to get down to my elbows in your filthy plumbing so that I can serve you with love, then John, Russ, Calvin, Ruth, Katie, Christa, Hunter, David, Daphne, Denise, Henry Davide, Kimberly, Amy, Kelsie, Julie, Andrea, Andrew, Jeremy, Subdeacon Jeremy, Landon, everybody that’s here, everybody that’s in the church, that is what you yourself are to do.

Maybe this story hits you a little hard. Maybe you still cannot even imagine humiliating yourself to the point of you, not some other husband and not some other wife but you yourself, cleaning out a filthy, stinking toilet, working on a sewer system until you are literally covered in it. If that repulses you, if that sounds humiliating, if that sounds like something you wouldn’t do in a million years even for your own spouse, even for your own children, even for your own parents, you need to remember that this is precisely how humiliating it was for Christ to put on the clothes of a servant to touch and wash the feet of His disciples. In the Middle East 2000 years ago, you simply did not do that unless you were a servant or a slave.

This is not the only time in the Bible that we see this type of picture. Remember when John the Baptist sees Jesus, and he says, “I am not even worthy to touch the latchet on his sandal” [cf. John 1:27]. What John the Baptist is saying is that the lowest of the low sandals, the lowest of the low slaves are the only ones you would even think about asking to mess with the latchets on your sandals, because that’s just filthy. You don’t touch dirty, stinky feet unless you’re a slave. John the Baptist was placing himself even lower than that. He said, “you know what? Jesus is so far high above me that I am not even worthy to be his slave. I am not worthy to be a slave that touches his feet.”

Because this world is so enamored with power, the world wouldn’t be surprised at all to see this great and might God, Jesus Christ, demanding that all of His loyal followers wash His feet and kiss His feet. But He turned it upside down! He who is God humbled himself to the most humiliating, lowest point, and said, “I will put on the clothes of a servant. I will do the worst jobs, the smelliest jobs, the most humiliating jobs. I will wash your feet to show you that if you are going to be like Christ, it means you must be humble.”

If you are too proud to get dirty; if you are too proud to do the jobs you don’t like to do; if you are too proud to even do something you hate because you know it will help serve your wife, or serve your husband, or serve your children or your parents; if you are not willing to get down in the dirt, and work hard, and do things that are lowly and menial so that you can serve other people, then you are not like Christ.

It’s no mistake that Jesus washed the feet of His disciples on the same night in which He started the Eucharist. The same Jesus on the same day who says, “this is my body. . . this is my blood,” the same day, he washes the disciples’ feet – the Master taking the form of a slave. He tells us, “this is an example I am giving you. Now you wash each other’s feet. You work on each other’s sewer lines. You clean each other’s toilets.

I don’t care what the job is. I don’t care what it is that you hate. For everybody, it’s different. For some people, they cannot bear the thought of washing dishes. For some people, it’s laundry. For some people, it’s just cleaning the house. Some people love to clean the house, but they really, really hate to fold up the laundry, or they hate to paint.

Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. Whatever it is that you think is below you, whatever it is that you think is menial, whatever you think it is that somebody else in your house should have to do and poor little you shouldn’t have to do it, Jesus calls you to become a servant. Jesus calls you to become a slave. For if God Himself will wash your feet, then you are called to wash the feet of everybody in your family and in your church.

Tonight, here in a little bit, I am going to wash your feet. When you first walked in, before you got into the church, you probably saw that icon of Christ washing the feet of the disciples. Tonight, that’s all I am. I am just an icon of Christ. I am not Christ, Himself, but I am an icon of Christ as your priest. As I am washing your feet, Christ is washing your feet. Your Lord and your God is going to touch your feet, and no matter how they smell, no matter what they look like, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is going to wash your feet, and kiss your feet, and dry your feet. Then, Jesus Christ Himself is going to call you to do the same after you leave here tonight and for the rest of the year, for you to humble yourself like a servant, like a slave, and to serve everyone around you, no matter how humiliating the task.

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

This sermon was preached by Father Joseph Gleason on Maundy Thursday, April 9, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

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

Posted in Fr. Joseph Gleason, Humility, Luke 23:1-48, Pride | Leave a comment

Trusting God in the Face of Suffering

mp3 Audio: Trusting_God_in_the_Face_of_Suffering.mp3

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

Transcription and formatting by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services

Gospel Reading: 2 Corinthians 11:19-12:9

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

Have you ever had a frustrating morning? Do you get out of the right side of the bed? Everything starts fine. You start with a good attitude, and then the wheels start falling off before you even get out of the room. You have some place that you need to be in a hurry, some place that you really need to go, and it just seems like nothing is going right.

You can’t get the water hot to take your shower, and you have to keep going to re-light the water heater. Then you go in to get a little bit of breakfast, and you thought there was some breakfast there, but somebody else ate it; so now you’ve got to make something when you thought there would be something ready. Then everything just keeps going wrong.

Finally, just in time, you have like a minute left or you’re going to be late. So you go to your dresser to get your car keys, and, “Where are my car keys? They’re not even there! Who took my keys?” You scramble around, you look, and you get a little frustrated.

[You] lose your temper a little bit. You’re looking under everything. You’re looking by your desk, or, if you’re a girl, you’re looking through your purse just trying to find those keys, and they’re nowhere to be found. You know, “I’m late now. I’m late! I did everything I could do. I thought I knew where I had left them, but everything else went wrong. I got to this point, and I couldn’t find my keys.”

Finally, like five minutes later, you find them. So you race out the door, and you’re just praying, “Lord, what did I do wrong? Why did this have to happen to me?”

Not five miles down the road, you come upon a 30-car pile-up. There [are] people dead. There [are] ambulances and all kinds of flashing lights coming to the scene. You just bow your head and say:

God forgive me for complaining about losing my keys. If I had found my keys in time, if everything had gone ‘right’ this morning, I would be dead right now. Thank You for hiding my car keys. I’ll be late to my appointment, but I’m alive. I’m okay. What I thought [were] bad things happening to me – that was a gift of God! He was protecting me. He was saving my life, and I just didn’t see it at the time.

I will tell you the story of three people in Scripture: Joseph, Ruth, and the Apostle Paul.


Joseph was a good son and a good brother, but his brothers were very jealous of him. They didn’t appreciate him. They didn’t appreciate the gifts that God had given him. The hatred burned within their hearts so badly that they finally made up their minds to kill him.

But at least some semblance of sense prevailed in one of the brothers, and he said, “Look, let’s not kill him. Let’s just go easy on him and sell him as a slave. Instead of putting him to death, let’s let him be a slave for the rest of his life in some foreign country and never see his family again. That’s better than killing him.”

We read in the Psalms about him being a slave for so many years, about him being in prison for so many years. It says in the Psalms that the iron of those chains entered into his very soul [CF Psalm 104 (105, MT):18].

I’m not just talking about being kidnapped for a weekend.
I’m not even talking about nine months of being captured, and caught, and imprisoned, and then finally released.
I’m talking about twenty years of your life unjustly enslaved, unjustly imprisoned. It wears on you so hard that the iron of your chains finally enters into your soul.

But you know the rest of the story. While [Joseph] is in prison, he interprets some dreams correctly, because the Lord gives him the interpretation. One of those men talked to Pharaoh and said, “Pharaoh, you had these troubling dreams. I know somebody that can help you.” By the grace of God, [Joseph] does help Pharaoh, and Pharaoh responds by raising him up in power to second place in the entire kingdom.

Through that new-found power that he has, knowing that famine is coming, for the next seven years, he works as a leader in Egypt to store up lots and lots of food. Through that food that he stores up, he brings the nation of Egypt itself to great power as people trade in their land, their possessions, and their money for grain over the seven years of drought. And he brings salvation to his father and to his brothers, the very ones who had sold him into slavery! They don’t starve to death, because their brother, whom they had sold into slavery, saved up enough food so that they could eat.

Eventually, his father Jacob dies, and then the brothers are in fear thinking, “He was nice to us while Dad was alive, but now that Dad’s gone, he’s going to take revenge on us.” Joseph told them not to fear. He said, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. He is the one who sent me ahead of you so that many lives might be saved” [CF Genesis 45:7]

Half-way through the story, Joseph’s story seems hopeless.
Joseph’s story seems senseless.
It seems unjust.

How could such a righteous person be allowed to go through that kind of suffering? Why would God permit something like this?

God didn’t just permit it. He sent [Joseph] into it! It humbled him. It purified his soul. Ultimately, it was the path of suffering by which he walked to bring salvation to God’s people. This is a precursor of Christ Himself. “You meant it for evil. God meant it for good.”

By the end of his life, you don’t get the picture that Joseph had any regrets. You don’t hear Joseph grumbling, whining, complaining, and saying, “Lord, why did you let me go through that? I can’t believe you let me – ME! – go to prison and slavery. That’s just not right!” You don’t hear any complaints. All you hear from Joseph’s mouth is praise, thanking God, glorifying God, giving God recognition for working a great miracle through his own hands because of the suffering that he had endured.


Look at Ruth. Don’t skip to the end of the story, to the happy parts. Take just a minute to put yourself in her shoes in just the first few verses.

She’s a Moabite woman. She is born outside of God’s people, raised in a nation where they sacrificed children to the pagan god Chemosh. Already, the deck is stacked against her. She’s raised in the midst of filth, idolatry, wickedness.

Because of another famine, because of another case where God withholds the rain, Naomi and her sons find themselves no longer living in Israel but living in this foreign land, the land of Moab. This [is the] land of people that are the descendants of Lot’s incest with his daughters.

Ruth marries one of the sons of Naomi. He works for years. He takes care of her. Then he dies.

Have you ever lost a loved one? Your husband? Your wife? Your child? Your parent? Your grandparent? You know what that feels like.

Can you imagine her anguish? Can you imagine her desolation? Now, her mother-in-law Naomi says, “There’s nothing left for me here. I’m going back home.”

Ruth and the other girl Orpah, both of them say, “You’re not going back alone. We’re going with you. Both of us. We are going to follow you back to Israel. We want to be with you, Naomi. We love you.”

Naomi says, “No. No, girls. This is your home. You were born here. Your family’s here. You’re from here. You stay here. You find some other man to marry. I don’t have any other sons, and even if I could bear a son now, would you wait twenty or thirty years until he was a man to provide for you?”

Upon hearing this counsel, Orpah hugs her mother-in-law and goes back into Moab, and we never hear from her again.

Ruth says, “I will not leave you. Your people shall be my people, and your God shall be my God. Wherever you go, I will follow.” [CF Ruth 1:16-17].

She follows Naomi back to Israel, and they don’t find themselves with any great land, or riches, or name. No!

She doesn’t even have somebody to go and bring food so that she has something to eat. She has to work hard gleaning.

Have you ever gleaned? See, they didn’t have eight-row John Deere tractors 3,000 years ago in ancient Israel. Harvesting alone was hard work. Harvesting meant that you’d go out with a big blade, and you’d chop down wheat, and you’d carry these bundles of wheat. You’d go back. You’d thresh it. The chaff blows away. You’d have this grain left, and you’d scoop up the grain, and you’d grind that into flour. After you’ve ground that into flour, then finally you can make bread out of it. It was a lot of work to go from harvesting to food. Gleaning was even harder!

See, harvesting, you’re going to a field that’s full of grain. Gleaning means somebody else has already gone over the whole field to harvest the grain. You come to that field, and you cover every square inch of that field just seeing if they left something, trying to find a spare cob of corn, or a spare green bean, or in this case, some spare grain that the harvesters had missed.

So she has to work extra hard gleaning, looking all over this field for any grain that is dropped, any grain that has been missed, any grain that was left behind so that she can pick this up and take it back and thresh it, [let the] chaff blow away, get the grain that’s left, take it back home, and pray to God that it’s enough so that she and Naomi can have something to eat – and not just something to eat but something to save.

You only get a harvest once a year, and it has to last you for twelve months. She was working her fingers to the bone just so they could survive, just so they could eat something.

To have your beloved husband die, to go live with your mother-in-law in a foreign land that you didn’t grow up in, and to have to work your fingers to the bone just to get a tiny loaf of bread on the table – does that sound like a good life? Does that sound like what you want for yourself and your wife and your children? Does that sound glorious? Does that sound easy?

Do you ever hear Ruth complain? Do you ever hear her say, “Woe is me! I don’t deserve this. God is just not being good to me.” You see, God was very good to her.

You all know this story. There was a practice in Israel at the time that if an Israelite man died and left no children to his bride, the next of kin could marry her and raise up children in the name of the Israelite who had passed away.

There was a very good, godly man named Boaz. By the grace of God, Ruth came to glean in Boaz’s field. That’s how they met! This gleaning that seemed so cruel, and unjust, and tough: That’s how she met Boaz!

She was gleaning in his field, and he saw this beautiful woman gleaning in his field. He said, “I’m going to protect her.” He told her, “You don’t go to any other field. You glean here, and I am going to tell all the men who work for me not to touch you.” He showed himself honorable. He protected her.

Then he even told the people harvesting, “Every so often, just drop a bundle of grain, and just leave it.” He lightened her burden. He didn’t embarrass her by going right up to her and handing her all of this food, but he made sure that there would be plenty of food there for her to glean easily.

Fast forward to the end of the story. He takes her as his bride. She again finds love. She again finds a husband. This time, she’s not a Moabitess in Moab. She is an Israelite in Israel worshiping Israel’s God, and God blesses her womb with conception. She bears a child, and not just any child! It is a little boy named Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of King David.

If she had not lost her husband, she never could have married Boaz. If she had not left Moab and gone to this foreign land called Israel, she wouldn’t have met Boaz. If she hadn’t been gleaning in the fields, working her fingers to the bone just to eat, she wouldn’t have met Boaz. But because, by the grace, and love, and mercy of God she met Boaz, Ruth becomes the great-grandmother of King David and the ancestor of Jesus Christ Himself.

That’s right! By going through just a few short years of suffering, Ruth, the Moabitess, becomes and ancestor of God.

I doubt if she ever complains about that. I bet she is pretty happy about the mercy, and the love, and the care that God showed to her by putting her through those experiences so that she might arrive where she did.

Saint Paul

Now, let’s look at the great Apostle Paul. He is great. He is a great example of repentance.

Here he had been persecuting Christians, and now, he is preaching Christ to the nations.

He’s a road warrior for years traveling everywhere. He endures great suffering. He’s been whipped. He’s been scourged. He’s been imprisoned. He’s been stoned and left for dead. He’s been bitten by a viper and not hurt by it. He’s seen great visions of God. God has lifted him up and shown him glorious things in heaven which are so amazing that it is not even allowed for them to be spoken on earth!

In today’s Epistle that Subdeacon Jeremy read to us, we read something else. He says, “A messenger of Satan was sent to buffet me” [CF 2 Corinthians 12:7]. “To buffet me” means “to beat me up.”

Have you ever felt like Satan paid a visit, or the devil paid a visit to your house? Have you ever felt like maybe a demon or two were assigned for a while to come buffet you and beat you up physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally, with your relationships? Well, whether demons have been assigned to you or not, it says in Scripture that one of them was assigned to Paul.

It was so bad that the Apostle himself three times begged God, “Take this away. It hurts too bad. This is more suffering than I can bear. I don’t know how to stand up under this. Please, please, take this away.” And God said, “No. Don’t ask again.”

If we stopped right there, we might say, “Is God without power? Is He a weak God? Is He unable to save?” No. We know that can’t be right. At the very name of Jesus, the demons flee! At the sign of the Cross, they tremble. At the word of Jesus, a whole legion of demons departed a man and drowned 2,000 pigs in the sea!

This little measly demon that is persecuting, and buffeting, and beating up Paul would be no match for Jesus Christ. Jesus would not even have to lift His little finger for that demon to depart.

So it is with every problem in your life – every bout of the flu, every stomach pain, every bad report from the doctor, every pain in your back, every nasty phone call from a relative or a friend, every time you look at the bank account and there’s just not enough numbers in it to get you through. Every time something difficult happens, Jesus would not even have to lift His little finger to make that problem go away.

“Well, if He’s not lacking in power, is He lacking in love? God who is Love? Has He forgotten me? Does He just not care? Is He not willing to take away this pain that I feel so deeply? Please, make it stop!”

Paul was suffering greatly at the hands of this demon that had been sent to beat him up. He asked God three times to take it away, and God said no.

But if it’s not because God lacks the power; and it’s not because God lacks the love, and the tenderness, and the mercy, and the care; then why would He say no? Why would God send this messenger of Satan to buffet him? Why would God not make this messenger of Satan go away?

Paul gives us the reason. Paul said, “This was a sign to me so that in the midst of all of these glorious things that I am experiencing – these revelations from God, these visions of heaven, these miracles that are happening at my very hands, 2/3 of the New Testament coming out of my own hand – this messenger of Satan was sent to buffet me so that I might be humbled, so that I might not have pride. If I experienced all these glories of God, the glories of His Church and His saints, and this messenger of Satan were not sent to buffet me, my pride would rise up and I would think, ‘I’m Paul. I’m awesome. Look at me! I’m the greatest of all the Apostles. Yeah, John, you write five books of the Bible. Right. I wrote like nearly three times that many. Yeah. I know, Stephen, you were stoned in Acts Chapter 7. That was all well and good, but do you realize how many times I’ve been stoned for Christ? I survived it! You didn’t.'”[1]

See, that is the danger: When glorious things, wonderful things happen to you, there is a temptation. The devil wants to put a hook in and get you and say, “Okay, that’s great. You pray all the time. You know the Scriptures backwards and forwards. You worship all the time. You bring lots of people into church. Great! Be proud of it!”

What was the very first sin? Pride. 

The greatest and most beautiful archangel of all – the glorious, holy, godly Lucifer – was in heaven with God, with the angels in glory beholding the Uncreated Light. But somewhere, he got hold of a mirror. He made the mistake of looking in it, and he said, “Wow. I’m fantastic. I’m wonderful. Look at me! Wait a minute. There’s millions here under me, but there is One up here that’s sitting in a more glorious spot than I am – the throne of God! I will rise up on the heights. I will sit in that chair. I will be like the Most High.” Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning.”

The devil doesn’t have to get you to commit adultery.
The devil doesn’t have to get you to steal anything.
The devil doesn’t have to get you to beat your kids or your wife.
The devil doesn’t have to get you to bow down in front of some pagan idol.
All he has to do is get you to be his child and to repeat his original sin. 

Pride is death! Humility is life!

This is humility. Pride says, “I don’t care that I’m a creature. I want to be raised up, and I want to be like God.” Humility says, “I’m already God, and I am going to humble myself to death on a cross just so I can save My people because I love them so much.”

If you want to be like God, then humble yourself. If you want to be like the devil, then have pride.

God knew that pride is what killed Satan. God knew that pride is what killed Adam and Eve. God knew that pride was at the root of every single sin, every act of fornication, adultery, murder, theft that had ever happened in the history of the world.

And God saw the danger that would occur if pride got its hooks into the soul of the Apostle Paul. God loved the Apostle Paul, and God had mercy on the Apostle Paul. Because He loved Paul, because He had mercy on him, He wanted to save him from death. Because He wanted save Paul from death, He wanted to save Paul from pride. Because, in His mercy and love, He wanted to save Paul from pride, a messenger from Satan was sent to buffet him.

You may not know the reason for whatever suffering you endure in life, but remember:

For those twenty years that Joseph was in prison and a slave, he didn’t know why. He found out later.

For all those years that Ruth was grieving for her dead husband and gleaning her fingers bloody in those fields just looking for something to eat, she didn’t know why.

Until the third time that Paul asked God, he didn’t understand why he was having to endure getting beat up by a demon.

This is the difference between trusting your Father in Heaven and grumbling against your Father in Heaven. He has not yet given us to know why, but He has shown us His heart on the Cross. He has shown us how much and how deeply and how eternally He loves us. He has given us these examples in sacred Scripture.

I forget exactly how the saying went, but there was this one particular African tribe, and they had a habit. Not just one or two, but everybody in the tribe, when they were walking down the road, if they stumbled or tripped and hit their toe on a rock, before they continued on their journey, they would turn around and thank the rock. They wouldn’t cuss at it. They wouldn’t become angry. They would say, “Thank you, rock, for protecting me from whatever it would have been that I would have run into had I gone on my way faster. Thank you for delaying me so that I am protected from whatever evil is ahead.” Then they’d continue on their journey.

See, with that kind of mentality, they wouldn’t get so upset when they couldn’t find their car keys. You’d look and hunt and then realize that,

“Maybe God is protecting me from something. I’m not going to get mad about it. I’m still going to look for them, and as soon as I find them, I’m getting in my car. I’m just going to thank God. I don’t know why that happened this morning. I’m not going to get frustrated over it, because I believe that God is watching over me every second, every minute, and He is protecting me not just from stuff out there, but from the sin in here – inside me. He knows if I need to be buffeted so that I might be humbled. He knows if I need to go through some difficult times so that I learn something important about the spiritual life.” 

It makes us really think carefully about Romans 8:28: “All things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (NKJV).

“Are you telling me that the person that abandoned me, that has never forgiven me and left this wound in my heart – are you telling me that that was for my good?” 
All things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose!

“Yeah, but you don’t understand. When I was a child, I was abused. You don’t understand how brutally!”
All things work together for the good of those who love God and are called. . .

“But one time, we ran out of money. I had to go three days without food, and we didn’t have any running water, and there was no electricity, and I was sick. . .”
All things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose. What part of ‘all’ don’t you understand?

“But how could it be for my good?”
Joseph didn’t know how when he was in prison. Ruth didn’t know how while she was gleaning. The first couple of times, Paul didn’t know how that demon was helping him.

Now, it’s not automatic. Notice [that] it does not say, “All things work together for the good of everybody.” If you don’t love God, it’s not going to work for your good.

You’re going to grumble. You’re going to complain. You’re going to curse God. You’re going to die, and we will not be able to say that all things worked together for your good. It’s not automatic.

All things work together for the good of those who love God. That’s the magic. That’s the key. If you fill your heart with such a gratitude, such a love for God, such a trust in His goodness and care for you, then any grumbling and complaining will just disappear. It will evaporate.

Any difficulties you go through: Instead of being upset about them, you’ll still hurt. You’ll still pray for relief, and God eventually will send it, but in the meantime, you will just trust, “This must be a Joseph year. It feels like I am in prison. Thank you, Lord. I don’t know why yet, but thank you, Lord.”

“Man. I feel like I’m gleaning like Ruth.”
Well, praise God! You’re about to meet Boaz!

“I feel like a demon is attacking me!”
Well, maybe that’s because God loves you just as much as He loves Paul. He’s not going to let you fall into pride any more than He was going to let Paul fall into it, because God doesn’t want you to die. He doesn’t want you sin. He doesn’t want you to turn your back on him. God in His wisdom knows – we point at the Cross again – God knows what good can come from suffering if it is directed and received in love for the Father.

“Does that mean that we should seek out all the suffering that we can get?” Absolutely not. You don’t go hunt for it. You don’t go look for it. But when it comes, and it will, you simply trust God. You love God. You fill your heart with gratitude to God for his care for you; and you pray, trusting God that, in His good time, when He knows you’re ready, that he will bring comfort.

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


[1] 2 Corinthians 12:7 (NKJV from Orthodox Study Bible): And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me lest I become exalted above measure.

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

Transcribed and formatted for publication by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services. Dormition Text Services offers full-service secretarial support to Orthodox clergy and communities.

Posted in 2 Corinthians 11:19-12:9, Fr. Joseph Gleason, Joseph, Pride, Ruth, Saint Paul, Suffering | Leave a comment

Palm Sunday 2015

mp3 Audio: 2015_04_05-Fr Joseph-Palm_Sunday_2015.mp3

This sermon was preached by Father Joseph Gleason on Palm Sunday, April 5, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

Transcribed by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services.

Gospel Reading: Matthew 27:1-54

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

Abraham saddles up his donkey and begins the trip to Mount Moriah to sacrifice his son Isaac.

Saul is looking for his father’s donkeys. He encounters the Prophet Samuel who anoints him as the new king. Later, through the joyous shouts of a large crowd, the people recognize him as king.

Solomon rides to his own kingly coronation on a mule that had belonged to King David. They had Solomon ride on King David’s mule and then took him to Gihon. Then Zadok the priest took a horn of oil from the Tabernacle and anointed Solomon. Then they blew the horn, and all the people said, “long live King Solomon.” All the people went up after him, and the people played the flutes and rejoiced with great joy so that the earth seemed to split with their sound.

When Jehu is first recognized as the new king, each man hastened to take his garment and put it under him at the top of the steps, and they blew trumpets saying, “Jehu is king!” King Jehu rides over the garments of his followers as he proceeds into Samaria to destroy the temple of the false god, Baal.

After Simon Maccabeus besieges a fortress called the Akra and drives out the enemy forces, the Jews then enter the fortress celebrating with praise and palm branches; with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments; and with hymns and songs. A great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel.

These are five stories from five different periods of Israel’s history. At the time of the patriarchs, we see Abraham go to sacrifice Isaac. As the time of the judges draws to a close, we see Samuel anointing Saul. When Israel was a single, unified nation, we see the coronation of King Solomon. When Israel was split in two, we see the coronation and temple cleansing by King Jehu. During the post-exilic period, when there were no more kings reigning is Israel, we see Jerusalem cleansed of enemy forces by Simon Maccabeus.

In its own way, each one of these stories brings us to Palm Sunday, points forward to Christ in Palm Sunday. These are real stories. They are events that actually happened. Yet they are even bigger than that, for they hearken for what is to come. They point forward to the coming Messiah and his triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

As Abraham sits on a donkey traveling to Mount Moriah to sacrifice Isaac, we think of Jesus sitting on a donkey traveling to Mount Calvary to sacrifice Himself. Indeed, according to Jewish tradition, Mount Moriah is Mount Calvary. They are the same.

As Saul goes on a journey, searching for a donkey, ultimately finding himself crowned as king, we think of Jesus journeying on a donkey, hearing the crowds proclaiming Him as King.

As Solomon rides a mule and hears the cheers of the crowd as he goes to be anointed as king, we think of Jesus riding a donkey hearing the cheers of the crowd while they hail Him as King.

As Jehu stands on the garments of his followers and is proclaimed as king, we think of Jesus sitting and walking on the garments of His followers as He is proclaimed as King. As King Jehu rides into the city going to eliminate Baal worshippers from the temple, we think of Jesus riding into the city going to drive the money-changers out of God’s temple.

As Simon Maccabeus is surrounded by crowds of people shouting, singing, and waving palm branches, celebrating because the enemy forces have been driven out of the fortress; we think of Jesus surrounded by crowds of people shouting, singing, and waving palm branches as Jesus Himself heads into the city to cleanse the temple.

Like Abraham, Jesus is our great Leader, boldly riding to His destiny on a donkey as he goes to prepare the ultimate sacrifice. Like Saul, He says that our time without a King is coming to an end. It will not be a kingdom that is forced, but it will be a kingdom that is welcomed by the people. As we see even in the Book of Revelation, as all tribes and tongues gather around at the throne of Christ – the throne of the Lamb, it says they are waving palm branches, proclaiming Him as King.

Like Solomon, Jesus is the Son of David, not reigning over part of a kingdom, not reigning over half of God’s people, but reigning over a unified people of God, reigning in wisdom. Like Jehu, who cleanses this pagan temple and eliminates the worship of Baal, Jesus cleanses our hearts from idolatry and ultimately, in the end of history, defeats all idolatry. In Heaven, there will only be one religion. There will only be one form of worship, and it will be the worship of Him as King and God. Just as Simon Maccabeus was a great deliverer for God’s people, driving the enemies out of the fortress, so Jesus Himself conquers death, hell, Satan, sin, the grave, and, yes, Hades itself. He descends into Hades, harrows hell, leaves captivity captive, and returns to tell the story as a victorious conquering Leader.

So many streams, so many stories, and yet they all converge in one point. That point is the Son of God, Jesus Christ, the Fulfillment of all time, the Fulfillment of every hope, the Fulfillment of every age. Whether you lived in the time of the patriarchs, or the time of the judges, or the time of the kings, or the post-exilic period, whether you were a Jew or a Gentile, Jesus is the Fulfillment of every hope of the human heart. Jesus is the fulfillment, ultimately, of every prophecy.

Jesus doesn’t just pick out two or three verses in the Old Testament and say, “hey, there were some hints that I was coming.” No, when he speaks to the Jews in John chapter five, he says, “ye search the scriptures, for in them ye believe ye have life, but these are they which speak of Me” [John 5:39].

Whether you are reading Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, the books of the Kings, the books of the Chronicles of the kings, the Psalms, the Proverbs, the prophets, every verse is about Jesus Christ. Every prophecy ultimately points towards Him. Every hope, every desire, every aching heart, every longing of the soul finds its fulfillment in Jesus the Christ.

Jesus is greater than Abraham. Jesus is more beautiful than Saul. Jesus is wiser than Solomon. Jesus is a greater conqueror than King Jehu. Jesus is a greater leader and a more magnificent conqueror than Simon Maccabeus. Throughout Scripture, who do we see? The King lowly and riding on a donkey. The great King who stands on the garments of His willing followers who lay down their garments at His feet. We see crowds of people waving palm branches. Ultimately, we see where this great King was headed.

Was He headed to some magnificent state banquet at $10,000 a plate with other heads of state? Was this great King headed to Texas or to Hawaii to go hunting or to go golfing? Was this great King headed for a vacation? Was He headed for a party? Was He headed for a great gala, a great ball where everybody would dress in finery and celebrate?

If you read all the way to the back of the Bible, as a matter of fact, yes, He was headed towards many of those things. There will be celebration, and feasting, and joy, and pleasure in heaven at the right hand of God. But He had a stop He had to make first. It is the same stop that we all must make before heaven. You see, before there can be the glory, there has to be the humiliation. Before the pleasure comes the suffering. Before the rejoicing come the trials. Before the Resurrection comes the Cross.

We didn’t merely remember Palm Sunday. We have participated in Palm Sunday. When we were walking out waving our palm branches, remember that in this liturgy, streams of time converge. You are not merely looking back on something that happened a long time ago. You have entered into God’s time, and from God’s perspective – remember, He’s outside of time – there is no yesterday, today or tomorrow. All times are equally present for Him.

Right now, God is creating the world. Right now, God is in the Book of Revelation after the second judgement. Right now, God is there with Abraham as Abraham goes to sacrifice his son in obedience to the Father’s command. Right now, God is there at the coronations of King Saul, King Solomon, and King Jehu. Right now, God is watching as the people are cheering, and waving their palm branches, and singing after Simon Maccabeus brought deliverance to the people of God. It’s all present for God.

When we are in the liturgy, when we are in His presence, we enter that same timelessness. So when we were waving the branches, we were participating with the crowds. The same time God is watching the crowds wave their palms and sing “Hosanna in the highest,” he sees us waving our palm branches for the same reason.

Sadly, not only do we participate in the hailing of Christ as King and the singing of “Hosanna in the highest,” but just a few days later, in our fickle hearts, we participate with those in the crowd who said, “crucify him. Crucify him. His blood be on us and our children.” Does he respond with a curse? Does he respond with eternal damnation? Christ responds with a prayer: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Thanks be to God, our participation doesn’t stop there.

You see, just a few days from now, the Son of God will be dead. He will be laid in the grave, and we will be in mourning. Then comes Sunday morning, and we will participate with Mary Magdalene, and John, and Peter, and those who go to the tomb of their Lord and their Savior and find it empty. Then Christ Himself appears in their midst, and they see the wounds in His hands. They see the wounds in His feet. They see the riven side of the Savior as Christ Himself says, “peace be with you.” Then He breathes on them, and He says, “receive the Holy Spirit.”

Easter Sunday is coming. Resurrection Sunday is coming. Before we can get there, we have to go through the Cross. We have to go through the burial and the tomb.

So it is in our lives. If you trust in Christ, if you believe that He is the Risen Son of God and the only Way to heaven, then you have heaven to look forward to. But before you get there, you – no matter what your age; whether young, old, male female, rich, poor – you have your own cross to look forward to.

When He was hanging up there, they repeated that word that Satan himself spoke in the Garden of Eden: “if.” Actually, it was a question mark, not so much that word if but the question mark. Say something which God has said, and then put a question mark on the end of it. In the Garden of Eden, the serpent said, “hast god said. . .? Did God really say that if you eat the fruit you will surely die? You will not die.”

Just like the serpent did in the Garden of Eden, so he does with the people who stand at the foot of the Cross watching the suffering of the Son of God. While Mary’s heart is pierced through, as Simeon had prophesied, in compassion and love for her son, these other people see His suffering, and they mock Him. They bring back that satanic question mark. Have you ever noticed that a question mark kind of slithers and curves around like a serpent?

Except now, instead of “hast God said,” the question goes like this: “IF You be the Son of God. . .” You may say, “that’s not a question. There’s no question mark on that.” Yes there is! The word “if” includes a question mark within it. “IF You are the Son of God. . .” In other words, “are you really the Son of God? Hast God said that You are His Son? IF ye be the Son of God, then come down off of the Cross, and then we’ll believe in You.”

Did He have the ability to come down? Of course He did! Those hands that had healed the blind, that had healed the sick, that had made the dumb speak, that had risen Lazarus from the tomb – those hands were not incapable of healing His own body. You see, it wasn’t just a one-time sacrifice. It wasn’t just one moment in time that He gave Himself over to be crucified, and then from that point on He was helpless. No!

Every second that He hung on that Cross in agony, He had the choice to come down. He had the option to heal His own body of all of its wounds, come down off the Cross, call ten legions of angels from heaven, and utterly destroy every last living and breathing thing on this planet; but love kept him nailed there for you and for me, not for himself.

He could have been perfectly blessed – in fact, He was perfectly blessed – without us. But for you, he endured the agony. He endured the insults. He endured the mocking. He endured the spitting. Like a lamb is silent before her shearers, so He was silent before those who tortured, and mocked, and humiliated, and slaughtered Him.

He has said that this is not merely something that He does that we do not participate in. He has said that if we are going to follow Him, we are going to have to carry our own cross. He is the leader. He leads the way. He shows us what to do. That means that we follow Him, and as good disciples, we do what we see Him do.

That means instead of complaining about our troubles, we rejoice in the midst of them and bear them patiently. Instead of seeking our own selfish pleasures and comforts, it means that we intentionally lay down our lives for our wives, our children, our husbands, our parents, our neighbors, even for perfect strangers; that we empty ourselves even as Christ emptied himself.

Instead of seeking pleasure, comfort, and entertainment, we pour out our time, and our money, and our labor to serve other people, to bring them to the knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to put food in the stomachs of the hungry, to give drinks of water to those who thirst, to find and seek out people who have almost nothing to wear and to give them clothes. Instead of staying away from the hospitals, and the nursing homes, and the prisons because they are places that make us feel uncomfortable, we seek them out because we want to care for the sick and visit those who are in prison.

Jesus led the way, and the kind of love that He demonstrated for us demands a response from us. Yes, the gift is free. There is nothing you can do to earn entry into heaven, but even if there is a free ticket, you have to walk up, and you have to take it. You can’t just sit in your seat and shun the ticket no matter how free it is; avoid getting on the train, no matter how near to you it is and still end up in your intended destination.

You have to do something. If you have true faith, then you will have a true and heartfelt response that works its way through your fingers, and your tongue, and your feet as you go out to work, and to walk, and to say, and to do the things that Christ would have us do.

Jesus is the Fulfillment of everything that we see from Abraham, from Saul, from Solomon, from Jehu, from Simon Maccabeus. He is the Fulfillment of Psalm 118 where we read, “blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord.” He points us forward to the glorious waving of palm branches to King Jesus in the Book of Revelation.

He has already walked this path to Golgatha. He has already carried His Cross, and now He calls us to do the same not foolishly thinking that we can earn any grace or merit from the Lord, not grudgingly or angry because He would dare to put a burden on our poor little shoulders, but in a great, joyful response of love for what the Son of God has done to save our souls from death – joyously.

The joy is set before us. Because He is worthy, because we love Him, let us bear our cross that we have been given.

Let us follow Him to the grave so that we may follow Him in the Resurrection.

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

This sermon was preached by Father Joseph Gleason on Palm Sunday, April 5, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

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

Posted in Fr. Joseph Gleason, Matthew 27:1-54, Palm Sunday | Leave a comment

Tsar Nicholas I — on behalf of the orthodox faith

Wednesday, July 27, 1853


“By the grace of God,
We, Nicholas I,
Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russias and Czar of Poland, etc.,
Inform all people.
Be it known to our beloved and faithful subjects,

The defence of our faith has always been the sacred duty of our blessed ancestors.
From the day it pleased the Almighty to place me on the throne of our fathers, the maintenance of the holy obligations, with which it is inseparably connected, has been the object of our constant care and attention; these . . . treaties . . . have ever been directed towards upholding the rights of our Church. . . .

But to our extreme grief . . . numerous willful acts of the Ottoman Porte have infringed upon these rights, and threaten finally the overthrow of all that ancient discipline so precious to orthodoxy . . .

we have deemed it indispensable to move our armies into the provinces on the Danube . . .

We do not seek for conquests; Russia does not require them. We seek to vindicate those rights which have been so openly violated.

We are even yet ready to stop the movements of our armies, if the Ottoman Porte will bind itself solemnly to respect the inviolability of the orthodox church; but if obstinacy and blindness will it otherwise, then, calling God to our aid, we leave it to Him to decide our quarrel, and in full confidence in the right hand of the Almighty, we shall move forward on behalf of the orthodox faith. . . .”

To the original of this document the own hand of his Majesty is signed. “Nikolai.”

A letter from Constantinople . . . announces that the greatest activity prevails among the Russian ships in the Black Sea. Ships-of-war are constantly leaving Sebastopol to maintain strict watch along the coast . . .




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The Religion which Conquers the World

In the early 1800s, after Napoleon’s defeat, Tsar Alexander I traveled to Paris, France, and wrote a letter back home. He refers to Holy Orthodoxy as “the religion which conquers the world, to the honor of its great head, Christ the Saviour, who gives and crowns the victory.”

It is inspiring when the leader of a nation gives honor to Christ and His Church. May the Lord grant us more world leaders who will do likewise.



Posted in Orthodox World History | 2 Comments