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What happiness is

July 10, 2010 Leave a comment



By Archbishop Nathanial (Lvov) 1906-1985,

translated by Charles Bausman

People wish each other happiness on various occasions, for example, on the New Year, but what is happiness? How can one define it?

Modern man’s concept of happiness has not changed much since primitive times, ie. happiness is when I acquire more material things from others, and unhappiness is when others take my property from me.

Even if we leave aside the morality of this concept, it is still flawed in its essence because no matter how much property, power, public recognition, and pleasures we amass, it will not bring us happiness. Material objects cannot bring true happiness, only taedium vitae, after which a person is overcome by depression even more than before.

It is interesting to note that the word “happiness,” — “tikhi,” in ancient Greek, appears very rarely in the Holy Scriptures, and not once in the New Testament. The term is too broad and is inexact. On its own it has no meaning. Instead, the Scriptures use another more clear and specific term, “joy,” (“khara” in ancient Greek) which is one of the components of happiness.

Christ says the following about joy: “… that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” He also indicates where this joy comes from: “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my father’s commandments, and abide in his love” (John 15: 10 – 11). Here we have the answer to the age-old question. True happiness, true joy, is God’s love, and being with Him. This is completely confirmed by St. Paul when he says: “For the Kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Romans 14:17). John adds this: “…and your joy no man taketh from you” (John 16:22). This means, nothing and no one — neither suffering, nor deprivation, nor persecution, not even death itself.

This is well understood by those who have solved for themselves the centuries-old problem of humanity, and who have found happiness: the Christian saints and those who please God, past and present. Yet their behavior is puzzling to others. The ancient Romans couldn’t understand why Christians were so joyous. Contemporary heathens, most of whom nominally think of themselves as Christians, ask the same question.

There exists a wide-spread, sentimental, romantic, Western European notion, which is often offered as an answer to this question, which goes something like this: that because in the ancient world people had little understanding of what happens after death, people feared death, and Christians espoused the soothing idea that people will live after death, that Christ has saved everyone, forgiven everyone, and promised everyone eternal life and heavenly bliss, and that this is the reason why Christians are so joyous. This notion, in one form or another is very common, but it is completely inaccurate.

In fact, Christ did not at all promise heavenly bliss. Frequently Christ gives frightening warnings: “…there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth…,” (Matthew 24:51), “…Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment…” (Matthew 25:46). Furthermore, St. Peter, speaking of the terrible danger of eternal suffering hanging over us, reminds us that even the righteous barely save themselves, and that the impious and sinful almost never do (1 Peter 4:18).

Another notion, originating in Protestantism, which is quite common amongst liberally inclined Christians is that the gloomy concept of the after-life and the difficulty of salvation is a product of a later era, of “gloomy, joyless, ascetics/monks,” and that in the ancient, initial Christianity there predominated a “bright mood, and an understanding that one’s salvation derived alone from one’s belief in Christ.” Those who believe this are inventing their own version of Christianity, with no basis or confirmation either in the Gospels, or the Epistles, or in ancient Christian history.

For example, read the early Christian book by “Pastor” Erma, a writer of the 1st century, and you will see how demanding early Christians were regarding salvation and how clearly they understood that the slightest hint of immorality puts a person at risk of eternal death. This book is written with the pathos of the frightening words of the church song – “the suffering of the sinful is limitless.” This was even more true regarding pureness of faith and loyalty to the Church.

Therefore, a Christian viewpoint might seem much less cheerful than a pagan one. Pagans have a “kingdom of shadows” after life, not very clearly defined, and of which one can form the most varied of conceptions. At one extreme one has the “Elysian Fields,” a kingdom of bliss, which are quite easy to enter. At the gloomy end of the spectrum one has the concept of nothingness, of complete destruction after death. To quote Socrates, “Since I didn’t suffer before appearing on this earth, it follows that I won’t suffer when I leave it.”

If you compare this with the awful picture of eternal suffering and hell and you see that the liberal view on the reasons for the joyousness of the first Christians is essentially flawed. And nonetheless, that Christian joy was and still is. It shines brightly in each line of the lives of the martyrs and ascetics (podvizhniki), and glows still in the lives of monks and in Christian families. In fact, it alone deserves this term. And the more spiritual a person is, the more clear and perfect his joy is. This joy, this bright world-view never left the early Christians, even during suffering, and at death’s door.

What then is the source of this joy? The answer, of course, it is faith. But not in the way Protestants understand it. It is not a formal, lifeless, faith, absent of heroic spiritual effort (podvig) (after all, even “demons believe and tremble”) rather it is an animating, active faith which lives in a pure heart and is warmed by God’s grace, a faith burning with love for God, and strengthening hope in Him. As one modern Christian writer put it so well, “It is not enough to believe in God, one must believe Him too.” The lines from the litany: “Let us entrust ourselves, and each other, and all our life to Christ our God” properly describe true Christian faith. It is a full, trusting, filial entrustment of oneself into God’s hands. This is, and has always been, what opens the doors to true joy, to true happiness.

If a Christian trusts God, then he is prepared to accept anything from him: heaven or hell, suffering or bliss, for he knows that God is infinitely good. When he punishes us, it is for our sake. He loves us so much that he will move heaven and earth to save us. He won’t betray us, not even for the best reasons, and will certainly save us, if at all possible. As St. Augustine put it, “The only refuge from God’s anger is God’s favour.”

With this kind of understanding, joy and light firmly inhabit the heart of a Christian, and there is no room for gloom. The world, the boundless universe belongs to my God. No event, from the smallest to the greatest can occur without His will, and He loves me infinitely. Even here on earth he allows me to enter His kingdom, His holy Church. He will never drive me from His kingdom, as long as I am faithful to Him. What is more, if I fall, he will pick me up as soon as I realize my sin and offer tears of repentence. That is why I trust my salvation and the salvation of not only my loved ones, but of all people, to God’s hands.

Death is not frightening, it has been defeated by Christ. Hell and eternal suffering await those who consciously and by their own free will turn from God, who prefer the gloom of sin to the light of His love. Joy and eternal blessedness await the faithful. “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9).

Let ever-merciful God help us achieve full trust in Him. Lord rejuvenate us who pray to Thee!


Categories: Homilies

“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”

June 27, 2010 Leave a comment

At that time, as Jesus arrived at the country of the Gadarenes, there met him a man from the city who had demons; for a long time he had worn no clothes and he lived not in a house but among the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him, and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beseech you, do not torment me.” For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him; he was kept under guard, and bound with chains and fetters, but he broke the bonds and was driven by the demon into the desert.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. Now a large herd of swine was feeding there on the hillside; and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them leave. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. When the herdsmen saw what happened, they fled, and told it in the city and in the country. Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. And those who had seen it told them how he who had been possessed with demons was healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gadarenes asked him to depart from them; for they were seized with great fear; so he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but he sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him. (Luke 8:26-39)


One of the topics from today’s Gospel is about demonocracy, undgadareneoubtedly, colossal and maybe truly unique topic of our time. The demonism, from the very beginning is worn in clothing of the angel of light. Its medium are credulous. In this moment, my dears, comes to my mind the great French poet Baudelaire.

In his book Flowers of evil, led by the poetic intuition, he signifies the morbid truth: the greatest triumphs of Satan to convince people that not God, but it – the devil – does not exist. The uncovered evil and violence always hide behind the mask of goodness and freedom. My beloved, the biggest witness is the age we live in.  The evil is the ingenious virtuoso of the fashion and fashion designer.

In the Egyptian pathericon is said how abba Makarios the Great had seen Satan in the desert, carrying innumerable pumpkins hanged around its neck. Abba Makarios asked it: “What are you carrying?” It replied: “Various food, for every man according to his desire and taste”. Therefore, our people rightfully say: “better to be alone than in bad company“.

Beloved brothers and sisters, Christ is always with us. Christ is always with us as a parent, better said as a mother, who is always beside her child. Equally mother watches over the life of her child, growing him from her womb till the majority, her eye and all her senses follow every sigh, every step of her child, as Christ the God stands beside us, following us, following watchfully, guarding over our hearts.

Sometime probably in the childhood, all of us were lonely and frightened of solitude provoked by the absence of our mother. Thus lonely, it happened to fall, to injure our self and disconsolately to devote our selves to weeping. Yet, always when we felt presence of our mother and her wonderful, warm, maternal words: do not be afraid, my son, I am with you, – the weep disappeared, and the fears were expelled. Exactly, Christ the God, present always in our life, stands by consoling us: “Do not be afraid, I am with you”.
Amen.


Father Stefan Sandjakoski, SERMONS FROM KALISTA

Categories: Biblical Studies, Homilies

What is the calling of the woman?

April 18, 2010 Leave a comment

HOMILY ON THE WEEK OF THE MYRRH-BEARING WOMEN

(Archimandrite Kirill Pavlov,  St. Sergius Monastery of the Trinity)


The third week after Easter is called the Week of the Myrrh-bearing Women. The Holy Church praises and glorifies these holy women for their devotion and love of Jesus Christ, as they did not spare themselves at a moment of severe danger and suffering. At a time when every disciple of Christ deserted Him, they stood at the Cross to see His crucifixion and to lay His body down in the grave.

The Lord came to the earth out of love for the fallen humanity in order to save it. The pure hearts of the myrrh-bearing women could feel the holiness of the Savior and his love of people and responded to him with the same strong and passionate love. The Holy Church has glorified them precisely for this steadfast faith in and love of our Lord and Savior, Sweet Jesus Christ. Let us talk about the calling of the woman as taught by Holy Scripture.

Nobody would dispute the great influence that women have on human deeds, both good and evil. We know from the Bible that it is through the first woman that sin has entered this innocent world. It is also through the woman that the Redeemer came to the world to renew and restore humanity. Indeed, the God-inspired author of the Book of Psalms speaks of the two ways that can be taken by the humankind. One is that of wisdom and devotion, while the other one is that of folly and vice. God was not pleased to grant the woman the power to subjugate others by force or coercion. But He has given her the influence to overwhelm the strong in such a way that they do not feel it, submitting without feeling their freedom restricted in any way. That is why the woman’s influence on people’s fates and morals is so great. This influence will prove beneficial if the woman’s life conforms to its original calling.

What is then the calling of the woman? They say sometimes that men and women have one and the same calling to glorify God by their good deeds. This is true, but the woman has a special calling. Let us turn to Holy Scripture. We read on the first page of the Book of Genesis: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen.1:26). Further on it says this about the specific calling of the woman: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I shall make him a help meet for him” (Gen. 2:18). And this was not said about a married woman, as Eve was not only the first wife to the first husband, but also the first creature of female sex. Indeed, it was not good that the man should have been alone. God endowed the first man with every blessing. He put him in Eden, but the man was lacking a help capable of thinking, talking and loving. He had no one to share his joy, thoughts and feelings, because all creatures around him were below him, while the Divine Being Who had had created him was far above him. Adam, therefore, did not feel the perfect bliss. So God created a wife, a help, for the first man. She was that other “ego” which the first man was seeking. The wife as a God-given helpmate was to make the man’s bliss perfect by her concern and love. Thus, the calling of the woman lies in love. Being the help to her husband, she is his equal. She can give him the help he needs only if she is his equal.

Has the woman’s calling changed after the Fall, after sin has shaken all nature and brought great changes into the world of morality? Satan tempted the woman because he knew that the woman was weaker than man. Then Satan used her as a tool to tempt her husband, aware that the wife had great influence on her husband. The satanic calculation was very shrewd and achieved its goal. The Devil led the man astray through his wife. The wife used the God-given pure and kind influence for evil and thus destroyed it. She requited Adam with sin and death for the life she had received from him. It is for this that God punished her with severe pain without which the human race cannot multiply. God downgraded her position, saying: “Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Gen. 3:16). Since then she became fully subjected to her husband, and struggle began between good and evil in the very foundation of social life which is the family.

Sin destroyed human everyday life and breached the balance in relationships between husband and wife. Instead of humbly accepting the punishment inflicted upon him by God’s judgment, the husband tried to load his wife with all his work and concerns, while preserving for himself the right to dominate and dictate. This is how the wife, the helpmate, became first a worker and then a slave. In an attempt to deliver herself from her husband’s despotism, but having no strength to do so, the wife resorted to cunning and craftiness. Thus the ages-old struggle began between despot and slave.

The merciful God, seeing the balance in relationships between husband and wife destroyed, found a way to restore it. He promised already to the first people to appear after the Fall that the Redeemer would be born Who would stop the devil and deliver the wife from slavery. And the time came when this promise came true. The Most Holy Virgin Mary, by the power of her love and humbleness, conceived God and gave Him birth to become the Savior Who has renewed and redeemed humanity and has delivered the wife from slavery.

As you can see, the Most Holy Virgin Mary acquired this freedom by the power of her love and humbleness. She is the example for women to follow. It was love and humbleness that brought her freedom. The woman’s freedom was gained not by rebellion against her husband, but by humbleness and love. Having accomplished such a great task as giving birth to the Savior of the world, the Virgin Mary remained largely unknown. She was not seen even among the apostles, though the apostle revered her. This is an example of true humbleness for us.

Love and humbleness so perfectly manifested by the Mother of God are essential in Christian marriage prescribing the wife to love her husband. Just as the Church loves Christ, so the wife is called to love her husband, not out of a slave’s fear, but with loving abeyance, as the Church obeys Christ.

The holy apostles sometimes pointed to the vices that crept in relations between spouses after the Fall. Thus St. Paul warns husbands against despotism, saying: “Husbands, love your wives” (Eth. 5:25). St. Paul writes, trying to prevent wives from seeking to dominate their husbands: “But I would have you know that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3), and adds: “The man is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of the man” (1 Cor. 11:7). For it was not man who was created for woman, but woman for man. Seeking to free woman from craftiness and coquetry rooted in her desire to dominate man, the apostle writes: “I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls…, but with good deeds.” Then he gives a direct instruction: “I do not permit a woman to teach” (1 Tim. 2:12). Though it may seem humiliating for a woman, it is not in the least so. St. Paul pointed to that activity which should contribute to the woman’s greatness, and modesty and humbleness are the best way to achieve it. He writes further on that a wife should help bring her husband to salvation. By her love and concern she should promote his well-being, not so much temporal as eternal. She should help him in the task of salvation, so that she herself may be saved.

Thus a woman is called to be a help to her husband. Her calling is love. If you look deep in a woman’s inner world, you will see the words “bashfulness and modesty” inscribed by the Creator in her heart. The very happiness and honour of a woman lie in this modest and dependent position. If she looses these qualities, she looses her image. Thus, according to the word of God, the nature of a woman lies in modesty and humbleness, and her calling is love.

There are two types of love. One is the joyful feeling of a person who is loved with a sacrificial love, while the other is the happiness of a person who himself or herself loves with a sacrificial love. Loved by others, a woman is happy, but this love is inconstant and changeable. To love her neighbours and to sacrifice herself for the love of them – this is the essence of a woman and the perfect law of her existence. Of course, egoism, which marks all humanity, is inherent in the woman as well, but we are speaking here about pure love as it ought to be. Taken without the tumours of sin brought by the Fall, the love with which the Creator endowed the woman is what makes her courageous and capable of great deeds for all her weakness and gentleness.

Look how patient a woman is in her good works, how insatiable her love is. The love of a mother has always been revered as a model of this gentle and holy love. The mother’s love has been glorified by writers and poets in all times and in all nations.

We are often asked whether men and women are equal in their abilities. They are equal and at the same time unequal. Women’s abilities are intended for one goal, while men’s for another. A woman has her own field of activity in which her abilities are, of course, incomparably higher than those of a man. It is her home and family. This is the field where a woman reveals all the power of her soul. This is where she is a full master, though her influence here is often inconspicuous. Her power is manifested not in oppression or rude force, but in captivating gentleness. It is in the family that her efficiency and her mysterious art to penetrate a man’s heart is manifested. The ability to care, to share, to respond, to show tact and to encourage tied and grieving souls – this is the mainspring used by women for domestic control.

The abilities that the woman received from God, however, cannot be revealed in all their fullness. She is capable of fulfilling her calling, but at the same time she is incapable of it. She is capable because she  does  seek to accomplish her predestination and incapable because of sin that chokes and sometimes corrupts the good seeds that God planted in her heart. Instead of being active, she becomes fussy, resorting to intrigue, slyness and coquetry. The woman’s heart so richly endowed with gifts of God’s grace becomes sinful and graceless. Holy Scripture, while praising the woman’s good qualities, also points to her viciousness. On its pages you can meet bad, senseless, fallen and thoughtless women who did much damage to people of God.

The woman’s heart, ardent and jealous, good and evil, strong and weak as it is at the same time, needs to be guided to a good goal. The good seeds planted by God in it need to be grown in the right way. But who can heal and teach the woman’s heart? Nobody can reform and renew it but the Son of God Who became flesh in order to restore human nature so that we may be saved. Only from Him the woman can receive the strength to accomplish her predestination in this life.

When Christ the Savior preached on earth, nobody sympathized with Him as much as women. Just as a woman’s heart is attracted to Him, so His heart is attracted to hers, because the Son of God, by His very nature, is love. He performed His feat on earth as a humble servant for all. The woman, therefore, who is also called to love will find in our Savior the One Who is intimately akin to her in her modest and humble service. If Christian faith is precious to the human soul, it is especially precious to the woman’s soul. A woman cannot be a true woman if she does not accept the Gospel as a real Christian whose place is by the side of the humble and loving Savior. In this lies her greatness, her holiness and her salvation. Amen

Categories: Homilies

CHRIST IS RISEN!

April 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Paschal Sermon of St. John Chrysostom


If any man be devout and loveth God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast! If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have laboured long in fasting, let him how receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived therefore. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. And if any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness.

For the Lord, who is jealous of his honour, will accept the last even as the first. He giveth rest unto him who cometh at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who hath wrought from the first hour. And He showeth mercy upon the last, and careth for the first; and to the one He giveth, and upon the other He bestoweth gifts. And He both accepteth the deeds, and welcometh the intention, and honoureth the acts and praises the offering.

Wherefore, enter ye all into the joy of your Lord; receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival! You sober and you heedless, honour the day! Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away. Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness.

Let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal Kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it.

By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered when it encountered Thee in the lower regions.

It was embittered, for it was abolished.
It was embittered, for it was mocked.
It was embittered, for it was slain.
It was embittered, for it was overthrown.
It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains.
It took a body, and met God face to face.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is risen, and thou art overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.

For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages.

Amen.


Categories: Homilies

Sunday of Orthodoxy. St. John of Kronstadt- On the Joy of Being Orthodox

February 21, 2010 1 comment

“As the Prophets beheld, as the Apostles have taught, as the Church has received, as the Teachers have dogmatized, as the universe has agreed, as Grace has shown forth, as Truth has revealed, as falsehood has been dissolved, as Wisdom has presented, as Christ has awarded: thus we declare, thus we assert, thus we preach Christ our true God, and honor His Saints in words, in writings, in thoughts, in sacrifices, in churches, in Holy Icons; on the one hand worshiping and reverencing Christ as God and Lord; and on the other hand honoring as true servants of the same Lord of all, and accordingly offering them veneration.
(Loudly) This is the Faith of the Apostles; this is the Faith of the Fathers; this is the Faith of the Orthodox; this is the Faith which has established the universe!”  (Synodicon: The Affirmation of the Orthodoxy Faith)

“Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” (Jn.1: 47)

Our Lord Jesus Christ said this of a certain Nathanael, an Israelite who dwelt in the Galilean town of Cana, when the latter, on the advice of his friend Philip, went to meet Jesus Christ to be assured whether He was the Messiah promised to Israel. Philip said to Nathanael, “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write: Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph!” But Nathanael said to him, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip then said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, He said, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” Nathanael said to Him, “Whence knowest Thou me?” Jesus answered him, saying, “Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee,” i.e., I knew all your thoughts, your faith, your hope for the Messiah, your future ministry. The Lord Who knows the hearts of men apparently touched the very heartstrings of Nathanael, his inmost thoughts, desires, aspirations, showing His divine omniscience plainly to him. Thus was Nathanael brought to faith in Christ, and he cried out, “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel!,” and became His disciple.

Why is it that during the Great Fast, on the day called the “Sunday of Orthodoxy,” it is this particular Gospel which is prescribed to be read? Because the Lord’s words to Nathanael reveal the character of the true, or Orthodox, Christian and, in general, the character of the true Church of Christ. “Behold, an Israelite indeed,” the Lord said of Nathanael, “in whom is no guile,” i.e., behold a man who rightly, directly, firmly thinks, reasons, believes, hopes, speaks and acts, since Nathanael directly, immediately believed in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and never wavered in his faith and hope, never changed his mind concerning His divine Person. Should not the true Christian be like him; should not the divinely instituted society of Orthodox Christians also be such; should not the Orthodox Church be such, and is it not such?

What high praise did He Who searches the hearts and reins render unto Nathanael in the words: “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” What high praise there is for that Christian of whom the Lord says, “Behold a Christian indeed, in whom is no guile!,” and for that Church of which the Lord will say, “Behold a Church indeed, in which is no guile, or vain human inventions, i.e., which is wholly true in all its doctrines, mysteries, divine services, directives, and its entire organization.

And just such men were our holy favorites of God; such has the whole Orthodox Church been from the beginning up to now, as is borne witness by an impartial history of the Church and by God Himself through the divers signs and wonders wrought in the Church. It is, as the Apostle says, “the pillar and ground of Truth,” it is “a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing.”

To preserve the Orthodox Faith rivers of the blood of the apostles, the prophets and the martyrs were poured forth; and many tortures were borne by the venerable fathers and other champions of the Faith. But what about us, the children of the Orthodox Church? Are we preserving this precious inheritance, the Orthodox Faith; are we following its teachings, commandments, canons, rules, counsel? Do we love to offer service to God? Are we renewed thereby, are we hallowed each and every day, are we setting ourselves aright, are we attaining the perfection which the saints have reached? Are we becoming perfect in love for God and our neighbors; do we cherish our Faith; do we regard the mercy of God as the greatest thing, and that we have the good fortune to belong to the Orthodox Church is the first and greatest happiness in our life? What answer would we give to these questions if we were to respond according to our conscience?

To our shame, we must admit that in many Orthodox Christians the Orthodox Faith is not only absent in their heart, but it is also not on their tongue; among them it has vanished entirely, or has been turned into total indifference with regard to any religion whatever–Catholic, Lutheran, Jewish, Mohammendan, or pagan. We hear that one may please God in every religion, i.e., that every religion is supposedly pleasing to God, and that falsehood and truth, righteousness and unrighteousness are matters about which God does not care.

This is what ignorance of their own Faith, ignorance of the spirit and history of their Church, estrangement from its life and divine services, has brought many to–an eclipse of any understanding of Orthodoxy, heterodoxy and other religions! The annals of modern events relate that somewhere in Russia a certain headmaster, during the examination of his students, referred to the story of the sacrifice of Isaac as stupid. This is darkness, chaos, pernicious ignorance! The Christian, as a member of the Church, must know his own Faith and strive to live according to that Faith, to achieve salvation by means of that Faith, because the enemies of our salvation never sleep; they seek our destruction every hour and every day. The Orthodox Christian must not dismiss his Faith as a concern merely of certain people, or as a disposable toy appropriate only for children, or something fit only, as it were, for the uneducated common folk.

It would not be out of place to remind those who think thus of the venerable antiquity of our Faith, which is contemporary with the beginning of the human race, and of its direct origin with God and that men of high birth, vocation, position and gender lived and attained salvation in this Faith–glorious kings and wise philosophers, law-givers and the greatest orators, nobles and simple folk, rich and poor, men and women, the beauty and glory of the human race. To the glory of the Orthodox Faith one ought also to say that no other religion than the Orthodox Faith is capable of bringing man to moral perfection or holiness and the pleasing of God, as is shown by the history of the Church and the incorrupt, wonder-working remains of the holy favorites of God and the miraculous feats of the saints of the Orthodox Church, whereby they became perfectly pleasing unto God, becoming clairvoyant and working wonders even during their lifetime. Thus must it be for the sane mind: only a perfect Faith with all its divine powers, with the full spiritual armor of God, is able to bring one to perfection, against the passion-fraught flesh, the world and the devil.

And if now many even Orthodox Christians live badly, their manner of life, even if truly ungodly, cannot in the least, of course, be held against the Orthodox Faith, which is unshakable in its principles of Truth and holiness, in accordance with the promise of the Savior Himself and the testimony of history. Such people, although they have departed from us, were not ours in essence, but only in name…

Yea, my brethren, only the Orthodox Faith purifies and sanctifies human nature which has been defiled by sin…Do you wish to be assured of this? Read the history of the lives of the saints, the history of the Church, and you will see this for yourselves. You will see wolves transformed into lambs, fornicators into angelic righteous men and women, misers into paragons of charity, lovers of pleasure into ascetics; you will see people of power and earthly grandeur and luxury in humble monastic garb…These were true Christians indeed; these were angels in the flesh, citizens of heaven while still on earth… This is what our Orthodox Faith can do with those who sincerely hold to it and follow its direction!

But why does it not produce such a salvific change within us? Because of disbelief and lack of faith, flippancy, depravity and unrepentance of heart, because of the passions which have intensified and gained dominion over us, because we have withdrawn from the Church, and because many are not in the least imbued with the spirit and life of the Church, and many are only weakly, only formally, insincerely, attached to it. Because all the modern lusts have been engendered within us

...For us to be genuine Orthodox Christians, we must first of all have living, constant fellowship with the Orthodox Church, i.e., participation in its prayers, teachings, mysteries, we must earnestly study our Faith and become imbued with it, live in its spirit, be guided by its rules, commandments, precepts; and most important, we must restore within us by true and profound repentance the image of the true Orthodox Christian, according to the image of the saints, ancient and recent, according to the model of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, Who says: “I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you” (Jn. 13: 15), that the Lord may also say to us, as He once said of Nathanael, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!”

Amen.

Categories: Homilies, Orthodox Feasts

Forgiveness Sunday/Cheesefare Sunday

February 14, 2010 Leave a comment

THE GOSPEL READING

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; 15but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. 16And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 19Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, 20but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. [ Matthew 6:14-21 ]


On Repentance

Open to me the doors of repentance, O Giver of Life!


Repentance is expressed by the Greek word, metanoia. In the literal sense, this means a change of mind. In other words, repentance is a change of one’s disposition, one’s way of thinking; a change of one’s inner self. Repentance is a reconsideration of one’s views, an alteration of one’s life.

How can this come about? In the same way that a dark room into which a man enters is illumined by the rays of the sun. Looking around the room in the dark, he can make out certain things, but there is a great deal he does not see and does not even suspect is there. Many things are perceived quite differently from what they actually are. He has to move carefully, not knowing what obstacles he might encounter. When, however, the room becomes bright, he can see things clearly and move about freely.

The same thing happens in spiritual life.

When we are immersed in sins, and our mind is occupied solely with worldly cares, we do not notice the state of our soul. We are indifferent to who we are inwardly, and we persist along a false path without being aware of it.

But then a ray of God’s Light penetrates our soul. And what filth we see in ourselves! How much untruth, how much falsehood! How hideous many of our actions prove to be, which we fancied to be so wonderful. And it becomes clear to us which is the true path.

If we then recognize our spiritual nothingness, our sinfulness, and earnestly desire our amendment – we are near to salvation. From the depths of our soul we shall cry out to God: “Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy according to Thy Great mercy!” “Forgive me and save me!” “Grant me to see my own faults and not to judge my brother!”

As Great Lent begins, let us hasten to forgive each other all hurts and offenses. May we always hear the words of the Gospel for Forgiveness Sunday: If ye forgive men their debts, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if ye forgive not men their debts, neither will your Father forgive your debts (Matt. 6:14-15).

Sermon of Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco

Today we celebrate: the Expulsion of Adam from Paradise

As we begin the Great Fast, the Church reminds us of Adam’s expulsion from Paradise. God commanded Adam to fast (Gen. 2:16), but he did not obey. Because of their disobedience, Adam and Eve were cast out of Eden and lost the life of blessedness, knowledge of God, and communion with Him, for which they were created. Both they and their descendents became heirs of death and corruption. Let us consider the benefits of fasting, the consequences of disobedience, and recall our fallen state. Today we are invited to cleanse ourselves of evil through fasting and obedience to God. Our fasting should not be a negative thing, a mere abstention from certain foods. It is an opportunity to free ourselves from the sinful desires and urges of our fallen nature, and to nourish our souls with prayer, repentance, to participate in church services, and partake of the life-giving Mysteries of Christ.


Tone 6 (from the Lenten Triodion)

Adam ate the forbidden fruit and was driven from Paradise.

He sat outside, weeping bitterly:

“Woe to me! What will become of me, a worthless man?

I disobeyed one command of my Master and lost every good thing!

O holy Paradise, planted for me by God, and closed by the weakness of Eve,

grant that I may once again gaze on the flowers of your gardens!”

The Savior said to him:

“I do not wish the death of my creation!

I desire that all should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth,

for him who comes to me I shall never cast out!”

now and ever, and unto ages of ages.  Amen.

Tone 6 (Theotokion)

My Maker and Redeemer, Christ the Lord,

was born of you, O most pure Virgin.

By accepting my nature, He freed Adam from his ancient curse.

Unceasingly we magnify you as the Mother of God!

Rejoice, O celestial Joy!

Rejoice, O Lady:

the Protection, Intercession and Salvation of our souls!

Kontakion, Tone 6 (Triodion)

O Master, Teacher of wisdom,

Bestower of virtue,

who teaches the  thoughtless and protects the poor:

strengthen and enlighten my heart,

Word of the Father,

let me not restrain my mouth from crying to Thee:

Have mercy on me, a transgressor,

O Merciful Lord!


At Forgiveness Vespers we sing: “Let us begin the time of fasting in light, preparing ourselves for spiritual efforts. Let us purify our soul, let us purify our body. As we abstain from food, let us abstain from all passion and enjoy the virtues of the spirit….”

Categories: Homilies

Homily on the Nativity of the Lord

December 25, 2009 Leave a comment

by St John Chrysostom

I behold a new and wondrous mystery!

My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn.

The Angels sing!

The Archangels blend their voices in harmony!

The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise!

The Seraphim exalt His glory!

All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side the Sun of Justice.

And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed, he had the power, He descended, He redeemed; all things move in obedience to God.

This day He Who Is, is Born; and He Who Is becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became he God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassibility, remaining unchanged.

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Yet He has not forsaken His angels, nor left them deprived of His care, nor because of His Incarnation has he departed from the Godhead.

And behold,

Kings have come, that they might adore the heavenly King of glory;

Soldiers, that they might serve the Leader of the Hosts of Heaven;

Women, that they might adore Him Who was born of a woman so that He might change the pains of child-birth into joy;

Virgins, to the Son of the Virgin, beholding with joy, that He Who is the Giver of milk, Who has decreed that the fountains of the breast pour forth in ready streams, receives from a Virgin Mother the food of infancy;

Infants, that they may adore Him Who became a little child, so that out of the mouth of infants and sucklings, He might perfect praise;

Children, to the Child Who raised up martyrs through the rage of Herod;

Men, to Him Who became man, that He might heal the miseries of His servants;

Shepherds, to the Good Shepherd Who has laid down His life for His sheep;

Priests, to Him Who has become a High Priest according to the order of Melchisedech;

Servants, to Him Who took upon Himself the form of a servant that He might bless our servitude with the reward of freedom;

Fishermen, to Him Who from amongst fishermen chose catchers of men;

Publicans, to Him Who from amongst them named a chosen Evangelist;

Sinful women, to Him Who exposed His feet to the tears of the repentant;

And that I may embrace them all together, all sinners have come, that they may look upon the Lamb of God Who taketh away the sins of the world.

Since therefore all rejoice, I too desire to rejoice. I too wish to share the choral dance, to celebrate the festival. But I take my part, not plucking the harp, not shaking the Thyrsian staff, not with the music of pipes, nor holding a torch, but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ. For this is all my hope, this my life, this my salvation, this my pipe, my harp. And bearing it I come, and having from its power received the gift of speech, I too, with the angels, sing: Glory to God in the Highest; and with the shepherds: and on earth peace to men of good will.

Categories: Homilies