Archive for January, 2008

36th Thursday after Pentecost – James 1:19-27 – Are you religious?

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

When I was in college, and on the way to Orthodoxy, but still not even knowing that it existed, it was fashionable in my circle to deny that we were “religious”. This was a four letter word to us – we arrogantly and ignorantly (I know now) stated that we were “Christian” and NOT “religious”.

If we knew our bible as well as we thought we did, we would never say such a thing – or at least we would admit that although we were not “religious” because of our own weaknesses and sins, were were striving for pure religion.

“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”

Are you religious? I am not – to state this unequivocally is to state that I love God with all my heart and all my soul and all my mind, and as a result of this, also loving my neighbor as myself .

It is interesting how we sometimes say things that are true, but with false understanding. After, lo, after these many years, I still state that I am not religious, but the reasons why I say it are so much different. Perhaps a little bit, in my life, I have been religious, and those times have been the best times for my soul. I can honestly say that I desire to have pure religion.

The key to this purity is not the first part what the brother of the Lord, James, tells us, but the second part.

From purity of heart flows all good works toward all men. Pure religion is the changing of the soul – from dark to light, from impure to pure, from ignorant concerning virtue to knowledge of all things holy. This knowledge is a gained by our learning the commandments of God and applying them to our lives. We do not become “unspotted from the world” by performing good works – we do good works because the love of Gods fills us, and purifies us.

Let us strive for “pure religion”, or put another way, to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only”.

PS. In college I was part of “Campus Crusade for Christ” for a while, until The Holy Spirit showed me that their way of life was not “all truth”, as He promised he would lead us to. There were many admirable people in that group, but their faith was too shallow. They did not understand that pure religion means being part of the church – they did not understand where the church was and where it was not. There were many good souls . May God save them.


Epistle Reading for today:

James 1:19-27 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

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With God all things are possible

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

Both the epistle and gospel readings for today talk about what we must do, about the moral life of a Christian. “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only.” “Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.” At the same time, both readings touch on our inability to obey the commandments fully. Did the young man observe all of the commandments? In the literal sense, perhaps – but probably not in their perfected sense, as interpreted by Christ in the sermon on the mount. For example, Christ explains that it does not suffice simply not to kill – rather, one must refrain even from anger without cause. (Matthew Chapter 5) But we are comforted: “With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.” We are enjoined to “lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.” Sin encompasses us, death and corruption reign in our members, but through Christ’s incarnation, sacrifice, death and resurrection they are defeated, and it is up to us simply to “receive with meekness” that which has been given us. We cannot save ourselves – we are too weak, too far removed from God. We cannot do good in our corrupted state. As the prophet Jeremiah says, (I paraphrase), just as a leopard cannot change his spots, so we cannot do good, being habitually sinful. But God’s Word is able to save us by changing us, by uniting us to Himself and abiding with us. “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” We need only desire to change, and make an effort to lay aside the “filthiness” of our old self and be conformed to the image of Christ. The power to do so will come from Him.

Readings:

James Chapter 1:

Do not err, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.”

Mark Chapter 10:

“And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions. And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved? And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.

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17th Saturday after Pentecost – Matthew 25:1-13 – Parable Of The Ten Virgins

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

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The Parable of the Ten Virgins is also appointed for Holy Equal to the Apostles Nina, Enlightener of Georgia. She is remembered Jan 14/27. This day fell on a Sunday in 2008.

Matthew 25:1-13 Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. {2} And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. {3} They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: {4} But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. {5} While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. {6} And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. {7} Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. {8} And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. {9} But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. {10} And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. {11} Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. {12} But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. {13} Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.


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35th Friday after Pentecost – Hebrews 11:8, 11-16 – Which country are we mindful of?

Friday, January 25th, 2008

And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.

This is saying that we can always go back to sinful ways, if we retain any attachment to them. What countries are we still “mindful” of?

The Apostle speaks delicately when he states “they might have had opportunity to have returned”. The truth is, if we retain attachment to earthly things, we will always be “returning” in some way to these things, as a dog returns to its own vomit.

Who knows how far we will go? Do we? Could it not be possible that with repetition in the indulgence of our passions, we will embark upon an actual trip back to this “country” and do not come back? ABSOLUTELY! In this context, returning to the “country” that we should have left completely means our perdition. In the meanwhile, as our lives hang in the balance, we “play with fire”, and are “double minded” and therefore unstable in all our ways. How many times can we indulge ourselves without becoming completely lost? How much should we gamble concerning this?

Human nature quickly tunes out warnings. Punishments, or threats of danger do little to dissuade us for very long. There is a principle in action here: A PERSON WILL DO WHAT HE WANTS TO DO. Look at your life and see if this is true. Why do you pray very little? Is is not because you are “mindful of another country” – something you value above prayer, such as leisure, or entertainments, or any of a million other things that we do instead of prayer? Our habits, deeply ingrained because of our indulgence in them, are very difficult to uproot, and will certainly not be uprooted by being reminded of punishments. We must change what we want if we are to become holy.

We see the true motivator to righteousness in this selection: to desire a “BETTER COUNTRY, THAT IS AN HEAVENLY.” We must daily, hourly, minute by minute,cultivate deep desire to become heavenly, holy – because only those with a clean wedding garment will dine in the Master’s city.

How do we keep this blessed hope within us?

It is hard work. We remember that which we repeat. We repeat that which we value.

We must meditate upon the scriptures with great desire and longing. This must be a daily occurrence. How can we do that which we do not know? We must be people of the scriptures. When we hear the beginning of a phrase, our heart should feel the warmth of holiness as our mind completes it. Do you know the scriptures this well? I am not talking about rote memorization here. We remember that which is important to us. If holiness is important, then we will remember things regarding holiness, and feel pleasure when these things are brought to our recollection

My hope is that these small homilies that I write or speak will spark a desire in you to delve deeply in the scriptures. Be like a miner, with a pick and pail, looking for golden nuggets, and hold unto these as a precious treasure. The only way to maintain the truths taught in scripture is to live according to them, so in order to “maintain our face towards Jerusalem” we must cultivate the virtues.

What is it that you need to do today? I do not speak of your itinerary – do this, do that, go here, then go there. Your task today is to live like a Christian, and you cannot do this without thinking like one! Let us take as our example Abraham, and Sarah, and Moses, and all the rest who cultivated their love for God by their actions and maintained their steadfast belief that there was something better for them – a heavenly city.

Partial Scriptural bibliography: Hebrews 11:8, 11-16 ; 2 Pet 2:22 ; Luke 9:51 ; James 1:8 ; Luke 15:11-32

Epistle for this day: Hebrews 11:8, 11-16 By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised. Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable. These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.


This text is likely on our BLOG: http://stnicholasdallas.blogspot.com/ and also on our web page: http:/www.orthodox.net. It may be under one of these sections: http://www.blogger.com/”http://www.orthodox.net/sermons” or http://www.blogger.com/”http://www.orthodox.net/scripture”. There may be an audio homily related to this text, under the sermons.

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Purpose of Our Life

Friday, January 25th, 2008

It is easy to forget in the midst of our day-to-day responsibilities that the purpose of our life is not less than union with God. This is what we were created for. Not in the sense of losing our own personalities or being absorbed into the essence of God – God in his essence is beyond our reach, beyond our comprehension. Rather, we are called to union with God’s energies, to participation in that same Uncreated Light that illumined Christ on Mount Tabor, Moses on Sinai, and St. Seraphim in his conversation with Motovilov. We feeble and corruptible ones are called to know and abide with the source of all strength, love, and life.

How is this possible for us weak ones, living as we are in the midst of the world? I just read a chapter by the Elder Cleopa of Romania,* in which he lists four practical, straightforward ways that the Holy Church has given us for attaining union with God:
1. Most importantly, Holy Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ. In the Holy Mystery, the spiritual reality of Communion with Christ is clothed in a material form to make it more accessible and comprehensible to us. Glory to God for His Condescension!
2. Prayer – and in particular the prayer of Jesus.
3. Fulfilling the commandments and acquiring the virtues.
4. Reading and hearing the Holy Scriptures, the Word of God.

How straightforward this is! The Church gives us everything that we need. The Holy Mystery of Communion is available to us every Sunday. The prayers of the saints teach us how to pray – we only need to read them, understanding more with the passage of time. The Holy Mystery of Confession helps us in our struggle to fulfill the commandments and acquire the virtues. The Holy Scriptures are readily available, and the Church even gives us a list of readings for each day. Moreover, the Church Services give us everything at once: the Holy Mysteries, prayer, instruction in virtue, and abundant exposure to the Word of God! Glory to God for making it so easy to progress along the path toward such a lofty goal! To ascend the mountain, we need only keep walking, one step at a time.

*The Truth of our Faith, Vol II: On the Christian Mysteries

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35th Thursday – "For ye have need of patience"

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

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This is a homily, first to myself, spoken concerning the following scripture, which is appointed for the 35th Thursday after Pentecost:

Hebrews 10:35-11:7 Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul. Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh. By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.

May God help us to live in a way worthy of this Holy Scripture! May we always remember and live as “them that believe to the saving of the soul!”.

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MENAION Jan 10/23 St Theophan the Recluse

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

Today we celebrate St Theophan the Recluse.

His was a unique ministry – a “recluse” who communicated with hundreds of people regularly via letters. We are fortunate to have many of his letters, evidently saved by his correspondents. In addition, this “modern” Saint wrote many excellent books, all of which were steeped in the wisdom of the Fathers, expressed in way easy to understand by the modern man. For many parts of his life, St Theophan saw almost no human faces, but he shows an incredible insight into human nature and the troubles of modern life. It is well worth it to pick up ANY book written by him and read it.

Here are a few pithy quotes, in no particular order.

Human life is complex and multi-faceted. It has physical, mental and spiritual aspects. Each aspect has its powers, needs and modes, and the exercise and satisfaction of them. Only when all of our powers are in motion does a man live. But when only a small portion of his powers is in motion, and only a small number of his needs are satisfied, this life is not life. (The Spiritual Life and how to be attuned to it, p 38)

It is necessary for us to live as God created us, and when someone does not live this way, I may confidently state that he does not live at all. (Ibid, p 39)

God grant that such a feeling – rejecting worldly life and amusements – always be with you. But is is also possible to fall in love with such things. It is obvious that you should not come into contact with such a life. The second time around, it will not seem so destructive and disturbing; the third time, even less so, and then it will not seem bad at all. As they say about vodka, with the first glass you are just breaking the bonds, with the second glass you soar like an eagle, and after that you just pour. (Ibid, p 37)

Everywhere and always God is with us, near to us and in us. But we are not always with Him, since we do not remember Him; and because we do not remember Him we allow ourselves many things which we would not permit if we did remember. Take upon yourself this task — to make a habit of such recollection. Make yourself a rule always to be with the Lord, keeping your mind in your heart, and do not let your thoughts wander; as often as they stray, turn them back again and keep them at home in the closet of your heart, and delight in converse with the Lord.

He who refuses to give into passions does the same as he who refuses to bow down and worship idols

It is well known how powerfully corrupt images act upon the soul, no matter in what form they may touch it! How unfortunate is the child who, closing his eyes, or being left alone and going within himself, is stifled by a multitude of improper images — vain, tempting, breathing of the passions. This is the same thing for the soul as smoke is for the head.


Recommended books

The Path to Salvation: A Manual of Spiritual

The Spiritual Life and how to be attuned to it.

Unseen warfare.

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Audio talk on: Prayers of the church, the TRISAGION

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

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Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us


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Sunday after Theophany – The Meaning Of The Winter Pascha; Our Nature Is Changed, We Are No Longer Captives

Monday, January 21st, 2008

Sunday after Theophany – The Meaning Of The Winter Pascha; Our Nature Is Changed, We Are No Longer Captives

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The week in review – 2008 Jan 5-12, church calendar // Jan 18-25, Civil Calendar

Friday, January 18th, 2008
The week in review – 2008 Jan 5-12, church calendar // Jan 18-25, Civil Calendar

Dear Brothers and sisters:

This week was the last part of the “twelve days of Christmas”, with The Eve of Theophany on Friday, Jan 5/18, and Theophany the next day, on Saturday. I hope you enjoyed the fast free period. As I have told you before, we have a unique opportunity as Orthodox Christians who follow the fasts. When a period is fast free, we certainly notice it, and even our “not fasting” will remind us of God. Those in the world who do not fast have no reason to particularly notice how delicious certain foods are.

What Happened? A short review of last week.

Monday, Jan 1/14 was the Feast of the Circumcision and St Basil the Great. This was the namesday of Vasyl Hurt and Vasily Newell.

Tuesday, Jan 2/15 we held Vespers and discussed afterwards the Troparion and Kontakion for the feast of Theophany and its prefestival. The session is worth a listen and can be found at http://feeds.feedburner.com/OrthodoxChristianCatecheticalTalks. On this page, you may listen to and subscribe to the latest catechetical talks at St Nicholas. All catechetical talks are available at http://www.orthodox.net/catechism. This day was also the date of the commemoration of St Seraphim of Sarov, my patron. I was also able to visit five men in prison; I am visiting them twice a month. I have baptised two: Demetrius and John, and two others, Robert and Williiam, will become catechumens soon.

Wednesday Jan 3/16 we had Divine Liturgy, at its regular time of 9 AM (see the front page for our Wednesday liturgy schedule, this one, being the 3rd Wednesday of the month, is always at 9AM and led by Jelena. Most of the hymns were in Slavonic, with very beautiful Serbian melodies. I consider Serbian melodies to be in between Greek and Russian (sounding somewhat like each), and our parish is fortunate to have such variety in our sacred music. I am also pleased to announce that we have had EXPONENTIAL GROWTH in our weekday liturgy attendence, which has DOUBLED in 1 week (from 2 to 4!). Perhaps we will have eight at the next liturgy?

Thursday Jan 4/17 was the namesday of Genevieve Park (Genevieve of Paris)

Friday, Jan 5/18 was the Eve of Theophany, and at 7 AM we celebrated the Hours, Typika, Vespral Divine Liturgy of Basil the Great, and first Great Blessing of the Waters. I would dearly love to talk to you all sometime about the OT and NT readings – all about water in some fashion.

What’s Happening?

Saturday, Jan 6/19 is THEOPHANY. Divine Liturgy at 10AM, followed by the Great Blessing of the Waters.

Sunday, Jan 7/20 is the Sunday after Theophan, and the Synaxis of The Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist John. A past audio homily for this day can be found at http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/feasts-of-the-savior-theophany-04_2003.mp3.

Tuesday Jan 8/21 we will have Vespers at 6:30 PM, followed by another talk about some aspect of the church’s prayer. I keep making up each weeks teaching the week before, and would like to get a schedule out, to have at least a little organization. We will be talking about the church’s prayer for a while yet, and I am open to topics. If you have something you want me to talk about, please let me know.

Wednesday, Jan 9/22 we will have Divine Liturgy at 9 AM. Riassa will be the main reader.

Theophany resources, including a sermon by St John Maximovitch and St John Chrysostom are at http://www.orthodox.net/theophany/index.html

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