Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee

Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee

 

The rest of the story, How was the publican justified?



 

Icon of the Publican and Pharisee<br />
http://www.orthodox.net/ikons/publican-and-pharisee.jpg In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen. [1] Today is the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. It is a formal beginning to our preparation for the Holy Fast, and is the first day we read anything from the Triodion this year. We are now in a period of time to prepare ourselves – 4 more weeks. Next week follows the Prodigal Son, then the Sunday of the Last Judgment, then the last Sunday before the Holy Fast begins – the Sunday of Forgiveness. There is not much more time, and this time is given for us to reflect upon what it is that we need to do to improve ourselves.

 

The church gives us some help here.  The Sunday before this day is always the Sunday of Zacchaeus, who was a publican. Today, we read about another publican, just a nameless person in a parable. This event never actually occurred; it is a parable our Lord used to teach us. However, it has extra meaning when we think of it in light of the story of Zacchaeus, and in our mind’s eye, equate the publican in this parable with Zacchaeus.

 

In this parable we see two kinds of humility – or rather, humility and its evil opposite, pride – and two kinds of knowledge. We see the pride of the Pharisee, and the church in its hymnology points out the differences between his pride and the humility of the publican. In order to fully understand the lesson we must see that the Pharisee was not completely wrong and the publican was not completely virtuous, and yet, one of them was justified and the other was not.

 

The Pharisee was not condemned for keeping the fasts. He was not condemned for doing righteous good works. The publican was not praised for the life of sin that he had led. Rather, the Pharisee was condemned for judging another man, for using a measure in measuring that he was not capable of truly fulfilling himself. He was condemned because he was either unaware or did not care about the hidden sins that he had in his life, and how he truly was impure before God. He should have been in his demeanor just as the publican.

 

And the publican – why was he justified? He was justified because of his humility, but there is a very interesting aspect to his humility that we must know. He certainly did not judge another man, but he was well aware of his sin. There is something I see over and over again in our society and even in those who are Orthodox in our world as well, since we breathe poisoned air and hear poisoned ideas and we have some of that poison accumulate in us. I see this problem constantly. That is, that people, because of their sins, even though they know that they are wrong, and they want to do better, and have an inner conviction that something is wrong and unholy – instead of struggling against them, because they fail so often – they find a way to avoid being continually pricked by their conscience and being made aware of their sin.

 

This happens among profligate people. Why do you thing that people drink, or find themselves lost in promiscuity or other debauchery? This is to lose themselves from the reality of who they are and how far they are away from virtue. Everyone knows internally what virtue is – it is built into our hearts; it is built into our character.  The Apostle Paul talks about it in Romans, and it is very evident that all men know what is right. But when he falls so far short of virtue he is afraid to really tackle the problem, as it is a very difficult one. So, in extreme cases, he falls away through debauchery, disbelief, falling into extremely wrong doctrines and ideologies and ways of life. And if we get into this state (and it is easy to fall into it: beware!) we deny and deny and deny the reality of who we are, and Who God is. Because generally someone must be blamed, and you can bet that we do not like to blame ourselves very often.

 

Another thing that people do when they are aware of their sins and wish to do better and continually fail – they fall into despondency. This is not so much where they blame someone else, or fall into impure activities without any heedfulness at all, but their despondency eats them alive. Truly, despondency kills more than any other sin.

 

Let us imagine now that the publican of today’s parable IS Zacchaeus. One of the fathers I read quite often, the Blessed Archbishop Andrei, draws this parallel and it is a striking one. Imagine the life of Zacchaeus before he was enlightened by Christ. He was the chief among the publicans. He was the biggest sinner. This meant that he had been guilty of murder and of defrauding widows and orphans. Howso murder? He may not have killed a man with his own hands, but he caused people to starve, widows and orphans with no money, who had no means to live, and they starved or became sick and died. Their murder was on his head. And of course, he was a thief, and a man in his situation, with so much abundance, would fall into every kind of sin. Certainly he had his pick of any wealthy courtesan he wanted, who feigned affection towards him because of his money, and he certainly ate the finest of foods, and drank great quantities of the finest of wines. There was much that he did that was wicked and abased.

 

What happened to this bad man? He was enlightened by God in a way that was wondrous and miraculous and totally outside of what he expected. Therefore, he in his zeal said, "I will restore fourfold to anyone I have defrauded, and I will give half of my goods to the poor", and he had great warmth in his heart when he was in the presence of Christ, and he wanted to do better. 

 

And then came tomorrow, the next day. He fell back into his bad habits. He still had avarice, and he still had lust, and he still had a desire for wine. He still had a weakness for all the things that he wished to get away from, so likely he would have fallen, again and again and again, or at least felt within himself great uncleanness because he still had these desires.. Look at the life of St Mary of Egypt. Can any one of us say we were as bad as she was? I don’t think so. Look what happened to her. When she realized how evil she had been and she desired to change, she went into the desert and for 18 years (if you read her story, you can see this) – EIGHTEEN YEARS! – she spent these years struggling with lustful imaginations and hearing songs that she used to hear when she was in drunken orgies, again and again in her head, and desiring to have flesh meats and wine which she used to drink in abundance. Eighteen years! So many of us, if we had to spend only a year struggling against lust and being unsuccessful – we would just throw in the towel, and go back across our Jordan, back to the former life we had been living, because we were not “cuttin” it. She spent 18 years doing this, till finally God removed from her this lust and this depravity which she had so carefully cultivated from the time she was a maiden. It took 18 years. Very few of us in this room have been Orthodox 18 years, much less struggled 18 years against our passions.

 

Why did she do such a thing, and why did the publican Zacchaeus (shall we say), struggle so, and go into the temple and say, “God be merciful to me a sinner?” Why didn’t he just give up? That’s the most likely thing to happen in this world: most people give up. The reason they give up is because they do not have salvific knowledge of Who God is and what He has done, and what He will do. I said this so many times – our life is spent in learning TWO pieces of knowledge that are critical to our salvation. And they must be done in parallel and a little bit at a time. Too much of one or two much of the other will cause our death. The pieces of knowledge are of ourselves and of God. As a man grows in knowledge of God he learns how great God is and he develops confidence, and he develops this overwhelming desire to become holy. As he grows in knowledge of himself he sees those areas in his life that are not in keeping with Who God is, and he desires to change them.

 

But if a man learns of himself outside of learning about God, you can see in our society what happens. You can see the depravity of people. You can see their angst and anguish over their life’s situation for it is outside of God. Many very poetic things are said by people in music or literature that are TRUE, but they do not give the solution; they only know (and this just partially) the problem! If they do not know the solution, they cannot gain salvation. And the solution is the God-man Jesus Christ, Who has enlightened us and come to all of us, unworthy ones. He came not to the worthy, but the unworthy. Not to the pure, but to the impure! And as we grow in knowledge of that, then we will become pure.

 

The problem with sin in Christians is not so much that they just want to do it and don’t care. The problem is that they don’t understand really truly Who God is. The knowledge of God cannot be learned from a book or listening to preaching or teaching – it is learned from within. All these things help – the services of the church, preaching in the context of the services, keeping the fasts. They are all essential, absolutely. I have said this before, and I suppose I should learn to stop saying it, since it scares some people, but I believe that if a man does not fast, and if he does not value the services, it is very unlikely that he will be saved. Not because of the sin of not fasting or of missing the services because of frivolous reasons or laziness, but because you won’t know God if you eschew these things, because this is how God reveals Himself to us. And if you don’t know Him, then when there is a sin that you have trouble with – it will devour you. You will have no chance against it whatsoever, because you will not know how to fight it.

 

This publican UNDERSTOOD God. He also knew himself. This man was guilty of murder, of theft, of lying, of cheating, of every kind of debauchery and sin, but he wanted to change. So he went to the temple knowing that he was unworthy, but at the same time knowing Who God is, and since he knew who God is, there was hope in his breast, and he knew that God could change him. That is why he came into the temple and that is why he did not think about anything else except his own sin, and that is why he looked at the ground and did not care about the virtues or the vices of anyone else. He was too consumed with his own pressing problem. And he was justified, because of his faith. Because he had faith in God – in a true Being, not in some phantom or fantasy. Because he was living according to Who God is. Was he failing? Was he still falling into lust, and even debauchery.  Probably. Did he still have the lust of avarice in his heart? Oh yes! It takes a long time to divulge yourself of your passions. It is a hard lesson to learn. When I became Orthodox I thought some things I had difficulty with… well, I would not have trouble with them any more. And even now I struggle against them.

 

But I know that God can save and God will save. That was his purpose for becoming incarnate, to save sinners, like me, and like you. And the only way to know this in your heart is to live according to it. Christian knowledge is not static. It is not words on a page; it is life. Salvation is to be had in living, in living according to God is.

 

This is what the publican did. He knew who God is, and he knew himself, and the thought of who he was sickened him and made him sad, but he still went to the temple even though he could not look up to heaven because he could not behold the brightness of God because of his impurity. Even though he was in fear and trembling, he had confidence in God’s mercy, because of making even a small effort. That is where you gain knowledge of God, brothers and sisters. That is where you gain confidence that you can be saved. It is by making an effort. I did not say – being successful in your effort – because if that was the criteria, then we all indeed should fall into deep despondency because none of us would be saved.

 

It is not how good we are at change by which God judges, but is us how good we are at making an effort to repent. And it is a miraculous thing – we will change, but we not see ourselves change. Things happen so quickly. Consider our children. One moment they are just laying in the crib and making incomprehensible noises, and the next moment, they are young adults and saying things that touch our souls in ways that we never knew that they could be touched. It happens overnight. That is how it happens with our souls. We think we are muddy and filthy and unclean, and we struggle and we think that we are making no progress whatsoever, but unknown to us, although sometimes known to those who love us, we make changes, and we come closer and closer to God. And there will be a day when we have sweet release from those things that beset us.

 

If I did not believe that, then I would have no reason to live – none whatsoever. And that is why so many people blow their heads off – they have no reason – no hope at all. If all that life is, is this life, then it is a cruel joke, and a cruel comedy. But we know we are Christians. We know that God lives in us, and even if we sin, God will hear our repentance and receive us time and time again. And if you are not sure of that fact than you have not learned enough of Who God is. And you had best study this very important subject – it is called Theology – to study God, to learn of God, the science of sciences. And the laboratory in which you learn is your own life! Live life in Christ. That is what this publican was doing. The Pharisee, although he had great knowledge, (but knowledge without humility just puffeth up), he did not have the feelings that we should often have, of feeling incredibly unworthy. He lived in an externally righteous way and thought himself righteous, but he was even more depraved than a man who visits a brothel every night, because he had not real fear of God in his eyes.

 

Do you see the contrast? Do you see what made the Pharisee fall away and what made the publican cleave to Christ? And why are we considering them now? Why is this reading today? Well, we are going to be speaking of the last judgment soon, and we will also consider another repentance – that of the prodigal son. These are hard subjects. The church is trying to prepare us so we can look inside ourselves and learn of ourselves and learn of God during the great fast, by struggling as much as we are able, and even BEYOND what we are able. In fact, the Christian life is continually living beyond what we are capable of. God said unto us, "be ye perfect for I am perfect." And through the Apostle He says, "pray without ceasing," and He says, "turn the other cheek" when someone smites us, and, "if our enemy has us go with him one mile, to go with him two." He tells us impossible things – things that cannot be accomplished and yet they WILL be accomplished because He lives in us.

 

If you have any doubts whatsoever those doubts are because you are not living with enough effort, and if you make the effort – I tell you – that you will become absolutely sure that God lives in you and He will save even you, a sinner. You know your sins better than anyone else does, and if you have sensitivity, they hurt. They make us very sad, but despondency does not belong in a Christian’s character. And if is in your life, this just means that you have not learned enough of God. So you must study Him more. Study Him in keeping the fasts. Study Him in the services. Study him in pulling your mind back to prayer after it has wandered away into the ravine and onto the mountainsides. If you have one minute of prayer in a three-hour vigil service, then you have accomplished something great that day. It’s true.

 

God help us to be like this publican in his virtue. Yea, I say his virtue. It is a great virtue when a man knows himself and when he knows God. I tell you, when those two pieces of knowledge are in a man, he WILL be saved. Amen.

 

 



Luke 18:10-14

 

Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. {11} The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. {12} I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. {13} And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. {14} I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

 

Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

 

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This homily is at:

http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/great-lent-sunday-before-great-lent-02_1999+sunday-of-the-publican-and-pharisee.doc

 

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[1]               This homily was transcribed from one given in 1997, on the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. This Sunday is part of a five Sunday sequence that precedes Great Lent. There are some stylistic changes and minor corrections made and several footnotes have been added, but otherwise, it is essentially in a colloquial, “spoken” style.

 

                It is hoped that something in these words will help and edify the reader, but a sermon read from a page cannot enlighten a soul as much as attendance and reverent worship at the Vigil service, which prepares the soul for the Holy Liturgy, and the hearing of the scriptures and the preaching of them in the context of the Holy Divine Liturgy.  In such circumstances the soul is enlightened much more than when words are read on a page.

 

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17 Responses to “Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee”

  1. Deborah says:

    Father, Bless,

    Every time I hear the story of the Publican and the Pharisee I can’t help but think of an old joke: Two men were being chased by a ravenous bear. As they were running, one said to the other, “I don’t think there is any way that we are going to be able to outrun this bear!” To which, the other replied “I’m not trying to outrun the bear…I’m just trying to outrun YOU!”

    The idea that my virtue is measured and judged against the standard of the virtue of another is a very dangerous trick of the Enemy. It exists within me without me even being aware of it. This deceptive and dangerous idea is the reason I become jealous of my brother’s virtues and good deeds–he is outrunning me! It is the reason why I become complacent in the pursuit of virtue–I look around and because I think I am ahead of those around me, like the hare in Aesop’s fable, “The Tortoise and the Hare”, I foolishly and arrogantly lie down to sleep.

    The problem is that I am not racing against my brother and the bear will not stop after he has caught the slower runner. I am racing against my own destructive, ravenous sinful nature. And if I stop, I will be devoured by it.

  2. Vegas says:

    What a piece on the tax guy and the church goer…so long it gave me tired-head. Do you think the Church will ever be able to reach the real folks of America or just religion junkies who like to quote Starets Weirdname and Archpriest This and Heiromartyr That? You are dealing with the people of DFW, not the monastic recluses of Kursk and Siberia. Get real or get real used to churches that never get much above 2 dozen “faithful”. What are you going to do to reach out to the people of McKinney? Ring a bell? Or meet them where they are, as they are? I am serious – you know what the deal is and how one goes about growing a congregation; let’s hear it!
    Vegas

  3. Dear Kevin: your head is tired because there was a whopping amount of real theology in that sermon, and not just pablum, or I love Jesus and He loves me stuff. It was very real, and real stuff will get a person tired.

    I don’t think you understood it. Keep reading, and I think you will eventually have a head that does not hurt! I can not get any more real than that sermon.

    We have lots of plans to reach out to the people in McKinney. We pray, we fast, we preach, we plan to have outreaches to the poor, and we live according to the true Gospel. We plan to eventually ring bells too, when we get some, but that will not be to get people to come. The Holy Spirit is involved in that.

    By the way – the sermon is a perfect example of meeting people where they are, as they are. Read it again, and this time think of your self as BOTH the publican and the pharisee (whom you called a “church goer”, which may have been a loaded “code word” – only you can tell). You will see that this Gospel text meets you and me exactly where we are!

    If you are in the DFW area, please come – you will see things in a different light when you experience them.

    May God bless you and help you in all things.

  4. Vegas says:

    Haha…good response indeed. I guess my question is this: where is the joy in ORTHODOXY? We are full up with frowny faced bearded mumblers and scowling visages all over the place. I don’t really think we exude anything that looks like it what it should if we really believed we have been (are being…whatever) redeemed by a loving God. It seems to me a lotta sinners were drawn to Jesus…to Orthodoxy? To quote Borat: Not so much!
    Vegas

  5. Dn Nicholas says:

    Our life should be one of joy-filled sorrow. We have joy because Christ has redeemed us from sin and death. We have sorrow because we continue, by our own will, to sin. We have joy because He continues to forgive us and reconcile us to Himself. Sinners who wish to be forgiven but remain sinners are not drawn to the Church. Sinners who wish to be justified — to be remade in the Image of Christ — to be truly saved from sin and death — are drawn to Christ in His Church because this is what it offers.

    “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that fadeth not away, reserved in Heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations, that the trial of your faith (being much more precious than gold that perisheth, though it be tested with fire) might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen, ye love. In Him, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:3-9).

    But you are right: we lack joy. We lack joy because we lack faith and hope. We lack faith and hope because we lack desire. We are content to remain as we are. And so our lives do not shine with the light of Christ, and we are not a beacon to the world — or to the DFW Metroplex or the city of McKinney. The only answer to this — the only way to build Christ’s Church here in McKinney — is to heed St. Peter’s advice: “gird up the loins of your mind; be sober and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not fashion yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance … Have a good conscience, that, whereas they speak evil of you as of evildoers, they who falsely accuse may be ashamed by your good manner of life in Christ” (from 1 Peter).

    May God help us. Forgive me wherein my words are lacking: it is hard to speak clearly of that which I do not possess because of my sins.

  6. Deborah says:

    I think Kevin is right to a large degree. Most people will not be able to understand a lot of Father Seraphim’s words or work their way through his longer posts. Most people won’t understand or be able to work their way through most of the Bible, for that matter. And Orthodox worship is indeed strange and incomprehensible to many, if not most. These things are all written and spoken in a language that, in many ways, is foreign to all of us. We need help in order to translate these strange words, to understand their meaning and to see how they apply to our lives, where we are, as individuals in a 21st century culture.

    The Church provides translation help in two ways: One is, for those who come to her for spiritual help, in providing help in understanding and in application of the mysterious knowledge of Christ. Scripture, itself, unashamedly tells us that the message of Christ is foolishness to most.

    But the other way in which the Church provides interpretation of all this seemingly long-winded, serious sounding, ‘mumbo-jumbo’, is through the translation of the Word into the daily lives of her people. Christians are striving to become living translations of this wonderful Mystery that God has brought into our lives. At first, we aren’t very good interpreters. It takes years of speaking a foreign language for one to even come close to speaking it like a native (most of us will always speak with an accent :-)). But, when we love, forgive, help, laugh and cry with others, immerse ourselves into their lives, if even but for a moment—all these mysterious (and to some, cold and archaic sounding) truths take on a warm, living, breathing, compassionate (but still sinful) human form that almost every human being on earth can understand.

    If you come to our church you may not ‘get’ all of the strange, ‘foreign’ and serious aspects of our worship. But if you stick around and get to know its people (we eat together after every service) you will find loving people who will smile, talk to you, pray for you, help you if you need help. That kind of language everybody understands.

    And, personally, coming, originally, from a tradition that has tried the consumer marketing approach to drawing people to church, I can tell you that it isn’t working. When Paul talks about being ‘all things to all people’ he is not talking about the Church changing with every shift in the wind to attract people by tailoring its worship to the ever changing culture of the world. He is talking about translating the love and mystery of Christ into the language of our daily lives with others–to enter into their world, meet them where they are, to love them, care for them and pray for them. In this way, like the miracle of Pentacost, each will hear the Gospel in his/her own language. And some of those who hear and experience this wondrous language of Love being spoken to them in their native tongue will wish to learn and hear the message in the Original language and become translators, themselves.

  7. Vegas says:

    Here is the deal: Why does Orthodoxy make it such an @sswhipping to come to Faith? The Church is so shot thru with weirdos and the affected that most people I talk with LIKE the Faith when it is explained, but cannot deal with the Freak Factor they find within the Church. Bearded mumblers who affect some Slavic (or Arab or Greek) accent (and is ever vigilant for someone who is crossing themselves in the “Roman Manner”), woman dressed like they are 17th Russki serfs (American born and bred – a Chi Omega from Vanderbilt mind you!), etc…not a “normal American” in the bunch. No one likes Feta, Felafel and Beets 24/7 over here – eat a HAMBURGER for crying out loud. Have a Rib Fest or Chili Cookoff for outreach. Do something NORMAL so your kids can invite regular Plano, Mckinney, Frisco folks, not that one kid from UTD who came once from Lvov…I guess it comes down to this – the Faith is being made sooo PONDEROUS (as we can all see, the Starets of Kursk has said in his writings on the Holy Paschal Fire, Vol III Part 4, 1342 – Rasputin Press, that when one seeks to diminish the passions arroused by the Serpent in the Garden that it is only through a complete surrender to the holy Fire that is the Most Holy Trinity allowed to operate…blah blah blah) that it will run off ALL but the chronic misfits (got kicked out of the Branch Davidians because they were not strident enuff against sin, etc…) the desperate and lonely (who have no friends b/c they aren’t friendly – think Angela from The Office), etc. If that is all Orthodoxy is here for, count me out. I love God, Life, the Church and his people (ALL of ‘em). Where is the Church for people like this to be found?
    Vegas

  8. Deborah says:

    “The only normal people are those you don’t know very well.”
    –Rodney Dangerfield

    “From now on I’ll try to be the same.”
    “The same as what?”
    “The same as people who aren’t different.”
    –from the movie “What’s Up, Doc?”

    Vegas, I must admit that I’m surprised to learn that it’s the people you find strange, not Orthodoxy, itself. As far as the outward ‘freak factor’, as you put it, I have to plead ignorance to this as my experience is only with the small number of Orthodox that I know in my church. I’ll take your word for it, though, that many Orthodox converts don’t ‘fit the mold’, so to speak. Being a convert myself, and having to admit I’m definitely a geeky misfit (in some circles) lends some credence to your observation.:-)

    But I really have to ask, what do you expect to find in a faith that A)like all groups of people, is made up of sinners and B) by it’s very nature, requires the courage to walk to the beat of a different drummer? No, I’m not saying that Orthodoxy requires Americans to adopt foreign cultural mannerisms, dress or food (but if they happen to like those things and do blend in after a while–what’s the problem with that?) But to be Orthodox in America is, generally speaking, only going to be for those who are willing and able to set aside their personal prejudices and biases and have the courage to do something different from most people. (And people who are different in this way tend to be different from the ‘norm’ in other ways, as well.)

    As Orthodoxy grows in this part of the world, I think you will probably be reassured by the increasing presence of those you may consider more ‘normal’ (whatever the heck that is). The larger the group, the more you will have people that fit the standard ‘norm’. Actually, even in my small congregation I find plenty of people (even though half are originally from foreign countries) that could ‘pass’ as ‘normal’ in regular American society.;-)

    However, my question is: What is so wrong with people being ‘different’? True, if they are prejudiced against or intolerant of those who aren’t ‘different’ (or who aren’t like them) and make judgmental comments or treat strangers unkindly, this is a serious problem–but that’s not Orthodoxy, that’s sin. But if their only crime is that they like to blend in with foreigners or are socially backward, then I say the problem is with those who are prejudiced against them. We should be loving and tolerant of one another no matter who ‘weird’ they appear to us. Yes, when we come to America we should learn and speak a common language–but we shouldn’t be expected to all adopt some pattern behavior and dress that someone, somewhere, has deemed ‘normal’.

    But the main thing is that the purpose of the Church is not to appear ‘normal’ (or to have members that the rest of society considers ‘normal’) so as to attract as many people as possible. The purpose of the Church is to pray for the world and to aid believers in their struggle to take hold of the salvation purchased for us by Jesus Christ. Attracting people to Christ (and to His Church) is the job of every believer who, as St. Francis of Assisi said, are to “preach the Gospel at all times–and when necessary use words.”

  9. Deborah says:

    BTW, I forgot to add, Kevin, that I am very sincerely sorry that your experience of the Church has been so negative and difficult. I am sure I don’t appreciate enough how blessed I have been in my own experience. I have always enjoyed people who were different than the norm, people from other countries, and people who others might consider ‘challenging’ to deal with. Like I said, being a geek, myself, and having been a misfit in the past, I can empathize even with those who are different in a way that is different from me.

    But I do have my own prejudices that I struggle against and I have judged people both inside and outside of the Orthodox Church. So I can’t and won’t condemn you at all for your feelings. It is a struggle to be Orthodox–even without the challenge of dealing with the ‘weirdness’ factor and fellow sinners. But it is a struggle that is well worth it. The Truth is worth pushing past any and all obstacles, no matter how big. If you have found Truth in the Church, please don’t cast it aside because of the weaknesses (real and imagined) of fellow sinners (or because you get tired of eating beets;-) )—and please forgive all of us who, either through being thoughtless, judgmental or just by being different, have created a stumbling block for you and others.

    Your Sister in Christ,

    Deborah

  10. Vegas says:

    I cannot believe no one knows what a real church looks like. Is that what I am hearing? Go down the street and take in a service @ 1st B, Presby, Methodist, or Bible Church you want. Don’t compare yourself to that shotgun shack of a church run by The One True Apostle Bishop Zeke McGillicutty and co-pastor Sharon either…they are a weirdo personality cult too…pick a real chuch, walk in and see what is up. They have a service or 3 every Sunday, youth AND adult Sunday School, a midweek Bible study that people actually attend, and more than a few small goups, outreaches and youth groups…they are plugged in and not concerned if it is “cheesefare Saturday” or “the comemoration of the falling asleep of the ever holy skete of mt athos” or whatever but with living their faith out in such a way that 2 things happen: 1. That they end up in heaven and 2. That they actually have an impact on someone else in such a way that they too end up there. You sit there and argue about the Pascal Fire and the Didiche all you want, wait and see what You-know-who sez on Judgement Day. We love to talk about it, just not actually DO anything real and impactful. We say we don’t have that skill set or ability b/c of sin…BS. we have not b/c we ask not. Enuff cop outs. You think Kind David was a man after God’s own heart b/c he sinned less than the next guy in line? Nope…he was REAL…genuine. B@ll’s out if you will. Do you find that in North Texas Orthodoxy? Can you fit most of our so-called churches in a greyhound bus? Two at most? what is the deal with Orthodoxy calling itself the True Church whil evidencing none of the power and presence associate with the same thing in the New Testament? See the problem I am having? Orthodoxy claims many things but evidences few. Protestantism, Mormonism, etc make far fewer claims but evidences many…and the world sees it and I am calling +rthodoxy on it.
    Vegas

  11. Big-O-Orthodoxy says:

    The problem is that cults are growing faster in this country than Orthodoxy. We can stand by and say, “Well people have to be ready to become Orthodox; only after searching can they find the truth”. This is lazy talk for -we are not going to them; they must come to us.

    The problem is that we have people and priests and bishops in Orthodoxy that are quite happy being part of their little ethnocentric groups to somehow preserve what they once had in the battle torn, economically depressed old countries from which they come. Some converts to Orthodoxy, which by the way is the truth, despite all of this “orthodox book learning” that we love to throw around because we have read a few books from the desert fathers, are that “freak factor”. They want to go to a rennaisance festival every Sunday and want to appear different during the week to their peers to somehow connect with this ethnicity because they are so insecure in there own American heritage. These are those individuals that will scold you for not crossing yourself the right way, or insist that some of the service be in some foreign language, or insist that prostrations are more right than genuflecting. Sadly there are priests and bishops that feel this way too.

    There are those converts to Orthodoxy that truly appreciate, after searching through the vast array of “Christian Denominations”, the truth in Orthodoxy. They love the wholeness of the faith and can look beyond the ethnicity and affected behavior of the people and priests and bishops to see that there is a need for this truth in America. We should be waging war with the secularism of this country instead of hunckering down in our bunkers waiting for the second coming. By doing so we allow those people who are in need to fall into cults, like the LDS, because they show them love and kindness and genuine care.

    Lets stop all of this silly “please forgive me” talk and go out and do something for Jesus. This only proves that we are worried only about ourselves and don’t have the guts to get out and share Jesus with those who are searching. If we are living for Christ and fighting His battle there will be little to forgive.

    If our children go off to college and there is no Orthodox Church in town, where will they go? We are raising sheltered children who are afraid to stand up and say we are American Orthodox Christians. There are few options for our children in Orthodoxy, aside from a summer camp. What do they do on Friday and Saturday nights? Before you answer, remember when you were a pre-teen and teen or college student or young single adult. Orthodoxy is “real” and we need to be “real”. It has to be pertinent in the world in which we live, not of this world but in this world. Jesus Christ is alive and well 2010. The evil one is too. We need to be fighting to save souls not just preserve our own.

    Big-O

  12. Deborah says:

    Guys, I’ve hung out in Christian theology forums and posted on Christian blogs waaay too much. This is the only one I still frequent because it is different. I’ve read these same complaining comments all over the Internet in forums from many different Christian denominations-about “the do-nothing, hypocrites in the church who sit around in their weird little Christian worlds talking ‘church talk’ to one another, waiting for the second coming, while the poor are suffering and souls are lost.” These are serious and legitimate issues, earnestly raised. But my question has always been, every time I read these usually very judgmental sounding, name-calling, critical posts:

    How on earth do strangers on the Internet have any idea what individual Christians are doing or not doing for the poor and to help reach their suffering and lost neighbors? (And after reading these posts, I’m also wondering how people know why other people dress the way they do.)

    I couldn’t agree with you more that we need to be Christ in the world, offering light, help and hope to everyone He puts in our Path. But ‘Charity begins at home’: “…let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.”–Galatians 6:9-10.

    We can’t possibly give love to the lost and poor if we don’t have it in ourselves or demonstrate it to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Demonstrating love starts by simply being kind, giving our brothers and sisters the benefit of the doubt and not judging or condemning them. (That’s why I quit looking at other Christian blogs/forums–too little kindness there.)

    So I have to strive to pray unceasingly, forgive (and to ask people to “please forgive me”). I have to confess my sins and commune and struggle in order to become a person who actually has the Love of Christ (as well as ‘a cup of water’ and whatever else my neighbor needs) to give.

    There’s a whole lot more I’d like to say about issues raised here and the tone of some of these comments made about fellow brothers and sisters in Christ but I am going to stop here, with this post. If I don’t then I will start to stray into judging and condemning and returning to the old forum debate habits which I left behind for good reason. Please forgive me (for your sake and mine) if I have already done any of that.

    “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.”
    1 Corinthians 13:1-3

    Peace,

    Deborah

  13. Thank you, Deborah. I think that your two recent replies are worth reading and re-reading. And I invite both of you (I’m sorry, I’m unsure what your names are) to visit our Church when you have the opportunity; I think you will find that most of your complaints about “Orthodoxy” do not properly apply to us, and that those that do are just a matter of dealing with other people — which happens in every church. I think you will also find that we are already trying to do, or have plans to do soon, most of the things you have suggested we do, in a manner that is consistent with our small size.

    Are we an ethnic enclave? I hardly think so; our community is quite diverse. Do we use a foreign language for a portion of our services? Yes, a small portion, because some members of our community understand that language much better than they do English. Many larger churches of all stripes have foreign-language services for the same reason. Do we eat beets? Yes, we have a great variety of food — including hamburgers : ).

    It is not a matter of bringing as many people in the door as possible, because membership in the Orthodox Church does not guarantee salvation. The early church in fact made it quite difficult to join, so that those who did join would be ready to “fight the good fight” and save their souls and those of others. It is a matter of being transformed in the inner man, and this is something that cannot be captured by a snappy slogan. It is a life-long process which most of us have only just begun. And living it ourselves — and the Liturgical life of the Church is one of the vital tools passed down to us for this purpose — is necessary in order to bring it to others. Otherwise, we run the risk of simply making others two-fold more children of hell than ourselves.

    In Christ,
    Dn. Nicholas

  14. Vegas says:

    How do I know why people dress the way they do? Because they want to – that’s why I dress the way I do. As for whatever has been said here, I don’t remember calling someone hypoctite, but I may yet (HAHA). I travel a good bit and have been in well over 50 Orthodox churches in the last 4 years – from the Carolinas to Oregon, and know what I see. I can name 2 (two) churches out of the 50+ that are about the Father’s business, the rest, well, just aren’t. They are up to something else, and we all know what it is. I would love to check out St. Nicks either this week or next and see what is going down. That said, I have an 8 y.o. daughter and would like to know more about Sunday School both for her and for the Adults. Are they before the service or after? I met your priest a few weeks back at this NTOM thing and he seemed fairly normal, even tho ROCOR (kidding – haha).
    Vegas

  15. Dn Nicholas says:

    Sunday School is after the service and lunch, beginning at 12:45. There is an elementary-grade class, a middle-grade class, and an adult bible study, all at the same time. Preschoolers have a class during the sermon.

  16. Vegas says:

    Sounds like a plan!

  17. Dn Nicholas says:

    I need to correct myself here. Because of a parish meeting this Sunday and Forgiveness Vespers next Sunday, we will probably not be able to hold our normal Sunday School classes for the next two weeks. More than likely our next classes will be on Sunday the 21st of February.

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