Archive for the ‘Gospel:Mark’ Category

Sunday after the Exaltation of the Holy Cross – 2008

Monday, September 29th, 2008

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2 Corinthians 4:6-15 For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. 8 We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9 Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; 10 Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. 11 For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. 12 So then death worketh in us, but life in you. 13 We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak; 14 Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you. 15 For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God.

Galatians 2:16-20 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. 17 But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid. 18 For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. 19 For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. 20 I am crucified with Christ: neverthless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

Mark 8:34-9:1 And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. 35 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. 36 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? 37 Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. 1 And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.



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3rd Sun of Pascha – The Holy Myrhhbearers

Saturday, May 10th, 2008

"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?"

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 

Christ is risen!
 

Today is the third Sunday after Pascha, and it is the Sunday of the myrrh-bearing women. And it is quite an interesting reading which we have because these women and these men, Joseph of Arimathaea, who is mentioned today, and also Nicodemus [1] , who is not mentioned in this gospel (but is mentioned in St. John's gospel), who acted with great love, but also in great ignorance. They were trying to do something that they were not going to be able to accomplish. These women wanted to anoint the Lord with myrrh, and Joseph and Nicodemus had prepared the Lord's body so carefully, wrapping it in clean, fine linen. Myrrh and aloes had been applied, according to the custom of the Jews. They carefully placed our Lord's body in a tomb that had been hewn out of a rock, which was Joseph's [2] . All this they did in ignorance. They acted without full knowledge, but with great desire and with great love.
 

There is a lesson for us. Pascha is God making man able to know God. This is really what Pascha is. It is not an event only; it is a fundamental change in human nature. The God-man becoming incarnate made us able to live. He accomplished our salvation by His death and His resurrection, and basically all of the period from Pascha to Pentecost we think about how He enlightens us and the practical ramifications of what Pascha means for the soul. In essence, it means enlightenment. It means to know God. But to know God you have to be able to live like God, and you must live in virtue before you have full enlightenment.
 

These women and these two men, Joseph and Nicodemus, acted with great love for our Savior, but in ignorance. The women came to anoint a body, and there was no body to anoint, Joseph and Nicodemus prepared so carefully a dead man, who was already alive, and in Hades, and in only a few hours would show Himself as resurrected. So they acted in ignorance. And there is a lesson for us because we don't know the whole story. We don't know very much, in fact, and we are ignorant of many things. We are ignorant even of what God wants to give to us. Part of that is our own fault because too few of us read the Scriptures very carefully or because we are wrapped up in worldly things and don't really think of holy things very much. If you don't think of holy things, you're not going to master them, you know. I wish some people knew about the Bible as well as they knew about a 56 Chevy manual. Some people understand about things like that better than they understand the Gospel. We poor Christians are too willfully ignorant, because of our worldly choices and misdirected priorities.
 

Much of our ignorance is really because we are not able to assimilate all that God has give to us. But that should not stop us. These women came to the tomb early in the morning. The early hour is mentioned because to get up early is a difficult thing. It shows that the first thing on their mind was Christ. As soon as they could go and anoint the body, according to the Jewish law, they did, and they brought myrrh and ointments. These myrrh and ointments signify bringing to Christ our good works, bringing to Christ our desire to live as He has shown us to live. They didn't come to Him empty-handed, as we unfortunately so often do. They came to Him bearing what they could, giving what they could . Even though it was the wrong gift, God received it because it was out of love that they bore this gift.
 

Myrrh also has an interesting property. It is a desiccant, and will dry out things and preserve them, and it's very sweet smelling. So let us dry out that which is wet in us, the passions. Let us dry it out with the heat of the Holy Spirit, and let us make ourselves sweet as myrrh smells sweet, and the ointment smells sweet.
 

Now the women went to a tomb that was hewn out of a rock. St Luke had said that never had a man been laid in it. It was a new tomb, unused, undefiled, and to hew a tomb out of a rock takes great work. It is very, very difficult, especially in that age with that technology. This tomb is the place where we would put Christ. The rock removed represents work we must do to our soul. We must hew out a place for Christ. This involves effort; this involves desire, toil. I've said it before and I'll say it a thousand times again if God gives me breath. I believe the greatest heresy ever in the history of man is that salvation can be garnered without labor. This idea that only faith is needed, and not works. This is the greatest of the heresies. We must not subscribe to it. We must hew the tomb out of the rock. We must make a place for Christ to be, for Him to abide.
 

Now the women, when they were walking to the tomb, they were talking amongst themselves, saying, "Who's going to roll away the stone?" They were afraid, you know, for to do such a thing was to mark them for death. And also they were frail women. How were they going to roll away a great stone that takes a great many men to roll in front of the tomb? Well, if we will go to the tomb with our ointments, our stone will be rolled away, too. And what is that stone? That stone is what covers up the heart and makes us unable to see, or even sometimes to feel God, to become like Him. We have a stone in front of our hearts many times. God will roll it away. The angel is all-powerful, and he moved the stone with no effort at all. The women were not able to do it, and neither are we, although we are required to make some effort to do so.
 

I'm struck again and again when I read this passage: the women were walking to the tomb, and they had no way to roll away the stone, and they had no clue how it was going to happen, and they went despite all this! This stone is the things that assail us, our sins and our passions, which each one of us can mention, only in our heart of hearts, I'm sure. Some things we can't even mention aloud when we are the only one in the room. There are sins and passions that assail us. We cannot gain ascendancy over them. These sins, these difficulties, this jealousy, this anger, this lust, this laziness, this feeling of despondency, this feeling of worthlessness, these wicked habits that seem to take us over, despite our best intentions. I could name a dozen or two dozen other sins. These things are a large stone, in front of our tomb, the place where we want to put Christ.
 

God will roll it away, but we must go to this tomb. We must not say, "I don't know how it's going to be taken care of, and therefore, I'm not going to go." The women didn't do that. What they did, I want to impress upon you, brothers and sisters, was completely unrealistic. There was no reason for them to think that the tomb would be open, but they went. They didn't even think about it. They were outside of themselves. Love does that. Love for Christ makes us struggle even though there is a stone over our hearts, and we don't know how this stone will be moved. But we go anyway. We fast anyway, we come to the church anyway, we confess anyway. We say our prayers and force ourselves to pray in the morning and in the evening. We force ourselves to do things that are righteous, and the things that we are not able to change, that is, that big stone, God will move. This is only if we go to the tomb, only if we struggle.
 

These women didn't understand that they were going to anoint the God-man Who was risen from the dead. Their knowledge wasn't perfect, but their love was perfect, and because of their love, God enlightened them. It took quite some effort. They didn't even understand the first time when the angel spoke to them, and they trembled and were afraid and they forgot the command and they didn't tell the apostles the first time [3]. But they went back another time, and then they saw the risen Lord! And the apostles were the same way. They couldn't believe it the first time. The only one who believed with the first evidence was John [4] . Everyone else couldn't believe. It was too terrible, too wonderful for them, too outside of their understanding. God enlightened them, stepwise, a little bit at a time. This is what He does with us, but only if we make a great effort in our lives.
 

Christianity is very simple. The light of Christ illumines all men. We walk in this light, while there is the light, as the Savior says [5], and as we walk in this light, God gives us more light, more to see, more to spur us on. And we increase in knowledge and in virtue. It is impossible for a man to increase in knowledge without increasing in virtue or vice-versa, because the two are linked. The two are two sides of the same coin. To know Christ is to become like Him.
 

Now you and I, we are poor ones. We know very little. We don't know how to pray the prayer of the heart. We don't know how to cease jealousy when someone gains some position that we wanted. We don't know how to return goodness for evil. When someone rails against us, in our heart we tremble with ill feeling. These are the stones that we cannot turn away. We need help for these stones. And as a pastor, my prayer for you, my plea to God, is that all of you would believe in the resurrection and believe that these things that are assailing you will be removed. I pray that you will not fall into despondency, and look at the size of the stone and not believe that it cannot be changed, because then you will fall into disbelief and basically atheism and you won't be believers in the resurrection, nor in He Who was resurrected. And if you do not believe in the resurrection, that stone will stay there, in front of the tomb, and you will remain unenlightened, and basically, unchanged.
 

See how marvelous the scriptures are? In a few short words they sum up the whole of the Christian life. We struggle to follow Christ in the light that He has given. Some of us may have a little more light than others at this point in our life. We struggle, enabled by the light we've been given, and more light comes. And the things that we believed impossible, they are possible. All things are possible with God, but I tell you, it is not possible to be saved unless you struggle. God will only save those who have desire. He'll save many who had desire and didn't do a very good job of it. He'll save many who sinned grievously but desired to change [6] . But He will not save those who did not struggle to change, and who had the audacity to gaze into the empty tomb, and to still believe that the stone in front in their tomb could not be moved. We must believe the stone can be, indeed, WILL BE moved.
 

We must live this, and the key is in living virtuously. There's no replacement for it, because if we live virtuously, not only will God enlighten us more, we will also gain confidence. You know, some of you are still children, but those of us who were children, remember when you did something bad, and your mother or father or aunt or uncle didn't know about it when they came into the room? You know your feeling, that feeling of great guilt. But when you were doing something right — I assume when we were kids we did something right! — when you were doing things right you felt good when they came into the room. You felt at peace. Our virtues, small though they may be, will gain us confidence that God will change those things that we cannot change yet.
 

Believe this, brothers and sisters. Take your myrrh and your aloes and your ointment, no matter how small the flask is, take it to the tomb. Believe that the stone will be rolled away. Just continue to go to the tomb. That is our entire life, that trek to the tomb. And if you believe it, God will remove the stone, but only if you live according to the light. May God help you to live in the light of the resurrection, to live with virtue, and to believe, to believe the stone will be removed. Christ will have a place to abide in you, and you will be full of joy. May God help you in this. Christ is risen!
 

The Gospel
 

Mark 15:43-47
 

Joseph of Arimathaea, an honourable counsellor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus. {44} And Pilate marvelled if he were already dead: and calling unto him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead. {45} And when he knew it of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph. {46} And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre. {47} And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses beheld where he was laid. {16:1} And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. {2} And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. {3} And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? {4} And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. {5} And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. {6} And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. {7} But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you. {8} And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid."
 

[1] (John 19:38-39) "And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus. {39} And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight."
 

[2] (Luke 23:50-54) "And, behold, there was a man named Joseph, a counsellor; and he was a good man, and a just: {51} (The same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them;) he was of Arimathaea, a city of the Jews: who also himself waited for the kingdom of God. {52} This man went unto Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. {53} And he took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a sepulchre that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid. {54} And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on."
 

[3] Some of the Fathers say in regards to this passage: "And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid." (Mark 16:8), that the women's silence refers to the enemies of Christ, and strangers, and they did immediately go to the apostles with the news they had been commissioned to tell.
 

[4] (John 20:3-8) "Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. {4} So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. {5} And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. {6} Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, {7} And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. {8} Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed."
 

[5] (John 12:35-36) "Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. {36} While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light…"
 

[6] The examples in the scriptures of this important truth are numerous. Cf. (as but one example) (Mat 21:28-31) "But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. {29} He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. {30} And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. {31} Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you."

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Fourth Sunday of Great Lent 2008 – Realistic Hope

Sunday, April 6th, 2008

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Homily Given The Fourth Sunday Of Great Lent, 2008, At St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, Dallas/McKinney Texas.

Mark 9:17-31And one of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit; 18 And wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not. 19 He answereth him, and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him unto me. 20 And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming. 21 And he asked his father, How long is it ago since this came unto him? And he said, Of a child. 22 And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us. 23 Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. 24 And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. 25 When Jesus saw that the people came running together, he rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him. 26 And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, He is dead. 27 But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose. 28 And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, Why could not we cast him out? 29 And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting. 30 And they departed thence, and passed through Galilee; and he would not that any man should know it. 31 For he taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day.



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Great Lent, the Third Sunday, Of the Cros – Priorities – Mark 8:34-9:1

Saturday, March 29th, 2008

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today is the third Sunday of Great Lent and the day in which we adore the precious and life-giving cross of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ.

In life, if you do anything, if you’re to be successful, then there are two main ingredients for this success. One is the knowledge of what you want, how you should do it — you must have understanding. Then you must also have the correct priority based on this understanding — or should I say, based on reality. You must be able to perceive what reality is. If you wish to become extremely good in sports, as a basketball player, then the reality is you must work over and over and over again on the fundamentals of basketball. If you wish to be a musician or a scholar or a Christian, you must work over and over and over again on the fundamentals of that discipline, of that way of life. And you must know what is good and what is bad for your desire, and you must have your priorities set straight, so that you will act in accordance with what is good and cast away what is bad.

Today, this reading really speaks about priorities. It speaks about reality, about the ultimate reality. And it poses a question that every one of us should ask of ourselves every day: ” What can a man give in exchange for his soul?” [1] Nothing; nothing is worth as much as the soul. Our Lord said, if He gains the whole world, it’s not worth one soul. All that is corruptible, all that is passing away, you can hold onto for a while, but it’s like catching wind, because when you die, there’s nothing left. So what does it matter if you gain that which is corruptible? What does it matter if you plant flowers in your garden if it’s going to be bulldozed the next day? What does it matter when you paint your house, if it’s burning? That’s what’s happening in this world. The world is passing away, so if we hold on to the things of this world, we hold onto that which is corruptible.

Underlying the priorities of a Christian is the understanding of reality, the understanding that the world is passing way. And this is not a bad thing; this not a gruesome thing at all. Who wants to save the world the way it is? With corruption, with death, with sadness, with imperfection, incompleteness, with that longing in our hearts that can’t be fulfilled by anything in the world? Who wants to save the world the way it is? Even people that are outside of Christianity don’t like the world the way it is. Sometimes they invent things to cover it up, or they lose themselves in some sort of debauchery or some sort of bad opinion or heresy or something of that nature, but basically they’re dissatisfied with the world.

But there’s a strong illusion that the Evil One puts upon men. But we’re willing; we allow it to come into our hearts. The evil one disguises the reality that the world is passing away, disguises the reality of Whom Jesus Christ is, and that to be a Christian is to become like Christ, to struggle, to work, to labor, to sweat, to desire. He disguises this. People want to have power, or wealth, or comfort, or sex, or drugs, or something else that is their passion, something that they think of as life. Now, some people are completely immersed in this thing, in these things of the world. But then others, such as Christians who have not yet perfected themselves, are influenced by the world, by the cares of the world, by their ambitions and their passions. And so constantly we must make an effort to see the difference between reality and what the world presents as reality.

The only solution for us to be able to look past all this delusion–and it is powerful delusion, very, very powerful delusion — the only solution is to labor in the Church. That’s all. Not labor outside of the Church; labor within the Church. We have to labor where Christ is to be found. And we must recognize who we are — the reality — who we are, why we’re here, why we were born. And we must recognize the purity, the dignity of our soul. Our bodies contain that which is of infinite worth. The Lord equates nothing to the high worth of our soul. He says that everything in the world is not worth one soul. No matter how much money, no matter how much prestige, no matter what goes on in the world–none of it can be bartered for a man’s soul. That’s a terrible trade.

Today’s Gospel summarizes how we are to live, and why. It tells us about real reality. Not what the world tells us is real, but about how a Christian should live, how a Christian should think, how he should be. Our Lord said, ” Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”

[2] It almost sounds like a riddle. To many people in the world this makes no sense whatsoever, and unfortunately also to many Orthodox Christians. They don’t understand it. “What do you mean, deny myself?” We spoke about this a little bit last night. God knows that we have built into our character a desire for survival, a desire for life. We don’t wish to do harm to ourselves; we wish to protect ourselves. We don’t wish to harm our loved ones; we want to nurture them and help them. This is not the kind of denial that’s being spoken of. The denial that’s being spoken of is the denial of what we think of as ourselves that is actually cruel delusion. When we define our lives by how we live in the world, by our passions, by our lusts, by our desires. No, we are far above those things.

We are created for a purpose. We are created to know the Holy Trinity, intimately, and the whole purpose of our time on earth is to know God. And I tell you, you cannot know someone without loving them. And you cannot love someone without desiring to be like them. Even in a secular sense we understand this. We love people as far as we should love all men, but I mean in the context of loving someone intimately, a husband or a wife or our children. We see that which is good in them, and we rejoice in it. And we might see a friend or a spouse and say, “There’s something that is good and wholesome in them, and I want to emulate them. I want to become like that.” It’s our nature to want to return good for good. That’s why it says, ” We love Him because He first loved us .” [3]

God loves us, and we return that love. This is the reality of life.

God also said here, whosoever will . In other words, whosoever desires . If you desire, I will fill you, says the Lord Jesus Christ. If you do not desire, I will not force you. But deny yourself. Deny those things in you that are not in keeping with who you are. Deny those things that are on the outside of you. Don’t let them come inside — the passions and lusts and all the things that will fall away. But I tell you, He said, if you wish , if you desire . Compel yourself! He gives you the choice, but as a man you shouldn’t give yourself the choice. Over and over you should compel yourself to do good and to avoid evil. It’s a choice of the will. God will help you with this choice, absolutely, but you must make this choice. You must decide to keep the fasts, you must decide to say your prayers, you must decide the give alms, you must struggle against passions. And if you do these things, God will strengthen you and help you in them. But He won’t force you.

And He says, take up his cross . He tells us to take up our cross. What does this mean? This means to work, to labor, but to labor with a purpose. No man digs a hole for no reason; he digs a hole for a purpose, in order to plant a tree. We labor so that we will become like our Savior, so that we will recognize Him and He recognize us, so in the eighth day when He judges all of mankind, He will say, “I know you. Come, join the angels and the saints.”And He will not say those words, those terrible words, “Depart from Me, because I don’t know you.” [4] We don’t want to hear that.

The only way we can know Christ is to live like Him, to become like Him. And we have no excuses. Our Savior lived just like us. What does the epistle say today? It says, ” For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” [5] He fulfilled everything that He tells us to fulfill, to the letter, and beyond the letter. So we have the capability in Christ to live godly, holy, pure lives – but with effort, by taking up our cross, by making an effort.

So deny yourselves. Don’t deny yourself of godliness; deny your passions and affirm good works. Deny things earthly, and think on things heavenly. Deny grumbling and laziness, and be obedient. Deny illusion, all that is within the world that is illusory, and affirm truth. Feed on truth, which is to be found in the Church. Deny corruption, and strive for perfection. This is our life, and I tell you, when you give into your passions, whatever they are, no matter how big or how small, you are denying reality. Do you realize that? You are denying reality. Now a man who is at the edge of a cliff and says, well, you know, I think I have got anti-gravity shoes on, and jumps off the cliff, is crazy, and everyone would realize he is denying the reality of gravity. Well, just as real is the pernicious effect of sin in our life. And every single time that we sin, we deny that which is within us. That’s craziness. It’s actually insanity. To sin is to be insane. Well, God will heal us, though, of our insanity, if we struggle, if we take up our cross.

Now the cross is bitter, isn’t it? The cross is a bitter way to die. It was known as the most bitter way to die in ancient times; it was reserved only for the arch-criminals. A Roman couldn’t be put to death on the cross — only strangers and foreigners. It was a very painful way to die, and it was shameful. Well, medicine can be painful and can be difficult to take. But if we don’t take it we won’t get well. So our Lord showed that He could take the bitterest of medicines for our salvation. So we should be willing to quaff a little bit of bitterness from our cup.

I tell you, it’s not really so bitter, because once you start to taste the sweetness of Christ, you want nothing else. Once you feel His yoke setting easily on your shoulders, and you’re at peace, you wish to labor. You wish to work harder. You wish to become better. It’s from within, not from without. It’s from inside a man, because that’s where God lives, and that’s where God enlightens. He lives in the heart and He enlightens us, and we wish to become better, and better, and better. And if we do become better, it’s because we have an understanding of what God will do for us and what He’s already done, and we deny those things that are not in keeping with that. That’s the meaning of this phrase, deny yourself .

Then our Lord continues, ” For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.” [6]

To those in the world, another riddle, another difficult riddle. How can I lose my life? My life is precious to me, says the world. Yes indeed, your life is precious, but eternal life is what God is talking about here. He says, if you lose that which is outside of eternal life, that which is of the world, if you lose the things that are going to go away anyway, then you will save your life. See, there are two lives here. One is a life in the world, a life of lust and depravity and heedlessness, and the other life eternal, of perfection. And if you lose those things that are heedless, those things that are depraved, then you will save your life. If you lose your life for My sake, He says, and the Gospel, you will save your life. Lose your life for the sake of what God has taught you. And I tell you, you only learn the Gospel inside the Church, because that’s where it is preached. So all that is within the life in the Church, if you live that life, and struggle, then God will save. It’s rather frightening. The Church understands about passions very well, and in hell, all men will still have their passions. That’s what it means when it says that they will be thrown into ” the fire that shall not be quenched, where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched” [7] , where Christ describes hell in the Gospel of St. Mark. You’ll still have all your passions when you’re in hell. If a man has a desire for drink, or for something illicit, he’ll still desire all those things, but he’ll have no way to quench his desire, and they’ll burn him for the rest of eternity. That’s a terrible, terrible thought. But if you lose your life in this world for the sake of the gospel, then God will save you.

Losing your life means conquering your passions, denying the evil that’s within you, and I tell you, it comes only from understanding reality, actual reality. You know, recently, I was in New York City, and I was rather amazed. It was a very invigorating place. But it was so full of illusion. I saw all these things all over, and it was such illusion. We even have words for it — the “Madison Avenue mentality”, about advertising and such. But you can have illusion everywhere, in Dallas, or somewhere else, because illusion is when we allow ourselves to believe that which is untrue. And the only way that you can really believe is by living the life. Philip said to Nathaniel, come and see, because he asked, ” Can any good come out of Nazareth?” [8] You have to live it; you have to experience God. If you don’t experience Him, then these are just words, then they are just rules. Why in the world should I fast? It smells so good; why should I fast? Why should I not have these thoughts that are only in my head; how is it bothering anyone else? Those are the kind of thoughts a man has when he doesn’t understand who Christ is. You must live the life to know who Christ is.

And Christ asks a question you must ask of yourself every day. This is a terrible question. I tremble when I read it, every time. ” What shall it profit a man, if he should gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” [9] Nothing; nothing is equal to the soul. If we lived according to these words, we would not sin, at all. We’d really believe. We’d live as Christians. But we allow ourselves to be deluded over and over and over again. So we must renew ourselves over and over and over again. God knows about our infirmity, and He will save us, if we struggle, take up our cross, and follow him in truth. Ponder this question often. Fear your depravity. Not just because you realize it’s a sin, but because if you continue in it, you’ll be separated from God, eternally. That’s a terrifying thought. Every man should fear it. Not to fear God’s judgement, so much, but to fear that you will miss the sweetness of God. That’s what you should fear.

And then Christ says some other hard words. ” Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of Me and My Word in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also shall the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” [10] He uses adultery here to show betrayal, dishonesty, uncleanness. Adultery is one of the most unclean of sins, because what is it? It’s denying intimacy. When two people love each other and have a deep, intimate bond with each other, and when one or the other denies that bond, it is a terrible, terrible sin. Well, we indeed have an intimate bond with our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. He has given us the grace of baptism. He gives us his Holy Mysteries, and all of the life of the Church for our benefit. And when we deny him by the way we live, we are adulterers. We commit adultery.

So don’t deny Christ, either by your attitude, by your priorities, by indulging in things that you know are unclean, or by fear of another’s opinion. You know, there is that meaning to this phrase as well — when people are afraid to show that they are Christians, because especially in our country here, people sometimes think you’re crazy when you’re an Orthodox Christian. Too strict about fasting, or this or that. You make the sign of the Cross? What for? All these things. Or, you follow that calendar? Why do you do that? That’s not the real calendar. All these questions. We should not be ashamed. God has enlightened us and planted us in his vineyard, and we must bear fruit.

God help you all to see reality, to see what God has done, and then, to set your face forward, to be on the plow and not to look back, but to set your priorities, to live the Christian life. God help you. Amen.

[1] Cf. Mark 8:37 “Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”

[2] Mark 8:34, partial

[3] 1 John 4:19

[4] Cf. Matthew 26:31-45, and especially, Luke 13:24-27: “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. {25} When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are: {26} Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. {27} But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.

[5] Hebrews 4:15

[6] Mark 8:35

[7] Cf. Mark 9:42-48 “And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea. {43} And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: {44} Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. {45} And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: {46} Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. {47} And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: {48} Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”

[8] John 1:46 “And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.”

[9] Mark 8:36-37

[10] Mark 8:38

Hebrews 4:14-16,5:1-6

Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. {15} For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. {16} Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. {5:1} For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins: {2} Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity. {3} And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins. {4} And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. {5} So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee. {6} As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.

Mark 8:34-38

And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. {35} For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. {36} For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? {37} Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? {38} Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. {9:1} And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.

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Great Lent, the Third Sunday, What shall we trade? – Mark 8:34-9:1

Saturday, March 29th, 2008

Brothers and sisters, a Christian must always be able to answer questions. You must always be comparing things. Constantly, daily, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute, you should be making comparisons and you should be making trades. St. Andrew of Crete, in his Great Canon, urges himself to be a great trader.

What is this that he is trading? What shall we trade?

There is a question — several questions, actually — that the Lord asks us in the Gospel for the Cross today. He says, “What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” This is not a rhetorical question. This question has a correct answer. Actually, it has two answers that are equally correct.

One answer is that a man can give nothing to deserve salvation, nothing in exchange for his soul. Nothing is worth eternal life. There is no way he can pay God so that he will deserve salvation. That is one answer.

And then, there is another answer, which is the more important of the two, I would say. What can a man give in exchange for his own soul? His life. If a man gives his life, God — God redeems him. We don’t deserve it, we are weak, but we can give our heart to God, give our way of thinking to God, give our priorities to God, give our striving and our effort to God. Not our successes, not our abilities, because we can give nothing in exchange for our soul. We don’t have enough ability to give to God; all God wants of us is our heart, and He provides us with the ability.

And how so? St. Paul very succinctly, tersely, beautifully sums up the meaning of — the reason for — the Incarnation of God. He says “we have a great High Priest, Who has passed into the heavens,” and he goes on to say, “We have not a High Priest Which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Jesus Christ became as we are, the same stuff that we are made of, tempted in all ways as we are, and yet did not sin — and not only did He not sin, but He ascended back to His Father, in the flesh. The things which He tells us to do — and He tells us many things — we are capable of doing because He Himself fulfilled these things. He is not some unreachable, far away High Priest that we cannot identify with. He bore our weaknesses and made them strong. He bore our infirmities and healed them. Everything that He expects of us, He has already done! As a man, he has done these things. If we understand what Christ has done for us, then we will understand how we can give our life in exchange for our soul. There is nothing that we have of ourselves that is worth salvation — to be able to gaze up on our God. But Jesus Christ has made us capable.

Now, how do we go about making this exchange — this exchange of things corruptible for things incorruptible, things temporal for things eternal, things that fade away for things that endure, things that will be forgotten for eternal remembrance? How can we make this exchange, brothers and sisters? This question should be one which you are answering moment-by-moment. We make this exchange by denying ourselves, and taking up our cross, and following our Savior on the same path that He walked and the same path that the saints walked.

And how is it that you deny yourself? You deny those things that are not according to God; your deny those things that are corrupt and that will go away; but trade, trade with you will, your heart, your desire, so that you can create a great treasure in Heaven. The way of the Cross is a way of denial, it is a way many times of sorrow, and pain, but it is a way of enlightenment, and of being invigorated. Good comes out of the soul when God dwells in it, and you desire to do what is right because God dwells within you, and you can think nothing else. Denying yourself, brothers and sisters, is just denying what you already know is going to go away. If you struggle against a lustful thought, that struggle is eternal and will be remembered. If you say one kind word to someone, that will be remembered. The promotions you get, the television programs you watch, the vacations you go on, the foods you eat–all of that will be forgotten. None of that is eternal. But any good work done in the name of God is remembered and is permanent.

Brothers and sisters, in our hearts is a desire for eternal life. All men have it — that is why people want to be famous, that is why people want to leave things to their heirs, that is why people want to do something big in the world — because they have a desire for significance. But that desire for all those things is really just a perversion, a twisting, of that good desire that God has put in our heart to be permanent, to not change, to be perfected, to be whole. This is what the Christian life offers us. Have you ever wondered why at the end of this reading the Lord says “There are some that stand here that shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power?” Why does He say that? He is talking about the Cross, a little bit, and all of a sudden, almost out of the blue, He says “there are some here that will not taste of death, until they see the kingdom of God come with power.” What He is referring to is what happens right afterwards, which is: He goes up on a mountain at night, with Peter, James, and John, and He is transfigured before them, and they see Him as He is, the Uncreated Light, God — so as to show them, and therefore, through them, us, that He is reliable; the things He tells us to do, they will get us where He wants us to go, and where we should desire as well. After He came down the mountain, He looked just like any other man, and when He was on the Cross, He bled like any other man, and He felt pain like any other man, and He died like any other man. But the apostles remembered, and we should remember too, the One Who hangs on the Cross is the One Who hung the stars in the heaven. The One Who suffers on the Cross is the One Who takes away every suffering. The path that He tells us to walk, He walked Himself, and He did more so besides.

Now we understand in secular things that it is nonsensical to pay more or something than it is worth, or that it is nonsensical if there is a great bargain not to take it. Why in spiritual things do we understand the medium of exchange so poorly? Why is it that we pick things that will not last, things that will only indulge ourselves for a moment, for a season, and then they’re forgotten, they’re gone? Why do we do this? The Lord says, “What can a man give in exchange for His soul?” Nothing, and everything. Everything you do should be in exchange for your soul, brothers and sisters, not for your indulgence. Everything you do should be for your salvation. Deny those things that you know are wrong, and live for Christ.

Now, some people are frightened by Christianity, even within the Church, because they think of Christianity as only denial, self denial: “I can’t have any pleasure, I can’t have any fun.” That’s not it at all. If a person follows Christ even a little, inside their heart is such happiness that it is all they desire. Any amount of denial is inconsequential to them. Does an athlete, when he is stretching for the finish, having raced a long race, tired, with pains in his legs and in his lungs–does he care about his physical pain? When he is stretching for the finish, he only sees the victory ahead of him. Everything else is inconsequential; it matters not. For a Christian, we feel pain, things are difficult. But it should not matter. Does a woman, after her travail, regret that she went through pain? Does it matter to her when she has her baby? Not at all. If this were the case, that she had regret, everyone would have only one child. But she is willing to go through the pain again because of the love for that child.

Brothers and sisters, the Christian life is really in many ways no different than secular life. If you put effort into it, and desire, you will be rewarded. Without effort, there is no fruit. An athlete who does not train is mediocre. A scholar who does not study does not know the things that he purports to know. The big difference between the Christian life and secular life is that your efforts, if they are in denying yourself and taking up the cross, are eternal.

The taking up the cross that He is speaking of is not just to be suffering. If suffering happens, so be it. But the taking up the cross is “You, walk as I walk. I have given you an example, you follow it.” When your enemy smites you on the cheek, turn the other cheek to him also. If your adversary has taken your tunic, give him your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go with him one mile, go with him two. This is taking up the cross. The Christian life should be mostly described in terms of positives. In the old testament — we were speaking in the Bible study yesterday, that Jesus Christ, when He referred to the Old Testament in His sermon on the mount, He would say “you have heard it said…,” or “the ancients said….” In the old days it was said that you shalt not do this, you shalt not do this, and there were strict penalties for all these things. But when Jesus Christ came with the new revelation, with the fulfillment of the old, with the perfection of the old, which was only barely, barely seen in the old days, Jesus Christ didn’t say thou shalt not, but thou shalt. That’s what the beatitudes are — the Christian commandments.

And all the rest that Christ did showed us how to live. We are capable of it because we have a great High Priest, Who went through everything we went through, and more so besides, and was successful. The only way to appropriate this success, brothers and sisters, is to deny the things that you know in your heart are wrong, and to strive for righteousness. Only the righteous can understand righteousness, only the pure can understand purity. It is a great joy when one is pure. But you can’t understand this joy without striving for it — which means casting off things that are impure and struggling to take up your cross and live the Christian life.

I’ve told you before, I guess I’ll say it a thousand times more: the greatest heresy of our age — the greatest heresy, I believe, of the era since Christ came — is that salvation can be won without labor. What a nonsensical thing. The Lord says “take up your cross.” He will make you able to carry your cross. And in your self-denial, you will be free.

We are in the middle of the fast — a period when we are supposed to be denying ourselves. Some people look at Lent as a difficult, long ordeal. I tell you, I wish lent lasted all the year. I’m never more at peace then during Lent. A time when things kind of settle down — I can see things a little more clearly.

Brothers and sisters, deny those things that are not of God. Struggle to take up your cross. The Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, struggled with His Cross as well, and was victorious. His Cross was much larger than ours; His Cross included our cross. He has already made us capable; He has already walked the path. All we need do is follow Him. What a glorious thing it is to be a Christian. There is no greater name, no greater honor, than to be able to suffer if need be for our Savior. May God grant you true spiritual wisdom to be able to trade that which will not endure for that which will become eternal. Amen.


[1]This sermon was transcribed from one given on the Third Sunday of Great Lent, 2002, at St Nicholas Russian Orthodox church, Dallas, Texas

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Great Lent, The Second Sunday – The Paralytic – Interpretation by St Gregory Palamas – Mark 2:1-12

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

We just read the Gospel from St Mark about the paralytic this past Sunday of Great Lent. I just saw the following quote from a sermon by St Gregory Palamas, and I thought it was too good to wait until next year to share it with you.

“… the paralyzed man is any soul that thinks of turning back to the Lord and is brought to Him by these four things:

self-condemnation,
confession of sins,
the promise to renounce evil,
and prayer to God.”
http://sgpm.goarch.org/Monastery/index.php?p=109 On the subject of the Paralyzed Man Taken from The Homilies of St. Gregory Palamas Vol. 2, compiled by Christopher Veniamin. Homily 29 “On the subject of the Paralyzed Man who, according to Matthew the Evangelist, was healed in Capernaum. Also on Godly Sorrow”
It would be a worthwhile use of your tiume if you read this sermon.
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Great Lent, The Second Sunday – the Paralytic – "When Jesus Saw Their Faith" – Mark 2:1-12

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

Mark 2:1-12 And again he entered into Capernaum after some days; and it was noised that he was in the house. 2 And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door: and he preached the word unto them. 3 And they come unto him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four. 4 And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee. 6 But there was certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts, 7 Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only? 8 And immediately when Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, he said unto them, Why reason ye these things in your hearts? 9 Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk? 10 But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the sick of the palsy,) 11 I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house. 12 And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all; insomuch that they were all amazed, and glorified God, saying, We never saw it on this fashion.


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Great Lent, the Second Sunday – the "Press" – Mark 2:1-12

Saturday, March 22nd, 2008

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen1.

Today, brothers and sisters, on the 2nd Sunday of Great Lent — the day on which we celebrate and commemorate St. Gregory Palamas — we have before us a man who is paralyzed, and who has friends that care for him and bring him to the Lord to be healed. Now, as in all scripture, we should be careful. Read the scriptures slowly and carefully. See what the Lord says to you, see where you fit into this scripture, see where you have vices — or perhaps where by the grace of God, God has helped you in some thing and you have some virtue — not of your own worth, but because God has helped you. This is how we should read the scriptures. This is not just history, and something that happened a long time ago; this story is given for our edification. The Lord healed many thousands of people, and we don’t have very many records of His healings. So there must be something important about the way this man was healed for us to take note of.

He comes to Capernaum, and He is very popular in these days; this is still in the – shall we say, the honeymoon period; all the common people loved Him. The scribes and the Pharisees didn’t like Him, but they couldn’t move against Him, and even some of them were somewhat taken by Him because of all the buzz that was around Him. Everyone was saying, “Can you believe what’s happening? Everyone is being healed, and this man is speaking with such authority…”

At the beginning of His ministry, there were many who loved Him and wanted to throng about Him (who would later leave Him, and even be accessories to His being slandered and murdered), and this is the case today. There are so many about Him that people can’t even fit in the house where He is preaching. They are all about, outside the door, and He preached to them.

There is a man who is paralyzed, and he has asked his friends to help him. He has four that will take him on his bed, and want to bring him to Christ. Because of the press (the crowd of people), he couldn’t get to Jesus.

What is this press, brothers and sisters?

This “press” is often mentioned in other healings; this press is the obstacles that we encounter in our Christian life.

We encounter great obstacles. Now in the case of this man who was paralyzed, he wouldn’t have the strength to press through a group of people on his own, and even with help it would be immensely difficult; how can you carry a stretcher through a huge crowd of people? It is not possible.

So what did they do? They overcame the press by climbing onto the roof.

A roof is high above all things. The scripture uses this analogy just as it uses mountains sometimes, to say that this is how we should be in our Christian life. We should look up — we should be thinking of spiritual things, not of carnal things, not of just daily things — and we should elevate our mind — to contemplate pure things, and things that God wishes us to know.

These people got up on the roof. So of course it was a practical act to get up on the roof, so that they could break the roof tiles and let him down, and it was rather ingenious actually. But it is also an indication of how we should be, brothers and sisters.

You know, we encounter the press, and we stop in our tracks. Let’s face it: this society is a very difficult one for a Christian to live in, because there is such coldness, and it infects all of us. There is such materialism, there is such hardheartedness, there is such wishy-washy-ness as far as what to believe. And even among the Orthodox, there is this sort-of mixing of the world with holiness — and, of course, what becomes of hot and cold? It becomes lukewarm. And the Lord hates lukewarm.

The whole world is lukewarm. And we live in this difficulty. This is the press. It’s quite hard for us to live in this world.

In fact, I was reading something from Fr. Anatoly the younger, who was a martyr, one of the last Optina elders. I can’t quote it well, but basically the inference, the gist is of what he was writing is that Christians in the last age won’t do great miracles, and their faith won’t even be that great, and their purity won’t be that great. But, because they have endured in a time which is the worst of all times, God will give them a crown for even being Christian during this time. Indeed, because it is a difficult time. It is a time of unbelief, it is a time of lukewarm-ness, and we are surrounded by it, and we are infected by it.

It is difficult for us to get past the press. And why should we get past the press? Because we’re paralyzed too; we have spiritual paralysis; we have spiritual blindness. If any man can look inside himself with any amount of honesty at all, he sees that he is really broken inside, incomplete. There are terrible sadnesses that happen in our life. There are terrible things that we just can’t cope with completely.

And I say, if any person thinks that life is easy, and that things are really okay, than I say that you should really be afraid, because God is far from you. According to the fathers, if we’re not tempted, then we’re not being saved. Because we ARE incomplete, and we are weak creatures.

Oh yes, we have the image of God within us, and God has promised that He will be with us until the end, that He will complete the good work which has begun in us. But in the meanwhile, as we are approaching that goal, there is so much about us that is so pitiable. And we must get past the press if we are truly to get any kind of relief. You know, the press makes a lot of noise, and there is a lot of distraction, and this very well describes the Christian life today.

So how do we get past the press? Get up on the roof.

Not just get up on the roof, but there must be labor involved in the Christian life, brothers and sisters. You know that one of my pet phrases, or pet ideas, is that the greatest heresy of all time is that the Christian life can be fought without labor, that salvation can be gathered and garnered without labor. This is the great heresy of our age — it has been around now for quite some time — that we can actually be saved without labor. Oh no, it takes great labor on our part to be saved; it takes effort for us to push by the press; it takes effort for us to get on the roof, to elevate our minds to things above, not to things below, not to carnal things, not to just day-to-day living.

I think day-to-day living is like a narcotic in our day; it is easy to lose track of holy things, to say “I haven’t read scripture for so long, I forget my prayers, I have the wrong ideas, the wrong motivations,” and to just sort of flow through life. We must fight through these things, get on the roof, have our minds elevated and break through the roof tiles — which is effort. There is great effort involved in breaking through a roof.

So then, after these men had broken through the roof, they let the man down. What a spectacle that must have been. This man was not afraid to make his disability known to all. There must have been some people who thought that this was really craziness, and who might have laughed. But he was unafraid, because he wanted to be healed.

So when the Lord saw him, because of his efforts, He said “My son, thy sins be forgiven thee.” Well the man came because he was palsied — he couldn’t walk — and the Lord said “Thy sins be forgiven.” He did this for a reason.

Of course, what is the source of all of our ills? Our sins!

So the Lord heals that which is the man’s most pressing need first. And of course, he knew that the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the hypocrites, would think in their minds, “How can this man forgive sins? This is blasphemy,” and they would chalk it up in their notebooks and think, “We’re going to get this man.”

The Lord then said something quite interesting, something you should take note of. It seems sort of obvious in one way, but there is a very deep meaning in another. “Which is easier to say: ‘Thy sins be forgiven thee,’ or ‘Take up thy bed and walk?’” Well, it’s easy to say “Thy sins be forgiven thee,” or something that you can’t see internally, but if you say “Take up thy bed and walk” — well, the man had better get up, or else Jesus would be exposed as a charlatan. Well, that’s rather obvious, but there is a deep meaning here, brothers and sisters. Not an obvious meaning; you have to think a little bit.

The Lord raised the man up from his bed – “Take up thy bed and walk, and go unto thy house.” The reason he did this is to show that He, indeed, has power: He can raise the palsied man, He can give the man without eyes sight, he can cause the deaf to hear, he can raise the dead. These are tangible things that we see. The Lord did this because of our weakness.

We cannot see our sins being forgiven. It’s not something that you can have evidence of. Sometimes there is evidence of the Lord healing a man in terms of, let’s say if a man is an alcoholic and he is able to no longer have the demon of drunkenness, or some other such thing, but for the most part, when our sins are forgiven, the Lord knows, and we know, but it is not an obvious thing. That’s why the Lord said “Which is easier to say: ‘Thy sins be forgiven thee,’ or ‘Take up thy bed and walk?’” He was trying to show us “I can do both.” Yes, I can say “thy sins be forgiven,” and it is not an obvious thing, but I can also raise up the palsied man.

There is another meaning as well. The man’s sins were forgiven AND his body was made whole. Jesus Christ’s resurrection affects the whole man. Every aspect of our personality is affected by the resurrection. This is why a Christian should not feel defeated by anything in his life — because the resurrection applies to everything. Now this is not to have some sort of Pollyanna view of the world and think that because we’re Christians we’ll be rich, famous, athletic and handsome. That might not be the case.

But Jesus Christ is interested in anything that goes on in our life. We must bring all the difficulties of our life to him. We as Christians don’t do this very much; we suffer with our worries, our concerns, and I know many of you and I know that your concerns are not frivolous ones, they are not worldly concerns; they are spiritual things. But you must believe in the resurrection, and the one who truly believes applies the resurrection, with all of its implications, to himself, and his life’s circumstances.

If Jesus Christ can raise up the palsied man, certainly all the other things that He says must be true — not just that He can raise the dead at the end of the age; He’s going to make you alive now. The kingdom of God is within you. Now, not later. This is the meaning of having the man be healed both of his sins and of his palsy, of his bodily ailments.

Now how do we attain this healing, brothers and sisters? By effort. There is no substitute whatsoever for effort.

If a Christian does not struggle, does not strive, does not point himself to Jerusalem and not look back, does not try to ascend, as it were, to the roof, and labor, then he will not be changed. Or, perhaps, he’ll bear fruit, but very little.

May God grant that we would labor, past all of the difficulties in our lives, past all of the frustrations, all of the distractions, all of our sinfulness, all of our bad habits that are so difficult to change, all that press, all that crowd — that we labor past all that, and set our minds on things above, on holiness, on the purpose of our life, which is intimate knowledge of Jesus Christ.

And this intimate knowledge is only possible if we become like Him. We must become like Him to know Him.

This is why we must labor, brothers and sisters. Not because there are the Ten Commandments, the Law and all the rest; this is not the reason we must labor. The reason we must labor is that Jesus Christ wants us to know Him, intimately, He wants us to be healed of every single palsied condition, of every blindness, of every black spot in our souls, of every imperfection, so that we can gaze upon Him, not through a glass, darkly, but face to face – and not in shame, but in indescribably joy. This is how He wants us to know Him. And the only way to know Him is to become like Him. This is why we labor for virtue.

May God help us to labor, and for the rest of this Lent also to struggle so that when we come to the Pascha, the Lord would touch us in a very special, unique way that we can’t even imagine and understand, and strengthen us. May God help you.

Archive location: http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/great-lent-sunday-02_2002+healing-of-the-paralytic

1 This sermon was transcribed from one given on the Second Sunday of Great Lent, 2002, at St Nicholas Russian Orthodox church, Dallas, Texas

Mark 2:1-12 And again he entered into Capernaum after some days; and it was noised that he was in the house. 2 And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door: and he preached the word unto them. 3 And they come unto him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four. 4 And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee. 6 But there was certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts, 7 Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only? 8 And immediately when Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, he said unto them, Why reason ye these things in your hearts? 9 Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk? 10 But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the sick of the palsy,) 11 I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house. 12 And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all; insomuch that they were all amazed, and glorified God, saying, We never saw it on this fashion.

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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!”.

If the “LISTEN NOW” link does not work, copy this URL into your browser:
http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/pentecost-thursday-35_2008-01-24+for-ye-have-need-of-patience_hebrews10;35-11;7.m3u

If this file does not work for you, try the direct link to the actual mp3 file:
http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/pentecost-thursday-35_2008-01-24+for-ye-have-need-of-patience_hebrews10;35-11;7.mp3


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Archive of Audio and text homilies:http://www.orthodox.net/sermons

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Saturday, January 12th, 2008

Thoughts on the Holy Scriptures, 33rd week after Pentecost

Ephesians 1:16-23 I cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.

How should we pray for someone? St Paul gives a good example here. He prays:

That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints…”


St Paul understood that the Christian life is about knowledge. The “spirit of wisdom” encompasses knowledge about the true nature of things, of which he mentions non exclusively three: knowledge of Jesus Christ, knowledge about our calling and about our inheritance.


What kind of life would we lead if we fully knew the revelation of Christ, and, as a natural result of this, a full understanding of our calling? Since in order to know someone, we must become like him, and participate in his life by action, to have full revelation “of the knowledge of Him” is to completely cast off sin, and become holy and good, a secure possessor of the peace which Christ offers to us.


We need not pray that “So and So” “stop this”, or “start that”, because the fulfillment of the simple prayer that they will have the “spirit of wisdom…” encompasses all changes in their life necessary for their happiness.


The only prayer actual necessary for anyone, is “Lord have mercy”, but we must know what we are praying for. To ask God for mercy is to ask for help in all things, so that we may have given unto us “the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of (our) understanding being enlightened; that (we) may know what is the hope of his calling”


The reading and understanding of the scriptures is so very important if we are to have powerful prayer. While it is easier to concentrate when we only say “Lord have mercy”, or some derivative, like the Jesus prayer, within our soul must be the understanding of what this prayer means – what we are asking for. St Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians is one example of what we should be praying for when we pray for others (and ourselves).

Our Father, we beg mercy from Thee, and that through Thy son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, we unworthy ones may be given the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of thy Son, and that the eyes of our understanding may be enlightened; that we may know what is the hope of our calling and the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints. And remind us forgetful ones of the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power. Amen.

Daily readings and reflections, available at http://www/orthodox.net/scripture

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