Archive for the ‘Great Lent:Sundays preceding’ Category

The inner meaning of Palm Sunday. 2009. Audio Homily.

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

The events of Palm Sunday are momentous, but they cannot be understood without understanding the words of the Apostle Paul and contrasting them to the actions of the people who received Jesus joyfully and with shouts of praise as he rode into Jerusalem on a colt, the foal of an ass.
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Philippians 4:4-9 4 Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. 5 Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. 6 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. 7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. 9 Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.

John 12:1-18 1 Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead. 2 There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him. 3 Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. 4 Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him, 5 Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? 6 This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein. 7 Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. 8 For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always. 9 Much people of the Jews therefore knew that he was there: and they came not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; 11 Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus. 12 On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, 13 Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord. 14 And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written, 15 Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt. 16 These things understood not his disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him. 17 The people therefore that was with him when he called Lazarus out of his grave, and raised him from the dead, bare record. 18 For this cause the people also met him, for that they heard that he had done this miracle.



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Forgiveness Sunday 2008 – The Night Is Far Spent – Romans 13:11-14:4, Matthew 6:14-21

Sunday, March 9th, 2008

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The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.



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Sunday of Forgiveness

Saturday, March 8th, 2008
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.1

Today is the Sunday of Forgiveness, and it is also the day we enter Great Lent. After we pray the Vespers service of Forgiveness early this afternoon, we will then be in the Holy Fast. Why is it that we fast? We have a blueprint for our life, and why we fast, in the Gospel today. Today is also interesting, because we are also commemorating the Finding of the Head of the Forerunner, and so we have this additional Gospel reading that has much richness in it. I want to quickly focus on one thing that it said: “… the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.”2

We are going to do violence now. We are setting out on a path of doing violence to the violent one. We are casting that which is corrupt within us, and the Church has given us a path to do so. Our Lord said, first of all, “If ye forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will forgive you.”3 First and foremost in the Christian life is to forgive. To forgive is to be like God – because God forgives all. God loves all, without any respect for persons. So when we forgive, we are participating in the energy of God. We are acting like God! And indeed, that is what we are to do. In the scripture it says, “Ye are gods”4. We are to act like gods. We are to acquire virtue, compassion, holiness, yea, even perfection, because the scriptures also say, “Be ye perfect, as my heavenly Father is perfect”5.

So one must become like unto God, and the first step is to forgive.

And He says, “But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”6

This is actually a promise and a threat, but the promise is so much more powerful than the threat. Oh, yes, if you do not forgive, you won’t be saved. If you hold grudges, even though someone has harmed you greatly in this life, you won’t be saved, because, over and over, the Church says, the Holy Scripture says, the saints say, the Holy Spirit says: forgive, forgive, forgive.

And if you do forgive, what will happen? You will see Christ. You won’t be corrupt anymore. You’ll have peace, you’ll have rest. The promise is greater than the threat. Absolutely.

And then He gives us some counsel about fasting. “Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.”7 These are among the most terrible words in all of scripture: “They have their reward.” This life, this life of corruption, and foul odors, and difficulties, and sadness and strife, and tempests – that is where they have their reward. These are terrible words. So if you want your reward now, God will give it to you. You can be as a hypocrite, you can make it appear that you are holy, and some people will say, “Isn’t that remarkable what he is doing. I could not do that. He must be filled with the Holy Spirit.” But if you have the reward only now, your life is a total waste.

Then He tells us, in a figure through the glass darkly, as it were, what our reward will be. He says, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: {20} But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: {21} For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”8 Do you know what we have been promised? All the world tells us a story of death, dying, difficulties, passions and sadness – all the world. No matter how rich a man becomes, the world is a difficult place because within, there is a pitched battle. And a man with a conscience is not at peace with whom he is. He wants to become better. The whole world is corrupt, all we ever see. But what does He say? “If you lay up treasures for yourselves in heaven, they do not corrupt. They will last forever.” These are amazing thoughts here: Forever. No corruption. Full of satisfaction, peace, rest. I do not have a day that I am at rest. There is not a day that I do not endure sadness. There is not a day that I do not sin. But there will be a day, in the eighth day, if I struggle now, and also, if you struggle, that we will be in the presence of God. The mind cannot conceive and understand what this means, because all we see is corruption, and everything changes. It is so hard to stay good. Things change all the time, and so often, it seems, for the worse. But our Lord and Savior is telling us, If we lay up treasures for ourselves now, in heaven they will not corrupt. We won’t corrupt!”

In the other reading, John, a great man, greatest born of woman, could not understand. It was so incomprehensible to him that the Messiah had actually come. He believed, but he was full of wonderment, so he sent his disciples to Christ, and our Lord said, “Look at the evidence. The blind see, the lame walk, the dead are raised, the poor have the Gospel preached to them.”9 That is the greatest miracle. It gives people hope. It makes people know what they are alive for. We know what our Lord can do.

The evidence is all there, even though the world constantly countermands and slanders that evidence, every single day of our life, but we know the truth! And this is why we are entering upon the Fast. Because we want to lay up treasures in heaven, and we want to win the kingdom of Heaven by violence. Violence against our passions, violence against that which saddens us – that part of us which is incomplete. We want to cast it out, so that we can be filled. That’s why we fast. The reason one must forgive is because the task in our life is to become like God, to be filled with Him, and to become like Him morally – to share in the energies of God. His love for us will transfigure us and make us incorrupt. And a man cannot become incorrupt, he cannot become like God, if fundamentally he disavows himself from that most fundamental aspect of God: God is love. Love forgives. Love forgives seventy times seven times; love forgives infinite times. No matter how great the transgression, the forgiveness is greater.

This is why we begin Great Fast with Forgiveness ceremony. No, it is not just a ceremony. Every man who looks into his heart sees that he falls short with every breath he takes, and that he wrongs every man. If you see one of your brothers or sisters, and they have a difficulty, some conflict in their marriage, or with their children or with some substance or some other such thing – we all fall into difficulties – you should berate yourself and say, “Have I prayed for my brother? Have I done something to help my brother? Is it possible that he or she is in peril because of my incompetence?” That’s why we ask forgiveness of one another, even if we have not exactly offended everyone specifically. But then again there might be grudges that need to be settled today, too, and we must do this if we wish to enter into the Fast.

The Apostle says, “And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. “10 This is the time. The church sets aside this time, this tithe, or tenth, of the year, so that we would be able to intensify and remember who we are, and who God is, and change. The first step is to forgive, and then we proceed with the Fast. And I tell you it will be difficult. I have been through seventeen of them, and all of them were difficult. We all have our different temptations. One is tempted to eat meat. Another is tempted to be angry. Another is tempted to fall into despondency. Another is tempted in another way. As many souls as there are, so many temptations are there. But we struggle together as a community praying for one another and fasting and believing that there is a reward and that it is permanent. Nothing in this life – nothing – is permanent, and we are living for permanence. And when I think of these thoughts, it makes it a bit easier to abstain from this food or that, or to make more prostrations, or to forgive my brother, even when he has harmed me, even when he has hurt me purposefully, because everything in this life is going away, except for how we have lived. The way we have lived, if it is holy, is going to endure

There is something else during this great fast all of you should do. It is very important for us to pray for one another, and also to pray for Paul, Susan and Seth. They are going to be made catechumens next week. We are going to have the service to make them catechumens, and the exorcism part of the service, just before Liturgy next Sunday. I would ask you and admonish you, as ones who love, because He loved us, that you will be here to support them in prayer, and not just on Sunday, but during the whole time of their catechuminate, that they would learn of sweetness, learn about faith, about the sweetness you can never have enough of. And yet indeed there will come a time when we will have enough. But not in this life. In the next life. We will be completely filled with Him if we live now according to Who He is. Amen.

Romans 13:11-14

And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. {12} The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. {13} Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. {14} But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof. {41:1} Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. {2} For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. {3} Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. {4} Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.

Matthew 6:14-21

For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: {15} But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. {16} Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. {17} But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; {18} That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. {19} Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: {20} But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: {21} For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

1 This homily was transcribed from one given in 1997, on the Sunday of Forgivensss, the last Sunday before 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.

2 Mat 11:12, partial

3 Mat 6:14

4 Psalm 82:6, Isaiah 41:23, John 10:34

5 (Mat 5:48) Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

6 Mat 6:15

7 Mat 6:16

8 Mat 6:19-21

9 (Mat 11:5) “The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”

10 Romans 13:11

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Sunday of the Last Judgement:Meatfare – Matthew 25:31-46 – Be kind

Thursday, February 28th, 2008

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Matthew 25:31-46 31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: 32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: 33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: 36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. 37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? 38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? 39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? 40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. 41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: 43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. 44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? 45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. 46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.



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Sunday of the Prodigal Son 2008 – Luke 15;11-32 – And When He Came To Himself

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

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Luke 15:11-32And he said, A certain man had two sons: 12 And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. 13 And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. 14 And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. 15 And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. 17 And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, 19 And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. 20 And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. 21 And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. 22 But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: 23 And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. 25 Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. 28 And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. 29 And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: 30 But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. 31 And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. 32 It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.



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Sunday of the Prodigal Son – How does God receive our repentance?

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

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In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.1

The Church gives us another example today, about repentance. It tells us another part of the story. This is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, and is yet another Sunday that prepares us for the Great Fast. We are coming quickly upon it. Next week will be the Sunday of the Last Judgment, after which we stop eating meat, and after that is the Sunday of Forgiveness, and we then begin the fast, the following day.

The church has had something very important to say about repentance the past few Sundays, if you have been listening carefully. Actually, there have been three aspects of repentance that have been shown to us. One aspect is humility. We saw the publican2 whom, in our mind’s eye, we may consider to be Zacchaeus3, and we saw how his humility saved him. But this was humility with knowledge, because with humility comes knowledge of God. Although he was humble and would not look up to heaven, he was still bold in his prayer to ask God for mercy, because he knew God would give him mercy.

The Sunday before, we saw Zacchaeus. We saw that he was a very bad man, but he changed. Repentance involves changing the way you live, the way you think. It also involves, truly, making restitution. It is not that restitution will save us. There is nothing that we can do to earn our salvation. Restitution is something that should come from deep within us. We should desire to make ourselves better in those things in which we have been lax. Whether our sin be depriving a man of his goods, as Zacchaeus did, or unclean thoughts, or any other sin, whether our sin be an internal sin, or an external one, or whether it has affected other people or affected no one except ourselves, we must desire and struggle to be better.

Now we see another aspect of repentance that is so important today, especially in light of what we are going to read and contemplate next week. That is, God receives a man’s repentance. This may seem to be an obvious statement, hardly worth making, but in actuality, many people do not really believe God will receive their repentance, or that they can truly change. We can see how marvelous God’s mercy is in this parable we have before us.

The father who has the two sons is God the Father. The younger of the two sons is humanity. The younger son is you and me. We should see ourselves in this younger son. What did he do? The father was getting old, and the son did not want to wait for him to die. He wanted his inheritance NOW. So he said, “Give me my inheritance now.” His father, who loved him, must have grieved over such a request, because he knew it would most probably be harmful to his son, and also he wished to have his son with him, but he gave in to him because of love. God does the same thing with you and me. He gives us things that are good and precious, and we misuse and abuse them, but He gives them nonetheless. He causes the rains to fall on the evil and the good, and He even does much good to the evil, hoping that they will turn and repent. That’s what he did with the younger son, knowing what the son was going to do.

The son goes into a FAR country. There is sometimes much meaning in a single word. He went into a FAR country. It was far away, a land full of debauchery and uncleanness, FAR away from God, FAR away from salvation. And, indeed, if the man had died in such a state, he would have perished. He would have died far from God. But when he was in this far country, did he give any thought to God? No. He wasted his living with harlots, as his older son is so careful to point out later, and in debauchery and uncleanness of every kind. He had not thought whatsoever for his father, and how he had caused his father pain. He had no understanding how far away he was from salvation. And that is how we are, too. Maybe not all of the time, but so much of the time what we do is so foolish, so stupid, and yet we do not see this or understand. We might live many, many years and not understand how evil the things we do are.

This son was the same way. He had no understanding of the evil he was doing and of the uncleanness and of how far away he was from God. And then the inevitable happened to him. He had wasted all of his living, and now began to be in want. He had no money, and was hungry and cold. He had to join himself to a citizen of the country who really did not care about him at all, and he was told to feed pigs. And this unclean food, which the pigs were eating, looked appetizing, because he was so hungry.

He began to be in want – what does this really mean? It describes much more that the younger son’s penury. Humanity is in want. Remember that this younger son represents humanity – he represents you and me. Both the good and the evil that are in humanity are represented in this man. The debauchery, and also, the dignity of soul, later, when he repents. When the son begins to be in want, he recognizes what his needs are. The unclean food, given him by the devil (for that is who the citizen of that far country is), cannot satisfy him, even though he is hungry for it. He looks back in his mind’s eye and he says: “I once lived with my father who loved me, and I had food and clothing and friends. And I was in an atmosphere of love and acceptance and affection. How could I have been so foolish to have left that all behind?” And he grieves and weeps bitterly over his misfortune. But notice that he did not blame anyone for his situation. He did not blame his father for allowing him the inheritance, which, by the way, is something that a lot of people do with God. They blame Him for their sins. They do not understand how much God loves them and gives them all good things for their salvation. Instead, they blame Him if there is something wrong. “Why hasn’t God taken this sin away from me? I have been struggling with it for two months, two years. Why is this happening to me? Why don’t these people like me? Why do I have troubles here, troubles there?” Always blaming God.

By the way, as an aside (I am famous for these, unfortunately!), every single evening at Vespers, we pray that we not make “excuse with excuses in sins”4. This shows how prevalent this sin is, and how important the church thinks it is to fight it. But this son did not make excuses. He recognized his want, and what was wrong with him.

Then he “came to himself”. This is a very hard thing to understand. A man cannot be saved unless he comes to himself. What does this mean? Well, I have spoken of it many times. In saving our souls, what two things must we know? One is to know God, and other is to know ourselves. The two are learned in parallel. If you learn only of God, you will be filled with pride, and your soul will be paralyzed. If you know only about your sins and your unworthiness and know little about God, you will be filled with despondency and fear, or escapism, and your soul will also be paralyzed, unable to do good. This is the more common sin for Christians, I think. Despondency is very common and happens in each one of us to a greater or lesser degree. And if it happens in too great a degree, I tell you, you won’t be saved, because you won’t be able to do the things you need to do to learn of God. But if you learn of yourself and God at the same time, God will reveal Himself and self-knowledge also, within you. Then you will believe in the depths of your soul that you are a great sinner, but you will nonetheless say to yourself with confidence, “God will receive my repentance!’ and you will see the situation you are in, and you will want to be better, and you will know that you CAN become better!

I see this again and again, where people do not ACCEPT that they CAN change. Sometimes, to be perfectly honest, people don’t want to change. They have an inkling, a desire, a little bit, to change. “I want to stop this sin. But I like this sin.” And they don’t have the gumption to make the effort. God even understands this! This is why we have a “baseline” of things we must do as Christians – keeping the fasts, saying our prayers, coming to church – because without those things we would truly fall far away. But that is not enough, mind you, because a man must make an inner change. He must know of God and he must come to himself. And he must say exactly what the younger son said. He said, “I will arise and I will go to my father. I will make an effort. I will not only talk about my sins and lament about them and do nothing. I will arise and make a great effort.”

And then the son realized how far away he was. He was in a far country. And he still had to travel a long way, even until his father would see him, from a long way off. So that was a great struggle. That is what we must do. We pile sin upon sin in our soul. Everything that we pile onto our soul we must painstakingly take off, one brick at a time. So the more we pile on ourselves, the more difficult it is, and the further away we are, and the further we must travel back. But this younger son was great of soul, because he struggled back.

What was his attitude? It was not absolutely correct, but his misunderstanding was corrected by his father later. He went and said ” I will go to my father and say I have sinned against heaven and earth, and I am not worthy to be called your son”. So far, he is absolutely correct. But then he said, “Make me as one of thy hired servants,” and God will not do that! That’s not our God! He will make us friends!5 This son, as he was walking back to his father, did not understand this. But we can understand, because we have the perspective of history and the Holy Scriptures to tell us: God will not make us as hired servants! Jesus Christ said He would make us friends. “I will call you friends, and there are many mansions in my father’s house.”6 So we will not be hired servants. We will have everything that our Father has available for us!

And this is the meaning when the father saw his son and ran out to him. Can you imagine this meeting? The son is bedraggled and poor, starving, faint both of heart and of body, and the father comes to him and embraces him and kisses him. He puts the ring on his finger, a token of the father’s love and his authority; He kills the fatted calf, and makes merry because his son has come home. The son was only expecting to stay in the shack with the hired hands, and maybe to have a little bit of meat once in a while and his father gave him back EVERYTHNG that he had lost, and more than he had lost. That is what our Father will do for us.
The Church tells us about it right now, because we are now about to enter into a period of time when we had better think about our sins quite a bit. Next week we will talk about the Last Judgement, and it is terrifying what will happen in the Last Judgement for those who do not repent. But, if you only read that, and do not understand from today that the Father will accept your repentance, then you have lost the most important part of the story. This part is that God will accept you, if you arise, and go. And I can speak honestly here, that the major problem is that most people don’t want to “arise and go”. And therefore when they don’t arise and go, they cook up in their minds all kinds of ideas, about why they cannot stop a certain sin, or do better. And yet, they are not doing the things that God has laid out for them to do to bring them back to Him. If this fits any one of you, then may it be that you would understand the things that you must do, and that you would have a firmer resolve to arise and go. A man cannot do something with full effort unless he believes it with full conviction. Our life is difficult. It is painful. And we have trouble fighting our sins, and some are so pleasurable that we have trouble wanting to fight them. The question is, “Why bother?” If we do not know what God will do for us, then we do not have the resolve to really, really attack our sins, and enter into the kingdom of heaven. So the Church tells us what God will do. He shows us, as a loving Father, He will take us in His arms, and will put the ring upon our finger, which is His authority, you know, and His dignity, and His image. The ring has an image on it, doesn’t it? That is the image of God, which is within man. And He will kill the fatted calf, and we will feast sumptuously for all eternity.

But we’re not at that point yet because we’re still wearing flesh, and we’re still having difficulty with our sins. So, most of us are somewhere in that journey from the far country. And we must continue that journey. It is described with only a few words here in the Scriptures. He starts to journey, and then his Father comes upon him. Well … that’s not the way it really happened! He had to journey for quite some way before his Father saw him. He was quite a ways away, and he still had to travel a long way. Rectifying our life is like that. It takes a long time, and a lot of effort, but the Church tells us clearly what the effect of it will be, what the outcome will be. Keep this in your mind. It’s very important to remember these kinds of readings in the Scriptures because when you start to think of your sins, they will overwhelm you if you don’t realize the love of God. And next Sunday, and then the Sunday after that, and all the Sundays of Great Lent and all of the services of Great Lent, are full of recounting and remembering our sins and our unrighteousness and our wickedness. It’s good to know those things; it’s good to remember those things, because it keeps us from pride. But if you only learn those things, and you don’t know of God’s mercy, then you will fall away. Vast amounts of people that call themselves Christian have fallen away already, because they cannot understand the greatness of God in parallel with their wickedness. They either cast one away, or the other. They dumb down God, or they have exalted pride in themselves — one or the other. And you can see that many modern day heresies are because of these two things.

So, arise! Today, decide to arise. And when you fall down tomorrow, get up out of the dust and continue to walk. And if you cannot walk, then crawl, but keep going towards God. And if you have fixed in your mind what God has promised, then God will help you. And you will have the strength. No matter how weak you feel, you will have the strength to be saved. Amen.

Luke 15:11-32
And he said, A certain man had two sons: {12} And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. {13} And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. {14} And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. {15} And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. {16} And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. {17} And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! {18} I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, {19} And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. {20} And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. {21} And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. {22} But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: {23} And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: {24} For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. {25} Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. {26} And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. {27} And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. {28} And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and entreated him. {29} And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: {30} But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. {31} And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. {32} It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.
1 This homily was transcribed from one given in 1997, on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. 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.
2 Luke 18:10-14
3 Luke 19:1-10
4 This is sung at “Lord I have cried” in Vespers
5 John 15:14-15
6 John 14:2

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Sunday of the Prodigal Son – Luke 15:11-32

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

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Luke 15:11-32 11 And he said, A certain man had two sons: 12 And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. 13 And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. 14 And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. 15 And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. 17 And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, 19 And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. 20 And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. 21 And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. 22 But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: 23 And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. 25 Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. 28 And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. 29 And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: 30 But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. 31 And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. 32 It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.



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Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee – Luke 18:10-14 – Two Ways

Monday, February 18th, 2008

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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.



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Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee – Luke 18:10-14 – The rest of the story, How was the publican justified?

Saturday, February 16th, 2008

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

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. We can probably truly say, without being guilty of a sin, that we are not as bad as that!

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 certainly he would have fallen, again and again and again. 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? Most 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.


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Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee – Luke 18:10-14 – "Zacchaeus" is saved by his humility

Saturday, February 16th, 2008

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http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/great-lent-sunday-before-great-lent-02_2007-01-28+the-publican-and-pharisee.m3u

If this file does not work for you, try the direct link to the actual mp3 file:
http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/great-lent-sunday-before-great-lent-02_2007-01-28+the-publican-and-pharisee.mp3


RSS feed of Sunday and some weekday homiliesRSS feed of Sunday and some weekday homilies:http://feeds.feedburner.com/OrthodoxChristianSermonsOnTheGospelsEpistlesAndOtherTopics

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

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