Archive for the ‘scripture readings’ Category

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

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Epistle Reading for today:

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

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

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

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

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


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

Friday, January 25th, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do we keep this blessed hope within us?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 21st, 2008

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

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Thoughts on today’s readings

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

"For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one
teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God;
and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For
every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness:
for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full
age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to
discern both good and evil."

Why do we have such difficulty understanding the scriptures and the
writings of the fathers? Perhaps because we do not "by reason of use
have [our] senses exercised…." In other words, we do not struggle
hard enought to fulfill the scripture in our lives, and therefore our
heart is not purified so as to understand what they say… There is a
story in the life of one of the Optina elders, in which a visiting
bishop asked him why it was so difficult to remember the words of St.
John of the Ladder on the virtues, even after reading them many times.
The elder responded that these words would only be retained in the
memory if they were put into practice.

Reader Nicholas Park
St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, Dallas TX
WEB: http://www.orthodox.net
BLOG: http://stnicholasdallas.blogspot.com

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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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Thoughts on the Holy Scripture -32nd Week After Pentecost – Wednesday

Thursday, January 3rd, 2008
Oil or wine on the menu today.

Today’s scripture is a perfect example of the “oil and wine” that our Lord mixes in His teachings to us, which I have mentioned many times, and just recently in the blog.

“Oil” is the soothing teachings of Christ, which are meant to console and comfort us, to give us hope and strong faith. “Wine” is the astringent teachings of Jesus: His rebukes and harsh sayings – things that should make us tremble if we are not living as we aught, and wake us up from our slumber.

Today, we have teaching that is the finest, smoothest, warmest and most soothing oil to some, but the most bitter and frightening wine to others:

And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses. (Mark 11:26)

Our Lord spoke about forgiveness and the conditions for it many times. When he taught us to pray, He included “and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”. In today’s passage, it is even more clear: we MUST forgive if we are to be forgiven.

For those who hold grudges, have vendettas, remember wrongs, and indulge in the false sweetness of anger towards others, these words are terrible and bitter wine. If a person continues to not forgive others, then God will continue to pour this wine into his wounds, and in other areas of his life, attempt to bring the blind one to his senses. Since lack of forgiveness has as its mother pride, the words of the Brother of the Lord, which we also read today, apply fully to such a one: “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.”

These very same words are as oil to the humble, because our Lords words comfort the sinner who forgives other sinners: “And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”, and in other place, even more comforting: “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven” (Luke 6:37)

Our ‘Lord gives only ONE condition for our forgiveness; we must forgive others. What a comfort this is to the humble! The humble considers himself incapable of any works of righteousness, and perhaps such a one fails in many ways that a Christian may be measured, but he possessed in abundance that most important and indispensable virtue: he forgives others!

The marvelous grace that we are able to retain from forgiving others will eventually positively affect every area of our soul; from this virtue, which is grounded in love for others, self-awareness and humility, will flow all the other virtues.

If you cannot stop sinning, then cultivate in yourself the virtue of forgiving others. This is truly the east way to salvation! If you have trouble forgiving, pray to be able to forgive! An absolute must is that you MUST pray for those you have trouble forgiving. At least say “Lord have mercy upon the soul of ____” everyday. You cannot make ANY progress in the spiritual life without forgiving (or, at least, attempting to forgive with all your might) others. Any supposed progress is a sham, since our Lord’s words, above, guarantee us that if we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven.

My parish has heard many times this admonition: “If you cannot stop sinning, at least be kind!” The kind think of others, and minimize themselves. The kind forgive others. Therefore, “IF YOU CANNOT STOP SINNING, AT LEAST FORGIVE OTHERS!”


James 3:11-4:6 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh. Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace. From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.

Mark 11:23-26 For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.


Gleanings from the Fathers about forgiveness.

Did you see that brother who was negligent and lazy, who did not go down to the all-night vigils and did not do his duties, whom the brothers knew and held to be a negligent brother? When, therefore, he became sick and the hour of his death drew near, the brothers gathered to hear something beneficial, or to comfort him, or in case he wanted to say something to them, but they saw him rejoicing, cheerful.

One brother was scandalized and said, But what do we see in you, brother? We see you rejoicing, while you approach death? But our thought says to us that you were not a violent man and how do you have this courage and this rejoicing face? On what do you base this thing?

Yes, brothers, he said, really I was a negligent person and I did not fulfill my duties. But I achieved one good thing, by the grace of God — not to criticize any brother and not to scandalize anyone; and never did I allow my heart to have something against my brother of the monastery when the sun set. And inasmuch as I did not judge my brother, I believe that God will not judge me, even me, for He said, Judge not, that you not be judged (Mt. 7:1); and as long as I did not judge, I will not be judged.

The brothers marveled and said, Brother, very easily you found the way of salvation. And the brother died with much joy. Elder Ephraim of Philotheou Mount Athos, “Counsels from the Holy Mountain”. Quoted from http://www.orthodox.net/gleanings/judging_others.html


‘And forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors.’ For we have many sins. For we offend both in word and in thought, and very many things we do worthy of condemnation; and ‘if we say that we have no sin’ (I Jn. 1:8), we lie, as John says…The offenses committed against us are slight and trivial, and easily settled; but those which we have committed against God are great, and need such mercy as His only is. Take heed, therefore, lest for the slight and trivial sins against you, you shut out for yourself forgiveness from God for your very grievous sins. St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lectures: Lecture 23 no. 16) Quoted from http://www.orthodox.net/gleanings/forgiveness.html


Do we forgive our neighbors their trespasses? God also forgives us in His mercy. Do we refuse to forgive? God, too, will refuse to forgive us. As we treat our neighbors, so also does God treat us. The forgiveness, then, of your sins or unforgiveness, and hence also your salvation or destruction, depend on you yourself, man. For without forgiveness of sins there is no salvation. You can see for yourself how terrible it is. St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, Journey to Heaven Quoted from http://www.orthodox.net/gleanings/forgiveness.html


If you want cure your soul, you need four things. The first is to forgive your enemies. The second is to confess thoroughly. The third is to blame yourself. The fourth is to resolve to sin no more. If we wish to be saved, we must always blame ourselves and not attribute our wrong acts to others. And God, Who is most compassionate, will forgive us. Modern Orthodox Saints I, St. Cosmas Aitolos).Dr. Constantine Cavarnos., INSTITUTE FOR BYZANTINE AND MODERN GREEK STUDIES., Belmont, Massachusetts., pp.81-94. Quoted from http://www.orthodox.net/gleanings/forgiveness.html

Not only is it wonderful that He forgives us our sins, but also that He neither uncovers them nor does He make them stand forth clearly revealed. Nor does He force us to come forward and publicly proclaim our misdeeds, but He bids us to make our defense to Him alone and to confess our shins to Him. And yet, if any judge of a worldly tribunal were to tell some captured highwayman or grave robber to confess his crime and be excused from paying the penalty, this prisoner would with all alacrity admit the truth and scorn the disgrace in his desire to go free. But this is not the case in baptism. God forgives our sins and does not force us to make a parade of them in the presence of others. He seeks one thing only: that he who benefits by the forgiveness make learn the greatness of the gift. St. John Chrysostom, Baptismal Instructions. Quoted from http://www.orthodox.net/gleanings/forgiveness.html

Abba Zeno said, ‘If a man wants God to hear his prayer quickly, then before he prays for anything else, even his own soul, when he stands and stretches out his hands towards God, he must pray with all his heart for his enemies. Through this action God will hear everything that he asks.’ The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Trans. by Benedicta Ward. Quoted from http://www.orthodox.net/gleanings/forgiveness.html

Do you not see, brethren, that we toil for nothing when we pray, if we have enmity against someone? And again the Lord says, ‘If you offer your gift at the altar, and there you remember that someone has something against you, leave your gift before the altar, and go first and be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift’. Therefore, it is clear that if you do not do this first, all that you offer will be unacceptable, but if you do the Master’s bidding, then implore the Lord with boldness, saying, ‘Forgive me my debts, Master, as I have forgiven my brother, so fulfilling your commandment. I, weak though I am, have forgiven’. For the Lover of mankind will answer, ‘If you have forgiven, I too will forgive. If you have pardoned, I too will pardon your sins. For I have authority on earth to forgive sins. Forgive and you will be forgiven’. St Ephrem the Syrian, ‘Three Short Discourses’, from ‘http://web.ukonline.co.uk/ephrem/3disc.htm’
Quoted from http://www.orthodox.net/gleanings/forgiving_others.html


Rightly did the Lord say, ‘My burden is light’. For what sort of weight is it, what sort of toil is it to forgive one’s brother his offences, which are light and of no importance, and to be pardoned for one’s own, and immediately justified?

He did not say, ‘Bring me money, or calves, or goats, or fasting, or vigils’, so that you could say, ‘I have none, I cannot’, but he ordered you to bring what is light and easy and immediate, saying, ‘Pardon your brother his offences, and I will pardon yours. You pardon small faults, a few halfpennies, or three pennies, while I give you the ten thousand talents. You only pardon without giving anything, I nevertheless both grant you pardon and give you healing and the Kingdom.

And I accept your gift, when you are reconciled to the one who is your enemy, when you have enmity against no one, when the sun does not go down on your anger.

When you have peace and love for all, then your prayer is acceptable, and your offering well-pleasing, and your house blessed and you blessed. But if you are not reconciled with your brother, how can you seek pardon from me? You trample on my words, and do you demand pardon? I, your Master, demand, and you pay no attention, and do you, a slave, dare to offer me prayer, or sacrifice, or first fruits, while you have enmity against someone? Just as you turn your face from your brother, so I too turn my eyes from your gift and your prayer.’ St Ephrem the Syrian, ‘Three Short Discourses’, from ‘http://web.ukonline.co.uk/ephrem/3disc.htm’. Quoted from http://www.orthodox.net/gleanings/forgiving_others.html


Antioch had another Patriarch who was compassionate and merciful; his name was Alexander. One of his secretaries once stole some gold from him, fled in fear and came to the Thebaid in Egypt. He was found wandering around by the bloodthirsty barbarians of Egypt and of the Thebaid; they took him to the remotest corner of their land. When the godly Alexander heard about this, he ransomed him from captivity at the cost of eighty-five pieces of gold. When the captive returned, the bishop was so loving and gentle with him that one of the inhabitants of the city once said: ‘There is nothing more profitable or advantageous for me than to sin against Alexander.” THE SPIRITUAL MEADOW of John Moscos. Quoted from http://www.orthodox.net/gleanings/forgiving_others.html


Keep your mind from malicious thoughts of your neighbors, knowing that such thoughts are hurled by diabolical power, to keep your mind from your own sins and from seeking God. Our Holy Father Elias of Egypt, November 3, Prologue Quoted from http://www.orthodox.net/gleanings/judging_others.html

When we judge our brother, we censure ourselves in a great sin. When therefore, we shield our brother, God will also shield us from great sins. When we uncover our brother, we drive off the grace of God from over us and we are given over to fall into the same things, so that we learn that we are all weak and the grace of God carries us. Whoever guards his tongue, that one guards his soul from great sins and falls. Elder Ephraim of Philotheou Mount Athos, “Counsels from the Holy Mountain”. Quoted from http://www.orthodox.net/gleanings/judging_others.html

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Thoughts on the Holy Scripture -32nd Week After Pentecost – Thursday

Tuesday, January 1st, 2008

Why did our Lord curse the fig tree?

Nothing that our Lord did was superfluous, or unplanned. He cursed a barren fig tree precisely to give an opportunity the following day to teach us about faith.

Isn’t is marvelous how the Lord so often did not directly answer a question, but instead used it as an opportunity to teach something? He does not directly answer Peter’s implied question, but instead teaches about faith, in that delicious, mysterious way of His.

Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.

He gives such words of hope! He tells us, that with faith, we will move the mountain; this is not a windswept peace of rock and earth; it is our sins! “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” (Mat 19:26, Mark 10:27)

What was Peter’s question, and did the Lord actually answer it? Indirectly, yes; Peter marveled that the Lord cursed a tree that could not be faulted for not having fruit, because “the time of figs was not yet”

The context of the story makes it clear that the barren fig tree represents the barrenness of the Jews1. This is important to understand, but to only understand the story in this way is to miss the most important point.

The fig tree is our soul, and there is no time when our soul is not required to bear fruit. Let us not “make excuse with excuses in sins”, and placate ourselves with the knowledge of our infirmities and believe that somehow this excuses us from bearing fruit. The Lord emphatically rebukes this idea by exhorting us to have faith in God, and not look at things with carnal eyes. A mountain cannot be moved, and a fig tree cannot bear fruit in the winter, but with God’s help, we not only can bear fruit at all times, and move a mountain, but we must!

Our Lord’s teachings were oil and wine, soothing, comforting, and also frightening and harsh. (Cf. Luke 10:25-37) All at once, His promise that we can move a mountain with faith, and bear fruit even in the winter of our soul is both oil and wine. We should tremble when we look upon our tree, which has all that is needed to bear fruit, and yet the branches are so empty; the Lord will not tolerate such a state of affairs, and He will not countenance any of our feeble excuses! How can we fulfill such an arduous task? With faith, and with God, if we try.

In another place, the Lord promises us that He does not require perfection from us all at once, by telling the parable of the fig tree:

Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? {8} And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: {9} And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.” (Luke 13:7-9)

We have a short time while in this life to produce fruit; only the Lord knows how long. Inexorably ,there will come the day when the Lord, hungry to partake of our fruit, will come to our tree – if we have faith in God, and struggle, it will not be barren!


32nd Week After Pentecost – Tuesday

James 3:1-10 My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.

Mark 11:11-23 And Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and into the temple: and when he had looked round about upon all things, and now the eventide was come, he went out unto Bethany with the twelve. And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry: And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it. And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves. And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine. And when even was come, he went out of the city. And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.

1“He withers the tree, then, in order to chasten men. The disciples marvel, and with good reason. For the fig tree contains a great amount of sap, and so the fact that it withered immediately serves all the more to indicate the miracle. The fig tree means the synagogue of the Jews, which has only leaves, that is, the visible letter of the law, but not the fruit of the Spirit. But also every man who gives himself over to the sweetness of the present life is likened to a fig tree, who has no spiritual fruit to give to Jesus who is hungry for such fruit, but only leaves, that is, temporal appearances which fall away and are gone. This man, then, hears himself cursed. For Christ says, Go, ye accursed, into the fire. But he is also dried up; for as he roasts in the flame, his tongue is parched and withered like that of the rich man of the parable, who in his life had ignored Lazarus.” Blessed Theophylact, Commentary on Matthew)

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

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Thoughts on the Holy Scripture – 28th Week After Pentecost – Thursday

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner. Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.

When we read the Holy Scriptures, if we are to benefit, we must consider them to be words directed to us, with our eyes fixed on our Lord’s eyes as we sit at His feet. As we look into those eyes, how do we feel? Are we comforted, encouraged, ashamed? Are we aware of our incompleteness, our brokenness, as we are taught about things that we barely do? What is our Lord saying to us, as his eyes shine with wisdom and love, and yet also with such perfection and brightness that we feel the sharp sting of self condemnation and shiver in the cold of our own darkness?

He tells us of a stone, and we know He is speaking of Himself. The corner stone is a heavy and perfectly formed stone, and upon it the whole edifice rises. It is the foundation of all other stones, and for the edifice to be strong, all these stones must also be perfectly formed, and fitted to the corner stone. We know that we are to be these stones, as He has told us "God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham." (Mat 3:9). We are "these stones" – common, rough stones, which in being raised up to be children of Abraham (that is, sons of God), will become smooth and perfected. In our Lord’s words we are comforted, as we see in His eyes His promise.

Even though we are poor and sinful, we are called to be the elect, to be fitted to the corner stone, as the Apostle proclaims: "And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; {21} In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:" (Eph 2:20-21) And the Apostle Peter agrees: "Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. {7} Unto you therefore which believe he is precious" (1 Pet 2:6-8)

However, what is this that we then hear? "Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder." We see in His eyes that He is beckoning us to make a choice, because this stone will do two things, depending on our response to it. We can be broken, or ground to powder. Neither of these sounds “precious” to our ears.

When the Jews were stoned, a large stone was thrown on them from a great heighti. O, the agony! To be ground to powder and blown away to the winds, forgotten and blotted out of the book of life!

We are faced with another choice – to fall upon the stone of our own volition. An yet, to fall upon this stone means we will be broken – it will hurt! But is this not a contradiction? If we are the stones to be raised up to be sons of Abraham, and to be fitted to the corner stone, how can we be of use to the building if our stone is broken? As we look into His eyes, it is clear that He understands our perplexity, and His expression tells us that there are no other choices. We, and all of mankind are faced with only two ways, each of which we may freely take. We can reject the corner stone, or embrace it. Either we will be ground to powder, or broken; the choice is ours.

What does this mean – to be broken? In our soul, we hear, a still small voice: "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise." (Psa 50:17). We remember when the Good Samaritan dressed the wounds of the man by the road. Sometimes a wound must be lanced – broken, in order for the pus to be drained, so that a healing balm may be added. So now we understand! We must be broken in order for us to heal.

However, just as the body dreads being hurt, so does our pride resist being broken. O Lord, help us to throw ourselves upon Thee, and be broken, that we would become whole! Our pride restrains us, so with trembling we beg Thee, as Thou didst do to those out in the highways and lanes, COMPEL us to fall upon Thee! We are too weak to always make this choice, but we desire to! With St John the Damascene we cry: "But whether I will it or not, save me!" (Evening prayers, Prayer of St John Damascene which is to be said while pointing to the bed).

28th Week After Pentecost – Thursday

Titus 1:5-2:1 For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake. One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith; Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth. Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled. They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate. But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine:

Luke 20:9-18 Then began he to speak to the people this parable; A certain man planted a vineyard, and let it forth to husbandmen, and went into a far country for a long time. And at the season he sent a servant to the husbandmen, that they should give him of the fruit of the vineyard: but the husbandmen beat him, and sent him away empty. And again he sent another servant: and they beat him also, and entreated him shamefully, and sent him away empty. And again he sent a third: and they wounded him also, and cast him out. Then said the lord of the vineyard, What shall I do? I will send my beloved son: it may be they will reverence him when they see him. But when the husbandmen saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, This is the heir: come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours. So they cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. What therefore shall the lord of the vineyard do unto them? He shall come and destroy these husbandmen, and shall give the vineyard to others. And when they heard it, they said, God forbid. And he beheld them, and said, What is this then that is written, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner? Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.

i "On whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. That is, in the original, will reduce him to dust, so that it may be scattered by the winds. There is an allusion here, doubtless, to the custom of stoning as a punishment among the Jews. A scaffold was erected, twice the height of the man to be stoned. Standing on its edge, he was violently struck off by one of the witnesses; if he died by the blow and the fall, nothing farther was done; if not, a heavy stone was thrown down on him, which at once killed him." http://www.ccel.org/ccel/barnes/ntnotes.ii.xxi.xliv.html

Daily readings and reflections, available at http://www/orthodox.net/scripture 3 of 1


Priest Seraphim Holland
St Nicholas Orthodox Church http://www.orthodox.net
PH:972 529-2754 CELL:972 658-5433
HOME:2102 Summit, McKinney, TX 75071

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