In the name of the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today is the sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost and also the Sunday before the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.  This celebration is on Friday. We will of course have the evening service on Thursday, with Vespers and Matins, with the very moving adoration of the precious cross - where we make prostrations before the cross - at the end of Matins. We will have Divine Liturgy early Friday morning, at 6:30.
We have before us a very familiar story in the parable of the talents. It is interesting how this story dovetails quite well with what the Apostle says:: "We then as workers together with Him beseech you that you receive not the Grace of God in vain", and also with the reading for the Sunday before the Exaltation of the Cross. We see there a very famous passage, which has almost become cliché. You see it in the back of football stadiums. You see it when a field goal is kicked - John 3:16. "For God so loved the world , that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life". This God, who came to the earth, and became man, is the man, who, in the parable went into the far country, and gave to each of his servants a certain number of talents before he left. When Christ speaks of this man, he is speaking of himself.
The man goes into a far country, but before then, he gives to his servants talents. These talents are money, but what are these talents really? What is the meaning of "talents"? We may have an incorrect understanding, or at least I know that I once had this misunderstanding, so I will be so bold as to think that some of you also have thought that when we speak of ":talents", we think of the same thing that makes a person sing or read well, or be a scholar, or a good speaker, or be very intelligent, etc., etc.. We may think that God has given us this talent, and we must "use" this talent in some way or we will be judged by Him. We suppose that is we are good at musicianship, we must use this talent for His glory. This is not what the talent is! The Fathers speak of the talent as being God's grace, which we must respond to with obedience and love, and the doing of the commandments.
When these people were given five and two and one talent, it was not an arbitrary decision by our Lord. It was not the same as we know talent in the other meaning of the word. Some people are beautiful or intelligent, and some are plain and not so sma Some people have trouble speaking, some speak with great eloquence. We have all different arrays of abilities, as human beings.. There is one thing we can do regardless of whether we are smart or not so smart, whether we can read well or poorly - whatever we can do or not do - we can be obedient to God, We can learn of his commandments and cleave to them, and we can love them more than anything. The man who loves with great love, he is a great vessel, a large vessel, into which God can pour much grace, many talents.
The first man had room for many talents, and the Lord gave him five to begin with. The other one, who also was a faithful servant - he had room for less talents, so his Lord gave him two talents. The last one really had no room for any talents, but his Lord, out of mercy towards him, out of patience towards him, to give him a chance, gave him a talent. He gave him a chance to use this talent properly.
So let's not have the wrong idea of what a talent is. It is not physical or mental or emotional ability. Harlots will be in the kingdom of heaven before the supposed righteous (repentant harlots of course). These will be people who look at their lives and say, " I haven't done anything. I have no talents. I haven't done anything useful in this life. I have wasted the talents God has given me". But they would be wrong - gloriously wrong in their humble thoughts, because God would see that they have loved Him, and they had learned His commandants, and these commandments had been *sweet* to them. And the sweetness of these commandments made them, urged them on, to do works of great righteousness and great piety, hidden from the eyes of man, but not from the all seeing eyes of God. The one cup of water that they would give to a thirsty man, God sees. The lamentation for their sins, God sees. The love in their hearts, God sees. The struggle against some sin, even if they are not completely successful, mind you - the struggle against a sin, God sees. This is the usage of the talents that God has given us. To struggle, to learn to become like him.
There is no other person, no other being like God. God is all in all, and this is all we should want. So. as we are given the grace to follow the commandments, our talents, we should mount like eagles, and become better and better. We should ascend in righteousness, just like the monks in the icon in the ladder of divine ascent are climbing the latter, and unfortunately some are falling off because they are not looking at Christ and increasing their talents.
It is interesting to see that this man who has the five talents works very diligently and gets five more. He doubles the grace. And the man who has two talents and also doubles that which the man has given him. And our Lord, our merciful, long suffering Savior, who also spoke of those who worked from the first hour and even to the eleventh hour receiving their reward with no distinction according to how long they had worked, said the SAME THING to both men.: "Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.". These few things are, really, very few, and very simple - to love our Lord, and to cleave to Him, and to try to change the things that are not in keeping with Who he Is, in our life. As we subdue our passions, our God gives us more things even in this life, more sweetness even in this life, and then in the end, he will give us many things, as we are able to bear it. We are not quite able to bear all that God wants to give us at this moment. We do not have the intelligence, the spiritual mind, or the purity to bear it, but we are being purified, we are being changed, if indeed we use the talents that God has given to us.
The man who had one talent was a foolish and stupid man. he had no desire to live the Christian life. He didn't want to change, and he blamed our Lord later when he was confronted. The plain truth of the matter is that the man did not want to change, he did not want to use his talent. He did not really love our God, and wanted to live his own life of depravity, or perhaps of not even such great depravity - just heedlessness, and godlessness, and atheism in practice, if not in belief. A man who says he believes in God and does not follow the things that He says, as far as the church is concerned, acts like an atheist.
So this man is confronted by our Lord - "Why have you not increased your talent"? and he says something very interesting to our Lord, and very difficult to understand if you do not have the Fathers to read - at least for me. I did not understand what the meaning of this passage was, because my mind is still very muddy and blank, and I can not always understand what the scriptures say. Our Lord is referred to in a very harsh way, and I tell you, the way he is being referred to is true, if you understand what is being said. The sinful man, who will not live in accordance with Who God Is , who lives heedlessly a life of godlessness says: " Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strowed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.". And he speaks truly here. You can have back You gave me. It has no part with me, because I have not become like You.
"Reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strowed" - what does this mean? It means that God has given us grace and abundant mercy, but that He has not given us obedience. He has not given us the response that we should give to Him. We are responsive creatures. We are just like the flower that grows towards the sun. We are like the child who is content in his mother's embrace, and returns love for love, if indeed we act in keeping with how we were created. If we are obedient to God, if we love Him, and if we learn of Him, then we will be using the talent, but God will not reap obedience from us unwillingly. He presents to us a marvelous table, a festal table spread out for us, with all good meats to eat. We should see the mercy of God, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, in everything, every moment of the day. We see His mercy in His body and blood which is given to nourish us. We see His mercy in all of the sacraments of the church. We see His mercy in the sweetness of all of the prayers that we sing, and how they touch us in a way that nothing else can. We even see His mercy in the elements, the weather, such as this pleasant day. We should see His mercy in everything, and God gives to us abundantly. And he does not force to be obedient. This is the meaning of what that wicked servant had said. He prophesied correctly and truly; God will not force us. God gives us everything needful, and we respond, if only we respond as a child responds to his mother or father.
The one talent that the wicked servant has is taken and given to the man that has ten. This man has an infinite capacity for more talents. He will be given more, and more, and more, because God will fill us. Since He is all in all, we, if we are worthy, and if we live a life in accordance with Who He Is and how He has taught us how to live, we will be ever expanding, and ever be being filled. And the man with four talents, he will be increased as well.
There certainly is taught in this difference between the man with 10 talents and the man with 4 talents, that there is a hierarchy in Heaven and there are many mansions in our Father's house. According to how we live our life, determines how much we will know God, and how much we will be given.
God help us to live as Christians, to take the talents we have been given - God's grace, His mercy, and allow them to change us. Isn't that what we do in our life? Aren't we always growing, aren't we always changing? We see a lot of growth in our parish. We have three infants and a toddler, and we see how much they change every day.
God help us to live as Christians. God help us to change and grow. God help us to not make any excuses like this man, putting the onus on God instead of on ourselves. God help us not to make an excuse that we do not have a certain ability and therefore that is why we are not doing something. Everyone has the ability, given them by God, to love and to be filled with Him. Everyone, every man that has ever been born, and everyone that will ever live, God has given great grace and abundant mercy, and He only asks us to respond. God grant you that the talents you have been given would ever expand, and will bear great fruit, abundantly.
 This homily was transcribed from one given On August 22, 1996 according to the church calendar, being the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, and also the Sunday before the exaltation of the Holy Cross. 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.