Archive for May, 2008

Audio talk on: Vespers, An overview of the themes of Vespers, and the Jewish character of Orthodox worship.

Thursday, May 29th, 2008


In this catechetical talk, we give an overview of the themes of Vespers and the “Jewishness” of Orthodox worship.

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???? ??????? ? ?????? / We have heard ourselves and know

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

In English / ??-???????

St. Theophan the Recluse. Thoughts for every day of the year.

(John 4:5-42). The people of Samaria, after the Savior had spent two days with them, said to the Samaritan woman: “Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.” It is this way with everybody. At first everybody is called to the Lord by the words of others – or, as for many today, by baptism as an infant – and later, once we experience for ourselves life in the Lord, we begin to cling to the Lord not only because of an external membership in the church, but because of an internal union with Him. We must all make it a law for ourselves not to satisfy ourselves with formal membership, but to diligently seek an internal communion with the Lord, so that we will then always carry within ourselves a witness that we stand in the truth. What must we do to do this? We must allow the truth of Christ to be incarnate within us – and the truth of Christ is the resurrection of the fallen. Thus, let us set aside the old man, passing away in vain lusts, and be clad with the new, formed in the image of God, in righteousness and truth – and let us then know in ourselves that the Lord Jesus Christ is in truth the Savior not only of the world, but also of ourselves.

????????? ?????? ?????????. ????? ?? ?????? ???? ????

(??. 4, 5-42). ?????????? ?????????, ????? ???? ??? ????????? ?????? ? ??? ??? ???, ???????? ??: “??? ?? ?? ????? ????? ??????, ??? ???? ??????? ? ??????, ??? ?? ??????? ????????? ????, ???????”. ? ? ???? ??? ??????. ??????? ??????? ?????? ??????????? ?? ??????? ???, ??? ? ??? ??????, ????? ????????, ? ?????, ????? ?????? ?????, ??? ???? ????? ? ???????, ??? ?? ?? ???????? ????????????? ? ???????? ????????????? ???????? ???????, ? ?? ??????????? ? ??? ?????????. ??? ? ??????? ???? ??????????? ? ????????? ???????????? ????????? ???? ???????, ?? ???? ?? ?????????????? ????? ??????? ?????????????? ? ???????, ?? ??????????? ????????? ?????????? ? ???, ????? ????? ????????? ??? ?????? ????????????? ? ???? ????, ??? ??? ????? ?? ??????. ??? ?? ??? ????? ?????? ???? ????????? ? ???? ?????? ????????. ?????? ?? ???????? – ?????????????? ???????. ????, ?????? ??????? ????????, ???????? ? ??????? ??????????, ? ???????? ? ??????, ?????????? ?? ???? ? ?????? ? ?????????? ??????, ? ?????? ??? ? ???? ??????, ??? ??????? ????? ??????? ???? ???????? ???? ?? ???? ??????, ?? ?????????? ? ????.

5th Sunday of Pascha, 2008, The Samaritan Woman. "She left her waterpot."

Monday, May 26th, 2008


John 4:5-42Then cometh he to a city of Samaria, which is called Sychar, near to the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. 6 Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied with [his] journey, sat thus on the well: [and] it was about the sixth hour. 7 There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink. 8 (For his disciples were gone away unto the city to buy meat.) 9 Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans. 10 Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. 11 The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water? 12 Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle? 13 Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: 14 But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. 15 The woman saith unto him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw. 16 Jesus saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither. 17 The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband: 18 For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly. 19 The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. 21 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. 23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. 24 God [is] a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship [him] in spirit and in truth. 25 The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things. 26 Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am [he]. 27 And upon this came his disciples, and marvelled that he talked with the woman: yet no man said, What seekest thou? or, Why talkest thou with her? 28 The woman then left her waterpot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men, 29 Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ? 30 Then they went out of the city, and came unto him. 31 In the mean while his disciples prayed him, saying, Master, eat. 32 But he said unto them, I have meat to eat that ye know not of. 33 Therefore said the disciples one to another, Hath any man brought him [ought] to eat? 34 Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work. 35 Say not ye, There are yet four months, and [then] cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. 36 And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together. 37 And herein is that saying true, One soweth, and another reapeth. 38 I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labour: other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours. 39 And many of the Samaritans of that city believed on him for the saying of the woman, which testified, He told me all that ever I did. 40 So when the Samaritans were come unto him, they besought him that he would tarry with them: and he abode there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his own word; 42 And said unto the woman, Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard [him] ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.

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Fifth Sunday of Pascha, Sunday of the Samaritan Woman

Saturday, May 24th, 2008

The Conversation of Christ with the soul

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

Christ is risen! Truly he is risen!

Today we are privileged to witness a holy conversation. This conversation is not just between Christ and a woman. It is between Christ and the soul. This is what we are privileged to see: God opening a window for us to look through, to see how the soul reacts, how it grows, how it learns, and how He enlightens it. The fathers understand this to be the conversation of Christ with the soul. Now he continues the theme of enlightenment that permeates all the services between Pascha and Pentecost, because the resurrection enlightens us, the resurrection vivifies; the resurrection gives us all that we need to know God.

Now we’re waiting upon the Holy Spirit, and as good and faithful disciples, we should be more zealous at this time of year than at any other time. Unfortunately, it is quite the opposite, as the years go by. This is the least zealous time for Christians, but it is the most important time. I guess that’s why people are so haphazard at this time of year: because it’s so important. In many ways, this time is even more important than Great Lent. This is the time for your blessing. God wants to enlighten you. God wants to show you so many things. This period of time is very holy. Unfortunately it is also one of the most ignored times of the year, an ignored holy time of the year.

Christ is showing us, the church is enlightening us about how we are to live, what the resurrection means. We already know so much about what we should do and why we should do it, and the dos and the don’ts. What we need as human beings is the sure certainty that we can do things, that we can change and the enlightenment of the revelation of God in the human soul. This comes about because of the resurrection, these two things: certainty that we can change, and the revelation of God in the human heart. This is what Christianity is, and this is what we are being shown today. This is a holy thing, to be able to observe, to eavesdrop upon this conversation of Christ with the soul.

Now, as it is in many, many passages of scripture, most of them, we should put ourselves in this situation. We should consider ourselves as the Samaritan Woman at this point, and wonder how we would react. Where would we need to improve? This woman is great, but she was a sinner, there is no doubt about it: she had had five husbands, she was living in an illicit relationship with another man, and she believed in false religion. Samaritans were sort of semi-pagans; some of them worshipped other gods. They sort of worshipped God as the Jews understood, but then they mixed in some of the pagan things that happened that God had warned them against, and some of the Jews didn’t take heed and so there was sort of a mixture, an amalgam of the true religion mixed together with the false. We can see that in other areas of the world, too, where animism mixes with Christianity, because people want to hedge their bets, I guess, and believe in all. So this woman was not a true believer, and she was not living a moral life.

But there was a greatness in her soul, because as God revealed Himself to her, slowly, there was awakened in her a great thirst, and a great and a brutal honesty. She was honest . Not just that she told the truth to Jesus, but that when she heard the truth, she accepted it. Not the truth that He was Messiah. That truth, as important as it is, is less important than the fact that she had to accept what Christ said about her. She had to accept that Christ had the right to tell her things and to and to look into her soul.

Many people proclaim Jesus as the Christ, and that truth doesn’t save them. When we accept Jesus as the Christ in our hearts, when we accept that He has rights to tell us how to live, then we are on the road to salvation. Our life is full of many, many moments, when God tries to reach out and touch us. Many of these moments we have missed, sometimes because we have other things to do, other priorities. Sometimes because we are just bouncing around with that narcotic kind of wave of life, we don’t listen and don’t hear. God is only heard in that still, small voice, as Elias heard. He had to be still and quiet before he could hear. And so must we.

So this woman is in the whole bustle of life. She is going in the heat of the day, about noontime to get water, and Christ is by himself at the well. And he engages her in conversation, which was amazing to her. Not only is she a woman – it was not usual for a man to engage a strange woman in conversation – but she was a Samaritan. He was clearly a Jew, the Jews clearly hated Samaritans, and the feeling was mutual. Why in the world would this man be talking to her? But He awakened in her a thirst, and this thirst is what saved her soul. And He cleansed the unclean life that she was leading, and the unclean belief she had had all her life, and the arguments, and the hatred that she had toward the Jews, and everything else, because He touched her.

This conversation is long. It gets recounted in a few words, but it probably took quite some time, because there is certainly more that went on. This conversation is sort of our life in microcosm. And if you break off a conversation, you do not receive the full benefit of it. This is what I really want to tell you today.

This woman pursued the conversation. This woman pursued the conversation. Jesus said, “Give me to drink.” She said, “Sir, why would you want to talk to me?” And then He brings in the idea of water, living water, and the woman begins to pursue after this idea, first carnally. She only understood it in terms of water that “I don’t have to thirst for, I don’t have to carry my water pot anymore, water that doesn’t go bad. This is a wonderful thing. How can this man help me? Maybe he is a magician, maybe he is a sorcerer.” She pursued, and he pursued, and she became a flame. She started to understand things – only in a figure, only a little bit – but that’s because the conversation continued . She desired this water greatly. And what is this water? The living water that Christ talks about. Not from a spring, nor from a river, it is the Holy Spirit that God wells up in a man. This is what Christ is promising to the woman, but she doesn’t understand yet.

But this woman had another difficulty besides an incorrect understanding of God. She was living in sins, and they were dulling her intellect. Indeed she had quite a bright intellect, because eventually she became St. Photini, equal to the apostles, and a martyr. And you can see even in the end of this reading she became an apostle, for she evangelized the entire town. Now this is a woman that was probably of some notoriety in this town. Because even among the Samaritans, what she was doing was not acceptable. And yet she evangelized the whole town. She must have been aflame with the knowledge of Christ at this point, and she communicated it because she believed it. But she had to stop thinking carnally, and start thinking spiritually, and in order for that to happen Christ had to show her what was wrong with her life.

So he skillfully turns the conversation to her by asking an innocuous question, an innocent question. “Go, call thy husband.” “I don’t have a husband.” “Thou hast spoken truly. Thou hadst had five husbands, and the one that thou hast now is not your husband.” Now with the vast majority of people in the world, the conversation would have ended there. She would have come irate: how dares He? She would have stomped off, or become belligerent in the conversation, and what God wanted to give her wouldn’t have been given. She would have cut if off right there. And I daresay all of us in this room should consider how we would react to the revelation of our sins in this manner.

Indeed I daresay, that we do react in this manner. We cut off our conversation with God. The conversation that is sweet, the conversation of Christ with the soul, but because we do not continue to ask questions, we do not continue to listen to the Master. We have our own priorities, our things we do. We don’t say our prayers very often, we don’t come to church, except haphazardly. We don’t commune or confess very often. These are all parts of the conversation.

And you don’t even know what you’ve missed. If this woman had become angry because of what Christ said, or maybe become disinterested in the very beginning, saying, “Oh, I don’t really want to talk to a Jew today. I’ve had a hard time. I’m tired. I just want to get home, and I want to begin the rest of my household duties.” Or at any other point in the conversation, if she had cut it off, she would not have found out about the living water, and she wouldn’t have known. It wouldn’t have been a tragedy in her life right then. She would not have known. It would not have occurred to her that she had God before her, and she had sinned. She wouldn’t have noticed it. She would have gone on with her life, and lived and died. And never known what she’d miss. What a tragedy!

This is what happens to us, too. God wants to shed grace upon us abundantly, yet we cut off the conversation. We don’t even know what it is that He wants to give us. We are dull-witted because we do not sharpen our senses with the sword of the Holy Spirit that cuts to the marrow, tells us who we really are, and what we ‘re really like – not the vision that we give to other people, or even that we give to ourselves – but what we’re really like. And then God reveals Who He really is. It has to be deep within the soul that He reveals this, and it is only in a protracted and intimate and intense conversation that this can occur. That’s where the Holy Spirit reveals himself to a man, when we are intense, when we are fixed. One can easily imagine in this conversation that the woman was intense. She must have been gazing upon Christ with both eyes, listening to His every word, interpreting, asking questions, making many mistakes and many false assumptions, but every single thing He said drew her on. You can bet that she did not pay attention to the weather or that she was hot. She forgot her waterpot when she went away – what need did she have for the waterpot when He was promising living water?

This intense conversation is what we must have, and what we so seldom do, because we have our own priorities. Sometimes not even our own priorities. We just seem to be so unpracticed at the ways of piety. We say our prayers so infrequently, and such a small amount. We watch ten times more television than we pray. We read things that are either unholy or useless, rather than the Holy Scriptures. We say we don’t have time for this, or the drive is too long, or da-da-da-da-da-da. And we don’t even know what we missed.

I’ve learned something. I’ll tell you a secret about myself that I’m continually finding out. Sometimes I get demoralized. It’s a weakness of my character. And a day seems like just another day to me, and I’ve got duties to perform, and I’m going to perform them to the best of my ability. I’m going to try to pray. I’m going to try to do what I can, but the spark of zeal, of the expectation of visitation by God, is missing. And this often happens to me on Sunday, struggling with this demon of despondency. And then something happens during the course of that day – someone I meet, something someone says, a place where I am where God uses my poor self in my ministry as a priest to affect a human soul. It often happens at the end of the day. But I could have missed it, and indeed I don’t know the days that I have missed, because I can’t tell you about those days, when I wasn’t open to what God wanted me to do. I can’t tell you about the missed opportunities, except to believe that they happened. Many times this has happened to me, countless times, hundreds of times it has happened. It must have happened also hundreds of times – God forgive us – God forgive me and God forgive you because I’m positive it’s happening to you today, where you’ve missed the opportunities for God’s grace.

You must continue the intensity of the conversation. You must continue gazing at Christ and asking Him. He told you to ask Him for everything. But implicit in that command is that you must accept His answers, and ask Him for more answers. This woman is great among the saints because she was intense and was willing to accept what God would tell her. We don’t do that. We don’t like to be told much about ourselves. I’ve encountered this countless times myself also. People do not like to know what’s really wrong with them. They get very, very prickly when things are too exposed. And unfortunately I am sometimes the agent of the exposing, so I can see it first hand. I see myself as in a mirror when I see this occur, because I don’t like to be exposed either. But this conversation that Christ had with the Samaritan woman took time. Gradually her sins were exposed to her. When it was time for Christ to show her that He absolutely knew all about her, she was ready to accept it. But that was only because of the effort that she had put into the conversation up to that point. We must put effort into this conversation.

This is the only thing that is important in our lives – the dialogue of Christ with our soul. Nothing else matters. It is why we were born. It is why God has given us life, so that we could have intimate knowledge of Him. Intimate knowledge happens in a quiet, intense conversation of God with the soul, through everything we do in our life. When you make bad decisions, when you are lazy, when you don’t come to church, when you don’t say your prayers, when you decide to eat some nibble of food that is not fasting, all these things are breaking the conversation. And you know how it is when you are distracted in a conversation. Let’s say you are having a conversation with someone and the radio or the television is on in the background, you get distracted. “Oh, yes, what did you say?” You don’t make much headway in it. There’s not much revelation in it. This is the way we are. It is lamentable, and sad, but it is the way we are.

What a glorious thing it is for Christ to speak with the soul. What a glorious thing it is to be promised living water, never to be thirsty again. Never to be sad. Never to be hungry. Not to have anything wrong with us. No wounds. No incompleteness. No imperfections. No longer pain and longing. This is what He promises us. It is only realizable, though, if we are participating with Him, as He reveals Himself and reveals to us ourselves as we live our life. It is only possible if we continually participate. I harp again and again about consistency. Saying your prayers consistently, keeping the fast consistently, coming to the services consistently. Not haphazardly. Not just most Sundays, not just some Saturdays. All of them. The reason I say this is because deeply imbedded in the mind of the church is the reality of this conversation between Jesus Christ and St. Photini. It is the conversation of God with the soul and it happens every day and every single word, every nuance is critical. None can be missed.

I cannot tell you how many of these words or nuances you can miss and still be saved. It is unknown, but not many. This is why I speak about all these things in terms of the externals of our life. The externals are critical so that God can speak. Otherwise we are too distracted. So I tell you boldly, when you don’t want to say your prayers, or when you don’t feel like coming to church, or when you’re bored in church and leave early or when you have some other thing to do, it’s not only boredom. It’s not that your feet hurt or your back hurts. It’s not that you have some other duty that overrides what you should be doing in church, or prayer at home, or keeping the fast. It’s not those reasons that you might think it is. It’s purely and simply because if this conversation is broken you will make no progress. So Satan does what he can to break the conversation. And we are too willing to allow the distractions to occur in our life.

God wants to give us so much. I think this conversation between this Samaritan woman and Christ is a great promise. He accepted her where she was, with all of her sins, and all of her false opinions, and she was willing to continue to listen, and He brought her to where she needed to be. It is the same with all of us.

Now she said she had five husbands. Five dead husbands. But she had another who was not her husband. We indeed also have husbands. Unfortunately they are not dead. We have distractions, and we have false priorities and other things that cause us to commit adultery against our true spouse, our lord Jesus Christ. Let those husbands die. And let us be faithful, true to the bridegroom. May God help you to continue the conversation. To the end of your life, not omitting one detail. God will enlighten you if you continue this conversation. Absolutely certain, there is great news today. Continue with the conversation. God will enlighten you. Glorious news this is. Amen.

? ???????????? / On Mid-Pentecost

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

????????? ?????? ?????????. ????? ?? ?????? ???? ????

(???. 14, 6-18; ??. 7, 14-30). ? ???????????? ???????? ????????? ??
???? ???????: “??? ??????, ??? ?? ??? ? ???” (??. 7, 37). ???? ???, ??
???????? ??? ? ????. ??? ???? ?? ?? ??????, ?????? ?? ?? ?? ????????
???? ???? ???????, ?????????? ?????? ??????????????. ???????? ??????,
????? ?? ???????, ??? ?? – ???????????? ????, ??????? ????????????
??????? ????????. ???????? ???????? ?? ?????? ? ???????? ??????????
??????, ????? ?? ???????; ??? ?? ?????? ????? ????? ???? ?? ????? ?
??????????? ?? ????????. ???????? ????? ??????????, ????? ?? ???????;
??? ?? ???? ?????????, ????????? ??????? ???????? ??? ?????? ???
??????? ? ???????? ??? ?????, ????? ???????? ?? ??????. – ???? ????
????? – ? ???? ?????? ????. ????? ?? – ? ???? ????? ?????????. ???????
?? – ?? ?????????? ???????? ???????. ?? ????? ??? ???? ??????????,
?????????? ??? ????????, ??????? ??? ?????? ? ????, ???? ??????????
??? ???????, ??? ????????? ? ????? ?????. ? ???????? ???? ????? ?????
????????. ???????? ?? ??? ?? ???????!


Rough translation:

St. Theophan the Recluse – Thoughts for every day of the year

(Acts 14:6-18; John 7:14-30) On Mid-Pentecost we hear the call of the
Lord: “whosoever thirsteth, let him come to Me and drink” (John 7:37).
If this is so, then let us all run to Him. Whatever you thirst for –
so long as it is not contrary to the spirit of the Lord – you will
find relief in Him. If you thirst for knowledge, run to the Lord, for
He is the one and only light, enlightening every man. If you thirst
for cleansing from sin and quenching of the flames of your conscience,
run to the Lord, for he tore asunder the handwriting of our sins upon
the Cross. If you thirst for peace in your heart, run to the Lord, for
He is the treasury of all good, Whose abundance will teach you to
forget all deprivations and despise all earthly good, so as to be
filled with Him alone. If you need strength, He is almighty. If you
need glory, His glory surpasses the world. If you desire freedom, He
gives true freedom. He will resolve all of our doubts, loose the bonds
of our passions, dispel all our troubles and difficulties, will enable
us to overcome all obstacles, temptations and intrigues of the enemy,
and will make smooth the path of our spiritual life. Let us all run to
the Lord!

The Paralytic 2008 – Baptism explained – 4th Sunday of Pascha – John 5:1-15

Sunday, May 18th, 2008


John 5:1-15After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2 Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep [market] a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. 3 In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. 4 For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. 5 And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time [in that case], he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? 7 The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. 8 Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. 9 And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath. 10 The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry [thy] bed. 11 He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk. 12 Then asked they him, What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk? 13 And he that was healed wist not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in [that] place. 14 Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee. 15 The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole.

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Liturgy on the Land – Slideshow and movie medley

Sunday, May 18th, 2008

Complements of Natalia Hawthorne, two videos chronicling our first liturgy on the new land in McKinney. This was an outdoor liturgy on Thomas Sunday, 2008. We are building on this land this summer.

Liturgy On The Land (Slideshow) –

Liturgy On The Land (Movie medley) –

4th Sun of Pascha – The Paralytic – John 5:1-5

Saturday, May 17th, 2008

Wilt Thou be made whole?

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

Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!

Today is the Sunday of the paralytic, in which we hear the story of a man who’d been ill for thirty-eight years and was finally healed. We have much to learn from this story. Now, the reason why it’s said now, or part of the reason, is because, as the services said last night, at “mid-feast”, Jesus visited this paralytic. It’s almost mid-feast now, it is almost mid-Pentecost. Pentecost is a feast of 50 days, and we’re in that period awaiting Pentecost. And the Jews celebrated Pentecost also; they didn’t understand the same meaning as we do, it changed, but they had a 50-day feast. So Jesus came about towards the middle of that feast – mid-Pentecost – and saw this man by the pool of Siloam, with five porches there.

We can learn many things from this short story. Certainly we can learn something about patience, endurance, not complaining about what is our lot in life, what’s wrong with our life, what’s going on that we don’t like. We complain constantly and incessantly, and our complaining is a stench that rises up to God. Because when you complain, you’re showing a lack of faith, a lack of obedience, a lack of love – indeed, a lack of understanding of who the God-man Jesus Christ is. Who of all among us, if anyone, could complain and feel justified – our Lord is the only one. But of course He understood what his task was and He took it joyfully, and with obedience, in order to save us by living on the earth, showing us the way, teaching us and then backing up what He said with His actions and his resurrection from the dead after His crucifixion. Indeed, we can learn a lot about patience by seeing this man; he wasn’t complaining, and he was there for 38 years.

We can also learn something about Who it is who can cure, and what it is that He really cures. Whether a man is halt, whether a man is withered, lame, blind, or whatever infirmity a man has, it is small compared to the infirmity of the soul. Jesus healed this man not just of his infirmity of being palsied, but of the infirmity of his soul. How do we know this? Because later on we see after he was healed and the man was in the temple – which is a good sign, he was thanking God – Jesus explained some things to Him. Now listen carefully! In our society we don’t like to hear this, in our society this is somehow not allowed, people don’t like to admit this, they almost think you’re crazy or reactionary to make the connection with sin that our Savior did when He said, ‘Thou art made whole, sin no more, lest a worse thing befall thee.” Now the fathers understand – and if you just know English you can understand – that he’s making a reference to his palsy, his being a paralytic was in some measure caused by his sins.

This is not always the case. In fact, one time Christ was asked, “was it because of the sins of his parents or himself that this man was born without eyes, blind?” Christ said neither one; if was that the glory of God might be made manifest. It’s not always because of sins that a person suffers some affliction, but most of the time it is because of sins. Either because sin causes the affliction – smoking, drinking alcohol to abuse, drugs, promiscuity, there’s a long litany of things, diseases, that are caused by our own stupidity, by our wanton abuses. You can see fractured families because people don’t deal with their anger, or their lust, or their lust, or their impatience, or their selfishness; sin causes many problems such as that in a direct way. But in an indirect way sin causes many other afflictions, because we’re so thickheaded we don’t see God. We don’t see God in the good things, and we take advantage of those good things and fall into depravity.

So God, in His wisdom, in His love, in His mercy, chastises us in order so that we might cleave unto Him. It’s the same principle with parents and their children; sometimes you must punish a child to help turn him to the right way, sometimes you must let a child suffer grievously in order to let him turn to the right way. If someone has a child that, let’s say, gets involved in extremely dangerous and illicit behaviors and goes to jail, sometimes it’s best not to bail the child out. God does the same thing with us. Our sins cause our suffering.

This society doesn’t like to say that – “oh, how can you say this?” It does happen, to all of us. So if you have any situation in your life you’re not pleased with – whether it’s a physical infirmity, whether it’s a relationship, whether it’s job, or neighborhood, or family or whatever it is, “Physician, heal thyself. ” Look the in mirror; look in the mirror of the soul. What’s wrong with you? What’s causing it? As I said before, it’s possible that such things could be caused not through your sins at all, but because of something else. But for the most part, our sins cause our sufferings. And yet we complain, and we complain and we complain. But we always complain about that person and that person, but never ourselves. That’s the person you need to complain about. Complain, ask God to help you with your sins, with that which fills you with evil.

I was reading from a wonderful sermon by Bishop Nicholaj Velimirovich, and he said “A Christian should expect to suffer.” How about that for politically incorrect speaking! He expects to suffer, and he is surprised and glad and rejoices when he does not suffer. He expects to suffer because of his sins, just as you, if you were subject to a king and had killed the king’s deer, you expect that the king is going to have you executed. You’re not going to complain about that, you’re going to be sorry and ask for forgiveness to the king. And if the king gives you forgiveness – but you know, he’ll say Don’t kill any more of my deer, but I forgive you this time – then you’ll rejoice. Now we can do this with an earthly king, but with our Heavenly Father we don’t do this.

We seem to think we’re owed so much. We breathe it in the very air, it’s so polluted with Western ideas that pollute us. “We’re owed something.” We’re not owed anything in terms of your lot in life. Much of your lot in life is affected by God’s providence. All of it actually, but some of it caused by God, and some of it allowed by God depending on your own ingenuity and your own abilities. But it all goes away in a vapor, how you lived, what you’ve done in this world. What matters is how your soul has developed, and if you’re made whole.

I see that there are three things in this story that really jump out at me. Now you know that the water represents baptism, and that the person who was put in the water was made whole. Notice how it is says “made whole”; not just their infirmity was healed, but they were made whole. . But only one person, at one time in the season.

Christianity is to make one whole. Baptism is for all men, not just for one man, at one time in the season. And the man said to Christ, when Christ said, “wilt thou be made whole?” he said, ‘I have nobody to help me.” And he was looking at the Man who would help him; he was looking at the God-man who would help him, and he didn’t know who He was yet. Christ asks us this question continually. “Wilt thou be made whole?” And for the most part we answer him with a resounding “No.” For the most part we answer Him that way.

To some extent we’ve answered “yes”; we’ve come to the waters of baptism, we make an effort to fast, to come to the services – sometimes, unfortunately, a very poor effort to come to the services and I must mention that again. Don’t lose your zeal; some of you are in very great danger of losing your zeal. But we make our small efforts, so yes indeed we say, to some extent, “Yes, I want to be made whole, O Lord!” But for the most part we say, “No, I don’t want to! give up what I’m doing; I don’t want to give up the sweetness of sin, or the sweetness of complaining, or the sweetness of excuses.” They’re so sweet, aren’t they? But they cover up bitter, bitter poison.

So we must answer this question completely and totally, “Yes, I want to be make whole! I want to be cleansed of all my sins, and I don’t blame Thee, the Lord, nor my friends, nor my family, nor anyone else for my sins and for my afflictions; they are mine and mine alone, and they are my fault. But Thou canst heal it; Thou art the man that can bring me into the water and can refresh me.”

He is the one. We don’t fully recognize that, either – oh, we believe it with our minds, with our lips, but if we really believed it we’d make much greater effort in living the Christian life.
And another things that jumps out at me: when Christ said “behold, thou art made whole; sin no more.” Christianity is a constant process of becoming whole, but it involved two free wills – God’s, who is perfectly free, and we, who should be free but have enslaved ourselves to the passions and lusts and corruptible things. But we were made to be free. It was our purpose. God made us to have perfect freedom. You know the Gospel of John where it says “he will go in and out and find pasture”? The sheep, being able to go in and out, go wherever they wish, perfect freedom, but freedom in godliness, freedom in purity, freedom in perfection. This is the purpose of our life – perfect freedom! So we have to answer Christ, when He asks us the question “wilt thou be made whole?”, “Yes!” And any portion which answers “no” we must confess with bitter tears.

Stop making excuses for yourself. Don’t make excuses for not being able to say your prayers, for not being able to come to church, for not being able to come to confession, for not doing this, for not doing that, for this reason, for that reason, for why you do this and why you do that. You know it’s all a lie. I know it is a lie in my own life, so I strive to be honest concerning these things also. It’s a lie. And every time you make an excuse, you are saying “NO.” You’re saying “I don’t want to be made whole. I like laying in the gutter, I like laying in filth. I like wallowing in my sins.”

Don’t allow yourself to do this. That’s why the church has an order. This order is not rules and regulations, it is for our benefit. That’s why I must speak of it over and over, and especially during this season, because during this season is the most likely time for a person to fall away. Part of that is because God has given us such great grace on Pascha, and we hardly accepted it; we accepted a few things, we accepted some of the sweet meats, but we didn’t accept and take into ourselves the resurrection. We couldn’t bear it and so, because of unthankfulness, we’re starting to fall away. I don’t really know anybody who is honest who doesn’t say that this happens to them during the Paschal season. It happens to me, but I struggle against it.

So I beseech you, my brothers and sisters, struggle against this; don’t make excuses, don’t let your life be in the way of eternal life. Don’t let your temporal life impair you, don’t make excuses, don’t say NO. If you understood what Christ is saying, and says, when He says “wilt thou be made whole?”, you’d be begging me to serve daily Liturgies. You’d be begging me, because you wouldn’t want to go away from the temple, if you knew what wholeness really is. So taste God more and more, and as you taste more and more of God, you won’t want to taste depravity.

But if you don’t continue to taste of Him, and to “mount up like eagles” as it says in the Scriptures, to struggle, then it’ll be a gradual slide. It might not be anything you notice, it might not be anything I notice – and I tell what, I keep my eyes peeled because, although I’m unworthy, I’m called to be a shepherd here, so I watch and I worry and I wait and I pray. But you know, in the long run, I’m not responsible for your salvation. To some degree I might have to answer if my own sins have caused you to falter, but you are all responsible for your own salvation. In the context of living the Christian life in community and in obedience, you are responsible.

Think a little about what it means to be whole. Which do you prefer – the inconstancy, the depravity, the weakness, the infirmity of this life, or wholeness, completeness, perfection and freedom? You and I are paralytics to some degree, sometimes to a great degree, and tragically this is usually of our own making. So when Christ asks you – and He’s asking you today, He asks you every moment of your life – “Wilt thou be made whole?” You MUST struggle to say “YES” and then you MUST back up your promise with action, with effort, with desire. Then indeed, you will be made whole.

God help you!

4th Sun of Pascha – The Paralytic – John 5:1-5

Saturday, May 17th, 2008

“Rise, take up thy bed, and walk!”

In the name of the Father, and the Son and the holy Spirit Amen.

Today we see a man who is healed … twice. The man’s healing was completed in stages, as it is for us also. And we Orthodox Christians must recognize how God heals us, and how that obligates us. As Christians we fall far short of the mark. We are very poor at giving thanks to God, we are very poor at remembering His mercies. We are very poor at changing our priorities, at arranging our schedules. And because of this, we too often fall far short of receiving the SECOND healing.

The paralytic could not walk, his legs were not strong. He hoped to be healed, and so he waited, lying on his bed, by the sheep’s pool. And he waited a long time. Thirty eight years is taken by the Fathers to be an indication of a lifetime – maybe not a lifetime now but very near an average lifetime then. And this lifetime indicates everything that is wrong with a man – all sins, all infirmities, all incompleteness, everything that is lacking in us. Any man who has any honesty in his heart knows that he is incomplete, and longs to be changed.

For the paralytic, the first healing was of his legs, so that he could be able to stand. For us, this first healing is bringing us into the church.

Now the second healing is when the man was enlightened by Christ. Our Lord saw him in the temple (which was a good place for him to be, and the reason why he received the second healing), and He conveyed to the man Who he was. And Jesus told the man something very important: “Thou art made whole – sin no more, lest a worse thing befall thee”. In other words, now that you have been made whole, and I have forgiven your sins, live according to the commandments!

I want you to understand the true nature of this second healing. In the story, it is mentioned once, but we know that our ascent to wholeness and perfection occurs during our whole life.

We will not receive this second healing in full measure without us forcing our will to struggle to follow the commandments. This is why the place where Christ found the man is so significant. He was in the temple, praying, giving thanks. God provides the grace, but we must supply the effort.

We Orthodox Christians are very poor at remembering these things that the Lord says, such as “sin no more”. God’s mercy is linked very strongly to our responsibility to think to act, to breath as Christians. We are very poor at fulfilling this responsibility. It is very strange that the time of the worst church attendance is after Pascha. This is the time when people often tell me in confession that they have hardly said their prayers. Satan steals away the grace from us, like the birds steal the seed away from the ground by the wayside, because it has not taken root.

This story really is present at this time of the year not for this message that I am trying to give you now, but instead to further focus us on how the resurrection changes and enlightens a man. We will see this again and again during this post Paschal period, how God enlightens and how the resurrection is applied to our life. We will see it in the paralytic, and the blind man, and the Samaritan woman. But we also must see a sidebar to these healings and these enlightenments that we will look at, even if only briefly, on a Sunday. We are obligated.

Every year I wrestle, and I think I lose the wrestling match each year, but my pastoral conscience compels me to emphasize the Lord’s words given to the paralytic after his first healing, which we do not take enough heed of: “Take up your bed and walk!”

You must look in the mirror and judge yourself, am I living as a Christian? Am I fasting with care, am I coming to church when I can, or only when it is convenient to me? Am I saying my prayers or am I just making the sign of the cross as I bolt out the door into my car, in order to immediately turn on the radio and immerse myself into the secular minutia of the day? Am I struggling against my passions? Is this struggle my chief aim of my day?

We are obligated brothers and sisters. And this obligation is not a rule God requires that is enforced with an iron fist. God wants to give you every blessing, and I as a minister of the gospel am charged with making everything possible available to you, that I as a mortal who has been given the responsibility and the ability to deal with the immortal, can do. But you must TAKE it! You must grab it! You must pray. You must fast. You must come to the services. You must take up your bed and walk.

Perhaps I will win this wrestling match some year, and only speak of the joy of Pascha and the enlightenment that God gives. Take up your bed and walk!

You have been healed, you have been put in the waters of baptism, and emerged a new creature. That is what the troubling of the waters in this story means. This theology is a lot more important than the movie of the week you know. We should know these things. The troubling of the water indicates baptism, but only man was healed a year, when the Archangel Michael went down into the water. You should know the angel’s identity from the evening vigil service. Archangel Michael troubles the water. This is not mentioned in the scriptures, but our Holy tradition knows this. One man only was healed! But Christ can heal the whole man, and He can heal everybody.

This is exciting news. But when the God-man says “Take up your bed and walk”, He does just tell you to do it. He gives you the ability to do it! Who are we, to languish in inconstancy, and laziness, and in falling headlong in to the narcotic stream of life, when we have been directed by our Savior to work, and He has given us all things to fulfill his command. When we remain unchanged, we are not recognizing the mercy of God. And you will miss the grace. It streams by you, and you do not catch any of it, or only catch a small amount, because the grace of God which He bestows is retained only by the active, who are, carrying their beds, that is struggling in the Christina life. And still have all of your sins, and all of your passions and all of your problems, and the grace of God is right there for you to use!

We have the oasis only within a few steps and we are thirsting to death. A heavily laden table full of sweet meats is nearby, and we are hungry! Pick up your bed and walk! You still have time in this blessed period between now and Pentecost, when God wants to revel in a very significant extreme way, His enlightenment. We must to be here to listen. Not just “here” in this building, but in our prayers, in our reading, in all these things that are necessary for our souls. Not for my sake, for your sake.

I pray that next year I will win this wrestling match, and I will speak to you about what I really want to talk about – exciting news. But this kind of news can only be shared by people that are of the same mind striving together. Let’s be of the same mind, about the living of the Christian life. Struggle with me. I am not a very good struggler, and I need a lot of help and support. Let’s struggle together. Make up your mind you are going to fast better, that you will say your prayers in the morning , and not just a minutes worth. If you always have a habit of listening to Paul Harvey at 12 noon, and always remember that, then you can remember 5 minutes of prayer in the morning, or fifteen. Lets start with five. And five at night. And read something holy each day.

If you do this you will expand! God will fill you with knowledge And some of the problems that have been assailing you will start to be washed away. The process if agonizingly slow for most Christians ands they see very little progress, because they have not added enough EFFORT to God’s grace! So may we take up our bed and walk. Some of us can run, some of us can fly like eagles. Some of us can only crawl. I can only crawl, but if that is the case for you as well, then let’s crawl together.

May God help us to take up our bed and walk, to struggle with all the things in the Christian life for our benefit. God has much to give us, and we don’t see it, even though it is right here! Do you realize the angels are present right now? They are right here, among us, but do we see them? No, because our eyes have scales on them. We do not see what God wants to give us. This is a tragedy – that we don’t see the angels, that we do not feel the fullness of what is happening right now.

May God enlighten us! It will be as little bit at a time, small steps. He is not asking you to pray in the air tomorrow . He is asking you to respond to his grace, like a flower responds to the sun and grows towards it. The flower never turns away from the sun, and yet the Christian does. Let us not be like the world. Let us focus our lives on what matters, the salvation of our souls, so that we can see what God wants to show us. There is exciting news, incredible news concerning what God has in store for those who struggle. May God bless you and help you. Amen.

???? ? ???? / The Path to God

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

The way to God is prayer. A soul that is healed from sin years for prayer, strives for union with God through prayer — And yet we pray so little! We attend church infrequently, and we have become so unaccostomed to our personal prayer rule that is is a burden to us. We can find time for anything except prayer!

-a loose translation of the original text (below) by Archimandrite John (Krestyankin)

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