Archive for July, 2009

06/23 – 07/06 2009. 5th Monday after Pentecost.

Monday, July 6th, 2009

Future plans.

Building Permit.

Parish prayer helps everybody.

It is always about morality.

If you cannot stop sinning, at least be kind.

Romans 12:4-5, 15-21

Tomorrow is the Nativity of St John the Baptist. Unfortunately, our parish is still in such a condition that I need to work at least a little every week, and Monday and Tuesday are my nursing days. Someday, God willing, I will stop working regularly (I may work once a month only to keep up my nursing license), and we will have many more regular services. If I could, I would serve liturgy for this happy day tomorrow, but, “if wishes were holiness, sinners would be saints” (or so the saying goes!).


We will be a much stronger community when the temple is built. We are getting the permit today. I think I will take a picture of it and post it! We have been waiting a long time. It is my prayer and hope that our little community will maintain its warm, family character, and also expand a little, so we can do more things. I have all kinds of plans, and it remains to be seen which ones are also in God’s plans. I feel confident that a more robust liturgical cycle is among them.


We can do nothing without prayer, and regular services not only benefit those who are present, but also help the entire community. I firmly believe that we would not be building if we had not instituted weekly Thursday liturgies. We also pray before the cross on the land every Thursday evening, and this is also crucial.


We currently serve at least 5 services a week, on four days, with two liturgies. It would be tremendous if, in addition to our regular Thursday Liturgy, where all the faithful of my little flock are commemorated by name in the Fervent Ectenia[1], we had liturgies for very festive days, such as the Nativity of St John the Baptist, St John of Kronstadt, St Seraphim of Sarov and other saints, the beheading of the Baptist (well, not so festal in some senses of the word), and the names day of any parishioner who wants a liturgy to be served (AND ATTENDS).


The health of a parish can be measured in many ways. First and foremost, it should be Christian in word and deed. This is not a “gimme”. I am proud of our little parish, because its people are good, and I am privileged to be their poor shepherd.


Other measurements include the liturgical cycle, the involvement of the flock in services and activities, education, parish growth, and a bunch of intangibles that a pastor looks for and rejoices to see, but does not talk about publicly.


Another important measurement is income. I am not afraid to mention this anymore, because I heave learned that we need to talk about the elephant in the living room. If we had not asked for pledges about two years ago, we would not be building now.



Today we read the “regular” readings for Monday and Tuesday. This is normal practice when a festal service the next day, supplants the regular readings. By “regular”, I mean the readings prescribed for each day, which depend on the time of year. Most readings are dependent on which week after Pentecost it is, and on all days except during Great Lent, we read an Epistle and Gospel selection. During Great Lent, readings are much different, and during the week we read from the Old Testament, and only read the Epistle and Gospel on Saturday and Sunday, with a few exceptions. The readings from Pascha until and including Pentecost are dependent on the liturgical book the “Pentecostarion”. They also include and Epistle and Gospel each day.


You can find the “regular” readings and festal ones in many places. We publish most of them on our calendar ( I recommend that Windows users install the Menologion  ( I use it every day. It has the readings, lives of saints and Troparia and Kontakia for each day. You can also edit it and take notes. There are also many places on the web to get the text of the readings, whether in English ( or Russian. ( If somebody wants to find more places, I will post links.




Monday’s Epistle reads like a check list of the ways a Christian should act. It is quite illuminating that the Apostle Paul, who goes to great lengths to explain the law and how we are NOT saved by doing the works of the law, in the same Epistle stresses living a moral life. This is well understood in the mind of the church. We will not be saved because of doing any good work, but we also will not be saved if we do not do good works. The Christian understanding of grace is that God enables us to become what we are “predestined” (another important topic of Romans) to become: holy and perfected, and able to see God as He is because of our experience. We cannot attain to this calling without living a moral life.


15 Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.


16 Be of the same mind one toward another.


Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.


17 Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.


18 If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.


19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.


20 Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head[2].


21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:15-21)



All of these instructions refer to our neighbor directly, with only two exceptions (the last part of vs. 16, and vs. 21). If you are a sinner and want to be saved, strive to, as the Apostle tells us, to “overcome evil with good” in all your personal conduct, but especially focus on how you relate to other people.


I have a pet saying (in my crowded kennel): “If you cannot stop sinning, at least be kind.”  We must take note of how many times the Scripture instructs us in how to deal with our fellow man. This is the key to becoming holy. Although the Greatest commandment[3] is to love God, and the second is to love our neighbor, we do not love God if we do not love our neighbor, and cannot grow to love Him if we do not love those whom He loves. Therefore, the greatest measure of whether we fulfill the Greatest commandment is how we fulfill the second, “which is like it”.


Make no mistake! Although these commands are not from the Ten, nor directly from the mouth of Christ, they are directly from God. They are the application of the two greatest commandments.


All these commands are connected by a common thread: humility and knowledge of self, which naturally leads to empathy. With empathy, we not only do not directly sin against our neighbor, but also actively attempt to help in every way, because we feel acutely his condition:


    15 Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.





Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas



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[1] The “Fervent Ectenia” (litany of fervent supplication) is a two part series of petitions right after the Gospel reading in Liturgy. Various additional prayers of supplication can be inserted here, such as for the sick, or travelers, or the “Petitions for Various Needs”, in which anyone the celebrant desires is commemorated by name. In our parish, these latter petitions are added to the Ectenia, and the names of all those in the parish are mentioned aloud two times.

[2] “If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink;  (22)  for so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the Lord shall reward thee with good.” (Proverbs 25:21-22 Brenton  Sept. )

[3] “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?  (37)  Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  (38)  This is the first and great commandment.  (39)  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.  (40)  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Mat 22:36-40).

4th Sun after Pentecost 2009. Examining the faith of the centurion. Audio Homily.

Monday, July 6th, 2009


Matthew 8:5-13 And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, 6 And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. 7 And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him. 8 The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. 9 For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. 10 When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. 11 And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 13 And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour.

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Moments of Clarity. Many feelings. The importance of evening services. The easy way to be an Evangelist. We need quantity in order to obtain quality.

Sunday, July 5th, 2009

June 21/ July 4 2009. 4th Saturday after Pentecost

Harsh is death, yet, when thou didst unite Thyself to it, having become divinely hypostatic though the Virgin, Thou didst destroy it. Blessed art Thou, O Lord, the God of our Fathers. (Sunday, Tone 3, Matins Canon to the Theotokos, Ode 7, Sticheron 2)



Almost every service, and especially at vigil, I hear something that I have heard many times before, as if for the first time. Vespers and Matins especially among our many beautiful services, have this marvelous way of restating the truths and dogmas of our faith in new and poetic ways, and sometimes there is a blessed moment, when my poor soul feels completely invigorated, as the body does when it passes from drowsiness to full alertness, and I hear something that has truth in it that is too beautiful for words. My soul knows that however beautiful the poetry is, it is just an approximation of the things to come, because, after all, our poetry is attempting to speak with unspeakable words[1].


For some reason, these moments mostly come in the last half of vigil. I think this is because we need to put time and effort into prayers, and only after the body is a little tired, and the mind has been removed from the clamor of the world for a good while, is the soul the most receptive to hearing and understanding holy things.


This is one of the reasons I insist on serving vigil. I do not know how I could be saved if I did not serve it, because I need as many moments of spiritual clarity as possible, to enlighten my darkness. As a pastor, I know that I am not so very different than my flock, and they all need these moments too. If I serve, than perhaps I will be enlightened by degrees, and in turn pass something useful to my flock, and some of my flock, if they develop the good habit of standing in vigils, will have these moments without any intervention on my part except for making the service available. It goes without saying that if we did not serve matins this evening, nobody would have had any chance to have a clarifying and purifying moment from the hymns of matins on this 4th Sunday after Pentecost, Tone 3, 2009.


I have many thoughts that go through my mind when something in the service touches me. Sometimes I wish that I could turn some of them off, but I am a pastor, and am always thinking of my flock. I also think these multiple thoughts are related to my unhealed as of yet passions. The more holy we become, the more simple our thoughts are. My thoughts are rarely simple!


1. I feel great joy and as if I am being overwhelmed by a great, warm wave of hope. The beauty sometimes seems so exquisite that I long to stop the service right then and there and just think for a little while, and try to hold onto this wonderful feeling of clarity and purpose. Sometimes, even after the moment passes, there is a residual feeling of great joy that follows me intangibly for a long while.


2. Immediately, a strong desire wells up within me to shout out the truth I just felt, even though I cannot think of any words to shout! I have learned something beautiful, and profound, and want to share it with everyone, like the best news I have every heard. Sometimes I wish that there could be some way that our minds could be linked, and I could share the full meaning of this moment with my loved ones.


3. Then I feel great sadness, because I am unable to share this moment. I do not have the competence needed to put my feelings into words (although I have tried on many occasions). I also feel a deep sadness that so few heard this good news. The vast majority of Orthodox churches serve only Vespers and a significant portion have no Saturday services, and the majority of Orthodox Christians attend evening services sporadically or rarely. A great event just occurred, and hardly anybody noticed it! A great tree fell in the forest, and its mighty sound was not heard by those who were not there to witness it.


4. Throughout these distracting sad feelings, I feel great hope. It only takes one verse, one moment to change a person permanently. We do not know when the moment will come. Perhaps I will be changed by this moment. Perhaps I will, with some power not my own, be able to transmit something of this change to my loved ones, my flock. Certainly God will not abandon us, and there will be other moments, for myself and my loved ones, in which the prayer we hear will strengthen our souls, making them more steadfast, more zealous, more compunctionate and resolute, and less proud and sleepy.


I am also convinced that although one moment can change a person (like Mary of Egypt, for example), the usual course for us sleepy ones is hear thousands of prayers  in order for a few to seep though in a special way, and these moments prepare us for life-changing moments. We need quantity because our prayer is of low quality! I fret because too many of my loved ones, in the course of their lives, will miss thousands upon thousands of prayers that I feel they need.


There is always a chance that I will be counted as an Evangelist, merely by serving the service, because someone heard something that permanently changed them for the better. This is my prayer for all of my flock at every service.


How does one put into words that which cannot be spoken?


This sticheron seems to me to brilliantly illumine the intimate connection between our weak flesh, and the uncreated Godhead. God became man! We cannot meditate upon this enough.


Tonight, my flesh feels much stronger because I know that Jesus Christ completely assumed the same flesh I have, and changed it. I live with the certain knowledge that indeed, “harsh is death”, and I feel this “sting of death” daily as I witness my flesh doing things I don’t want it to do, and unable to do things I want it to do. I feel profound weakness, but this will be overcome, because of Christ’s complete subsuming of my flesh and His subsequent complete uniting of Himself to death, then destroying it, making a way for my flesh to defeat death.




Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas





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Use this for any edifying reason, but please give credit, and include the URL were the text was found. We would love to hear from you with comments!


[1] 2Co 12:2-4 KJV  I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.  (3)  And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)  (4)  How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.