Archive for December, 2009

Commentary on Luke 20:9-18, read on the 28th Thursday after Pentecost. Parable of the Vineyard. The Corner Stone

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

Commentary on Luke 20:9-18, read on the 28th Thursday after Pentecost.

Parable of the Vineyard

The Corner Stone


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. (Luke 20:17-18)


cornerstone.gifWhen 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 height [1]. 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. And 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! [2]"



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.


Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas;5-21+luke20;9-18.html



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[1] "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."

[2]But whether I will it or not, save me!" from the Evening prayers, Prayer of St John Damascene which is to be said while pointing to the bed.


Commentary on 2 Timothy 4:9-22, read on the 28th Wednesday after Pentecost. Loneliness. Delivered out of the mouth of the lion

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

Commentary on 2 Timothy 4:9-22, read on the 28th Wednesday after Pentecost.


Delivered out of the mouth of the lion


St Paul wrote this letter when he was in prison for the second and last time. It was most probably the last letter in the canon of scripture that he wrote. In vs. 16, his “first answer”refers most probably refers to his discourse recorded in Acts 22. This was just previous to his first imprisonment.


In this, his second imprisonment, there is a sense of retrospective in his words. Here is a man who has “fought the good fight”, and was contemplating the end of his life, which could come at any time.


St Paul’s words remind me of one of the greatest temptation of the pastor, and indeed, even the zealous Christian: loneliness. This loneliness is not because of lacking the company of persons, but because of the great sense of sadness that floods the heart of the believer because of the overwhelming volume of unbelief, timidity and inconstancy in the world, even among those who profess belief in Christ. Even our Lord Jesus Christ had this temptation:


“From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.  (67)   Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?  (68)   Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. (John 6:66-68)


This feeling, in my opinion, is what the Apostle has in mind when he states that he was


delivered out of the mouth of the lion” (vs. 17)


The reference to the “lion” is from the psalms:


“O Lord my God, in thee have I trusted: save me from all them that persecute me, and deliver me.  (2)   Lest at any time the enemy seize my soul as a lion, while there is none to ransom, nor to save.” (Psa 7:1-2 Brenton)


  “(16:12) They laid wait for me as a lion ready for prey, and like a lion’s whelp dwelling in secret places.  (13)  (16:13) Arise, O Lord, prevent them, and cast them down: deliver my soul from the ungodly: draw thy sword” (Psa 17:12-13 Brenton)


Perhaps most people would think that “deliverance” would mean personal freedom, and safety from physical harm, this certainly is not what the Apostle has in mind. The majority of the Christian life is a battle in the heart; this is where the “lion” is most active.



2 Timothy 4:9-22  9 Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me: 10 For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry. 12 And Tychicus have I sent to Ephesus. 13 The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments. 14 Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works: 15 Of whom be thou ware also; for he hath greatly withstood our words. 16 At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge. 17 Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. 18 And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. 19 Salute Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. 20 Erastus abode at Corinth: but Trophimus have I left at Miletum sick. 21 Do thy diligence to come before winter. Eubulus greeteth thee, and Pudens, and Linus, and Claudia, and all the brethren. 22 The Lord Jesus Christ be with thy spirit. Grace be with you. Amen.




Priest Seraphim Dec 11/24 2008.                                                                                               St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas;9-22+luke20;1-8.html;9-22+luke20;1-8.pdf;9-22+luke20;1-8.doc


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Commentary on 2 Timothy 3:16-4:4, read on the 28th Tuesday after Pentecost.

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

2 Timothy 3:16-4:416 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. 1 I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; 2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.



“All Scripture” (vs 3:16) – at the time of writing, “Scripture” was the Old Testament. The full canon of the NT was not ratified by the church until the fourth century. Certainly, however, the letters of the Apostle’s were held in special reverence and were treated like Scripture.


That the man of God may be perfect” (vs 3:17) – This is why I say so often that scripture is ABOUT YOU. The purpose of reading it is perfection – your perfection. To read it for any other purpose is wasteful.


“throughly furnished unto all good works” (vs 3:17) – We all need instructions in how to do things. Scripture contains commands – many “dos” and “do nots” but it would not be effective for salvation if this was all it contained. The attentive reading in Scripture, by the grace of God, changes a man, and makes him better. We may not understand the mechanism – in one case we may apprehend a dogma more clearly, in another, we may feel a stinging rebuke about something we have been neglecting, in another, we may feel consoled and feel the zeal to do good welling up within us because of something we have read. Whatever the mechanism, it is absolutely clear that reading Holy Scripture with attention is a primary way in which we change and become perfected.


“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Heb 4:12 KJV)


We must read scripture with the intent of being empowered to change. This is the meaning of this verse.


“who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom…” (2 Timothy 4:1) This refers to the Final Judgment, when those still living and all who have died will be judged. The Apostle expounds on the this doctrine more fully here:


“But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.  (14)   For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.  (15)   For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.  (16)   For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:  (17)   Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.  (18)   Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” (1Th 4:13-18 KJV)



Preach the word; be instant [1] in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.(2 Timothy 4:2)



The Apostle is telling his son Timothy to be ready to preach no matter what circumstances he is in.


“What means "in season, out of season"? That is, have not any limited season: let it always be your season, not only in peace and security, and when sitting in the Church. Whether thou be in danger, in prison, in chains, or going to your death, at that very time reprove.” (St John Chrysostom, Homily 9 on Second Timothy)


A pastor must remember St John’s instruction regarding exhortation, which he likens to consolation:


“And if you convict and rebuke, but vehemently, and do not apply exhortation, all your labor will be lost. For conviction is intolerable in itself if consolation be not mingled with it. As if incision, though salutary in itself, have not plenty of lenitives [2] to assuage the pain, the patient cannot endure cutting and hacking, so it is in this matter.” (Ibid)


3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.


This time is well upon us. In secular society, bad is called good and good bad. People call themselves Christians and do all manner of immoral things, and even garner praise for their actions and make laws justifying them! Even in the Orthodox church, we have some weak willed bishops who preach a watered down ecumenism, or prattle about the environment or other topics with political cachet, and are friends of “important” people who are enemies of the truth. Many people have bizarre and unchristian ideas and morals, and will not tolerate a priest correcting them.



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



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[1] “instant” – another rendering is “ready”

[2] “lentives” – drugs or substances used for soothing or alleviating pain or distress


Reading the Psalter

Monday, December 14th, 2009

The Psalter chases the blues away.

The Psalter applies to everything.

The Psalter always applies to you.

Weak faith



Prophet and King David, form the Orthodox Psalter, trans by David James.
david-prophet-and-king-from-russian-orthodox-psalter.jpgToday, I have been a little down. There are a lot of pressures right now, in our personal finances and worries abut the church finances. I worked 47 hours last week; No pastor should work that much. It is hard to know which end is up and which is down sometimes. The building is not going as fast as I want it too, and we still need some more cash to ensure success.


Strike that, the last half of the last statement was a secular statement; Christian’s must recognize when they are thinking and speaking in a secular way, and stop it!


We “still” need what the Lord will give us – His mercy. All that matters is that we gain peace, because where perfect peace is, the Holy Spirit must be abiding perfectly.


All this stuff is temporal, and worries are because of weak faith.


Where do you go when your faith is weak? By the way, do not determine if you have “weak faith” by whether you have doubts or not. Our faith is shown by our priorities, and our thoughts, and by what we do (often despite how we feel and what we are thinking).


I go to the Psalter. It is the perfect prater book, and everyone should have one. I believe everyone should carry one with them, to be used at odd moments, during the day. I have a “Pocket Psalter” that literally fits in my pocket. I have read it when waiting for a tire to be fixed, or in a doctor’s office, or when the little boy I take care of is sleeping. You can read it any time. Read it aloud, or “chant” it silently (which is what I do 99% of the time – I am assuming heaven will be quiet, since the noise here is driving me crazy (er)).


Sometimes, when I read the Psalter, troubles just seem to disappear. In a way, maybe that is a bit ironic, since so many of David’s troubles are very plain to see in his psalms. But he made it through, and it was not easy. I have the latter part down pat – things are not easy, but I am going to make it through too, with God helping me.


We are small and everything is big. Our sins are big, the problems of those we love are big, and our forgetfulness and laziness is like a vast abyss, but with God’s help, we will make it through.


This is what reading the Psalter does for me. Sometimes a psalm of praise makes me “stop” for a moment and realize how beautiful life is, because God is, and I feel energized. Other times, a psalm of lament makes me feel not so very alone (this is a common affliction of the priest – feeling alone even in a crowded room). Other psalms are so pristinely theologically beautiful that I feel unworthy and privileged to have even a glimpse into the beauty that is in the holiness of God.


When you read the Psalter, and you must read it – make sure to personalize it. It is always about you. The Holy Spirit is always speaking, with wine or oil [1], or some combination. Listen, and be renewed.


Its gonna be okay. I believe, and I try real hard. I don’t always get it right, and I can see my imperfection in the variability of my moods, since with the holy, the following always applies:


“But the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and the torment of death shall not touch them.  (2)   In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die: and their departure was taken for misery:  (3)   And their going away from us, for utter destruction: but they are in peace.” (Wisdom 3:1-3 DRB[2] )



Now, you can’t fool me. I’m a human, so I know how other humans tick. We all have our moments, just like King David. His inspired words will help us. Our problems and feelings will not go away without much labor, but we will gain something precious and critical for success – a proper perspective. There is only one thing that is important. If you read the Psalter carefully, you will see that this “one thing needful” [3] is mentioned in every Psalm.


Pray the Psalter. It is the churches’ hymnbook. It is great to say morning and evening prayers regularly, but before the “Jordanville prayer book [4]”, there was the Psalter. If you carry it with you, you are never far from prayer, never far from consolation.




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


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[1] The Good Samaritan (our Lord Jesus Christ), poured wine and oil into the wounds of the man left  half dead at the side of the road. Among other things, this signifies the two kinds of teachings that we need – encouragement and rebuke.

[2] This selection is read in many Vespers services when we are commemorating a highly feasted Saint. The translation is the Douay Rheims Version.  Although it applies to martyrs especially, it is certain that the holy are always in peace, no matter what their external circumstances.

[3] “And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:  (42)  But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42 KJV)



[4] A ubiquitous and excellent prayer book among English speakers, so called because it is published by Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, NY. The Old version is online here.  You can buy it in many places, including Holy Cross Hermitage, in Wayne West Virginia. You can get a pocket Psalter there too.

Healing Of The Woman With An Infirmity Of Eighteen Years. Audio Homily 2009

Monday, December 14th, 2009


Luke 13:10-17 10 And he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself. 12 And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said unto her, Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity. 13 And he laid his hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. 14 And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the sabbath day, and said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day. 15 The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? 16 And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day? 17 And when he had said these things, all his adversaries were ashamed: and all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him.

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The Healing of the Woman with an Infirmity of Eighteen Years on the Sabbath Day Hypocrisy Three parts to an Orthodox Feast:Preparation, Celebration, Apodosis

Saturday, December 12th, 2009

The Healing of the Woman with an Infirmity of Eighteen Years on the Sabbath Day


Hypocrisy. Three parts to an Orthodox Feast:Preparation, Celebration, Apodosis

27th Sunday after Pentecost. Luke 13:10-17


Healing of the woman with an infirmity of eighteen years.
miracle-healing-of-woman-with-an-infrimity-of-eighteen-years.jpg In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen [1]


Today is the Twenty Seventh Sunday after Pentecost and also the apodosis of the Entry of the All Holy Theotokos into the temple. The Apodosis is the last day in which we sing hymns for the feast.


All feasts in the Orthodox Church have three parts to them.


The first part is preparation. We sometimes prepare by fasting as we are doing for the Nativity. And we always have preparatory hymns beforehand, especially in the Katavasia of the canon, which are hymns that are said at the end of each ode of the canon in the All Night Vigil for Matins. There are other hymns we also sing. Sometimes we even have entire services that are just before the great feast itself, like for instance we’ll have vespral divine liturgy for the pre-festival of Holy Nativity of the Lord the day before the Nativity.


So we prepare for the outpouring of grace that God will give us on a particular feast day. Without this preparation and expectation, we will surely not be able to accept and understand much of what God wants to impart to us on the day of the feast, and those days immediately following.


Then of course there is the feast day itself when we sing hymns and commemorate that specific occurrence, that specific saint especially. After this there is the post-festal period, the time in which we still sing hymns about the feast and we remember it and we, like the Theotokos, “treasure these things in our hearts” [2], as is said of her by the Evangelist concerning all the things that she saw in her life that Christ did and said. She treasured them all up in her heart.


We should be like that, too. We should not be so quick to let go. When God gives us grace don’t let go so fast. Don’t immediately forget and go out into the world and just forget what happened the past week, the past Sunday, yesterday. We must take time to think about these things and muse over them and pray about them.


And then on the last day, if it’s an especially great feast of the Lord or of the Theotokos, we almost reprise the feast. We sing the same hymns – not all of them, but many of them that we sang on the feast day itself. So for instance today we had the troparion and kontakion for the Theotokos’ Entry. We also sang the exact same Epistle and the exact same Gospel that was said on Wednesday morning when we had the Divine Liturgy.


We also commemorate the Hieromartyr Clement, Pope of Rome today. And in the primary reading for today we hear about the healing of the woman who had an infirmity of eighteen years, and she was healed on the Sabbath day.


As is usual, in the readings of the Gospel, there is an inner and an outer meaning. The outer meaning is pretty clear to see, when Jesus Christ rebukes this synagogue leader. It is very clear how foolish his words were. So we know the outer meaning that there is no time prescribed especially for mercy. All time is for mercy. God implants in us an understanding of things, and we have to be able to judge rightly. And we know when we should show mercy. There is no time when man should put some law ahead of showing mercy.


There is an inner meaning, too, because this woman was all bent together. She could not straighten up. She could in no wise lift herself up. There is a great meaning to that infirmity that she had, and our Lord’s healing her on the Sabbath day.


Our Lord was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath, and this was a habit of His. This is a very Jewish habit to speak all day in the synagogue on the Sabbath. And we try to emulate that in a poor way, unfortunately like the apostles did it, because of our sins and laziness. Not like the early Christians did it, who had so much zeal. But we serve the All Night Vigil and we serve the Divine Liturgy and we preach at the Liturgy and I often preach at the Vigil as well because we need to know as many holy things as we can.


We need to continually be feeding ourselves with holiness, because we’re so continually, unfortunately, imbibing the bitter dregs of the world. So we must do something to dilute that and to eventually cast it out. And if you do not meditate upon holy things, you won’t become holy. It’s too bad that we don’t spend all day speaking of holy things. It would be good if we did.


The purpose of our gathering together on Saturday and Sunday is to worship, to expect God to do something to us by partaking of His mysteries to be sure, to have enlightenment, the medicine of immortality within us. But also, to taste something of the sweetness of the Church’s theology. It’s God-breathed, you know. The services are inspired by the Holy Spirit and they breathe as the Holy Spirit breathes. And if you listen and if you pray, you can hear it. You can hear God in His services.


Saturday and Sunday are consecrated to our remembrance of God. Unfortunately we do not Him remember every day. Unfortunately, we fall into grievous sin. We get distracted. But if we can struggle to pay attention on Saturday and Sunday, whatever our position (I struggle to pay attention, too) – God will enlighten us. Of course, we will break bread together, most of us, and be able to taste of the heavenly bread.


But I tell you, if you don’t come here with an expectation that God will teach you and enlighten you and make you straighten up, as one who cannot lift yourself up, and if you do not struggle, then you will come away today poor and wretched and unenlightened. You might commune but you won’t have received any benefit from this heavenly food because you won’t have struggled.


So you must struggle. Struggle by coming to the vigil and having expectation that God will teach you, listening as well as you can. And when you fall away from listening, pull yourself back. I don’t know any other way to do it. I don’t know any other way to explain it. You just struggle and struggle and struggle. And eventually God will indeed make us capable of those things that we are struggling to do. He will help us.


“And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself. And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said unto her, Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity. And he laid his hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.” [3]


The God-man can just say, “Thou art loosed.”, and she was loosed from her infirmity of eighteen years, long standing pain and sadness over her infirmity. It was a long time, and the fathers say that this was mentioned so that we could know, this was God’s work. This is in God’s territory. God can heal a man. No man can heal another man. And this is a very simple miracle. There is not much fanfare to it. There is not much of a lead up to it, such as in the miracle of Jairus’ daughter [4], where there is a whole procession that occurs. And that has something to each us.


But here, Jesus Christ, matter of factly, as the God-man, as the one who created us, cast out Satan with only a word. “Thou art loosed,” by the authority of the God-man. Now man cannot do this. This woman was bent. She was crooked. Solomon says, “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit. That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered.” [5]


“Thou art loosed.” Our Lord tells her, ‘Thou cannot help Thyself, but I, the God-man can. And I have come to help, and I will. Thou art loosed from thy sins, from thy passions.’


And why do I say that? Because crookedness is a metaphor for sin and for tempestuousness, for being lost in the vanity of the world. ‘I am the healer. I came to heal thee. I came to make thee able to see me. You cannot see me when you are bent down. You can only see the ground. But I will straighten you up, and then you will see Me, as I am.’


Why was this woman oppressed? I told you before, again, I say it was her sins that oppressed her. This is a great mystery. We don’t always know why a person suffers. Sometimes they suffer because of their sins, sometimes not. But that is God’s territory. We cannot delve into these matters. We must only speak of them with fear and trembling, so as not to offend the Divine Majesty.


Some people grow old and fat and they are wicked. Some people are young and they die in virtue. Some people struggle and never seem to be able to get around the problems of life. Other people have a relatively easy time of it. God knows for each man what his position in life should be for the best possibility for his salvation, and we don’t know. But this woman was bent and crooked, so the crookedness indicates that she was suffering because of her sins. And she suffered manfully. She suffered for eighteen years. And she came to the temple, and she was hoping to be cured.


There is another incident where Christ cures someone. I can be so bold and say that this woman had sins is because of this incident. “And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee. “ [6]


What an odd thing that must have been to hear. Here a person comes laid out, unable to move their limbs, and Jesus Christ says, “Thy sins be forgiven thee.” Some of these people must have thought, “Well, yes, but don’t you see what’s wrong with the man?” And then others thought, “He blasphemes.” But this man was sick because of his sins, and this woman was crippled because of her sins. And God enlightened both of them. He healed them of their sins first. He loosed this woman of her infirmity so that she could look up at the God-man, and then she could commence to live a Christian life.


Our Lord came indeed to straighten out crookedness. The Baptizer says – this is quoted from Isaiah, which is a prophecy about the Baptizer-


“The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:” [7]


The baptizer only announced that this would occur, and the God-man made it so. Our Lord directly promises through the mouth of the God-inspired Isaiah


“And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.” [8]


 Only God can make that which is crooked straight. And so what happened when this woman was loosed from her infirmity? You would think that everyone would have been in awe before God and they would have fallen on their faces saying, “Lord have mercy.” But what happened?


“And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the sabbath day, and said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day.” [9]


What amazing words. What amazing stupidity. This man was filled with envy and jealousy, and that’s what clouded his mind. His anger made him crazy to say such insane things. What kind of beast would liken mercy on the Sabbath day to common labor in the field?


Isn’t the Sabbath a day of rest, though? He’s right about that. The ruler of the synagogue is saying a partial truth you know. The Sabbath day is a day of rest according to the Jewish law. And our Sabbath, our day of rest, today, is the same, where we should rest in Christ and meditate on holy things. But is not Christ giving this woman rest? Is He not fulfilling the Sabbath day? Indeed. This woman had eighteen years of no rest, of sleeplessness, and of hunger, and of pain, and of despondency. And our Lord, on the Sabbath, the day of rest, gave this woman rest. And this synagogue leader was too stupid, too full of pride, too full of arrogance to see this.


Notice how he addresses this question that he brings up. He does not say anything to Christ directly. He doesn’t have the guts to do it. But he is aiming for the glory of men, for the honor of men. So what does he do? He says this out to the congregation, so as to get partners in crime with him, so as to feel emboldened by other people being full of sin. But the Lord answered him very simply and plainly. And he said a word that does not occur very often in the scriptures, by the way. And when it occurs, you should be terrified, concerning what a hypocrite is.


“The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day? And when he had said these things, all his adversaries were ashamed: and all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him.” [10]


This man, this sinner, this prideful and arrogant person looking for the glory of men, would not address the Lord directly, but our Lord indeed directly talked to him and to all of the pharisees and the other fellow sinners who wanted the glory of men, and gave up mercy for their pride. Why is this man a hypocrite? He’s putting on airs. He cares nothing for mercy, but only for show. “An hypocrite with his mouth destroyeth his neighbor: but through knowledge shall the just be delivered.” [11] So it says, the holy Solomon says, in his proverbs. And then, our Lord says, concerning the scribes, the pharisees, the synagogue leaders, and all those others who are hypocrites,


“Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand: Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.” [12]


This principle that Christ gives about food and about true defilement is the same principle about whether or not one should heal on the Sabbath day. Of course one should heal on the Sabbath day!. One should heal on any day. One should show mercy on any day, in any circumstance. And to even ask the question shows the abysmal ignorance of the interrogator. “But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” , you people who question in silly and obtuse ways the mercy of God, “for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.” [13]


To be called a hypocrite is indeed a terrible thing. And hypocrisy is something that is probably present in each one of us. It is a sin. We must confess it. We must root it out.


Our whole society is full of hypocrisy. Our whole society runs on hypocrisy. It is a lie. It is trying to look like something we are not. It is not being genuine. It’s making false promises. It’s not showing mercy when we proclaim ourselves to be Christians. It’s not praying for our brother when we see he has a need because we have some other task that troubles us. It’s not living the Christian life when we have made that promise in our baptism.


Oh yes, hypocrisy is a great sin. And if a man looks inside himself, he should say, “Thou hypocrite.” And the moment he says those words he should think about what our Lord says about hypocrites and he should fall on his face and be like the publican who said, “God, be merciful unto me a sinner.” [14]


Now this woman was called a daughter of Abraham. And why? On account of her faith. “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” [15] This woman was not dead. This woman was alive in faith. She had faith, and therefore she was considered a daughter of Abraham.


And Jesus said in another place to a man, who had also been healed of his infirmity, having nothing wrong with him physically but being filled with the sin of lust for wealth, that is Zacchaeus: “ This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” [16] So indeed he is a son of Abraham, and this woman is a son of Abraham, and not because of her virtue but because of her belief, and because of her desire to live virtuously.


But He wouldn’t say such a thing about the ruler of the synagogue now, would he? He called him a hypocrite. Here is what Jesus has to say about the hypocrites. In another context, it was written that, “They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham.” [17] So this is why I tell you that this woman was a daughter of Abraham on account of her faith. You can see that to be called a son of Abraham or a daughter of Abraham means that you believe and act according to your belief. And even though this woman had some sins that had bound her, God released her. And now she was able to live virtuously.


There is a practicality that I think we should inculcate in ourselves, that we can learn from this particular passage of scripture. It’s easy to see that one should show mercy on any day. And yet this man, this synagogue leader, this sinner, didn’t see that, because he was so concerned about other extraneous details, and concerned about the boastful pride of life, and the honor of men. But if we’re guided by the Holy Spirit, we can discern rightly. We can discern truly. We can see what is right and what is false. We can understand. We can know that the body is not for meat. Meats are for the body [18], and if one has a need according to the body, one eats according to one’s need. We understand that principle in fasting. It is because the Holy Spirit inspires us, and makes us know. Makes us understand that only if we have humility, only if we expect and hope that God will fill us with His grace. And then of course we have to act upon His grace, and we have to root out this sin of hypocrisy that is being shown.


A hypocrite will not inherit the kingdom of heaven. And I also tell you that the vast majority of people in this life are hypocrites. It is true. It is very true. That is why there is so little piety in our day – because people give lip service. These people, their heart is far from me. [19] Their lips speak about me but their heart is far from me, the Lord says. And that is what our day is like.


Root out from yourselves hypocrisy, brothers and sisters. If there is anything in you that puts on airs, if there is anything in you that forgets to show mercy, if there is anything in you that looks for the honor of men, if there is anything in you that is lazy and does not wish to worship God at the appointed times, then you have something to repent from: your hypocrisy. Because you made promises, as I made as well. It’s true, I suppose on a small level, moment by moment we fall into moments of hypocrisy.


That is why God will loose us – He is there to loose us -from our infirmity. If we struggle against such things, God will indeed loose us. But if we do not, then we will fall into the depths of hell, maybe not even knowing it. Maybe we’ll be very surprised on Judgment Day when our Lord says, “I don’t know you” [20]. ‘I don’t know you because you are a hypocrite. And I have no concourse with hypocrites. I told you everything you needed to know. I gave you everything you needed. And I had children that were suffering, lack of bread and jail and derision for my sake and they still prayed with fervor. And you lived without care and without thought. You lived as a hypocrite. You are no better than the ruler of the synagogue, and you can go join him.’


Let us not be hypocrites. Let us ask God to enlighten us. And in any sin that we have, whether it be hypocrisy or any other sin, let us fall down before Christ. Let us ask Him to forgive us. And then we have to seal our part of the bargain. We have to make an effort to live according to His commandments. May God help us in all things. Amen.




Old Believer Sermon for the 27th Sunday after Pentecost (unpublished)

“Drops From the Living Water”, Bishop Augustinos

“Commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke”, St. Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria.



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


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[1] This homily was transcribed from one given On November 25, 1996 according to the church calendar, being the Twenty Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, and Apodosis of the Entry of the All Holy Theotokos into the Temple.


Apodosis means “leave-taking”, and is the day in which the major aspects of a feast are revisited in the church’s hymnology, and is the third “part” of the proper way in which a Great Feast is celebrated, these being:

·          Preparation

·          Hymns are sung sometimes weeks in advance of the feast, especially the Katavasia at the canon.

·          In the case of especially solemn and important feasts, fasting in enjoined (such as before the Lord’s Nativity, Pascha, the Dormition of the Theotokos, and the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul).

·          There are often pre-festal services in the immediate day or days before the feast. An example of this would be the true Vespral liturgy (this is NEVER substituted for Vigil and liturgy on the day of the feast itself) that the Typicon directs to be served the day before Theophany and Nativity. The entire week before Pascha, “Holy Week” is considered a “pre-festal” period! If you miss even one of those services without due cause, you are cheating yourself out of a full understanding of the feast, and a full measure of the outpouring of God’s grace upon you.

·          The Day of the Feast

·          The Feast itself is always served with Vigil with Divine Liturgy the following day. If vigil is not served, great vespers with a FULL matins (otherwise the essence of the feast is lost) and Divine liturgy is served the next day.

·          The Post-festal period and Apodosis

·          In the days following the feast, sometimes up to a week, or in the case of Pascha, even until The Ascension, forty days later, the feast is continually remembered with hymns.

·          On the last day of the feast, it is recalled again with many of the hymns that were sung on the feast day itself.


The Orthodox way of celebrating a feast, unfortunately forgotten or ignored in our day, is very “Jewish”. For example, Pentecost was a three day feast for the Jews.


This day was also the commemoration of Hieromartyr Clement, Pope of Rome The Epistle reading appointed is Ephesians 6:10-17, and the Gospel is 13:10-17.


There are some stylistic changes and minor corrections made and several footnotes have been added, but otherwise, it is essentially in a colloquial, “spoken” style. It is hoped that something in these words will help and edify the reader, but a sermon read from a page cannot enlighten a soul as much as attendance and reverent worship at the Vigil service, which prepares the soul for the Holy Liturgy, and the hearing of the scriptures and the preaching of them in the context of the Holy Divine Liturgy. In such circumstances the soul is enlightened much more than when words are read on a page.

[2] Cf. Luke 2:18-19 “And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”

[3] Luke 13:11-13

[4] Cf. Mark 5:22-42 and Luke 8:41-56, where the raising of Jairus’ daughter, and the healing of the woman with an issue of blood is recounted in powerful detail.

[5] Ecclesiastes 1:14-15

[6] Matthew 9:2

[7] Isaiah 39:3-4

[8] Isaiah 42:16

[9] Luke 13:14

[10] Luke 13:14-17

[11] Proverbs 11:9

[12] Matthew:15:7-11

[13] Matthew 23:13

[14] Cf. Luke 18:13-14, “And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”

[15] Matthew 22:32

[16] Luke 19:9-10

[17] John 8:39

[18] Cf. ! Cor 6:13

[19] Cf. Matthew 15:8, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.” and Mark 7:6, “Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” See also Isaiah 29:13, which the Lord quotes.

[20] Cf. Luke 13:25, “When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are”.

Avoid profane and vain babblings. Life is short. Treat each day as your last, and you will never sin.

Friday, December 11th, 2009

1 Timothy 6:17-20

Nov 27/ Dec 10   27th Thursday after Pentecost

Life is short.

Brothers and sisters, contemporary wisdom tells us that "life is short," and so we should enjoy ourselves, take up a challenge, or make a difference in the world. We should not waste the little time that we have.


Treat each day as your last, and you will never sin.


Likewise, the holy fathers tell us that each day could be our last, and that we should therefore "redeem the time, because the days are evil." Or, as one of the desert fathers said, "Treat each day as your last, and you will never sin."


Life is short, but what does this mean? The world tells us that we should enjoy each minute, entertaining ourselves, seeking new experiences and challenges, making the most of the time that we have, because this life is all that there is.


The Lord tells us, on the other hand, that the short time of this life is given to us as preparation for eternal life beyond the grave. Time spent in amusements, "experiences," and even in great accomplishments that improve our life here on earth, is ultimately a waste of our time if we are not preparing our souls for eternity.


Rather than experiences and worldly accomplishments, we should spend our time perfecting the Image of God — an Image of selfless, sacrificial love — in ourselves and in our lives.


The old man does not understand this. When the Lord told his disciples about the resurrection, they did not understand. Even after the resurrection, only few understand this truth. And so we occupy ourselves with vanities.


Avoid profane and vain babblings.


St. Paul enjoins St. Timothy to


"Avoid profane and vain babblings, and the oppositions of knowledge falsely so called."


Worldly knowledge is ultimately useless, for the world will pass away. And knowledge based on reason and logic is ultimately untrustworthy, for our fallen reason is capable of proving anything that our fallen heart and will desire to believe.

Let us heed the words of the Lord, and let the world follow its own course. Let us be, as the Apostle enjoins, "in the world but not of the world."


Reader Nicholas Park  2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas


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Great Martyr James the Persian. Nov 27/ Dec 10

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

One of my favorites today: Great Martyr James the Persian.

The Menaion contains stories that only the faithful who are full of faith believe! The story of the martyrdom of the great James the Persian reminds of that of St Mary of Egypt. Her story seemed so impossible to many even in a more pious time when it was first written down, that St Sophronios was forced to insert the parenthetical remark: "If there do happen to be people who, after reading this record, do not believe it, may the Lord have mercy on them because, reflecting on the weakness of human nature, they consider impossible these wonderful things accomplished by holy people." (Life of St Mary of Egypt by St Sophronios) Such a comment must also apply to the life of the heroic martyr James the Persian, whose exploit is before us and heaven today.

The life of St James and a wonderful meditation on him, from the Prologue by Blessed Nicholai Velomirovich, is below.
The important features are this: James was a married Christian, living in the pagan kingdom of Persia, and was well liked by the king. This itself gives no dishonor to the Saint, as The Holy Moses and Joseph were active in the court of Pharaoh, and other saints served in secular positions serving pagan kings, however, poor James fell prey to the enticements of wealth, and vanity, and sacrificed to the idols during a pagan festival. Some stories say he did so out of fear, and some just because of vanity and a lack of attention to himself; this does not matter
This type of situation has occurred thousands of times in the annals of Christianity, and only a precious few extricated themselves from their apostasy. The reason is clear – to recant the false faith they had accepted, and in so doing make null and void their apostasy from the Christian faith, a man would inevitably be forced to endure great physical tortures.
Perhaps James would have become one of the many nameless ones who were never able to muster enough desire and courage to become a Christian again, except that his wife and mother wrote him a letter which brought him to his senses.
O Lord! May we also have an angel in the flesh to bring us back to ourselves if we stumble! Gives us ears to hear if a mother or brother or friend or wife or husband or pastor rebukes us with words that are bitter, because they expose our sinfulness. Help us to be like the great James, who took to heart the rebuke of his wife and mother and saved himself!
Herein is the key to the redemption of the great James! His loved ones truly LOVED him, so much in fact, that they shepherded him to his contest, without which he could not have been saved.
We should not pass over this part of the story too quickly. After James apostatized, his was like the prodigal son away on a far country. He was in a weak state spiritually – it is preposterous to think that after his horrible sin, he maintained a pious Orthodox life, with prayer and fasting and peace in his heart. When a Christian denies His Lord, he cannot be at peace, and he will fall prey to a multitude of sins. So it must have been with James. We do not know when the letter reached James after his apostasy, but even if it was within a few days, it found our martyr wounded by the side of the road, and more than half dead. A lesser man would have sorrowed over his state, but not had the courage to change it. Judas was also sorry, but he did not change. This was not so with our great James. He immediately entered into the arena, to battle to reclaim his soul.
Let us not over-spiritualize this moment. Was James afraid? He was a man was he not? Of course he was afraid!. And yet he entered the arena, and gave up his earthly life in order to have a heavenly one. Certainly the prayers of his pious wife and mother protected him from his human weakness.
The entire angelic host stood in awe of the contest of the Great Martyr. He suffered in the flesh as if he was not of flesh – only by the help of His Christ could a mere man endure such tortures! After James breathed his last, the angelic host escorted his soul to the bosom of his Lord, shouting exultantly. What did they say? Some would think that they would extol his courage and steadfastness as each limb was severed by the knife, and his holy blood flowed. But this was not the case. They simply exclaimed to the Lord as they ascended: "O sweetest Jesus, here is one of thy sheep. He was lost, but now he is found!"
O Lord, through the prayers of the Holy Great Marty James, help us to believe that we can change, no matter what we have done!
The Holy Martyr James the Persian
James was born of Christian parents in the Persian city of Elapa (or Vilat), brought up in the Christian Faith and married to a Christian woman. The Persian King Yezdegeherd took a liking to James for his talents and skillfulness, and made him a noble at his court. Flattered by the king, James was deluded and began offering sacrifices to the idols that the king worshiped. His mother and wife learned of this, and wrote him a letter of reproach in which they grieved over him as an apostate and one who was spiritually dead. Yet, at the end of the letter, they begged him to repent and return to Christ. Moved by this letter, James repented bitterly, and courageously confessed his faith in Christ the Lord to the king. Angered, the king condemned him to death by a special torture: his entire body was to be cut up, piece by piece, until he breathed his last. The executioners fulfilled this command of the wicked king to the letter, and cut off James’s fingers, then his toes, his legs and arms, his shoulders, and finally his head. During every cutting, the repentant martyr gave thanks to God. A sweet-smelling fragrance, as of a cypress, emanated from the wounds. Thus, this wonderful man repented of his sin and presented his soul to Christ his God in the Kingdom of Heaven. James suffered in about the year 400. His head is to be found in Rome and a part of his relics in Portugal, where he is commemorated on May 22.

When the executioners severed the thumb of St. James’s right hand, he said: “Even a vine is pruned in this manner, so that in time a young branch may grow.”

At the severing of his second finger, he said: “Receive also, O Lord,
the second branch of Thy sowing."

At the severing of his third finger, he said: “I bless the Father, the
Son and the Holy Spirit.”

At the severing of his fourth finger, he said: “O Thou who acceptest
the praise of the four beasts [symbols of the four evangelists], accept the suffering of the fourth finger.”

At the severing of the fifth finger, he said: “May my rejoicing be
fulfilled as that of the five wise virgins at the wedding feast.”

During the severing of the sixth finger, he said: “Thanks be to Thee,
O Lord, Who at the sixth hour stretched out Thy most pure arms on the Cross,
that Thou hast made me worthy to offer Thee my sixth finger.”

At the severing of the seventh finger, he said: “Like David who
praised Thee seven times daily, I praise Thee through the seventh finger severed for Thy sake.”

At the severing of the eighth finger, he said: “On the eighth day
Thou Thyself, O Lord, wast circumcised.”

At the severing of the ninth finger, he said: “At the ninth hour,
Thou didst commend Thy spirit into the hands of Thy Father, O my Christ, and I offer Thee thanks during the suffering of my ninth finger.”

At the severing of the tenth finger, he said: “On a ten-stringed harp
I sing to Thee, O God, and thank Thee that Thou hast made me worthy to endure the severing of the ten fingers of my two hands, for the Ten Commandments written on two tablets.”

Oh, what wonderful faith and love! Oh, the noble soul of this knight of Christ!

Life and reflection from

Christian Life Skills: Praying for others. Praying for enemies. The Jesus Prayer.

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009


Abstract: A critical “Christian Life Skill” is to pray for others. This is an expression of love. We must also especially pray for our enemies or those who have wronged us, to root out any vestiges of bitterness. Here are simple, practical ideas to add prayer for others to your way of life, cutting through excuses, lack of time, confusion, fatigue, and distraction.


Christian Life Skills: Praying for others

Praying for enemies

The Jesus Prayer

To pray for someone more diligently





A difficult to learn Christian life skill is to pray consistently for others. As in all spiritual and even temporal things, we cannot succeed without God’s grace helping us, but this knowledge should not stop us from, as my dad has said: “using our noodle!” A little practical organization in this area goes a long way, if combined with zeal and resolute purpose.


We all have people we care about, but when we start to pray, the memory of all their names may be elusive. Prayer with attention is hard. If we are struggling to remember names, our attention may be divided, and we may get fatigued.


Keep a list.


The solution is simple! Have a moderate list of people you want to pray for. Note cards are good – they can fit in your prayer book or pocket. Some (like me) prefer to keep a list on the computer and print it out periodically. I have even created a template of “note cards [1]”, four to a side, which is useful for this purpose. After printing, fold the paper in half, and cut or rip the halves. Then do it again, and you have four equal sized note cards.


Keep a small list.


When I was younger, I had huge lists of people – just about everybody I knew, subdivided into all kinds of categories. It was too big for me, and I fell into the trap of not praying for anybody at all on some days when the idea of reading that huge list fatigued me before I started. Remember: “It is better to do a little thing than fail to do a large thing”.


Either keep a small list, with family, friends, your pastor, and your enemies or those who have offended you or disturb your soul in some way. It should not be book size. Some will make a list for Monday and another for Tuesday, etc. If you are that organized, I salute and admire you. The important thing is to have a manageable list of people for each day.


I like lists, because even though I know all my parishioner’s names by heart, it gets very fatiguing to call to mind all their names. I use my diptychs [2] for this purpose.


Have a set time.


If you have a set time to pray for others, you will pray for others. Some suggested times: after morning (better) or evening prayers and during your commute in the car, bus or train (but don’t forget the off days!)  When I was in an office I would go outside and walk on some railroad tracks and pray for people. It was a great break from work


Pray for your enemies.


This seems obvious, since our Lord commanded us:


“… Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you’ (Matthew 5:44)


In my experience as a pastor, this idea does not always occur to us, or we are resistant to it.  


It is IMPERATIVE that you pray for your enemies, or those of whom you have any bitterness, towards, remember wrongs, etc. You know the people of whom your soul feels darker and colder and angry when you think of them or encounter them. Listen to your soul! Sometimes this coldness is disguised from us, but if you are attentive to yourself, you will feel when your peace is disturbed by the thought of or interaction with someone. This is always your fault! There is no keeping score here – it does not matter if “he/she/they” were at fault too. You should not dare to disobey a direct commandment of the Lord.


We cannot love as God loves without learning to forgive our enemies. Don’t think of an enemy as only someone that you might come to blows with or are in some kind of open conflict with. Learn to feel the chilling darkness from that dark shadow that blocks out the warmth of the sun from your soul.


It is more important to pray for your enemies, those who curse you, and hate you than yourself or your loved ones. God hears our prayer when it is pure. Bad feelings about others make us impure. It is as simple as that, and besides, the Lord commanded us.


Just do it; make a list of people you have problems with. Don’t write a novel – there is no need to include biographical information!


Pray for these people everyday, simply, resolutely, and even if your prayer is accompanied with anger and clenched teeth.


It is MUCH better to pray and fight against anger than to be angry and not pray. You need to fight off the anger, and the only way is to forgive, and the best way to forgive is to pray.


Do not let yourself be fooled – the snake in the grass that we see is less dangerous than the one we do not see. Just because we do not feel anger when we do not think of someone does not prove anything! Just try thinking of those certain people in your life, and see if you feel any darkness. And then try praying for them – any anger or any kind of darkening of the soul during this time is a sure sign that you must pray for them – for your sake as well as theirs.


How to pray for others.



God knows the needs of all of us. In general, it is best to pray simply.  You could say “Lord have mercy on (name) for each person, or use the Jesus prayer:


“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on (name) .”


Some may want to mention particular needs, but it is best to keep it simple. The intercessory prayers of the church are a good guide. The more specific you get, the more you think, and the less you pray, and there is always a danger that you will sin by judging others.


If you want to pray more intensely for someone, you can use a prayer rope to count prayers, and say, for example, 10 prayers per person. Anything that is easy to count with the rope is a good number. Some ropes are divided into tens; others have a large bead every 25 small beads.


Another way to pray more intensely for someone is to use the prayer used on the “Old Believer” prayer book (online here):



To pray for someone more diligently: [3]


Save, O Lord, and have mercy on Thy servant(s) ________, [bow] [4]


Deliver him (her, them) from every tribulation, wrath and need [bow],


From every sickness of soul and body, [bow]


Forgive him (her, them) every transgression, voluntary and involuntary, [bow]


And do whatever is profitable for our souls. [bow].




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


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[2] “Diptych” means list. All priests have one, and they use it to commemorate the living and the dead in the “Proskimidie” or “Preparation service” before the Divine Liturgy, by taking out a small piece and putting it on the diskos (the round plate on a small stand that is used with the chalice) for each name. This bread is latter added to the chalice after the faithful are communed, with the prayer “By thy precious Blood, O Lord, wash away the sins of those here commemorated, through the intercessions of Thy saints” Only the Orthodox are commemorated in this way (since only the Orthodox may have Holy Communion), but most priests are like me and have many non Orthodox in their diptychs that they pray for without taking out particles of bread.


[4] A "Bow", also known as a "poklon" is performed by making the sign of the cross, and simultaneously bowing the head and bending from the waist.

For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together. Two important principles of Scriptural exegesis.

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.

Two important principles of Scriptural exegesis

Commentary on Luke 17:20-25 & Luke 17:26-37

27th Monday after Pentecost, 27th Tuesday after Pentecost


Who said to them: Wheresoever the body shall be, thither will the eagles also be gathered together. (Luke 17:37)


For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together. (Matthew 24:28)


 To understand this thought, one must read the scripture in context. This is a fundamental principle of Scriptural interpretation, which is the SECOND most important principle.


The FIRST PRINCIPLE is that we must be in the church AND live according to the mind of the church. Only those in the church have the grace to fully understand, but those who do not live according to this grace are like the man who buried the talent in the ground:


“Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.” (Mat 25:28)


“Arm chair” Christians will not understand the Scriptures no matter how many “study bibles” they possess. Neither will Christians who have very little interest in Holy things, and, without honorable reasons attend church rarely (perhaps on Sunday), fast very little if at all, and live distracted lives, with little effort to learn the commandments and do them.


A critical and much neglected part of the ascetical Christian life which leads to understanding of the scriptures is to pray as much as possible (and when we value something we make it possible!)  at services such as Vespers, Matins and Compline, where the theology is all on display, for those with feet to stand, and ears to hear.


From the “first principle” flows the second, since the mind of the church, expressed by its services and the Holy Fathers, constantly uses scripture to interpret scripture.


The context of these difficult verses is:


“And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:  (21)   Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.  (22)   And he said unto the disciples, The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it.  (23)   And they shall say to you, See here; or, see there: go not after them, nor follow them.  (24)   For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in his day.  (25)   But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation.” 


(26)  And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man.  (27 )  They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all.  (28)   Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded;  (29)   But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all.  (30)   Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.  (31)   In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back.  (32)   Remember Lot’s wife.  (33)   Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.  (34)   I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.  (35)   Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left.  (36)   Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.  (37)   And they answered and said unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together.” (Luke 17:20-37)


Perhaps this is too much “context” for some, but quoting pertinent scripture is a lot like eating potato chips! This entire selection is read the 27th Monday and Tuesday after Pentecost.  


Jesus is talking about the His final coming, and comparing it with the general sleepiness and torpid dullness regarding spiritual things of mankind throughout the ages. This dullness will make His coming very surprising to most.


 He gives two historical examples – “Noah” and “Sodom and Gomorrah”.


These examples show that people were living their lives “just as any other day”, when cataclysmic things happened suddenly and unexpectedly under their very noses. They missed these things because they were spiritually sleepy, not serious, and unaware.  This describes the overwhelming majority of how the world will meet the Second Coming and the Final Judgment, and we had best not be too arrogant to consider ourselves to not share in any similarity with this group walking on the “broad way [1]


These references also describe the moral state of mankind at the end:


“… He indicates that when the Antichrist comes shameful pleasures will be commonplace among the people, and they will become lewd sensualists, abandoning themselves to unlawful pleasures” [2]


In our day, when shameful sexual immorality is being codified into law, abortion is widespread, and many other aspects of society show little or no respect for the dignity, holiness and purpose of human life, these words appear to be being fulfilled. We must have eyes to see, and be able to discern the times. We are in dark times, because there are now Christians in name who practice wanton immorality and justify it (abortion, homosexuality and more). If we are honest with ourselves (and a Christian must be!) we must even acknowledge that there is a breakdown and immorality among our Orthodox clergy, including some bishops, even if, it appears, that our beloved church is a bit “behind the curve” in innovative immorality among Christian leaders.


Christian! We must be able to see the sky in the morning and determine that it is red! [3] We must do something about this sky, and no matter what we do, we must start with personal morality and holiness. We do not need to have endless questions about


when the kingdom of God should come” (Luke 17:20),


because the Lord teaches that


“The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: 21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21)



Let us not think of the Kingdom of God “coming” to us, as we are to become such that the kingdom is in us. This means that the Kingdom of God is personal holiness and knowledge of God because of experience; this will not come about “by observation”, but by “violence” [4] and effort.


Our Lord goes on to give several hypothetical examples:


“(34)   I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.  (35)   Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left.  (36)   Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.)”


All of these examples serve to show us how most people do not have “ears to hear and eyes to see [5]”, because they are not spiritual. They live earthly lives, and are unable to see spiritual things. Does this describe anything in us?


The disciples are confused by our Lord’s examples and ask Him:


“(37)   … Where, Lord? “


And our difficult verse is His answer:


(37) …And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together.



In order to understand the Lord’s answer, we must reason that it must have something to do with the spiritual condition of men at the Second Coming, since this is the context of the question.


Our Lord’s answer to “where”, as are so many of his answers, has multiple levels. One the most immediate level; He is describing the event of the Second Coming.


The Fathers understand the “carcase” (body) to represent our Lord Jesus Christ and the eagles to be the Saints, who naturally would be “gathered together” near Christ.


At the Second Coming, Jesus will come in power and glory, escorted by the whole angelic host, and the Saints:


“Another sign He adds of His coming, "Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together." The eagles denote the company of the Angels, Martyrs, and Saints”. [6]


On a deeper level, referring our Lord referring to Himself as a carcase (dead body) alludes to His passion and death. It must be that in order to be present at His second coming, when He is very much alive, we must also participate in His death.


We can also look at this place where the Eagles are gathered, to denote a condition, which is the participation in Christ’s death and resurrection by faith, that is by living as he taught us to live. Eagles are majestic creatures who soar high in the air; this denotes their spiritual condition; they are not encumbered by things below, but focus on high, spiritual things.


The preceding examples are in couplets, where one is saved and the other is not. The external circumstances were the same – two are grinding, and in a field but the internal life of each was different. Therefore, nothing external in our life will save us, but only what we become internally.  


So this gathering will occur at a point in time (or, rather at the end of time), but it also must be occurring now, in each of our lives. St Paul is describing the same idea when he exclaims that


“For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (1Corintians 2:2)


The image of the carcase reminds us that we also must die:


“Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.” (Rom 6:6)


In this whole conversation about the judgment, our Lord directs his disciples away from idle questions as to where and when, and gets to the heart of the matter.


For each one of us, what we do now is all that matters regarding the judgment. Anything else is idle speculation. If we are to be gathered with the Eagles when our Lord comes again, we must live according to His death and resurrection.


Please note, that a fanciful and very false idea has been formed by those outside the church regarding these verses – the so-called “rapture”. The idea is this – there will actually be a time when people are suddenly, inexplicably raptured into heaven, no matter what they are doing at the time, then a great tribulation on earth will endure, with the earth populated exclusively with “unbelievers”. There is nothing in Holy Tradition that supports this idea, which has been the basis of many profitable books and movies. The grievous error that these commentators have made is that they did not understand that the Lord was primarily describing the attributes of the soul that would be saved, and not actual events with  His references to women grinding, two men in a field, etc.



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


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[1] “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:  (14)  Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Mat 7:13-14)

[2] Blessed Theofylact, Commentary on St Luke (Luke 17:26-30), Chrysostom Press

[3] Mathew 16:2-3 KJV  He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red.  (3)  And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowring. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?

[4] Mat 11:12 KJV  “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” This is the Christian meaning of this verse.

[5] “And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive:  (15)  For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.  (16)  But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.” (Mat 13:14-16)

[6] St John Chrysostom, quoted in the Catena Aura, commentary on Matthew 24:28