Sermons on the Gospel Readings Set Three
Even more translated sermons from The Light Shines in the Darkness [Russian title: Svet Vo T’me Svetit] Translated by Raymond C. Finch.
This is the third in a series of sermons of Fr Alexander Men compiled shortly after his death. They have been translated from Sermons on the Gospel Readings, which is a section of The Light Shines in the Darkness.
Below is a table of links that will take you to the individual sermons of this third set. Or you can simply scroll down the page to read them all.
Walking on Water (Matt 14:23-33)
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit! Both you and I know that in our lives today, and on every day, the Lord continues to be present among us, to preach among us, to heal among us, as He lives within His Church. Therefore, we say that the life of Christ's church is a continuation of the gospel story, is a continuation of God's presence in the world. When you and I approach the Eucharist, it is as though the Last Supper is reenacted. When we listen to the word of God, it's as though we were back in those days when the Lord first preached the Good News. And when we pray to Him, we are just like those people, the crippled, the blind, those hungering after truth and justice, who came to Him. And together with the apostles, we repeat: "Lord, to whom are we to go, for You have the words of life?" Today, we listened to the words of the Apostle Paul, how each of us is built up into the Church. We are the stones of the building, but the foundation of the building is the Lord Himself. The apostle tells us that it is impossible to build on any other foundation. It is fruitless to build upon human hopes and aspirations. We build upon the divine, upon the God-man Christ. There is no other strength besides that of the incarnate Savior, who came into this world to save each of us, to lead each one of us, just as a shepherd leads his lost sheep. Again, the gospel writer brings before us that night when the disciples were crossing the lake in a storm, and the Lord walked upon the water to meet them. Seeing the figure of Him walking toward them, the disciples cried out in fear. This was a miraculous event, so much so that the disciples could not settle down until the following morning. Yet this miracle also occurred for us, here and now. Just imagine: this was the boat that carried the disciples and which the Lord had sent to cross the lake, while he went up the mountain to pray. It was though He had left them, as though he had thrown them to the winds of fate. Then the waves began to toss the boat, and they were on the verge of sinking. All around them was the darkness of night, gloom, water, death and the abyss. They were afraid and felt abandoned. Something of the way we feel when confronting difficulties, trials and temptation. It seems sometimes that God has abandoned us, that we are alone, that we have no one to rely upon, that our life is like some pitch black gloom and that there is no way out. At times like these we feel that we are surrounded by pitfalls, and that we shall finally fall into the depths and that there is no salvation for us. Yet at the same time the Lord is up on the mountain in prayer... Praying for the world, lifting up His Spirit to His Heavenly Father, and of course praying for those below. He prays on high while below, they are fighting with the waves. It's just the same now. When life becomes difficult for us, we have the High Priest and Intercessor, the Lord Jesus Christ standing above us. It is essential to remember this; indeed, the apostles forgot, and were therefore afraid of the wind and waves. But He did not merely remain above in prayer, but descended and came to them. He had no boat, and so therefore stepped across the water and went to meet those in danger of death. It's just the same when the Lord comes into our lives during those critical moments. He is coming, but we still don't know Him; He is approaching, yet our hearts are still filled with fear. Just imagine, how they must have caught sight of Him in the darkness: all around was the raging sea, the light of the moon was barely visible (it occurred during the spring), and suddenly someone appeared, walking upon the water as if on dry land. They cried out, thinking that their end was coming, thinking that this was already a vision of death, which was threatening them with destruction. They shrieked out again, and then amidst the crashing waves, they heard His words: "Get hold of yourselves, do not fear, it is I." They were thunderstruck and threw away their oars, and found themselves in the midst of the surging sea. He came up to meet them in this darkness, and then they took heart and Peter cried out: "Lord, if it is really You, then let me come to meet You." Again, just as it occurs in life. Just when things become almost unbearable, the voice of Christ the Savior speaks to us: "Here, it is I, do not fear, do not tremble; know that this sea is subject to Me, this life is subject to Me, just believe and hold on to Me. Hold the course of your boat toward me. It is I, do not fear." At that moment, Peter wanted to approach Him, to follow after Him. More than that, he wanted to imitate Him, and like the Lord, walk upon the water. And the Lord did not stop him...just the opposite, He said, "Come, Walk!" Just as God's word calls us to imitate Christ the Savior. "Imitate me, as I imitate Christ," says the Apostle Paul. Immerse yourself into the life that is described in the gospels. Keep your gaze fixed upon Christ, as if He were crucified before you. If we will not learn from Him, then what was the point of His Divine Presence among us? "Follow me, as I follow the Lord." And Peter wanted to imitate Christ, he wanted to walk on the water and the Lord told him to come. "Come!" He said. If we truly want to live according to the gospel, then it is essential that we listen to the voice of Christ. Come! You also come along, but don't fear even though you know that the waves are crashing around, even though you realize that you might be alone in following Him. Peter was alone; the other disciples did not follow after him. They remained in the boat frightened and confused. Still, despite the Lord's presence, Peter was to risk his life. Just imagine, he was about to step out into the deep, which was thrashing all around; the spray of the waves, dark and threatening. He was about to fling himself out there as though jumping into the void. But he knew that the Lord was up ahead, and stepped out to meet Him. This characterizes the risk of our faith. We must be always ready to take this risk, otherwise our hearts will never be truly directed at the Lord. Only moving forward, only moving forward to Him. Look here, Peter stepped out of the boat, and as long as he fixed his eyes upon the Lord and not upon the waves, he was able to walk upon the water. This was a miracle! With the ancient Egyptians who had no alphabet, and for each meaning there was a separate symbol-hieroglyphics. And the symbol used for the impossible, for the miraculous, was a small man walking upon the water. Throughout all of history, people have known that it is impossible to walk upon the water. Yet the Apostle Paul tells us: I am able to do all things thanks to the strength given to me by the Lord Jesus. The Lord Himself told us: "You shall accomplish even more than I." Why are we unable to perform miracles? Simply because of our lack of faith; our eyes are closed... Each one of us, if we truly look back and consider our lives, then we shall constantly see the miracle of God's presence. This miracle is constant and commonplace, and occurs every time our broken and oppressed spirit rises from the depths--this is a greater miracle than a man walking upon water. And at our prayers we timidly hope, yet He will hear us if we earnestly cry out to Him. But in crying out, we must give our hearts to Him completely, and not like Peter, who went out to meet Him, but then took his eyes off the Lord. He began to consider the crashing waves, and then began to sink. It was at that very moment when he looked at the awful waves and not at Christ, that he lost the miraculous ability to walk upon the water, began to sink and cried out: "Lord, save me, I am sinking." Peter, of course, being a fisherman, knew how to swim. But at that moment, his heart fell and his strength left him, and in the dark he felt drawn to the deep. Nevertheless, one thought remained, that nearby was the Lord, and he cried out: "Save me, I am dying." Here he felt the strength of His outstretched arm, and heard the words: "You of little faith, why do you doubt?" This incident occurred a long time ago, some two thousand years, yet millions of people continue to walk along this path of water, millions of people throughout the ages even up until now, and in every land, search for Him, who walks amidst the waves of life. He tells us who are confused and weak and sinful, "Take heart, it is I, do not fear. I am here, next to you. I am able to stretch my hand out to you." And always, in this gospel story we are given a sign, that Jesus Christ is the same both yesterday, today, and tomorrow! Amen.
The Request of Zebedee's Sons (Matt 20:20-28)
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit! Today the church reminds us of the time when the Lord went to meet His Cross and what the disciples thought about this trial. How differently they imagined the future! As He was warning them about suffering, they were dividing among themselves places in His kingdom. Every time we read these gospel lines it is as though we are looking in a mirror. The Lord is telling us about labor, struggle, crosses and challenges, while we are thinking only about ourselves. He talks of things divine, while we ponder the mere human. Such is repeated from year to year, from age to age. There is a well-known aphorism, "Blessed is he who believes, and he shall have a warm spot in this world." We are ready to transform our faith into some sort of hot water bottle, a warm spot by the stove, in order that we might be quiet and comfortable. We want our faith to act like a medicine for pain. We want it to comfort and pacify us. But in reality, the Lord says, "Come to me all who are labored and burdened, and I will give you rest." But how does He comfort us? What does God’s peace mean? This peace is demonstrated by the Lord Himself, Who manifested the eternal, divine peace. Yet He walked along the path of the cross, renunciation and service to others. As He told His disciples, "I came not to be served, but rather to serve others." His divine glory was not built upon human praises or that He was carried high upon a throne. For the first time in all of history, we are told that "He is great who gives, for he takes upon himself the example of the Lord." The apostles imagined His entry into the Holy City as if He was going to enter into the glory of this world's kingdom. They envisioned the Lord, sitting upon a throne similar to the powerful rulers of that time. They were trying to figure out who might be sitting at His right and left hands, as though they were courtiers and close associates of the king. They expected to receive their reward for recognizing and following Him when He was yet still poor and unknown. But now that He was about to become all-powerful, they also expected to share in His reign. While each of the twelve disciples wanted to sit close to Him, it was the mother of John and Jacob (the others were ashamed to ask so openly) who asked, "Lord, please ensure that when You enter into Your glory, that my sons are seated next to You." And the Lord replied, "You do not know what you are asking for." Why did He say this? Because they did not realize that His throne and glory would be Golgotha. Then He added, "Are you capable of drinking from the cup that I will drink?" Not understanding, they replied, "We can." In just the same way the Lord tells us, "Whosoever wishes to follow after Me must be willing to drink from the cup of grief, suffering and service." This means accepting the cross. The cross upon which we crucify all that is evil within us. As the Apostle wrote, "Crucify the passions and desires of the flesh." What is this flesh? It is not our physical body, but rather the absolute dominance of sin within the human heart. It is this we must crucify, with all its "passions and desires," that is, all of our mean, evil, foolish, blind, proud and senseless impulses. Then we shall understand the way of Christ. Then we shall understand that our faith is not some warm place by the stove where one can hide and live quietly. Rather it is an arduous trek that the Lord called a narrow path. Its entrance is difficult to enter and whose path is strewn with thorns and stones. At times, it will lie in deep darkness, where one is subject to every sort of danger and contrary wind. There are some people who believe that faith is given in order to deliver them from all of life's trials. In actuality, the Lord demonstrated that we must bear and endure everything which the world can dish out. The Lord suffers together with the world and we suffer. But not every form of suffering is a cross. If we consecrate our hearts to God and attempt, even to a small degree, to imitate Christ's loving service for others, then we can transform our sufferings into the Cross. If you feel that sickness is overcoming your strength, pray "Lord, allow my sufferings and pain to alleviate the sufferings of others." When helping those in your family, imagine that you are doing it for the Lord. If you should have to bear slander and if you are unjustly accused, even by your closest friends, remember that the Lord has called us to courage and patience. "Through patient endurance, you shall be saved," says the apostle. This is what the Gospel calls us to today. We are preparing ourselves not for glory, but for work and the Cross. At the same time, however, we must never forget that the Resurrection follows the Cross. Beyond the sufferings which the Lord endured begins that time of redemption for everyone who desires to accept His Good News and His salvation. And although we walk along a darkened path, up ahead there shines a light and we can hear the voice of the Lord encouraging us. Amen.
The Evil Vineyard Workers (Matt 21:33-41)
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit! Today, the Church again reminds us of Christ's parable about the vineyard workers. This is one of the saddest and most bitter parables describing the human condition. It recounts how the Lord calls for His people, sending His messengers and heralds and waits for them to respond. But these people don't wish to receive them, don't want to hear their message, protest against them-even to the point of rising up against His own divine Son. For the Lord in this parable did not merely send these servants into His vineyard. He was expecting that these workers would return some of the fruits of their labor to the owner and master, since they did not own either the land or the vines. Placing ourselves in the same context, we suddenly realize that although everything has been given to us, yet we don't own these things. Life itself has been given to us, we now possess it, yet might lose it tomorrow. The same is true of our health; today we enjoy it, while tomorrow we may be deprived. Everything we "own" doesn't really belong to us, but is actually a gift which we are capable of losing. Since everything is a gift from God, we ought to return it with interest to Him. Consider now this scene: messengers from the Lord come to collect this interest, and instead they are beaten and driven out. Instead of gratefulness and the return on a debt, they are met with greed, laziness and cruelty. This parable is not only applicable to ancient times, but to every age. When we read about the lives of God's servants- be it prophets from the Old Testament or apostles, followers and saints of the New Testament-these are the few who have been truly sent to awaken mankind, remind them about heaven and ask them, "How long are you going to sleep in this life, stagnate and drift fruitlessly along? How long will the Lord have to wait for you to produce fruit?" Those individuals who awaken our consciences have always been met with the greatest resistance. It's as though the history of the Church's saints continues the gospel life of the Lord, who was also rejected. Reflecting upon the holy men and women within the church, we see that they have often been despised and persecuted. Take for instance, Phillip, the Metropolitan of Moscow. He died at the hands of the tsar's henchmen simply because he had awakened the tsar's conscience and held up his evil before him. Or consider John Zlatoust, who was directed by the tsar to be excommunicated from the church. His crime? He merely reminded wealthy Christians of their responsibility to share with the many poor who inhabited the capital. Such a fate has confronted many holy men and women. Consider the reverent Serafim Sarovskiy, the miracle worker, who ended up on the authorities' black list. He was considered a dreamer and strange individual. He was condemned and forced to suffer all sorts of persecution. Such treatment has occurred up to this very day. Or the just elder, Varsonofiy of Optinskiy, who was renowned at the beginning of this century and who died in 1912. The civil and church authorities unleashed such a hounding against him that he was forced to leave the monastery as an old man. He was forced to roam among foreign lands simply because he did not conform to the age, but tried to proclaim the word of God openly and clearly. His actions prompted envy, confusion and dissatisfaction among some people. This elder suffered a bitter end to his life. The truth is that all of these people were sent to us. The Lord Himself stands at the head of the martyrs and the rejected of this world. He Himself was an unaccepted and misunderstood martyr. But this parable doesn't only relate to the past and present church. It touches each one of us, for the Lord doesn't just send His prophets to the church, but to the entire human race, to each one of us individually. He is continually knocking and asking. He is forever calling to us and saying, " Wake up, get up! How long do you plan to live like a zombie? How long are you going to wallow in sin, as in a swamp?" The difficult circumstances in our life, or on the other hand, those special, grace-filled moments, those revelations which sometimes occur in prayer-all of these indicate that the Lord is calling to us, that He wants us to bring Him the fruits of our labors and our hearts. How bitter it must be for Him when we fail to respond to these signs. When one after another these divine injunctions uselessly pass by, and we act in the same manner as those cruel and lackadaisical servants. The Lord calls and entreats, yet we stand with our backs to Him. This is the meaning of this parable. If we don't want to find ourselves in the same situation as these ungrateful servants who were punished, or as the scripture puts it, "the evil are destroyed by evil," then as we leave the church today, let's consider what the Lord thinks about us. What does He think about our prayer life? Does He see that we often long to speak with Him? Or do we look upon prayer as a burden, something routine, where we quickly glance at something religious in the morning, mutter something while half asleep at night, and otherwise never bother with prayer? Or consider how the Lord might measure our spiritual growth. He, indeed, sees our hearts and knows what we were like one year ago, ten years ago. Does He see that we have reformed in some area, changed and made at least a couple of small and faltering steps toward meeting Him? What would He see when examining our work and business affairs? He knows of our relations with those with whom we live. What would He see if He looked into our hearts right now? Think about this and let it be a strict reminder for us. Before others we can appear much better than we are, wear every sort of mask and portray ourselves however we like. But the Lord knows our hearts to the core. And what sort of judgement would He render against our hearts today? When we approach the confessional and the Eucharist we bear witness to our desire to draw near to Him. Here, His light, penetrates us through and through. Try and feel how this light brightens every nook and cranny in our souls. We need to tell ourselves, "No, I don't want to be one of those miserable servants. You, Lord send me your sign and I will try to listen, will try to comprehend, will try to reform my short life and make it worthy of Your calling, Your holiness, Your love. Then, when You shall come to me, when my life will be weighed in the scales, when the time comes to harvest the grapes from the vine, You shall say to me: ‘In your weakness you've done little, but this small work of yours which you did out of love for Me, I accept with love.’" But what could be more depressing, than at the end of our lives we have nothing, that all has been empty and fruitless? Then the end of our journey will be as grim as that in the parable. For it often happens that those who portray themselves as possessing grace and spiritual riches find themselves being rejected. For the word of the Lord is not only one of peace, encouragement and love, but also a word of warning to protect us from evil and eternal death. Amen.
Redeeming the Time (Eph 5:15f)
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit! In today’s reading from St. Paul's letter we hear his words regarding time: "Make the most of the present opportunity, for these are evil days." Briefly, he points out that the days are evil and life is short. We must meditate over this truth with our whole hearts, remembering just how precious is that time which has been allotted to us. Some consider that such meditations on the passing of time will lead to depression, sadness or gloomy thoughts. But just the opposite is true. Every passing minute brings us close to eternity, each minute asks of us, "what have you done with this time?" Never forget that we are guests in this world. Guests for a short, a very brief interval. We arrive from a mystery and leave into mystery. But the Lord has revealed to us that our brief lives carry significant meaning in that they prepare us for eternity. It is here on earth that everything divine within us, our soul, personality and conscience, grow and develop. And how frightful it is for that man who squanders his time, who wastes it on endless trifles, upon insignificant and worthless matters. It can turn out that one has spent his entire life on trivial pursuits, on empty and pointless chatter, upon petty matters that don't even merit thought. It's impossible to turn back the clock even for just one second, and therefore the apostle implores us, "Be wary of your time, don't waste it on vain pursuits, don't spend it on idle words and frivolous matters. Remember that every minute is precious. Any given hour might cost a person his eternal life." Meditating upon this, we begin to view life in a different light. We begin to approach our duty, our work and everything around us in a distinctive manner. We start to treat life carefully, knowing that perhaps today or tomorrow we may be called to give an account. Consider at this very moment we could all perish. Half of us are already leaning toward old age, beset with all types of ailments. The rest might just as easily die in the blink of an eye. Let me repeat myself. These thoughts are no cause for depression. Life becomes immeasurably more wonderful when one is aware of its responsibilities. Life becomes a challenge when we know that we shall appear with what we were able to accomplish in this life. This meditation should serve to strengthen and inspire us, and not allow us to fall into depression, idleness, aimlessness or pettiness. This is why in antiquity there was a custom to keep a human skull in one's home. It would serve as a reminder of death. There was usually an inscription added to the skull, "Memento mori" (Remember death). Remember, so that one might live properly, to live with a purpose, with awareness, with love and with labor, knowing that life is granted for only a short time. How many stones are merely lying about?! Millions, billions and we trod over them in passing, not even noticing. Yet gold is found in tiny nuggets, and one gram is worth a large sum because it is so rare. So it is with time. It's as rare and precious as gold. Therefore, we must always remember to treat time with reverence. If you are working-then work; if you are praying-then pray; if you are relaxing-then relax. But don't spend your time in a pointless and foolish manner. There is an awful phrase, "to kill time." Awful, but true. Time is our very life and if we kill it, if we deliberately waste time, then we end up killing our own life. Examine yourself, think about this and endeavor not to waste your time in vain, pointless or unfruitful efforts. Finally, when the apostle remarks, "Make the most of your time, for these are evil days," he is teaching us to distinguish between things of greater and lessor importance in our lives. The more important are those things which are unique to humans and which we will take with us, those traits which we shall bear when our bodies are old and decrepit-yet alive with an eternal soul. Everything else is directed toward this end. We eat, dress and labor to support our life so that our spirit may grow. For if this is not our goal, how then do we differ from any plant or animal which also feeds, grows and reproduces? Therefore, cherish the time that has been given to develop our souls and lives, and treat it as a great gift from God. I know a number of people who were stricken with mortal illnesses and then the Lord gave them additional time. How they valued, how they thanked God that they were given an additional year or two! Then they sharply felt just how important time is. So why should we wait for some fatal illness or danger, when it would be better to heed the apostle's words today: "Redeem the time, for these are evil days." Amen.
Concerning Salvation (2 Cor 6:2)
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit! This morning we heard the words of the Apostle Paul, "Today is the day of salvation." That is, today, right here and now, the Lord is granting us salvation. We find these words in more than one place in the New Testament. Recall when the Lord came to the home of Zacheus the tax collector, an individual whom was considered to be a great sinner. The Lord, however, saw his faith, his repentance, his desire to live differently and He said, "Today, salvation has come to this house." Today. People often talk about man's salvation as something that will occur in the distant future or perhaps after death. They forget that the Lord has revealed that His salvation is available right now-if we possess the desire. What do we mean by the term "salvation?" I recall one elderly woman who always loved to comment that she could never be saved. Many thought that such an attitude was a sure sign of piety. Yet still the question remains: what does it mean to be saved? Simply, it means to abide with the Lord, while to die, means to be separate from Him. Therefore, those who maintain that salvation cannot be given to us because of our unworthiness are correct. Indeed, who among us can truly abide with the Lord when we are covered with sins, like dirt from head to toe? And if we are able once to clean them off, then they are again soon plastering us. Does this imply that there can be no salvation? How then to explain the apostle's comment that today salvation has been granted to us? Who can possibly be saved? By the measure of one's own merits, probably no one. But here the apostle explains that we are not only capable of being saved, but that all of the preconditions have already been met. It was for this reason that the Lord came to live with us and for this reason he suffered. We are saved by His power, His grace, His loving suffering for us, and not that we have earned it. Therefore all of us who truly believe in the Lord do not have the right to say, "No, I cannot be saved," for then we would be doubting in the saving power of Christ's grace. For the Lord died so that His blood would wash away our sins. By his suffering, He has brought us nearer to Himself, has saved us and transformed us into His children. But couldn't this imply that we might say, "Well, we are sinners, and the Lord will therefore save us." To this the Apostle replies that even though we are incapable of freeing ourselves from sin, we must prepare ourselves for the saving power of grace. We must accept this Divine Guest, and try with all our strength so our soul is ready for His arrival. Then He will say, just as he said to the home of Zacheus, "Today, salvation has come to this house." How can we know if salvation has already come to us? There is only one sure sign. When God's kingdom enters our hearts, when the Lord reigns therein, when He sanctifies our joy, our labors, our sorrow and our sickness. When everything in our lives is consecrated by divine power and we feel Him next to us. This is the meaning of the kingdom of God and His salvation, and each of us is capable of truly feeling this living salvation within his heart. But don't think that once it is given, salvation can't be lost again. For every time we turn toward evil, we push salvation aside, drive it away and grow distant from God who shed His blood to draw near to us. Thus goes the battle between our wills and the Savior. From the cross, He stretches down His hand and says, "Come to Me, all who are labored and burdened, and I will give you rest." Yet even though we know that only in Him resides peace for our souls, we head down a different path following our sins. My dear ones, the word of God calls to us and says, "Today is the day of salvation." Yet only if we desire it, only if, with the strength of our souls, we bring and lift everything up to Him. Only if we try to act according to His commandments, more specifically, that one commandment which was proclaimed in today's gospel. Remember, and engrave it on to your hearts: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." How clearly and simply stated! We shall try to treat others in the same way we hope to be treated. And we hope that we will be treated with respect, kindness, love, concern and courtesy. Let us treat each other in such a fashion. This will be the first step in preparation to receive our Awaited Guest, our Savior who is coming to us. When you are expecting guests, you pick up around the house. When you wait for the Savior, you must throw out every hatred, envy, unkindness, malice and all of the other spoiled garbage that has accumulated in your soul, and instead decorate your home with faith, hope and love. Amen.
Concerning Eternal Life (John 17:1-8)
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit! Throughout all time people have searched for a higher form of spiritual, divine and eternal life. They have searched using any number of methods and there are innumerable faiths and philosophies that have tried to answer life's eternal questions. But you and I address these questions to our One Lord and Savior. Today in the Gospel you heard His words, "And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent." Simply put, eternal life is already manifest and begins in this present existence. The only essential is to know the One Lord and the One who appeared for our salvation, Jesus Christ. But how can we possibly know Him? For this knowledge everything has already been given. First of all, His word, which is heard in the Holy Scriptures. Listen carefully to Christ's words and you will come to know Him. Read His words carefully, as though they were addressed personally to you. In that moment of desperation, when you ask yourself how to go on, not just anyone will answer you, but the Lord Himself. To know God means to love Him, for in the Holy Scriptures, the word "to know" someone means to be in love with him. To love the One God and the One through which He revealed Himself-our Lord Jesus. This is the essence of eternal life, our source of inspiration, joy, wisdom, confidence, patience and victory. To live with the Lord means to already have eternal life in your heart. Not this frantic life, which often resembles an unending rat race or a train which has jumped the tracks and is racing downhill. Not that life which resembles dying, dissolution, but that existence which flies upward toward heaven, to the Lord. This is eternal life-to know the Father, to know the Son through the presence of the Holy Spirit. And everyone has access to this life. Regardless of age or intellect, whether scientist or illiterate, a person can know God with his heart. One must turn to Him, address Him and then the truest sign of faith will appear-knowledge of the Lord. Know the Lord and you will no longer doubt or waiver, will no longer be depressed or afraid. You will overcome your fears, laziness, resistance to change and all our earthly human imperfections. Know the Lord and you will discover the True Guide who will lead you throughout life. You will see His signposts along the road, and his sign is the Cross that shines before us. And the Cross means that even in the greatest suffering, God is there, God lives, God is with us. He appeared among us in order to give His entire Self, so that we might live a divine, heavenly, Christian life. He taught us how to do this. Experience the Lord and you will realize what the words mean that we heard today in the Acts of the Apostles: "It is more blessed to give than to receive." These are the words of the Savior Himself. Know the Lord and you will discover the joy of self-sacrifice, the joy of serving your neighbor, that is, those whom you come in contact with. By such a life, we learn that eternal life is not only when we pass the final boundary which separates us from death, but something we can experience even now. It is like a star, like an inextinguishable fire that flows from us during our earthly existence. Burning in the darkness of our earthly path, it will guide us to the unending space of God’s kingdom, when our mortal bodies are no more than dust. Eternal life-this is life with God, in God, in His love, His mystery. To His divine love there is only one way to respond, with a return love. This love for God and others is indicative of our knowledge of the Lord and a hallmark of eternal life. Amen.
Concerning the Church (Eph 2:19-22)
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit! Throughout the world there are wonderful churches honoring our Lord Jesus Christ. No matter to whom they are dedicated, a patron saint, the Holy Spirit, the Blessed Virgin or a particular feast day, every church, in its essence, is first a temple of God, a church of Christ. The church is a home where people can gather, so together they can greet, praise and love the Savior, Jesus Christ. He alone is the Savior, and has redeemed both those saints whom we address and His Blessed Mother. Salvation is in Christ alone. And the appearance of the church is immaterial. Wherever they have lifted up a temple, huge and majestic, or small and humble dwelling like ours, even where there is no physical building, the name of Christ is lifted up and praised. The majority of churches are works of art. Why should they be designed by famous architects and painted by great artists? We want to show that God's home is a holy place where we can invest our hearts, talents, abilities and strength. But there is one unique Temple that the Lord God Himself is building. This temple is unseen and all the churches on this earth are just a shadow and image of the one invisible temple of Christ, the universal church of Christ. It is this church which the Apostle refers to in today's reading: "So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit." The whole building. Look how the Apostle portrays this temple. The foundation is the Lord Jesus, the saints and the apostles are the builders, and the bricks are all believers, which form the eternal temple of the One Church. Some hundred years after the Apostle Paul died, there lived in Rome a Christian prophet by the name of German. He had a vision of a woman, majestic and wise, who was gathering stones and building a wall. German asked her who she was, and she replied, "I am the Church, and I am building my edifice with living stones." Living stones, that is, human souls, souls saved by the Lord. Look how the apostle phrases it. These souls are not strangers or aliens, but are brothers and sisters to the saints under God the Father. This is who we are. If a person is outside of this edifice, then of course, he is a foreigner. Brief is the life of man, we enter and depart this world in tears, spending our short time on earth in sorrow, grief and illness. From the unknowable, man arrives, and into the inscrutable he departs, a stranger and foreigner. Life a brief sleep, like light upon the water that disappears in a moment, such is the life of man. We are truly pilgrims, similar to the falling autumn leaves, in that they are impossible to count. The leaves fall, are trampled upon, the snow falls and soon nothing but just a little dust and dirt remain. Just as our bones will decompose, as the bones of our ancestors, evidence of our once being a guest on this earth. But who will remember this dust after a couple of generations? Such is the fate of man. But if we are saved by the Lord and received into His heart, if we are washed in His blood, then we are no longer foreigners or strangers, but become children of God in this world. Then life becomes completely different. We are born under God’s providence and live under the protection of His love (whether it is spent in sorrow or joy, illness or health). And when we depart this life it is not into nothingness or the void, but we depart into eternity. Each of us, with our prayers, acts of love and faith contribute some small addition in the construction of the one Church of Christ, the temple of faith which is impossible to destroy. Earthly churches are subject to destruction, can be burned or merely deteriorate. Thousands of churches have fallen and have never been rebuilt, but not that One Temple which is made by the Lord himself. This true Church of Christ is indestructible, for as the Lord said, “I will found My church upon a rock and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” He is not referring to a concrete building, no matter how beautiful it might be, nor to a cathedral with domed towers, regardless of its splendor. But He is talking about an unshakeable and indestructible edifice, the Church invisible, incorporated here on earth. My dear friends, this has a direct bearing upon us. We should ask ourselves, "What kind of stone am I? What have I contributed to this Church of Christ? What am I capable of doing?" Of course, we can do very little, but the main talent each of us possesses lies within the heart. When we give our heart to another person, to our neighbors, we are giving it to the Lord, for as He said, "Whatsoever you do to the least of My brethren, you do unto Me." Our work, love, service and faith are the stones that we lay unto the foundation and our contribution into building this invisible church. As the apostle said, we shall be citizens alongside of the saints, who, even though their mortal bodies have died, continue to live on with us in the Spirit. We will be relatives and friends joined in the Lord, our God, in Jesus Christ, a man and our Brother incarnate among us on earth. Amen.
Translations © 1999 Raymond C. Finch