Difference between revisions of "Sermons on the Gospel Readings Set Two"
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Translations © 1999 Raymond C. Finch<br>
Translations © 1999 Raymond C. Finch<br>
Latest revision as of 12:56, 6 February 2010
More translated sermons from The Light Shines in the Darkness [Russian title: Svet Vo T’me Svetit]. Translated by Raymond C. Finch.
Fr Alexander MenThis is the second set of translated sermons from the portion of The Light Shines in the Darkness entitled Sermons on the Gospel Readings. The book is a collection of homilies by Fr Alexander Men compiled shortly after his death.
Below is a table of links that will take you to the individual sermons of this second set. Or you can simply scroll down the page to read them consecutively.
- 1 The Rich Fool (Luke 12:16-21)
- 2 The Rich Young Man (Matt 19:16-22)
- 3 The Wedding Feast (Matt 22:1-14)
- 4 The Sower (Mark 4:1-9)
- 5 The Healing of the Centurion's Servant (Matt 8:5-13)
- 6 The Faith of the Canaanite Woman (Matt 15:21-28)
- 7 Expelling the Devils (Matt 8:28-34)
- 8 "Take up your Cross"(Mark 8:31-9:1)
- 9 The Passion (Matt 27:27-50)
- 10 Concerning the Eternal and the Temporary (Luke 14:15-24)
The Rich Fool (Luke 12:16-21)
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit! The Gospel story about the wealthy man seems at first, strange and difficult to understand. What's so bad about a man, who after a rich harvest, builds himself another barn to store his grain. He didn't want to leave the grain unprotected, merely to rot out in the rain and to be of no use. Certainly the rich man did not sin in merely building another barn to store his grain. His fault was in feeling content about the future, since he now had a large reserve. Indeed, he told himself: "Well, let's eat, drink and be merry, everything now will be successful." But the Lord said to him: "Foolish man! This very night your soul will be taken from you." Man plans for one thing, while his fate is drawn quite differently. But this isn't really the full meaning of the parable. Each one of us might die unexpectedly, but that doesn't mean that we should cease working for the future. When a person plants a tree, can he be certain that he will live long enough to see it grow and produce fruit? Nevertheless, we continue to plant and to labor. Rather, the chief error of this wealthy man was that he grew content, became satisfied and said to himself: "Eat, drink and be merry." He never considered that the purpose of our labor is that we might give to others, first of all, to work for the benefit of others. On that day when he had completed his building, he never even thought about what he could do for others. He had determined that his wealth had been given to him so that he might eat, drink and be merry. For each of us here there is a lesson in this. We must understand, that only when we try to work for the benefit of others will we have a normal life and a proper spiritual outlook. Indeed, the Lord created the world in such a way that everything is connected by mutually-supporting labor. All of us are wearing clothes that someone else made. We all arrived here by some form of transportation which someone arranged. By your labor, you give of your effort, time and abilities. Consider our chapel; someone worked at this site, erecting the structure, carrying the timbers during the difficult 1920's and built this church. Someone decorates it, someone cleans it, the choir sings, and you contribute your offering. We all work together for our church, for our homes and for the people around us. In such a way, human life and labor is an offering, an offering to others, and if we forget about this, then we have forgotten about a person's chief vocation. And if we have forgotten, it means that we are sleeping, and one can drowse through his entire life, even if it is long. In this story, the man died unluckily on the very next day after he finished his building. Yet a different person might live for a long time, but regardless, sleeps spiritually, doesn't think about the meaning of life or his responsibilities. In their sleep, they don't think about the Lord, about how to live before His countenance, but simply eat, drink and make merry. One can live like this an entire day, or a week, or even half a life. Looking back on one's life, and there's nothing there. Today the church calls us in the words of the apostle: "Get up sleeper, and rise from the dead." This means that we are all called to wake up in the faith, reawake our hope in the Lord and laboring for His sake in this life. "Rise up, sleeper," says the Lord, and I hope that these words are heard by each of you, that they reach and knock upon your souls, on the door of your hearts. Wake up drowsy one, if you are sleeping! And we ask: "Lord, how can we wake up, how can we rise from this deathly sleep?" And the apostle answers: "Christ will raise you up." Not by our own efforts are we renewed, but only by His grace. "Christ will raise you." These wonderful and precious words are directed to each one of us: we must stop living like we have been up until now -- thoughtlessly, sluggishly, depressed, half-asleep -- and and put an end to our spiritual slumber. "Rise up," the apostle tells us, and the Lord Himself is telling us: "Rise up sleeper, rise up from the dead and Christ will resurrect you." Amen.
The Rich Young Man (Matt 19:16-22)
Today we heard the Gospel story, a sad story, about a young man whom the Lord had called to become an apostle, and the young man refused. Great honor, great joy and great service all lay before this young man. But he, sorrowfully lowering his head, turned his back on the Savior. Evidently there had been something in his soul, something had troubled him. He was a good, honest and decent man who kept the commandments. Since he was wealthy, he probably helped to take care of the poor. But he felt that he should still do more, that he should take yet another step. Did he understand correctly? Of course. But he was unable to take this step, he turned away, as though retreating. In the Holy Scriptures we find threatening words of the Lord concerning those who will not take this step, "You are neither cold nor hot." This phrase is addressed to those that possess an indifferent or stony heart. Now we should ask ourselves: perhaps we must take this step? Even though we have God's grace, faith in Christ and the Gospel, yet we nevertheless walk through life stooped and depressed. Often, everything seems monotonous and almost boring and we are transformed into that which is neither hot nor cold. We all consider ourselves to be believers. In general, the majority of people on earth in some way or another believe. But the Lord expects more from us. He is waiting for the conversion of our hearts. If we fail to take this step, then we shall remain neither hot nor cold, indifferent, spending our lives without a purpose. We come to church, yet our hearts remain stony. We open up the Word of God, but the words fly past. Boredom and dejection oppress us. Since all of us are sometimes neither cold nor hot, we must make still another move of the heart. "Since you have not been converted," says the Lord, "you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." This is the truth about our lives. One can live to the end of their days with the label of Christian, yet still live life in a drab, inept, despondent and useless way. Life, however, ought to be a holiday, an exploit, an enthusiastic adventure, each person in his own place, even if its small and unnoticed! I want to direct your attention to one incredible feat. Recently, a nun from India arrived in Moscow. When she was still a young girl living in Albania, she dreamt of becoming an apostle of God's word among the pagans. This dream carried her to India, where she entered a monastery and took the name of Theresa. There she prayed, and like all the other nuns, participated in the liturgy, sang, and worked in the kitchen. But since she had a burning heart, she was unable to remain in the monastery. When she happened to go out into the streets of Calcutta, a huge city where her religious house was located (it is still standing there), she saw dozens of homeless, starving people, who were dying right there on the street. She saw children who had been abandoned by their impoverished parents, and there they wandered among the wild cats and the monkeys. And this young sister understood that she couldn't peacefully pray behind the walls of her religious house if she wanted to be a servant of Christ the Savior. With great effort she gained permission from the church authorities to leave the walls of the monastery and settled in the slums -- filthy, horrible, filled with garbage and the poor people who are the lowest of the low. At first, she dedicated herself to the dying. She would find someone who was dying, and with the help of others, would carry him into a hut, wash him, pray over him and even though he might be a pagan, accompany him on his eternal way. The Lord has blessed her undertaking. Soon, she had followers, and they were helped by rich people from around the world who sent them money. Today these sisters appear all over the world, wherever there is misfortune, catastrophe, murder, sickness or fighting. The sisters themselves own practically nothing. They themselves are nearly impoverished. All they own are their white habits, a camping mattress which they can roll into their bag and a few other essentials. How do they survive? From where do they draw their strength? This woman, who received the Nobel Peace prize, has appeared both in Moscow and Chernobyl. She wanted to see our lives. She said that the most important thing that she and her sisters carry is love. Long ago, the world became cruel, people grew hardened and the only thing which could save them is a return to the Gospel commandment of love. Of course, such service is an exploit. We ask, "who among us is capable of such a life?" And I'll answer you, that each of us has his calling, every person will find what he ought to do, but the first thing, the essential thing is that we return to the Lord. Believe once again, convert once again, ask for God's grace once again, call to the Spirit of God and understand, that without Him there is no life. Turn to Him with all of your heart, all of your being and love the Lord totally. This is not blind fanaticism or that which makes a man foolish, wicked or unable to sympathize with other people. It will be that faith which plants Christ's love in their hearts. And you will be joyful. Whether sick or elderly, regardless, you will be joyous because the Lord is with you. Even if you have to undergo many failures in life, you will nevertheless be joyful because the Lord is with you. Bearing difficult labors, undergoing stressful problems in the family or at work, you will still be joyous, because the Lord is with you. Here is the only thing necessary: pray that the Lord will send His Spirit into your heart, a burning love for Him and a readiness to belong wholly to Him. And this prayer shall be heard. The Lord said: "Everything which you ask in My name I will do." This is the most precious gift -- Faith and Love, bringing forth Hope! Amen.
The Wedding Feast (Matt 22:1-14)
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit! Today we heard the parable about the king who arranged for a feast, and had invited all of his friends to this great festivity. But instead of responding with joy to this invitation, many people refused to come to the royal celebration. Friends of the King said they had their own activities, their own business and could not come. Many met the king's messengers with mockery and threats, and there were those who, in order to anger the king, even went so far as to kill the messengers. Then the king, seeing that he waited in vain for those he had invited, sent out his servant saying: "Everything in my house is prepared and ready. Shall I alone enjoy the feast? My celebration will be gloomy. Go out through all the streets! Call the poor, the vagrants, whomever you meet on the road -- call everyone, so that my hall might be full." And these went out through all the streets and invited many people, so that the royal house was filled. Of course, each person knowing that he had been invited into the king's home conducted himself with dignity, wearing his best clothes. But there was one man who didn't worry about this and arrived and sat at the table in his dirty work clothes. According to the customs of this time, such an action was considered a great offense to the host. During the meal, the king, as he was walking through the hall, caught sight of this man who was sitting at his table in dirty, torn clothing, eating with the others. Then the king approached him and said: "How dare you come to my celebration in such clothes?" He then instructed his servants to show this man to the door. This particular parable the Lord evidently told more than once, because we find it in different forms throughout the gospels. He considered that it contained something very important for us. Today, I want to point your attention to two different aspects of this parable. First: the Lord calls everyone. When the church bells ring and the Divine Liturgy begins, He invites everyone. You probably know that during certain times in the liturgy, the bells are to be rung, so that people who are unable to attend the service, can mentally transfer their spirits to church, and pray together with all, knowing that here, the Eucharist is being celebrated. The Lord continually calls people to Himself, and often hears in reply: "No. I'm unable to come to You. I don't have any time, I'm busy with my affairs." The Lord calls us not only when the bells are rung, not only during church services, but also continually. Recall those circumstances in our lives that led us to the thought that this is the call of God, a call to awake, to come to our senses, to change our lives. The Lord knocks at our door, but we often reply: "Wait a minute, Lord, I just don't have the time right now." And just like those in the parable who refused to come, some replied: "We have a wedding to go to," others had bought some oxen and wanted to test them at plowing. So too, we say: "Just wait Lord! I have so many obligations; I have a family, children, and so much work. Sometime later I will respond to your call." Thus passes an entire life. And when the gates of the other world open before us, it turns out that we were disobedient. We were deaf to the voice of God who was calling us. He is calling us always. When you get up in the morning, even the rising sun ought to be a divine call for us. The Lord raises the sun before us. The Lord gives us food. Why do we, when sitting at the table say a prayer and cross ourselves? Because the food that is before us, reminds us about the One who gave it to us, who gives us our daily bread. Joy leads us to gratitude. Sorrow reminds us of the necessity for patience. Always and in everything we can hear His voice. The Lord cries out: "Come to Me all." When we open up the Word of God we hear his words: "Come to Me all who are labored and burdened." Who among us is not burdened? Who among us is not laboring? The Lord calls but then says sadly: "Many are called, but few are chosen." Few are those who hear His voice. Few are those that come. This is sad for Him, because He came to earth so that each person might be saved. You and I have gathered together here at church. It seems that we have heard this inviting voice, we've come before His face, and today, those who partake in the Eucharist will take part in the Last Supper. Perhaps you think that this is enough, that this will suffice. Now, however, remember the second part of the parable. Recall that man who had come into the hall and then was driven out. Why? For what reason? For the same reason that many of us when coming to God, act as though we are accomplishing some feat or rendering Him a favor. As though coming here was not for our benefit, but for the Lord's. Therefore, we come with our sins, without repentance, but rather just as we are and say: "Here I've come, and thanks be to me that I've come before You." Each of us carries within our hearts the burden of vanity, envy, intemperance, impatience, spite and many other faults. Each of us, when the time comes for confession, can look into his soul, as in a mirror and see all of this. Instead of trying on that day and hour when we come before Him, to His royal home, to His table to purify our hearts, we attempt to justify ourselves and say: "Let Him accept me as I am." The fact that we are here is no favor to God. It rather means that we have responded to His call and bear the responsibility for this step. Having come to church puts us under a double obligation. Don't think that those who remain outside of the church, those who don't have the faith are worse than we are. They are often better than we are. The Lord will demand of us according to His law which we know, while these will be questioned according to their own law. If we come to church and in no way differ from the pagans, if we bring to church our braggery, spite, condemnation of each other -- if we drag all of this dirt into this sacred place: Is this really serving God? We are like that man who came to the feast in his dirty work clothes, sat at the table and thought that he would please the king. But the king responded: "Tie him up and throw him out into the darkness." We must remember that it is no virtue or ability on our part which makes us Christians. It only means that we shall be held accountable to a different standard. Has the Lord called us? He has called. But He has not called, so that in coming to Him, we remain children of this age, sons of evil, who don't desire to part with their sinful life. My dear ones, this is what today's parable reminds us of. When going home today, let everyone ask him/herself this question: "I have responded to God's call. But have I been worthy of this? Worthy, that the Lord might call and receive me?" And should you answer "No," don't despair, but rather say: "Let repentance cleanse me, that my dirty clothes might be exchanged for a clean garment, given by Him and according to His eternal forgiveness." Amen.
The Sower (Mark 4:1-9)
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit! In today's gospel reading we heard the parable about the sower. It is a sad parable, in that it shows how man's unworthiness and unpreparedness often thwart God's efforts. The Divine Sower plants His Word in our hearts, but we are frequently not ready or capable of cultivating this Divine Seed within us. How many seeds fall in vain! How many are strangled by tall weeds, how many develop without firm roots! And only a few find good ground and grow and provide food. What does this mean? It means that the Word of God, the Holy Spirit, the power of the sacraments which the Church gives us -- all of this might turn out to be futile and fruitless, since the fate of God's seed also depends on what type of ground it falls. No matter how powerful the Word of God is, His saving grace, if you and I, if our hearts, our souls, if our entire life is not ready to accept this Divine gift -- then all of this will end up useless. And to our greatest regret, this often occurs. Each one of us sees in his own experience how many times we have been the rocky ground. Satan comes and steals what has been planted in our hearts. What does this mean? The devil enters, taking advantage of our sins, our egotism and our pride. If a person comes to church only for the sake of finding rest for his soul, without a deep, heartfelt love, if there is no flame in his heart, then it is very easy for the devil to steal from him the gift of grace. If a person belongs to a church only in a formal sense, and considers that reading his prayers at home, or now and then coming to church, he has fulfilled his obligation, while all the time his heart remains dry and unmoved, like the hardened ground upon which the seed fell and which the birds quickly gather, then "the evil one will come and steal that which has been planted in his heart." There is one method to check the motives for your coming to church, taking part in the sacraments, opening the Word of God and in your desire to live according to the Gospel. You can check it by asking yourself, what is it you are seeking, for what reason are you doing these things? And it often turns out, that we are doing it for ourselves. More than anything, we are seeking peace for ourselves, satisfaction, contentment, searching for ourselves and not for God. Notice that the prayer which Christ left us, "The Our Father," begins not with a request, but with our desire to accept His will: "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done." This is what man must seek after: God's will, because God is the very highest. If a man seeks his own will, he's merely feeding his own pride, his own praise, and a wish to make himself stand out. We must carefully look into our hearts. We can deceive ourselves, but not God. Since the devil steals very quickly, everything turns up empty. Just as flies quickly gather over something rotten, so the devil enters with the stench of our sins, our selfishness and our vanity. If we will not cultivate the soil of our hearts, if we don't spiritually prepare ourselves to put into practice, even to the smallest degree, the words of Christ: "Deny yourself," then even the most amazing miracles (and what could be more miraculous than the gift of the Eucharist, where the Lord gives Himself to us) will end up being powerless and fruitless. Recall when our Lord entered into His hometown of Nazareth, they did not believe in Him and He did not perform many miracles. He was unable to perform miracles because His healing power struck up against human disbelief and unworthiness. And thus those seeds that fall upon the stony ground: they quickly sprout, but since the roots are unable to take hold, it quickly withers. It often happens that a person will accept the word of God with joy. We say: "Yes, Lord, we are ready to follow You, we're ready to serve You and Your holy church," and we speak with sincerity, but we have not saturated our entire life with the commandments of Christ. This implies that there are no roots, and the least temptation, trial, alarm or fear and this person forgets about his promise. How easy for the sprouting seed to be choked by weeds and wild grass. In just the same way, our faith can be choked by the bustle of life, our thoughts and feelings. From morning until night are occupied with all sorts of trivialities, and we never have time to reflect. We are always in a hurry, running through life and we never have time to stop and question ourselves, examine our conscience and really turn toward God in prayer. As if our days, months and years are passed in sleep. In the end, these earthly concerns strangle the voice of God which speaks in our hearts. But these cares are temporary; tomorrow they might all crumble. Only by keeping the eternal before us can we hope never to lose it. Our prayer is that our hearts might be ready, like the good, fertile and rich soil, in which the small seed falls and brings forth much fruit. Amen.
The Healing of the Centurion's Servant (Matt 8:5-13)
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit! Today we heard the story about the centurion, the Roman officer, who came to the Lord and asked him to cure his favorite servant who was seriously ill. The Lord answered: "I will come and cure your servant," to which the officer replied: "My Lord, I give an order to my soldiers, and they carry it out. You only have to command and this sickness will depart." Such was his belief in the healing powers of the Savior. The Lord was amazed at his faith and told him: "Go on, it will be done according to your faith." And while the centurion was on his way home, the servant was cured. Each time that the Gospel recounts how someone turns to the Lord, we can call this a prayer, since prayer is in fact a turning toward the Lord. Let's consider who addressed Him and how. Very often they were people who were suffering, the sick, those burdened with grief or some other ailment. But, just as often, it was those individuals who were praying for others. His first miracle at Cana in Galilee, the Lord performed at the request of Mary. As guests at a wedding, the Virgin Mary asked Him to assist those friends or relatives since they were almost out of wine. One could call this the first intercessory prayer of the Mother of God for others. Or recall how they carried the crippled paralytic, and how his friends took apart the roof, so they might lower the stretcher before the Lord. They were also pleading for this sick person. And as the Gospel recounts, "seeing their faith, Jesus, cured the paralytic." Or recall the Syrian woman who begged that her daughter be cured. Or that unhappy father, bringing his son who suffered from epilepsy, before the Lord, and saying, "Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief." It is very important that we pay attention to these prayers for others. These people were not praying about their own misfortunes, needs or illnesses, but were praying for the needs, trials and sicknesses of others. This type of prayer will always be answered, will always have power, because prayer for others forces us to forget about ourselves and is directed at doing good to others. Therefore, prayer for others, rather than just for ourselves, is often considered higher and richer in the Lord's eyes. Of course you might ask: why is the Lord less likely to hear those who pray just for themselves, and why is it necessary that someone else intercede for us? Aren't we all the same sinful people? The reason is that such prayer demonstrates love. When you come to church or begin to pray for another person, and you bring your thoughts of compassion about this person before the Divine throne, you help to lift up this person for whom you are praying and your soul is able to fly up to the Lord. This means that you are both no longer on this earth, but raised above the earth, and there you are no longer subject to this world's laws and elements. Immersed in God's love, sickness, temptation and difficult and heavy circumstances will recede. Every one of us, who has prayed for our friends and relatives, knows about the great power of prayer. Each of us knows, sometimes you can feel when someone is praying for you. You probably remember the popular song and poem from the war years entitled "Wait for me." In it, the person who is away fighting says, "By your expectations, you saved me." In reality, this wasn't merely expectation, but prayer, though maybe unconscious, for a person who was fighting for his country. Many people, even though they might not have known how to pray, lifted up their hearts to God. And the Lord heard them. Therefore, my dear children, everyday, when you and I stand before the Lord, we must first pray that His will be done, and secondly, we must pray for others. We must never grow weary, never stop or get lazy, because there is no greater love than that which is channeled through prayer. This power holds the church together, she stands on the faith and the love of her people. If we pray for one another, we are closely, brotherly and sisterly, connected to one another, held together by the power of God, and not by our human weaknesses. If you see that you are unable to help someone with either words or actions, that its impossible to take away his misfortune, impossible to cure him, then always remember, that we have the Lord and that we can help him via this firm and reliable support -- prayer. Experience this by fervently and powerfully praying for those who are dear to you, and you will see, that no matter how weak your prayer might have been, it is still effectual, because it contains the power of God. Then you and I will understand that it is our fault that the Lord seems distant from us at times. If we will call to Him, praying for others, He will always be with us and we will always feel His presence. For He Himself said: "Where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in their midst," and "whatever you ask the Father in My name, so shall you receive." Let us pray, each one praying for each other, for your neighbors and then you shall know the love and power of God. Amen.
The Faith of the Canaanite Woman (Matt 15:21-28)
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit! Today we listened to the story of the Canaanite woman, who is possibly the only person that upon addressing the Lord, that He at first refused. She asked the Lord that He might cure her daughter, but Christ continued on His way, not even bothering to turn around. But she ran crying after Him, begging Him to respond. Yet He remained silent. He kept silent until the disciples told Him: "Teacher, dismiss her, since she keeps on shouting after us." Then the Lord turned toward this pagan woman and said such words that are not found anywhere else in the Gospel. He told her that she was a pagan, a worshipper of idols, and therefore was unable to receive the grace of healing. This woman, however, was not insulted, did not turn away, but continued to ask for help. When the Lord severely told her that He would give bread to children, but would not give it to dogs, she insisted: "Please Lord, even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from their masters' tables." Then the Lord stopped and answered: "Woman, your faith is great. Go, your daughter shall be cured." Why did the Lord test her so? We cannot, of course, answer for Him. The secrets of Christ's thoughts remain hidden from us. We only know, that He never turned anyone down. Even among the pagans: there was the Roman centurion Capernaum, and He did not refuse him. Just the opposite, He approved of this man, saying that in all of Israel He had not found such faith, and then He cured his servant. But for a long time, He would not answer this woman. It seemed that she should have stopped crying after Him. We know, of course, that the residents of this region were not merely simple pagans. Of all the types of paganism, here they practiced the most awful: the sacrifice of children, debauchery, which they committed within the temple, and many other wicked deeds, which Holy Scripture describes as the furthest limit of uncleanness and evil. So out of His mercy, the Lord refused to help this woman. But not because He is unkind! Rather, He must prompt the sense of unworthiness within each of us. When this woman acknowledged that she belonged to an undeserving people, yet continued to beg for mercy, He saw, that together with the unholiness, inherited from her ancestors, she possessed a deep faith. Then the silence of Christ was broken. This incident in the life of the Lord reminds you and I of events in our own lives. The mystery of God's silence, when we call to Him, the grief of man, when he stretches forth his hands and it seems to him that heaven does not hear him. "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me,?" cries the Psalmist. Indeed the Lord, as He was dying, repeated these same bitter words. Those of us who read the psalms and love them, know that they contain many similar words and heavy sighs. We knock and call out, "From the depths I cry out to Thee, Lord!" From the depths, from the abyss, from the pit, from the chasm...and heaven is silent...Why is it silent? Why doesn't it respond, when sickness and death come, when injustice and falsehood reigns over the earth? When people, lacking faith, or when trying to shake ours, ask: "Look, how much evil is committed in this world, and your God does not hear, nor does He respond." Truly, this happens. Very often it seems to people that God remains silent. Consider the silence of Christ, when this Canaanite woman addressed Him. This incident leads us to the notion that there is some purpose behind this silence. Of course, we can't penetrate the mystery of God. Quite often, when it seems to us that the Lord does not answer, He is waiting for something from us. He is waiting until we recognize our unworthiness, our sense of humility before Him. Because we often demand something from Him and demand with confidence, as though He is obliged to give it to us, obliged to respond to every request, even those that are foolish. You recall the story that I told you about the monk who interceded for a poor man, a man who had been gracious and charitable toward others. He asked that the Lord might send this poor man riches. After this man truly became wealthy, he ceased being compassionate, and became withdrawn, proud, callous and greedy. We often don't know what we need, and fail to ask for what is essential. Sometimes it happens that the Lord allows us to taste the fruit of our own sins. People claim that wars, violence and lawlessness occur. This is true, they continue on. But the right path has been shown to us. To all people, and especially those who commit these acts of evil on this earth, they have been told: "Here, given to you is the path of life and here is the path of death. Choose yourself. You are a free person." And the person proudly chooses the path of death, picks the path of falsehood, turns from the truth of God and goes along the road of ruin. And when the stones fall from heaven and he tumbles into the abyss, he asks: "Lord, where are You?" Who is the guilty one? The prodigal son or the father? The prodigal son departs, wanders and eats with the swine. Why did he fall into such a condition? Was the father guilty? Of course not. Rather it was the son, who had left his father. When people depart from God, turn away from His commandments, how can they possibly reap anything good? They abandon God, not only in their hearts and minds, but also in their actions. We know of many people, both in the past and present, who appear, to live with God, consider themselves as believers, yet they are void of true faith in their hearts. Their faith is needed merely to feel content, that they might ask for health and gifts from the Lord. However, they do not wish to act according to the will of God. They live completely differently from the way in which He commanded. In vain do they carry the name of Christian. Thus, that which we sow, so shall we reap. Sometimes there are moments of temptation and dark thoughts in our lives which shake our conscience, and when we truly stand on the edge of a precipice. Consider what one of the saints once cried: "Lord, when I was in the midst of great temptation, where were you?" And the Lord answered him: "I was watching, looking, I was here, though not visible. It seemed to you that I was gone, but I was watching your struggle, your efforts, your zeal and your grief. I saw that you wanted to overcome this temptation." Often it seems that He is not near, but He is always next to us. Unseen, He helps us. Whenever it seems that He is silent, that He is isolated from us, it is rather we who have closed Him out. Blocked Him out with our complaining, our grievances, our foolish thoughts and words. Some people reason thus: "How is it Lord, that I serve You and place candles before the icon, yet this illness has not left me?" If each person who came and prayed was delivered from every misfortune, freed from every illness, what would we then be? We would be simply hirelings, who come to God, not because we love Christ and His commandments, but because we want to receive health and success. We come with self-interest in our hearts. Who needs such a faith? Does the Lord need such a faith? For what reason did He come to earth in such a lowly appearance. He came and showed Himself to be a Man of sorrows, so that people would not follow Him for earthly glory. Had He come as a powerful king, a mighty ruler or a great statesman, a person before whom millions bow down to his earthly power and glory, everyone would have followed Him, innumerable crowds would have run after Him. Because people seek for the themselves in the Lord. But our Savior came in a completely different form. From the cave in Bethlehem to Golgotha, He always comes in humility... Silently, He turns to us His glance, and as says: "Here is your Lord. Experience the God of humility and then you will understand His mystery." One of the early Christian writers, Tertullian , said: "When I see Him suffering and spat upon, when I see Him dying, then I recognize my God in Him." He emptied Himself for our sakes. He suffers together with us. When it seems that we are alone in our sufferings, consider Christ, crucified upon the cross. In silence does He suffer together with us. Silently, He carries our anguish, our sin, and our burdens upon his shoulders. Such is our Lord. Therefore, if you and I have given Him our hearts, we shall not be tempted or shaken and shall not think that the heavens are silent. When it seems to us that they are silent, God's gaze is actually resting upon every soul, upon each person's fate. He is waiting, He is forgiving, He is blessing and He is saving all of us! Amen.
Expelling the Devils (Matt 8:28-34)
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit! In the Gospels, we often read how various people addressed the Lord: with a request, a question, a demand, and sometimes even a rebuke or reproach. There was the unhappy father with his ill son who spoke with tears and hope in his voice, but also with doubt: "Lord, I believe, help my disbelief." There was the Roman centurion, who asked that the Lord might cure his sick servant. This officer had not the slightest doubt. He said, "Just as I give orders to my soldiers, so You have the power to demand that this illness depart from my favorite servant." There was another who approached and asked: "What must I do to gain eternal life?" Yet another came to thank the Lord for the cure he received. Each one of us, when reading the Holy Scriptures, can recognize ourselves in one of these people, because even now we continue to address the Lord. It is no wonder that today we heard the words of the apostle: "Jesus Christ: yesterday, today and tomorrow is the same." The same. It is though He is here with us, as if He stood here, and we turn to Him, each with his own need, with our own thoughts, with our own heartfelt suffering, joy or gratitude. Every such movement of our soul is a form of prayer, addressed to the Lord. But today in the Gospel reading we heard a surprising, strange, and as if incomprehensible appeal: the residents of the Gadarene region begged Him to leave, depart from their locale. Why were they asking Him to depart? Let's remember what had just occurred. A stormy wind had developed over the lake and the boat in which the Lord and the disciples were crossing, was blown to the barren western shore, which was inhabited by the Gadarene pagans. When the Lord disembarked upon the shore, two half-clothed, chained, terrible and wild men who frightened everyone in that region met him. They lived in the desert caves, where they laid the dead, and people would shun this place, fearful of these possessed men. They had tried to restrain them, but these men had broken all the ropes and chains. And it were these two possessed lunatics which ran to meet Christ, in a frenzy screeching: "Why meddle with us, Jesus of Nazareth! Have you come to torture us before the appointed time?" Before the appointed time... It would appear that the dark forces of paganism knew that they would be defeated, and it was as though they had entered into these men in order to speak to the Lord: "Before the appointed time, You have come to torture and to destroy us." Then the Lord cured these two possessed men. But the shepherds, who had been watching over their swine, there, along the shore of the lake, had seen everything. They then ran into the city to tell the people what they had seen, and then, as the gospel writer tells us, the entire city came out to see such a miracle. What was it that they saw? There at the feet of the teacher, quietly sat the two crazy, sick, and possessed men. Then what did they do? Instead of praising God, and thanking the miraculous healer, they asked that He depart from their region. They were frightened, and did not wish to listen to His words. This miracle had shaken and terrified them. Just as it is with us: for those souls deprived of faith, a miracle does not act to strengthen, but just the opposite, it frightens and destroys. It makes no difference that a person does not want to know; it's all the same if a person turns away and says: "Depart from us, don't bother us, our souls, our dreams." Nor is it just the ancient pagans of Gadarene who think and feel this way, but many of us today. Because when the Lord knocks upon our hearts, we don't want to respond, we brush it aside, thinking, just leave us alone. Before his conversion to the Lord, Saint Augustine tells us in his own words that he prayed: "Lord save me, release me from sin, but not just yet. Let me now live as before..." And many of us think in the same way. We don't want the Lord to trouble us. Even when we come to church, and perform all of the necessary externals, we don't want to lift a finger toward actually living a Christian life, to act in accordance with Christ's will. It is better for us to postpone, to dismiss and to turn away. We don't openly say: "Depart from us," but act in such a way that we wish to be freed from the seemingly oppressive authority of the Lord's will. But the Lord will not force, nor will He place too difficult a burden upon anyone. He only says: "Here is the path of life; go along this path and you will discover a happiness greater than any found upon this earth." But in our cold, lethargic and lazy indifference, our souls are incapable of hearing this voice and taking advantage of His directions to the Kingdom of Heaven. Thus we see, that the words of those who turned to the Lord are capable of teaching us much. Some of them support our faith; "Lord, help my disbelief!" Some teach us gratitude and still others teach us to ask the Lord about the mysteries of life. Finally, there are the words of the Gadarenes, which warn us not to lose that moment, that time, when the Lord sends us His gift, and that we should receive it with our whole heart and respond accordingly throughout our entire lives. Amen.
"Take up your Cross"(Mark 8:31-9:1)
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit! The Lord tells us about the most important thing, about the path, along which He calls us. The way of Christ is the only path of life, because all of the other paths are of human design. Mankind has learned a great deal, has conquered much, has overcome various diseases, has penetrated into the deepest, practically inaccessible areas, and has gone to the bottom of the oceans and far off into space. These achievements, however, have not made people better or happier. And we understand why the Lord spoke to us these words: "What good is it for a man if he acquires the entire world, but loses his soul?" Consider this: no matter what a man achieves, if his soul is not simultaneously enriched, ennobled or enlightened, these achievements are all in vain. Glancing around ourselves today, we understand this point well. How true that material abundance is incapable of making people better. What is needed is that our spirits are enlivened by God's truth; then men will become happy. You ask: "How is it possible that people are still searching for truth when Christ the Savior has already revealed the truth about life? Even when sooner or later they suffer a bitter defeat? And why, even up until now, has the powerful truth of the Gospel been so ineffective in the hearts of men, and even within the hearts of believers?" The answer is that the Lord, remaining invisible on this earth, desires that his disciples become His messengers; that is, you and I, who wear a cross upon our chests, and call ourselves Christians. Therefore, He says: " Whosoever professes my name before men, so will I profess before my Father in heaven and the angels." Still in another place He says: "Let your light shine before men, so that they might see your good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven." If we consider ourselves with honesty and justice, then we shall see that we are the reason that the Gospel has not spread throughout the world as it might have. If only we were genuine Christians, filled with faith, the power of the Spirit, trust in the Lord, and love for others, and of course, love for Him. We have not shown this to the world, have not revealed this, and end up in the same sort of snare in which the world lives. When we come to confession, we repent over the very same sins which all people are subject to. Thus, we manifest our weakness, our impotence and our unworthiness. First and foremost, the Lord says: "Whosoever wishes to follow after Me, must deny himself, take up his cross and follow after Me." How difficult it is for man to deny himself! Even when we turn to the Lord, we are usually thinking about some advantage for ourselves. If we truly love Him, then our lives will be different. "Take up your cross," He Says, and the cross means service, and not merely work, sorrow and illness. Animals experience work, sorrow and illness. But a cross is carried only by a conscious man, who labors for the sake of his neighbor. "Follow after Me," this means that we must learn to live with the Lord. If today we judge ourselves under the light of the Gospels, then we must admit that we are unworthy, that we have turned out to be obstacles along the path of God. Recognizing this with bitterness, we must not succumb to despair. It is for this reason that the Lord's cross is lifted up today in the middle of Lent. "Yes, my children," says the Lord, "truly you have departed from Me, truly you have gone off from My path. You, and all generations, have not become worthy of My love. But My love, God's love, will cover and consume your sins. I will not cast you aside, but will, again and again, with the eternal patience of My Father's love, call you to Myself. Stand before Me thus, that My Spirit might act within you." Rise up, that He might enter into your hearts, bow before Him, that you might feel reverence, and call to Him as if truly the living Christ was next to you, reaching to you His hand. Indeed, it is only here that we find our strength. Now you and I know that within us there is no power, that it is only the Lord which gives it, and that through our weakness, despite our unworthiness, the great work of Christ is carried out on earth. The appearance of His love and the action of His Spirit will continue in this world, despite our imperfections, because the love of Christ embraces all. The light of Christ enlightens everyone, like the sun which shines upon the just and unjust, just as the Lord shines upon all. And today we will ask of Him before His Cross: "Lord, your blood is upon us, Your redeeming blood has washed us. We know that we are like dust, like trampled garbage. We are unable to do anything which You would have us do; we are dead. But You can raise us up." This is our hope, before this cross, we again acquire the certainty, not in ourselves, but in Him, who can revive the dead, raise him up and lead us into His life. Amen.
The Passion (Matt 27:27-50)
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit! Today we read the passion story according to the evangelist Matthew. Again, we recall and live through the events from the garden in Gethsemane to the tomb, where they laid the Lord's body. All during this time, we will reacquaint and fill our souls with the events of Christ's passion. Why do we need to recall these events? We find the answer in Holy Scripture: the Christian must deeply enter into the passion of Christ the Savior, because He suffered so that suffering might be removed from the face of the earth. He suffers with us, together with us, because people are still suffering throughout the earth. And if He, holy and pure, were to appear among us, then He would appear on the cross. But couldn't we say: "Of course, Lord, your sufferings were great, but consider the sufferings of others, who have been murdered, tortured and executed." If we are just talking about the physical sufferings of the Lord Jesus, they would certainly not outweigh the countless sufferings which have fallen upon the entire human race. There is no way that his blood, poured out at Golgotha could outweigh the seas of blood that have been spilt throughout all of human history. Nevertheless, the Lord's passion was the most difficult and torturous. Why is this? Though this is difficult for us to understand, consider the following example that might help explain this point. Imagine yourselves as a mother who dearly loves her son. Not merely attached to him or simply treating him as a parent, but deeply and truly loving your child. Then before your eyes, he was put to death, and instead of your pure son, there now appeared a fallen man, who is no longer even considered as a man, and only you as his mother thinks: "Yes, this indeed is my son." To others he is an outcast, an evil person, who ought to be hung as quickly as possible. And there is no more bitter fate for a mother than she who lives through the fall of her child. Just recall how hard it was for you, how embarrassing and grievous when one of your loved ones fell. And now imagine to a small degree how our Lord, our Father, who loves every person, sees that from every one of us stems so much evil, cunning and meanness. If the sins of man were similar to smoke, than the entire earth would be similar to an oven, from which a black column of smoke pours continually, century to century, millennium upon millennium...dark, black smoke. This smoke rises up to God, from the beloved children of God, from man, poisoning the Lord's divine existence and causing Him suffering. This is the reason the Lord comes to the earth, so that He might together with us, take upon the weight of our sins. Sinless, He shares with sinners the fate of death, becomes one on the same level as us. No other person is capable of this, for even though we might be able to answer for our relatives and friends, no human is capable of answering for all of man. This was the reason why the Lord cried out, agonized in human terms, that this cup was hard. His human nature protested against this, but His Godly nature replied, "Let it be done, because humans are incapable of handling their sins." He therefore went up the path to Golgotha. Imagine that a giant rock, a cliff was just about to fall upon you, and that someone came along and found the necessary strength to hold up this cliff so it did not crush you. Thus stands our Lord, so that we might not be crushed under the weight of our sins. This is why His burden is so great, why His suffering is unlike the usual pains of death. His sufferings are rather like those spoken of by the prophet Isaiah: "He took upon Himself our weakness and bore our sickness; the punishment of our world was upon Him, and by His wounds are we healed." Amen.
Concerning the Eternal and the Temporary (Luke 14:15-24)
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit! One ancient philosopher pointed out that it was impossible to enter twice in exactly the same spot in a river, because the water is always moving, and that after a second, the passing water is different. While one could of course build a dam to stop the water, it is impossible to stop the passage of time, which runs uninterrupted. An hour or so ago, we gathered here to pray, and now we are an hour closer to the end of our lives. It's impossible to stop the passage of time; it carries everything away. But from eternity, the Lord stretches out his hand to us, so that we might not get lost in the flow of life, so that we don't choke, and that we might feel His strength and the power of His grace and love. Whether or not we are able to feel His hand depends upon us, because the ship of our life is quickly passing by the shore where there is a secure dock and we consider, should we stop or not. And while we are thinking the shore passes by. There is a story about a man, who when he was young and was walking along the street, suddenly saw a wall, and in it, a green door. He easily opened the door, went inside and entered into a wonderful garden, the likes of which he had never imagined. Amazing flowers were growing, wild beasts were playing, beautiful birds were singing and women of extraordinary kindness greeted him. Then, as if in a sleep, he left the garden (he didn't want to depart) and the women who cared for the garden told him: "Whenever you wish, please come back and visit." Many years later, when the young man was already a college student, he came across that same street, noticed the long-forgotten wall and the green door. He wanted to yell out to the driver: "Stop!" but then thought to himself, "I'm late for an exam, late for one of my college courses," and continuing further, reasoned to himself: "I'll return, and then knock upon that door." But upon his return, he did not see the door: there were houses, and he thought it was the wall, but he could not find the green door. This happened several times during the course of his life. He would be in a hurry upon some business, when suddenly, before his eyes, there would appear the wall and in it the mysterious green door leading into that wonderful garden. He would say to himself: "There it is, but now I have no time and must hurry; but on my return..." but on his return trip he never saw it. When he became elderly, he suddenly realized that he had hurried in vain, that all his haste was for naught, that he was chasing after an empty dream and that he had missed the most importance happiness in life. Going out into the street one night in near desperation, he began to wander along that street hoping to see that wall and that green door. In the morning they found him dead, having fallen in the dark into an open pit. This story is a parable about our lives, and I recall it because today we read the story about the king who called his subjects to the marriage of his son. And to this great feast, all of the friends of the king refused to attend under various, apparently valid, reasons: one had just purchased some land, another wanted to test his new oxen, each had their own excuse. Regardless of the reason, they lost the opportunity, and life carried them on further... This is how we often conduct ourselves, and then God's voice calls to us and says: "Stop, turn to me!" The voice of eternity calls to us: "I have everything that you need: the Heart of Christ, which is open to everyone, the love of Christ, which embraces everyone; just stop and listen!..." It was for this reason that bells were installed in the churches, so that people who were passing or working nearby, would hear the sounds of the bells, make the sign of the cross and say: "The Lord is calling us." Everyone, whether in the field or at his trade would stop what he or she was doing for a moment and say a prayer. In the past, there was even a reverent custom, both here and in the West, where at a certain point in the church service, the bells would be rung when the Holy Gifts were consecrated. Hearing the voice of the bells, people would stop what they were doing for a moment in order to think about God and raise their thoughts to Heaven. How necessary! Yet we are always immersing ourselves in the things of this world, as though we are going to live on this earth forever. Raise your eyes to heaven: in order to renew life, to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit, to feel the closeness of eternity. Yet we continue to pass by, not noticing, hurrying along, remaining with empty hands. When we talk about the year "2000," it seems to us that it is way off in the future. And yet it will be here in just 12 years. And which one of us will live that long? In any case, among those who are standing here, quite a few might finish their race before this date. Yes, life is a race and it is impossible to stop, yet we can receive the Lord's gift and in the end, a crown. The apostle Paul said about himself: "I have finished my race, preserving the faith and now a crown awaits me." God willing, we also will be able to say at the end of our lives, that we have finished our race with our faith intact. But how can we preserve our faith in all this turmoil and bustle? It's only possible, if every now and then, we look to heaven, only if we turn our hearts to Him who is always over us, over all that is passing and the temporal, because the Lord is always there and calling us: "Come to Me all you who are labored and burdened, and take My yoke upon yourselves; because My yoke is easy and My burden light." Amen.
Translations © 1999 Raymond C. Finch