Wednesday, March 24, 2010


When the Apostles could not cast out the demon from the possessed boy, the father approaches our Lord and beseeches His help. When Jesus says, "All things are possible to him that believes," the father replies, "Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief!"

Isn't this how it is for all of us? On a superficial level, we sincerely do believe, but when push comes to shove, our so-called faith proves to be weak indeed. The Holy Apostle Peter believed he could walk on water because Jesus told him to, but suddenly aware of the tumult of the waves, he began to sink.

In times of peace, it is easy to believe, because there is no cost attached. But when a time of persecution arises and our faith is put to the test by the threat of martyrdom, we shall find how deep and enduring our faith really is. The fact is, true faith is always a gift of God's grace, never an accomplishment for which we can take credit ourselves. So we must possess the humility of the father in the Gospel and pray, "Help Thou my unbelief!" or cry like Peter, "Lord, save me!"

Truly whoever dares trust in his own faith and spiritual accomplishments in times of trial will be lost. Nevertheless, God normally requires an effort on our part before He bestows a gift of grace. When the Apostles asked Him why they could not cast out the demon, Jesus replied, "This kind comes out by naught but prayer and fasting." It is true that we are saved by faith alone, yet (as the Holy Apostle affirms) "faith without works is dead." And these works include, among other things, the disciplines of an ascetic life.

The Kingdom of God is taken by violence, which is to say, we must force ourselves to do that which is contrary to our fallen human nature, ever striving for every virtue and the purification of our hearts. Only then can God give to us a deep and abiding faith that will withstand every storm and tribulation of this life. In these final days of the Great Fast, then, may we redouble our efforts to pray and fast, to deny ourselves the sinful impulses of the passions, and in every way to prepare ourselves to be made worthy to behold our Lord's glorious Resurrection.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


In today's Gospel, Jesus gives us the three steps to discipleship, which is to say, the three steps to salvation. The first step is to deny yourself, which means crossing out the "I." This is the most difficult step, because in our fallen state we are naturally self-centered: we tend to see and to experience the whole world through the prism of our own needs and desires. This is, of course, the exact opposite what Christ did when he voluntarily ascended the Cross.

But the mere act of self-denial is not enough. After all, not only Christians practice this virtue. What self-denial means for the Christian is taking on voluntarily (without grumbling or complaining) whatever burdens God sees fit to lay upon us. As a matter of fact, everyone
has a cross--but only those who cheerfully accept their cross are considered to have taken it up. Otherwise we are simply enduring against our will something that has been imposed upon us.

Finally, having taken up our cross, we must resolve to faithfully follow Christ: otherwise we are nothing more than commendable stoics endowed with a great measure of patience and courage. Only those who endure till the end for the sake of Christ without any pride or self-interest shall be saved.

This is indeed the purpose of our whole earthly pilgrimage: it is a school, a training ground wherein we strive and struggle to become true disciples of Christ. And the season of the Great Fast is especially the time set aside to devote ourselves to this struggle. But all of our fasting, prayer and other spiritual disciplines are pointless unless they are directed toward this end. The Church provides us with all that is necessary for our salvation, but these ways and means are never intended to be ends in themselves. Our ultimate goal is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul an mind, and our neighbor as our self.

After all, even the great martyr Ignatius, having endured so much on the way to Rome where he was to be fed to the lions, wrote to his flock that he had barely begun to be a disciple. May God grant to us all such humility, meekness, courage and a spirit of repentance, that we may steadfastly carry our cross and be made worthy of salvation in God's eternal Kingdom.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


"Insomuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto Me." So speaks our Lord in the Parable of the Last Judgment to the sheep on His right hand, those who have fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and visited the sick and those in prison. Do you see how our Lord shares the joys and sufferings of the very least of His creatures? Unlike the Muslim God Allah, He is not a God Who stands afar off, not a mere judge, but a caring Father Who dwells in the hearts of those who love Him and strive to do His will. Truly He is closer to us than the very air we breathe.

Nor is this so hard to understand, even from our limited human point of view. As parents, do we not suffer and rejoice along with our children? Is it not our greatest happiness that they be happy? And if, as a father, I must discipline my child, I may say (and truly mean it) that it hurts me more than them. This is, of course, but a dim reflection of the unconditional love God has for each and every one of us, a love so vast we cannot begin to comprehend it in its fullness.

Yet having said all this, is this not the Sunday of the Last Judgment? And the Gospel minces no words concerning the severity of this judgment. But we must understand that God's "judgment" is neither arbitrary nor vindictive, nor does He take pleasure in swooping down upon the sinner and casting him into hell. That which we call God's judgment is rather the natural consequence of our actions (or our failure to act). "God does not desire the death of a sinner, but rather that the sinner turn from his way and live."

God has, however, given us the gift of free will, and He totally respects our right to choose--either eternal life in His heavenly Kingdom or eternal darkness apart from Him. If we choose to love God and to set aside our own selfish interests and desires, it will follow as night follows day that we will love our neighbor and show compassion on those in need.

Today we also celebrate the holy New Martyrs of Russia, those faithful Christians who fell victim to the godless Soviet regime. Now the judgment of God upon Holy Russia was also the natural consequence of a falling away from God, but thanks to the steadfast love and witness of the martyrs and the repentance of the faithful, the power of evil and darkness has finally been vanquished and a new day of renewal has dawned for the Church of Russia. Let us not forget, however, the prophetic words of blessed Seraphim of Platina: "What began in Russia will end in America." We have also, as a nation, largely fallen away from God and it is likely that this same judgment will fall upon us. May we, like the New Martyrs of Russia, remain steadfast in the Faith and courageously bear witness to the truth and power of God's love.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, a young man asks his father to be given ahead of time his share of the inheritance. The father agrees, though no doubt he knew the character of his son and realized that the course chosen would probably lead to disastrous consequences. The father in this parable, of course, represents our Heavenly Father, Who always respects the free will of his creatures and often grants that which we desire and pray for--knowing full well that we will live to regret it. (Thus the saying: "Be careful what you pray for: you may get it!")

Having received his inheritance, the son leaves his father's house and sets off for a far country (which represents life in this fallen world lived apart from God). Once he arrives, the son gives himself over to a life of riotous living--wine, women and songs. But because he doesn't get a job and has no source of income, he very soon finds himself completely broke. In spiritual terms, he does not strive to acquire those virtues necessary for salvation, that is, "treasure in heaven." To make matters worse, there arises a famine in that country so that there is nothing to eat, even if one had the money to buy it. So it is with the frivolous pleasures of this world: they soon leave us spiritually starving, since we are no longer receiving the sustenance of God's grace.

He's so destitute that he's finally forced to take a job, feeding corn husks to a local farmer's swine. Apparently this isn't much of a job, though, since he is not even allowed to eat a portion of the husks. In this dire state, he finally "comes to himself." (That is, he repents). He realizes how foolish he was to leave the security of this father's house. After all, even his father's servants have more than enough to eat and a roof over their heads. So he decides then and there that he will return to his father and ask to become one of his hired servants. He carefully rehearses what he will say to his father and sets off.

But when he is still a good distance from the house, the father sees him approaching and runs to greet him with a warm and loving embrace. Finally the son addresses his father with the words he had rehearsed, but the father reacts as though he hasn't even heard him. He orders his servants to honor his son and to organize a party to celebrate the son's return.

Now such unconditional acceptance was totally unexpected, and is in fact unlikely to occur in this fallen world. The mind of God, however, does not operate on the same level as ours. God's ways are not our ways. In Him there is no calculation, no remembrance of wrongs, no desire for revenge or reservations concerning the "worthiness" of a person. In Him there is no past to "remember," only the eternal present in which he encounters each unique person face to face. For in God the are no emotions, only a consuming love and a desire for the salvation of all His children.

The point is, we are all called to put on the mind of Christ, to strive to relate to others as God relates to us. Every one of us is a prodigal, but if we sincerely repent and resolve in our hearts to return to our heavenly homeland, God will meet us more than half way and treat us as though we had never left his presence. Indeed, there is more joy in heaven over a single sinner who repents than over ninety nine righteous ones. True, we may well have to suffer certain natural consequences for our time of riotous living, but God Himself doesn't punish us, nor is His love for us in any way diminished.

So then, if God receives prodigals such as us with such unconditional love, how can we not forgive and forget the sins and offenses of an erring brother? And if he repents, shall we not joyfully embrace him and celebrate his return?

Saturday, January 9, 2010


As the liturgical hymn for the Nativity of Christ affirms, all of creation offers something to the newborn Messiah: the heavens offer a star, the angels a hymn, the shepherds their wonder, the earth a cave, and we (that is, the entire human race) the Most Holy Mother of God. But is it not appropriate that we, as individuals, should offer something as well, considering that we have received, through the Incarnation, the greatest gift of all--a gift of inconceivable value--the salvation of our immortal souls?

The exchange of gifts has become for many nowadays the main event of Christmas--often with little or no reference to the birth of Christ. So it is that this most important Holy Day is reduced to gross materialism--a buying frenzy--wherein the average American spends more time in Walmart than in church. We end up buying material things (most of which are made in China) for loved ones who probably need nothing and who already have so much stuff they don't know where to put it all. Hence the proliferation of yard sales in recent decades.

We thereby lose sight of the true spiritual meaning of the Feast--as the Church Fathers teach, the Son of God becomes man that the sons and daughters of man might become gods. So what can we offer to God when everything we possess--even life itself--is given by Him? Even in the Divine Liturgy, "Thine own of thine own we offer unto Thee...."

But that is the point: the only gift we can possibly offer back as a sacrifice is that which He has already given to us. So it is that Abraham was willing to offer up to God his only son Isaac--who was himself the gift of God's promise. God has also given us the gift of salvation, but this gift is not automatic. We are always free to refuse the gift, frittering away our God-given talents in vain and empty worldly pursuits. Or we can strive with all our strength to "work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling."

This is indeed the best gift we can offer back to God: striving to live a pious, holy and righteous life, doing all things to the glory of God. Truly the sacrifice most pleasing to God is "a humble and contrite heart," with the fervent desire to commit ourselves and our whole life to God--even, if the need arises, to suffer and to die for the sake of Christ and His Holy Church. In this way we will truly glorify God, Who was born in a cave and laid in a manger for our salvation. CHRIST IS BORN--GLORIFY HIM!

Sunday, January 3, 2010


"By faith, Abraham sojourned in the land of promise"--likewise, all those holy men and women of the Old Testament enumerated by St. Paul in his Epistle to the Hebrews, having endured many trials and tribulations and "having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise...."

Today's Gospel records the geneology of Jesus Christ from Abraham: this shows, first of all, that Jesus, though fully divine, was at the same time fully human. And because He assumed all the fullness of our human nature, He was truly able to heal of of the effects of the ancestral sin. As the holy Fathers of the Church affirm, that which is not assumed cannot be healed. But it is also significant that these ancestors suffered and died in expectation of the promised Messiah.

They lived by faith, hoping "for a city which hath foundations, whose maker and builder is God." Truly, as the Holy Apostle affirms, "Faith is the substance of things hoped for." Nor is this the vague hope spoken of by certain politicians, who promise (but can never deliver) some sort of secular utopia.

This is rather a hope firmly rooted in God's promises, and thus worth suffering and dying for--as the holy martyrs throughout history bear witness. And while the Old Testament saints lived in expectation of the Messiah's coming, we live in expectation of His Second Coming, the Parousia, when He shall come to judge the living and the dead and to establish an eternal Kingdom that shall never pass away.

Through the Nativity of Christ, God fulfills the promise of His salvation, but we still await in hope the final consummation of the ages, when Christ shall be all in all. Let us, then, faithfully endure all things for the sake of Christ our Savior and His Kingdom, that having endured in hope, we may be found worthy of the promise.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


Our Lord was teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath when he saw a woman who had been suffering from a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years. As a result, she was all bent over and could not even walk. Feeling compassion for this unfortunate suffering woman, Jesus healed her by a simple word and the touch of His all-pure hands. I would imagine the woman cried tears of joy over her miraculous delivery, but the ruler of the synagogue was incensed. How dare He heal the woman on the Sabbath, when there are six other days of the week whereon he might do this "work?" (Strictly speaking, no work whatsoever was permitted on the Sabbath, and healing was technically considered work).

Our Lord's famous reply, however, put the ruler to shame: "The Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath." And if this is so regarding the Old Testament Law, h0w much more so concerning the law of love Christ came to proclaim? The rules and canons of the Church are, in fact, not meant to enslave us, but to liberate us. We have not been given a list of senseless and arbitrary rules and regulations, but rather a path to salvation and the means to follow it.

Christ's healing of the woman was an act of love, and the law of love surely supercedes any strict interpretation of the Law. In fact, the entirety of the Jewish Law has already been fulfilled in Christ, Who has revealed to us a new law of grace. Yet there remain many Christians to this day who believe if we are simply "good" enough and obey all the rules, God will reward us by allowing us to go to heaven when we die. But this is legalism pure and simple, and has nothing to do with the Christian revelation.

Surely the rules and guidelines we follow as Christians can never be viewed as ends in themselves. Their sole purpose is to provide for us the means of uniting our souls with God, and this union already is heaven for those who achieve it. But the biggest obstacle to this union is pride, which is why our Lord so roundly condemned the Pharisees: these people thought they were better than anyone else simply because they followed the letter of the Law. Having been thus blinded by the spirit of pride, they failed to see the forest for the trees: by focussing on the literal fulfillment of the Law, they lost sight of the supreme law of love.

This is why we must all, as St. Paul says, put on the "whole armor of God," because the Devil prowls about like a roaring lion ever seeking whom he may devour. And his greatest weapon is to instill in our hearts a spirit of pride. His goal is not so much to turn us all into atheists, but rather to make us think we are righteous and holy when in fact all of our righteousness is as filthy rags. "A humble and contrite heart Thou wilt not despise," says the Psalmist, and this indeed is the greatest armor of all against the wiles of the enemy and the surest path to salvation.