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.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


In the Parable of the Rich Fool, a landowner has been blessed over the years with abundant crops. It finally gets to the point where he no longer has room to store it all, and so he comes up with a bright idea: he will tear down his old barns and build new and bigger ones. Then, having set aside so much, he will not be required to work anymore. Instead, he'll "eat, drink and be merry," devoting his life to the pursuit of pure pleasure. Unfortunately for him, however, "Man proposes, but God disposes." That very night God will take his soul and demand a reckoning.

"So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." Now the point of this parable isn't that we shoudn't make wise provision for our future and the well being of our loved ones. Surely God expects us to be responsible stewards of the material blessings He gives us, and especially that we should share these blessings with those less fortunate than ourselves. The problem is, the Rich Fool puts all of his hope and trust in these blessings, while forgetting their Source.

Rather than thanking God for His blessings and using his resources to better serve Him, he sees his good fortune as an opportunity to "take his ease." This seems to be the goal of most contemporary Americans--to get to the point where we can get by doing as little work as possible and can simply enjoy life. But the truth is, we haven't been put on this earth for the sake of our own personal enjoyment and happiness. Rather, the time allotted us has been given for repentance, that we might strive to work out our "own salvation with fear and trembling." And since we don't know when God will demand an account of our actions, it is imperative that we live each day as though it were our last.

Just like the human mind in the old commercial, the time given us by God is a terrible thing to waste. It would indeed be nice if our life were like a video cassette: we can pause it or rewind it any time we wish and start all over again. But the reality is, we only live once. There can be no second chances. All too quickly, time passes by relentlessly like sand through an hour glass, and before we know it, we've wasted the best years of our life in foolish and frivolous pursuits.

That is why we are called upon to "redeem the time," for the days we live in are evil and we can all too easily lose sight of "the one thing needful." The time we have been given in this life is our most precious resource, and it stops for no man. For this reason, today is the day of salvation: tomorrow it may be too late.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


A lawyer comes to Jesus and asks Him, "What is the greatest commandment of the Law?" Instead of answering directly, our Lord asks him what he thinks, and he replies, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy mind, and with all thy soul, and thy neighbor as thyself." Jesus replies that he has answered correctly, but the lawyer, "seeking to justify himself," asks, "And who is my neighbor?" For the Jews considered only their fellow Israelites to be their neighbors, which provided an exellent loophole for treating all others as outside the pale.

Now Jesus could have simply said, "Your neighbor is anyone in need--not just your fellow Jew." Instead, he tells a parable about a man (no doubt a Jew) who is set upon by thieves. A priest and a Levite both pass by and look upon the unfortunate victim and pass by, offering no help whatsoever. Perhaps they felt some desire to help, but you see, there was the risk of coming into contact with blood, and this would have rendered them ritually unclean, thereby requiring some rather extensive purification rites, which would have been just too inconvenient. Finally a Samaritan, a member of a race despised by the Jews, passes by. He not only offers immediate help, but takes the victim to an inn and takes care of him. Not only so, but when it is time for him to depart, he leaves money with the innkeeper and charges him to spare no expense in his care of the victim.

Finally Jesus asks the lawyer which of the three was neighbor to the man in need, and the lawyer answers rightly, "The one who showed mercy." Then Jesus says simply, "Go and do likewise." For indeed, it is only when we actually show mercy toward another that the relationship of neighbor comes about. Technically, both the priest and the Levite were neighbors to the victim, but only the despised Samaritan proved to be a neighbor in fact.

God says in the Scriptures, "I will have mercy and not sacrifice"--while the priest and the Levite are more concerned with preserving their ritual purity than in fulfilling the commandment of love. And so we all can easily fall into the trap of thinking we are faithful Orthodox Christians because we keep the fasts, say our daily prayers, attend church and receive Holy Communion--all the while neglecting those concrete acts of love that constitute the essence of the Christian life.

It is not enough to be perfectly correct in all of the outward aspects of the Faith if at the same time we neglect the command to be merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful. For even if we somehow manage to faithfully observe every single canon of the Church--that is, "the letter of the Law"--we are condemned for not keeping the most essential canon of them all, which constitutes the spirit of the Law--love of God and neighbor.

Today we celebrate the memory of the holy apostle Matthew, a former tax collector who (due to his profession) was in flagrant violation of the Jewish Law. Yet when Christ says to him, "Follow me," he gives it all up out of his love of God, while this very same love inspires him to sacrifice his whole life in service to his neighbor. Suffering gladly every hardship in order to preach the Gospel to those who are perishing, he finally dies a martyr's death. So may we all, through the prayers of the holy apostle Matthew, be strengthened in the Faith and inspired to follow his good example.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


When Jesus cast the demons into the herd of swine and they plunged over a cliff and drowned, the Gadarenes were neither joyful nor astonished at this manifestation of God's power, but rather they were afraid, and they begged our Lord to depart from their region. Like many people today, they preferred God a safe distance away, not actively involved in their affairs. As the English saying goes, "God is in His heaven, and all's well on earth."

Like the Pharisees, the Gadarenes preferred the status quo, business as usual. They had no desire to "cast out into the deep" and perchance risk a first hand encounter with God. They were like the Grand Inquisitor of Dostoyevsky's tale, who demanded to know why Christ had to return to earth: the Church, after all, was doing perfectly well without Him.

Truly, "Our God is a consuming fire," and "It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God." To be sure, God is love. Thus, St. Paul shows us "a more excellent way." For even the greatest of spiritual gifts will eventually pass away, while of all things love alone is eternal. Indeed, apart from love, nothing we accomplish in the spiritual live has any value.

Nevertheless, God's love is a two edged sword: for the demons and sinners, it is a tormenting fire, while for the righteous, it is illumination and heavenly joy. The wicked fear God because His light reveals their works of darkness and brings down judgment upon their superficial, worldly and self-centered lives.

The truth is, Christ came to cast fire upon the earth; not to bring peace, but to initiate the final war between the forces of darkness and light. The question is, when push comes to shove, what side are we on? It is impossible to hide from God or to straddle the fence. If we are not for Him, then it stands to reason we are against him.

For truly, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand! And only those who sincerely repent, turning from the darkness of this world to the light of the living God, will be saved. Moreover, the sign of this Kingdom is the gift of healing given to His disciples--especially to the Holy Unmercenaries--the power to cast out demons and to cure every manner of disease.

For Christ did not come to condemn the world, but "to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord."

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Our Lord assures us, "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you....If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you." This is another one of those "hard sayings" of the Gospel which so many would be Christians choose to ignore. Rather than courageously bearing witness to Christ before the powers of this world, these lukewarm Christians instead take the easier path, making friends with this world and accomodating their faith to worldly standards.

After all, we certainly do not wish to step on anyone's toes or to "offend" those who may feel uncomfortable with our convictions. In this relativistic society of ours, one of the gravest sins is to speak the truth as we see it, whatever the consequences. So what we are left with in the end is a watered down faith that is powerless to save ourselves or anyone else.

We would all prefer to have our cake and to eat it too. Why not enjoy all the benefits of a worldly life while still retaining the image of a "good Christian?" So it is we can faithfully attend church and go through all the motions of a pious life, all the while lacking the courage of our convictions.

The fact is, though, our faith is not meant to be a crutch to help us "get through" life, but rather a weapon to be used against the principalities and powers that rule this world. St. Dimitrios is an example for us all of what it means to bear witness to Christ in this fallen world. As the military governor of Thessalonica, he had attained a position of authority and power that most men would envy. Yet when the emperor ordered him to exterminate all the Christians in the city, he refused point blank. Instead, he chose the much harder path of obeying the King of Heaven. For this, he was stripped of his military rank, cast into prison and subjected to the most brutal torture. In the end, he was run through with spears and breathed his last as a true and faithful witness. Yet for this witness, he received the incomparable riches of eternal life in God's heavenly Kingdom.

It is true that we in this country no longer face literal martyrdom, though our turn may well be coming. As Blessed Seraphim Rose of Platina once stated, "What began in Russia will end in America." And for that matter, there are places in this world today where literal martyrdom is still a real and present danger. In any case, whatever the circumstances, a genuine Christian life must in some sense be martyric.

Self denial, accepting ridicule and abuse from those who hate us, striving to put Christ at the center of our lives--all of this and more is true martyrdom. But how is it possible for us fallen and sinful creatures to live such a life? St. Paul gives the answer: we must "be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus," all the while enduring "hardness, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus." This was the path chosen by St. Dimitrios. May we all, through his holy prayers, do likewise.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


Christ explains the Parable of the Seed thus: a Sower goes out to sow his seed. Some falls by the wayside and never takes root. Some falls among weeds and brambles and at first grows nicely, but is soon smothered by the weeds. A third part of the seed falls on rocky soil: it springs up fast, but soon withers away in the noonday sun. Finally, there is the seed that falls on good fertile soil and ultimately produces a good harvest. Now the seed is the Word of God, while the Sower is Christ. The soils represent the souls of vari0us types of people, depending on how receptive they are to the Word of God.

Now this, of course, is a very instructive parable, one that we should all ponder on deeply. However, there is another way to look at this parable (surely not a better way, for our Lord Himself gives the explanation) but a different perspective that might allow us to consider this parable in a new light. Let us say simply that the seed represents our own good deeds and works, while the soil represents how we employ these good deeds and works for the greatest possible good. There is a saying, "Good intentions pave the way to hell." What this means is that our desire to do good is never enough. In fact, do our actions really make this world a better place, or are we in the long run doing more harm than good?

God has given to every person alive unique gifts and talents: we should ask ourselves, are we
truly using them in a way that best serves God and our neighbor? Are we truly striving at all times to do God's will, or are we in fact following our own self-willed desires?

Today we commemorate the life our our Father among the saints John of Kronstadt. Now St. John was a human dynamo, constantly busy serving the Church and his fellow man in general. Nor did he work and strive in vain. His life and witness left an enormous impact on the Russian people in the critical period before the Revolution.

Having a heart purified by prayer and prompted every moment by the Holy Spirit, he always gave generously to those in need, not counting the cost. But realizing that simply handing out to the poor is not enough, he was the founder of the famous House of Industry, which gave to the poor needed skills and dignity. More than this, St. John personally saw to the spiritual needs of all who lived there.

Contrast this personal and spiritual approach to poverty with the charitable work (however well intended) done by impersonal institutions and government agencies. These seeds very often fall on the trodden path or stony soil, while St. John's efforts--because they were blessed by God--mostly fell on fertile soil and bore much fruit. St. John taught that our whole life must be lived in Christ and inspired by the Holy Spirit, otherwise our best efforts may be futile and of no lasting value.

Let us follow this holy saint's example and never forget that no matter how seemingly insignificant our gifts and talents, they can be of immeasurable value to the Church of God and all those in need whom we may encounter--so long as we are striving at all times to fulfill the will of God and not our own.

Saturday, October 31, 2009


"And this is life eternal, that we might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent." In this verse is expressed the whole and entire purpose of the Incarnation, that we might know God--not as a mere philosophical concept or mental contruct, but personally. As our Lord said, "He who has seen me has seen the Father." Likewise, only he who knows Christ truly knows the Father.

For it is a true and certain saying that the fullness of the Godhead is revealed bodily in the Person of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Who is the perfect image of the Father. This is the Gospel preached by the Holy Apostle Paul, the Gospel which "is not after man," but was made known "by the revelation of Jesus Christ."

This is why the veneration of icons upheld by the 7th Ecumenical Council is solemnly celebrated every year as the Sunday of Orthodoxy. Because God took on human flesh and assumed visible form through Jesus Christ, it is not only lawful but indeed essential that we venerate Him through the holy icons.

Indeed, "God is the Lord and has revealed Himself to us:" not in the indistinct shadows and images of the Old Testament, but face to face. As the holy Fathers say, "God became man that men might become gods"--through union with Christ, we become by grace everything that God is by nature.

This is what it means to know God: not by rumor or hearsay but first hand, through personal and intimate experience. This is eternal life and salvation and the reality proclaimed and safeguarded by the holy Fathers of the 7th Ecumenical Council. This is the true Orthodox Faith and the refutation of all heresies. This is the Faith that has established the universe.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


"And as ye would that men should do unto you, do ye also to them likewise." This so-called "Golden Rule" is unique to the Christian Faith. It is true that similar precepts can be found in other religions, but nowhere in this precise form.

For one thing, the context here is love for one's enemies. Now the Golden Rule is perhaps not so hard to follow (up to a point) in regards to one's friends and loved ones--so long as it does not become too inconvenient. Even so, our motives in following the commandment are usually mixed: either we expect the same treatment in return ("I'll rub your back if you rub mine") or else it becomes an occasion of pride and feeling good about ourselves.

However, it goes completely against the grain of our fallen human nature to behave in a loving, kind and compassionate way toward those who hate and abuse us, even if our behavior does not reflect our true feelings. After all, no one wants to be a door mat, and besides, "What's in it for us?"

The fact is, if we desire to succeed and to "get ahead" in this world, the Golden Rule can become a real obstacle. In any case, is any normal person real capable of truly loving one's enemies?

True enough if our Faith is a hoax and we are merely a higher form of animal struggling to get along in this world the best we can until death overtakes us and we cease to exist. But if we truly are beings created in God's image "a little lower than the angels" and destined for eternal life in the glory of God's heavenly Kingdom, it changes everything.

It is indeed this capacity to love even one's enemies that lifts us above the lower creatures and confers dignity and purpose to a life that would otherwise be meaningless and therefore not really worth living. Nor would God ever command us to do anything that we are inherently incapable of doing. Humanly speaking, it really is impossible to fulfill the Golden Rule, but truly all things are possible through the grace of God.

As God told St. Paul when the Apostle asked three times to remove his "thorn," "My grace is sufficient for thee: my power is made perfect in weakness." This grace, however, is not something somehow added on to our fallen human nature. To be fully human means to be united with God and to be filled with His grace, which is the uncreated energy of God Himself.

"Be merciful, even as your heavenly Father is merciful:" this is the true reason for fulfilling the commandment, because we are all in the truest sense the children of God, and God is love. This, then, is the path we must all strive to follow if we desire that peace, joy and fulfillment only God can give--both in this world and the next.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


"Whoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." Here our Lord speaks of what it means to be a true Christian: it is not merely right belief, but practicing the Faith in concrete ways. Indeed, it is easy to believe in Christ as Lord and Savior while living what is essentially a self-centered and worldly life, behaving for all intents and purposes as though He does not exist.

Truly, as St. Paul says, we are saved by faith, but genuine faith requires sacrifice and the willingness and desire to suffer, if need be, all things whatsoever on His behalf. While it is true that Christ died for our sins, His death on the cross does not constitute an automatic guarantee of our salvation. There is no such thing as a free passport to heaven. It is a true saying, as Scripture says, that "the Kingdom of God suffers violence, and the violent take it by force." That is, we must do violence (not against our fellow man, God forbid!) but against our fallen human nature.

Christ's death does not somehow let us off the hook. Rather, He died that we ourselves might be crucified with Him and say with St. Paul, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ livest in me." So long as our ego, with its selfish needs and desires, is the motivating force our our lives, we have not yet even begun to live a Christian life.

Of course we can, if we so choose, opt to pursue what the world considers to be the "good life," casting aside the burden and inconvenience of the cross. Yet even if we somehow succeed in gaining the whole world, there is a cost to be paid: the loss our our immortal soul. Truly, what gain is there in this? Who but a fool would prefer transitory pleasures and earthly treasures to the promise of eternal life in God's heavenly Kingdom?

Truly our soul's salvation is the one thing needful, the pearl of great price. This salvation, however, is neither an entitlement nor a right: it is the fruit of sacrificial suffering and an ongoing struggle to subdue the passions and to cleanse our hearts of sinful thoughts and desires.
This is the spiritual warfare to which we have all been called by virtue of our Baptism. It is never easy to follow this straight and narrow path, but the only alternative is eternal separation from God in a hell of our own making.

Monday, September 28, 2009


In this parable, a king arranges a marriage feast for his son. The king, of course, is God the Father and the son is Jesus Christ our Lord, while the feast signifies eternal life in God's heavenly Kingdom. Those who are initially invited to this feast are the Jews, God's chosen people. Most of them, however, do not take the invitation seriously. Instead, they make light of it, while some go so far as to persecute and even to kill the prophets. For these ungrateful people, it was "business as usual:" the status quo must be preserved at any cost.

So it was that God called the Gentiles, both the good and the bad. The truth is, being "good" is no guaranteed passport to heaven. The Pharisees were "good," after all, following the Jewish Law to the letter. Merely being "good" is never enough. Salvation is granted unto those who strive with violence to be made worthly (by God's grace) of the Kingdom.

So the magnificant feast commences, but lo and behold, the king enters the banquet hall and finds there a guest who is not wearing a wedding garment. He is therefore unworthy: but why? Because in those day, the guests were not expected to bring their own garments. These were provided at the door to all who entered. Therefore, this guest is unworthy because he rejected that which was so graciously provided, free of charge. That is, he rejected the grace of God, which alone can make us worthy of the Kingdom.

This parable was spoken to the Jews, but just as surely it can be applied to so-called Christians of this day and age. Many there are who make light of their salvation, being totally focussed on worldly goals. Others do not even bother striving to acquire the grace of God (which is, according to St. Seraphim of Sarov, the whole purpose of the Christian life) because they feel they are already "good enough."

So it is that "few are chosen:" not because God does not desire our salvation, but because we ourselves reject this gracious gift either through indifference or laziness. It is we ourselves who choose either life or death, but this is not a one time choice. Rather, we make many choices, every day of our lives. Every time to choose to put anything whatsoever before our commitment to God, or we place worldly comforts and pleasures before concern for our salvation, we are choosing death over life.

It is, in fact, the sum total of our choices throughout our earthly life that determines our eternal destiny, and the more often we choose death over life, the more difficult it is to break the pattern. However, that which is impossible to man is possible to God. No matter how far we may have gone astray, it is always possible through a single decisive choice combined with sincere, heartfelt repentance to be restored to the path of salvation.

The most vital thing to remember, however, is that today (this very moment) is the day of salvation. Tomorrow it may be too late, and the doors to the wedding feast may be closed forever.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


"For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and a holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly." This was the same Herod who was the scion of an evil root, the son of that other Herod who ordered the murder of the Holy Innocents. Yet this Herod was, in fact, a sincerely religious man. His piety was genuine, though, as it turns out, it was only skin deep. All of this religiosity did not stop him from committing acts of debauchery and murder.

History is replete with cruel men and criminals who were likewise religious and professed a moral code. Consider Ivan the Terrible, who would attend Vespers with his court and later retire to a downstairs room to torture his enemies (both real and imagined). Whenever it suits such a person, they can easily compartmentalize their faith and do as they want, feeling no concern for the pain and suffering of others.

This is so because they are essentially self-centered, "narcissists" in modern psychological parlance. All that really matters to them in the end is the fulfillment of their own needs and desires. Thus Herod took for himself his brother Philip's wife, though he knew full well that this was wrong. St. John, in sharp contrast, was willing to decrease in order that Christ might increase. He was but a voice crying in the wilderness, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord!" His whole purpose in life was not to draw attention to himself, but to point the way to Christ.

And so he was willing to suffer and to die for the sake of the Truth, without any compromise or self-serving motives whatsoever. He bore witness at all times to that same Christ Who proclaimed, "I am the way, the truth and the life."

Paradoxically, those like Herod who look out only for themselves, for "number one," sooner or later end up losing everything, while those willing to bear witness to Christ whatever the cost will eventually inherit eternal life in God's heavenly Kingdom. It is not enough, you see, to be religious and to profess moral ideals. A saving faith demands an absolute and conditional commitment to the Truth and a willingness to sacrifice everything we are and have for the sake of the Kingdom. Such a faith is the antithesis of a lying, conniving and deceitful life dedicated to the acquisition of personal power, wealth and prestige.

May the life of the Baptist inspire us all to be faithful to God at all times and in all places, striving to live a life of holiness, purity and devotion to the Truth. May the love of God ever dwell in our hearts, banishing every trace of pride, self-centeredness and lust for power.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


"What good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?" the rich man asks our Lord. Now wouldn't it be grand if there were such a thing that we could do, and having done it, we would be assured of eternal salvation? Jesus, though, provides no such easy answer, but He simply states the obvious: keep the commandments. This, the rich man assures Him, he has been doing since his youth (at least externally). This is certainly not the answer he was hoping for, and no doubt he is feeling somewhat impatient. He feels deep down that something is missing, despite his outwardly pious life as an observing Jew. Truly, as St. Augustine said, "Our hearts are ever restless till they find their rest in Thee."

When the man persists, demanding to know the one good thing he still lacks, Jesus throws him a loop: he tells the man to do the one thing he is not prepared to do, the one thing that ever remains an obstacle in his quest for eternal life. He must sell all that he has, give the proceeds to the poor, and then come follow Christ. Thus it is that the rich man shakes his head sadly and turns away.

The truth is, salvation isn't a pleasant bonus we receive as a reward for living a "good life" here on earth--it is rather the whole point of our existense, the reason God called us out of nothingness into being. It is not a part time venture--it is the sole purpose of everything we say, do and think. There simply is no free passport to heaven--nothing less than a total commitment to God is required if we desire eternal life.

Of course we all fall far short of the perfection the Gospel demands--"Be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect"--so what then? Shall we, like the rich man, turn sadly away? God forbid! Salvation is not something we achieve in a moment, by doing a certain one good thing. It is, rather, a lifelong process. Speaking realistically, we shall never achieve complete perfection in this fallen world--but it is and ever remains a goal we must strive for until we take our dying breath. And though we will surely miss the mark time and again, genuine and heartfelt repentance is all that's required to restore us to God's grace.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


A culture of entitlement has arisen in contemporary America. Many feel that they are entitled, by the mere fact of their existense, to whatever they can get. Their only concern is that their own egotistical needs and desires be fulfilled, sooner rather than later. Our schools encourage this attitude by striving to bolster the student's self-esteem without reference to any actual accomplishment or success.

In the Gospel parable, a servant owes his master an incredible sum of money (somewhere in the neighborhood of 52 million dollars). When the master demands the money and threatens to sell the servant and his family into slavery, the servant falls at his feet and beseeches him to give him more time (though it's obvious there's no way he could ever pay back so great a debt). Then the master has compassion on his servant and forgives him everything.

Now one would think that having been forgiven so much and recued from sure and certain ruin, the servant would be overwhelmed by gratitude toward his master and a burning desire to show a similar compassion toward others. Such, however, is not the case. Having taken leave of his master, he immediately encounters a fellow servant who owes him a paltry sum (perhaps $44) and grasps him by the neck, demanding the money. No doubt he feels entitled to the master's compassion, but he feels no obligation whatsoever to "pass it on." When the fellow servant begs him for more time, he hardens his heart and has the poor wretch thrown into prison.

When expressed in such simple and obvious terms, it is easy for us to judge and condemn the wicked servant for his ingratitude and lack of compassion. How could he have forgotten so quickly how he himself had been shown mercy and saved from the most dire circumstances? But the fact is, we ourselves have been forgiven so much more than a mere temporal debt. Through our Lord's voluntary death on the Cross, we have been forgiven the crushing burden of our sins and saved (if we so choose) from an eternal hell of our own making. Nor is this all: Christ offers us the gift of eternal life in His heavenly Kingdom.

Like the servant in the parable, however, we're quick to forget (or never really reflect upon) all that the Master has done for us. How often do we become angry and make harsh judgments against our neighbor, take offence at the slightest provocation, harden our hearts and refuse forgiveness toward those who have grieved us in any way? And this happens because we so very self-centered and consider our own needs and desires to be more important than those of others. We lack that genuine humility without which it is impossible to be saved. Nor do we feel truly grateful for God's great gift of salvation, because deep down we feel entitled to it. Of course we pay lip service to our own sins and imperfections, but in our hearts we feel we're nearly perfect, or if not, we darn well should be.

This is why it is so hard to forgive: true forgiveness requires a humble heart that regards our neighbor (even our worst enemy) as more deserving than we are. If we can indeed say with St. Paul that we are the "chief of sinners" while fully realizing that Christ nevertheless suffered and died for our salvation, how can we not forgive from the bottom of our hearts all those who have in any way offended us?

Saturday, August 22, 2009


When our Lord was transfigured on the mount, Peter said "Lord, it is good for us to be here: if Thou wilt, let us make three tabernacles, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." There are, incidentally, no high mountains in Israel. Tabor was high in a spiritual sense: here was revealed a profound mystery that transcends time and space and all this-worldly conceptions. This was why Peter spoke not knowing what he said: his mind could not grasp what was happening and no words could express this experience "not of this world."

So he sought to somehow contain this experience so that it could be comprehended in earthly terms: they would build material structures to memorialize and make concrete the occasion. But then, while he was yet speaking, a cloud overshadowed them and there was a Voice from heaven, God the Father confirming that Christ was indeed His beloved Son. At this, the disciples were cast to the earth, overcome with awe by the incomprehensible event. Indeed, the human heart can not conceive of the good things God has in store for those who love Him and who persevere on the path to salvation.

Until our hearts have been purified and our spiritual eyes opened to divine revelation, we cannot see God face to face, but only, as St. Paul says, as though "through a glass darkly." Without first hand experience of God and the spiritual world, we remain earth bound and our understanding is confined and limited to earthly categories. But as our Lord tells the Apostle Thomas, "Blessed is he who has not seen, and yet believes."

Though we may be mere beginners on the spiritual path, we have the witness of the Scripture and the saints to strengthen and sustain us. By faith (which is the assurance of things not seen) we can become partakers of the divine nature even in this life, ever striving to be made worthy of the transforming power of God's grace.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


When our Lord returned from the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James and John, he found the father of a demoniac complaining that His other disciples were unable to cure his son. (This man thought, falsely, that his son was somehow afflicted by the influence of the moon, hence the term "lunatic"). Christ first castigates the father's lack of faith, bemoaning the "faithless and perverse generation" to which he belongs, then casts out the demon afflicting the boy by a simple word.

Later the disciples ask the Lord in private why they were unable to cast out the demon, and He replies that if one has faith as a grain of mustard seed, one can move mountains. "Howbeit," He adds significantly, "this kind can come out by nought but prayer and fasting." Now the faith of which our Lord speaks is not the simple faith of believing in God, and that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity. He refers rather to that faith which is needed to work miracles. Indeed, simple belief is easy and costs nothing. Even the demons believe, and tremble. That faith that can move mountains, on the other hand, is born of boldness before God, which is given to those who strive always to do His will. Such boldness requires a great struggle to purify the heart (by God's grace) of every sinful passion, that we may not only believe in God, but to know Him as our heavenly Father.

As Christ points out elsewhere, what father would give his child a stone when he asks for bread, or a serpent when he asks for a fish? Perhaps a very cruel and sadistic father might, but surely our merciful Father in heaven will not deny His children any legitimate request. The problem is, though, we are all part of that faithless and perverse generation that professes belief in God but does not truly know Him. So it is we are repeatedly thrown into the fire of the passions and drowned in the waters of worldly cares and concerns. We think it is enough to profess God with our lips while living our lives not in order to please God, but rather to please ourselves. Because our prayers are half-hearted and our fasting mostly superficial, we make ourselves the playthings of demons.

Truly our faith could move mountains, but instead we are crushed by a mountain darkness, doubt and despair. We do not even truly believe all the teachings and traditions of the Church. Today we celebrate the memory of the venerable father Anthony of Rome, a true ascetic who achieved sanctity through prayer and fasting. Through God's strange providence, he traveled all the way from Rome to Novgorod on a rock floating upon the sea. Though this no doubt sounds far fetched according to our modern rational understanding, this is what the Church teaches, and it behooves us to believe without doubt that this is truly what happened. Indeed, all things whatsoever are possible to the God Who created from nothing all things visible and invisible.

When shall we awaken from the deadly slumber into which we have fallen? Lo, Christ is standing even now at the very door of our heart waiting to come in, but we are too distracted by the things of this world to hear Him knocking. "Put not your trust in princes, in the sons of men in whom there is no salvation." Put your trust only in the living God Who can accomplish for us whatsoever we ask--even our eternal salvation in His heavenly Kingdom.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


In our Lord's parable, there are ten virgins--five wise and five foolish--awaiting the arrival of the Bridegroom. After a long wait, they all fall asleep--only to be awakened at midnight by someone crying, "The Bridegroom has arrived!" Abruptly they awaken in the darkness, for their lamps have gone out. Fortunately the wise virgins remembered to bring extra oil, which the foolish ones neglected to do. So the foolish ones ask the wise ones to share their oil, but the wise ones say, "Not so! If we share with you, we may not have enough for ourselves. You'd better go out and buy some oil for yourselves." Which is precisely what they do, but where at that hour could they find a seller of oil willing to sell? Nevertheless, they apparently found the oil somewhere. Unfortunately by the time they returned, the Bridegroom had taken the five wise virgins into the bridal chamber and closed the door. Nor would He open, though the foolish ones pleaded. "I know you not," was all He would say.

"Watch, therefore," says our Lord, "for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of Man cometh." Truly the day of salvation is now, while the door is still open for all who would enter. Truly the door of salvation will close for each of us individually at the moment of our death, and for the whole world when our Lord returns at the end of time to judge the living and the dead. What, then, is the oil in the lamps? A common interpretation of the Church Fathers is that the oil represents the virtues, but I would suggest another way of looking at it: the oil represents our good disposition. Good deeds in themselves, after all, can be merely an outward show of piety, a mask to conceal our inner coldness toward God and one's neighbor. On the other hand, authentic good deeds spring naturally and spontaneously from a good disposition.

The door of salvation opens wide to those who have their hearts in the right place, hearts that our softened by grace and turned toward God in love, ever zealous to do His will. A good heart is ever vigilant lest we lose our way on the path of salvation and fall prey to the Devil's deceptions. Truly we must be on guard at all times and in all places against carelessness and deadly complacency, lest like the foolish virgins we find our lamps burning low on the day of reckoning.

What this means is that we should resolve to live each day as though it were our last, ever fearful that we should find ourselves unexpectantly shut out from the Kingdom. Let us strive to lay aside all worldly distractions and foolish desires and set our hearts on the "one thing needful"--our eternal salvation in God's heavenly Kingdom. Ever beware lest we be cast into that outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


In our Lord's parable, ten virgins await the coming of the the Bridegroom. Five of them are wise: they remembered to bring extra oil for their lamps. The five foolish virgins, on the other hand, neglected to do so. As a result, when the virgins were aroused from their slumber at midnight by someone crying that the Bridegroom had arrived, the five foolish ones asked the wise virgins to give them some of their oil, since their own lamps had gone out. This they would not do, however, lest by lending to the foolish ones, they themselves should run out of oil. Instead, they advised their foolish companions to go and buy some of their own.

Unfortunately, while the foolish virgins were out trying to find someone to sell them oil (and who could they find at that hour of the night?) the Bridegroom (that is, Christ) entered his chamber with the wise virgins and shut the door behind him. When at long last the foolish ones returned (presumably they had found some oil somewhere), they found the door shut and the Bridegroom saying, "I know you not."

Our Lord concludes His parable with this saying, "Watch, therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh." Truly now is the day of salvation, during this brief earthly life while the door is still open for all those who choose to enter. On that Day when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead, it will be too late: the door will be closed forever. Likewise, the door of salvation will be closed for each and every one of us on that day when Christ calls us from this world and our souls are separated from our bodies and we go to stand naked and defenseless before the dread judgment seat.

What, then, is signified by the oil in the lamps? Some Church Fathers say the oil represents our good works during this life, and no doubt this is true. However, if we delve a little deeper, it might be said that the oil represents our good disposition toward God and all things needful for our salvation. After all, good deeds in themselves can be merely outward actions that mask an inner coldness toward God and our neighbor. Consider the philanthropist who gives money to worthy causes simply to salve his conscience or to gain the admiration of others. On the other hand, if one has a good disposition, good deeds will spring forth naturally and will truly gain for us heavenly treasures.

The door of salvation is open to those who have their hearts in the right place, hearts that are turned toward good with genuine humility and a spirit of repentance. Such a heart will be oriented toward God with an unquenchable love that is ever zealous to do His will. Moreover, a good heart is ever vigilant lest we lose our way on the path of salvation and fall prey to the Devil's deceptions.

Like a good soldier ever ready to do battle, we must be on guard at all times against carelessnes and deadly complacency, lest like the foolish virgins we find our lamps burning low on the day of reckoning. This means we should live every day of our lives as though it were our last, for truly it may well be. Then, like the foolish virgins, we will find ourselves unexpectantly and permanently shut out of the Kingdom, while the Bridegroom says, "I know you not." Then shall we be "cast out into that outer darkness in which there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

Thursday, July 16, 2009


"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness," said the Lord to the Holy Apostle Paul after he had asked for the third time to have the "thorn" removed from his side. Peter and Paul were the greatest of the apostles--not because they were perfect, but because the grace of God rested upon them so abundantly. Like all of us, these apostles had their strengths and weaknesses. Consider that St. Peter was the first to confess Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God. It was on the very "rock" of this faith that Christ promised to build His Church, against which the gates of hell (that is, the heretics) would not prevail. St. Paul, on the other hand, endured innumerable trials and tribulations in order to preach the Gospel throughout the world, yet before the risen Lord appeared to him on the road to Damascus, he was a foremost persecutor of the Church.

We are all called by God to be holy, not perfect. To be human in this fallen world means to be flawed and subject to infirmities, but if we commit ourselves totally to God and strive to do His will in all things, His grace is sufficient to make up for whatever is lacking. The beauty of the Church consists in the fact that God takes imperfect sinners such as you and I and weaves us all together into a marvelous tapestry. While each detail is flawed in some way, the overall effect is without blemish.

How boring the world would be if we were all manufactured according to the same exact specifications, perfect and flawless in a technical sense but devoid of the living breath of the Spirit! The Church is an organism of unique persons created in God's image, not a mere collection of individual cogs in some sort of vast cosmic machine. What this means is that we must love one another with the very love of God, not despite our differences, but precisely because of them. At the core of every human person lies hidden a profound mystery known only to God. By love we can touch the fringes of this mystery, but we can never penetrate it completely. We can only marvel and show profound reverence towards God's handiwork--both in ourselves and in others--while striving to be made worthy of the gift of life God has so graciously bestowed upon us.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sunday of All Saints

"He that loveth father or mother, son or daughter, more than me is not worthy of me," said our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is indeed one our our Lord's "hard sayings:" for it runs counter (against the grain) to our deepest natural instincts. These instincts, however, are not truly natural, since they are a product of our fallen human nature. This is why the Kingdom of Heaven must be "taken by storm". Only the violent (those who do violence against their fallen human nature) are worthy to enter the Kingdom.

The truth is, our human love, however exalted it may feel, will always be imperfect, tainted by our egotism, unless we love God first and foremost. Our love for God must overshadow and transcend every love that is merely human. It is, in fact, this all-consuming love for God that is the distinguishing mark of sainthood, setting the saints apart from the rest of us. Paradoxically, however, it is precisely through this love of God that a saint is enabled to love all persons, even their enemies, and to pray with compassionate hearts for all who suffer.

In both the Greek and Russian languages, the word for "saint" means "holy." This is because a saint by definition is someone who is filled with the Holy Spirit of God. Thus, since God is love, it is only natural that the saints should be known above all for their love. It is love alone that empowers the martyrs to die for the sake of Christ, and it is for the sake of love that the ascetics accomplish their feats.

It is for this reason that St. Paul places love above faith and hope as "the greatest of these." Apart from love, all other gifts are nothing more than "tinkling cymbols and sounding brass."
This all-consuming love for God is truly the natural state for all humanity, the ultimate goal to which we should all aspire. The saints are not so much exceptions to the rule as they are models of what it means to be truly human.

Every one of us, however humble or seemingly insignificant our status in this world, have been called to be saints. Blessed shall we be if we endure to the end every trial and tribulation of this life, ever striving to attain unto the fullness of Christ, even though we may succeed in nothing more than touching the hem of His garment.


Jesus said, "He that believeth on me...out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake He of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive)." By "belly" is signified the innermost part of the person, the true and authentic bedrock reality of our existence as beings created in God's image. This promise was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, after Jesus had ascended in glory to His Father, when the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles as tongues of fire. The disciples who were formerly cowering behind closed doors for fear of the Jews were on this day strengthened and confirmed in their faith and empowered to preach the Gospel unto the ends of the earth.

Pentecost, however, is not merely an historical event, the so-called "birthday" of the Church. The same Spirit which established the Church and sustains her through the ages comes and abides in our hearts through the mysteries of Baptism and Chrismation. But the rite of Baptism alone will not save us. Though we have all received the Gift of the Holy Spirit in the waters of Baptism, this gift can be easily squandered or even scorned. There is no guaranteed passport to heaven. The path to salvation requires an ongoing struggle till we take our final breath to acquire the Holy Spirit of God.

According to St. Seraphim of Sarov, the acquisition of the Holy Spirit is the whole purpose of our life, and we acquire the Spirit in the very same way we acquire money. As merchants acquire wealth through trading one thing for another, so it is in the spiritual life. "Give blood, receive the Holy Spirit", according to the Fathers of the Church. In the case of the martyrs, this saying is fulfilled literally, but in a sense we "give blood" whenever we strive against the desires of our fallen human nature to fulfill the commandments of Christ.

Sadly, however, most of us devote more time and energy to our material wealth and security than we do to the salvation of our eternal soul. Truly we are more concerned with our earthly treasures than we are in the balance of our heavenly bank account. Of course we cannot buy our way into heaven. When the day of reckoning arrives (as it surely will) and we come to stand naked before the dread judgment seat of Christ, all that matters is how diligent we have been in our acquisition of the Holy Spirit.

It is for this very reason that the Church begins and ends each day with the prayer to the Holy Spirit: "O heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth...come and abide in us..." May we all pray this prayer continually from the depths of our hearts, from our "bellies," while striving ever to acquire ever greater gifts of the Holy Spirit.