Today we remember the Holy Myrrh-bearing women who, on the day the Resurrection, came to the tomb and discovered that our Lord Jesus Christ was no longer there, but that He had conquered death and rose from the dead. They were charged with the awesome responsibility of taking this news to the Apostles. By giving the Myrrh-bearers this task, our Lord demonstrated again that there was no barrier to women in the Kingdom of God, but that their role was no less important than that of men in the Church.
In the reading today from the Acts of the Apostles, we see a small scene from the functioning of the early Christian community – the Church – that had gathered around the Apostles. As we recall from last week this community lived “in one accord” with one another and with Christ, each doing what they were able for the benefit of all. A disturbance arose in the life of the community such that some complained that the widows and orphans from among the Gentiles did not receive the same attention as those who were from among the Jewish believers. When this complaint was brought to the attention of the Apostles, they also realized that they were unable to address all the needs of the community themselves for they would soon be swallowed up by the details and be distracted from their primary task of proclaiming the Gospel and of teaching the believers what had been revealed to them by Jesus Christ. In response to this they then appointed 7 deacons who would take on the responsibility to care for the needs of the community.
Here now we have before us three different groups: the Myrrh-bearing women, the Deacons and the Apostles. Each group had its place within the Body of Christ and yet each group had its distinct role and composition. This reminds us that while we are all part of the same body of Christ and that we work together for our salvation, at the same time, we all have different roles within the Church. This was plain to us just this past weekend as we put on our annual festival. Everyone worked together, everyone was necessary for the successful completion of this labor, however no one could do everything. There were those who prepared food, those who served food, those who managed the dining area, those who cared for the money, those who picked up the trash, those who washed the dirty dishes and so on. No one was without purpose and all played an indispensable part in this labor.
In the Body of Christ, each one of us has a place and a role given to us by God. We too often think that there are only a few who are important and the rest are just interchangeable parts of less value. Nothing could be further from the truth for all are important and all have a place in the Church prepared for them by God. We depend on one another, we need one another as together we work out our salvation.
Of all these various people of whom we heard today in the early Church, there is indeed one thing which they all held in common. Even though they had different responsibilities and different places, they all realized that these roles always had to be completed to the glory of God. They never lost sight of the necessity to do all that they did with prayer and humility, trusting in God to bring all things to a good end. In our own experience, we try to remember that no matter how far we may seem to be from the doors of the Church during the festival, we are still in the presence of God and our labors are for His glory. Sometimes we forget that God watches over even the least of us and arranges the smallest details. We then take upon our own shoulders the responsibility to “fill in” for God and make sure that all the things that He had “overlooked” actually get done. We occupy our attention, our thoughts and all our energies with the doing of our task that we forget to pray, we forget to turn to our Lord for help and assistance. We easily remember to begin our labors with prayer and to finish with prayer – but sometimes we forget to pray in the middle. Like the Holy Apostles, or the deacons, or the Myrrh-bearing women, we cannot ever forget that our labors must always be bathed in prayer. No matter what you do, do not forget to pray and ask for God’s help and direction and provision while you do it. Be diligent that you do not allow your “responsibilities” to usurp the place of prayer in your life.
We are all part of the Body of Christ and we are all given those responsibilities that are best suited to our salvation. We do these things not for ourselves, but for the benefit of our brethren and for the glory of God. Above all, these things we do must never be allowed to push out prayer. There is a proper time, the preacher tells us, for all things (Eccl. 3:1ff) and so when it is time to work, we must work to the glory of God, however when it is time to pray, we cannot let our work prevent us from prayer. We all have a place appointed for us in the Church by God. Let us fill this place with humility and trust in God, doing all things for His glory.
“They were all of one accord…” This is how the Acts of the Apostles describes the nature of the Church during the time immediately after Pentecost. What does this mean, to be “of one accord”? The Church at that time was gathered around all the Apostles (and the Virgin Mary). They came together at the temple to pray and to hear the teaching of the Apostles. They were “of one accord” because they shared the same mind, the same interest, the same value, the same purpose. What they shared was a belief that Jesus, Who rose from the dead, was the Messiah and had come to open for them the way into the Kingdom of Heaven. The Apostles, as the chosen companions and witnesses to all that Jesus had said and done – and most importantly to His Resurrection – were the ones who were recognized not only as the leaders of the community, but also as the ones by whom the teaching, the life and the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit was imparted to the Church and to the world. There was no question, no dissention, no argument because all lived in agreement that to gain the life of Christ was more important than anything else and that this life was poured out to them through the Apostles, as the chosen shepherds of the flock of Christ.
We, who are part of the Church today, also live within this same accord. We share with those first Christians the firm belief that the God/man Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life and that without Him there is no life. We believe, with those early Christians, that not only did our Lord give us new life and set us on the path of salvation, but that He has shown us the way to follow that path without wandering or getting lost. Like them, we believe that this way that He has shown to us, He has given to us through the witness of the Apostles empowered by the grace of the Holy Spirit bestowed upon them by Christ after His Resurrection(John 20:21-23). In that sense, we are “of one accord” with those Christians and live in complete harmony with them and with one another. But too often we do not experience that harmony. It is disrupted by competing interests, by differences of opinion, in short by our own self-centered sins. Here is the evidence of our own weaknesses, our own imperfections, our own immaturity in the faith. Surely there is nothing lacking in the work of Christ as He ascended the cross, suffered death, descended into hell and rose again conquering sin, death and the devil. Surely there is no fault or deficit in the grace that God has bestowed upon us through the sacraments and the work of the Holy Spirit in us. The imperfections and deficits that tear us away from the place of living “in one accord” with one another, with the first Christians, with the Apostles and with Jesus Christ Himself are the result of our own sins.
For this reason, it is our task to leave them behind that they might not pull us away and rob us of the joy and peace and one-ness which we gained in the Resurrection. We are given gifts of grace by the Holy Spirit which are the tools we need to enter into and maintain this “one accord” with Christ and with the Church. St Nicholas Cabasilas points out that we are given these things because we are expected to use them, “What would be the point of strengthening and arming him who was to remain and sleep at home? … Were there no contests for virtue, what would be man’s work? Or rather what would be worse than the case of those who achieve nothing… It was therefore necessary to grant to men a place for works and a time for struggles and to give to those who had already received perfection and ability from the Mysteries an opportunity to make the effort befitting their nature.” Therefore it is up to us to turn away from those things which tempt us and try to pull us away from Christ.
What then disturbs the harmony of the Body of Christ? First of all there is the “original” sin of our first parents who were convinced by the evil one that they were wiser than God and thus could act on their own ideas and impulses. This tendency is with all of us still and overcoming it is a basic part of the struggle we face. Our Lord, by giving us new life has put the “genie” of self will “back in the bottle” – but how fiercely it struggles to get out again. This is the basic element of “self-denial” – to submit our own ideas, our own reasoning, our own thoughts to Christ and allow Him to lead us through the Apostles and the Church rather than trying to forge our own path. Do not proceed according to your own ideas, but rather follow the path that our Lord sets before you each day which is bounded and defined by the witness of the Apostles, given to us by the tradition of the Church.
Another disruption of the harmony of the Body of Christ that erupts from our fallen nature is our passion. The raging demands of our passions for fulfillment at any cost create tempest of selfish demands that constantly threaten to overwhelm us. One of the primary means by which we weaken these demands of the passions is quite simply fasting. By keeping the fasting seasons (such as Great Lent which we just finished) in obedience to the tradition of the Church, we chip away constantly at the strength of the passions by bringing one of the strongest of them (that is the belly) under the control of the will (rather than allowing it to control the will). Every time we say “no” to the demands of our desires, we weaken the passions a little bit. Thus the fasts are the forefront of our war against the tyranny of the passions – and we continue that battle by every act of self-denial, every act of setting aside the fulfillment of our desires.
Most notable among the disturbances of our unity is the insistence of having one’s own way; of having one’s own opinion prevail. This goes back to the temptation to put our will above that of God. If we can’t tell God what to do – well then maybe we can at least tell our neighbor what to do. This is linked closely to pride, to putting oneself ahead of others. Also coming from this pride is the desire for praise and recognition. How often do we act not out of love for others or for the benefit of the whole Church, but rather out of a desire for someone to notice what we have done and praise us for it. The answer lies in humility. We must cultivate humility in our hearts. I read recently a saying that expresses the practice of humility very clearly and I would like to share it with you. To be humble is not to think less of yourself – rather it is to think of yourself less. It is good to act with confidence, to exercise to their fullest the gifts that God has given to you, however, do so in a way that does not bring attention to yourself, but rather in a way that builds up your brother or sister in Christ, or even your neighbor whoever he might be. By His grace, God has given you skills and gifts and innate talents that you should use to the best of your ability. In using them, however, do not think of yourself, of your gain, of your benefit, but rather think of your neighbor, his needs and his well-being. This is humility – to always put others before yourself.
The first Christians were all together “of one accord”, living in perfect peace with one another, striving together for the same goal – to follow Christ as He led them into the Kingdom of God by the care and teaching of the Apostles. So we too should strive to live in one accord with them and with each other – working together to follow Christ and to enter, together, into the Kingdom of God.
Salman Rushdie writes an opinion piece for the New York Times on the lack of respect acts of courage are shown these days. Though he seems like a fascinating person and a truly brave man, I’m not a fan of his work – not because of his atheism, but because of his subject matter, which has never really moved me. Still, he makes some rather valid points on the mainstream position of moral courage being lacking.
There is one paragraph which really caught my eye:
Such is the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church that the jailed members of the Pussy Riot collective are widely perceived, inside Russia, as immoral troublemakers because they staged their famous protest on church property. Their point — that the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church is too close to President Vladimir V. Putin for comfort — has been lost on their many detractors, and their act is not seen as brave, but improper.
You know what? He has a point.
I loathe Pussy Riot. They blasphemed the liturgy, which, to an Orthodox Christian, is sacrosanct. The ‘band’s’ so-called performance in the middle of the liturgy was highly offensive to believers, and this is why Russians (and Orthodox Christians worldwide) were so disgusted by their actions. However, there is truth in that Patriarch Kirill has become too close to the secular Russian leadership over the years. He has forgotten that many Orthodox took offense to the Church being used as little more than a propaganda tool by previous leaders, most callously by monsters like Josef Stalin, a man who had nothing but hatred for Christianity until he saw it useful for rallying the nation to his side during World War II.
It is also disturbing to see Russian encroachment over their old sphere of influence, where they still act like obnoxious invaders in places like Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic Republics in a way that made Germans look like pikers. I see why ROCOR members have never been convinced of the intentions of the Moscow Patriarchate, despite my having deep respect for Russian Orthodox history and culture.
It is high time that church leadership reevaluate how they relate to the government, to countries which no longer sit on Russian soil, and to their fellow believers. To not do so is to risk squandering all the good gains the Church has made since the fall of Communism.
This is the last Sunday of Great Lent. Next weekend we begin Holy Week
with the raising of Lazarus and Palm Sunday. Today, we are given the
life of St Mary of Egypt to remember and in a way we end up back where
we started. In the first week of preparation for Great Lent we heard the
parable of the publican and Pharisee. There were two sinners; one of
whom, the Pharisee, was proud and thus was not forgiven. The other, the
publican, was keenly aware of his sin and humbled himself in repentance,
asking for mercy. Indeed it was the publican who received forgiveness
from God. This initial parable sets the tone for the whole of the Fast –
repentance for our sins. Everything else that we hear and experience
during Great Lent comes back to the one necessity – to repent for our
sins and turn away from them.
Today, we see another sinner who repented, St Mary of Egypt. Just as the
publican of the parable had just begun his repentance, in St Mary we see
the result of lifelong repentance. St Mary lived not only a sinful life,
but she lived a sin-loving life. She was, as it were, addicted to her
sins. She didn’t care for anything but the satiation of her passions.
When, through the power of the Holy Cross and the intervention of the
Mother of God, she was brought to repentance and learned to love God
more than her sin, she immediately undertook a life of repentance with
the same singleminded focus that she had once sought out her sins. We
now meet St Mary at the end of her life of repentance. For decades – the
majority of her life by this time – she had lived alone in the desert,
battling with the passions which tormented her and the memory of her
sins which pulled at her to return to her former way of life. We see in
St Mary the results of this struggle for in her we see humility,
complete dependence upon God, compassion, and the gifts of the Holy
Spirit which were manifest in her knowledge of St Zossima’s identity and
of the practice of the monastery, in her knowledge of the scripture, in
her prophetic words concerning St Zossima and the monastery in which he
lived. We also see the working of miracles in her walking upon the water
of the Jordan and her harmony with nature in the service of the lion at
her burial. In her life, we see how it is that one who is filled with
sin can empty that sin from the soul and be filled instead with the
grace of the Holy Spirit.
Even at the end of her life, in her “advanced” spiritual state, St Mary
did not for a moment relax her struggle of repentance. She was reluctant
to tell of her life to St Zossima, not out of shame, but because simply
recounting her many sinful acts would renew the temptation and present
yet another instance to fall back into sin. She did not relax her fast,
she did not interrupt her prayers, she did not lower her guard, she did
not stop short of the completion of her earthly struggle but persevered
to the end.
In St Mary we see the fruits of a lifetime of repentance. How is it that
repentance accomplishes these great results? When we sin we cause harm
to the soul – it is as if one were to take a knife and cut himself every
time he sins. Just as the knife cuts the body and damages it, so sin
cuts the soul and damages it. If you have a wound and continually reopen
it and do not allow it to heal, it will be a constant source of pain and
will eventually fester and become worse than before, threating not only
the site of the original injury but the life and health of the whole
body. When we sin the soul is likewise wounded and if we do not repent,
that wound is never healed. In fact as we continue in our sin, we return
again and again to that same wound and reopen it, and aggravate it. The
wound of sin becomes infected and festers and begins to affect the life
of the whole person. Without repentance, the wound of even a small sin
will eventually overwhelm the health of the whole soul.
But repentance is like washing the wound, cleaning out the impurities,
repairing the damage, putting on soothing and healing balms and covering
it over so that it might heal. Repentance is the turning away from a
particular sin and so by repentance we no longer pick at the wound of
sin, reopening it and aggravating it. By our repentance we attract the
good grace of God which is the healing balm and ointment that is applied
to the wound of sin to speed its healing and which causes the pain to
subside. The effect of repentance is that we allow the wounds of sin to
be treated and to heal and by fleeing from sin we do not reinjure
ourselves and aggravate our old wounds. The grace of God that is
bestowed upon us in our repentance fills the soul and transforms it,
healing it not only from the sins which fester on the surface but also
healing the underlying sinfulness of our fallen nature. By this grace we
are transformed into the likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Repentance is not something that we do only during Great Lent or only
when we make our confession. Repentance is a lifelong struggle,
something that we practice every moment of every day of our lives. St
Mary did not rest even for a moment from her repentance and was alert
and on guard against the recurrence of her sin up to the very end of her
life. Having nearly finished 40 days of fasting, it is sometimes
tempting to relax our struggles in this last week, to look back with
satisfaction on the previous weeks of the fast and take our comfort in
what we seem to have accomplished. But we are not finished, the fast is
not over. The end of the fast is just as important as the beginning. If
we do not make a good beginning, then the whole fast is crippled by the
lack of a foundation. If we do not make a good end, then all of our
labors are stripped of their crown and lie useless and incomplete. This
is not the time to relax the fast, but rather let us continue to the end
with the same fervor that we began. Having begun the race, let us not
drop out in sight of the finish line and so forfeit the crowns that we
have won by our labors.
It is also important to note that the season of Great Lent is but a
symbol for our whole life. Our labors of repentance and resisting
temptation are not limited only to the Lenten period, but are with us
during every day of our lives. Just because Lent is over, just because
we have finished this one fast does not mean that we abandon repentance.
Rather the repentance that we have begun in the fast we now take with us
as a part of the whole remainder of our lives. The labors of Great Lent
are the foundation for the labors of the whole life; let us not then
abandon our hard won crowns as though it were a child’s toy that remains
neglected after the party.
The repentance of the publican set the tone for our Lenten struggle. Now
St Mary shows us the results of a lifetime of repentance. This is our
encouragement not only to complete the fast, but also to continue to
flee from sin and struggle against temptation throughout the whole of
our lives that in the end we too may win the crown of salvation as did
our Holy Mother Mary of Egypt and enter into the Kingdom of God.
Today we celebrate the feast of the Triumphal Entry of our Lord into
Jerusalem. Last night at the Vigil service we all received blessed
branches of palm and willow and today we hold these same branches as we
stand with those who welcomed Jesus Christ as their king and messiah. We
too welcome Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior crying to Him as did the
crowds in Jerusalem, “Hosanna in the highest, blessed is He Who comes in
the name of the Lord”. The synaxarion of the feast tells us that “By
using palms, they (those who welcomed Christ) were signifying Christ’s
imminent victory over death. For it was the custom to honor the victors
of contests or battles with triumphal processions and to lead them
around with branches from evergreens. The meaning of ‘Hosanna’ is ‘Save
us now, we pray’.” Thus by carrying these blessed branches we too
welcome Christ as the victor over sin death and the devil and in crying
“Hosanna” to Him we ask Him to deliver us as well from our own sins,
from enslavement to the devil and from the captivity of death.
When our Lord entered thus into Jerusalem there were two different
responses from the people there. There were those who gathered together
with the multitude gathered around our Lord and His disciples, joyfully
awaiting and greeting Christ. They had heard of this great teacher and
miracle worker and were anxious that He might come to them as well.
There were also those who were alarmed at His coming. They did not
welcome Him and seeing the uproar of the crowds at first expressed
disapproval, but in their hearts began to plot how Jesus might be done
away with. These were the Pharisees and rulers of the people who saw
Jesus not as a Savior, but who saw Him as a threat to their own
authority and privilege.
Today, in celebrating the triumphal entry, we also step into these
events of Holy Week, leading up to the Cross, and to the tomb and
finally to the Resurrection. Today we are mystically joined to those who
welcomed Christ and we mystically begin to walk with our Lord throughout
His great work of redemption – hearing his teaching in the temple;
sitting with Him at the Last Supper and receiving from His hands His own
Most Holy Body and Most Precious Blood; praying in the garden; being
arrested and tried by the Jews; standing before Pilate and being judged
by him; being nailed to the Cross and dying with Him; taking Him to
burial in the tomb; descending with Him to hades to defeat sin death and
the devil; and rising with Him and receiving from Him the gift of Life.
However we do not only enter into these historical events today, but we
also enter into the deeper and mystical meaning of these events. The
city of Jerusalem is the icon of the holy of holies of the human soul
and Christ comes to us, seeking entrance. Those who welcomed Him
symbolize the noble sentiments and higher thoughts which push us to do
good and to live a righteous life. But there are also within us those
lower desires and earthbound thoughts which have taken the upper hand in
our lives and suppress our higher nature and desire to live with God.
These lower desires are threatened by Christ for they will be unseated
as the ruler of the soul and will inevitably be destroyed. Thus within
ourselves we have these same two responses to the coming of Christ.
There is the part of us that rejoices in His coming for at least the
desire for righteousness and for the worship of God sees the hope of
being freed from the tyranny of sin. But there are also, in us, the
passions and self centeredness which have had their way, suppressed and
corrupted the desire for God and have had free expression by cooperating
with the suggestions of the devil. These egocentric passions see their
dethronement and eventual destruction in the coming of Christ and so
resist Him and seek to expel Him from the heart of the soul.
By His coming, Christ heals the souls of those who are sick with sin and
who fall down before Him with faith. By His power those impulses of the
soul which are in harmony with His will are strengthened and healed and
brought to the fore. When Jesus comes into the soul, He destroys the
“old man” of the fallen nature which resists Him and establishes the
“new man” born in the Life that He gives to us by His Resurrection as
the ruler of the heart of man.
When we welcome Christ into the Jerusalem of our own soul, we welcome
Him as the victor over the sin which dwells within us. We welcome Him as
our Savior Who will deliver us from our captivity to the rule of our
sinful and self centered passions. We rejoice for He has destroyed our
old enemy the devil who infects us with the disease of sin resulting in
death and He heals us from this disease giving us instead His eternal Life.
On this day, Christ comes to us and we take sides. We takes sides in the
war against sin, death and the devil. We welcome Jesus Christ as our
Lord, as our Savior, as the leader and captain of our souls. We embrace
Him and seek to be embraced by Him. We join our fate, even our lives, to
His. Even though we know that this means that in only a few days we will
be nailed with Him to the Cross and that we will suffer with Him, we
welcome Him today. Even though we will die with Him and with Him descend
into Hades there to face our old enemy and captor, we also know that He
is with us and that He will win the victory over sin, over the devil and
even over death and thus we will rise with Him into the new and eternal
life of the Resurrection. Today we step onto this path, waving the palms
and branches of victory, welcoming the coming of our Lord and Messiah,
crying out “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He Who comes in the name
of the Lord!”
There are three things, my brethren, by which Faith stands firm, devotion remains constant, and virtue endures. They are prayer, fasting and mercy. Prayer knocks at the door, fasting obtains, mercy receives. Prayer, mercy and fasting: these three are one, and they give life to one another.
Fasting is the soul of prayer; mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated. If you have only one of them or not all together, you have nothing. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others you open God’s ear to yourself.
When you fast, see the fasting of others. If you want God to know that you are hungry, know that another is hungry. If you hope for mercy, show mercy. If you look for kindness, show kindness. If you want to receive, give. If you ask for yourself what you deny to others, your asking is a mockery.
Let this be the pattern for all men when they practice mercy: show mercy to others in the same way, with the same generosity, with the same promptness, as you want others to show mercy to you.
Therefore, let prayer, mercy and fasting be one single plea to God on our behalf, one speech in our defense, a threefold united prayer in our favor.
Let us use fasting to make up for what we have lost by despising others. Let us offer our souls in sacrifice by means of fasting. There is nothing more pleasing that we can offer to God, as the Psalmist said in prophecy, “A sacrifice to God is a broken spirit; God does not despise a bruised and humbled heart.”
Offer your soul to God, make Him an offering of your fasting, so that your soul may be a pure offering, a holy sacrifice, a living victim, remaining your own and at the same time made over to God. Whoever fails to give this to God will not be excused, for if you are to giv e Him yourself you are never without the means of giving.
To make these acceptable, mercy must be added. Fasting bears no fruit unless it is watered by mercy. Fasting dries up when mercy dries up. Mercy is to fasting as rain is to the earth. However much you may cultivate your heart, clear the soul of your nature, root out vices, sow virtues; if you do not release the springs of mercy, you fasting will bear no fruit.
When you fast, if your mercy is thin your harvest will be thin; when you fast, what you pour out in mercy overflows into your barn. Therefore, do not lose by saving, but gather in by scattering. Give to the poor, and you give to yourself. You will not be allowed to keep what you have refused to give to others.
Through the prayers of the holy hierarch Peter, O Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
From the Synaxarion of the Lenten Triodion: A sermon by St Peter Chrysologus, Archbishop of Ravenna (+450 A.D.)
Fr David Moser’s most recent homily:
There are those who say that religions exist because of some psychological need that human beings have to find God. We need to relate to something larger than ourselves and so we search for that greater thing and call it God. The primitives saw the forces of nature as more powerful than themselves and so worshiped the force behind the rains or the lightning or the winds. Later men created a pantheon of gods to worship seeing deity in every aspect of the world around them and so worshiped the god of the sea, the god of the mountain, the god of love, and so on. As time went on the gods became more and more abstract and philosophy began to replace religion and ideas began to replace personal gods. Then came along the idea of a single all powerful god who gathered all the lesser powers and ideals into himself. People created these gods, it is sometimes said, to fulfill their own internal needs to find a god. But this is not the truth of the matter. God does exist and created us to live in union and communion with Himself. Our need to search for God is a result of the working of this innate purpose for which we were created and which was lost in the fall. Our first parents sinned and the communion with God was broken. As a result of this broken communion we replaced God with our own self not knowing anything better and began to erect barriers and walls of sin until God was forgotten and alien to us. Religion is about our need to find a way back to God.
But the Orthodox Christian faith is not about finding our way to God. Rather, God has come looking for us. He did not stop loving mankind, even as we forgot Him and built the high barriers of sin to hide our selves from Him. He desired that we should not be lost to Him and so He came looking for us that He might restore in us that union and communion with Himself. Having come to us, He then opened the path that we might follow Him back into His Kingdom, back to our original purpose to live in communion with Him. This path that He has opened for us is the Orthodox Christian faith. We are not searching for God – He is searching for us and He has found us. Having found us, He frees us from the chains that bind us here in our wandering and then leads us back to His Kingdom – to our intended home.
Today, on the feast of the Annunciation, we remember how it all began. God, has found the one who could be the gate by which He has entered the world, that gate is the Most Holy Virgin Mary. The Virgin Mary was no ordinary girl, but a young woman who was dedicated to God before her birth and who from her infancy willingly dedicated her whole being to serving God. She lived her entire childhood in the temple until she reached her womanhood and could no longer remain. Instead of seeking to marry and raise a family, she desired to continue her life in virginity, devoting the whole of her energies to serving God and this was arranged by her betrothal to the righteous Joseph, a widower of advanced years who was chosen by the miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit to be her guardian. This life of dedicated service to God was nothing less than her preparation to become the gateway by which God entered into the world and became man.
At the peak of her preparation, God sent to her the Archangel Gabriel as the herald of the greatest mystery and miracle the world would ever experience. This miracle is greater even that the miracle of the creation by which the entire universe came into being out of nothingness. This miracle is the incarnation. God the creator of the universe has humbled Himself to take on human flesh and enter the world in order that He might rescue mankind and lead us home into His Kingdom. God came to search for us – His lost creation – that He might restore us to our former place.
When the Archangel came to visit the Virgin, he said to her “Rejoice”. He did not say, “Do not fear” and this is significant, for in other cases when the angels have appeared to men, they first speak to allay our fear at encountering a heavenly creature. But the Archangel did not say to the Virgin, “Do not fear” for she was already accustomed to angelic visions from her life of prayer in the temple. Rather, the Archangel began with the primary thrust of the message: “Rejoice!”
“Rejoice!” for God has come to end our exile. “Rejoice!” for the path to enter the Kingdom of Heaven has been opened. “Rejoice!” for God has found us who were lost in our sins. “Rejoice!” for God has come to free us from our captivity. “Rejoice!” for our salvation is at hand. Here is the message of this feast, “Rejoice!” How wonderful it is that this great message comes to us in the midst of the fast. We are deep inside the ascetic struggle of self denial leading to the cross and we hear from the angel “Rejoice!” to remind us that we do not struggle alone, but that God is with us and will not abandon us, even in the midst of our present struggle. Today we are given new strength; today the good news that God has come to us is proclaimed; today we rejoice for our salvation is at hand.
When our first parents fell through sin, all mankind was separated from God. From that time forward mankind has slid further and further from God, building the barriers of self will and sin higher and higher. But God does not let us waste away in our self made exile. He has come to find us. By an awesome miracle, He has entered His creation as one of us so that He might find us, release us from our bonds, and lead us back to Himself. And today the Archangel proclaims to the Virgin and to us the great news of God’s coming by saying to us “Rejoice!” And so brothers and sisters, let us do just that – to pause for a moment from our struggles, to lift up our hearts and minds to heaven and glorify God – rejoicing in the good news of the Annunciation.
A homily for the Second Sunday of Great Lent:
Last week we began the Sundays of Great Lent with the recognition of the
triumph of the Orthodox Faith over the heresies that have (and continue
to) assail it. We noted that in the Cathedrals, our bishops, who are
granted the grace of God to “rightly divide the word of truth” did just
that and proclaimed and condemned those teachings about our God and Lord
Jesus Christ which are in error. In so doing they exercise their
archpastoral duty to preserve us from the false paths which would lead
us away from our Lord Jesus Christ and away from the Kingdom of God. We
did not perform such a condemnation of heresy here in our parish,
because while it is the duty and task of the bishop to divide truth from
error and to set out for us the path of truth, it is our duty rather to
pray for those who are lost in the entangling and confusing paths of
these heresies, that they might be illumined by the grace of God and
delivered from their error and be saved. This indeed is what we did when
we served the molieben after liturgy for the conversion of those in error.
Today we continue on this same theme of separating ourselves from the
false paths of heresies and clinging to the true path of salvation by
remembering a very personal example of this battle against heresy, our
father among the saints, Gregory (Palamas), Archbishop of Thessalonica.
St Gregory was a great defender of the faith contending at that time
with the heresies espoused by Barlaam of Calabria and his disciple
Acinidnus. These two taught that the ineffable grace and power of God,
which we experience, were not uncreated but rather were created
phenomena. In doing this they set up an impassible wall between God and
man making our own union and communion with God impossible. This
teaching led also to the condemnation of the hesychastic life and prayer
which opens for us the doors by which we can perceive these uncreated
emanations of the energies of God (such as the divine and uncreated
light of the Transfiguration which surrounded our Lord and the three
disciples with Him on Mt Tabor). This teaching, because it effectively
strips away every divine manifestation and entrance into the world, is
also the first step towards humanism and naturalism which denies that
there is anything that is beyond the ability of our human reason to
grasp – even God (who many of those afflicted by this heresy will say
does not exist beyond our own imagination.) Thus St Gregory’s refutation
and battle against this heretical teaching touches us today, for it is
indeed that same humanism and naturalism that are at the root of the
denial of God which afflicts our increasingly secularsociety at nearly
The arguments and proofs by which St Gregory contended against these
teachings are beyond the scope of today’s homily, however, they are
easily available in printed form. For this reason we will not go into
the details of his arguments, but look rather at how he himself
responded to the confrontations with his adversaries. For us this is
important, for while we may not find ourselves in a debate of deep
theological teachings before a council of bishops (as St Gregory did),
we will find ourselves constantly faced by adversaries who will seek to
discredit our faith and replace it with a “rational” and “scientific”
explanation which eliminates the necessity of God.
First, we cannot forget that St Gregory prepared himself, not by
studying rhetoric (the art of debate), theology and the various
philosophies. He did not in fact seek any kind of position that would
put him in the place of a champion and defender of the faith. St Gregory
began as a simple monk, living a life of strict asceticism and self
denial in obedience to his monastic elder. After the death of his elder,
St Gregory went to Mt Athos and there lived the monastic life. After a
time in the monastery, he settled in the wilderness to pursue a life of
prayer. This was his preparation – to draw as near to God as he could.
As a lamp burning brightly on a hill top cannot be hid behind a bushel
for long, so the Holy Spirit drew St Gregory out of the wilderness and
brought him into the rank of priest and then bishop so that all might
benefit from his spiritual labors. As a result of his preparation, “St
Gregory …who ever sought to emulate the great Apostle Paul, was adorned
with innumerable divine virtues, among which were meekness, quietness
and humility. Nevertheless, he did not hesitate to upbraid the enemies
of God and of the Orthodox faith, subduing them with the sword of the
Word of God. He held no rancor against others, sought both to say and to
do only what is good, and always returned good for evil, thus conquering
wickedness with virtue. He gave no heed to those who told him how his
enemies slandered him, and his patience and nobility of soul remained
apparent despite the many misfortunes and difficulties he faced.”
(Synaxarion for the second Sunday of Great Lent)
The single enduring quality that characterized St Gregory, both as a
monk living a life of prayer and later as a hierarch contending against
heretics for the truth was his singleminded and all encompassing love of
God. He championed the truth, not because it was a good idea, but
because this was what he saw and experienced in his own life of prayer.
He swept away heretics not by persuasive argument and clever tricks of
logic, but by simply stating that which he knew to be true with such
fervor and burning love of God that it could not be disputed. He did not
“get personal” with his adversaries or enemies, but with patience
exhibited love and compassion toward them.
This is how we too should face our enemies and those who contend with us
against the truth. Rather than develop tricks of argument or gimmicks to
“introduce” the philosophy of Christianity into a conversation, it is
better to simply live the truth and let our lives speak for us. This is
one of the effects of our annual Lenten struggle, for during this time
we strive through asceticism and self denial to shed the accumulated
dust and dirt of the world so that the light of Christ can shine more
clearly through us. During this time we also increase our practice of
the virtues and the intensity and frequency of our prayer, feeding the
fire of the love of God that burns in the heart with the grace that
comes from these actions, causing it to flare up and become ever
stronger and brighter in our lives.
We are faced today with the fruits of the seeds of this denial of the
presence of the divine uncreated energies of God that were planted by
the heresies espoused by Barlaam and Acindinus. Our society and culture
tends towards an attitude that either denies the existence of God
outright or which so marginalizes and minimizes God as to make Him seem
irrelevant. The reason of our own minds and scientific exploration have
become the arbiters of what is and is not true. There is no place for
anything that is beyond our ability to comprehend for the mind of man is
able to encompass everything. This is the “faith” and “religion” of the
world today. This elevation of the human mind and ego has resulted in
the decay of all those moral values and standards that are drawn from
religious teaching. Those of us who hold to such beliefs are in the end
dismissed as superstitious and caught in the insecurities and prejudices
of the past. As a result, we are faced with ethical dilemmas that at one
time seemed to be unthinkable. We argue about the sanctity of life, the
moral scope of sexuality and marriage, the rights and dignity of human
beings (forgetting that before God we are all sinners). We struggle with
the rampant violence of self aggrandizement, self love and self
destruction in our society. We are, more and more, living in a godless
world. Our only response, our only hope is to imitate St Gregory and to
rise above the godlessness that surrounds us and to live a life of
uncompromising love of God and to exhibit in our lives the fruits of the
Holy Spirit and the virtues that emanate from them.
Today St Gregory (Palamas) is held up for us as the remedy for the
godless world in which we find ourselves. We do not argue and prove the
truth and error of this or that philosophy, rather, preparing ourselves
with ascetic labor, increased prayer and the practice of the virtues we
let the bright flame of the love of God burn ever more brightly in us
and shed light not only on our own hearts, but on all those around us.
This light of our love for God is the only thing that can extinguish and
drive away the ever increasing darkness of godlessness that surrounds us.
Fr David Moser, starting Lent off right:
We all have expectations of what things should be like before we
actually experience the reality of what things are like. Sometimes
reality far exceeds our expectations and sometimes we are disappointed
because reality doesn’t quite measure up to the image that we had built
up in our minds. This dissonance between our idea of something and its
reality is the basis for much of the driving force of our lives as we
strive to live up to an ideal that we carry about in our minds. We also
have expectations of others and our opinion of them is often determined
by whether or not they live up to our ideal of them. Such dissonance
between reality and expectation, both of ourselves and others, is the
source of our psychological joy and sorrow, frustration and
satisfaction, even hope and despair.
In the Gospel we read of the calling of the Apostle Nathaniel by his
brother Phillip to come and follow Christ. In meeting Jesus Christ,
Phillip was convinced that he had found the Messiah. In some way, we are
not told how, Jesus sufficiently met Phillip’s expectations of Who the
Promised Messiah would be and therefore when Jesus said to him, “Come
and follow me” Phillip was ready to do so. Not only that, but he also
went and sought out his brother Nathaniel to share the good news that he
had found the Messiah. Nathaniel, however, had a different reaction to
the news that Phillip brought. He was skeptical. He had his own
expectations of Who the Messiah would be and nothing that Phillip had
told him lived up to those expectations. The only thing that Phillip
could say to convince him was “come and see”, hoping that in meeting
Jesus for himself, the Nathaniel would be convinced of the truth.
The Hebrew nation was chosen by God as the instrument of His salvation.
Through them He gave His promise to the world that He would save the
world from the tyranny of the evil one. The promise was given that there
would come a Messiah, a Savior, who would deliver His people from their
enslavement to sin and would bring them joy by restoring their communion
with God. The Jews preserved this promise and the expectation of the
coming of the Messiah, the promised One, Who would accomplish our
salvation formed (and still today forms) the core of the Jewish
religion. The difficulty, however, came when the Jews began to form
expectations of what they wanted the Messiah to be. They began to see
the Messiah less and less in terms of the spiritual welfare of the whole
world and more and more in terms of the political welfare of themselves
as a nation. Rather than being the Savior Who would deliver the world
from the tyranny of sin death and the devil, the Jews began to expect
the Messiah to be a political leader who would deliver their nation from
the tyranny of whatever empire ruled them at the time. This unreal
expectation became so entrenched that when the real Messiah came, for
the most part the Jews didn’t recognize Him because they were looking
for someone else – they were looking for their ideal of a Messiah rather
than the Messiah that God promised.
Nathaniel was initially caught in this trap. All that he heard about
Jesus, even from his brother, didn’t fit his ideal of Who the Messiah
would be. When Phillip told him that he had found “the one of whom Moses
and all the prophets spoke”, Nathaniel was skeptical because he was
expecting something else. Phillip’s only response to Nathaniel was,
“come and see” for only in this way could Nathaniel truly experience the
reality of Jesus Christ and therefore judge for himself. Nathaniel did
“come and see” and did so with an open mind setting aside his own
preconceptions (such was the testimony of our Lord who said of
Nathaniel, “behold an Israelite in whom there is no guile). And seeing,
he believed. How many there were though who did not come and see when
they heard of Jesus and dismissed Him out of hand. And of those who did
“come and see” how many there were who came not with an open mind, but
full of their own preconceived ideas and expectations such that they
were unable to see the reality for they were too wrapped up in their
fantasy. As a result, many missed the fulfillment of God’s promise which
was the core of their faith because they had lost sight of the reality
and chose instead to cling to their own expectations of Who the Messiah
We see from this account the importance of the true and proper belief in
God. We all have our expectations and ideals of Who God *should* be,
however, those expectations don’t always measure up to the reality of
Who God actually is. Many years ago a book appeared in the Christian
press with the title, “Your God is Too Small”. The author pointed out
that many of us have expectations and ideals of God that no matter how
grand and wonderful they may be, do in fact fall far short of the
reality of God. God is beyond our understanding and so as soon as we
create an ideal of God that we can grasp, we have created a limited god
who is much smaller than the True God. As soon as He exceeds or
surpasses our expectations, we are in danger of dismissing Him because
He’s not what we are looking for. When we conceive of a God who is the
Creator and absolute Ruler of the Universe, all powerful, all knowing
and all wise Who demands righteousness of all men and then we see that
God reaches out not only to the righteous but also to the sinner and
goes to dine in the house of even the despised Zacchaeus and receives
the ministrations of a prostitute. This dissonance shakes our belief,
for God doesn’t act the way we want Him to. Or perhaps, on the other
extreme, we conceive of a God Who is all loving and all merciful Who
reaches out to sinners and embraces all who come to Him, and then we see
that there comes the Judgment where sinners are cast out into the outer
darkness because they did not properly love and care for their neighbor
– our belief is shaken because God is so much greater than we thought He
was and does not act in the way we want Him to. We cannot believe in the
God we construct in our own mind with our own expectations, but rather
we simply must embrace God as He is and allow Him to mold us into His
image rather than insist that He conform to ours. Otherwise God will
come and we will miss Him because we are looking for someone else, the
creation of our fantasy.
Today is the first Sunday of Great Lent, the day we call “the Sunday of
Orthodoxy”. Today we remember the importance of believing in the God
that is rather than the God we have created in our minds by our
expectations. There are many in the world who worship God and yet they
do not worship the true God, but a God of their own creation. Some of
these people may indeed be Christians who believe in the truth of the
Bible and who follow its teachings. Some of these people may indeed be
your brother, your neighbor, your friend. Some of these people may in
fact be members of the Orthodox Church. One of these people might even
be you. Anyone who worships their idea of God rather than God Who is is
missing the mark and in danger of missing God when He comes to them. On
this day we proclaim the true teachings about God. God is, as we know,
much greater than we could ever grasp or conceive, however, there are
some things that we do know about God and it is these things that stand
as markers that lead us to recognize the true God when He comes to us.
Today we proclaim what these true markers, these true beliefs about God
are and condemn the false markers, the false beliefs about God (which we
call heresies). By turning away from the false beliefs and following the
True Faith, we will be led unerringly into the presence of God – we
will, with the Apostle Nathaniel, “come and see”.
On this day also we pray for those who have held onto their own ideals
and expectations of God and therefore have missed the mark and strayed
from the path. We pray not that they might be condemned, but that God
might have mercy on them and as a loving Father gently correct them and
restore them to the true path, to belief in the True God. In praying for
them, we also pray for ourselves that we might not be distracted by some
remnant of our own image of God but instead remain faithful to the True
Faith. God has come to us, let us set aside our own ideas and
expectations and “come and see” the true God that He might embrace us
and mold us into His own image and likeness.
As our Roman Catholic and Protestant friends prepare themselves for Holy Week and Easter, the Orthodox Church celebrates the first Sunday of Great Lent as we prepare ourselves for Pascha, the holiest time of our calendar. Let us reflect on the words of the great Estonian/Russian/American theologian Alexander Schmemann as we start our road to Salvation:
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rejoicing today in the triumph of Orthodoxy on this first Sunday of Lent, we joyfully commemorate three events: one event belonging to the past; one event to the present; and one event which still belongs to the future.
Whenever we have any feast or joy in the Church, we Orthodox first of all look back — for in our present life we depend on what happened in the past. We depend first of all, of course, on the first and the ultimate triumph — that of Christ Himself. Our faith is rooted in that strange defeat which became the most glorious victory — the defeat of a man nailed to the cross, who rose again from the dead, who is the Lord and the Master of the world. This is the first triumph of Orthodoxy. This is the content of all our commemorations and of all our joy. This man selected and chose twelve men, gave them power to preach about that defeat and that victory, and sent them to the whole world saying preach and baptize, build up the Church, announce the Kingdom of God. And you know, my brothers and sisters, how those twelve men — very simple men indeed, simple fishermen — went out and preached. The world hated them, the Roman Empire persecuted them, and they were covered with blood. But that blood was another victory. The Church grew, the Church covered the universe with the true faith. After 300 years of the most unequal conflict between the powerful Roman Empire and the powerless Christian Church, the Roman Empire accepted Christ as Lord and Master. That was the second triumph of Orthodoxy. The Roman Empire recognized the one whom it crucified and those whom it persecuted as the bearers of truth, and their teaching as the teaching of life eternal. The Church triumphed. But then the second period of troubles began.
The following centuries saw many attempts to distort the faith, to adjust it to human needs, to fill it with human content. In each generation there were those who could not accept that message of the cross and resurrection and life eternal. They tried to change it, and those changes we call heresies. Again there were persecutions. Again, Orthodox bishops, monks and laymen defended their faith and were condemned and went into exile and were covered with blood. And after five centuries of those conflicts and persecutions and discussions, the day came which we commemorate today, the day of the final victory of Orthodoxy as the true faith over all the heresies. It happened on the first Sunday of Lent in the year 843 in Constantinople. After almost 100 years of persecution directed against the worship of the holy icons, the Church finally proclaimed that the truth had been defined, that the truth was fully in the possession of the Church. And since then all Orthodox people, wherever they live, have gathered on this Sunday to proclaim before the world their faith in that truth, their belief that their Church is truly apostolic, truly Orthodox, truly universal. This is the event of the past that we commemorate today.
But let us ask ourselves one question: Do all the triumphs of Orthodoxy, all the victories, belong to the past? Looking at the present today, we sometimes feel that our only consolation is to remember the past. Then Orthodoxy was glorious, then the Orthodox Church was powerful, then it dominated. But what about the present? My dear friends, if the triumph of Orthodoxy belongs to the past only, if there is nothing else for us to do but commemorate, to repeat to ourselves how glorious was the past, then Orthodoxy is dead. But we are here tonight to witness to the fact that Orthodoxy not only is not dead but also that it is once more and forever celebrating its own triumph — the triumph of Orthodoxy. We don’t have to fight heresies among ourselves, but we have other things that once more challenge our Orthodox faith.
Today, gathered here together, Orthodox of various national backgrounds, we proclaim and we glorify first of all our unity in Orthodoxy. This is the triumph of Orthodoxy in the present. This is a most wonderful event: that all of us, with all our differences, with all our limitations, with all our weaknesses, can come together and say we belong to that Orthodox faith, that we are one in Christ and in Orthodoxy. We are living very far from the traditional centers of Orthodoxy. We call ourselves Eastern Orthodox, and yet we are here in the West, so far from those glorious cities which were centers of the Orthodox faith for centuries — Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Moscow. How far are those cities. And yet, don’t we have the feeling that something of a miracle has happened, that God has sent us here, far into the West, not just in order to settle here, to increase our income, to build up a community. He also has sent us as apostles of Orthodoxy, so that this faith, which historically was limited to the East, now is becoming a faith which is truly and completely universal.
This is a thrilling moment in the history of Orthodoxy. That is why it is so important for us to be here tonight and to understand, to realize, to have that vision of what is going on. People were crossing the ocean, coming here, not thinking so much about their faith as about themselves, about their lives, about their future. They were usually poor people, they had a difficult life, and they built those little Orthodox churches everywhere in America not for other people but for themselves, just to remember their homes, to perpetuate their tradition. They didn’t think of the future. And yet this is what happened: the Orthodox Church was sent here through and with those poor men. The truth itself, the fullness of the apostolic faith — all this came here, and here we are now, filling this hall and proclaiming this apostolic faith — the faith that has strengthened the universe. And this leads us to the event which still belongs to the future.
If today we can only proclaim, if we can only pray for that coming triumph of Orthodoxy in this country and in the world, our Orthodox faith forces us to believe that it is not by accident but by divine providence that the Orthodox faith today has reached all countries, all cities, all continents of the universe. After that historic weakness of our religion, after the persecutions by the Roman Empire, by the Turks, by the godless atheists, after all the troubles that we had to go through, today a new day begins. Something new is going to happen. And it is this future of Orthodoxy that we have to rejoice about today.
We can already have a vision of that future when, in the West, a strong American Orthodox Church comes into existence. We can see how this faith, which for such a long time was an alien faith here, will become truly and completely universal in the sense that we will answer the questions of all men, and also all their questions. For if we believe in that word: “Orthodoxy,” “the true faith”; if for one moment we try to understand what it means: the true, the full Christianity, as it has been proclaimed by Christ and His disciples; if our Church has preserved for all ages the message of the apostles and of the fathers and of the saints in its purest form, then, my dear friends, here is the answer to the questions and to the problems and to the sufferings of our world. You know that our world today is so complex. It is changing all the time. And the more it changes, the more people fear, the more they are frightened by the future, the morethey are preoccupied by what will happen to them. And this is where Orthodoxy must answer their problem; this is where Orthodoxy must accept the challenge of modern civilization and reveal to men of all nations, to all men in the whole world, that it has remained the force of God left in history for the transformation, for the deification, for the transfiguration of human life.
The past, the present, the future: At the beginning, one lonely man on the cross — the complete defeat. And if at that time we had been there with all our human calculations, we probably would have said: “That’s the end. Nothing else will happen.” The twelve left Him. There was no one, no one to hope. The world was in darkness. Everything seemed finished. And you know what happened three days later. Three days later He appeared. He appeared to His disciples, and their hearts were burning within them because they knew that He was the risen Lord. And since then, in every generation, there have been people with burning hearts, people who have felt that this victory of Christ had to be carried again and again into this world, to be proclaimed in order to win new human souls and to be the transforming force in history.
Today this responsibility belongs to us. We feel that we are weak. We feel that we are limited, we are divided, we are still separated in so many groups, we have so many obstacles to overcome. But today, on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, we close our eyes for a second and we rejoice in that unity which is already here: priests of various national churches praying together, people of all backgrounds uniting in prayer for the triumph of Orthodoxy. We are already in a triumph, and may God help us keep that triumph in our hearts, so that we never give up hope in that future event in the history of orthodoxy when Orthodoxy will become the victory which eternally overcomes all the obstacles, because that victory is the victory of Christ Himself.
As we approach the most important moment of the Eucharist, the priest says, “Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess….” What is the condition of the real triumph of Orthodoxy? What is the way leading to the real, the final, the ultimate victory of our faith? The answer comes from the Gospel. The answer comes from Christ Himself and from the whole tradition of Orthodoxy. It is love. Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess . . . confess our faith, our Orthodoxy. Let us, from now on, feel responsible for each other. Let us understand that even if we are divided in small parishes, in small dioceses, we first of all belong to one another. We belong together, to Christ, to His Body, to the Church. Let us feel responsible for each other, and let us love one another. Let us put above everything else the interests of Orthodoxy in this country. Let us understand that each one of us today has to be the apostle of Orthodoxy in a country which is not yet Orthodox, in a society which is asking us: “What do you believe?” “What is your faith?” And let us, above everything else, keep the memory, keep the experience, keep the taste of that unity which we are anticipating tonight.
At the end of the first century — when the Church was still a very small group, a very small minority, in a society which was definitely anti-Christian when the persecution was beginning — St. John the Divine, the beloved disciple of Christ, wrote these words: “And this is the victory, our faith, this is the victory.” There was no victory at that time, and yet he knew that in his faith he had the victory that can be applied to us today. We have the promise of Christ, that the gates of hell will never prevail against the Church. We have the promise of Christ that if we have faith, all things are possible. We have the promise of the Holy Spirit, that He will fill all that which is weak, that He will help us at the moment when we need help. In other words, we have all the possibilities, we have everything that we need, and therefore the victory is ours. It is not a human victory which can be defined in terms of money, of human success, of human achievements. What we are preaching tonight, what we are proclaiming tonight, what we are praying for tonight, is the victory of Christ in me, in us, in all of you in the Orthodox Church in America. And that victory of Christ in us, of the one who for us was crucified and rose again from the dead, that victory will be the victory of His Church.
Today is the triumph of Orthodoxy, and a hymn sung today states solemnly and simply: “This is the Apostolic faith, this is the Orthodox faith, this is the faith of the Fathers, this is the faith that is the foundation of the world.” My dear brothers and sisters, this is also our own faith. We are chosen. We are elected. We are the happy few that can say of our faith, “apostolic,” “universal,” “the faith of our fathers,” “Orthodoxy,” “the truth.” Having this wonderful treasure, let us preserve it, let us keep it, and let us also use it in such a way that this treasure becomes the victory of Christ in us and in His Church. Amen.
May you all have a blessed Lent and Easter.