The Last Judgment

Meat Fare Sunday

During the preceding two Sundays of this pre-Lenten period, we focused on God’s patience and limitless compassion, of His readiness to accept and forgive every sinner who returns to Him. Today, we are powerfully reminded of a complementary truth: no one is as patient and merciful as God, but even He does not forgive those who do not repent. The God of love is also a God of righteousness, and when Christ comes again in glory, He will come as our Judge. Such is the message of Lent to each of us: turn back while there is still time, repent before the End comes.

In today’s Gospel, Christ tells us in what manner we will be judged when He returns. Rather than pointing out that the righteous will consist of those who simply ‘believe’ in God and lead a good life, or even those who go to Church every Sunday, Christ tells us that it is not solely our faith, but also our actions that will determine our final destination. Jesus is more concerned about how we act toward those around us, and in particular, towards those less fortunate.

One of the important things that Christ teaches us through His message is that whatever we do to the next person, we do the same to Him. And it brings up the important fact that the true Orthodox Christian is the one who sees Christ in everyone. All are created in the image and likeness of God; we are all (or at least strive to be) living icons of Christ. And it’s when we recognize that image of Christ in everyone (including our ‘enemies’) that we take a step closer to residing in the mansions of the Father that have been prepared for us. 

Christian love is the “possible impossibility”, to see Christ in another person, whoever he or she is, and whom God, in His eternal and mysterious plan, has decided to introduce into our lives, be it only for a few moments, not as an occasion for a “good deed” or an exercise in charity, but as the beginning of an eternal companionship in God Himself.

The parable of the Last Judgment is about Christian love. Not all of us are called to work for “humanity,” yet each one of us has received the gift and the grace of Christ’s love. We know that all persons ultimately need this personal love—the recognition in them of their unique soul. And, finally, we know that however narrow and limited the framework of our personal existence, each one of us has been made responsible for a tiny part of the Kingdom of God, made responsible by that very gift of Christ’s love. Thus, on whether or not we have accepted this responsibility, on whether we have loved or refused to love, shall we be judged.

The Great Fast is a preparation for the Second Coming of the Savior.  But the judgment is not only in the future. Here and now, each day and each hour, in hardening our hearts toward others and in failing to respond to the opportunities we are given of helping them, we are already passing judgment on ourselves.

The next time that we set out to destroy someone’s reputation, break someone’s heart, show indifference and even ignorance toward a person, or spitefully gossip about someone, remember that Christ says that we’re doing exactly the same thing to Him!  Whatever we do wrong to the next person, will count against us when the Righteous Judge returns. We Christians can sometimes be judgmental toward those around us, and yet we don’t stop to think that this will reflect on Christ Himself.  We take the duty of the Judge and make judgement against the Saviour. We really need to see that icon of Christ in everyone, no matter who they are. 

We also need to ACT as Christians, and what this means is pouring out our hearts and resources to those less fortunate around us. Great and Holy Lent is a time for repentance, change, and renewal in our lives. It’s also a time to evaluate what we have done in terms of caring for our neighbor.

We need to recognize Jesus in the men and women we meet – even those whom we would never associate. Many saints have had the experience of meeting Jesus in the least likely of places, as Jesus resides in the least likely of human beings.

All men and women are created in the image and likeness of God, and Christ, the perfect image of God, dwells in all of us.  We find Christ in our neighbor, and not least in our neighbor who is in any kind of need.  If Lent is a time when the thought of judgment should spur us to repentance, then authentic repentance leads us to put love into practice in our daily living and in all our relationships.  Set the example!

Liturgy after the Liturgy

“Let us Depart in peace” is the last commandment of the Liturgy. What does it mean? It means, surely, that the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy is not an end but a beginning. Those words, “Let us Depart in peace,” are not a comforting conclusion, they are a call to serve and bear witness. In effect, those words, “Let us Depart in peace,” mean the Liturgy is over, however, the liturgy after the Liturgy is about to begin.

This, then, is an aim of the Liturgy: We should return to the world after the Liturgy, seeing Christ in every human person, especially in those who suffer.  The Orthodox Christian is the one who wherever he or she looks, sees everywhere Christ and rejoices in him, at least we should be. We are to go out, then, from the Liturgy and see Christ everywhere.

We are to return to the world not just with our eyes open, but with our heart and hands strengthened. So, we are not only to see Christ in all human persons, but we are to serve Christ, to minister to him, in all human persons.

St. John Chrysostom foresees this liturgy after the Liturgy in this way. There are, he says, two altars. There is, in the first place, the altar in church, and towards this altar we show deep reverence. We bow in front of it. We decorate it with silver and gold. We cover it with precious hangings. But, continues St. John, there is another altar, an altar that we encounter every day, on which we can offer sacrifice at any moment. And yet towards this second altar, an altar which God himself has made, we show no reverence at all. We treat it with contempt. We ignore it. And what is this second altar? It is, says St. John Chrysostom, the poor, the suffering, those in need, the homeless, all who are in distress. At any moment, he says, when you go out from this church (our Church, Holy Myrrhbearers), there you will see an altar on which you can offer sacrifice, a living altar made by Christ.


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Meeting of the Lord in the Temple

Forty days after Christ was born he was presented to God in the Jerusalem Temple according to the Mosaic Law. At this time as well, his mother Mary underwent the ritual purification and offered the sacrifices as prescribed in the Law. Thus, forty days after Christmas, today, the Church celebrates the feast of the presentation called the Meeting (or Presentation or Reception) of the Lord.

The meeting of Christ by the elder Simeon and the prophetess Anna (Lk 2:22-36) is the main event of the feast of Christ’s presentation in the Temple. It was “revealed to Simeon by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Lk 2:26) and, inspired by the same Spirit, he came to the Temple where he met the new-born Messiah, took him in his arms and said the words which are now chanted each evening at the end of our Orthodox Vesper service:

Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word; for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for the revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Thy people Israel (Lk 2:29-32).

At this time as well, Simeon predicted that Jesus would be the “sign which is spoken against” and that he would cause “the fall and the rising of many in Israel.” He also foretold Mary’s sufferings because of her son (Luke 22:34-35). Anna also was present and, giving thanks to God “she spoke of Jesus to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Lk 2:38).

In the service of the feast of the Meeting of the Lord, the fact emphasized is that Christ, the Son and Word of God, through whom the world was created, now is held as an infant in Simeon’s hands; this same Son of God, the Giver of the Law, now himself fulfills the Law, carried in arms as a human child.

Receive him, O Simeon, whom Moses on Mount Sinai beheld in the darkness as the Giver of the Law. Receive him as a babe now obeying the Law. For he it is of whom the Law and the Prophets have spoken, incarnate for our sake and saving mankind. Come let us adore him!

Let the door of heaven open today, for the Eternal Word of the Father, without giving up his divinity, has been incarnate of the Virgin in time. And as a babe of forty days he is voluntarily brought by his mother to the Temple, according to the Law. And the elder Simeon takes him in his arms and cries out: Lord now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, O Lord, who has come to save the human race—glory to Thee! (Vesper Verses of the Feast).

The Vespers and Matins of the feast of the Meeting of the Lord are filled with hymns on this theme. The Divine Liturgy is celebrated with the lines from the canticle of Mary forming the prokeimenon and the words of Simeon being the verses for the Alleluia. The gospel readings tell of the meeting, while the Old Testament readings at Vespers refer to the Law of the purification in Leviticus, the vision of Isaiah in the Temple of the Thrice-Holy Lord, and the gift of faith to the Egyptians prophesied by Isaiah when the light of the Lord shall be a “revelation to the Gentiles” (Lk 2:32).

The celebration of the Meeting of the Lord in the Church is not merely an historical commemoration. Inspired by the same Holy Spirit as Simeon, and led by the same Spirit into the Church of the Messiah, the members of the Church also can claim their own “meeting” with the Lord, and so also can witness that they too can “depart in peace” since their eyes have seen the salvation of God in the person of his Christ.

Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos, Full of Grace! From you shone the Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God, enlightening those who sat in darkness! Rejoice and be glad, O righteous elder; you accepted in your arms the Redeemer of our souls who grants us the resurrection (Troparion).

By Thy nativity, Thou didst sanctify the Virgin’s womb. And didst bless Simeon’s hands, O Christ our God. Now Thou hast come and saved us through love. Grant peace to all Orthodox Christians, O only Lover of man (Kontakion).


(It is customary in many churches to bless candles on the feast of the Meeting of the Lord.)

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Sermon on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son by St. John of Kronstadt

I will arise and go to my father (Luke 15:18)

Brethren! All our attention must be centered on the parable of the Prodigal Son. We all see ourselves in it as in a mirror. In a few words the Lord, the knower of hearts, has shown in the person of one man how the deceptive sweetness of sin separates us from the truly sweet life according to God. He knows how the burden of sin on the soul and body, experienced by us, impels us by the action of divine grace to return, and how it actually does turn many again to God, to a virtuous life. We will repeat it and discuss how necessary and easy it is for a sinner, to return to God.

One man had two sons. When they came of age, the younger one said to the father, “Give me my rightful share of the estate.” And the father divided the property. The elder son did not take his portion and remained with the father, a sign that he loved his father with a pure heart, and he found satisfaction in fulfilling his will (neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment), and to depart from him he considered madness. But the younger, in a few days, having gathered all his property, left his father’s house for a distant country where he wasted all his substance, living dissolutely. From all this it is evident that he did not have a good and pure heart, and that he was not sincerely disposed towards his good father, and that he was burdened by his supervision and he dreamed it better to live according to the will of his own depraved heart. But let us hear what happened to him in exile from his father’s house.

When he had spent everything in the foreign country in a disorderly manner, a great famine came upon that country and he began to be in need. He went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would have been happy to fill his stomach with the food (acorns and chaff) that the swine ate; but no one gave him any. Having come to his senses, he said, “How many hired servants of my father have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger. I will arise and go to my father and I will say unto him: Father! I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. Receive me as one of thy hired servants.” He arose and went to his father. When he was still afar off, his father saw him and had compassion on him and went to meet him. He embraced him and kissed him. He forgave him and led him to his house, dressed him in the finest clothes and made a feast in honor of his return. And so the lost son entered again into the love of his father.

Brethren! This is how the heavenly Father acts toward us. He does not bind us to Himself by force if we, having a depraved and ungrateful heart, do not want to live according to His commandments, but He allows us to depart from Him, and to know by experience how dangerous it is to live according to the will of one’s heart, to know what an agonizing lack of peace and tranquility tries the soul, devoted to passions, by what shameful food it is nourished. For what can be more shameful than the food of the passions? God forbid that anyone remain forever in this separation from God. To be far from God is true and eternal perdition. They that remove themselves from Thee shall perish (Ps. 72:27), says the holy king and Prophet David. It is necessary without fail to turn from the pernicious way of sin towards God with the whole heart. Let everyone be assured that God will see his sincere conversion, will meet him with love, and will receive him, as before, as one of His children.

Have you sinned? Say in your heart, with full determination, I will arise and go to my Father, and in fact, go to Him. And just as you manage to say these words in your heart; just as you decide firmly to live according to His will, He will immediately see that you are returning to Him. He is always not far from every one of us (Acts 17:27), and will immediately pour His peace into your heart. It will be suddenly so light and pleasant for you, as it is, for example, for a bankrupt debtor when they forgive his debts, or as pleasant as it is to a poor man whom they suddenly dress in fine clothes or offer a seat at a rich table.

At the same time take notice, brethren, that as many forms as there are of sins or passions, so also are there return paths to the heavenly Father. Every sin or passion is a path to a country far from God. Did you leave by the road of faithlessness? Turn back and, further, recognize all its foolishness, feel with your whole heart its heaviness, emptiness, perdition, and stand with firm footing on the path of faith, calming, sweet, and life-giving for the heart of man, and hold on to it with your whole heart. Did you leave by the way of pride? Turn back and go the way of humility. Hate pride, knowing that God resists the proud. Did you leave by the way of envy? Turn from this diabolic road and be content with what God has sent and remember whose offspring it is—the first envier was the devil and by the envy of the devil sin entered into the world (Wisdom 2:24). Be well-disposed towards everyone. If you left by the way of enmity and hatred, turn back and go the way of meekness and love. Remember that whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer (I John 3:15). Or did you depart from God by gluttony and dissoluteness? Turn back and go the way of moderation and chastity, and remember as a rule in life the words of the Saviour, Take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be overburdened with self-indulgence and drunkenness, and cares of this life (Luke 21:34), and use the words of the repentant prodigal son: We have sinned before Thee, and are no longer worthy to be called Thy sons. Receive us, even as hirelings. And He surely will receive us back as children. Amen.

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The End of the Sacraments – The End of All Things

January 13, 2023 · Fr. Stephen Freeman

Here is an excellent writing on the Holy Mysteries, we as Orthodox, partake of and why they are the completion of our purpose, the purpose we are created for!

“There are those who like to point out that the traditional Orthodox word for “sacrament” (Eucharist, Baptism, Chrismation, Unction, Ordination, Marriage, Penance) is “mystery.” Common speech, though, usually reverts to the more popular, Western word. Interestingly, the Latin “sacramentum,” originally meant an “oath.” Exactly how it came to be the word used to describe these holy events in the life of the Church is not known (I have a guess, but I’ll keep it to myself). But even the term “mystery” was slow in coming to be the primary term used in the Orthodox Church. Language sometimes evolves slowly. That Greek-thinking Orthodoxy preferred the term “mystery” to the more legal-minded “sacrament” is itself a lesson. However, I will take us all down a different path – with a word from one of the Fathers that might give a clue as to how he thought about these things…”

Click here to read the entire article, it is well worth your time!

Complete us, Lord, and elevate us to the glory you have ordained for your sons and daughters!

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Orthodoxy — the Fullness of the Faith

“People come to the Orthodox Church because it is a solid stable bastion of traditional Christian values, where marriage and family are highly valued, multiple children are encouraged and the lifestyle is focused on the services and disciplines of the Church.  In Orthodoxy, the only alternative lifestyle is monasticism.  These values and the life of the Orthodox Church are the context for raising healthy families, and for the healing of the souls of those devastated by the world, as the whole community works out its salvation together…

Here we have the essential mission of the Church: to bring consolation and healing, through repentance, to those who are suffering.  “To proclaim the good news to the poor, to heal the broken hearted, to give sight to the blind…”  This mission and its message are not to make people feel guilty and ashamed.  That is wrong in and of itself, especially when they already are cowed by their shame and guilt. 

​Our mission is to proclaim the Kingdom of God by loving people into the Church, by teaching them that repentance means healing and transformation, and that God loves them unconditionally.  Maybe eventually they will begin to be able to accept the love of God, and of others, and be healed.

​We will only be able to do this by being healed ourselves, by overcoming our egos and self-centeredness, and by learning to love. This demands asceticism. We must overcome the effects of Protestant culture that teach that God in his Sovereignty has created some for salvation, and some for damnation. That there is such a God, we reject.  God wills that all would be saved and come to the knowledge of the Truth.”

– Metropolitan Jonah Paffhausen. 2022

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The Praying Mind Seeks Union with the Heart

St Ignatius Brianchaninov
Glory to God!

From The Field, cultivating salvation

The doors of my senses have closed. My tongue is silent; my eyes are closed; my ears hear nothing that is outside me. The mind that is clothed in prayer, that has put away the weight of worldly thoughts, descends to the cell of the heart. The doors of the cell are shut; everywhere there is total darkness. The mind, in fear, begins to knock on the doors of the heart through prayer; it stands patiently at the doors, knocks, waits, knocks again, again waits, again prays. There is no answer there is no voice! The deathly quiet and dark are only answered by the silence of the grave. The mind leaves the doors of the heart, saddened, and crying bitterly it seeks consolation. It was not allowed to stand before the King of kings in the sanctum of the inner cell.

  Why, why were you so rejected?  

I am marked by sin. The habit of carnal thoughts distracts me. I have no strength within me, because the Spirit does not come to me for help, the all-holy and all-good Spirit, who reestablishes the union of mind, heart, and body that was severed by the terrible fall of man. Without the all-powerful, creative help of the Spirit, my own efforts are useless! He is most compassionate, He is eternally the lover of man, but my impurity does not allow Him access to me. I will wash myself in tears, I will purify myself through the confession of my sins, I will not give my body either food or sleep, which in excess only debilitate my soul. Robed in the cry of repentance, I will descend to the doors of my heart. I will stand there, or sit, like the blind man in the Gospels, I will bear the heaviness and boredom of the dark, I will cry out to the all-powerful One: Have mercy on me!    

And I went down, and I stood, and I began to cry out with tears. I became like unto the blind man who cannot see the true, unsetting Light, like unto the deaf and dumb man who can neither speak nor hear spiritually.  I truly felt that I was blind, deaf, dumb, standing before the gates of Jericho, the heart that is inhabited by sin. I wait for healing from my Saviour, Whom I cannot see, cannot hear, but to Whom I cry out, though it be a silent cry of my appalling state. I do not know His name, so I call the Son of God the son of David, because flesh and blood cannot give honor to God as God.   Show me the way, along which the Saviour walks! This way is prayer, as the Prophet said through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: “The sacrifice of praise shall glorify Me; and there is the way, by which I will show him My salvation.”l Tell me, what is the hour of the coming of the Saviour? Is it in the morning, midday, or the evening? “Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is.”2  

The way is known, but the time is not! I will go outside the city, I will stand or sit at the gates of Jericho, as St Paul recommends: “Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach.”3 The world is fading; everything in it is inconstant; it is not even called a city, but a camp. I will leave behind my attachment to money that is left behind after death, whether I want it or not, and often even before death. I will leave behind the accolades and honors that die with me; I will reject the pleasures of the flesh that make me incapable of the labors of the ascetic life.

For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come,”4 which will first reveal itself to me in my heart through the mercy and grace of God, my Saviour.

Whoever will not ascend to the mystical Jerusalem with his spirit during this earthly life will have no sure way of knowing that even after the separation of his soul from his body he will be allowed to enter the spiritual Jerusalem. The first serves as the pledge of the second. 5 Amen.

1. Ps 50:23
2. Mark 13:33
3. Heb 13:13
4. Heb 13:14
5. St. Hesychius, The Philokalia, pt. 2, Ch. 4. All the other Fathers write the same.  

The Field: Cultivating Salvation. (2016). The Printshop of St Job of Pochaev. Chapter 38
May our Lord and Savior bless us
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Who do we condemn??

Glory to God!!

“There is a temptation to reduce Orthodoxy, especially among young male converts, to a rational system of doctrines and dogmas, canons and rituals.  We get all excited about the new things we are learning, and about how far superior they are to the Catholic and Protestant systems of Christian thought, or to secular and non-Christian philosophy.  But because we are not mature in the Faith, we are off balance. 

All these things, doctrines, dogmas, canons and so forth, are there in order to support one primary purpose: the transformation of our souls in theosis, in short, salvation.  Just because you have the right doctrine, pure dogmas and strict observance of the canons does not mean that you are deified.  In fact, the great spiritual fathers all say that knowledge puffs up, inflates our ego, and inflames our passions.  These things will not save you.  They are the context for the spiritual struggle but are not its content.

If we judge others, condemn others, criticize others and generally exalt ourselves, we are simply the new Pharisees.  You can have perfect obedience to all the rules, and if you do not love your neighbor, they condemn you.  You can fast perfectly, and if you judge and criticize your neighbor, you condemn yourself. 

If you judge and criticize the Roman Catholics or the Protestants and their faith, and decide they are all going to hell, you have condemned yourself.  It is not for us to judge anyone else’s faith or salvation.  We need to worry about ourselves, and our own salvation.  We must not only mercilessly persecute hypocrisy within ourselves, but any kind of arrogance, selfishness, self-centeredness, and egotism. Otherwise, we make the truth into a lie, because we take what is good and holy, and use it to not only destroy others, but inflate our own egos. If you don’t have love, St Paul says, you are a sounding gong or clanging cymbal.

The Fathers tell us, over and over, that until we have achieved a substantial degree of purification from the passions, we must not touch theology.  In the early Church, the three year period of catechesis was primarily devoted to moral teaching from the Old Testament.  You have to live Orthodox to understand the Faith.”

– Metropolitan Jonah Paffhausen

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Our God Given Tools

See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise,

Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not

unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is“ Eph 5:9-19

God has given to us many gifts, however, it is necessary for us to use these gifts well and wisely. If a highly skilled craftsmen were to be placed in a workshop with every tool imaginable, in perfect working order, and if he were given the best supplies to work with and the plans and examples of the kind of finished pieces that were possible, it would be expected that he would produce excellent work. However in order to do this, our craftsman would have to take the tools in hand, and using the plans and examples as a guide, begin to work on the raw material. He would need to work carefully, applying his skills and talents, in order to use the tools to their best effect so that in the end he would produce a beautiful work of his craft.

On the other hand, if the craftsman did nothing, no finished product would be forthcoming; or if he misused his tools or simply was not careful, then the end result would be flawed at best and he might end up with simply spoiling the materials that he had been given. If he did not follow the plan or example that he had been given then his finished product might bear no resemblance at all to that which was desired. In order to produce a finished product that was beautiful, functional and that fulfilled its purpose, it is necessary first that the craftsman use the time he had been given in the workshop and not neglect the task at hand. It is also necessary for him to use the tools he had been given not carelessly or ineptly, but rather applying all his skill to use them to their best advantage. Finally it is necessary that the craftsman follow the plan and examples given so that what he produces resembles the desired end product.

This is the same situation in which we find ourselves as Christians. We have been placed in a workshop with every possible tool, that is, we have been placed in the Orthodox Church by the rebirth of baptism and given every aspect of the tradition of the Church as a tool. We are filled with the Holy Spirit, in our Chrismation, who guides and directs us in the use of those tools, just as the craftsman has his skill. We are given the raw material of our own self and the plan set before us is the Gospel, which we should be reading daily. Using these tools and this workshop we are to shape and form ourselves into the likeness of Christ. As examples, we have the choir of the saints, so that we can see the many forms that this likeness can take and the many means by which this form is expressed. The time we have been given for this task is this life.

In order to embark upon this task, it is necessary that we do not waste the time that has been given to us. Every moment is precious and cannot be regained once it is spent. If we are negligent and slothful, we will allow those precious moments to be wasted, as water that is spilled to the ground and there spent to no effect. Therefore Christian, awake from your slumber, do not sleep through this life, but diligently begin to use wisely the time you have been given. The spiritual book, The Way of the Ascetics, begins with this very instruction saying, “If you wish to save your soul and win eternal life, arise from your lethargy, make the sign of the cross and say: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Long enough have you dallied, sunk in indifference and laziness, you have let much valuable time go to waste. Arise, then; but do so at once, without delay. Do not defer your purpose till tonight or tomorrow or later, when I have finished what I have to do just now. The interval may be fatal. No, this moment, the instant you make your resolution, you will show by your action that you have begun a new life.” St Herman of Alaska echoes this urgency when he says, “..from this very day, from this hour, from this minute, strive to love God above all and fulfill his holy will!” There is no time to lose for any of us, whether old or young, whether healthy or ill, no matter who we are or what our situation, from this moment on we must no longer waste time, but focus on working out our salvation.

Not only must we begin working now, but we must use all the skill that we have, and all the tools that God has placed at our disposal. For this God has given to us His Holy Spirit and He lives in us. He is the master craftsman and through the grace that He bestows upon us, we can use what He has given us with precision and skill that we might conform to His image and likeness. Therefore we must not rely upon ourselves, but

rather we must act in such a way that we say with the Apostle, not I, but Christ in me. We have many spiritual tools in the Church, some more basic than others and some more powerful than others. The proper use and application of these tools is given to us in the tradition and life of the Church. Also we are given helpers and guides who are appointed to help us apply all of these tools in the most effective manner. These helpers are our priests, our spiritual fathers and elders. The elders are those who by their lives, have gained some experience and wisdom in the use of these spiritual tools. They can give sober advice based on what they have experienced in their own lives and struggles. Also we have the clergy who are given the special grace by God in their ordination to provide the help and direction to care for the flock of Christ and bring us all safely into the heavenly kingdom. It is incumbent then that we always work under supervision and guidance so that we avoid the danger of misusing the tools that we have and thus injuring ourselves. Let me say a quick voice on Elders, talk with your Priest before you think about talking to an Elder, or so-called elder.  Your Priest is or should be your Spiritual Father.  He will guide you spiritually in your life.

Let us take the example of fasting. Fasting is a basic and powerful tool for denying oneself and clearing out the rubbish that sin has left in our lives by the unchecked passions. The regular routine of fasting that we have been given, the four fasting seasons, as well as the Wednesday and Friday fasts, is well within the ability of nearly everyone and is an effective use of this spiritual tool. However, there are those who, out of a desire to work harder or overcome some difficult obstacle might wish to undertake a stricter or longer fast. Or there may be someone, who by physical necessity or weakness might seek to lessen the fast for a time. There is nothing wrong with this in theory, however, when increasing or decreasing the intensity of the fast, one must do so with care so that on one hand you don’t take on a task greater than your strength and fall into despair or pride, or on the other hand you don’t dilute the fast so much that it has really no beneficial effect but you are deceived into thinking that you have accomplished much when in fact there is nothing. The guard against this is to have an experienced helper oversee such departures from the norm and so one should undertake these changes only with the blessing of the priest, your spiritual father. This similar kind of proper and misuse of the tools of spiritual labor can be found in every specific. Therefore, not only must we begin working now, but we must begin working with wisdom and carefully so that we do not harm ourselves and fall into delusion and despair on one hand, or so that we do not waste our efforts and believe that we have accomplished much when nothing has been done at all.

We are also given the plan of the Gospel and the examples of the saints. It is necessary when working, always to have the goal of Jesus Christ before us as we struggle to follow the path of salvation that He has set before us. If we are constantly referring to the plan, His Plan, we can see quickly any deviation or imperfection that might arise in our work and correct it while it is still small.

If on the other hand we allow such errors to go on, they continue to grow and become more and more serious until a great deal of work is required to correct what in the beginning might have been only a small effort. This we do by daily reading the Gospel and by reading also the lives of the saints so that they are familiar to us. In our prayers it is good to ask the saints to assist us by their own prayers before the throne of God for as the scripture tells us, the prayer of the righteous man avails much.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, redeem the time, do not wait or delay but begin, this very day, this very hour, this very minute to follow Christ and walk in the path of salvation. Do this with wisdom and

with care walking vigilantly and with wisdom. Follow the traditions of the Church and the directions of your spiritual guide for in this way, we know that we use what God has given to us, properly and wisely. Finally do not lose sight of your goal but always, by psalms, hymns and Spiritual songs, that is by the reading of scripture and the prayers and services of the Church, keep our Lord Jesus Christ always before your eyes and in your heart; be not unwise but understand what the will of the Lord is. Keep your attention on the One Who has made you and Who loves you with the perfect love. In this way work out your salvation and bring to fulfillment and expression within yourself the image and likeness of God with which you were created.

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Through the Intercessions of Elder Ephraim of Arizona — lessons from a monastery

Three years ago today the world lost a holy father, Elder Ephraim of Arizona. However, in as much as he “completed the race” and was found worthy to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, we gained a saint! Now we have him as our heavenly intercessor, but even during his earthly life his prayers could move […]

Through the Intercessions of Elder Ephraim of Arizona — lessons from a monastery
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Through the Cross of Christ

Eph 2:14-22

God created the universe, whole and complete.  Everything was linked in a perfect interdependence and harmony.  There were no conflicts, no divisions, no barriers – all was a perfect whole, a perfect unity.  But all this came to an end when our first parents rebelled and sinned against God.  Rather than work within the harmony that God had created, they sought to go their own way and in so doing, introduced the element of chaos, of conflict, and of strife.  Their sin brought about a rift, a separation, between God and man – a wound that resulted in hostility between God and man.  Let us understand that this hostility was one sided, for God continued to love man, but men began to set themselves apart from God, unwilling to submit themselves to Him, but in pride, fighting against Him.  This is one of the foreseeable effects of sin – it creates a separation, a barrier.  Initially it creates a barrier between God and man, but as sin develops, it also creates barriers between men, us.  The sin of our first parents not only divided us from God, but now also divides us from each other.  Mankind, who was, in his creation, united and whole, is now fractured and divided, such that everyone is alone and separated from his fellow man.  We are not only hostile towards God, but we are hostile towards one another, and so the wound continues to grow and fester.  Therefore, God, out of His great and boundless love for mankind, began to work to heal the wound of separation, and to do away with the wall of hostility that had been erected by men. 

Apostle Paul, in his Epistle to the Ephesians, that we heard today, proclaims that this has been accomplished.  The division that man had caused by his sin, God healed by His incarnation.  To begin with, He heals the rift between Himself and mankind by taking on our nature, uniting His divine nature with our human nature, and by taking on our flesh, thereby redeeming our bodies as well.

Not only does He heal the separation, but he also destroys the hostility that it caused, by His Cross.  Through the Cross, sin was defeated and mankind was freed from its power which had held us in bondage. 

By ascending to the Cross in His own Body, the God/man, our Lord Jesus Christ, put to death the hostility that existed between man and God. That old fallen human nature, the “old man” as the Apostle calls it, died on the Cross, and hostility that existed between the “old man” and God is done away with – it dies as well.  God has reached down, bridged the gap between Himself and us, created by our sin, and has united us to Himself. 

This is not all, for just as we have divided ourselves from God with a wall of sin, so also we have divided ourselves from one another by this same wall of sin.  We have become hostile towards one another, no longer living in unity, but pushing others away, building barriers to protect the self from others who we perceive as threatening to our pride and self-reliance.  This is not the way that we were created to live.  We were created to live in unity with one another, to live in harmony, just as the persons of the Holy Trinity share a single essence, united by perfect love for one another. We were created in the image of God, and by our own sin we have marred that image – we have separated ourselves from one another, trying to live independently, without love. 

By His mercy and compassion, God has also reopened the means by which we can restore the unity of His image that we bear.  The Apostle says that he has made “of twain, one new man” that is, that out of two or more, He has made them one new man.  He has taken us who are divided and reunited the many into one.  This He has accomplished by the Cross as well.  He has slain the “old man” who was isolated by sin, and raised us with Him as “new men” who are united by one Spirit. 

We were strangers to one another, but now in Christ, we have become fellow-citizens and members of the household of God, a family. 

Whereas before we were separated by our sin, now we have been reunited and joined together by the love of God.  This unity is apparent to all of us within the Orthodox Church.  We see our brothers and sisters, and although they were once strangers to us, now we recognize that we are united in Christ, His body, His family.  We begin to feel a small, however, a growing connection to each other, as the love of God begins to work in us. 

For us, however, the important task is much closer at hand.  The Apostle tells us, that we are being built together into a habitation of God through the Holy Spirit.  This little parish community, our family – that is you and I – is being framed together into a temple of God.  Each one of us has a place into which God has fitted us.  We are being joined together so that we might grow together and become a single body, that body being the habitation of God.  By the grace of the Holy Spirit, we are each being fashioned so that we might fit perfectly into the place prepared for us.  Once we have been set in place, we are cemented to one another by the Chrism and Grace of God’s love. 

What does that mean for us then?  First we must recognize that God has a place for us – a place that He has chosen.  Second, He is shaping us so that we might fit in where He needs us and wants us to be.  Remember that God has a place for you and He is working to fit you into that place, but He also respects you and will not force you. 

 Knowing this, it is then our task to work with God, conforming ourselves to His will, following His instructions, doing not what we want, but following the path that He sets before us, one step at a time.  This is how we conform ourselves to God. 

Now look to your neighbor, here next to you, because God is doing the same thing to him and her – shaping them and preparing them for their place in this wonderful temple, our Church, and that place is right next to you.  Reach out then and embrace your neighbor.  There may be some rough edges still, because God is still working on both of you, but as you reach out, the love of God will flow between you and them, and it will join you to one another.  Together, we are the temple of God.  Let us therefore work to love one another, to work together as God provides the opportunities, and to do all things together for the glory of God, as family. 

We were separated from God and from one another, by our sins, but God, in His great mercy and compassion has overcome our separation.  He has reached down to embrace us, and has destroyed the wall of sin and hostility which isolated us from Him and from one another.  He has brought us together to be a “habitation” for Himself through the Holy Spirit.

Each one of us, with our unique strengths and weaknesses — with our personalities, with our different perspectives, are placed by God in just the right place that He might use us, and has then joined us together with His love.  Let us therefore rejoice that He has restored His image in us, as we are healed by Him and have been reunited with Him and with one another.  Let us now work with Him, not alone, but with our neighbor, our family, and grow into the holy temple of the Lord.

So as St Paul tells us in his Epistle to the Ephesians, Chapter 4 verse 3, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”  Amen!!

Thank you Fr David

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