Are you Blind?

About the “Man Born Blind”, John 9:1-38:

Christ is Risen!

     In the Gospels through the life and teaching of Jesus, the true God is revealed, and the picture we get is often radical and scandalous.  

When the disciples ask the question, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind“, they were reflecting a common belief in a God who visits evil upon those who offend Him. Of course, it could not have been the poor blind man who sinned because one cannot sin in utero. Christ also indicates that it was not his parents who sinned saying, “It was not that this man sinned or his parents…”  The blindness had nothing to do with sin at all.  His answer was that the blindness was an opportunity for “the works of God” to be made manifest.”

Jesus challenged the common view that God is angry, vengeful and ready to punish those who offend Him. The Old Testament is filled with such imagery, but it was written in an environment foreign to what we experience now. It was a primitive world where each tribe had its own gods.  The competition was fierce.  Our god is better than yours and our god has ordered us to invade and conquer you to prove it.  Their understanding of God was limited and simplistic, colored by fear, the pressures of the struggle to survive in a hostile world, and the cultural understanding of primitive societies, trapped in archaic mind-sets that are no longer useful.  We learn from Jesus that God is not on a power trip.  God does not have control issues.

Jesus reveals a different and higher understanding of God.  This same understanding lies at the heart of the Old Testament although it is somewhat concealed and often difficult to find, but it is revealed openly in the New.  God is loving, compassionate and vulnerable.  “His mercy,” the Psalmist writes, “endures forever.” In Jesus and particularly on the Cross, God appears shockingly powerless!

The Lord’s revelation did not please everyone then and does not now.  Many could not accept it in the first century and many who call themselves Christian reject it now, in the so-called, modern world.  I recall as the year 2000 approached some Christians went to Jerusalem to kill people in the streets in the belief that their violent actions would trigger the Second Coming of Christ!  I think they missed something somewhere! Remember the verse from John’s Gospel, “After that day many of his disciples no longer followed him?”  The same is true today, except that now Jesus is co-opted to support positions his teachings literally oppose.

When Jesus met the blind man he healed him.  God’s works become manifest when He ministers to His creation.  God does not cause suffering so that He can get some good PR.  Jesus often rejected public acclaim.  Many forms of suffering exist in our fallen world, it is true, and because of it, God the Son became Incarnate to bring healing and salvation in the midst of it, but God is not the author of suffering and He does not take advantage of our weakness to make Himself look good.  God is love, and in Him is no self-interest whatsoever.  God is not the all-powerful Ego-in-the-sky.  That god is Zeus!  That god is Moloch!  The Father of Jesus Christ is not like the pagan gods who are often pictured in the myths as no better than human beings are at their worst.  God has no ego and no self-interest.

The teachings of Jesus are viral, radical and scandalous.  That we no longer see them as such, means, either that we have embraced them or are living lives of utter selflessness, love and absolute vulnerability, or that we have co-opted Jesus and have turned Him into a spokesman for our own self-interests. 

Throughout history, Jesus has been used as an excuse to ravage and destroy by men and women who have twisted His words out of recognition.  Polls show that many who support the use of torture these days are Christians who preach Christ as the Prince of Peace, the One who said “love your enemies and do good to those who hate you,” and yet applaud when their suspected enemies are degraded and debased in the most inhuman ways.  In this they see no conflict of interest.  Such two-facedness makes the words of our Savior more meaningful when He says, “When the Son of Man comes again, will He find faith on earth?”  The authors of the Crusades, slaughters, holocausts and inquisitions throughout Christian history used the same arguments as our contemporaries.  Of course, if we believe in an angry vengeful God, then it justifies our own violent behavior.  But this is not the God Jesus reveals.

The Father of Jesus is the author of life, the origin of love, the Father of compassion, the Lord of Light.  He is the One who alleviates suffering, who cares for the poor, who does not take revenge, who does not crave power, who died on the Cross so that all may live, who asks that we turn the other cheek, that we do not judge, that we pray quietly in our closets, that we return good for evil, that we lend and love without expecting anything in return. He is the one whose kingdom is not of this world and who calls us to make His righteous kingdom our home. We are called to do one thing:  “to cultivate an inner garden in which the Divine Word may grow and flourish.” (St. John Climacus) The Divine Word can only grow in the soil of love and compassion.  We have the choice to choose a higher way, the narrow path of Theosis, be healed of our own blindness, and become like God.

Today we also remember St John the Theologian.

Saint John, the beloved disciple of Christ, called “the Theologian” because of his lofty teaching concerning the Son of God, God the Word, was the son of the Galilean fisherman Zebedee and his wife, Salome, and the brother of the Apostle James. The Lord Jesus Christ loved all His disciples, but He had a particular love for John, who was the youngest of the apostles, and who was an innocent, and pure youth, aflame with boundless love for his Divine Teacher. John was that apostle of whom the Gospel says, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” It was the Lord’s will that he shine longer than all the other apostles on the horizon of the apostolic age; he reposed at the beginning of the second Christian century.

This apostle was wholly permeated by love for his neighbor. His zeal for the salvation of those who were perishing, knew no obstacles. And the meekness, humility, and kindness of this great apostle were so amazing and touching, that he seemed to be not a man but an angel incarnate. His entire life was a life of love. In deep old age, when his physical strength had spent itself so that he could move about only with difficulty, he continued nevertheless, with the assistance of his disciples, to attend the Christian gatherings, teaching and edifying the flock.

At the end of his life, the holy Apostle limited his preaching to the brief exhortation: Children, love one another! When asked why he repeated one and the same thing over and over, the holy Apostle replied, “This is the command of the Lord, and if you fulfill it, it is sufficient.”

As today as we remember St John, let us also remember that his Teacher, and our God, loves us, forgives, us and will never leave us.

Christ is Risen!

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Come all who seek Living Water

Christ is risen!

 In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!

We have gotten used to greeting one another with the main greeting in our lives: “Christ is Risen!” But what is the meaning of the Resurrection for each one of us, personally? Obviously, it is the center of our Orthodox Christian confession, because the essence of our faith lies in the fact that Christ is risen. All of our church doctrine and Holy Tradition speaks of this. The Apostle Paul says that if Christ is not risen, then we are the most miserable people on earth, because then our faith is entirely meaningless.

We begin with the subject of the gospel announcement. The one who is risen is Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary, prophet from Nazareth, Messiah of Israel, friend of publicans and sinners, healer of the sick, proclaimer of the Kingdom of His Father. Here is why we have been given the four gospels of the New Testament—to identify this Jesus whom God has raised from the dead. The gospel is good news precisely because it is Jesus—this Jesus named and identified in the gospels—who now lives. The gospel is good news because it is this specific man, Jesus of Nazareth, who has destroyed death and will return in glory to judge the quick and the dead.

Something should happen to us in these days that would make this known not only to ourselves, but to all those around us. The tidings that Christ is risen cannot concern ourselves only. This cannot be only our little private matter; a joy for our parish family only. This is something bigger, something global. If Christ is risen, then our life should change on its own – and not only our life. Of course, our life should change first of all, but from every Great Lent, from every Pascha, our life should change so much, that it affects someone, touches someone, truly surprises someone, enlightening him and compelling him to turn in our direction. The fruits of our labor and our great joy should extend to the world.

Because God is unconditional love, therefore all of your sins are completely and forever forgiven. You may therefore let go all of your guilt and self-condemnation.

Because God is unconditional love, therefore you can stop trying to earn your way into God’s good graces. You are already accepted by him.

Because God is unconditional love, therefore you are assured a place in the kingdom. His love will triumph over your disbelief and sin.

Last Wednesday was Mid-Pentecost, recalling the Savior’s teaching at a synagogue that He had come to heal the whole man (John 7:23) and to give him life; and also, remembering that Christ is the Source of life (John 7:37); asking God to give us His healing grace through the visible matter of water. Today, as if continuing to point to the salvation pool, to the spring of pure water, the Holy Church offers us a Gospel reading about Christ which likens His coming to the water of life, which quenches all thirst and flows into eternal life. 

On His way from Judea to Galilee Christ passed through Samaria (John 4:4) where the descendants of the ten tribes of Israel lived. Having been divided due to political reasons and later religious ones, Jews and Samaritans usually avoided close contacts. Tired from his journey, Christ sat down to rest by the old well of Jacob near the town of Sichar, where Abraham had brought a sacrifice to God (Gen. 12:6-7), and He asked a woman who had come to get water from the well, to give him some (John 4:7). Christ began to talk with the Samaritan woman, probably because he felt that she had a seeking heart. After their talk, the Saviour exclaimed that peoples’ souls, tired of fruitless searches, are ripe and ready to receive the Word of God (John 4:35). 

When the Lord asked for water, the Samaritan woman was amazed that a Jew lowered Himself, in her opinion, to speak with her and even take water from her (John 4:9). Seeing that the woman was serious about her faith and respectful of the traditions of the Jews, Christ revealed Himself to her. Using water as a symbol, He told her Who He was—the Source of life—and why He came—to give life to everyone who thirsts for it (John 4:14). But the Samaritan, it seems, did not understand the symbolic words of Christ and decided that He was strange— He offered water to her, but he had neither a bucket nor a ladle (John 4:11).

Nonetheless, although half-jokingly, she said, “Sir, give me this water!” (John 4:15). Then Christ talked to her; and directed her in a miraculous way through prophetic words about her life (John 4:17-18). And now, seeing before her, not an eccentric or strange man, but a prophet, the woman asked Him about that which was most important to her. And again we see the pure heart of the woman: that which was most important for her was not how many more husbands she would have, nor whether she would win a lottery and what the winning numbers were, and not even how much longer she would live, but rather how she should live: where and how to worship God (John 4:20).   Today the Orthodox Church recognizes this woman as a Saint – Saint Photini.

What is the difference between modern people and the ancient Samaritan woman, you may ask?

The difference is, perhaps, that she had, had five husbands and the one with whom she lived was not her husband, but in modern society today, people often have relationships with a multiple of others without the Sacrament of Marriage, also committing adultery without thinking twice about it. In all the rest, we are still the same: we continue to thirst, continue to seek what to fill our lives with, continue to get drunk on the worldly, that which passes by, that which does not quench our thirst for the eternal, the heavenly. We continue to crawl, forgetting that the Saviour gave us wings.

We measure a person by his or her achievements at work, by diplomas, by hobbies, or, like the author Tolstoy, how many apple trees he or she planted, forgetting that we must raise only one seed, the one that was planted by God. We strive to fill our bellies rather than our hearts. Even from Christ we expect health, wealth, luck, and often complain that He has neither a bucket nor a ladle. Where and how to worship God is not even important to us—in modern society such questions are not accepted, let us not ask them, they are not polite—everything is spiritual in its own way, and what is truth? Lord have mercy on us!

Exhausted, used, emptied, having given ourselves to anyone and anything, some five or six times or more, we continue to pull the clay pot out of the old well and continue to thirst. But Christ is already waiting for us. He always is.  He does not shun us. He is ready to accept us even as we are—lost, lacking understanding, shallow, having “tested everything” (1 Thess. 5:21), but not held on to the good. He wants to give us life. And we say, “Okay, give us that water that we won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water” (John 4:15), and He gives “to the full” (John 10:10).

The Will of God concerning man is for man to participate in His Divine Glory.  God created man not to be a servant of sin, but to be the living image of God on earth.  The restoration of man was achieved through Christ’s Sacrifice on the Holy Cross.  Man is called to the freedom of Christ. 

This freedom is granted when man denies his sinful desires, seeks and takes up his cross and follows the example of life which Christ gave to mankind.  Christ is the Truth, the Way and the Life for all men.  Through Him, man finds the true goals of life.  By the Grace of our Lord, man is able to resist sin and to become a virtuous vessel of holiness.  In God, man finds his true health.

Each and every one of us had or has fallen into different types of sin.  Let us approach Christ our God, Who loves man so much, that He gave His life for us.  Let us ask with all our hearts and faith to bestow upon us His Divine Healing Grace; to heal us from all our spiritual wounds caused by sin.
There is one Way for salvation and that is when we approach God.  There is one Way to restore our health and that is when we humble ourselves before God and acknowledge our own sins.
Christ our True God calls us saying: Come all of you who are wounded by sin and I shall grant you your health.  Come all of you, who are tired, because of worldly anxieties and concerns and I shall give you rest.  Come all of you, who wish to be saved and I shall grant you My Father’s Kingdom.  Let no man remain in spiritual thirst, but in Christ let all men stand before our Resurrected Christ, for to Him belong all glory, honour and worship both now and ever and to the ages of ages. 

What are we waiting for?


In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!  Christ is Risen!

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Phone and email and text messages

From: Russian Orthodox Church Cardiff : Kazan Icon of the Mother of God

“I am always slightly dumb-founded when members of the community try to call on the telephone before Liturgy on Sunday mornings, and can only come to the conclusion that they have no idea what happens before the beginning of the Hours.

As parish priest, my day in church often begins three hours before the last of the community arrive – that is those who neglect the Hours and only arrive just in time for the beginning of Liturgy.

The lamps and candles need to be lit, which takes time in a building the size of the University Church and the laying of the Zhertvenik / preparation-table needs completing before the entrance prayers and vesting prayers, for the vestments are not simply put on like clothes.

The entrance prayers that you see our bishop and the clergy recite before Liturgy mirror those said by the clergy before every Liturgy.

After this, special prayers are said when the clergy vest, then during the washing of hands. It is only then that the clergy begin to celebrate the rite of preparation of the Holy Gifts: the proskomedia.

During this rite, the priest takes portions from five prosphora (loaves of offering).

The first portion, from the first loaf, is the Lamb, which will be consecrated, and by the operation of the Holy Spirit will become the Body of Christ.

The second portion, placed to the right of the Lamb (our left), commemorates the Theotokos. ‘The Queen didst stand at Thy right hand…’

From the third loaf, the priest removes particles to remember the ranks of saints: the Forerunner, the prophets, the apostles, holy hierarchs, martyrs, monastics, unmercenary healers, the ancestors of Christ, Joachim and Anna, together with the patrons of the temple and the saints particularly  significant to our local Church (Saints Cyril and Methodius, Saints Vladimir and Olga etc), and finally the saint whose Liturgy is being celebrated. These are placed to the left of the Lamb (our right).

From the fourth loaf, the priest takes two triangular potions to commemorate the hierarchy and clergy, and those in authority, and places them in front of the Lamb. He then commemorates the living whose names are offered in commemoration lists and books. Particles are removed and offered during these intercessions and placed on the diskos, next to the triangular portions.

From the fifth loaf the priest takes a triangular portion in remembrance departed hierarchs of the Church, departed Orthodox rulers and the founders of the temple. This is placed beneath the particles for the living. Turning to the commemoration lists and books, the departed are remembered by name, and particles in their memory are placed on the diskos

After communion, all of these particles representing both the living and departed are placed into the chalice with the prayer: ‘Wash away, by Thy precious Blood, O Lord, the sins of those here commemorated, through the prayers of all Thy saints.’

So, during this rite of preparation, an icon of the Church is created on the diskos, from five loaves of bread: Christ the Lamb, flanked by His Most-Holy Mother on one side and the choir of the saints on the other, with the living and departed before Him. You and I are part of this icon. Those whom you remember in your commemoration lists and pomianiky are part of this icon; those alive now, and generations of the departed reaching back through the centuries.

The next time you consider telephoning the priest before Liturgy, put the telephone away! The priest is already busy, preparing the Offering: praying for the Church and the world, and remembering the faithful – living and departed – name by name.

You have a part in this: to remember your Orthodox loved ones, and brothers and sisters in Faith, living and departed. By having them commemorated in the proskomedia, they become part of this icon of the Church as they are remembered in prayer in the preparation of the Holy Gifts.

The particles taken in memory of them surround Christ’s Holy Body, as He truly becomes present among us and calls us to Himself, to share in His Mystical Supper.”

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Christ is Risen!

John 5:1-15

Christ is Risen !!

This period of the fifty days between Pascha and Pentecost is a particularly light and joyful time.  We still have in our memory, the triumph and joy of the Resurrection, our Feast Day of the Holy Myrrhbearers, and we look forward to the awesome descent of the Holy Spirit that will come.  

The first of the Gospel events, today, is the healing of the paralytic by the sheep’s pool in Jerusalem.  This pool of Bethesda, in where the sheep which were brought for sacrifice, were first washed, This pool, had miraculous properties, for an angel would come at times from heaven and stir up the waters providing an opportunity for the people to receive God’s mercy and the first person to enter the pool at that time would be healed of whatever disease they might have.  For this reason the porches around the pool were often crowded with those who were ill, and who were waiting for the disturbance of the water, so that they might have a chance at healing.  This was an established event – one which required the sick to have faith in the power and mercy of God. 

This avenue of God’s mercy and grace was in a way, a part of the law – God reached down into the world and instead of inscribing the commandments on a tablet of stone, He stirred the water in the pool.  The commandments opened the way to heavenly life, by describing how one needed to live in order to find favor with God.  The disturbance of the water opened the door of access to the healing grace of God, providing for the one who entered to be healed. 

It is no accident that this miracle involved water, for it is a foreshadowing of the Mystery of Baptism, given to us by our Lord, Jesus.  The practice of ritual washing for purification was not unusual in Jewish practice, and in fact the baptism which John practiced in the Jordan River, was an outgrowth of that ritual.  The baptism of John was a call to and a symbol of, repentance – of turning ones back on the sins that had accumulated in one’s life. Washing in the pool of Bethesda had a different purpose, for it demonstrated the hidden power of a ritual washing by providing an avenue for the grace of God to heal the sick body. The Mystery of Baptism, completes and unites these various images, and opens for us an avenue of the power of God to heal us, not only of our physical illnesses, but more importantly to heal the spiritual illnesses and injuries that are the result of sin.  Baptism results in our rebirth into spiritual life by immersion in the grace of God and this is accomplished through the ritual immersion in water.

This paralyzed man had been suffering for 38 years – waiting by the pool for the disturbance of the water that would give him a chance at healing.  He was persistent in his faith and hope, in God’s providence, in that he never gave up hope even after 38 years of being unable to reach the water in time.  Still he looked only to God to provide healing for himself.  When Jesus, Who is the fulfillment of all our hopes and desires and Who, being God incarnate, is the embodiment of the power and providence of God, came to this man, He did not ask about the man’s faith, for his faith in God’s help had been evident for 38 years and each passing year of waiting by the pool only strengthened that statement of faith.  Jesus simply spoke to him asking if he wished to be healed and then without further examination, told him to rise, take up his bed and walk. This man had put all his hope in God and after 38 years God came to him and fulfilled that hope.  This man, hearing the word of God and acting in faith did what he had been unable to do for nearly all his life – he stood up, picked up the bed on which had lain and began to walk.  What joy must have filled him at that moment – God had seen his suffering and had heard his prayers and had come and healed him.  This healing did not come in the way the man expected, but when it came, he recognized that it was indeed the hand of God and so began giving God the glory.  What PATIENCE he had!!

With us, my brothers and sisters, our Baptism begins to work in us the same way.  We are filled with the grace of God and we are healed.  God’s grace may not always work in us, in the way or time, that we expect or envision – but when God comes to us, if we follow His leading, and act on the opportunities that He gives us, we will see the power of His mercy and grace upon us.  What PATIENCE do we have?

But Jesus did not just heal this man and leave him alone.  Rather He instructed him to, “rise, take up your bed and walk.” – take ACTION! Immediately upon being healed by the grace of God, he was given an opportunity to put that grace into action.  Jesus did not say to the man, “You are healed and I know it’s been a long time and you must be exhausted by your ordeal, so just sit back and rest for a while before you begin to walk about.”  No! He did not say to the man, “rest, take it easy” but He said, “rise, take up your bed and walk.” – take ACTION!  Immediately Jesus called this man to begin acting on his faith. 

We too are called to act on our faith.  We have just celebrated Pascha, the feast of our deliverance from sin, death and the devil.  The buildup of Great Lent, the intensity of Holy Week and the explosion of joy on Pascha and throughout Bright Week have been exciting.  But now our natural reaction is to “rest up” to “catch our breath” and “recover from the exertion”.  However, our Lord, having bestowed His grace upon us says, “Rise, take up your bed and walk”  He doesn’t send us home to rest, but expects us to immediately begin acting on the grace that has been poured out upon us during this great celebration.  Now is not the time to “rest up” but it is the time to begin walking. 

Take that same intensity and focus, you had during Holy Week and Pascha, and now, apply it to every aspect of your life, bringing the grace and presence of God into everything that you do and everything that you are.  It is not uncommon for the world to begin to intrude on your spiritual life, and to try and push it back in to the background.  Rather than allow the world to intrude upon you, now is the time to bring Christ to intrude on the world around you.  Take Pascha with you in your daily life, make it part of everything that you do. 

It is our natural inclination to “relax” after the intensity of Pascha, and as we relax the world will swoop in to fill the cracks in our lives.  Rather than allow the world to pounce into your life, work to fill the cracks in the world around you, with the grace that you have received.  Now is not the time to “rest up” but it is the time to rise and walk, ACT.

Even as the newly healed man, began to act with the grace of God, and to fulfill the instruction that he had been given, the world crashed in around him to dissuade him from his action.  Those around him said, “Who told you to carry your bedding, don’t you know that it isn’t proper according to the law to do so on the Sabbath?”  They did not care to share in the joy of his healing after 38 years; the miracle was of no account to them, only the letter of the law, only to make sure that he acted “normally”, acted properly within the legalistic system of their doctrine.  This is the same kind of pressure that we also face.  Those in the world do not care to share with us the joy of the Resurrection; “The holiday is over, let’s get on with our business”.  The pressure is to go back to “business as usual” and don’t try to change your life, just get back to “normal”.  This is the pressure that we receive from the world; however, it is the pressure we must resist, for we have been changed, we have been renewed, and we have been filled with the power of Christ.  Everything can be, must be, seen in a new light – the Light of Christ.  Let us therefore bring the renewing Light of the Resurrection with us as we “re-enter” the world.

One more thing that Jesus said to this man: “You are made whole. Go and sin no more, lest a worse thing fall upon you.”  And He says this to us also.  The old “normal” was the life of sin and that “old normal” corrupted and crippled us.  Now is not the time to get “back to normal” but rather, it is a time to bond with the newness that Christ has given us and renew the world around us.  Don’t go back to the way things were before Great Lent, before Holy Week, before Pascha.  You have been changed through the Grace of the Resurrection – continue that change, maintain it, use it.  You are a new creature, you have been made whole, now go and do not return to your old life, but live your new life in Christ which He has given us.

To my fellow Orthodox Christians, I say, “He is Risen!”

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True Repentance

We have spoken about repentance as a hallmark of genuine spiritual struggle and growth.  Today we are given an example of repentance to follow.  St Mary of Egypt was a woman who was enslaved by sin and only by a whole hearted commitment to repentance was this enslavement broken and she was freed.  This example attests the awesome power of repentance and the grace of God which accompanies it.  Therefore let us look a little closer at St Mary’s example.

Too often when we think of repentance, we think of simply being sorry for our sins.  We often view repentance in this way: I am sorry that I lied or stole, or offended someone; or maybe: I regret that I acted in a prideful/rude/improper manner and wish that I hadn’t done so.  And then having made this admission, we go away thinking that we have repented of our sins.  But this is not repentance – or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, it is only the very beginning of repentance.  When St Mary came to a realization that she had sinned – when she was not able to enter the Church of the Resurrection to view the Cross of our Lord – she did indeed regret her life of sin and she was indeed sorry.  But her repentance had only begun.  Finding herself before the icon of the Mother of God, she promised that if she could but enter the Church and venerate the true Cross, that she would mend her ways.  This is the next step – not only do we acknowledge that we have sinned and regret that we have done these things, we must also resolve to amend our lives so as not to return to our sin.  This is a good step for repentance involves a turning away from sin.  It implies not only that we are sorry that we have done something, but it also indicates that we want do make a change.  But even this stops short of real repentance.

What follows in the life of St Mary is very instructive and it is to this that we must pay close attention.  Having made her vow of changing her life to the Mother of God, she was able to enter the Church with no problem.  Exiting the Church, she then returned to the spot where she began her repentance, before the icon of the Virgin.  She then presented herself again to the Mother of God asking for guidance.  Hearing a voice instructing her to “Cross the Jordan and there you will find peace”, she immediately set out for the Jordan.  By sunset, she arrived at the Jordan River, at the place where our Lord was baptized.  There she received the Holy Mysteries at the monastery of St John the Baptist and sleeping in the open, and on the next day she found a boat and crossed the river.  From that time on, she lived alone in the wilderness for 47 years, spending all her time and energy in prayer. 

This is where St Mary took the step where many of us often hesitate.  She acted on her repentance, she fled every circumstance and opportunity for sin.  She completely changed her way of life, for nothing less would suffice to disconnect her from the power of her sins.  When we repent, we usually have little difficulty admitting our sins and regretting them, we may even easily resolve to change our ways and to leave our sins behind.  But in actual practice, we return to the very place where we fell – the very situation where temptation is the strongest and where we will again be immersed in the allure of the sin which seeks to hold us captive – and so we fall again and again.  As the prophet Jeremiah puts it, we are like a dog returning to its vomit.  Even though our sin might be repugnant to us, we return to it again and again, and foul ourselves over and over again with the same sin.  If we were to follow the example of St Mary, we would flee the environment of our sin.  We would turn and run from the situations where we know we will be tempted.  Regardless of the cost, we would flee the situations where we might be exposed again to those conditions which lead us to sin. We would give up and avoid all the things which are associated with sin, change friends, change jobs, change where we live.  If we would follow St Mary, we would flee into the desert where the allure and opportunity to sin cannot follow us.  We would purge our lives of everything that is conducive to sin and which would lead us back into our sinful life.  But often, too often, we don’t do this.  We love our lives too much; we love the world too much; we aren’t horrified by our own sins enough – whatever the reason, we just don’t separate ourselves from sin. 

Sometimes, it is not possible to physically flee as St Mary did, but still we can avoid the conditions leading to sin.  We can put up barriers to sin.  The demons often take advantage of our weaknesses and do not miss an opportunity to present us with temptation, when we are at our weakest.  And so we must prepare for this, first by avoiding those conditions that weaken us and second by adding an element to our lives that will make sin harder.  Perhaps this means avoiding being alone and so inviting our spiritual brothers and sisters to be with us or making arrangements to be elsewhere when we know that temptation will present itself.  Reminding ourselves of the sacrament of confession is another help, because then we remember that we will have to admit to our spiritual father that we have sinned again and the anticipated shame of that admission can be an effective deterrent.  Another consistent reality is that boredom leads to sin.  When we find ourselves with “nothing to do” or searching for some kind of distraction – the demons will present us with those very distractions that will lead us back into sin, such as social media, which is way too easy to look at.  To avoid this we must make sure that the hours of the day are filled with purposeful, Godly, and beneficial activity. 

The monastic life is divided into times for prayer, for work and for spiritual reading.  This is a good model to follow, especially in times of temptation.  We should all have a routine in our lives, such that every moment is a time for prayer, a time for work or a time for spiritual enrichment, whether that is reading Scripture, Lives of the Saints, or listening to a spiritual talk or the music of the Church, or perhaps it is having a spiritual conversation with an Orthodox friend in Christ.  Fill the idle moments with the Jesus Prayer or some other short prayer that you have memorized.

Sin can overtake us at any time and so we have to be on our guard, attentiveness.  St Mary of Egypt, by her life shows us the power of complete and unlimited repentance.  We all should find a way to follow her example in our own lives.  While we may not be able to “cross the Jordan” and live out our lives in an uninhabited wilderness – still we can structure our lives to avoid the opportunities that lead to sin and abandon those activities, behaviors, jobs, social media, and even acquaintances that consistently lead us into sin. For St Mary, her repentance was worth giving up everything in her former life.  For us we have to take this same value, recognizing that our eternal salvation is worth giving up any comfort, convenience or other offering of this world.

Brothers and sisters, repentance – true, heartfelt and unrestrained repentance – is the hallmark of the spiritual life.  Let us each follow the example of our holy Mother Mary of Egypt, and leave behind our lives of sin and embrace the lifelong labor of repentance.  In this way, we will, like her, be able to acquire the fullness of the Holy Spirit and so enter into the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the Sinner!!  Amen.

Thank you Fr David

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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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