Welcome to Saint Herman's, Hudson, Ohio

This blog is a partial compilation of the messages, texts, readings, and prayers from our small mission community. We pray that it will be used by our own people, to their edification. And if you happen by and are inclined to read, give the glory to God!

The blog title, "Will He Find Faith on the Earth?" is from Luke 18:8, the "Parable of the Persistent Widow." It overlays the icon of the Last Judgment, an historical event detailed in Matthew Chapter 25, for which we wait as we pray in the Nicean Creed.

We serve the Holy Orthodox cycle of services in contemporary English. Under the omophorion of His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph of the Bulgarian Patriarchal Diocese of the USA, Canada and Australia, we worship at 5107 Darrow Road in Hudson, Ohio (44236). If you are in the area, please join us for worship!

Regular services include:
Sunday Divine Liturgy 10AM (Sept 1 - May 31)
930AM (June 1 - Aug 31)
Vespers each Saturday 6PM

We pray that you might join us for as many of these services as possible! We are open, and we welcome inside the Church all visitors who follow state COVID guidelines.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Feast of Theophany

Sermon - Feast of Theophany

Titus 2:11-14, 3:4-7/Matthew 3:13-17

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

It’s a glorious Feast!

My brothers and sisters in Christ:

Today, we come to celebrate the beginning of our Lord’s earthly ministry.  Prior to this day, those things that were part of His life were relegated to knowledge only to Him and His parents.  Today, all of this changes.  The Sinless One comes to submit Himself to the ritual that is set aside to remit sins.  But our Lord’s purpose in this was more than submitting Himself to baptism.  Rather, His presence in Jordan submits the world to being baptized by Him.  God the Son enters the waters of Jordan, and the Son is not changed, but rather the nature of water is changed.  Water always had been that which gives earthly life.  Today, water is sanctified by the Creator to change it into something that will bring eternal life to those who, in faith, come to be washed spiritually by it, to be "born of water and the Spirit".  (John 3:5)

In a wonderful sermon from Metropolitan Philaret, he takes the opportunity to ask us – all of us – "Do you remember your baptism?"  Certainly many of us would say, “How can I?  I was only weeks old!”  While this is true in the physical sense, the Church asked you questions on that day, and you answered those questions – for all time.  On that day, the Church asked you, “Do you renounce Satan, and all his works, and all his service, and all his pride?”  And you responded, “I do renounce him.”  You breathed and spat upon him, showing your utter contempt for the great deceiver.

If you were baptized as a child, you will say, “But Father, those questions were answered for me by my God-parents.”  But I say in return to you, their answers were not proxies – they were giving voice to your own heart’s desire to unite yourself to Christ.  Later in that same service, you were asked specifically that question.  “Have you united yourself to Christ?”, and you responded, “I have united myself to Christ!”

As we move in today’s service to the Great Blessing of Water, we offer a prayer within that service that says, “Great are You, O Lord, and marvelous are Your works, and there is no word sufficient to hymn Your wonders!”  This same prayer is offered at every baptism over the water into which the Catechumen is to be immersed.

And so, it is right and proper for us, especially on this day, to remember our own baptism, to give thanks to God for that day, to recall the promises that we made to God, even if by way of the lips of those who held us and loved us.  We need to remember the vows that we took on that day, promising to be fully united to Christ, and to be fully disconnected from Satan and his hordes.  Remember that on the Day of Judgment, our vows will not be forgotten by our Lord.  Ergo we dare not forget them ourselves!

Our renunciation of Satan is an ongoing battle while we are in the world.  Face it – the world bombards us on all sides.  Look here.  Taste this.  Hear that.  Judge this.  Feel anger over that.  Be offended.  Be ashamed.  Be proud.  Take charge.  Exercise authority.  Belittle those who get in the way.

In our renunciation of Satan, we are to set aside such behavior in our lives.  We promised our Lord that we would not allow such passions to hold sway in our lives.

On the positive side, we promised Him that we would put Him above all other concerns in our lives.  Putting Him first, we would be charitable, loving, caring, forgiving, diligent, humble, prayerful, quiet, at peace, filled with the overwhelming desire to praise and worship Him at every opportunity.

Where in the world are we – individually and collectively, as a people – in this analysis?  If we stand for judgment before Him tomorrow, what excuses will we offer for the choices we’ve made?

Yes, we come today to pray over water.  Yes, we believe with all our hearts that our prayers will result in our Lord’s sending a blessing upon this water such that it will be effective in healing our physical and spiritual infirmities, and in providing a defense against the attacks of Satan, on our bodies, and in our homes. 

But as we pray over this water on this day, let us also pray that our Lord strengthen us for this internal battle, that He gives us the strength to wage war with the powers that attempt to drag us into places where our vows from our baptism are forgotten, where we do not place emphasis on serving our Lord, but instead focus on serving self, which is the same as serving the enemy!

Saint Paul writes today to Titus, “For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world.”  But he continues immediately and without a break to join this to the view of our Lord’s return as he writes, “awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” 

The world knows our Lord, but rejects Him.  Saint John the Forerunner says, “There stands among you One whom you do not know.” (Jn 1:26)  Are we able to look at the world around us and conclude that even "in general" the average person "knows" Christ?  And if truth be told, we can extend that question to those who sometimes enter the Churches!  Indeed, I must ask myself, "Do I know Christ?"

We should ask how they, but especially we who call ourselves by His name, not know Him, when even inanimate creation knows Him.  In some icons of the Feast, there are small creatures riding fish.  These represent the Jordan and the sea, both of which ‘flee’ our Lord's baptism by the Forerunner.  Tradition tells us that the waters of the Jordan reversed their flow seeing our Lord entering them to be baptized.  Read the Psalms!  76:15 says, “The waters saw You, O God, the waters saw You and were afraid; the abysses were troubled.”  113:3 says, “The sea beheld and fled, Jordan turned back.”

God’s created things took no vows.  They were made by Him to be perfect, as were we.  Creation was relegated to be part of our fallenness when we failed in Paradise.  Our vows are promises to God, showing Him our eagerness to return to that place near to Him.  Creation recognizes Him, and His authority.  In the presence of their Creator, they tremble.  But for our part, when we fail to follow through on our own promises, we neither tremble nor fear, and all too often we do not even repent.

Our baptism was a gift from our Lord so that we might show true repentance.  There is one baptism for the remission of sins.  But there are many re-baptisms, through our own tears, that avail much to returning us to communion, fellowship with God.  Saint John Chrysostom teaches, "What rain is for seeds, tears are for those who are afflicted." 

Are we ready to return to those vows we made so long ago?  Do they still mean to us what they meant on that day?  If we can answer “Yes!” to these questions, then we have set ourselves on the path to salvation. 

It’s a glorious Feast!

Monday, January 4, 2021

Resolutions

 03Jan21 - Sunday/Before Theophany

2Tim 4:5-8/Mark 1:1-8

 In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

 It's a Glorious Feast!

 My brothers and sisters in Christ:

 We find ourselves “in that time of year” again, a time when people see the calendar and leap to the conclusion that when the digits in the year number change, somehow that occurrence is related to a “new beginning.”  And so, it fosters what we’ve all come to know as “New Year’s Resolutions.”

 I was listening to a radio program this past week, and a guy was being interviewed about a book or an article he’d written on the topic of resolutions.  His argument went something like this:

 1) A resolution is good, but it carries no weight, and virtually all resolutions are therefore shortly forgotten, which promotes the idea that attempting to make a change is pointless.

 2) When a resolution is enhanced by making a plan, it is improved.  If the resolution is to lose weight (and oh how very many are!), even setting a goal of “x” pounds means less than saying, “I’m buying a gym membership, and I plan to go at least twice each week.”  As noted, this is better than 1) above, but still carries little “meat” that will prevent overbooked schedules (or laziness) from causing one to miss the goal.  And once missed, it again promotes the idea of pointlessness.

 3) When a resolution becomes a commitment to make a change on a personal level, then there is something to grasp and to live up to.  Instead of resolving to lose weight, if you say, “I’m the kind of person who looks out for my health on a daily basis.”  Now, you’ve made a change.  Now, with this as a personal description and commitment, you choose a salad for lunch, you pack your gym clothes and put them on the front seat so that you can stop at the gym on the way home.  You start a log of what you ate and how it affected your weight – and your sense of health.  This third way of looking at things is the way of change. 

 So let’s take this discussion to our spiritual lives, because they need “a change” as well – not by “resolving” not to commit a particular sin any longer, but by committing ourselves to a description of ourselves that effects a change.  Suppose we’ve come to confession a number of times and confess, “I have ignored doing things for others who are in need.”  It confesses the sin.  It acknowledges the failure.  Now, if we take that confession to the place where, when we leave, we say to ourselves, “I have become the kind of person who will care for the needs of another every day.”  Inside of that statement is a commitment to change from a sinful pattern of ignoring the needs of others to choosing a path that will at least acknowledge those needs and proactively seek to do something about it.

 And it is the way we must approach change in our lives with respect to our salvation.  St. Matthew records this about our Lord beginning His public ministry, “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, ‘Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”  In this verse, the word used for “repent” is the Greek word μετανοέω.  It means to think differently, to reconsider, to feel moral compunction.  It means that in considering how I have fallen short of God’s expectations of me, I understand my need to change.

 Change as a word occurs elsewhere in Scripture.  With today being the feast day of the Prophet Malachi, it’s appropriate that we pull some material from him.  The Aposticha in Tone 3 from Vespers says, “You are the changeless God, Who suffering in the flesh was changed.” In Malachi 3:6 we find these words: “For I am the LORD, I change not.”  The Hebrew word for change here is שָׁנָה, pronounced " shaw-nah’ ".  It carries the meaning to alter or transmute, to become something it was not before.  It is different from repent, which we just tied to the idea of change.  Here in Malachi, the Prophet is pointing to the fact that God, being timeless, is not subject to change.  This is the reason that we understand THIS as our time for repentance, for after we fall asleep in the Lord, we too become “unchanging”, outside of time.  Change is a function of time!  So indeed, THIS is the time for our change!

 We just stated that repentance, true repentance, will effect a change in us.  Repentance brings change.  But change does not necessarily bring repentance.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  I can be impacted by something another person does that I judge to be evil, and I can change my attitude toward that person.  My behavior matches evil for evil.  If I behave in such a fashion I’ve changed, but certainly not repented!

 Where is this discourse leading?  Having survived 2020, we find ourselves worried about 2021.  Will the mutant strains of COVID become another new full blown pandemic?  Will the vaccines work?  Will we be able to “unmask” finally?  Will our children be able to return to some ‘normal’ life in school.  Will we be able to interact socially again?  The year now past was a year of unexpected and undesirable change.  Can we have hope that the coming year’s change will not be so traumatic?  

 As we enter this new year, those are the thoughts in the minds of most Americans.  I find myself focused on other pressing matters.  We missed Pascha in 2020.  Will we have a Pascha in 2021?  Will we be able to restore our community life to the family that is our parish?  Will I find it in my heart to make repentance my number one priority in my changed life?

We WANT change, but we want that change to conform to OUR thoughts, hopes and plans, without considering God's plan in sending change our way.

 When I start to ask such questions of myself, I go to the Fathers for help.  We’ve spoken in the past of a little book from St. Theophan the Recluse titled "The Spiritual Life".  It’s filled with gems which have a connection to our discussions this morning.  I believe St. Theophan was speaking to just such an issue of repentant change when he addressed these words to his spiritual child:

 Live without making empty plans, but doing the works that fall on you with respect (to others) and to all people.  Do not think at all that this life is empty.  Everything that you do here, no matter what it is, will be a work, and if you do it with the consciousness that such a work is according to the commandments and that God wants such a thing, then the work will be pleasing to God.

 Specifically as change relates to repentance, St. Theophan says this:

 God gave us this life so that we would have time to prepare for the next one.  This one is short, but the next one has no end.  Although this life is short, during its course one may lay in provisions for all of eternity.  Each good work goes toward this end like a small contribution; from all such contributions comes the overall capital, the interest of which will determine the upkeep of the saver for all eternity.  He who makes larger contributions will have a richer upkeep, while he who makes smaller contributions will have a lesser upkeep.  The Lord will render to each one according to his works.

 As we find ourselves changing as a result of our repentance, St. Theophan instructs us that ‘monitoring’ our progress is very easy indeed, and that our efforts do not need to be monumental – they simply need to be efforts consistent with the opportunities that the Lord gives to us.  He says,

 We already believe, what else is needed?  Carry out the commandments, for faith without works is dead.  Also give thanks to the Lord: that it suited Him to determine the value of our works, not by their magnitude or greatness, but by our inward disposition when carrying them out, having at the same time given us a multiplicity of opportunities for doing good works according to His will, so that, if we pay attention to ourselves, we may at every moment perform God-pleasing works.

 Do we hear the wisdom the Saint is presenting to us?  AT EVERY MOMENT God gifts us with ways to do that which pleases Him – MULTIPLE WAYS!  If we chose HIS ways as opposed to our own, and if our hearts are filled with joy in doing His will – we are found to be favorable in His sight!!!

 We’ll close with these words from St. Theophan.

 Just look around yourself each day and each hour; on whatever you see the seal of the commandment, carry it our immediately, in the belief that God Himself this very hour requires this work of you, and nothing else.

 When our Lord exits Jordan this week, and He goes to begin His three-year ministry, when He gifts us the words, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” He is giving us the gift of seeking change through repentance.  When we see how very easy living UP to the change can be, how can we not marvel at the goodness and love that our Lord shows us on a daily basis.  He has laid at our doorstep, at our very feet that which we require to serve Him in a way that is pleasing to Him such that our salvation can be secured.

 Following Him from Bethlehem, to Jordan, to Tabor, to Bethany, to Jerusalem, to Golgotha, to the Mount of Olives – His path is the focus of our efforts, for following where He has led is the key to finding ourselves always near to Him.  That path is to be found here, in this place, His house. 

 May our Lord bless us to once again find our way through following His steps, hearing His words, doing His will – without fear or concern for anything else we might find around us in things we can NOT change.  COVID or not, the world will be a better place if we change ourselves to be more Christ-like!  Let us ask His blessing to help us change what we CAN change (ourselves, our hearts, our failings) before it’s too late.

Monday, December 28, 2020

2020 - Sunday After Nativity

[Mat 2:13-23]

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Christ is Born!  Glorify Him!!

Together, we’ve spent so many weeks, since the Sunday of Pentecost, learning from the Gospels how very persistently the scribes and Pharisees attempted at every turn to entrap the Lord, to get Him to make a verbal or functional error, so that they might be able to accuse Him, to give them leverage to destroy Him.  In today’s Gospel, we come to learn that this didn’t begin with our Lord’s beginning His ministry at the age of 30.  It began with His birth.

We spoke on Friday morning about how many miracles we are witnesses to in the Lord’s Incarnation.  There are the miracles associated with the Theotokos, of her conception, of her holding the Creator of all within her body, of her painless birth giving, and of her remaining a virgin after giving birth.  There are the miracles associated with the Star, how it came to be by the Will of God, how it traveled in the night skies to indicate a particular place where the Word of God in the flesh could be found by those who knew how to seek Him.  There are the miracles of the Magi themselves, to whom God revealed such wisdom, and into whose hearts God placed a deep love such that these men were compelled to travel to seek not only Truth, but to seek their Creator in the Flesh.  There is the human incongruity of aged men, these Magi, offering worship to a child!  There is the miracle that is the Angelic Choir singing His arrival such that the shepherds, the most simple of people in the world, heard their proclamation, and having His birth revealed to them, came to find Him as the Angels had said.

There are more miracles.  Tradition holds that a midwife came after the child was born, and Joseph told her that the Child was the result of a virgin birth.  She disbelieved, and her hand withered.  Remaining to aid in the process, as she bathed the Child, her hand was restored.  And what of the angelic visitations to Joseph, to tell him not to send Mary away as an adulteress, but to take her into his house, for her child was of the Holy Spirit.  And in today’s Gospel he was visited again warning him to take them and flee to Egypt, and yet once more to instruct him to take them back to Israel, and also one final time to take them to Nazareth.

How many miracles!  It is virtually impossible to find “the normal” in amongst God overcoming nature and imposing His will – for the sake of the salvation of simple people, you and me.

We speak of these accounts, and we as Christians accept them without question.  They are part of the “fabric” of who we are as a people.  They are the account of our “family tree”, the description that is the “history” of how we’ve come to be God’s people.  And as such, we accept them totally.  The world?  The world tells us these are fairy tales, things that make no human sense, and therefore have no place in anyone’s rational beliefs.

The difference between the two perspectives is that WE believe in a God Who can and Who does as He wills.  It matters not at all if the things that He chooses to do follow some semblance of a human pattern that our minds can understand or accept as logical.  Want an example?  Human reason has a long-standing saying:  A thing cannot be in two places at the same time.  But God is beyond time, outside of time.  Indeed, He can and does occupy all places at all times.

And so it comes down to a simple question of faith.  “In what do you have faith?”

It seems to be a simple question at first glance.  But to what is it directed?  For instance, I have faith in my doctor (or, at least I should look for a doctor in whom I can have faith).  I have faith in my car, that it will start in the morning, and get me back and forth to and from work and church.  I have faith in my wife that, regardless of conditions, she will do that which her love for me tells her is in my (and sometimes not her) best interest.

Now, these are three examples.  The first is an example of faith in a person’s education, integrity and ability.  The second is an example of faith in a physical thing.  The last is an example of faith in something that transcends the personal.  It includes the divinely blessed union of people for the purpose of their helping one another to gain access to the kingdom of heaven.  It is a belief in the spiritual connection of two physical beings.

You can ask, “Why this question today, father?”  Why?  Because the world would attempt to convince you that there are many shades of grey, there is no black, there is no white.  In short, there is no singular truth nor singular good.  The spectrum between good and evil is broad, the world would have us believe.

But it is not so with God.  There is a judgment coming, and that judgment will carry a verdict, an eternal sentence to joy or torment, to heaven or hell.  And if the ending of the judgment is black and white, we must know that the life lived to the point of being judged is a life lived as black or white.

Our Lord’s incarnation brings God to His creation, to earth.  He agrees to take on the form, the body that our sinfulness has corrupted.  It is not the eternal body once given to Adam and Eve.  Their bodies became corrupt when sin entered the world.  And we are inheritors of their flesh, which is now the same flesh God chooses to be clothed in Himself.  He takes our flesh so that He can restore us to the incorruptible realm.  How?

He gives us commandments to follow where He has led.  We must be born again of water and the Spirit.  We must eat His flesh and drink His blood.  We must love our neighbors.  We must love our enemies. 

We live in these ways by the faith we are focused upon.  If our faith is in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, we are on the path.  If our faith is fervent, we attempt to live the life He created us to live.  We recognize the talents He has given us, and we use them to His increase, talents employed as blessings to ourselves but also to others, whom He has called “the least of His brethren.”  If our faith is fervent, we live not from meal to meal, but from chalice to chalice, desiring noting more than to be in that living communion with Him which He left us as the means of always being in His presence.

The Body laying in a manger today is the Body that will be suspended on the Cross in a few short months.  It is the Body that He will by His grace and love for us place into the Chalice behind me that He gives us as “real food” (John 6:55)

The faith that accepts God becoming Incarnate for our salvation is the SAME faith as that which believes in His death on the Cross and His Resurrection on the third day.  It’s the same faith that holds to His Ascension, to His being equally one of the Holy Trinity.  It is the same faith that was gifted to us by pious fathers and mothers.  It is the same faith that we are charged by our Lord to pass on – unmodified by the “wisdom” of our times – to our children until His time of return arrives.

And it all begins with not just belief in, but embracing the truth of God working miraculously in the world.  He did so at the time of creation.  He did so in the time of the Israelites.  He did so at his Incarnation through to His Ascension.  He did so through the times of the Apostles and through the ages of the Church.  He does so even today.

But today, we embrace His miraculous Incarnation, a love for mankind so great that He deigns to leave Heaven, and to come here, among His fallen creation, to reclaim it – in His love for mankind.

Christ is Born!  Glorify Him!