Ninth Day of the Advent Fast:
Welcome to Saint Herman's, Hudson, Ohio
Monday, November 23, 2020
Saturday, November 21, 2020
the Mother of our Lord, the Mother of God, comes into the
We know the story. We know of Joachim and Anna, of their barrenness, of God’s gift in answering their prayer for a child, of their promise to dedicate that child, be it male or female, to the service of God, and of their honoring that promise on this day by taking the Theotokos to the House of God. At the tender age of three, they set the child on the ground, and she runs to the temple, not regarding the leaving of her parents as a loss, but even at the age of three seeing living in the presence of God as a gain. If only more of us had the wisdom of this three year old!
In Vespers, when we sing the Aposticha in Tone 3, the Theotokion which ends the Aposticha says, “By the will of the Father, without seed, of the Holy Spirit, you conceived the Son of God! He was born of the Father before eternity without a mother. But now, for our sake, He came from you without a father! Do not cease entreating Him to deliver our souls from harm.” In the Feast’s hymnology we proclaim the Theotokos to be a tabernacle, a living Ark and temple, pointing to her as the Ark of the Covenant, the place which from ancient times was seen as the seat of God, that which on earth could ‘contain’ Him.
we ponder all these words, we come to see that the Mother of God is a focal
point for all time. It is she who
divides that which comes in the eternity of Christ before He took on our flesh
from that which comes after He did so.
And in His being truly God, and therefore truly immortal and without
time, the Second Person of the Trinity existed fully at the Creation, in heaven
and eternally with the Father and the Spirit.
God in Trinity created all things by His Word, and the Word, as
We are confused by these kinds of terms, when we speak of things accomplished which have not yet happened, or things that have happened as if they are in the present. But this is the realm of God, and this is His means of providing for our salvation.
God provides on this day a 3 year old child. He will keep her for three times three, nine years, so that at the age of twelve she will be sent to be betrothed to a man whom God already has chosen to be her caretaker. In nine short years this child whom we come to honor today will speak with the angels, be taught by them, and literally be fed by their hands – both physically and spiritually. She will witness things of which men cannot speak. She will come to be so comfortable with the mingling of the temporal, the earthly, with that which is eternal that when the Archangel Gabriel comes to her to pronounce the beginning of our salvation by her taking God within her pure and virginal flesh, she will not be frightened by the angel's coming, by his pronouncement of the miracle, or by the prospects of what might come as a result. His arrival will seem a normal, natural thing to her. In these nine years within the temple, the Theotokos will come to accept God’s will as her own will. She will see no reason for her life not to conform totally to His requests of her. She will have no fear of the things God asks her to do, for at the tender age of twelve, she will already understand that God’s will should be and must be done.
As Orthodox Christians, we come to understand “things” differently from others. We come to understand things inside the Church as “holy” – set aside for God’s purpose, not for the use of people in general. We would never place the chalice onto a dinner table to be used for a common drink at a meal. In fact, we come to view the chalice as something holy in and of itself, so much so in fact that the un-ordained do not even dare to touch it, with the exception of venerating it when offered at the time of Communion.
Is there something different about the metal used to fashion the Chalice? The metal itself is common. Sometimes we attempt to make it appear to us to be more precious by coating it in gold, or by adorning it with jewels. But the metal remains common. The gold or jewels make it desirable to thieves, but not to God. The metal remains common until it is sanctified, set aside for use in holding the precious Body and Blood of our Lord. It is the association with the physical touch of Christ that makes the common metal into something uncommon, even unearthly – heavenly.
If the Body and Blood of our Lord does this to a piece of common metal, what does it accomplish within our own bodies? He did not come to ‘save’ common metal. He came, he took on our flesh, He brought about today’s uncommon child to be brought into His temple so that she, like the metal of the chalice, could be sanctified, set apart from that which is common for an uncommon purpose.
He has already accomplished this with the Theotokos. But He came to receive flesh from her body so that He might save all of us from our sins, and from that which is present in this world that seeks to keep us nothing more than “common” people. Jesus comes and calls us ourselves to be uncommon, to be holy, to be set aside from worldly things, to be consecrated, sanctified to His purpose and His will, in our lives, and in this world.
Within her virginal womb, the Theotokos will literally set in place the Body and Blood of our Lord. They are created for Him through her. If our communion is truly His Body and precious Blood, then they are truly present within her from conception.
That which is Holy, when it contacts something common, makes the common itself Holy. We are here today to become yet more uncommon ourselves, more holy. Like the Mother of God, we have come to our own temple. We have ascended to the place where God dwells even today in our midst. He is here - as simple and austere, and “common” as this building might seem to others. He is here to give to us the gift of being able to make ourselves have less in common with the world, and having more in common with that which is Godly, more holy. It is for this purpose that our Savior has set aside today this three year old child, to bring Himself into this world, exactly for this purpose, to save us from our sins.
As we contemplate this pure child, who in joy ascends the steps to the sanctuary, a child whose purity desires nothing more than to be in the presence of her God, let us attempt to share in that purity, and then in that love of God above all else, so that we also share in her desire to be in His presence – forever!
It’s a glorious Feast!
"And seeing the race of rational creatures in the way to perish, and death reigning over them by corruption; seeing, too, that the threat against transgression gave a firm hold to the corruption which was upon us, and that it was monstrous that before the law was fulfilled it should fall through: seeing, once more, the unseemliness of what had come to pass: that the things whereof He Himself was Artificer were passing away: seeing, further, the exceeding wickedness of men, and how little by little they had increased it to an intolerable pitch against themselves: and seeing, lastly, how all men were under penalty of death: He took pity on our race, and had mercy on our infirmity, and condescended to our corruption, and, unable to bear that death should have the mastery— lest the creature should perish, and His Father's handiwork in men be spent for naught— He takes unto Himself a body, and that of no different sort from ours." (St. Athanasius, 8. The Word Visited the Earth, 2)
Friday, November 20, 2020
Sixth Day of the Advent Fast:
Thursday, November 19, 2020
Fifth Day of the Advent Fast:
Wednesday, November 18, 2020
Fourth Day of the Advent Fast:
Tuesday, November 17, 2020
Third Day of the Advent Fast:
Monday, November 16, 2020
First Day of the Advent Fast, 2020:
Saturday, November 14, 2020
Orthodoxy, if it is nothing else, is a faith whose foundation rests upon fasting. The number of days of fasting in any given year varies based on the changing duration of the Apostles’ Fast, which extends over a variable number of days beginning with the Feast of All Saints (after Pentecost) and ending with the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul (June 29th). Within this current calendar year of 2020, if we follow the Church’s calendar totally, we will have fasted for 185 days, or just OVER one half of the year.
As Orthodox we know in general WHY we fast. We know that our Lord Himself told us to fast. “When you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” (Mat 6:16-18)
All of this covers the issue of fasting in general. But what of the season that we enter today? Why is it important that we as Orthodox Christians fast when the rest of the whole world is celebrating? After all, this is the season of Holiday Parties. There’s lots of food—and drink. Why do we have to say “No!” to such events? How does this benefit our salvation?
But one would assume that after posing the question, you would already know the answer!
Fasting is a discipline we impose on ourselves. The Church doesn’t impose it—we must do so! We fast to give us the impetus to focus on others rather than on self. We should spend our time not thinking about what, how much, or with whom we’ll feast and eat, but rather on the needs of others, and on our own spiritual needs, on prayer, on avoiding sin, on resisting temptation, on squelching anger and jealousy and covetousness, on taking control of a world that has been allowed to control us.
Speaking personally, every year when we come to this day, my own ponderings begin to focus on the Mother of God. Today, she is over 7 months into her carrying the Christ-child. She feels Him within her—feels God inside her womb. She is caring for herself to assure that He is cared for. Her love for Him as a Person has blossomed. It is a love that will extend beyond the Cross, the tomb, the Ascension, and her Dormition to have that same love for His Church, for the Church is His bride.
She is preparing as any mother to this day would prepare. But her preparations will be interrupted by a world not pleased with her Son’s coming. She’ll have to divert, to carry her Child in a journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, where she will bear Him. Not long thereafter, her home will be torn from her as angels guide her, her Son, and St. Joseph the betrothed to a distant land, to Egypt, where they will live until Herod’s death.
The Mother of God’s focus is on her Son. And as in so many cases, we can learn from her a great lesson on where our own focus must rest, on how we are to live in this also strange land.
The Theotokos showed her faith well before the Annunciation. She shows it at the Lord’s conception, at His Nativity, throughout His life and His ministry, and throughout the entire life of His Church.
Let us look to her for our example, on how we must embrace the Lord’s commandments and His example to us of how we are to live. Let us see in the Mother of God our example of living a silent life serving Him! Let us use this Advent fast to draw ourselves closer to her example.
Sunday, November 1, 2020
In the name of the Father and of the Son of the Holy Spirit. Glory to Jesus Christ.
We don't like to hear stories about demons in the world in which we live. I was reading a sermon by Father Ted Bobach - he's of my favorite sources for online reading. It said that if you search all of Scripture, there are very few instances where the word demon or demonic can be found in the Old Testament. I think he said, if I remember correctly, maybe four or six instances. Regardless, it's a handful. There are also very few instances of the use of the word in the epistles. But the gospels are repleat with references or uses of the words demon or demonic.
Clearly the Lord is telling us something. Clearly there's something about this idea of demonic activity in the world that is important to our salvation. And if we look at today's Gospel account, we come to see a little bit of what that might mean to us in the world in which we live, in the people who surround us, and even inside of ourselves.
The first thing that we encounter is is the man who identifies himself as Legion.
And we find in his words two opposing perspectives on his encounter with Jesus. The first one is one of obstinence and contempt. "What do you want from me, Jesus, You Son of the Most High God?" Is this not exactly the perspective that we find in the world around us when we encounter people, when we try to talk with them about our faith? The world's perspective is that faith is meaningless. The world would ask, "Why would you believe such such nonsense, such stories? None of it can be proven." Remind me to come back to the issue of "proven" before we reach the end.
The second thing that the the demon possessed man says shows his recognition of his place as being subservient to and in fact one of worship towards Jesus. "I beg You, don't torment me." His clear meaning is a plea that Jesus would take from him the things that are causing him pain and suffering. Poor Legion doesn't say it in those words, but we can hear it in his voice.
And in fact, we know with some certainty that this is Legion's perspective, because when the Lord casts the demons out, what is the formerly demon possessed man's request? "I wish to be one of Your disciples. I want to follow You wherever You go." It is the demons that speak through his mouth before the Lord's miraculous healing. It is the right-minded and healed man who speaks the request to become a disciple!
The next thing that we find associated with the demonic activity that that leads us to an open discussion of why demons are present in the Gospels for our edification and education lies with the people of Gadara. First of all, they are not Jews. They are Gentiles. This is known clearly because they raise pigs for their own use. The pig was a ritually unclean animal to the Jews.
The people of Gadara are witnesses to a miraculous healing of one who had been a thorn in their side. Saint Luke records that they had tried to subdue this man. They chained him. They set guards around him. They did everything they could to try and keep him from harming them, so fierce was his demonic possession. Now when the harm is taken from them by Christ, their perspective changes totally. "We can't tolerate this kind of thing, this 'healing' in our presence. Leave us. God, please leave us!" Can you imagine saying that? Can you imagine having a heart that would feel this way?
Saint John Chrisostom defines the people of Gadara as being more possessed than Legion, exactly because of this perspective. "We don't want to lose our possessions. You've stolen our possessions from us by curing this man. Yes, you cured him, but at the cost of our our livelihood - our pigs are gone! We've lost money. We've lost things. And those are more important to us than Legion. Yes, he was a problem to us but he didn't harm our livelihood."
This idea of wanting to serve God that Legion shows is something that I think we all too often skim over when we read this Gospel account. We recognize our need to be servants of God. We recognize that He has given us talents, and with these skills and abilities there are things that we should do, ways in which we should put God's given gifts to use - to His glory, efforts that are consistent with His will for us in our lives. But how often do we honestly consider what it means to truly serve Him?
These these candles that are here in front of me. What is their purpose? They give light, and in so doing they give glory to God. And they completely consume themselves in the one thing that they were created to do. They have one talent. To throw light. And they do it without complaint and until all of their capacity to give that light is gone.
The censer behind me has a piece of charcoal in it. What is the coal's purpose? It's purpose is to ignite and throw out heat so that it can cause the incense to burn and provide smoke that gives blessings. It has one purpose, to bring about the possibility of giving blessings. And it serves its purpose to God, it consumes itself entirely until it's gone, serving that purpose.
So, what of us? What did God create us to do, create us to be? He has given us more than one talent, more than one capability. Are we using the talents He has bestowed on us, or are we using them to serve only ourselves? Do we work to His glory, or are we satisfying ourselves?
The world around us would attempt to convince us that self-serving is the only logical choice, for there is no God. They would hope to convince us that our faith is in vain. They would tell us that we worship fantasies.
You'll say, "But Father, there are people out there who might espouse some of those things, but they also do good things." I would reply, "Yes, they do." But the Holy Fathers teach us that works are not indicative of faith. Faith manifests itself in works, but works don't bring about faith. A person can do a good thing without recognizing that God is among us. In short, they can do a good work without seeking to bring glory to God in the process.
I asked you near the beginning of today's homily to remember the issue of proof. There's an expression. For those who do not believe, no proof is adequate. For those who do believe, no proof is required.
Let us not require God to prove Himself to us. Let us serve the purposes for which He has given us talents. Let us serve, and in serving let us consume ourselves in doing His will, all things to His glory, trying to live a life that is consistent with His divine will, and not ours.
Glory to Jesus Christ.