Welcome to Saint Herman's, Hudson, Ohio

This blog is a partial compilation of the messages, texts, readings, and prayers from our small 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. See our Parish web page:

Friday, December 20, 2019

Pastoral Nativity Message - 2019

"He, the Mighty One, the Creator of all, Himself prepared this body in the Virgin as a temple for Himself, and took it for His very own, as the instrument through which He was known and in which He dwelt." (St. Athanasius the Great)

Our Lord has come, taking on our flesh to elevate us with it to that place for which He created us, to be near to Him in heaven for all eternity,  The Mystery of our Lord's Incarnation is beyond our comprehension.  How is it possible that He Who is above all creation, Who holds creation in the hollow of His hand (Isa 40:12), how has He deigned to be contained within the Virgin's womb, and to be born into the body of a child.  How has He condescended to grow as each of us must, to live a life not of Kingly richness, but the meekest of human lives, to rest in the feeding trough of animals - also His creation, to be sheltered not by a palace, but in a cave, to be covered not in the richest of garments, but in the poorest of swaddling clothes?  How are we to comprehend the magnitude of His condescension, and the depths of His love for us - all of us, rich and poor, living righteous lives or as the greatest of sinners?

St. John the Theologian says, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory..." (John 1:14)  We beheld His glory, but as we learned on Tabor with Peter, James and John, we beheld it only as far as we could bear it.

Today, that glory is manifest in the face of a Hebrew child.  Precious as all children are, this One is so much more than precious!

Let us accompany the shepherds, who heeded the call of the angels and left all that was important on this earth (their flocks) to go and seek Him.  Let us accompany the Magi, who brought the most precious of their own possessions to give, not as gifts so much as being a means of showing worship, paying homage to the One Who announced His arrival only by signs in the heavens - the Star, and the songs of angels!

Let us run to the cave and fall on our knees before the One who has taken up human life so that He might voluntarily lay it down again, only so that He could reclaim His Resurrected Life on His terms - conquering death, slaying hell, despoiling Satan, freeing us from our sins.

And as we depart having become witnesses ourselves to His glory and His love for all of mankind, let us share the good news with those who've not heard, who've not comprehended, and who need to feel that Divine Love, by sharing with them and with all of His creation the Festal shout:

Christ is Born!!!  Glorify Him!!!

All love in our Newborn Lord,
Father Basil

Friday, December 6, 2019

Lesser Known Miracle of St. Nicholas

We came upon this one on a web site named, "New Liturgical Movement."   Of the many instances we have of miracles at the hand of St. Nicholas, this was not one in our known list, and so we offer it to you to add to your own treasures.

The account occurs after the falling asleep in the Lord of St. Nicholas, and speaks of a man who had borrowed a sum of money from a certain Jew, and who attempted to cheat his benefactor by falsely claiming that he had repaid the sum.

In the story, the Jew took the man to court to refute the man's claim.  As he was called to court, the thief took a walking staff, and hollowed it out.  Into the opening he placed small pieces of gold before sealing it.  When in court, the man handed his staff to his accuser, and swore to the court that he indeed had given the man what he owed him, and more.  This was in a technical sense true, in that the amount of gold the Jew was then holding was in fact worth more than the debt owed.

While returning from court, however, the cheat was run over by a chariot at a crossroads, and he was killed.  In the process, his staff was broken, and the gold spilled, revealing fully his fraud and treachery.

When it was suggested to the Jew that he reclaim the money that was his, he refused.  He said that he would not "unless the dead man should return to life through the intercessions of St. Nicholas," whom the Jew had come to know of.  This indeed did occur, and resulted in the Jew's accepting baptism.

Holy Father Nicholas, pray to God for us!

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Giving Thanks

The word "Eucharist" comes from the Greek meaning "thanksgiving," but perhaps is found closer to the meaning "grateful."  And so, each time we celebrate the Divine Liturgy, each time we participate in the Eucharist, in the very Body and Blood of Christ, we do so with gratefulness, with thanksgiving.

Within the bounds of the Divine Liturgy, at the Anaphora (which again, from the Greek, means "repetition") we offer the following prayer from the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom:

Priest:  Let us give thanks unto the Lord.
People:  It is meet and right to worship the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Trinity One in Essence, and undivided.

After this, the main celebrant again offers, on behalf of all, the following prayer:

It is meet and right to hymn You, to bless You, to praise You, to give thanks to You, and to worship You in every place of Your dominion: for You are God ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, ever-existing and eternally the same, You and Your Only-begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit.  It was You that brought us forth from non-existence into being, and when we had fallen away You raised us up again, and did not cease to do all things until You had brought us up to heaven, and had endowed us with Your Kingdom which is to come.  For all these things we give thanks to You, and to Your Only-begotten Son, and to Your Holy Spirit, for all things of which we know and of which we know not, whether manifest or unseen; and we thank You for this Liturgy which You have deigned to accept at our hands, though there stand by You thousands of archangels and hosts of angels, the Cherubim and the Seraphim, six-winged, many-eyed, who soar aloft, borne on their pinions.

Our thanks is repeated.  And that is also "meet and right," for God's benefits to us do not cease.  All too often, His benefits go unnoticed.  How many good things do I receive each and every day which I do not stop and attribute to God?!  How many times might I take cursory notice, and not give thanks!?

Within the Liturgy of Saint Basil, we find perhaps an improved way of coming before the Lord in thanksgiving.  He gives us this prayer:

O our God, the God of salvation, teach us to thank You worthily for the benefits which You have performed for us and still perform with us.

My ability to offer thanks to God is inadequate, and in asking for His divine instruction, I demonstrate my desire to "get it right".  Giving thanks to God is not something done just in words.  It is accomplished by deeds, by helping those in need, by praying for those who need prayer, by offering kind words to those who can benefit from them, by praying for those who abuse us.... By loving enemies and caring for "the least of His brethren."  When we offer thanks to Him in this way, by action AND by word, we then may seek to continue Saint Basil's prayer.

Having accepted our offering, O our God, purify us from every defilement of flesh and spirit, and teach us how to perfect our sanctification in the fear of You, so that receiving a portion of Your holy things with a pure conscience we may be united with the Holy Body and Blood of Your Christ.  Having received them worthily, may we have Christ dwelling in our hearts, and may we become the Temple of Your Holy Spirit.

When will our thanskgiving be complete?  I dare say never.  But while we remain in this life, our giving thanks to God needs to be seen not as an offering, but as a sustaining component of our being.  We are strong in faith when we find God's gifts in everything He allows to come our way.  Yes, this applies even to hardship.  How is this possible?  Consider how those you may have encountered (if you need inspriation, think through just this past year) who were stricken with terrible disease.  Some recovered, and in their recovery we find that our being drawn to God in prayer was fundamental in His "gift" of the healing of the disease.  Some did not recover, and in their grace-filled dealing with their illness, we found God's gift of strength, dignity, and perhaps an even greater immersion into our own prayerful connection with Him.  These gifts were given to those who were stricken with the illness, but also to all who came through love to pray with and for them.  And today, all of us are able to look back with profound thanksgiving for those "gifts"!  And what of the "gifts" of drivers who cut us off in traffic - a gift for self-control and humility.  Or the "gift" of a neighbor who is alone and just needs someone to talk with - a gift of sacrificing time which some see as lost, but we come to view as serving one in need.  There are myriads of difficult things in our lives which, if we accept God's teaching us to thank Him, we come to view not as burdens, but as "gifts"!

Saint Basil's prayer ends with the ultimate goal of all of this issue of giving thanks.

Enable us, even to our last breath, to receive a portion of Your holy things worthily, as a support on the road to eternal life and an acceptable defense at the dread judgment seat of Your Christ.  That we also, together with all the saints who through the ages have been well-pleasing to You, may become partakers of Your eternal good things, which You have prepared for those who love You, O Lord.

A blessed Thanksgiving to all!  Let us give thanks unto the Lord!!

Friday, September 27, 2019

The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ Be With You!

We find the words in this title in the Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians.  There in closing his epistle to them he conveys the blessing—”The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  Amen!”  They’re powerful words, and we echo them at every Divine Liturgy as we come to the Anaphora.  They are words that come again to us in the Gospel lesson for the Second Sunday of the Gospel of St. Luke.
In this Gospel (Luke 6:31-36) we find Jesus teaching and healing all those who sought after Him.  And in His teaching, Jesus shows the love of God for His creation, for before we encounter the words of today’s Gospel, Jesus explains to those who have come to Him, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.  To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.  And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either.  Give to everyone who asks of you.  And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back.”  What a preface for what then comes in the balance of the Gospel lesson!
For in this lesson, God’s love for us is fully revealed.  It requires us to become students—to desire with all of our hearts to seek and to understand the Lord’s teaching, and how He intends for us to use that teaching to change not only us as His followers, His disciples, but how then He expects that we will change the world by the degree to which we follow Him!
In this reading Jesus says to us, “But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?”  Here is where we as students must emerge.  “What credit?”  What does Jesus mean?  Is He referring to accounts in some fashion?  Is He saying that our love to others for whom love may seem undeserved earns us “points” with God?  Well, to a certain extent you could make such an argument, and not be wrong.  But to truly be a student, we must dig deeper. 
You see, the word used for “credit” in Greek is χάρις, (cha’-ris), which translates as credit in our translation, as thanks in some others, but carries that very much deeper meaning, that of grace!  Yes, it’s the same word used by St. Paul in 2Cor 14 and referenced in this article’s title.
Jesus is saying to us, “What grace do you receive if you behave as ‘regular people’ behave?”  Grace is that which comes from God, that which in and of itself is Godly.  And so when we show love to those for whom the world would say that they are undeserving, we are showing ourselves to have received the grace of God in our baptisms, to be living the grace of God through our participation in Christ’s Body and Blood, and to be seeking yet greater grace of God through following where our own Master has already led us.  For we know no greater love that that which Jesus showed from the Cross, as He prayed to the Father, “Forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
Saint John records these words in his Gospel, “And of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.” (John 1:16)  It is by loving the unlovable, by caring for those whose hate can only be defeated by showing the power of love, by not forcing ourselves but by desiring with all our being to live that life that our Lord has already shown us as His perfect example of how He has taught us that we should also live, it is by all of these that we truly become His disciples.
The world will tell you you’re crazy.  Just recognize that as they to convince you of this, they too need to feel God’s love—through someone as radical as you and me, if we can find it in our hearts to live the lives our Lord has called us to live, lives that conform to the example He has shown us, to walk as He has walked.  
For I don't know about you, but I don't deserve His love - and yet I know with all certainty that it is there! And as He loves me, the unloveable, he calls me to love all others.  All!

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Why Is There Always a "But....."?

The Gospel for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost presents our Lord returning to the valley after being on Mt. Tabor with Peter, James and John.  We find the other nine Apostles embroiled in a “conversation” with a man who probably came for Jesus to heal his son, but since the Lord wasn’t with the nine, the man used the only resource available.
And, it wasn’t enough!
It’s not as if the man has NO faith.  St. Matthew records that he came before the Lord and knelt down before Him, addressing Jesus as “Lord”.  Certainly there must be some level of faith in the man.  He believed enough to bring his son.  He believed enough to TRY to acquire his desired healing through the nine Apostles, and he believed enough to address the Lord with a proper title.
So, where did he fail?
In so very many instances, when people have come to the Lord seeking His healing, they have not only exhibited faith, but they’ve backed it up—our Lord says to them clearly, “Be it done to you according to your faith.”  Jesus says it to the centurion who seeks healing for his servant (Mat 8:13).  He says it to the woman with the issue of blood (Mat 9:22), and later to the two blind men (Mat 9:29)  Clearly, Jesus is indicated to those around Him (and through them, to us) that our own faith is essential to our being granted the healing (spiritual or physical) that we seek.
The father of the boy fails because, even though he outwardly ascribes honor to the Lord, inwardly his faith is NOT sufficient, for if it were, the Holy Fathers teach that HIS faith could have enabled the Apostles to heal.
Instead, the man ascribes blame to the Apostles.  “I brought (my son) to Your disciples, but they could not cure him.”  Inside of this statement are TWO measures of blame.  First, THEY (the Apostles) should have been able to help.  Second, if YOU (Jesus) picked better men, they could have helped.
It is from this encounter that one of my own favorite “spontaneous prayers” in Scripture is found.  Within the parallel account in the Gospel of St. Mark, the boy’s father is speaking with the Lord, and Jesus says to the man, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”  To this, the man responds, “Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!”  The words have engendered similar prayerful words from many, including the Prayer of Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, whose prayer ends with these words:  “Direct my will.  Teach me to pray.  Pray Yourself within me!”
Where’s the aforementioned “But....”?
All of our focus has been on faith.  BUT, Jesus tosses in another requirement.  When He explains to the Apostles WHY they were unable to help the boy (for they had clearly done similar things through the authority Jesus had given them), Jesus says, “This kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”
Faith is essential.  BUT, faith is necessary, yet not sufficient.  It takes more.  One can do a lot of things with just a hammer.  BUT, one can’t build a building without a hammer AND a saw AND a plane, AND a nail AND…
Prayer is that which places us in the presence of God.  Fasting is that which places our soul above our body.  Prayer AND fasting elevates our spirits to that place where our faith can express our needs with the greatest fervor and clarity.  And there’s no BUT’s about that!

Saturday, July 27, 2019

"They Marveled and Glorified God....."

The word “magic” is oft misused.  We apply it to people who are skilled in an art form that uses human perception ‘prompts’ and causes a viewer to look away from where things are actually happening.  The word’s definition relates to ‘an art of influencing or predicting events and producing marvels using hidden natural forces.’  When a magician pulls a rabbit from his hat, we know the rabbit was NOT there at one point in time.  And yet we see the rabbit in the guy’s hand, extricating the rabbit from the hat!
On this Sixth Sunday after Pentecost in the Gospel from St. Matthew (Mat 9:1-8), our Lord has just departed from the Gadarenes, who asked Him to leave them because—well, simply put, He cost them money.  They choose their assets as more important than our Lord's healing a man possessed by many demons.  They valued pigs more than the man.
So Jesus comes home, and those who know Him and have faith in Him bring to Him a paralyzed man.  With no other prompting beyond the faith of those who bring the man to Him, our Lord dispenses at least three (3) healings.
He begins by saying to the man, “Be of good cheer! Your sins are forgiven you!”  The spiritual healing has been accomplished by the Word of God through the words spoken by our Lord.  Any sins the man had beforehand—they’re gone!  Abolished forever.  Just as OUR sins are gone when we confess them in faith through the sacrament of confession.
The second healing comes when our Lord knows that the scribes present are criticizing His use of the expression “forgiven”.  He lovingly encounters them.  “Why do you think evil in your hearts?”  Why are you filled with anger when you see a man healed?  Why are you enraged when you are witnesses to the power of God exhibited for the benefit of all, including you, right before your very eyes?  This miracle I am working on this man is also meant to heal you as well, if only you will align your hearts to see God’s mercy and love for all of mankind, even you who are doubters.
And so Jesus completes the man’s miracle.  “Arise!  Take up your bed.  Go home!!
And in the third miracle, the man simply gets up.  He cannot help but follow the instructions, filled with love as they are, of the Master.  He Who created all things has regenerated the impotent limbs of one whose body has been wracked by the evil of this world.  Yes, it relates to his sin, but also to the sin and the fallenness of the world around us.  His legs were useless because of disease.  God did not “create” disease in Genesis.  There is no phrase therein that says, “And God saw the disease, and it was good,” is there?!!  All that mankind shares as affliction is the result of our living in a world separated from God.  All sickness, sorrow and suffering are counter to His Divine will for us.  He allows them in our lives to point us towards that repentance that grants today's paralytic the first healing.  We, like him, seek to hear from our Lord's lips and directed towards us, "Be of good cheer!  Your sins are forgiven!"
Those who are witnesses to today’s miracle see it with eyes that perhaps are not focused on the real event.  They see the man walk.  They didn’t see his soul cleansed first.  The “rabbit” of his walking away belies the “empty hat” of his coming to our Lord in sin, and that being first forgiven by the Lover of mankind!
And so the crowd leaves, uttering their astonishment that God has given this kind of power “to men”, failing totally themselves to see that God stands before them as a Man, showing them the potential for which He created mankind.
“He who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.” (John 14:12)  Yes, He is giving such power to men.  But it is HIS power, not man’s.  When it is exhibited, it is HIS WILL that is done, not man’s, if only we will seek His will first.  It's not 'magic' - it is answer to fervent prayer, forgiving of sins, and the love of God Who heals and forgives in His infinite love for us.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Who Is The Holy Spirit to YOU?

“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.’” (Gen 1:26)  The Hebrew word for “image” translates to “figure”, “idol”, or “statue.”  The clear implication is that God created us to resemble Him in great detail.  “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the earth, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” (Gen 2:7)
This “breath of life” is consistently found, both in Scripture and in the Church.  At services blessing water the priest breathes upon the waters three times to ask the Spirit to come and bless them.  At baptisms the priest breathes on the person being baptized in remembrance of our Lord's action with the Apostles: “And when He has said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”(John 20:22)  It is here that our Lord blesses the Apostles for what will come to them on the day of Pentecost, when in God’s time the Holy Spirit would descend upon them, filling them with Divine wisdom, authority and power.
It was not the plan of the Holy Trinity to come upon the group before our Lord's Ascension.  There remained many things to be accomplished, not the least of which included His Ascension, which He foretold to His Apostles with these words: 
“Nevertheless I tell you the truth.  It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.  And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (John 16:7-10)
Jesus says plainly that He must depart before the Spirit will arrive.  And we, like His Apostles, have lived the past 10 days waiting for this day.  Today, we are gathered there with them in that room.  Like them, we are all “with one accord and in one place.” (Acts 2:1)  Our hearts are aligned because we, like the Apostles, have been witnesses at the Lord’s Passion, we have seen His hanging from the Cross, we have helped to place His lifeless body into the tomb, we have walked in that early morning hour with the women disciples of the Lord to find the tomb empty, we have seen Him enter our room through closed doors, we have placed our fingers into the wounds in His body, we have heard Him explain all of Scripture to us, and we have been witnesses at His glorious Ascension, before which He instructed us to “go home and wait” for this day.
And here we are.  Today, fire descends upon us, and our hearts are filled with things strange to men, for God comes to dwell within us, a condition He always intended for us, but because of our sins we had extricated us from the possibility.  Today, He is here.  We greet one another with the words, “Christ is in our midst!”, and we mean those words with all sincerity, for He is One with the Spirit and the Father, and in Him we are mystically joined to them in ways that we are unable to comprehend, but in ways that we can sense, touch, feel, know!
Who is the Holy Spirit to us?  He is the One Who “is everywhere present and fills all things.”  He is the “Treasury of blessings and the Giver of life.”  It is for exactly this reason that we pray to Him, asking for the blessing that He will “come and abide in us,” for if He is given a home IN us BY us (because we have repented and we truly seek His will in our lives), He will then in return “cleanse us from every impurity,” and He will “save our souls.”
For He is truly the Only Good and Compassionate One!

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

The "Saving Swallow" Who Shows the Way to Eternal Life

When swallows run short of food and the cold weather is coming, they set off to warm climes, where there is plenty of sun and food. One swallow flies ahead, testing the air and showing the way, while the rest of the flock follows after. When our souls run short of food in the material world, and when the cold of death draws near—ah, is there a swallow like that one, to take us to a warm place, where there is plenty of spiritual warmth and food? Is there such a place? Is there, oh, is there such a swallow? Outside the Christian Church, there is no one who can give any sort of reliable answer to this. The Church alone knows and knows with certainty.

It has seen that part of Paradise for which our souls yearn in the frozen twilight of this earthly existence. It has also seen this blessed swallow, the first to fly to that yearned-for place, dispersing the darkness and cutting through the heavy atmosphere between earth and Heaven with its powerful wings, opening the way to the flock behind it. Apart from this, the Church on earth can tell one of the innumerable flocks of swallows that have followed the first Swallow and flown off with it to that blessed land, a land abounding with all good things—the land of eternal Spring.

You will see from this that, by this saving Swallow, I am thinking of the ascended Lord Jesus Christ.  Has He not said of Himself that He is theWay? Did He not Himself say to His Apostles: “I go to prepare a place for you...and if I go...I will receive you unto Myself”(St. John 14:2–3)? And did He not say to them before this: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me” (St. John 12:32)?

This that He Himself said began to be fulfilled a few weeks later, and has continued to be fulfilled right down to our own day, and shall be to the end of time. That is, being the beginning of the first creation of the world, He became also the beginning of the second creation, or the blessed renewing of the old. Sin clipped Adamʼs wings and those of all his descendants, and they all fell away from God, went off, and were blinded with the dust from which their bodies were created. Christ, as the New Adam, the first Man, the Firstborn among men, was the first to rise up to Heaven on spiritual wings, to the throne of Eternal Glory and power,thus cleaving the way to Heaven and opening all Heavenʼs gates to His followers, with their spiritual wings—as an eagle cleaves the way for its eaglets, as the swallow which goes ahead, showing the flock the way and breaking the airʼs heavy resistance.

“O that I had wings like a dove; for then would I flee away and be at rest”(Psalm 54 [55]:6), the Psalmist cried in distress before Christʼs coming. Why? He himself explains:“My heart is disquieted within me, and the fear of death is fallen upon me. Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me, and a horrible dread hath overwhelmed me”(vv. 4–5). Such a terrible sense of deathly fear and of the horror of existence in the wastes of this life must, like a heavy nightmare, have weighed on the whole rational, honest world before Christ. “Who would give me wings, to fly away from this life?”: this must be a question asked by many noble and sensitive souls. But whither will you fly, O sinful human soul? Can you still, as in a dream, feel that place of warmth and light from which you have been driven out? Lo, the gates were closed behind you, and Cherubim with flaming swords were placed there, to forbid your approach. Lo, sin has clipped your wings—not birdʼs wings but Divine wings—and has forced you firmly down to the ground.

Someone is needed, first to free you from the weight of sin, to wash you and make you stand erect. And then someone is needed to implant and nourish new wings in you, so that you can fly. Then you need someone, someone very strong, for whom the Cherubim with flaming swords will stand aside, to let you through to your glorious homeland. Lastly, you need someone who will find mercy for you from your grieved Creator, so that He will receive you once more into the lands of His immortal country. This “someone” was unknown to the pre-Christian world. He revealed Himself as our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God.

From love for you, He bowed down from Heaven to earth and came down on earth, clothed Himself in flesh, became a prisoner for the sake of you prisoners, suffered sweat and frost, endured hunger and thirst, gave His face to spitting and His body to be nailed to the Cross, lay in the tomb as a corpse, went down to Hades to destroy a prison worse than this life, that was intended for you after your parting from the body—and all this in order to save you from the mire of sin, and set you on your feet. He then rose from the dead, by this means to give you wings for flight to Heaven, and finally ascended into Heaven to open the way to you and bring you into the Angelsʼ abode. You do not now have to sigh in fear, trembling and horror as King David did, nor to desire wings like a dove, for the Eagle has appeared, and has shown and cloven a road through. You have only to nurture the spiritual wings that you were given at your Baptism in His name, and to desire with all your strength to climb up there where He ascended. He has done ninety-nine percent of all that is needed for your salvation; will you not strive to do that one remaining percentage point for your own salvation, and this when, for you, an entrance shall be ministered...abundantly into the everlasting Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (II St. Peter 1:11)?

The Lordʼs Ascension from earth to Heaven is as unexpected to men as His coming down from Heaven to earth and His birth in the flesh was to the Angels. What event in His life does not represent something unique and uniquely unexpected to the world? As the Angels watched with wonder how God, at the first creation, separated light from darkness and water from dry land, how He placed the stars in the heavenly vault, and how He brought forth plants and animals from the dust and finally formed man, giving him a living soul, so each one of us must look with wonder at the events of the Saviorʼs life, beginning with the wondrous Annunciation to the most holy Virgin by the Archangel Gabriel in Nazareth, and then through in order to His mighty Ascension on the Mount of Olives. It is all, at first sight, unexpected, but, when they are made aware of the plan for the dispensation of our salvation, all rational men must shout for joy and glorify Godʼs power, His wisdom, and His love for mankind. You can take no single great event out of Christʼs life and not disfigure the whole, as you cannot cut off a living manʼs arm or leg and not disfigure him, or remove the moon from the heavenly vault or blot out a part of the starry myriads, and not disfigure the order and beauty of the heavens. So do not think of saying: “It was unnecessary for the Lord to ascend!” When some of the Jews were constrained to acknowledge and cry out: “He hath done all things well!” (Mark 7:37), how can we, who are Baptized in His name, not believe that all He did, He did well: devising and ordering with great wisdom.

And His Ascension is therefore also good, devised and ordered with great wisdom, as are also His Incarnation, Baptism, Transfiguration and Resurrection. “It is expedient for you that I go away”(St. John 16:7), said the Lord to His disciples. Do you see how He disposes and does everything as is best for me? Every word and act of His have our good as their aim. His Ascension is of boundless good for us all. Were it not so, He would not have ascended.

St. Nikolai (Velimirovich), Bishop of Ohrid, “Homily 27. The Ascension of the Lord,” in Homilies (Birmingham: Lazarica Press, 1996), Vol. I, pp. 296-299.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Living Water

Christ is Risen!

We don’t often think about it in such terms, but our day-to-day lives are governed by a presumption that tomorrow will be mostly like today.  I’ll awake in the morning.  I’ll have coffee and lunch, read the news, get angry at traffic.  Nothing much will change.
We take a certain comfort in this common-placeness of our daily lives.
And we don’t often think about our lives in terms of beginning, middle and end.  We don’t remember our beginnings (thank God!).  Our “middles” are muddled with revisionist-history versions of what really happened, revisions to make us feel better about ourselves, I guess. 
And our ends….  We don’t give much thought to our ends.  After performing or participating in a myriad of funerals over the years, one comes (as clergy) to recognize that funeral services are not for the departed, but rather for the living.  “You are going to be here where you see your loved one or friend, and it is coming sooner than you think.”
But that sobering message is very often ignored by those who come to honor the departed, and who refuse to see themselves in his or her position.
St. Photini today goes to Jacob’s well to draw water.  It is a daily activity for those in Sychar, or indeed in any town in Samaria or Israel.  Water is needed to sustain life.  Drawing the water was not an easy task, not like for us who get it by the twist of a wrist.  We get it clean (mostly), hot or cold at our choice.  On demand, so we can ask for only what we need.
In St. Photini’s time, she would no doubt come to draw enough for the day.  A heavy bucket-full would need to be pulled by rope from the depths of the well, poured into a vessel, repeat.  And then the vessel would be carried from the well “back home.”  It was difficult—one might even go so far as to saying back breaking.  In the account in the Gospel of St. John of the Wedding at Cana, the waterpots are written of as “containing 20 or 30 gallons each.”  Even ignoring the weight of a stone pot, 20 gallons of water weighs about 170 pounds.
No doubt St. Photini is not carrying a pot this big, but you get the idea.
When Jesus asks her for a drink, He opens the flood gates (pun intended) for her to speak with Him about—water!  In the discourse the Lord tells her plainly, “If you knew the gift of God, and Who it is Who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” (John 4:10)
Water that is alive.  Water than not only sustains the life you have, but water that renews the life you have, water that through baptism gives you birth into a new life, eternal life, water that will sustain you for eternity.  Yes, certainly it is water that would remove your need to carry heavy pots home daily.  But that’s the least of the water’s properties.  Jesus promises her water that “will become a fountain springing up into everlasting life.”
In our modern world, we don’t ever think of such water, any more than we think about the issue of the end of our life.  This is to our spiritual detriment, for without giving thought to that Day when we will stand before the Lord, we can’t find in ourselves St. Photini’s ability to face our sins, to recognize that He knows us along with our sins, to drive us to the place where we confess our sins and face Him now, while we can, before that Day comes and it’s too late.
She drops her water bottle at the well and runs to her townsfolk.  “Come see a Man Who told me all things I ever did.”  She becomes one of the first to evangelize.
She is rewarded by being forgiven, and with becoming one who carried His word to the world.
St. Photini knew that her end would come, and she reconciled with the Lord with time to spare. And she claimed that living water as her own.

Friday, May 17, 2019

The Shepherd At The Sheep's Gate

Christ is Risen!
This Sunday's Gospel reading is from St. John (5:1-15) related to the paralytic at Bethesda.

By Your Divine intercession, O Lord,
As You raised up the paralytic of old, 
So raise up my soul, paralyzed by sins and thoughtless acts,
So that being saved, I may sing to You:
"Glory to Your majesty, O Bountiful Christ!"

(Kontakion of the Feast)

The One Who knows the hearts of men, Who knows the contents of our very soul, Who knows the good and bad about each of us, it is He who comes to the pool of Bethesda on this day and poses what has to be viewed as a most improbable question.
“Do you want to be made well?”
Who could ask such a question.  The God Man Christ knows that this man had been in this condition (as St. John records) for thirty-eight years.  How could He ask such a thing?
But we, who read the Gospels, must know that our God has His reason for every action, every word that He came to leave as a gift to us.
What reasons could there be for what we encounter in this particular portion of Scripture?
Jesus offers healing to the paralytic, certainly, and knowing his heart sees that he indeed loves God.  And so by His Word, He brings healing to the man.  “Rise, take up your bed and walk.”  Such simple words, so very few, yet filled with such love of God that they reverse thirty-eight years of suffering.
But our Lord offers the same healing to the jealous Jews.  His healing of the man certainly solves the illness of the paralytic, but the man's walking brings the opportunity for healing to the Jews who have not yet found the heart of God within Jesus.  In the Gospel of St. Mark our Lord plainly tells the Pharisees, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath." (Mark 2:27)  But today the Pharisees still stubbornly choose to cling instead to a human misinterpretation of God’s mercy for His creation.  For these men, the Sabbath takes precedence over the human condition of the man.  For Christ, the exact opposite is true.  In demonstrating this opposition to God’s will, Jesus gives the Jews a glimpse into the heart of God, offers them the same healing from the same event—”Come, and be made well, too!” 
They however remain blinded to this benevolent love of the Creator for His creation.  He has in essence told the Jews as well, “Take up the rancid place in which you have lain all these years and come into the fullness of the Love of God.  Leave your spiritual illness behind and arise!”  And they refuse.
Our Lord’s healing of the paralytic is shown to have produced in him the proper effect, that of seeking God and offering thanks for the gift he had received, for he goes to the temple to offer this thanks.  It is there that he gives testimony to the Jews, offering as an evangelist the words that healed him, and which our Lord would have heal them as well—if their hearts, like the man’s, were truly aligned with the recognition of God’s love.
But there is yet another reason for our Lord's words, for His question, "Do you want to be made well?"  Can we not see that these same words are offered to us?  Do we want to be made well?  If we answer, “Yes,” then the consequence of such an answer is that we, like the paralytic, must choose to align ourselves with God’s will in our lives.  We must effect a change in our hearts, the change that the Jews were unable to make, that same change remains for us to make in ourselves. 
Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (Mat 6:33), love your neighbor (Mat 22:39), love your enemies (Mat 5:44), care for the poor and needy (Mat 25).
But most of all, repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand (Mat 4:17). 
They are simple words, very few, very easy to understand.  But our hearts must be right to follow where such powerful words lead.
Jesus comes to the pool at Bethesda, a name which translates to “house of mercy.”  Our Lord told the Jews (and thereby He tells us), “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’” (Mat 9:13, Hos 6:6)  It is a verse that points lovingly at Chapter 6 of the book by the Prophet Hosea, which begins with the words, “Come, and let us return to the Lord…”  (Hos 6:1)
Today’s Gospel is a gift to us to remind us, now three Sundays after Pascha, the repentant path that we walked during the Fast, and that we dare not lose in our hearts what we gained while making that walk.
Do we really want to be made well?  We can’t shout joyously “Christ is Risen!” if we don’t!