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. See our most recent COVID statement at our Parish web page:

Monday, April 12, 2021

The Ladder

Sunday of St. John Climacus (2021)

Heb 6:13-20/Mark 9:17-31

Being the Sunday on which we remember Saint John Climacus, it seemed good for us to spend a little time, not on ‘who’ he is, but rather on what he has left for us and the Church as his legacy, his gift to us for our spiritual growth in Christ.

His great work, the Ladder of Divine Ascent, is read in every Orthodox monastery each year during the Great Fast.  For those who have not visited a monastery, when meals are served, the abbot or abbess of the monastery will select a monk or nun from the group who stands and reads spiritually beneficial material while the group sits quietly and eats.  It is during this time that “The Ladder” would be read.

I brought an icon which is used on this day.  It depicts a group of monks all trying to climb from earth to heaven, with Christ at the top, reaching out to accept those who complete the climb, angels who are encouraging those on the ladder during their ascent, demons flying about with arrows and hooks pulling the monks from the ladder, and typically there is a dragon with wide open jaws at the bottom swallowing those who fall.  It is simultaneously an awe inspiring and fearful image to contemplate, for it shows what we endure in our lives as we also attempt to rise to that level to which our Lord calls us.

Although we are given this image of a ladder, and to us that means moving from one level to another after some struggle to climb, in fact the Ladder of Saint John is more a set of parallel rungs.  It’s not so much that you ever completely rise above one of the elements of the ladder.  Rather, we are continually trying to perfect our spirits in all of these areas.

The “rungs” of the Ladder are comprised of virtues we need to labor to acquire, of faults we need to labor to purge, and of characteristics we need to labor to adopt.  There are thirty such elements to the ladder.  Let’s take a look at them.

It begins with three ‘rungs’ which are designed to force us to break our connection with the world.  Specifically, they are “Renunciation,” “Detachment,” and “Exile”.  Renunciation does not indicate us rejecting the gift of life God has given us.  Rather, it means renouncing the world’s control over us.  One typical encouragement from Saint John along these lines includes this:  “If you aspire to perfection, then do what good you can.  Speak evil of no one.  Rob no one.  Tell no lie.  Hate no one.  Do not separate yourself from the church.  Show compassion to the needy.  Do not scandalize.  Do not consider adulterous acts.  If you do all this, you will not be far from the kingdom of heaven.”  Detachment is an encouragement to divorce ourselves from the things of the world, possessions, comfort.  Saint John’s focus here is on our Lord’s commandment to “let the dead bury their own dead.” (Mat 8:22)  He teaches that if we remain attached to anything, we will suffer great griefs, for if we lose that to which we remain attached, then suffering begins.  Attach yourself to Christ, for He cannot be lost, and then there can be no grief!  Exile is the carrying of this breaking of connection with the world to our own hearts.  Saint John describes exile as “a disciplined heart, unheralded wisdom, a hidden life spent in unseen meditation, striving to be humble, wishing for poverty, longing for the divine.” 

After breaking with the world, the next set of concerns moves to practicing the virtues.  This includes a group of “fundamental virtues” – and bring us to the rungs, “Obedience,” “Penitence,” “Remembrance of Death,” and “Mourning” or sorrow.

Acquiring “Obedience” is easy to understand.  But Saint John carries it to places we may not immediately consider.  He teaches, “Obedience is a total renunciation of our own life,” indicating that we are servants, and as such, we belong to Him whom we serve.  He teaches, “A servant of the Lord stands bodily before men, but mentally he is knocking at the gates of heaven with prayer.”  Saint John defines “Repentance” as “the renewal of baptism, a contract with God for a fresh start in life.”  And it is through the “Remembrance of Death” that repentance is given life.  Saint John teaches, “As thought comes before speech, so the remembrance of death and of sin comes before weeping and mourning.”  He ends the chapter with these words:  “Do not deceive yourself, foolish worker, into thinking that one time can make up for another.  The day is not long enough to allow you to repay in full its debt to the Lord.  Some have said that you cannot pass a day devoutly unless you think of it as your last.”  On “Mourning” Saint John teaches, “It is a golden spur within a soul that has been stripped of all bonds and ties, set by holy sorrow to keep watch over the heart.”  He tells us that true mourning brings holy tears, and “If God in His love for us had not given us tears, those being saved would be few indeed and hard to find.” 

After highlighting these fundamental virtues, Saint John moves to struggles against the passions.  He begins with those which are not physical in nature:  “Anger”, “Malice”, “Slander”, “Talkativeness,” “Falsehood,” and “Despondency.”  He teaches that “the first step to freedom from anger is to keep the lips silent when the heart is stirred, the thoughts silent when the soul is upset, and to remain calm when unclean winds blow.”  With respect to conquering malice, he teaches, “Let your malice and spite be turned against the devils.  Treat your body as an enemy, for the flesh is an ungrateful and treacherous friend.  The more you look after it, the more it hurts you.”  He defines slander as “the child of hatred and the remembrance of wrongs.”  To overcome this, he encourages us to “blame not the person who falls, but the prompting demon.  No one wants to sin against God, even though we all do without being compelled.”  He tells us that “Talkativeness is a doorway to slander,… a servant of lies, … the darkening of prayer.”  On falsehood he tells us, “A baby does not know how to lie, nor does a soul cleansed of evil.”  On despondency Saint John teaches that “Virtues can be acquired to overcome the passions.  But despondency is a kind of total death.” 

From these passions, Saint John moves to those which are tied to us physically, “Gluttony,” “Lust”, “Avarice,” and “Poverty,” before he returns to the non-physical passions of “Insensitivity,” “Fear,” “Vainglory (or vanity),” and “Pride.” 

Having defined ways to overcome the passions, Saint John moves to the virtues as he teaches us to cultivate “Simplicity,” “Humility,” and “Discernment.”  Finally, he brings us to a point of seeking unity with God, moving us toward what the Church calls “the contemplative life,” by teaching us to achieve “Stillness,” to remain in “Prayer,” to live in “Dispassion,” and to manifest “Love.”

Thirty of these “rungs” which lead to union with God.  And we’ve only offered Saint John’s words almost in passing for the first half of them, “glossing over” the final half by description only.

What’s the point?  The point for us is that achieving our goal of becoming truly a disciple of Christ, of living up to the name Christian, of truly being His servant is not something that happens instantaneously and mystically when we receive baptism.  Baptism and Chrismation are an “entry point” into a life of effort, a life of struggle.  In Matthew 11, Jesus is rebuking the crowds following Him, asking them what they thought they were going to Saint John the Forerunner to witness.  He says to them, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.”  These are difficult words for us to understand, but the Fathers teach us that one meaning is that the kingdom of heaven breaks into this world violently, through powerful miracles, and those who are vigilant and filled with the Spirit aggressively take hold of it.  Those who hear and love the Word of God “take the kingdom by force” by exerting all effort to enter into the Kingdom while they are here on earth.  It is for this purpose that martyrs shed their blood.  The kingdom of heaven does not belong to the lazy or the sleeping, but to those who actively labor to achieve entry into it.

This does not give the picture of a people who are gifted salvation, but rather a people who are active participants in their own salvation.  And if we are to labor and struggle to attain the goal of entry to heaven, we need a plan.  One who builds a house and who starts by purchasing a hammer has made a start, but unless there is a plan, showing how to cut the wood, how big to make the openings for doors, where to lay the bricks of the foundation,  how to secure the roof, the house so built is doomed to fall.

Saint John Climacus gives to us such a plan for our efforts to take the kingdom by force.  His words are often very difficult as well, offering encouragement that the world would interpret as offensive.  It is not “the only” plan to open the kingdom to us.  But it remains a wonderful encouragement to all who read his words to make that plan for ourselves, and to labor to follow the plan.  And it remains a yearly encouragement for us to exert the spiritual labor and effort we expend together here in the Great Fast.  Remember the words we offered here on the Sunday of Forgiveness.  We are in this Fast together.  Our best and most important goal is to be an encouragement to one another, carrying us as a group, as a ‘family’ to the end of the Fast, so that we together may witness the Lord’s Passion and Resurrection. 

Through the prayers of Saint John Climacus, may our Lord grant to us jointly the hearts to exert such effort, and to have hearts which desire entry to His kingdom above all else!

Thursday, April 8, 2021

The Mid-Fast Shift

For those who regularly attend the full schedule of services in the Orthodox Church during the Great Fast, this past week marks a "shift" in the spirit and content of the services.  

Prior to the Sunday of the Cross, the prayers of the Divine Services were markedly focused on repentance.  In the first week we celebrated the Canon of St. Andrew, which is the hallmark of Orthodox services focused on repentance.  But beyond St. Andrew, the content of Presanctified Liturgies also shared in the focus:

Come, O faithful, let us perform the works of God in the light.  Let us behave with decency as befits the day.  Let us not make unjust accusations against our neighbors, or place a cause of stumbling in their path.  Let us lay aside all fleshly pleasures and increase the spiritual gifts of our souls.  Let us give food to those in need, drawing near to Christ and crying in repentance: 'O our God, have mercy on us!'  (Idiomelon, First Friday)

But now that focus has shifted.  It is not so much that the time for repentance has passed.  Rather, it is a subtle message that the spirit of repentance should now be so ingrained within us that we are able to accept another additional focus.  What is that focus?  It is the Cross!

Beginning with the Sunday of the Cross, the Holy Church begins to prepare us for that which lay ahead.  For those who are not new to Holy Orthodoxy, we've lived through Holy Weeks before.  We know their rigors.  We anticipate their great sorrow.  We expect to find ourselves drying our eyes inside the churches.  We remember the priest's voice cracking as he reads the Gospels of the Crucifixion, and we agonize with him, considering the gift that our Savior is even at that very moment working for us and in us.

The "preparation" that the Church offers to us is not unlike that which our Lord offered to His own Apostles.  We know how often He told them, "We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the Law.  They will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified."  (Mat 20:18-19)  He explained it all to them - fully, lovingly.  And they ignored the message.  When it happened, they were unprepared for what transpired.  They were filled with fear.

Let us heed the Church's message to prepare ourselves.  If we have not yet completed our walk to repentance, let us make a good ending to that process and submit ourselves to the sacrament.  But most of all, let us commit to being witnesses at as much of our Lord's walk to Bethany, to Jerusalem, to Gethsemane, to the Sanhedrin, to Golgotha, and to the Tomb as we find ourselves physically possible to be present.  If you can spend time guarding the Tomb, this is one of the most spiritually moving tasks in which a person can engage, and we recommend it to all!

May our Lord bless us to be prepared for being near to Him in this coming Passion Week.  If we hope to be near to Him throughout all eternity, what better place to make a start?

Monday, April 5, 2021

Sunday of the Cross - Mark 8:34-9:1

The Church, in her wisdom, sets before us today the Holy Cross.  She sets it here as an encouragement – “Take comfort,” she says, “and hold to the Fast just a little longer.  You’re almost there!”

St. Nikolai Velimirovich speaks to what we should learn on this day comparing the Cross to “medicine,” for he tells us that we are all sick and need to be healed.  He says, “In our suffering and weakness, when we are sick we seek a doctor who will give us medicine.  One does not look for a doctor who dispenses sweet tasting medicine.  Everyone wants medicine that will heal, be it sweet, bitter or tasteless.  It seems that the more complicated the process of healing, the greater faith we put into the doctor treating us.”

What a thing to ponder, as we sit here this morning now fully a year after the initial quarantine, recognizing that we’re still looking for that medicine.  St. Nikolai continues in his analysis.  “Are not illnesses of the spirit more serious than illnesses of the body?  How then can medicines for the spirit not be even more bitter than those for the body?”

He offers these thoughts related to our Lord’s teaching us that we are to:

  1. Desire to come after Him
  2. Deny ourselves
  3. Take up our own cross
  4. And to follow Him.

The analogy to medicine to heal the spirit St. Nikolai relates to these four components of our Lord’s instructions to us on this day.

Most of us can immediately relate to the idea of our “desiring to come after Him.”  Each of us, I think, would say that we truly are trying on a daily basis to find our own way to live lives consistent with our Lord’s instructions and His commandments.  The single most important component of this element of today’s Gospel is that our Lord does not compel anyone to have this desire.  Just as He gave free will to Adam, who used it counter to God’s will, so He gives also to us.  We must CHOOSE to come after Him.

But what does it mean to “deny yourself”?  Adam denied himself when he fell into sin.  But his denial was of his true self, the Adam that God had created to be near to Him for eternity.  In his denial of that truth, Adam “put on” the false Adam, in short – a lie.  Our Lord’s encouragement to deny ourselves is therefore an encouragement to deny Adam’s lie which is present within each of us, and in denying this lie (denying the person we’ve become by our choice, not by God’s design), we return to the person God DID create us to be.

And what does it mean to “take up your cross”?  This is a difficult topic to discuss, for in some instances, our cross is a particular sin or failing that accompanies us through long periods of our lives.  In other instances, our cross is thrust upon us, unannounced, and immediately, we must bear it.  There are many here in our little community who have been handed crosses that they did not expect, and certainly did not desire, from issues with parents to issues with children and issues with health. 

In the category of crosses that have been thrust upon us, all of us have had to deal with the cross that is the pandemic.  We can agree or we can disagree on the issues of has it been handled properly, should we mask or not mask, should we have locked down or not, should we accept the vaccine or not, and perhaps several other salient topics.  But it has been a cross for all of us, one that we may need to carry yet for another little while. 

In terms of unexpected crosses, we have Simon of Cyrene as an example.  Recall his story from the Gospel of Saint Mark, who records, “And as they led Him out to crucify Him, then they compelled a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus, as he was coming out of the country and passing by, to bear His cross.”  Here is poor Simon, trying to enter the city of Jerusalem, and as he comes to go in, the soldiers are escorting Jesus out.  Simon is “compelled” – essentially, conscripted by the soldiers.  “Turn about face, Simon – take this cross and go the opposite way.”  This had to be a life changing event for Simon, and his faith is evidenced by the remembrance in the scripture of his sons, Alexander and Rufus.  Simon was given not just any cross to bear, but the Cross.  We can only imagine him at Golgotha asking all, “Who is this Man?  What did He do?  Why is He being slain?”  In Simon’s carrying the Cross, he is immersed in Christianity and in hours given the grace of seeing, knowing, and witnessing the death of the Man Who has in a moment become his Lord!

Will our own taking up of our cross be like this?  No.  There are no two crosses the same.  Saint Ambrose teaches, “God does not create a cross for man.  No matter how heavy a cross a man may carry in his life, it is still just wood, made by man himself, and it always grows from the soil of his heart.” 

If we are to take up our own cross, we will do so because of our desire to come after our Lord.  But to deny ourselves and to follow where He leads us requires a yet greater commitment.  We must become disciples.  It’s a wonderful word, disciple!  From its root comes the word “discipline”.  Discipline is the condition of a disciple.  A disciple is obedient to his or her Master, and is committed to learning, absorbing all that the Master teaches.

Being a disciple carries a cost.  For the disciple it means a gradual overcoming of all that is “self” so that self is displaced, lost, replaced by that which is Greater than self so that a ‘new life’ is embedded within the disciple.  Being a dedicated disciple begins with silence and listening.  While these are required, they are not enough, for if we listen with the greatest interest, without every putting into action what we’ve learned, we’ll listen but we’ll hear nothing any more.  This was the condition of the Pharisees, whose ears perceived all the same words that the Lord’s disciples heard, but the ears of the Pharisees could not hear.  Metropolitan Anthony teaches, “God does not speak to our mind or to our heart if He does not receive allegiance and obedience from us.  God speaks once, and perhaps twice, and then He withdraws sadly until we are hungry for Him, hungry for the truth.”

What does it mean to take up our cross?  It means that we are willing to accept the medicine dispensed by God to heal our infirmities, our spiritual illnesses, regardless of that medicine’s bitterness.  Abraham accepted God’s command to sacrifice his only son Isaac.  Noah accepted God’s command to build a ship in the middle of nowhere near an ocean and to stock it with animals.  Job accepted the loss of his children, his wealth, his health, and even his friends. 

In short, God will not ask of any of us anything that He has not asked others to endure before us.  When the Lord instructs us to take up our cross, He is asking us to crucify “the old man” within us, the one who holds onto evil habits, or to cleave to the ‘things’ of this world.  He asks us as a disciple to put that old person to death, so that He, God, can recreate us in a new image.

St. Nikolai Velimirovich teaches it this way.  “The Lord did not come to reform the world, but to re-make it, to bring it to newness of life.  He is not a reformer.  He is the Creator.  He is not a ‘patcher’ but a weaver.  Anyone wanting to preserve an old, worm-riddled tree will lose it.  He can do all he can in an external way for the tree – water it, fence it around and nurture it – but the worm will eat it away within and it will rot away and fall…..  He who tries to preserve his old Adam-like soul, eaten away and rotted by sin, will lose it…  Whoever loses his old soul will save his new soul.”

Through the power of the Life-giving Cross or our Lord, may we be moved to lose the old so that the new may find salvation!

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas - Mark 2:1-12

As we look at today’s Gospel reading, we can be on the lazy side and ask, “What does the account of the paralytic have to do with the Fast?”  But if we’re on the more inquisitive side, and we wish to understand how the Church, in her love for us, her children, attempts to move us and motivate us, we’ll come to embrace today’s message with the fullness it deserves.

We talk so very often about “living our faith,” but I wonder if we nearly as often stop to ponder what that expression should mean in our daily lives.  We speak often about the saying of St. Seraphim of Sarov: “Save yourself, and a thousand around you will be saved.”  We’ve mentioned the teaching of St. Nikolai Velimirovich which says, “The salvation of the soul is the only meaning of labor of man on earth.”  And we’ve spoken of the teaching of St. Theophan the Recluse which says, “Look to heaven, and measure every step of your life so that it is a step toward it.”  Three Holy Fathers, all offering advice to us that, if we are to be selfish about anything, we should indeed be selfish in attaining a place in the Kingdom of Heaven.  We need to do this for ourselves first.  And the advice is not inconsistent with what we as humans advise others to do.  Instructions given on an aircraft teach us that, if oxygen masks descend from the airplane’s ceiling, and if we are traveling with children, we should put our own masks on first.  Only then can we be of help to our children, who certainly need to depend on us, but won’t be able to do so if we ourselves are “lost”.

So we are called to live a life that is exemplary.  We don’t need to walk up to strangers on the street and ask, “Are you saved?  Can I tell you about Jesus?”  It’s far more important for that same stranger to see us offer a donation to a beggar, or to leave our own grocery cart to offer help to a senior who is having trouble loading her car, or to let a person go before us into a crowded shopping line.  In short, our actions speak volumes about who Christ is in our lives, and it speaks not on Sunday morning when we are inside the Church walls where these people will not see Christ in us, but it needs to speak on Tuesday afternoon, and Friday evening.

“OK, Father.  I’m still puzzled about the paralytic,” I hear you thinking. 

The instruction for us, especially as we consider our own walk thru the Great Fast, is to be found in the men who bring the paralytic.  St. Mark details plainly that there were four of them.  And these four had faith.  They knew that if they could place their friend before the Lord, Jesus could heal him.  They had no doubt in this.  Their dilemma was one of logistics – the crowd was so large that they couldn’t get their friend anywhere near to where they knew that the Lord was.  If they couldn’t get him in, they’d miss their opportunity.  What could they do?  “If we can’t get in from any side, let’s go from above!”

By faith they “ascended”, they lifted the rigid body of their friend to the rooftop.  And as perilous as it had to be to “open” the roof while they stood upon it, this is what they did, so that they could then lower the unfortunate friend to the presence of our Lord.

So now, what is the gem we’re attempting to mine from St. Mark?  He records, “Jesus, seeing their faith, said to the paralytic, ‘Son, you sins are forgiven.’”  HERE is the gem – Jesus SAW the faith of the four.  It was by THEIR faith that their friend received healing. 

But the faith of the four did not need to be expressed in words.  Their faith was VISIBLE.  Yes, our Lord saw it, but their faith was shown to every person who had been blocking their path to reach the Lord.  Every one there came to understand the faith of these four men, and it was known without speaking a single word!  We too, then, need to find it in our ability to modify our behavior so that Christ can speak through our actions.  We need to allow Him to be seen in what we DO – as well as what we say, and HOW we say it.

But there are more gems for us to mine in our walk toward our Lord’s Passion.  For the antithesis of the visible faith of the four men is present in the same house in the persons of the Scribes who began to judge the Lord for His proclaiming that the paralytic’s sins were forgiven.  The Just Judge perceived in the body language of these men their lack of faith, and let us opine that this was as evident in the Scribes as was faith evident in the four.

Let us consider the varied miracles described by St. Mark in this one event.  First there is our Lord’s demonstrating that He sees into the hearts of men, discerning faith when it is present in some, but also guile in others.  Next there is the forgiving of sins, healing of the soul which in turn permits the body to be freed from the disease which is binding it.  And we dare not forget the fact that our Lord heals by His word alone.

Another element we should grasp in our walk toward Holy Week is that we must come and stand in the presence of the Lord for us to attain the salvation we are seeking.  The Great Fast is a time during which we are seeking this connection to our Lord, hoping to place ourselves in His presence.  But we must approach this with patience and care.  In His mercy and love for us, the Lord always hears our prayer, but we may not “feel” His presence at times when we might have hoped to. 

Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, in Beginning to Pray speaks to this issue.  He teaches, “A meeting face to face with God is always a moment of judgment for us…. Thanks be to Him that He does not always present Himself to us when we wish to meet Him, because we might not be able to endure such a meeting.” 

The paralytic was able to greet the Lord, to be in His presence, and the Lord’s response was first forgiveness.  This indicates that the paralytic’s perspective was already one repentance.  This is the perspective we need to adopt for ourselves when we attempt to come into His presence.  We need to be humble, quiet, repentant, emptied of self so that there is room for Him within our hearts.

St. Nikolai Velimirovich says it this way.  “It is a farmer’s duty to plant and water, but it depends on God’s power, wisdom and mercy whether or not the seeds will bring forth fruit.  It is a scientist’s duty to examine and seek, but it depends on God’s power, wisdom and mercy whether or not knowledge is revealed.  It is a parent’s duty to raise and educate a child in the fear of God, but it depends on God’s power, wisdom and mercy how long the child will live.  It is a priest’s duty to teach, inform, reprimand and guide the faithful, but it depends on God’s power, wisdom and mercy whether or not his flock will bear fruit.  It is the duty of each of us to endeavor to be made worthy to stand in the presence of God the Son, but it depends on God’s power, wisdom and mercy whether or not we will be permitted near to the Lord.”

As we walk the path of the Great Fast, we eat less so that we’ll pray more so that our hearts will be moved to compassion for our fellow man and repentance for our own well being.  If the Fast is having the desired effect, our faith will become visible by our actions, and we will be living lives desiring to put ourselves in the very presence of our Lord.

Our being here today is evidence of that desire, for He is here today.  And if we have completed the walk to repentance, we have the God-given grace to approach Him such that He becomes part of us through the Holy Eucharist.

If I have a prayer this day for all of us as Orthodox Christians, it is that we together will find ourselves “as one” and returned to approach the Holy Chalice before our Lord’s Resurrection!

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Proverbs 8:36

Sometimes within the readings for the day, a verse just leaps off the page at you, to the extent that you need to stop what you're doing and ponder what it means to your own spiritual walk.

Such is the case within today's readings, and in the title of this piece.  What is the verse?  The first part of the verse is deep enough, saying:

"But he who sins against Me wrongs his own soul;"   

God is righteous.  Anything we do that is counter to the will of God is sin.  And for many recognizing this conjures up images of an angry and vengeful God Who wants to execute judgment upon every sinner who strays.

But if that were true, then the words of the Psalmist would ring true:  "If You, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?" (Ps 130:3)  Indeed, there would be no point in attempting repentance, for such a god would show himself as one who is only ready to judge.

Thankfully, that's not at all what Scripture, but most especially the teachings of our Lord, says to us.  David's next words from the same Psalm ring with God's unbounded love for us: "But there is forgiveness with You!"  (V4) I have hope!  We ALL have hope!!!

Within the words at the start of this piece, we find that our sins, while certainly "against" God, are more pointedly acts which attack our own spiritual essence.  We serve a forgiving God, a loving God, Who "desires not the death of a sinner, but that he should turn from his ways and live." (Eze 18:23)  Indeed, God rejoices in us when we return to Him, as our Lord Himself bears witness: "I say to you that there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance." (Luke 15:7) Heaven would be a joyless place indeed if it needed to wait to welcome even one of us who needed no repentance!

The second portion of the phrase from Proverbs is equally compelling.  It says, "All those who hate Me love death."  What an indictment of the world around us is contained in these words?  For the world has gone mad over rejecting faith in general, and God in particular.  The world has no need for God.  Mankind trusts in itself.  The buzz-phrase of the day is, "Follow the science!"

Neil deGrasse Tyson is a famous and highly visible (present on many science broadcasts) physicist who unabashedly attacks faith and God.  In one of his quotes he says this:  "If you don't understand something and the community of physicists don't understand it, that means God did it?  Is that how you want to play this game?  If that's how you want to invoke your evidence for God, then God is an ever-receding pocket of scientific ignorance that's getting smaller and smaller and smaller as time moves on."  The arrogance of his words uses an argument tool that implies that because one can explain somthing it means that he or she is the "master" of the topic or issue.  It's a clever method used when attempting to disarm an opponent.  However, the tool is dispelled like a wisp of smoke when one applies even a modicum of thought to the issue.  The fact that a "scientist" can explain an observed behavior of creation is offered as a defense that they themselves have equaled the level of the Creator.  It is akin to saying, "You believe in God because He said, 'Let there be light, and there was light.'  But I can make light, too.  Here's my flashlight, and I understand everything there is to know about the light bulb, the battery, and the switch.  I have equaled your 'god'."

Dear scientist/physicist/intellectual:  Go into the quiet of your laboratory and using no portion of the Creation that surrounds you that is already His, create from nothingness the photon that constitutes the light.  I'm not asking to recreate the cosmos, nor even to fashion something alive.  Just one photon, please.  That flashlight?  It produces about four billion billions of photons (that's a quintillion) - every second.  Please, show me just ONE that is created by your "wisdom".

You see, those who deny God's presence, His very existence, don't need to say that they "hate" Him.  The message is clear within their words - and their attitudes.  

Denying God is the spiritual equivalent of denying eternal life.  This means eternal death.  And in the denial of God, that is the "hope" that such perspectives are embracing.  The world's hope is hopelessness.  "Has God not made foolish the wisdom of this world?  ... But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks, foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the poewr of God and the wisdom of God.  Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men." (1Cor 1:20-25)

As we walk the path toward our Lord's Passion, as we ponder our own fallenness, our need for repentance, and His unlimited love for us through His forgiveness of all we confess, let us be moved to greater prayer for a world that seems to be rushing away from Him, rushing toward nothingness, like the swine released from poor Legion (Mark 5:1-13).  Let us change what He has given us the grace to be able to change - ourselves.  And in that change, perhaps the world around us will be able to find His image in what we, in our imperfection, can manage to reflect of Him.  And perhaps those who deny Him may come to accept and desire Him by what they find in us!

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The Annunciation

On this day, the Creator becomes the Created.  God forms for Himself a body made from the substance of our lowliness, and in so doing He creates for us the path to seek Him and become elevated to heaven.

In how many ways, and over how many times, does our God need to demonstrate His unfailing love for us - even in our fallenness and sinfulness?  We have the Resurrection as the Supreme example.  We have His condescending to accept baptism to show us the path we must follow.   We have the Virgin birth.

But without minimizing any of these, we have His Conception, without which none of the aforementioned could have occurred.

In Exodus 33, Moses is on the mountain in the presence of God, and he petitions God, "Show me Your glory."  In short, I want to SEE You.  God's response to this may at first blush seem cryptic.  His words are, "No one may see Me and live."  St. Gregory of Nyssa teaches that this does not mean that if a human were to look upon the face of God, he or she would die.  Rather, he teaches that the meaning is that flesh cannot perceive that which is spirit - it's just not possible.  These are words we sing in the hymnology of an Orthodox funeral service.  "It is not possible for man to see God, upon Whom the ranks of angels dare not gaze."

And so God, as in so many other instances, makes possible what is impossible.  For "Nothing is impossible with God."  (Luke 1:37)

And this last fragment of Scripture bring us to the purpose of THIS message, for it comes from the lips of the Archangel, who comes to announce to Mary, daughter of Joachim and Anna, that she will bear a Son Who is beyond nature.  How does God effect this miracle of miracles?

"The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the Power of the Most High will overshadow you."  These are words that are prayed by the Deacon at every Divine Liturgy immediately after the Great Entrance, as the Priest says to him, "Remember me, my brother and fellow minister."  The reply is, "May the Lord God remember your Priesthood in His heavenly Kingdom."  At this, the priest requests, "Pray for me, my fellow minister," and the Deacon responds with the above words from the Feast of the Annunciation.  It is present in the Liturgy because there we also need God's miraculous intervention to accomplish what normal people cannot - accepting the human offering of bread and wine, and changing it miraculously into the very Body and Blood of Christ.  Can you find the connection to the conception where the human flesh of the Virgin is changed into the divine Body of God?

The Archangel tells the Virgin, "So the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God."  

The Feast of Annunciation fills our hymnology with gems of theological wisdom.  Vespers for the Feast begins with this hymn:

Revealing to you the pre-eternal Council, Gabriel came and stood before you, O Maid.  Greeting you, he said, "Hail!  You are the earth which has not been sown.  Hail, burning bush that remains unconsumed.  Hail, unsearchable depth.  Hail, bridge that leads to Heaven, and ladder that Jacob saw.  Hail, divine jar of manna.  Hail, deliverance from the curse, and restoration of Adam.  The Lord is with you!

The word translated here as "Hail!" is equally correctly translated as "Rejoice!"  It is from words such as these that another major service of the Church evolved its own hymnology, the Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos, whose refain is, Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride!  

The Troparion of the Feast tells the fullness of the importance of the Feast.

Today is the beginning of our salvation, the revelation of the eternal mystery!  The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin as Gabriel announces the coming of grace.  Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos: 'Rejoice, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with you!'

This is truly a Glorious Feast!

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The Canon of St. Andrew of Crete

The Great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete is one of the treasures of the Orthodox Faith.  It is the longest canon that exists, and is appointed to be prayed in Orthodox churches on the first four nights of the Great Fast, where it is divided into segments for this purpose.  It is also appointed to be prayed in its entirety on the fifth Thursday of the Great Fast, during which service the entire life of Saint Mary of Egypt is also read.

Saint Andrew's feast is celebrated on 04July.

Born in Damascus of Christian parents, the saint was mute from birth until he reached the age of seven.  At that time his parents brought him to church where he received the Eucharist, and he began to speak.  At the age of fifteen he entered the Monastery of Saint Sabas the Sanctified, where his ascetic efforts soon brought him to a place of surpassing many of his elders' efforts.  The Patriarch took Andrew as his personal secretary.  When the Monothelite heresy came to the fore (a teaching that Christ did not possess a human, but only a divine will), St. Andrew defended the faith at the Sixth Ecumenical Council in Constantinople in 681AD, at which time he had been ordained to the rank of Archdeacon.  He worked miracles by his prayers.  He drove the Saracens from the Island of Crete, wrote many books of instruction, and many hymns as well as the Great Canon.

The Great Canon is in essence a dialog between St. Andrew and his soul, with the theme being an urging of the soul to conform to the will of God.  It is also a survey of the entirety of Holy Scripture, both Old and New Testaments.  In the Canon he compares the sins of those in Scripture with his own, lamenting how his sins exceed those from Scripture.  Conversely, he highlights those from Scripture who were shown to be God-pleasing, and again compares himself with them, asking God's help in conforming his sinful life to theirs.  In his words lay a study for us on repentance, and how we should approach our own spirits to fully confess to God.

Canons in the Orthodox Church are liturgical hymns having a tightly prescribed form.  They contain a variable number of parts called odes.  Most canons have eight such odes, numbered from 1 to 9, with Ode 2 typically being omitted due to its penitential nature (and so it is used only on Tuesdays during the Great Fast).  And Irmos begins each Ode, which is typically sung.  The Irmos is followed by a variable number of Troparia which usually refer back to the theme of the Irmos.  These are typically chanted, and followed by a refrain, which may be chanted or sung.  At the end of Odes may be prescribed a Katavasia, which may be the sames as the Irmos or differ from it in form, but not in theme.  The Katavasia may be sung in a more ornate fashion as well.

The Great Canon is chanted by the Priest from the center of the church, with the faithful (or a choir) singing the Irmoi, refrains ("Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me!"), and Katavasia.  There are varying traditions related to bowing and prostrations, which follow each Irmos and each troparion.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Forgive Me!

"Forgive me."  Two words.  So easy to pass the lips.  But for many, too difficult to form the prayerful thought which allows the words to be formed and delivered.

"I forgive."  Two more words.  Just as easily do they pass the lips.  But with even greater difficulty do they formulate, especially when the intellect is allowed to dominate the spirit.

"God forgives!"  Two final words.  We recognize these, and they are offered quite freely through the lips.  And yet as they are so offered, we don't often associate them with the true meaning, the true depth of spiritual lesson, contained in them.

Yesterday, on the Sunday of Forgiveness (also known as "Cheesefare Sunday" because the Great Fast begins with the Vespers of this Sunday), most Orthodox churches throughout the world celebrated the Divine Liturgy where from the day's Gospel we heard our Lord instruct us, "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you."  (Mat 6:14)  And so we learn of the "conditions" applied by God for us to receive forgiveness from Him - we must freely and fully forgive others!  After Liturgy, we celebrate the Vespers of Forgiveness Sunday, and each member of the congregation, beginning with the priest, stands and one-by-one faces each member as they file by, until each one of us has face-to-face asked forgiveness of the other, and granted forgiveness to the other.  We do so by saying, "Forgive me," from the first, and the other then responding, "I forgive.  God forgives all!"

And so let us take this short message, and use it to express in all humility and sincerity our own seeking of forgiveness from each of you.  If we have in any way offended or wounded you, we beg your forgiveness.  Know that I freely forgive all.  And in our mutual forgiveness of one another, by our Lord's own words, we can be assured that God indeed forgives!

In Bulgarian there is an expression:  "Prosteno!  Prosti!"  Translated, it says, "Forgiveness!  Easy!"  When our intellects are brought into submission to our spirits, this should be the way of forgiveness - indeed, easy!

Having forgiven one another, we can move forward "easily" into searching out our own faults, seeking to make as full a repentance as possible before we come to the end of the Fast, when we will encounter our Lord at the Cross and the Tomb.

Wishing all a spiritually profitable Great Fast,

Father Basil

Thursday, March 11, 2021

On the Sunday of the Last Judgment

Our Lord gifts to us today a prophetic view of what will happen to each of us, believer or non-believer, on that last day, when He returns “in glory” to judge all of humanity, from Adam to the very last person born before His feet touch this earth again.  For the record, that constitutes a group of about 107 billion people, if you’re counting.  And the Lord IS counting!

Saint Nikolai Velimirovich wrote, “The salvation of the soul is the only meaning of labor of man on earth.”  God gives to us the breath of life, and then sets us loose here so that we might seek Him “will all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind.” (Mat 22:37) Jesus uses words carefully, and in these words He shows us that the expectation is that we will live a life expressing love for God with our spiritual sense (the soul), with our physical being (the heart), and with our intellect (the mind), joined in unity to seek Him.  We are to seek Him not as some avocation, for again His words have meaning.  We are to use ALL our heart, ALL our soul, ALL our mind in the quest to “work out our own salvation,” as St. Paul puts it (Phil 2:12).

What are these weighty words attempting to explain clearly to us?

First, from today’s Gospel reading we need to see that at the Last Judgment, there are no “shades of grey.”  There are no categories of “very good,” “mostly good,” “partly bad,” “mostly bad,” and “evil.”  There are only two – sheep (those who will spend eternity in the presence of God) and goats (those who will spend eternity separated from God and His love).

Within these two groups, the Lord expresses only ONE discriminating behavior between them.  Did you help those in need, or did you help only yourself?

And these discriminating factors are not of themselves so onerous!  Jesus doesn’t say, “I was hungry and you gave Me a filled pantry.”  It’s less demanding than this.  “I was hungry and you gave Me food.”  It could be a morsel of bread, if that’s what we have, and He would honor the act.  He does not say, “I was thirsty and you dug Me a well.”  It’s less demanding than this.  “I was thirsty and you gave me drink.”  It could be a ladle of water, if that’s what we have, and again He would honor the act.  He does not say, “I was a stranger and you bought me a house.”  He would honor giving shelter in any place we might find space for one in need.  He does not say, “I was naked and you bought me a three-piece suit.”  If you have a sweat-suit to give, do it and He will honor the act!  He did not say, “I was sick and you healed me.”  All He seeks is for us to VISIT one who is ill, to bring comfort with the resource of the LOVE that is His within us.  He does not say, “I was in prison and you paid my bail.”  Again His instruction is to visit, to show love and compassion.

Do these simple things, and He will declare you to be a sheep!

Our Adult Study group has been reading from a book titled “The Spiritual Life” by St. Theophan the Recluse.  It is comprised of a series of letters exchanged between him and one of his spiritual children, apparently a priest’s wife.  And he also has a very simple means of explaining what our Lord expects of us.  He teaches this, “Is someone seeking help?  Help him!  Has someone offended you?  Forgive him!  Have you offended someone?  Rush to ask forgiveness and make peace.  Did someone praise you?  Don’t be proud.  Did someone scold you?  Do not be angry.  Is it time to pray?  Pray!  Work, etc., etc… Do this, and all of the problems of your life will be solved completely and satisfactorily.

Elsewhere he teaches this, “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 that God wants such a thing, then the work will be pleasing to God.”

When we look at the words of our Lord today, we come to understand His teaching us that the Judgment will not be by way of a vengeful God seeking to condemn His creatures.  Rather, it will be by way of us, the myriad of people, seeing what we’ve done, what we’ve failed to do, and recognizing for ourselves whether we should step to His right or His left.  Jesus says, “I can of Myself do nothing.  As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father Who sent Me.” (John 5:30).   We know that this is true by His words from today’s Gospel, wherein Jesus says to those at His left, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”  The Greek word for “cursed” is kat-ar-ah’-om-ahee, which carries the meaning “doomed”.  One translation uses the word “execrate” which means to have a great loathing for.  In response to this condemnation, what is the response from the goats?  Is it, “You’re wrong, Lord.  Let me think about how many innocents I helped during my life.”  But such things cannot be truthfully said by them.  The “books are opened,” and “the hidden things are disclosed.”  All truth is laid bare for every human ever born to see!  And so the only answer they have to offer to the sentence is, “When did we see YOU, Lord, hungry or thirsty or homeless or naked or sick or in prison and not minister to You?”  This is NOT a defense against the judgment.  Worse, it is not even a plea for mercy.  It is an attempt to continue, at the very judgment seat of Christ, to continue living in a manner that serves only self.

And so, their fate is sealed.

But what of the sheep?  See how their words to their Savior differ.  They ask the same question, using the same words, but the ending differs.  Instead of asking, “when did we NOT minister to You,” they instead ask, “when DID we minister to You?”  We don’t recall seeing you as we walked our daily path in the world.  How is it that You deign to bless us with favor?

And we know the answer.  It lay in the expression, “the least of these, My brethren.”  Again, the Greek word for “least” is el-akh’-is-tos, which carries the meaning “the very smallest.”  Jesus is saying to them that their efforts to give a cup of water, a morsel of bread, a place to sleep for a night, or a kind visiting word to one in need, these efforts are the ones that found as their target the Master.  In His loving words, Jesus establishes the fullness of “the brotherhood of mankind” with His expression, “the least of My brethren.”  Here, brethren is translated as ad-el-fos’, which being translated means to be connected “from the womb.”

St. Theophan says this about our efforts to follow the instruction of St. Nikolai that we opened with, our “labor for the salvation of the soul.”  His instruction is, “Just look around yourself each day and each hour; on whatever you see the seal of the commandment, carry it out immediately, in the belief that God Himself this very hour requires this work of you, and nothing else.” 

He further says, “(Worldly people) have in mind all mankind or at least all of its people lumped together.  The fact is, however, that ‘mankind’ or ‘the people’ does not exist as a person for whom you could do something right now.  It consists of individual persons: By doing something for one person, we are doing it within the general mass of humanity.”

Finally, we’ll close with this instruction.  “All troubles come from a mental outlook that is too broad.  It is better to humbly cast your eyes down toward your feet, and to figure out which step to take where.  This is the truest path.”

Being a sheep requires humility, putting oneself after others, and it requires that we focus on the needs of the one, not the many.  Thousands were present at the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus could have “said the word” and all would have been healed.  We have no such record of the Lord performing a “mass healing.”  Besides the ten lepers (Luke 17:11-19), we find the Lord healing one-on-one, and most often with words such as, “Go in peace. Your faith has made you well,” God the Son ascribing the miracle to the faith of the person, and not taking credit for it Himself.  Here is the definition of humility!

The Holy Church has now prepared us for what comes next week.  We’ve been led to developing the desire to move toward Christ from the account of Zacchaeus.  We’ve been taught that we must judge ourselves and not others from the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee.  We’ve been shown that we must find true repentance and carry it to the loving Father, Who waits for us to turn from our sin and return to Him.  Now we’ve been shown the end of our lives and how our dispensing mercy to those in need here will impact where we will be for all eternity.  These lessons have been provided to us – again – to prepare us for what comes next Sunday, the day when our desire to please God through our self-judgment brings our repentant heart before our brother and sister to seek their forgiveness, and in return to respond in mercy forgiving them.

The time grows short, my brothers and sister in Christ.  Let us not waste a day, an hour, a second in seeking to be a sheep!

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Sunday of the Prodigal

1Cor 6:12-20/ Luke 15:11-32

I was reading an essay written by Metropolitan Nektarios titled, “Why Don’t Miracles Happen to Everybody?”  His Eminence’s thesis carries us to places where the saints in faith call on God to heal another, but their prayers for themselves are answered by God saying, “No.”  Witness St. Paul asking for the “thorn in his side” to be taken from him, with God revealing to him, “My grace is sufficient for you.” (2Cor 12:9) And in this analysis, His Eminence carries us to an at least partial conclusion that sometimes troubles are allowed to rest upon us AS His “gift” – to teach us to even greater levels to depend upon Him.  A while back we read a book titled “Everyday Saints” by Archimandrite Tikhon.  It was a compilation of accounts of things he witnessed, just regular people, some monastics, some clergy, some laity, but all with incredible faith who called upon God and had prayers answered.  There are indeed “everyday saints,” but I submit to you that we don’t tend to see “everyday miracles.”  But, are they there?

Why this discussion here on this day, with the Parable of the Prodigal Son before us?  In our Lord’s account of this group of three, Father, elder and younger sons, we find the young one reckless, undisciplined, worldly.  There are more words we could apply to him, but we get the idea from these.  Fundamentally, he should have seen his life as complete and a blessing.  Instead, he viewed himself as oppressed, perhaps living under what he would have couched as an overbearing rule of his Father.  He wanted to be out from under the unperceived blessing.

There’s a warning for US in this analogy.  We, too, have received multiple blessings from God, blessings which we don’t often enough thank Him for, but even more often we don’t recognize as blessings.  And in the choices we make in our lives, we select things that, if only we’d prayed about in advance, if only we’d attempted to look at what God would find pleasing about the choices we need to make, we’d choose differently.  But we choose as “feels right”, don’t we!  And in going for “feeling” instead of “right”, we move further from the blessings the Father is already (and without our need to ask) providing for us.

That pantry full of food off the kitchen?  Do we thank God for letting it be filled to overflowing?  That car in the garage with the squeaky brakes?  Do we thank God for keeping the brakes from failing on us on our way home from work?  That job we complain about having to go to each day?  Do we thank God for providing it so that the roof we’re living under can keep us warm and dry?

You see, there are everyday blessings we don’t even notice.  And in those blessings, is it such a stretch to look at them as everyday miracles?

We think that everything just goes on within every day.  The store shelves are filled with food, and I can go there now, or tomorrow, or later this week and all the things I want or need I’ll be able to toss into a cart and bring home.  And we attribute this blessing all to ourselves.

But we saw when COVID hit how something as simple as toilet paper was taken from us.  Of all things God could use to get our attention – toilet paper!  If toilet paper can go away overnight, what else (that we depend upon) could disappear, totally outside of our personal control?  What if diesel fuel couldn’t be delivered?  What if the electric grid in our country was taken down by a solar flare?  The US power grid has gone down in widespread outages many times in our history, with outages lasting from hours to weeks.  What if whatever took the power out lasted longer still?

Are we seeing the idea that we receive blessings, gifts that God allows, every day without ever attributing to His divine providence their being allowed to continue?

In today’s parable, the prodigal refuses to see these gifts.  His youthful “wisdom” sees life better elsewhere, even though in that mysterious “elsewhere” there is no experience of what’s better or how it’s better. 

It is exactly about this perspective on rejection of God-given gifts that St. John of Kronstadt says, “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, 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, and by what shameful food it is nourished.”

And so in today’s parable, it’s not until the equivalent diesel disappearance happens that the Prodigal finds, “You know, things weren’t really all that bad with the Father….”

Saint John of Shanghai says, “God saves His fallen creatures by His own love for us, but our love for our Creator is also necessary; without it we cannot be saved.  Striving towards God and cleaving to the Lord by love in humility, the human soul obtains power to cleanse itself from sin and to strengthen itself for the struggle to complete victory over sin.”

The Prodigal came to understand what both St. John’s are teaching.  In his need the Prodigal discovered the humility necessary to repent, to confess to his Father all that he had done, and to further show the extent of that humility, he concludes that he is no longer worthy of being seen as his Father’s son, but only as a “hired servant.” 

This is one lesson in love from today’s parable – the love necessary FROM us TOWARD God.  But the second lesson is even more important, and that is the lesson of love FROM God towards us, even in the depths of our sins.

It is in the context of this second lesson that we come to understand God loving us enough to allow us to choose to reject His love.  The Prodigal did, and by the grace of God he “came to himself” (reacquired his moral sense of direction) and found that all of his thinking had been anti-Father, pro-world, but NOT pro-love.  Love was with the Father.  The world has no love to give.  The world only takes.  And what the Prodigal discovered (and this is a lesson that many of us, myself included, need to still come to learn) is that even in “giving” to us, the world is taking more than it gives.  “Come, watch 4 hours of TV tonight….”  At what expense?  I could have prayed for my neighbor.  I could have read scripture and grown in spirit.  I could have volunteered at the food bank.  “Take the evening and go shopping….”  For what?  What do I truly need that I don’t already have?  What will I do with more?  Who could make better use of the amount I’d spend on something I don’t need?  “Isn’t this supper tasty?  Go and get another helping…..”  Why?  Isn’t what I’ve already eaten enough to sustain me?  Who could be fed by what remains who may not be able to find food?

Can we see that the world “takes” by “giving”???

But let’s get back to the love of the Father.  It took many years for the implications of the words our Lord gifts to us in this parable to reach down into my own soul and grab me.  Jesus says, “When (the Prodigal) was still a great way off, his Father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.”  Within this one sentence is a doctoral thesis on the love of the Father!  The Prodigal is still a great way off, and yet the Father’s eyes are searching, seeking His lost sheep.  The eyes of an old man should be dim.  Not the Father’s!  He sees His son at a great distance.  And Jesus says He had compassion.  The Greek word used is splanch-ni’-zo-mai, and it goes deeper than just compassion to a meaning of “having a yearning from the bowels”, from the depth of His Spirit.  God’s love for us, even in knowing the depth of our sins, is THIS kind of love!  It’s a love so deep and so complete and so full that even as the Prodigal is giving voice to his repentance, the Father is commanding His servants to bring – to put a robe on him, to put a ring on his finger, to give him shoes, and to prepare a feast in celebration.  It’s not that the Father ignores the Prodigal’s repentance.  Rather, He knows it already, and His joy in the return, the repentance of His son, cannot be contained.  Just earlier in this same chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke the Lord says, “I say to you that there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7)  This joy is clearly not limited to the angels – by the parable we come to know that it extends to the Father Himself!

My brothers and sisters in Christ:  All of us are prodigals.  Different in so many ways, we still are wanderers in a land far from the Father.  As the Holy Church gives us these gifts of reminders, let us allow them to soften our hearts to the message of repentance, and offer prayers for ourselves worthy of the fruits of that repentance, worthy of one for whom the Father is waiting – patiently, with the fullness that is the Love of God – with open arms to receive us again as alive!

Glory to Jesus Christ!