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 2, 2022

Incarnation

02Dec2022

The importance of the Lord's Incarnation cannot be overstated.  Without God's plan of salvation including His taking on our flesh and delivering it from the corruption which we chose by rejecting His love, there is no hope for eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven.

John 1:14 sums up the Incarnation in a very few eloquent words.  "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."  

God the Son, the Word, chooses to conform Himself to our flesh.  Why?  So that in so doing He may establish the path for us to conform ourselves to Him!

St. Gregory Palamas teaches this:  “God emptied Himself in an indescribable way, came down from on high to the lowest state of man’s nature, and indissolubly linked it with Himself…He gathered both things into one, mingling humanity with divinity, and by so doing He taught everyone that humility is the road which leads upwards.”  ("On the Entry of the Theotokos to the Holy of Holies")  How infinitely did God humble Himself, taking on our flesh, to teach us the need to seek the path of humility ourselves, to deny ourselves, taking up the comparitively insignificant cross He has given to each of us so that we may choose to take up that cross and to follow Him!

St. Paul teaches, "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.  Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified." (Rom 8:29-30)  Do not misconstrue 'predestined' with having no choice.  God always gives us free will to choose to follow Him or to reject Him.  'Predestined' is a word used to indicate His foreknowledge of the choices we will freely make.  

In exercising our free will, we are to seek to redefine ourselves into that image of God the Son, the image of the One Who came to love, to heal, to redeem, to comfort, to serve.  With the exception of remaining sinless, He has equipped us with all tools required to seek to follow Him in all these things.  And through His grace, He blesses us to seek that perfection He shows in Himself.  "Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect."  (Mat 5:48)  The follow-on teaching is equally important.  "Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will."  (Eph 1:4-5)

As we together walk the path of these remaining 23 days before the birth of the Savior in the flesh, let us also together seek with every step we take to step toward the Kingdom, not straying from it.  The world has always been a dangerous place.  Some see it as even more dangerous today than ever.  For those who seek to do God's will, danger must not be a concern.  When we pray, "Thy will be done," we must pray it and mean it with all our heart.  If we pray that His will be done, it has deeper meaning.  Jesus teaches, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven." (Mat 7:21)

I beg all of us, ignore "shopping days until Christmas," and focus rather on "days left to repent before encountering God in the flesh."  The Star is already shining in the east.  Wise men and women will choose to follow it to find our God laying humbly in a feeding trough present to feed His own dumb animals.  For even they share of what they have with God Who comes to save the world.  He comes to save you and me.  To save those we love.  To save those who do not love us.  To save those we know and those we don't.  In short, He comes to save all mankind, all who will use their God-given free will to choose to follow Him in humility, in faith, and in love.

Monday, November 28, 2022

And the Multitude Rejoiced....

Sermonette on Luke 13:10-17  

  There’s a curmudgeonly expression in our language that says, “No good deed goes unpunished.”  If it is true, then our Lord is the most punished person in the history of the world, for all He accomplished were “good deeds”.

Think of it.  Consider all the myriad of people whom our Lord encountered in the three-year ministry we know of.  Can we find one who was harmed?

You will say, “What of the rich young man whom Jesus instructed to sell all that he had?  Wasn’t he ‘harmed’?”  The response would be, “Certainly NOT!”  He was given the great blessing to exchange a small amount of earthly blessings (regardless of how massive his riches might have been) for the promise of eternal and unlimited blessings in becoming a follower of our Lord!  He chose to reject a great blessing.  He left in sadness, when he was given the opportunity, like today’s multitude, to leave rejoicing!

Perhaps the issue is that we live wearing spiritual ‘blinders’ - you know, those things put on horses’ eyes so they can only see what lay ahead, not to the sides.  Only in our case, the ‘blinders’ block our view of what has happened before and what our Lord has promised us will happen ahead.  We see today—only. 

We all know people who seem to never have a good day.  When we encounter them, we almost fear to ask them, “How are you?”, because we don’t want to deal with the barrage of complaints that we know will follow.  It’s likely the reason for our developing a persistent negativity towards such people is summed up on a lyric from a 70’s song from Jackson Browne that says, “Maybe people only ask you, ‘How ya doin?’ 'cause it’s easier than lettin' on how little they could care.”  Society indicted!

But what of us?  Where and when do WE find rejoicing?  The question is framed for the days we find ourselves within, because without joy there is no giving of thanks.

Metropolitan Joseph wrote this past week an Archpastoral message to all of us, his spiritual children.  He began that message with words from Elder Thaddaeus which teach the following.  “God has given us everything, but we are always unsatisfied and gloomy. Instead of thanking and praising God for everything, we only express our thankfulness with our lips, and our hearts remain cold. Joy is thankfulness, and when we are joyful, that is the best expression of thanks we can offer the Lord, Who delivers us from sorrow and sin.”

If we are honest with ourselves and if we see ourselves in the light of the Gospels, then in the hierarchy of thankfulness, deliverance from sin has to rank in the number one position.  And for one who has been delivered from his (or her) countless sins, how can sorrow, except over our sins, be a part of us?  Being delivered from them must result in the greatest joy…

And if this happens to enough of us, then truly, on this day and on all subsequent days, we, the multitudes, will rejoice!

As we prepare for the coming in the flesh of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in four short weeks, let us individually and collectively recognize the ever present Reason for rejoicing.  For our God has chosen, beyond our human ability to understand the miracle, to assume our flesh, to become one of us, and to deliver us from our sins.

“But let all those rejoice who put their trust in You; Let them ever shout for joy, because You defend them; Let those also who love Your name Be joyful in You.” (Ps 5:11)

Happy Thanksgiving 2022!

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Entry of Theotokos #2

Feast of the Entry of the Theotokos

Heb 9:1-7/Luke 10:38-42, 11:27-28

21Nov22

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

It’s a glorious Feast!

My brothers and sisters in Christ:

Today, the Mother of our Lord, the Mother of God, is brought by her parents to the Temple.  She who is to be the temple which houses her own Creator, who weaves for Him a human body so that God the Son can fully share in our humanity, comes to dwell in the very presence of God, within the House He instructed to be built as His dwelling place on earth.

 We know the story.  We know of Joachim and Anna, of their barrenness, of God’s gift in answering their prayer for a child, of their promise to dedicate that child, be it male or female, to the service of God, and of their honoring that promise on this day by taking the Theotokos to the House of God.  At the tender age of three, they set the child on the ground, and she runs to the temple, not regarding the leaving of her parents as a loss, but even at the age of three seeing living in the presence of God as a gain.  If only more of us had the wisdom of this three year old!

In Vespers, when we sing the Aposticha in Tone 3, the Theotokion which ends the Aposticha says, “By the will of the Father, without seed, of the Holy Spirit, you conceived the Son of God!  He was born of the Father before eternity without a mother.  But now, for our sake, He came from you without a father!  Do not cease entreating Him to deliver our souls from harm.”  In the Feast’s hymnology we proclaim the Theotokos to be a tabernacle, a living Ark and temple, pointing to her as the Ark of the Covenant, the place which from ancient times was seen as the seat of God, that which on earth could ‘contain’ Him.  In the Proskomedia we speak of the Virgin with these words: “for in the cave, the Tree of Life has blossomed forth from the Virgin.  For her womb has been shown to be a spiritual Paradise, in which is the Divine Plant, from which having eaten, we will live and not die as did Adam.”

As we ponder all these words, we come to see that the Mother of God is a focal point for all times.  It is she who divides that which comes in the eternity of Christ before He took on our flesh from that which comes after He did so.  And in His being truly God, and therefore truly immortal and without time, the Second Person of the Trinity existed fully at the Creation, in heaven and eternally with the Father and the Spirit.  God in Trinity created all things by His Word, and the Word, as Saint John teaches in his Gospel Chapter 1, is Christ.  It is by Him that all things were created.  And so the Creator of the world begins the process of creation by engendering all that would become necessary for His taking on our flesh before He completes creation, for He knows our fall is coming, He knows that it must be by His own action that His creation, fallen mankind, will be restored to that place for which He is creating us.

We are confused by these kinds of terms, wherein we speak of things accomplished which have not yet happened, or things that have happened as if they are in the present.  But this is the realm of God.  Being timeless Himself, such terms as these are not inconsistent with His being.  He has effected Creation, and this is His means of providing for our salvation within His Grand Design.

God provides on this day a 3 year old child.  He will keep her, providing for her within His Temple for three times three, or nine more years, so that at the age of twelve she will be sent to be betrothed to a man whom God already has chosen to be her caretaker.  In those nine short years this child whom we come to honor today will speak with the angels, be taught by them, and literally be fed by their hands – both physically and spiritually.  She will witness things of which men cannot speak.  She will come to be so comfortable with the mingling of the temporal, the earthly, with that which is eternal that when the Archangel Gabriel comes to her at the Feast of the Annunciation to pronounce the beginning of our salvation by her taking God within her pure and virginal flesh, she will not be frightened by his coming, by his pronouncement of the miracle, or by the prospects of what might come as a result.  Nor will she view as something impossible his proclamation of an event that has no example in all of human history, that of a virgin birth.  His arrival will seem normal, a natural thing to her.  In these nine years within the temple, the Theotokos will come to accept God’s will as her own will.  She will see no reason for her life not to conform totally to His requests of her.  She will have no fear of the things God asks her to do, for at the tender age of twelve, she will already understand that God’s will should and must be done.

As Orthodox Christians, we come to understand “things” differently from others.  We come to understand things inside the Church as “holy” – set aside for God’s purpose, not for the use of people in general.  The word we use is "consecrated."  We would never place the chalice onto a dinner table to be used for a common drink at a meal.  In fact, we come to view the chalice as something holy in and of itself, so much so in fact that the un-ordained do not even dare to touch it, with the exception of venerating it when offered at the time of Communion.

Is there something different about the metal used to fashion the Chalice?  The metal itself is common.  Sometimes we attempt to make it appear to us to be more precious by coating it in gold, or by adorning it with jewels.  But the metal remains common.  The gold or jewels make it more pleasant to the human eye, but do not alter in the least the Divine function of the vessel.  The metal remains common until it is consecrated, set aside for use in holding the precious Body and Blood of our Lord.  It is the association with the physical touch of Christ that makes the common metal into something uncommon, even unearthly – heavenly.

If the Body and Blood of our Lord does this to a piece of common metal, what does it accomplish within our own bodies?  He did not come to save common metal.  He came, he took on our flesh, He brought about today’s uncommon child to be brought into His temple so that she, like the metal of the chalice, could be consecrated, set apart from that which is common for an uncommon purpose.

He has already accomplished this with the Theotokos.  He came to receive flesh from her body so that He might save all of us from our sins, and from that which is present in this world that seeks to keep us nothing more than “common” people.  Jesus comes and calls us to ourselves be uncommon, to be holy, to be set aside from worldly things, to be consecrated, sanctified to His purpose and His will, in our lives, and in this world.

Within her virginal womb, the Theotokos will literally set in place the Body and Blood of our Lord.  They are created through Him, for Him, through her.  If our communion is truly His Body and precious Blood, then they are truly present within her from conception. 

Common things do not detract from that which is Holy.  But that which is Holy can transform that which is common into that which is also Holy.  That which is Holy, when it contacts something common, makes the common itself Holy.  We are here this day to become yet more uncommon ourselves, to become more holy.  Like the Mother of God, we have come to our own temple.  We have ascended to the place where God dwells even today in our midst.  He is here - as simple and austere, and “common” as this building might seem to others.  He is here to give to us the gift of being able to make ourselves less common compared with that which is of the world, and having more in common with that which is Godly, more holy.  It is for this purpose that our Savior has set aside today this three year old child, blessing and sanctifying her so that through her voluntary consent to bear Him, He might bring Himself into this world, exactly for this purpose, to save us from our sins.

As we contemplate this pure child, who in joy ascends the steps to the sanctuary, a child whose purity desires nothing more than to be in the presence of her God, let us attempt to share in that purity, and then in that love of God above all else, so that we may also share in her desire to be in His presence – forever!  

It’s a glorious Feast!

Monday, November 21, 2022

Entry of the Theotokos

   If a tree is known by its fruit, and a good tree bears good fruit (Mt. 7:17; Lk. 6:44), then is not the Mother of Goodness Itself, She who bore the Eternal Beauty, incomparably more excellent than every good, whether in this world or the world above? Therefore, the coeternal and identical Image of goodness, Preeternal, transcending all being, He Who is the preexisting and good Word of the Father, moved by His unutterable love for mankind and compassion for us, put on our image, that He might reclaim for Himself our nature which had been dragged down to uttermost Hades, so as to renew this corrupted nature and raise it to the heights of Heaven. For this purpose, He had to assume a flesh that was both new and ours, that He might refashion us from out of ourselves. Now He finds a Handmaiden perfectly suited to these needs, the supplier of Her own unsullied nature, the Ever-Virgin now hymned by us, and Whose miraculous Entrance into the Temple, into the Holy of Holies, we now celebrate. God predestined Her before the ages for the salvation and reclaiming of our kind. She was chosen, not just from the crowd, but from the ranks of the chosen of all ages, renowned for piety and understanding, and for their God-pleasing words and deeds.

So begins a homily on todays Feast of the Presentation of the Mother of God in the Temple by St. Gregory Palamas.

It is fortuitous that this Feast comes one week into the Nativity Fast.  For we find ourselves in ‘new territory’.  Not that we haven’t fasted before, not that the season is unfamiliar to us, not even that what lay ahead is not totally known. Rather, the unknown territory is our encounter with things Divine, and attempting to embrace them with human arms and hearts—fleshly members not suited to the task, attempting to understand things which are beyond our understanding.

“What things Divine?”, you ask.

How is it that this child finds such favor with God?  How is it possible that a small female is carried by a priest into the Holy of Holies, a place into which he himself is not permitted to go on this day according to the Law of Moses?  The Holy Spirit will not come until the day of Pentecost, some roughly 40 years or more into the future, and yet He works here today—in the Temple, and dwells caring for the ‘throne’ of the King Whom He knows is coming.  How is this possible?  How is it that God the Son will come forth from her body?  How is it that God will allow Himself to be contained in a human body.  How can God allow Himself to submit that body to human death?

Today’s Troparion teaches openly, “Today is the prelude of the good will of God…”  God’s good will extends to His creation to create the means by which He will take on our flesh.  He of His own free will chooses to put on that which by our sins we have caused to be fallen, our human nature.  Today’s child is His means by which He will fulfill His divine plan of salvation, not for one, not for the few.  His plan for salvation He makes available to all who choose to seek Him with their whole heart.  The Theotokos is the “divine plant” from which God’s life-giving food will spring forth for all of mankind.

Five weeks from this day we will encounter that fruit, that divine plant, which proceeds from the flesh of the Mother of God.  Let us, like the angels and the virgins, rejoice in today’s prelude.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Go And Do Likewise (Luke 10:25-37)

 There is so much we can learn about dealing with troublesome people if only we pay attention to our Lord’s interactions with those who routinely confronted him.

In today’s Gospel, St. Luke records that “A certain lawyer stood up and tested Him…”  The word ‘tested’ here in the original Greek is ekpeirazo, which translates perhaps better to the word ‘tempted’.  We connect the word ‘temptation’ to our Lord when we think of His 40 days fast in the desert, and the encounter with Satan at the end.  But certainly as we read the Gospels, temptation (as we’d define it for any human being) continued throughout the Lord’s recorded ministry.  It was there in every encounter with the Pharisees, with people who pressed Him for healings, and truth be told, even with the Apostles.  So today’s event with the lawyer is not unusual.

As this temptation is levied toward the Lord, see how He turns it from being directed AT Him to being a test for the one who began by attempting to test Jesus.  “What is written in the law?  How do YOU read it?”

In the ensuing response, the lawyer indeed replies properly.  Jesus responds to the man’s reply with the Greek word orthos, meaning ‘right’, and being the word that serves as the root of the name we take for ourselves—Orthodox, ‘right belief’!

But the man’s response, while praised by Jesus as technically correct lacks foundational understanding.  He makes this clear by asking, “Who is my neighbor?” 

Please don’t lose sight of the fact that this ‘temptation’ from the lawyer is continuing here!  And note carefully how our Lord responds to the temptation.

He does not chide.  He does not accuse.  He does not ridicule.  He does not even ignore.  He teaches.  He does this lovingly!

And in the process, Jesus not only addresses the temptation, He turns it into a lesson intended to truly change the lawyer’s understanding, even to the extent of gifting to him the ability through acceptance of the teaching to change his very life, both present AND eternal!  And at the same time, His teaching reaches beyond the lawyer, and provides a lesson to all of humanity for all times.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan looks at the human condition, admits the fallenness of us as a people (sin exists in the world and it affects all people), teaches that there come times when we as individuals are the victim, and there are times when we are blessed to have the ability and the resources to help the victim.  In so teaching US, the parable shows that there is no shame in accepting help when we are in need, and there is no glory in withholding help when we have the ability to give it.

The people whose history (the priest and the Levite) should have had them conditioned to be merciful "passed by" and withheld that mercy.  The foreigner who had no benefit of prophets or forefather’s history to instruct in the benefit and necessity of being merciful, he is the one who is moved to help his fellow man.

God, give us the grace to to be merciful with all who are in need, as was the Samaritan.  Lord, give us also the humility to accept help when we are the ones who are in need!

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

On Prayer

Of all approaches to God, prayer is the best and in the last analysis the only means. In the act of prayer the human mind finds its noblest expression.  The mental state of the scientist engaged in research, of the artist creating a work of art, of the thinker wrapped up in philosophy - even of professional theologians propounding their doctrines - cannot be compared to that of the man of prayer brought face to Face with the living God.  Each and every kind of mental activity presents less of a strain than prayer.  We may be capable of working for ten or twelve hours on end, but a few moments of prayer and we are exhausted.

Archimandrite Sophrony, "His Life is Mine, Ch. 6, SVS Press pgs 55-56.

Monday, November 7, 2022

Attention Deficit?

   It’s a subject we hear all too much about.  Truth be told, some of us (well, OK—me!) think it’s something of a cop-out that we apply to our children because of our OWN failures in disciplining them.  But let’s move from ‘today’ to the content of today’s Gospel (Luk 8:41-56).

In today's Gospel, our Lord has just left Gadara after healing poor Legion.  As He and the Apostles returned from this trip, St. Luke records, So it was, when Jesus returned, that the multitude welcomed Him, for they were all waiting for Him. 

Waiting for Him—for what?  From what we see in today’s Gospel, the crowd had one singular focus—healing.  All of the teaching that our Lord has shared with them; Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand; Love your neighbor as yourself;  Love those who hate you;  Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; all of these things are lost in the ‘attention’ of the masses.  The attention deficit of the crowds is this singular focus on “my” needs.

This is not to say that it is wrong in any way to seek God for our health and well-being.  It rather emphasizes how a crowd of people can be turned from waiting on the Lord’s arrival and return out of love and respect for Him to being a people willing to shout, “Crucify Him!”

But let’s also look at the encounters (two) in today’s Gospel which also seem superficially to point to our Lord having His attention divided.

Jairus comes to Christ with a fervent and urgent plea.  St. Mark records that Jairus comes before Jesus and says, “My little daughter lies at the point of death.  Come and lay Your hands on her, that she may be healed, and she will live.”  Jairus expresses the fervent belief that Jesus can and will heal his poor child.

Was Jairus the only one in this crowd who desired with all his being to garner the Lord’s attention?  Far from it, for we know that the woman with the issue of blood was there as well.  But her faith is undoubtedly no less than that of Jairus, for she expresses openly when called out by Jesus that she KNEW that (again from St. Mark) “If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well.”

And so, she touches the Lord.  We don’t know how easy or difficult her effort was.  We know there were crowds, and we can only imagine the ‘wall of humanity’ that pressed upon the Lord, a condition that the Apostles attested to when Jesus asked the apparent ridiculous question, Who touched Me?  It’s Peter who responds to the non-sequitur with the response, “Master, the multitudes throng and press You.  How can You ask, ‘Who touched Me?’”

All this time, poor Jairus stands by, humble, silent, knowing that he RUSHED to find the Lord because he knew that his little girl was literally at the point of death.

But he waits—patiently.  Still focused on HIS need, but patiently.

While it might seem that our Lord’s attention is divided, it isn’t.  He continues to teach by calling out the woman so that she can offer testimony to her faith and its power to garner God’s blessing while knowing all the time that Jairus’ little girl was in fact dying.

And in this knowledge, Jesus now gives Jairus to express (even if done without words) his own depth of faith.  For those come from his house telling him not to “bother the Master” because his daughter is now dead.  Jesus offers words to comfort and encourage.  “Do not be afraid; only believe, and she will be made well.” 

No, the Lord did not lose focus.  His attention was firmly on the salvation of all involved—the woman, Jairus, the people who heard the woman’s testimony, the nay-sayers in Jairus’ house who ridiculed Jesus for saying, “Do not weep, she is not dead, but sleeping.”  Jesus accomplished what was needed and best for all of these.

WE sometimes lose attention as we read these accounts.  We sometimes feel ‘qualified’ to question God, His decisions, His methods, His working amongst His people.

This is a deficit that is OUR problem—NOT His!

 

Monday, October 31, 2022

Suffering

It’s a topic we don’t like to deal with.  Our perspective is typically one that rejects suffering as having any relation with spiritual healing, let alone viewing suffering as a blessing.

suf-er-ing: n; bearing pain, distress, or injury.

Each of us must endure suffering at some time during our lives.  Suffering can be focused on self (where the hurt is directly inflicted upon us), or it can be associated with others (loved ones afflicted, and we share in their suffering).  Regardless, it happens.  We live in a fallen world, and until Christ returns and perfection reigns again, suffering will remain.

There’s a wonderful little book entitled “The Meaning of Suffering and Strife and Reconciliation” written by Archimandrite Seraphim Alexiev.  He begins the book with Scripture:

My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of His correction; for whom the Lord loves, He chastens; and scourges every son whom He receives. (Prov 3:11-12 and Heb 12:6)

From this beginning Fr. Seraphim teaches God’s intention for His creation—mankind.  He asks, “Where do we see man for the first time?  In Paradise!... Man was intended for Paradise, and not for hell.” 

Indeed, the Lord permits suffering to come upon us to help us find our way towards Him, seeking His help in enduring and/or overcoming the adversity brought about by suffering.

In our readings for Adult Study this past week, St. John Chrysostom teaches that adversity and suffering help us to focus our spiritual efforts on seeking the good.  He says in part this:

An eye was given in order that you may behold the creation and glorify the Master.  If you do not use the eye well, it becomes to you the minister of adultery.  A tongue was given that you might speak well and praise the Creator.  If you are heedless, it becomes a cause of blasphemy.  Hands were given to stretch forth in prayer, but if you are not wary, to stretch them out to covetousness…. Do you see that all things hurt the weak man?

Adversity, suffering do not need to sap our spiritual strength.  As St. John points out, they WILL do so if our focus is to blame, to make excuse, to ask God “Why me?” instead of laboring to overcome by seeking His divine help to strengthen us, to bless us to overcome our weaknesses.

In today’s Gospel reading, poor Legion is a man who suffers greatly.  Is he weak in suffering?  Those around him tried to hold him fast with chains and fetters, but he broke free of them.  His suffering was not manifested in physical weakness.  He suffered from spiritual warfare, demons too many in number for his human spirit to overcome them without the help of God!  Only when Jesus comes does his life change.  St. Luke records that Legion fell down before (Jesus).  The Gospel of St. Mark is more detailed than this, saying When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshipped Him.  The man’s spirit was not dead—it was constrained by the demons.  But Legion did not allow his suffering to overcome his desire for deliverance, and for ultimate salvation.

We should recall the words of St. Paul as he wrote, We glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character, and character, hope.  Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit Who was given to us. (Rom 5:3-5)

Lord, allow the sufferings we are called to endure to produce within us such character and hope that through all of them, we give glory to You Who loves us!

Monday, October 24, 2022

The True Meaning of "Memory Eternal"

 In today’s Gospel reading (Luke 16:19-31), we encounter the only scriptural reference to parable of Lazarus and the rich man.  It is not to be found in the Gospels of Sts. Matthew or Mark. 

It is ultimately a parable that displays openly how human selfishness causes our inhumanity.

The thing to focus on initially is the similarity of “the rich man” to the average person on the street today (meaning me…).  He is not shown by our Lord’s words to be evil.  We don’t know that he had any ‘enemies’ to speak of.  What he had was more than necessary to serve his own needs.  He had been blessed by God such that he had more than ample provisions.  St. Luke’s recounting of our Lord’s words say that the man “was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day.”  The Greek word translated as ‘sumptuously’ carries a meaning of ‘in luxury’.  The imagery our Lord’s words impart is that the man lived as many in the world around us do in our own time.  Caviar and champagne are not luxuries, they are necessities to some.  And it is not adequate to wear a shirt.  It must carry an emblem that causes it to retail at 20-50 times the price of what might be considered ‘normal.’  We know the categories of people being referenced here in the world around us.

But we’re also surrounded with people like poor Lazarus. 

If one looks at statistics about hunger throughout the world, you’ll find such items as this:  For the poorest 10% of the world’s population, the average daily food consumption is less than 1400 kcal/day; For the richest 10% of the world’s population, the average daily food consumption is more than 3800 kcal/day.  The conclusion?  The rich eat 2.7 times more than the poor.  One ‘expert’ report we read suggested that it would take about $13 billion to ‘solve’ world hunger—not just for one time to give the hungry food, but to adjust agricultural and economic conditions so that these people could sustain themselves from that time forward.  Think of it.  $13 billion.  Is the figure believable?  Even if it's off by a factor of 10:1, so what?  Our government frivolously spent dozens of times that amount on something they called “stimulus”!  Can we not see that we, as a people, are behaving like the parable’s rich man, and the world around us is poor Lazarus?

And truth be told, if we’re looking to compare ourselves with either of the people in the parable, we’re without doubt the rich man.

This same survey can be found on a website called worldhunger.fund.  If one studies their statistics only superficially, you’ll find that Americans spend an average of 7% of their average $53k income on food.  That means that 93% of all income is spent on ‘other’.  On the same chart if one looks at the people of Haiti, for instance, they spend 50% of their average $1k income on food.  We spend $3700 on food, they $500, in a year.

Speaking societally, we walk past poor Lazarus every day without sharing from the bounty God has given us.

“Father, what can WE as individuals do about this?”  The answer is, “Do what we can.”  Speak out publicly for those programs which benefit those in the greatest need.  Speak against programs which feed more to those who already have.  Make this real in our own lives by doing what our Lord has already commanded us to do—to care for the least of His brethren, to love those who are our enemies, to build and not tear down, to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” (Mat 6:23)

We don’t have to become Lazarus to find God’s favor.  We just need to become far less like the rich man.  We need to care for others.  We need to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Lazarus’ name is known to us because he within the Parable found favor with God, Who knew him by name.  This is the meaning of "Memory eternal", to be known by name to God.  The path to salvation is to be one of His sheep, known to Him - by name.

Monday, October 17, 2022

That Seeing, They May Not See

  We believe that we are an intelligent people.  We certainly know that there are others who are smarter than we are, but for the most part we consider ourselves to be “above the norm.”

And so, when new thoughts, ideas, concepts are presented to us, we again think ourselves able to judge good from bad, right from wrong.

In today’s Gospel (Luke 8:5-15) our Lord presents “the Parable of the Sower.”  With our ‘experience’ in hearing this so many times before, we have the understanding that the Apostles didn’t have, a lack of understanding that forced them to ask the Lord, “What does this parable mean?”

Given their question, we should NOT jump to a conclusion that we are above the Apostles’ level of understanding!

But let’s break down the Lord’s answer to them about the parable’s meaning.

Jesus says, “The seed is the word of God.”  And so in our lack of humility we say to ourselves, “OK—got it!  You (Jesus) are the Sower, and You are spreading the word of God.  That’s really a pretty simple concept.”

And in so thinking, we place ourselves amongst the group that really doesn’t understand!  How so?

The seed is the word of God.  It’s presented with a lower case “w” - word.  But our Lord is the Word of God.  His personification is that which delivers the Word of God to His creation.  And so in a very special way, the ‘seed’ is the Word, the ‘seed’ is Jesus Himself being spread to the world.

But it goes deeper than even this.  For what IS ‘seed’?

In the parable, we come to understand that this seed is expected by the Sower to take root and to grow, to bear fruit.  What is this fruit?  From a simplistic perspective one might conclude that it is a source of multiplication, to produce more seed, more fruit.  And there’s nothing wrong with that perspective.

But IF the seed that is being planted is the Word, then what is being planted is Christ Himself.  It is He Who is placing Himself into the soil, that is our soul, and giving us what is required to allow Him to grow within us.

Which brings us to the root (no pun intended) of the parable.  Our hearts, our intellects, our spirits are the soil into which the Word, the Seed, is being sown.

The Parable’s ‘teaching moment’ is one that never ends.  It continuously asks each of us the question, “How’s YOUR dirt today?”  You see, the Word never stops coming upon us.  The Word is sewn as seed to us by our reading Scripture, by our studying the Holy Fathers, by our encountering beggars in the streets, by our favorably responding to pleas for financial support for worthy causes, by our being placed into situations where we feel the call to stand up and speak for the truth.

The extent to which “our dirt” is aligned with the Parable’s “good ground” can be measured by our responses to these (and many other) situations.

The Parable of the Sower presents four (4) places into which the Sower allowed seed to fall.  Only one of those four is favorable.  Three of the four are failures.  We will recall our Lord’s words from Mat 22:14—”For many are called, but few are chosen.”  Is MY dirt the one that bears fruit?

Do we REALLY see yet?  Time runs short!

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Honor the Sheepdog

Today let us speak to the issues plaguing our country with respect to war, violence, and the people who have the integrity and drive to attempt to protect us.  If we’re honest with ourselves, we find ourselves beset with concerns about how things are going.  It prompts anxiety, fear, a sense of having no where to turn for safety.

There’s a young mother who once told this story.  “It was one of the worst days of my life.  The washing machine broke.  The telephone was repeatedly ringing from bill collectors.  I had a headache.  When I opened the mailbox I found more bills, all of this with a bank account that was empty.  At the breaking point, I lifted my one-year-old son into his high chair to feed him, but could only muster the strength to lay my head onto his tray, where I began to cry.  Without a sound, my son took the pacifier from his mouth and gently pushed it into mine…”

You see, we all need others to help us!  They just have to be the kind of people motivated by God to live as helpers.

I don’t know how many of you have spent time away from home – I’m sure most of us have.  But I mean time really away – not a two-hour drive, not a phone call away, but away – in a place where you can’t reach your loved ones, a place from which you can only hold onto your hopes and prayers that God will allow you to be restored to your family when the time comes.  I offer these thoughts not from the perspective of a soldier who has spent time in the trenches.  Rather, my own frame of reference comes from being sent for several weeks (only) to places that are halfway around the world.  And I can tell you that while in such a place, there is apprehension.  Prayers are offered to keep the world safe until one can, by God’s grace, be returned and reunited with family.  The things that go through the mind are terrible.  What if there were to be another terror attack?  What if situations were to deteriorate rapidly because of some lunatic holding a nuclear button in Iran or Pakistan or Russia?  What if?  And the ‘what if”s’ lead to worry, concern, and if truth be told, sometimes even a sense of fear – fear of the evil that’s in the world, the evil against which we have as a defense only our prayers. 

We must wonder if those same sensations are what become part of the daily life of someone in the military who has committed to a full year away, not only in a foreign land, but in a land where there are people who are indeed daily trying to kill you, to send you home in such a way that your only hope of seeing your loved ones again is in the Resurrection.  How much more amplified must their feelings be, their worries, their concerns, their fears?

And yet we, as Americans, have young men and women (some of us here have relatives or friends who fall into this category) who willingly volunteer to go, to endure these things.  They are God-appointed “helpers”.  Why?  Why would anyone elect to place himself or herself into such troubled surroundings for such a long time?  We, of course, pray for the peace of the world.  And our prayers do help to preserve that peace.  But ultimately, sometimes, even though we might pray and choose otherwise, we as a people must engage in battles, in warfare, in the taking of lives to defend our country.  Every time it happens, it brings about a polarization of our society – those opposed to killing and war at any cost, and those who support defending our interests for the sake of preserving our “way of life.”  Even this last statement, “preserving our way of life”, is offensive to some of our own people, who would argue that this way of life is not worth preserving at the expense of taking the lives of others whom they would describe as innocent.

So, where is truth?  What is right?  What should we, as Orthodox Christians, pray for?  Should we pray for victory of our troops?  Should we pray for an end to all war?  Before we try to answer these valid and important questions, let me share with you some excerpts from a book titled “Sheepdogs” written by Colonel Dave Grossman, who is a former Army Ranger/paratrooper, and a West Point graduate.  He is considered by many to be one of the world’s foremost experts on human aggression and the psychology of combat.  The book is filled with a wealth of insight into human perception, human reaction, and I believe our own necessary response to threatening situations.

The beginning premise is that most of us are sheep – kind, gentle, and we only hurt one another by accident.  He justifies this conclusion by referencing the murder rate at 6 per 100,000 per year, and the assault rate as 4 per 1000 per year, indicating that the vast majority of us are not inclined to hurt one another.  He solidifies his position with the statistic that 2 million Americans are victims of some kind of violent crime each year – a number which should trouble us – but there are over 300 million of us.  In short, within our society, violence is rare amongst the sheep.

By designating us as sheep, no negative connotation is intended.  Colonel Grossman says that the sheep need to be viewed like a pretty blue robin’s egg.  The inside is soft and fertile and some day it will grow into something wonderful.  But the egg cannot survive without that hard, blue shell.  The shell is the egg’s security in a dangerous world.  For us sheep, that shell is our police, fire, and military personnel.  Those who would destroy the egg and eat the contents are the wolves.  The shell is the sheepdog.

Colonel Grossman describes himself as one of the sheepdogs.  His definition says that he lives to protect the flock and to confront the wolf.  He cites a sign from a police station which reads, “We intimidate those who intimidate others.”

So, if you have no capacity for violence, you’re a sheep.  If you have a certain capacity for violence, but absolutely no concern for your fellow citizens, you’re a wolf.  If you have a capacity for violence and a love for your fellow citizens, you’re a sheepdog.  He says that “Warriors have been given the gift of aggression,” but that they would no more misuse this gift than a doctor would misuse his or her gift of healing.  Still, the warriors, the sheepdogs, accept a mantle to use their gift to help others.

As Colonel Grossman teaches people these concepts, some of them police and military personnel, his students are stunned to find within his words an explanation for why they feel what they feel.  We, too, as the sheep, should listen to what he explains next to help us understand our own reactions to conflict in the world.

Colonel Grossman says that sheep live in denial – it’s what makes us sheep.  We don’t want to believe that there is evil in the world, or if it’s there, we don’t want to believe that our simply being sheep will lead the evil to us!  We know that fires happen, and so we keep extinguishers in our homes, sprinklers in our offices, alarms in our schools, strategic exit points in all of them.  We protect the schools against fire, but we’re appalled at the idea of having an armed officer in the school.  And all of this remains true even though statistics show that children in schools are 10 times more likely to be killed, and thousands of times more likely to be seriously injured, by school violence than school fires.  The sheep’s response is denial.

And worse, we really don’t like the sheepdogs.  To us, they look a lot like wolves – having the capacity for violence.  Even though a sheepdog is trained to never harm the sheep, we still lack full trust.  The sheepdog is a reminder that wolves are about.  We’d prefer that the sheepdogs not tell us where to go, not dole out traffic tickets, not stand at the airport with an automatic weapon in hand, not be stationed at schools.  We’d much rather the sheepdog just cover his fangs, paint himself fluffy white, and go “Baaaaaa”.

At least, that’s our perspective until a wolf arrives.  Then, the entire flock tries to hide behind any available sheepdog.  Only then do we hear the word “Hero” applied to such people.  During the 9/11 attacks, on Flight 93 over Shanksville, PA many sheep became sheepdogs, and many sheepdogs became heroes!  There is nothing morally superior about sheepdogs.  They are who they are.  They bark at things that make noise, and are unafraid, and perhaps better said, "willing", to engage in a righteous confrontation. When confrontation happens, the sheepdog will survive in cases where most sheep would not.  But more importantly, the sheepdog attempts to deliver sheep from peril.

Now, if you buy the idea that we are in fact the sheep we’ve described, we need to ask ourselves how important the sheepdog is to us.  In the world today, many are attempting to muzzle the sheepdog, to remove us as a nation from worldwide conflict, to defund their righteous purpose within this society.  Perhaps this is a wise move.  Perhaps it is foolhardy.  I have my own opinions, and this homily is not attempting to sway yours. 

But what IS foolhardy is wishing ill upon the sheepdog, taking actions which put the sheepdog in needless jeopardy, and indeed, not supporting with letters and words of thanks, not praying for the sheepdog, not caring for him or her and doing that which helps the sheepdog remain vigilant.  The sheepdog doesn’t live for accolades.  But comforting and consoling the sheepdog between skirmishes with the wolves can only help strengthen him or her for the next wolf they need to engage.

If we must go to battle, God bless those who are moved to volunteer to serve us!  We still pray for peace, but if we are honest sheep, we know the world is still full of wolves.  So pray – and pray diligently – for those of our nation who serve as soldiers, sailors, pilots, police and firemen, doctors, nurses, school crossing guards – you know who such servants are.  Smile at them when you see them.  Speak kindly to them.  On a cold day bring them a cup of coffee.  Let them know that we sheep are appreciative of them, Offer your thanks for their service to our country and to us.  And please, never blame the sheepdog for the fact that wolves exist.  It’s not their fault.  The best we can do is pray that the sheepdog won’t need to risk engaging the wolf on our behalf.