THE RICH YOUNG RULER (LUKE 18:18-27) Fr. James Blomeley (Orthodox Christianity Website)

There is little that has caused such division in the Christian world than the issue of wealth. An entire school of religious thought, known as liberation theology, infected parts of the Roman Catholic church in the 1960s, and continues to this day, teaching that the wealthy are simply instruments of oppression, and that the Kingdom of God is found in seeking what they view as economic justice. Several centuries ago, some early protestant sects taught that wealth was in and if itself evil. On the other extreme, in our day and age, other protestant denominations, particularly here in the United States, teach that wealth is a gift which God will give to every true Christian who “names it and claims it”, and that every “true” Christian should be awarded earthly riches. Regardless of our theology, however, this is an issue we are always facing in our culture. The truth of the matter is that we living in this country are each wealthy beyond the wildest dreams of any Biblical king or ruler. So what are we to think, when we see such polarized viewpoints, and then read today’s rather challenging gospel?

The answer is not found in economic analysis, but in spiritual reality. It is worth reminding ourselves at the outset that there is very little that is inherently evil. Food is given to us for nourishment and enjoyment, but when it becomes an obsessive focus of life, it becomes the sin of gluttony. Sexual intimacy is a God given gift for men and women in marriage, but the misuse of sex produces sins ranging from lust to adultery to homosexuality. Drugs are a way for us to be healed of disease and infirmity, yet wrongly used they become an open door for sin of all kinds.

Understanding that kind of thought provides a way to approach the issue of wealth, and indeed, all of life. In his exchange with the rich young ruler, Jesus is not engaged in economic analysis, but instead in the diagnosis and treatment of souls.

We look at our passage to understand the lesson. A young man, described as a rich ruler, comes to Jesus. It appears that he is seeking justification, or at least some reassurance that he is on the right spiritual path. In response to Jesus’ questions, he asserts that he has followed the commandments all of his life. He has not committed adultery, nor murder. He has not stolen from others, borne false witness, nor failed to honor his parents. He has, in other words, followed the rules. He has obeyed the commandments. In the eyes of the Jews, he was most certainly a righteous man. For us, living today, his way of life would be considered praiseworthy. We are all required, at a minimum, to keep the commandments of God. What could be more simple? But the truth is that the “thou shall not”s of Scripture are only, if you will, kindergarten for Christians. If we want more, if we want to follow the road of the saints and truly become the children of God, we must not think that our spiritual life stops there.

Jesus, seeing the young man with the eyes of God, knew that, and pierced right to the heart of the matter. The issue, as Jesus observes, is not simple obedience of rules and regulations. The issue is not whether or not we can justify ourselves, to make ourselves appear to be righteous or worthy of commendation. The true issue, the key question which every Christian must face, is whether or not a person has surrendered his entire life to God, or does he or she reserve some parts wholly for himself. Put another way, does a person observe the more difficult commandments of the New Testament: that he truly love the Lord God with all of his heart, and all of his strength, and all of his soul, and that he love his neighbor as himself? Or has he compartmentalized his life, so that God is consigned to only one of a great number of boxes, pigeon-holed and kept separate from the rest of life?

Jesus knew that the focus of the young man was his wealth. It was what characterized his life. It was, in the end, the way in which he defined who he was and what he did. It was, in the end, the thing that kept him from God. He thus challenged his questioner to abandon the very thing that, whether or not the man knew it, separated him from God. To that end, Jesus asked the man to surrender that part of him which he kept separate and that he valued the most—his wealth. Keep in mind that in this instance, wealth was simply the symptom of the disease. In other circumstances, with other people, it was something else. Often it was a rigid attachment to the Law itself, or to the odds and ends of daily life. The point is that in each instance, here is something separating the person from true worship, from a genuine relationship with God.

St. Clement of Alexandria spoke to this very issue, when he wrote:

What then…made him depart from the Master, from the entreaty, the hope, the life, previously pursued with ardor? ‘Sell your possessions’. And what is this? He does not, as some conceive offhand, bid him throw away the substance he possessed and abandon his property; but bids him banish from his soul his notions about wealth, his excitement and morbid feeling about it, the anxieties, which are the thorns of existence, which choke the seed of life.

As St. Clement points out, many have disposed of their wealth to no benefit, if their underlying passions remain. And St. John Chrysostom, who himself spoke harshly of the wealthy in his own age, noted that even the poor are lost if they have within themselves the same overwhelming attraction to riches and wealth. For that matter, it is worth remembering that there were people close to Jesus who had wealth: Matthew the tax collector turned Evangelist, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimethea. It is not the money. It is the heart of the one who holds it.

Looked at in this way, we see an immensely important principle that we can, and should apply to our own life. The question is not what do we have in the bank. The question instead is this: how do we define ourselves? How do we see ourselves, and more importantly, how do we appear to God?

For many of us, this is a genuine challenge. It is not uncommon to reserve some aspect of our lives as being outside of our faith. That preserve, that part of our life that is separate from God, can be anything. For some of us, it may be our desire for wealth, or what we do for a living. For others, it may be a seemingly unimportant hobby or passion. It may be the music we like, the clothes we wear, or the television and movies we like to watch. Whatever it may be, we know—if we are honest with ourselves—that this is an area that we like to keep for ourselves. We may even say, as the young man in today’s gospel did, that it doesn’t matter because we are at least obeying the ten commandments, and that we are, on the surface anyway, leading a moral life.

There are two problems with that sort of thinking. The first is that any area we segregate from Christ is an open door for sin to enter our life, because any such part of our life is almost certainly rooted in some passion, some deeply held personal desire. St. Theodoros the Great Ascetic plainly describes how being drawn away from the protecting grace of God occurs in but a moment.

He who gives himself to desires and sensual pleasures and lives according to the world’s way will quickly be caught in the nets of sin. And sin, when once committed, is like fire put to straw, a stone rolling downhill, or a torrent eating away its banks. Such pleasures then bring complete perdition to him who embraces them.

In other words, whether we simply allow ourselves a seemingly harmless pleasure, or give in to a larger passion such as greed or lust, it can cause a cascade of sin and error, leaving us in dire straits, and sorely afflicted.

But there is another reason as well. If we allow ourselves to focus on that deeply held passion or desire, it causes us to miss entirely what God may be saying to us. From experience, we know that our worldly interests create, if you will, a background noise for our lives. We think to ourselves that if we are straying where we ought not, that our conscience will warn us, and that God will call us back. But the background noise of our lives will often drown out that warning, if we are not constantly attentive to the leading of the Lord. In the Old Testament Book of First Kings, there is a passage describing an experience of the prophet Elijah as he awaits the Lord:

And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind, and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake, and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire, a still, small voice.

The still small voice is the Lord. In our gospel today, Jesus knew that even though the rich young ruler kept the rules, and observed the law, that his desire for wealth, his defining characteristic, was also the background noise that would keep him from hearing the still small voice. It was what would keep him from truly entering the Kingdom of God, because if he could not hear that whispering voice, he would never find the gate.

This is the challenge for us. We may not be rich young rulers, and we may think this gospel does not apply to us. We may lead moral lives, not breaking any of the rules, and we may think that this gospel does not apply to us. But if we are honest with ourselves, we will see something, somewhere inside of us, that we cling to tenaciously, an area of our life which we stubbornly refuse to yield to God. Whatever it may be, we find ourselves faced with the dilemma of the young man—can we surrender that which we hold dear, that we clutch to ourselves and call precious—can we abandon that, for the love of Christ?

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Seeing is Believing: Homily for the Feast of the Transfiguration. Fr. Philip LeMasters. (Ancient Faith)

Seeing is believing. It is one thing to hear an interesting story or to entertain a bright idea. It is far different, however, to encounter an event or to participate in a situation such that we know its truth and are changed as a result. That is precisely what the apostles Peter, James, and John experienced on Mount Tabor when they were enabled to behold the divine glory of Jesus Christ, Who shone brightly with light as the voice of the Father identified Him as His beloved Son.

St. Peter writes in today’s epistle reading that he did not proclaim “cleverly devised myths” about Christ, for those who beheld the Transfiguration “were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” The gospels make clear that the disciples were not looking for a Messiah Who was truly divine, but for a righteous national leader like King David. Peter famously rejected the Lord’s prediction of His crucifixion and denied Him three times. He was restored as the chief apostle and went to his death as a martyr, not because he had made up stories about a crucified and risen Lord, but because the Savior had revealed Himself to Peter as truly the Son of God. And he surely did not understand the full meaning of the Transfiguration when it occurred, as it was not until after the resurrection that Christ “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” (Lk 24:27) Indeed, the Lord said to Peter, James, and John, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of man is risen from the dead.” It was only from the perspective of the resurrection, which no one anticipated, that the disciples could understand what it meant for Christ to be the Son of God.
The truth revealed at the Transfiguration may not be conveyed simply in words or ideas. It had to be seen, heard, and experienced in a way that made Peter, James, and John participants as whole persons in the divine glory. The Lord graciously opened the eyes of their souls, filling them with the divine energies such that they could catch a glimpse of His holy majesty. He enabled them to hear the voice of the Father, and like Moses before the Burning Bush, they fell on their faces “and were filled with awe.” As is shown by the disappearance of Moses and Elijah, He enabled them to see His superiority to the Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament. They did not simply have thoughts or feelings about Christ; no, they truly experienced Him from the depths of their souls as the Son of God.
The change that occurred that day was not in the Lord Himself, Who is eternally radiant with the divine glory in a way beyond our comprehension. The change was in the disciples, for Christ opened the eyes of their souls to behold His infinite holiness, to the extent that they were able as human beings. If we observe this feast simply by celebrating the doctrinal teaching of Christ’s divinity or the great mystical experience of the apostles, we will have excluded ourselves from the full meaning of this event. For as in all feasts of the Church, the point is not simply to look back at what happened long ago. It is, instead, to enter into the eternal truth that is revealed. And on this great day of the Transfiguration, the only appropriate way to celebrate is to cooperate with the gracious divine energies of our Lord so that we also will behold His divine glory. That means that we too must become transfigured through personal union with the Son of God such that His eternal majesty permeates our existence, making us shine brightly like an iron left in the fire.
As with Peter, who rejected the Lord’s prediction of His death and then denied Him three times, we might well prefer another kind of religion with expectations not quite so high. Shining with the uncreated light may be more than we want to pursue. It may be more appealing to follow an imaginary King David in waging war against those we consider our enemies and to set up a social order that rewards those we think are righteous like ourselves. Maybe we would prefer someone pretending to be Moses or Elijah who would provide instructions that we think good people like us can easily follow on how to live differently from those we like to condemn. Such sentiments are terrible misinterpretations, of course. These Old Testament saints never pointed to some easy kind of self-serving religion, but were misinterpreted in first-century Palestine by those who worshiped an earthly kingdom or their own self-righteousness. If we go down that path, we will end up repudiating Christ as surely as did those idolaters.
The only fitting way to celebrate the Transfiguration is by embracing as fully as possible the countless opportunities that we have to grow in holiness as we open the eyes of our souls to participate in the glory of God by grace. I have a warning for you, however. If the thought ever occurs to you, “Gosh, I’m becoming really holy now,” pay it no attention at all and instead say the Jesus Prayer or at least focus your mind on something other than your own deluded thoughts until it goes away. The more transfigured we are in holiness, the more aware we will be of our sinfulness and the infinite distance between our current spiritual state and the perfection to which our Lord calls us. The path to shining with light begins with a humble, honest acceptance of the darkness in our lives. The path also continues along that route. That is precisely why we need to be transfigured so that we, who are filled with darkness, will become radiant with the brilliant light of the Lord. But we must be prepared: the more you step into His light, the more obvious the spots of darkness will be. The better focused the eyes of our souls are, the more we will be aware of our need for His healing and strength.
A very common temptation, then, is to give up. Why pray, when our minds wander? Why fast, when we become obsessed with food? Why come to Confession, when we fall right back into our familiar sins? Why try to do anything pleasing to God, when it does not give us what we want? Well, that is the problem. As long as we think about getting the spiritual results that we want on our schedule and in our own way, we will not be transfigured in holiness. We will, instead, remain captive to some form of idolatrous spiritual pride that will blind us to the truth of where stand before the Lord.
If we want to enter into the joy of this great feast of our salvation, we must persistently walk into the light by opening the eyes of our souls to the blinding glory of our Savior. We will often not like what we see in ourselves as a result, but by stumbling forward as best we can, constantly calling out for His mercy, the Lord will change, strengthen, and purify us. In ways that we cannot yet understand, He will make us “a lamp shining in a dark place” that gives light and hope to a world that so desperately needs to be healed by union with His gracious divine energies. The message of this feast is not to lose heart, but to press on in faithfulness. For the darkness is simply the absence of light and a sign that we have yet more room to embrace the blessed life of Christ.
We celebrate the Transfiguration of our Lord already knowing of His resurrection, by which He has illumined even the tomb. Let this sink in: There is no darkness in our souls or in our world that our crucified and risen Lord cannot make radiant with His gracious divine energies. We must, however, do our part by opening the darkness in our lives to His healing light. Even as we stumble and fall, we must continue to do so with abiding trust in His mercy for blind sinners such as ourselves. For though we do not yet have the eyes to see it, that is how our gracious Lord will make us shine with holy light for our salvation and that of the entire world. Let us join St. Peter, then, in living as “eyewitnesses of His majesty.” For seeing is believing.

Walking on Water, by Father Antony Hughes

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!

When we read Holy Scripture the Holy Fathers and Mothers of the Church teach us that there are at least two levels of understanding . There is the literal understanding that sees the events as historical and, well, literal. So when we read today’s Gospel about Jesus walking on the water on the literal level we see a miracle, the power of God manifesting itself as Jesus shows mastery over nature and the elements. We see the impetuous Peter unable to follow through on his own bravado and sinking in the waves. We learn through this that Jesus is God and that faith in him, without doubting, enables us to do the same miraculous things he does because he share with us his divine life. That is good.
There is another level, a deeper one, that recognizes the troubled Galilee and Peter’s sinking as a metaphor for the spiritual life. The theme of water, even bodies of water, appear often in Christian Scripture and in that of other religions as well because, among other things, water is the prime element of life.
Let’s look at the story this way for just a few moments.
The turmoil on the Sea of Galilee can be seen as a metaphor for the state of the soul and the interior life. Now, we don’t often think about the interior life. We focus on externals, on survival, success, notoriety, reputation, fashion, but the life of the soul is mostly ignored. Most of the time we are not even aware that there is much going on under the surface of our skin. Usually, it takes something powerful to get us to wake up and take notice: something like death, disease, misfortune, depression will jar us awake and make us face the intangible things in life, the things that are under the surface. That is, to put it simply, we are asleep at the wheel, the lights are on but nobody’s home, the auto pilot is running things and the plane is off course, we wander about in a daze, in a fog, fantasizing our lives away. The big word in our vocabulary is “if”. If I had only married better, if only I were rich, if only I could lose some weight, if only I had a better job, if only people would see things my way. If, if, if.
We drift from thought to thought, out of control, ruled by desire. We cannot even deny ourselves the things that hurt us. We are like abused spouses, feeling all the pain, but unwilling to do what is necessary to stop it, dissatisfied with our lives, but unable to break free of the tedium and sorrow. Our faces smile, but our hearts are broken. The outside of the cup looks clean, but the inside is not. Depression is epidemic in our society, immorality is rampant, drug abuse is sky-rocketing, suicide is claiming more and more young lives. Laws are powerless to halt it, legislation has never and will never stop it, prohibition increases it.
Ruled as we are by our thoughts and desires we believe that nothing can be done, that we cannot change, that life cannot offer anything better and that we had just better make the best of it. Yeah, we believe in God (or say we do), but since that belief doesn’t reach down deep enough to make a difference inside where it really counts, our faith struggles to survive.
We need to delve deeper into the essence of Orthodox spirituality which deals primarily with the interior life. Listen to St. John Chrysostom: “What is it to be a fool for Christ? It is to control one’s thoughts when they stray out of line. It is to make the mind empty and free.” Hear the Desert Fathers: “.the soul, if not emptied of foreign thoughts cannot reflect God.” Study the teachings and practices of the Hesychasts and their successors who occupy the Holy Mountain and monasteries around the world to this very day. Hear the contemporary theologian Clement: to clear and free the mind of unnecessary and destructive thoughts is necessary so that we can be in a state of readiness to meet the Lord, “One must learn to keep awake in the silence of the heart.” And, one more from Clement, “It is therefore essential to let the heart-spirit settle like calm water (there is the water image). Then it becomes a tranquil lake in which the sky is reflected, in which the face of Christ can be seen.”
A great Sufi mystic once wrote, “Free my soul from the entanglement of search and disappointment.” And:
Deafened by the voice of desire
you are unaware the Beloved lives
In the core of your heart
Stop the noise and
you will hear His voice
in the silence
Don’t go back to sleep!
It is time for prayer, it is time to ask for what you
really need
The door of the One who created the world is always open
Don’t go back to sleep.

In order to change ourselves, to change directions, to begin to move away from the morass of daily life, we must start paying attention to what is going on beneath our skins. We need to pay attention to our thoughts, to learn to discern and sort them out between what is helpful and good and what is destructive, to detach ourselves from our insatiable desires, to nurture peace in our hearts and minds, to build within our souls a rich interior life. We must wake up to the only thing we have and that is the exact moment in which we are living and breathing. That spiritual teachers of Orthodoxy are one in their recommendation, do not worry about the past which is over and done, nor about the future which never comes, keep your mind in the present, be fully present in the present, wake up to the moment for it is all you have. “Today,” writes St. Paul, “is the day of salvation.” Look around you. See what is before you. Rejoice in what is good: that you are alive, that you are breathing, that your heart is beating, that the cup of coffee you are drinking is warm, fragrant and delicious, that the person sitting beside you is in truth the very image of the invisible God who loves you and gave himself for you. Do not cling to any thought that is destructive, do not cling to desire, do not cling to possessions, cling to God and freely embrace the wonder of every moment. Wake up and do not go back to sleep.
We must struggle and pray for a mind and heart pure and lucid like a bright mirror, free from encumbrances, filled with joy and light, that is able to respond with equanimity and love in every situation, overflowing with compassion.
We can change, we can be at peace, we can be free. God has given us all we need to pursue the path of peace. The effort must be taken, the commitment made, the discipline learned and embraced. God’s grace coupled with our small efforts ignites the soul and brings salvation not only to us, but to all the world. St. Seraphim of Sarov once said, “Make peace in your heart and thousands around you will be saved.” But it is not a peace that comes without effort. As Seraphim said, it is we who must “make” this peace. Meditate, fast, pray, practice love and charity, love silence, nurture peace and compassion, reject all that is destructive, rest your weary mind and let everything be as it is, cling only to God avoiding all that is cold and dark and moving towards all that is warmth and light. But this is only preparatory for the great day.when we at last Jesus comes to us walking on the sea and not even the wind and waves will be able to hinder us.

The Importance of Being Faithful in Small Things: Homily on Saint Mary Magdalene (Fr. Philip LeMasters)

It is very easy for us to overlook the importance of small, routine things that do not seem remarkable at all. It is much more appealing to focus on larger matters that we think have great significance. The problem, of course, is that it is in the seemingly insignificant details of daily life that our true character is formed and revealed. If we overlook the small challenges we encounter each day, we will ignore what matters most.
Today we commemorate Saint Mary Magdalene, who has the exalted title of Myrrh-Bearer and Equal to the Apostles. After the Lord had cast seven demons out of her, Mary became one of the women disciples who supported Him and the twelve apostles from their own resources. (Luke 8:1-3). She remained with the Lord at His crucifixion and was one of the women who saw the stone rolled away and heard from the angel the good news of the resurrection when they went to the tomb early on the morning of Pascha. St. John’s gospel records that the risen Christ appeared to her as she wept at His empty grave. She was the first to proclaim His resurrection when she told the unbelievably good news to the apostles that she had actually seen the Lord. (John 20:11-18) Mary Magdalene continued to preach His resurrection for the rest of her life, even to the Roman Emperor Tiberius, to whom she gave a red egg with the words “Christ is risen!” She then went to Ephesus to minister with St. John the Theologian, where she died peacefully.
St. Mary Magdalene was prepared for her uniquely glorious role as a witness and preacher of the Lord’s resurrection because of her daily faithfulness to the Savior during His earthly ministry. He had set her free from domination by the forces of evil and she then followed Him with deep devotion, doing what she could to help Him and the apostles. The daily details of doing so were surely not glamorous, comfortable, or easy. The Savior had “nowhere to lay His head” (Luke 9:58) and the apostles left behind their livelihoods, possessions, and families to follow Him. Like them, Mary surely adopted a transient way of life as they went with Him from town to town and shared in the many challenges of the ministry of the Kingdom.
In the ultimate time of crisis when Christ was nailed to the cross and all seemed lost, Mary bravely stood by Him as He died. She went to the tomb in the early hours of Sunday morning in order to do the sad work of anointing His dead body as a final act of love. At the time, those actions probably did not seem like grand gestures that would secure her memory as anyone particularly important. They were simply the acts of faithfulness and love that were still available to her. She sought nothing for herself other than to serve the Savior, even when He was dead and no one expected the tomb to be empty. She did not serve herself at all, but only her Lord. That is how she was made worthy to see and speak with the risen Christ, and then to proclaim the good news to the apostles.
Throughout the period of her life in which she followed Christ, Mary probably often felt like the disciples in today’s gospel reading. They had thousands of people to feed with only five loaves and two fish. They felt greatly inadequate in the face of the needs of a hungry multitude. As a woman who had been possessed by demons and was then following Christ in His itinerant ministry, Mary knew that she was not in charge or at the center of attention. Accomplishing large or impressive goals was surely not her aim. All that she could do was to offer her seemingly insignificant life to the Lord as best she could, which included supporting His ministry from her resources and learning from Him as she followed along each day, regardless of the challenges.
In our gospel reading, the Lord took, blessed, and broke the bread, and then gave it to the disciples to distribute to the people. Miraculously, there was so much food that thousands had enough to eat with twelve basketsfull left over. Christ did not require the disciples to figure out the logistics of how to feed so many people. He did not insist that they do something really spectacular. All that He required was that they faithfully offered the small amount that they had to Him. His blessing did the rest.
That is precisely how Mary Magdalene lived her life and became a glorious saint. The Lord did not require her to do something impressive on a grand scale, but only to be faithful to Him each day in the circumstances that she faced. Mary knew that she owed everything to the Lord Who had delivered her from demons, and then she offered herself to support Him and the apostles in their ministry as best she could. And when seemingly small acts of devotion like staying with Christ as He died and then going to the tomb to anoint His dead body enabled her to become the first to witness and proclaim His resurrection, there was surely no one more surprised than Mary Magdalene.
We should learn from her holy and humble example not to ignore, reject, or diminish the importance of the seemingly small opportunities for serving Christ that we have each day. Our lives do not go from one exciting and spectacular adventure to another. Familiar routines and responsibilities fill our days. God calls us to offer ourselves to Him faithfully and fully as we are, not as we fantasize about how we would like our lives to be. Fantasy remains precisely that, an escape from reality. If we do not take advantage of the small opportunities for serving Christ that we encounter each day in unremarkable ways, then we will never truly offer our lives to Him.
The obedience to which the Lord calls us probably will not seem especially noteworthy. Devoting a few minutes each day to prayer and Bible reading, for example, requires only a small offering of our time, energy, and will. The same is true for just about every spiritual discipline of the Christian life, from attending services to fasting, taking Confession, and helping someone in need. We often magnify those offerings in our imagination to the point that we welcome excuses not to make them because we think that they will be so extraordinarily difficult. When we face that temptation, it is helpful to remember that God does not sternly require an exalted level of spiritual perfection in everything that we do. We simply need to offer ourselves to Him as best we can in our daily challenges, such as: holding our tongues when want to speak out of anger and judgment; turning our attention away from entertainment, conversations, and thoughts that inflame our passions; and limiting our self-absorption in order to become sensitive to the needs of others. Likewise, He calls none of us to fulfill every ministry of the Church, but does call us all to use our gifts in strengthening the Body of Christ.
The same Lord Who fed thousands with a tiny bit of food feeds us with His own Body and Blood in every celebration of the Eucharist. Those who commune with the One Who offered Himself for the salvation of the world have an obligation to offer every dimension of their lives for union with Him in holiness. That is precisely how Saint Mary Magdalene became a Myrrh-Bearer and Equal to the Apostles, the first to proclaim the good news of the resurrection. She did not set out to do something great, but simply to make a faithful offering of her life to the Lord. Let us follow her blessed, holy example as we serve Christ with humility in the routine matters of our lives each day. These are the actions that reveal who we are before God.

 

 

Selections on the Dormition of the Theotokos THE THEOTOKOS DELIVERS HER SOUL, FULL OF LIGHT (Shared by Kh. Dannie Moore)

It was the Lord’s day, and the fifteenth day of the month of August, when that blessed hour that all were awaiting drew near. It was the third hour of the day (9:00 a.m.). In the room a number of lamps were burning. The holy Apostles were offering praise to God. Upon a beautifully adorned bed, the Theotokos was lying and preparing herself for her blessed end when her beloved Son and Lord would come to her. She then greeted each Apostle with a blessing.
She then stretched her hands to heaven and prayed, saying, “I adore, praise and glorify Thy much to be praised name, O Lord, because Thou hast looked upon the lowliness of Thine handmaiden, and because Thou that art mighty hast done great things for me; and, behold, all generations shall call me blessed [Lk. 1:48]. After this prayer, she said to the Apostles, “Cast incense and pray, because Christ is coming with a host of angels; and, behold, Christ is at hand, sitting on a throne of cherubim.” When they had prayed, there was thunder from heaven and there came a fearful voice, as if of chariots; and, behold, a multitude of a host of angels and powers, and a voice, as if of the Son of Man was heard.
Then there shone in the room an ineffable light of divine glory which dimmed the lamps. Those that were granted this vision were awestruck. Many beheld the roof of the apartment open and the glory of the Lord descending from heaven. It was Christ the King of Glory with hosts of angels and archangels, and all the heavenly powers. Also with them were the holy fathers and prophets who prophesied of old concerning the pure Virgin, and all the righteous souls, approached His immaculate Mother.”
Saint John of Damascus also mentions that some of the most famous and righteous prophets of the Old Testament were in attendance. The text of Pseudo-John, in describing the events, records that the Theotokos’ mother, Anna, and her cousin Elisabeth appeared with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob} and David and all the choirs of saints, singing praising and venerating the body of the Mother of the Lord.
BE UNTO ME ACCORDING. TO THY WORD
At the sight of the approach of her Son, the Theotokos cried with great joy unto her son, “My soul doth magnify the Lord and my Spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour (Luke 1:46-47).
And, behold, a stream of light came upon the Virgin because of the presence of her Son, and all the powers of the heavens fell down and adored Him. He then said, “Mary”. And she answered, “Here am I, Lord.”
Saint Gregory Palamas comments on the love between Son and Mother, thus: “Wherefore, she loves and is loved in return more than any other …. for He was her only Son. Moreover, she alone among women gave birth knowing no spouse, so that the love of Him, that was of her flesh, was twofold. Who will the Only-Begotten love more than His Mother, He Who came forth from Her in an indescribable manner, without a father, in this last age, even as He came forth from the Father without a mother before the ages? He that came down and fulfilled the law, how could He not multiply the honor due His Mother above and beyond the law?”
And the Lord remained by her and said, “Behold, presently thy soul will be translated to the heavens, to the treasures of My Father in exceeding brightness, where there is peace and joy of the holy angels, and many other things. Then the Mother of the Lord answered and said to Him, “Lay Thy right hand upon me, O Lord, and bless me.” Then the Lord stretched forth His undefiled right hand and blessed His Mother.
Saint Cosmas then speaks of the Virgin interceding for us. As she departed, the Virgin without spot, lifted up her hands–those hands that had held God incarnate in their embrace–and, with the boldness of a Mother to her Son, she said, “Keep unto all ages those whom Thou hast made mine and who cry aloud unto Thee, ‘We, who have been delivered, praise the one and only Creator and exalt Him above all forever.”
Saint John of Damascus also speaks of how the Law-Giver fulfilled His law concerning mothers. He Who, taking flesh, strangely made His dwelling in thy pure womb, Himself received thine all-holy spirit and, as a Son paying His due, He gave it rest with Himself.
At this point, St. Cosmas describes the scene in this manner. The angelic powers were amazed as they looked in Sion upon their own Master, bearing in His hands the soul of a woman: for as befitted a Son, He said to her who without spot had borne Him, “Come, honored among women, and be glorified together with thy Son and God.”
With such triumphant hymns did the heavenly hosts accompany the holy soul of the Theotokos as she went in the arms of the Lord to the dwelling above. The holy Apostles, who were found worthy to behold this vision, followed the Mother of God with tender eyes, as once they had followed the Lord when He ascended from the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:9). For a long time now they looked steadfastly toward heaven as if they were in a swoon. When they came to themselves, the disciples worshipped the Lord Who had raised His Mother’s soul to heaven with glory, and they surrounded her bed with weeping.
It must be remembered that it is not the Assumption that the Holy Orthodox Church observes on the 15th of August, but the Dormition (Keemeesis) Or “falling- asleep” of the holy Virgin. This most sacred Feast marks the falling asleep of the Mother of God which was followed by the translation of her sacred body three days later into heaven. This Feast, therefore, marks her soul being commended into her Son’s hands and the short sojourn of her body in the tomb. Death is not the annihilation of our existence, but a passage from earth to heaven.
Taken from: The Life of the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos
Published by Holy Apostles Convent and Dormition Skete

Delivered by Mercy, Not Law: Homily for the 5th Sunday After Pentecost. By Fr. Philip LeMasters

We live in a time in which many people feel lonely and isolated, even if they are around others on a regular basis at home, work, and other settings. Sometimes that is because we hold ourselves back emotionally from the possibility of being rejected or harmed. Such separation is a symptom of the estrangement from God and one another which Jesus Christ came to heal.
The demon-possessed men in today’s gospel reading represent Gentiles who were enslaved to the worship of idols and false gods. Their deliverance shows that Christ’s salvation is for all people, including those separated from others by the power of evil in their lives. When He set them free from their miserable isolation, the Lord required nothing of them in advance; instead, He graciously liberated them from the degrading forces of evil and restored them to a truly human existence. Here we see an implication of St. Paul’s instruction to the Romans: “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” At the very heart of our faith is not a requirement for meeting an objective standard; instead, the unlimited mercy of God is the very foundation of our life and extends even to demon-possessed Gentiles, as well as to you and me.
The Orthodox Church has many rules, many canons, traditions, and practices. But at the heart of our faith and common life is not the obedience of law, for we are not called to be like the Pharisees of old. Instead, we are called, as St. Paul teaches, to confess with our mouths the Lord Jesus and to believe in our hearts that God has raised him from the dead; if we do so, we will be saved. “For with the heart one believes unto righteousness and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
Of course, there are no magic words that can heal our souls. Instead of creating a new law, St. Paul points to the deep truth of what it means to commend all our life to Christ our God. It means that we trust in Him as whole persons. As we offer our lives to Him, our words, deeds, and thoughts will come to embody the new life that He has brought to the world. That is how we open ourselves to receiving His transforming grace. That is how, like the demon-possessed men in today’s reading, we too may become living icons of the mercy of Jesus Christ.
Remember that He did not require the Gergesene demoniacs to earn their deliverance; neither does He require that of us. Instead, the Savior has graciously taken upon Himself the consequences of all human corruption and sin to the point of death, burial and descent to Hades so that He could conquer them all in His glorious third-day resurrection. He has ascended into heaven with full, complete glorified humanity and sent the Holy Spirit to empower His Body, the Church, of which we are members. He lives within our hearts by the Holy Spirit, casting out our demons, forgiving our sins, and enabling us to share in His eternal life even now as healed and transformed persons in relationship with Him and one another. By His grace, Christ restores us to the dignity and freedom of those who bear the divine image and likeness.
Those particular men were set free from the control of demons, but that was surely only the beginning of their lives in Christ. Even though their deliverance was quite dramatic, it was only a start and they surely had to press on from there to resist temptation, to grow in holiness, and to learn to love and serve Him in their neighbors. They certainly had old fears and habits to overcome. And the same is true of us. Our salvation is a process, an ongoing journey of sharing more fully in the new life that our Savior has brought to the world. We must confess Christ more fully each day as we find greater healing, as we more fully manifest His victory over sin and death in our own lives.
If our religion were about meeting the requirements of a law, we could meet the standard and not think about it anymore. We could check off a box and move on to something else; perhaps then it would make sense to condemn others who did not measure up. But Orthodox Christianity is not about rules and regulations, but instead about growing in relationship with a Person, our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ. It is about sharing in His blessedness, about partaking in His divine nature by grace. And because God is eternal and infinite and beyond even our best attempts to define and control Him, there is no upward limit on what it means to unite ourselves to Him.
So we are constantly as much in need of Christ’s mercy as were those demon-possessed fellows. We say the Jesus Prayer precisely because we are sinners in need of Him. The more we are healed by His grace, the more aware we will be of our brokenness and weakness. The more we open our lives to Christ, the more clearly we will see how far we have yet to go, how undeserving we are, how grateful we must be before an infinitely holy God Who will stop at nothing—not even the cross—in order to bring us into His blessed kingdom.
The formerly demon-possessed men could claim no credit for their deliverance. They could only marvel at their great blessing and do their best to live lives worthy of what Christ had done for them. We all face the same challenge: to live in ways that reflect what our Lord has done for us, to bear witness to the healing and fulfillment that He has brought to our lives, and to continue to open ourselves more fully to His salvation.
That means that we must all continue to struggle against whatever evil thoughts, habits, words, and deeds threaten to separate us from the Lord and one another. We will not do that perfectly, for we get side-tracked and distracted from fulfilling our vocation each day. That is precisely why we need to build holy habits—like attending services, praying daily, fasting regularly, and giving generously to the needy– into our lives. We need to wake up and stay alert, for the ultimate choice of our lives is an ongoing challenge. At stake is whether we will grow in relationship with Christ by faith, repentance, and humility: by a life that confesses what He has done and is doing for us. The other alternative is to return to the graveyard, to the isolation and slavery of worshiping the false gods of our own will. Our choice is not whether to obey a law, but whether we will embrace deliverance and healing. If we turn away from Christ, we do so as isolated individuals who prefer our own will to His, who would rather decay in the loneliness of a cemetery—of a dark tomb– than share in the blessed banquet of the Kingdom. But if we offer ourselves to the Lord, we enter into eternal joy through His Body, the Church; we become members of Him through our life together. The standards and practices of the Church help us to grow in relationship with Him and with one another. They sustain our faith, and help us grow in freedom from our slavery to the power of sin in our lives. They enable us to do what we cannot do alone as isolated individuals who hide in fear from God and one another.
So like those Gergesene demoniacs, it is time for us to leave behind the graveyard of evil and instead become who we are called to be in Jesus Christ. It is time to embrace our true identity as those created in God’s image and likeness and called to become partakers of the divine nature. By sincere faith, honest confession, and genuine repentance, let us accept the infinite mercy of the One who loves us so much that He conquered sin and death in order to bring us from the despair of the tomb into the joy of the Kingdom. Now is the time to turn our backs on the degrading delusions of idolatry and to enter into the unspeakable blessedness to which He calls us. Now is the time to confess and believe in Christ as we offer every dimension of our lives to Him for deliverance and transformation that know no bounds. Now is the time to turn from the isolated misery of sin for the joyful communion of those who have been set free through the mercy of Jesus Christ.