A Convert Story to the Orthodox Faith. Shared on the Sunday of the Life-Giving Cross by Lindsay Buhler, St. Simeon Orthodox Church Santa Clarita, CA.

Homily – Sunday of the Life-Giving Cross 2018

The following is a homily I gave upon Fr. George Ajalat’s request. He
was hoping to share more convert stories at our parish – St. Simeon
Orthodox Church in Santa Clarita. I shared this on the Sunday of the
Life-Giving Cross during Great Lent last year. And here it is.
Today, the Church directs us to attend to the precious and life-giving
Cross. We are weary from the fast and in need of encouragement and
refreshment. The Gospel read today tells us to “take up our cross and follow
Christ.” What does this mean? Fr. Thomas Hopko of Blessed Memory says,
“Lent is our self-crucifixion, our experience, limited as it is, of Christ’s
commandment… ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself
and take up his cross and follow me.’” (Mark 8:34). So, what does it mean
to take up our cross? It means we are joining ourselves to Christ’s
crucifixion in Great Lent. The Church calls us to go without in order to grow
in love, not because going without meat and cheese will save us, but
because we are fulfilling Christ’s commandment to join ourselves to Christ,
even His Cross. The cross certainly reminds us of suffering, but the Church
wisely puts the cross before us today to spiritually refresh us. Let us not
forget, the cross is love. It is a supreme sacrifical love.
The Synaxarion says how the cross is our aid. It says, “We are like
those following a long cruel path, who become tired, see a beautiful tree
with many leaves, sit in its shadow and rest for a while and then, as if
rejuvenated, continue their journey.” The cross is that tree of rest and
rejuvenation today. So, behold the cross before us and take comfort in the
Lenten struggle. Let us be reminded and encouraged – the cross is love.
TRANSITION: The veneration of the Cross is so natural for Christians. It
has always been this way. Having been blessed to be raised in a Christian
home, the cross has always been prominent in my life.
I grew up loving church. We attended an very large Protestant church.
I loved choir, small groups, youth group, summer camp, vacation bible
school. My parents were very involved in my spiritual upbringing. I have
them to thank for instilling in me a love of and knowledge of the Holy
Scriptures. I truly was given a rich inheritance in the faith.
At around 15 years old, I noticed a longing rise up within me. This
longing feeling made me restless spiritually. I tried more Bible studies…
which I loved! I tried different prayers and that helped. But everything I
tried, seemed to increase that longing. It didn’t quite make sense at the time
because I was so well plugged at my home church. Why was I still restless?
That feeling in me could not be ignored. My parents were gracious and
followed me to another parish as they oversaw my spiritual well-being.
Never did I think that choice at 15 years old would begin a 7 year journey
with more than 8 different churches . Bouncing from church to church was
painful. I would invest in a community and then up and leave. It broke my
heart each time. Why did I keep leaving why did I keep “church shopping”?
Longing . I couldn’t ignore it and I couldn’t quench it any place I went and
so I kept searching. I don’t recommend doing this. I mean who was guiding me through
this process? What made me leave each parish or community and what
made me pick the next one? I was coming up with the standards. Looking
back, I thank God for keeping me spiritually safe and for his Holy Spirit’s
guidance and protection over me and for bringing me here under His
protective wing.
But how did I get here? In 2008, I traveled to Greece and saw ancient
Christian Churches. In 2009, I was speaking to a friend of mine – Keith
Buhler – and he invited me to St. Barnabas in Costa Mesa. I had friends
there. So, another friend, Michelle and I decided to attend the Palm Sunday
service. We were on the search again after attending an Anglo-Catholic
Church and this was our next stop.  My first impression of a Divine Liturgy was paradoxically repulsion and intense attraction. I was drawn to the icons, the music was
transcendent, and the reverence of the Faithful could be felt. But plenty still
didn’t make sense. Afterward, we were warmly greeted. We stayed for
Coffee Hour. A week later I came back for Pascha. I could not believe the
fervor of the Faithful at 1 in the morning! I cried. They loved the
resurrection. They anticipated the victory of Christ over sin and death and
sang, nearly yelling, the Paschal hymns. Time stopped for me. That longing
that I had felt for 7 years left me so thirsty for the reality of God’s Kingdom.
At Pascha, I was drowning in the spiritual depth and reality of God’s
Kingdom Here and Now. I was home.
So, Great and Holy Saturday, of 2010, I was Christmated. Joy doesn’t
begin to describe what I felt. I feel that same joy at each baptism I attend, at
each first communion I witness. The Orthodox Church has satified my
longing, transformed it into a longing for the Kingdom of God.
My longing for the kingdom is increased praying the Jesus Prayer.
My longing is increased participating in the Divine Liturgy.
My longing is increased reading the Scriptures guided by the Church
Fathers.
My longing is increased reading the lives of the saints.
I use to long for finding the early Church, and now I long to be
worthy of it.
There’s one more thing that increases my longing for the Kingdom of
God that I never saw coming as a Protestant. Holy relics. I never would
have dreamed that I could touch the Apostles. Before then, the Apostles felt
so distant – so far away. Years later, I would venerate the relics of Sts. Peter
and Paul at St. Herman’s Monastery. I always loved the cross, I wanted to
kiss it, bow before it, and honor it. Years later, I found myself able to
express that gratitude. While following my husband’s graduate studies to
Kentucky, in a small store front parish, I venerated a tiny fragment of the
True cross. It had all come full circle for me. The reality of the New
Testament Church… I found it. What a grace from God!
Now, I’m a mother, raising “cradle Orthodox Christian” children. I
hope to pass on to them a love of the Holy Scriptures, an ownership of their
faith, and an appreciation of the riches they are inheriting. Our inheritance
is the glory of Christ and the Cross of Christ.
You’ve heard it said the Church is a hospital where we come to heal
our weak and broken bodies and souls. But the Church goes beyond what a
hospital can do. For, we walk into hospitals sick and “God willing” walk out
well. The Church can help us walk in sick, and walk out deified .
May God help us cradles and converts to zealously embrace the Cross
so we too may be transformed like the saints before us.
To Him be glory honor and worship, in the Name of the Father, Son
and Holy Spirit, Amen.

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Sunday of Forgiveness (Cheesefare), shared by Kh. Dannie Moore

From the book “Great Lent” by Fr. Alexander Schmemann:
Finally comes the last day, usually called “Forgiveness Sunday”, but whose other liturgical name must also be remembered: the “Expulsion of Adam from the Paradise of Bliss”. This name summarizes indeed the entire preparation for Lent. By now we know that man was created for paradise, for knowledge of God and communion with Him. Man’s sin has deprived him of that blessed life and his existence on earth is exile. Christ, the Savior of the world, opens the door of paradise to everyone who follows Him, and the Church, by revealing to us the beauty of the Kingdom, makes our life a pilgrimage toward our heavenly fatherland. Thus, at the beginning of Lent, we are like Adam:
Adam was expelled from paradise through food; Sitting, therefore, in front of it he cried: “Woe to me ….. One commandment of God have I transgressed, depriving myself of all that is good; Paradise Holy! Planted for me, And now because of Eve closed to me; Pray to thy Creator and mine that I may be filled again with thy blossom. Then answered the Savior to him: I wish not my creation to perish; I desire it to be saved and to know the Truth; For I will not turn away from him who comes to Me ….
Lent is the liberation of our enslavement to sin, from the prison of “this world”. And the Gospel lesson of this last Sunday (Matt. 6: 14-21) sets the conditions for that liberation. The first one is fasting – the refusal to accept the desires and urges of our fallen nature as normal, the effort to free ourselves from the dictatorship of flesh and matter over the spirit. To be effective, however, our fast must not be hypocritical, a “showing off”. We must “appear not unto men to fast but to our Father who is in secret”. The second condition is forgiveness – “If you forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you”. The triumph of sin, the main sign of its rule over the world, is division, opposition, separation, hatred. Therefore, the first break through this fortress of sin is forgiveness: the return to unity, solidarity, love. To forgive is to put between me and my “enemy” the radiant forgiveness of God Himself. To forgive is to reject the hopeless “dead-ends” of human relations and to refer them to Christ. Forgiveness is truly a “breakthrough” of the Kingdom into this sinful and fallen world.

Sermon on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son by St. John of Kronstadt

I will arise and go to my father (Luke 15:18)
Brethren! All our attention must be centered on the parable of the Prodigal Son. We all see ourselves in it as in a mirror. In a few words the Lord, the knower of hearts, has shown in the person of one man how the deceptive sweetness of sin separates us from the truly sweet life according to God. He knows how the burden of sin on the soul and body, experienced by us, impels us by the action of divine grace to return, and how it actually does turn many again to God, to a virtuous life. We will repeat it and discuss how necessary and easy it is for a sinner to return to God.
One man had two sons. When they came of age, the younger one said to the father, “Give me my rightful share of the estate.” And the father divided the property. The elder son did not take his portion and remained with the father, a sign that he loved his father with a pure heart, and he found satisfaction in fulfilling his will (neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment), and to depart from him he considered madness. But the younger, in a few days, having gathered all his property, left his father’s house for a distant country where he wasted all his substance, living dissolutely. From all this it is evident that he did not have a good and pure heart, that he was not sincerely disposed towards his good father, that he was burdened by his supervision and he dreamed it better to live according to the will of his own depraved heart. But let us hear what happened to him in exile from his father’s house. When he had spent everything in the foreign country in a disorderly manner, a great famine came upon that country and he began to be in need. He went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would have been happy to fill his stomach with the food (acorns and chaff) that the swine ate; but no one gave him any. Having come to his senses, he said, “How many hired servants of my father have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger. I will arise and go to my father and I will say unto him: Father! I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. Receive me as one of thy hired servants.” He arose and went to his father. When he was still afar off, his father saw him and had compassion on him and went to meet him. He embraced him and kissed him. He forgave him and led him to his house, dressed him in the finest clothes and made a feast in honor of his return. And so the lost son entered again into the love of his father.
Brethren! This is how the heavenly Father acts toward us. He does not bind us to Himself by force if we, having a depraved and ungrateful heart, do not want to live according to His commandments, but He allows us to depart from Him, and to know by experience how dangerous it is to live according to the will of one’s heart, to know what an agonizing lack of peace and tranquility tries the soul, devoted to passions, by what shameful food it is nourished. For what can be more shameful than the food of the passions? God forbid that anyone remain forever in this separation from God. To be far from God is true and eternal perdition. They that remove themselves from Thee shall perish (Ps. 72:27), says the holy king and prophet David. It is necessary without fail to turn from the pernicious way of sin towards God with the whole heart. Let everyone be assured that God will see his sincere conversion, will meet him with love, and will receive him, as before, as one of His children.
Have you sinned? Say in you heart with full determination, I will arise and go to my Father, and in fact, go to Him. And just as you manage to say these words in your heart; just as you decide firmly to live according to His will, He will immediately see that you are returning to Him. He is always not far from every one of us (Acts 17:27), and will immediately pour His peace into your heart. It will be suddenly so light and pleasant for you, as it is, for example, for a bankrupt debtor when they forgive his debts, or as pleasant as it is to a poor man whom they suddenly dress in fine clothes or offer a seat at a rich table.
At the same time take notice, brethren, that as many forms as there are of sins or passions, so also are there return paths to the heavenly Father. Every sin or passion is a path to a country far from God. Did you leave by the road of faithlessness? Turn back and, further, recognize all its foolishness, feel with your whole heart its heaviness, emptiness, perdition, and stand with firm footing on the path of faith, calming, sweet, and life-giving for the heart of man, and hold on to it with your whole heart. Did you leave by the way of pride? Turn back and go the way of humility. Hate pride, knowing that God resists the proud. Did you leave by the way of envy? Turn from this diabolic road and be content with what God has sent and remember whose offspring it is—the first envier was the devil and by the envy of the devil sin entered into the world (Wisdom 2:24). Be well-disposed towards everyone. If you left by the way of enmity and hatred, turn back and go the way of meekness and love. Remember that whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer (I John 3:15). Or did you depart from God by gluttony and dissoluteness? Turn back and go the way of moderation and chastity, and remember as a rule in life the words of the Saviour, Take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be overburdened with self-indulgence and drunkenness, and cares of this life (Luke 21:34), and use the words of the repentant prodigal son: We have sinned before Thee, and are no longer worthy to be called Thy sons. Receive us, even as hirelings. And He surely will receive us back as children. Amen.
Originally printed in Orthodox Life Vol. 39 No. 1, January-February 1989

PREPARATION FOR GREAT LENT, by Very Reverend Timothy Baclig Of St Michael Antiochian Orthodox Church in Van Nuys, CA.

Great Lent is a particular spiritual season of the Christian Church when each of us begins to take a serious look at our own spiritual journey with God. It gives us a chance to see where we are and how we can conform our lives to that, which is found in the Gospel teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In order to maintain the proper character of the season within the life of the Church, we begin Lent with a new set of norms that help us to be better able to enrich our spiritual life. The tone within our church life gradually changes. There is a greater solemnity that requires the absence of elaborate parties, excessive pleasures, unnecessary vices, lavish menus, and the list goes on and on. It is important to remember, however, that our entrance into this season is one of joy and not morbidity. The call to Lent can be heard in the words of the Forgiveness Sunday Vespers: Let us enter the fast with joy, O faithful. Let us not be sad. Let us cleanse our faces with the waters of dispassion . . . Let us begin the fast with joy! Let us prepare ourselves for spiritual efforts. Let us purify our souls and cleanse our flesh. Let us abstain from passion as we abstain from foods, taking pleasure in the good works of the Spirit, and accomplishing them in love that we all may be made worthy of seeing the passion of Christ our God and His Holy Resurrection, rejoicing with spiritual joy.
Our Church prescribes a period of time prior to the beginning of Great Lent for preparing our minds and hearts. The duration of this time of preparation is four weeks and begins today.
The first Sunday is called the Sunday of the Pharisee and Publican. On this Sunday, the parable that Jesus related and is recorded for us in the Gospel of Saint Luke (18:10-14) is read during the Divine Liturgy. In relating our Lord’s lesson to us, the Church points out that we are not to take pride in our good works, nor boast and exaggerate about our own righteousness, as did the Pharisee. But rather, we should take the Publican as our example, admitting our sinfulness and humbly seek God for forgiveness and mercy.

Open to me the doors of repentance, O Giver of Life,
For my spirit rises early to pray towards Thy Holy Temple. Bearing the temple of my body all defiled;
But in Thy compassion, purify me by the loving kindness of Thy mercy.
Lead me on the paths of salvation, O Mother of God, For I have profaned my soul with shameful sins, and have wasted my life in laziness.
But by your intercession, deliver me from all impurity.
When I think upon the many evil things I have done, wretch that I am, I tremble at the fearful Day of Judgment.
But trusting in Thy loving kindness, like David I cry to Thee: Have mercy upon me, O God,
Have mercy upon me, O God,
Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy Great Mercy.
This beautiful hymn demonstrates the penitent and contrite character of the Lenten season. Lent is a time of Penance. Penance requires knowledge of one’s self and one’s unworthiness before God. However, penance also requires a sense of hope in the mercy of God on the part of the penitent. We sorrow when we discover ourselves as sinners, but in the words of St. John Climacus of the 7th century, “God does not ask or desire that a person should mourn from sorrow of heart, but rather that out of love for Him he should rejoice with spiritual joy.”
There is a mystery involved in what we are speaking of. And this implies that it cannot be totally explained, but experienced as God so wills. Perhaps the most articulate writer on the subject was St. John Cassian who lived about three hundred years earlier than St. John Climacus. He writes in commenting upon St. Paul’s epistle: “…the Apostle said, ‘Godly sorrow produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret’ (II Corinthians 7:10). This ‘godly sorrow’ nourishes the soul through the hope engendered by repentance, and it is mingled with joy. That is why it makes us obedient and eager for every good work: accessible, humble, gentle, forbearing and patient in enduring all the suffering or tribulation God may send us. Possession of these qualities shows that a person enjoys the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, goodness, faith, self-control (see Galatians 5:22).”

Penance also requires that if a person desires mercy he must also be willing to be merciful. If we are less than merciful towards others, then we are truly in dread of the Judgment, “For in the same measure that we forgive we are forgiven” said Jesus. This state of mind must be developed prior to the beginning of Great Lent if Lent is to be meaningful.

Patient, Humble Faith for the Healing of our Souls: Homily for Hieromartyr Charalampos, Bishop of Magnesia. Fr. Philip LeMasters (Ancient Faith)

See the source image

February 9, 2019 · Fr. Philip LeMasters

2 Timothy 2:1-10; Matthew 15:21-28
Good parents know that, while it may be easier to do things for our children, it is often best to let them learn by doing themselves. They will not do everything well the first time, but neither did we. Children whose parents make everything easy for them will not become mature, capable, or self-confident. Part of growing up is learning to handle the frustration of not getting it all right immediately.
In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus Christ responded to the request of the Canaanite woman for the healing of her daughter in a way that she surely found frustrating. When she, as a Gentile, called on Him as the Jewish Messiah or “Son of David” to cast out the demon, He did not answer her at all. Then the disciples made the situation even more tense by begging Him to send her away. That is when the Savior said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” In response to those words, she knelt before Him and said, “Lord, help me.” Christ then truly put her to the test by saying, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” In other words, He was reminding her that she was not a descendant of Abraham and, according to the conventional assumptions of the day, had no claim on the blessings brought by the Messiah.
That is when the Canaanite woman uttered a profound theological truth: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” She acknowledged that, if those promises applied only to those of Hebrew heritage, she had no more claim on them than dogs had to the food of their owner. Those dogs would not have been beloved pets, but more like scavengers that the Jews viewed with caution. Nonetheless, even dogs could lick up the crumbs that fall from the table. In other words, she knew better than our Lord’s disciples that the ancient promises were for the benefit of all. The Lord praised her great faith and healed her daughter when she put the request in those terms.
We probably find it hard to understand why Christ responded to this woman’s pleas as He did. Had He immediately granted her request and not referred to her as a dog, we would be more comfortable with the story. In order to understand this conversation, we have to remember that He was guiding a particular person to grow in her faith. Like a good parent or teacher, He did not do all the work for her or make things too easy. Instead, He challenged her to face head-on who she was in relation to Him. He prodded her to grow into a mature understanding of how the blessings of His ministry could extend to her and her fellow Gentiles. That was not only a truth she needed to learn, but that His disciples needed to see enacted before their very eyes as He praised the faith of a despised foreigner and delivered her daughter.
The Savior put this woman to the test and she responded with humble faith. She did not take offense due to hurt pride when He seemed to ignore her and then gave the impression that she should go away and stop bothering Him. She did not deny that, as a Gentile, she had the standing of a dog, an unclean animal that was not really part of the family, in the eyes of the Jews. Indeed, her great expression of faith is based on the acceptance of that lowly designation. The Savior’s response enabled her to see clearly who she was in relation to Him and how shocking it was that His mercy extended even to the Gentiles. Christ surely spoke to her in this way because He knew she had the spiritual strength to respond as she did for her own benefit and that of her daughter and the disciples. And since we are focusing on her story today, the account of this woman’s humble faith benefits us also.
It is tempting for any group of people to forget or ignore the truth about where they stand before the Lord. The Roman Empire persecuted the early Christians because the Romans believed that they were civilization itself. They charged those who refused to worship their gods with treason and hatred of humanity, for they believed that those gods protected their realm. There was no higher good for them than to preserve their way of life. How tempting it remains for nations and other groups hypocritically to identify themselves with all that is good and to use that identification to justify hating and condemning others.
We commemorate today the Hieromartyr Charalampos the Wonder Worker, a bishop who endured terrible tortures at the hands of the Romans at the advanced age of 113 before being beheaded at the beginning of the third century. His example and miracles brought many to believe in Christ. St. Charalampos embodied the humble faith shown by the Canaanite woman, for he did not abandon the Lord when loyalty to Him resulted in horribly brutal treatment and even death. Like other martyrs, he accepted being viewed as an enemy by his own rulers for the sake of the Savior, Who Himself had been executed by the Romans as “the King of the Jews.” They carried out such executions in order to make clear what happened to people who dared to challenge their authority and unique place in the world.
Obviously, St. Charalampos and the other martyrs faced difficult trials through which they demonstrated their faith. Their path was certainly not easy and required profound patience, as well as the humility to accept being treated much worse than a dog. Through their suffering, they bore witness not only to how the Lord’s salvation extends to Gentiles with faith in Him, but also to His great victory over death in His resurrection on the third day. The Savior’s resurrection was not a mere concept to them, but the ultimate truth of their lives, which they embraced by literally taking up their crosses and following Him through the grave to the empty tomb.
While God does not call us all to become martyrs in that sense, He does call us to cultivate the humble faith which they and the Canaanite woman so clearly possessed. In order to do so, we must reject the temptation to think that we stand before God on the basis of any worldly characteristic or accomplishment, whether as particular people or as members of a group of any kind. Making power and success in this world the highest good was the basis of the idolatry of the Romans. By refusing to deny Christ even to the point of death as traitors to Rome, the martyrs obviously did not worship the false gods of this world. By accepting that she was an outsider to the people of Israel even as she begged for Christ to heal her daughter, the Canaanite woman showed that the ultimate meaning and purpose of her life was not defined by conventional distinctions between people, nations, or religions. Instead of building themselves up over against others by the corrupt standards of earthly power, these holy people embraced the selfless way of Christ, Whose Kingdom is not of this world. Their examples demonstrate that how we stack up according to human standards does not give anyone a greater or lesser claim on the Lord’s mercy than anyone else.
Like them, we must not give up when difficult circumstances test our faith. It is precisely through our disappointments, struggles, and persistent challenges that we will grow in our understanding that the life in Christ is not about getting what we want on our own terms or schedule or achieving any earthly goal. It is, instead, about finding the healing of our souls as we share more fully in the eternal life of the Savior as the particular persons He created us to be. Our paths will not be identical to those of St. Charalampos or the Canaanite woman, but we must look to them as examples of the persistent, humble faith in Christ through Whom “many will come from the East and the West to share the banquet with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 8:11)

Presenting Our Talents in the Heavenly Temple: Homily for the 16th Sunday After Pentecost. Father Philip LeMasters Feb 2, 2019 (Ancient Faith Blog)

Today we continue to celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple, when the Theotokos and St. Joseph the Betrothed took the forty-day old Savior to the Temple in obedience to the requirements of the Old Testament law. This is a feast in which we celebrate how the Child born at Christmas has fulfilled the hopes of the children of Abraham and extended them to all people with faith in Him. Righteous Simeon held Christ in his arms and proclaimed, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” The elderly Prophetess Anna also “spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” The Old Testament temple and priesthood were preparatory signs of the coming of the Great High Priest Who offers Himself for the salvation of the world. He has fulfilled the law and the calling of every human person to become like God in holiness, for He has joined humanity to divinity in Himself as the God-Man.
In order to celebrate this feast properly, we must go beyond speaking words about what Christ has done, as true as those words are. We must present and unite ourselves to Him personally, making every dimension of our life an entrance into the heavenly worship of the Kingdom. For our Savior is the One “Who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and Who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by a mere human being.” (Heb. 8:1-2) Everything that we think, say, and do in this world may participate already in heavenly glory through Christ, when we unite ourselves to Him in holiness. In order for that to happen, we must obey St. Paul’s instruction: “We entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain…Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” If we are not offering ourselves to the Lord today, then we are refusing the only opportunity we have to share more fully in His life. The past is gone and we have no idea what the future will hold. We must be good stewards of the opportunities available to us right now, if we want to find the healing of our souls.
As the parable in today’s gospel reading makes clear, we must invest ourselves more fully in the life of Christ. The point is not what particular challenges and opportunities we have on a daily basis, but whether we are responding to them in a way that serves God’s purposes for us, our neighbors, and our world. The servants who invested their talents such that they produced more were exalted. The servant who, out of fear, buried his talent in the ground and produced nothing lost what he had and was cast out. The point was not how much they began with, but what they did with what they had. Regardless of the circumstances of our lives, we all face the same challenge to enter more fully into the blessed life of the Kingdom. “Now is the day of salvation” for us all because the ultimate question is whether we are uniting ourselves to Christ in the present reality of our lives. If we are doing so, then we are becoming more fully the people God created us to be in His image and likeness through the eternal ministry of our Great High Priest. If we are not, we are refusing to cooperate with our Lord’s gracious invitation to share in the life of the Kingdom. That is a path that leads only to greater spiritual weakness.
In the parable, the man with one talent hid it in the ground because he was afraid of his master. Notice that the master said that the servant, at the very least, could have put the talent in a bank and produced a little bit of interest for him. We may be tempted to refuse to give our time, energy, and abilities to serve Christ because we are afraid that He will not accept our offering. We may think that we will fail at what we have set out to do or perhaps somehow look foolish in the eyes of others. We may feel weak or guilty or otherwise believe that opening some area of our lives to the Savior will result only in harsh condemnation.
Remember, however, that the master in the parable would have accepted even a small amount of interest from one talent put in the bank. He told the unfortunate servant that the proper response to his fear was at least to do something productive, not to be paralyzed by anxiety or shame. On the one hand, it could be understandable why we would hesitate to unite ourselves to the Lord. It can be painful and embarrassing to acknowledge the truth about our own brokenness and need for healing. Since God is infinitely holy and we most surely are not, the temptation not to expose ourselves to Him is powerful. We like to think that it would be better to avoid the pain of condemnation, failure, or hurt pride by keeping the Lord—and a recognition of the truth about our lives– at arm’s length. Consequently, we bury our talent in the ground as we refuse to offer and open ourselves to Christ.
The problem, of course, is that the assumptions driving the fears that keep us from being good stewards of our talents have no basis in reality. The Master Who calls us to offer our lives to Him is Jesus Christ, Who endured crucifixion, death, burial, and descent into Hades for our salvation. Purely out of love for us, He offered up Himself in order to conquer the grave in His glorious resurrection on the third day. In His earthly ministry, the Savior had mercy on every repentant sinner who came to Him, including St. Peter who denied Him three times before His crucifixion. He healed diseases of all kinds, cast out demons, and even raised the dead. There is no reason to let fear of rejection deter us from humbly offering ourselves to Him for the service of the Kingdom.
If we wonder what it would mean for us to be good stewards of our talents, all that we need to do is look around us. Christ said that He “came to serve, not to be served” (Matt. 20:28) and there is no shortage of ways to serve Him in our parish, in our families, and in our neighbors, friends, and acquaintances. To the extent that we help even the lowliest person, we serve our Lord. We must also be good stewards by devoting our time, energy, and attention to prayer, reading the Bible, studying the lives and teachings of the saints, and gaining strength in resisting our self-centered desires by fasting and other forms of self-denial. We must deliberately invest ourselves in daily practices that enable us to offer ourselves to Christ. If we do not, our focus will remain simply on ourselves, and especially on fulfilling our passions in ways that further enslave us to them.
At the end of the day, we must offer ourselves to something or someone. Remembering how Christ has fulfilled the ancient prophecies of the Old Testament, let us unite ourselves to Him as our Great High Priest by making each moment of our lives a point of entrance into the eternal liturgy of the Kingdom of Heaven. Righteous Simeon and the Prophetess Anna waited decades for the Messiah. Since He has already come, let us give our whole lives to Him. That is the only way to be good stewards of our gifts as we refuse “to accept the grace of God in vain,” but instead do all that we can to cooperate with Him for the healing of our souls. Anything less amounts to burying our talents in the ground and refusing to invest ourselves in the service of the Kingdom.