Are We Seeking Christ? by St. John of Kronstadt

The holy Apostle of Christ, Andrew the First-called, was originally a disciple of St. John the Baptist who prepared the people to receive the Messiah, When the Saviour came out of the wilderness, the Forerunner told the people: “Behold, the Lamb of God” (John 1:36). Immediately Andrew followed after Him. Turning round and seeing him together with John’ s other disciples, the Lord asked them: What do ye seek? They answered: Master, where dost Thou dwell? He said to them: Come and see. The disciples saw where He lived and spent the day there with Him. Soon after this the Lord called Andrew and his brother Peter to follow after Him and told them that they were to become fishers of men unto the salvation of many. From that time forth, they remained with Christ; they were faithful to Him to the end and gave their very lives out of love for Him.

Dear brothers and sisters on this day I would ask you the same question: What are you seeking? Why did you come to church today? What are we all seeking in our lives? Are we seeking Christ, as He was first sought by tile humble fishermen, among whom was the Apostle Andrew?

What is it that people seek in life: health, riches, success, acquaintances, friends, prestige, various worldly pleasures, vain knowledge… Only a few seek Christ the Saviour. Some may even think it strange to seek Christ. They say, we call ourselves Christians after Christ, we see His holy image both in our homes and at church; we pronounce His sweetest name and hear it in God’s temple. It appears we have no need to seek for Christ. People seek that which they don’t have, that which they need. But we seem to have Christ.

It’s true, we have icons of Christ, but we do not have Christ Himself; we have His name, but only on our lips—not in our hearts; we know Him, but only in word—not in deed. Here, beloved, is a big difference; it is the same difference as between a shadow and the object which casts the shadow, It is, however, precisely with the heart that Christ is truly known, that is, in our inner man—in our soul; because Christ, as God, is Spirit, “Who is everywhere and fillest all things.”

The kingdom of God is within You (Luke 17:21), says the Lord. The holy Apostle Paul earnestly desired that through faith Christ would dwell in the hearts of Christians. He wrote:

May God grant you according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith. (Eph. 3:16-17)

We have to admit that most of us do not have Christ in our hearts. Instead, our hearts are occupied with that which is opposed to Christ—our God and Saviour, that which is opposed to our own good, which hinders the salvation of our souls. And because of this we do not lead a genuine Christian life.

What is it that occupies our hearts? God alone, Who searchest out the hearts and reins (Ps. 7:9) sees what is in our hearts, its attachments. If the Lord granted us to see the full depths of our hearts, we would turn our eyes away in horror from such an overwhelming accumulation of filth. Let each of us look into his heart and say before the witness of our conscience what it is that occupies our hearts most of all. Passions, sins voluntary and involuntary—are these not our heart’s constant inhabitants?

But where does Christ dwell? —in pure hearts, hearts that are humble and contrite, there where He is not grieved by doubt or unbelief, by indifference towards Him Who is God and Saviour; there where men do not prefer the temporal sweetness of sin; where the idols of the passions have been chased out; where crude materiality is not preferred to the Kingdom of God. where Christians often turn their thoughts to the heavenly, as those created for heaven, for eternity; there where they seek God’s truth, where every day and every hour they are attentive to His commandments. Here is where Christ dwells. And what does He do there? If only we knew (some, of course, do know) what He does in souls worthy of His abiding presence—what rest, comfort and joy He imparts, what paradisal bliss He gives them to experience while still on this earth…

Having once embraced Christ, the holy Apostle Andrew became entirely committed to Him, and no matter what difficulties, sorrows, misfortunes and persecutions—unavoidable in preaching the Gospel—came his way, he remained faithful to Christ, enduring everything out of love for Him, even crucifixion.

It is of utmost importance that we seek after Christ—and find Him. Without Christ, who will save us from our sins which ensnare us every day and hour, and from the eternal torments? Only the Son of God has power on earth to forgive sins; He alone has the keys to hell and death, the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and life.

To find Christ is not difficult. He is everywhere, filling the world with Himself. God says to us through His prophet Jeremiah: “I am a God nigh at hand…and not a God afar off” (Jer. 23:23) …. As soon as He sees our hearts incline to receive His grace, He immediately enters, bringing with Him peace and comfort. I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me (Rev. 3:20), says the Lord. Oh, how often He converses with His faithful servants, as with true friends. Christ Himself is seeking you: if you but incline your heart toward Him, you will surely find Him.

But how are we to know if we have found Christ and are close to Him? Those close to Christ often turn to Him in prayer with faith and love; they often pronounce from their heart His sweetest name, often call upon Him for help; they often read or listen to His word with childlike simplicity and love; they seek frequent union with Him in His life-giving Mysteries; they are satisfied with whatever they have and accepting of what happens to them; they strive according to their strength to fulfill Christ’s commandments… It happens that they also experience trials which are allowed by the loving Master—in order that their hearts be cleansed of every sinful impurity. Those who desire to be with Christ must not run away from trials, but even in times of joy, they must not forsake the carrying of their cross.

My dear brothers and sisters! Seek Jesus Christ with faith and love. Do not forget that He gave His life on the Cross for our sakes, to deliver us from sin and eternal torment, and to dwell in our hearts, that we might have great joy. Do not forget, we have all been bought with the price of His blood, and we should belong to Him, as to our Redeemer.

Our days are numbered. Every stroke of the clock reminds us to seek Him Who created time and Himself stands above the measure of time. He alone is able to pluck us out from the ravaging torrent of time… Every stroke of the clock tells us: Be watchful! You now have one hour less until you must cross the threshold into life after death which knows neither days nor hours. Do not be seduced by the momentary sweetness of sin which vanishes like a dream, leaving the soul empty, ailing, anguishing; it steals away precious time and ruins it forever. Do not waste time in useless occupations or idleness. Every one of you has a God-given talent to put to use. Busy yourselves in acquiring incorruptible wealth in the Kingdom of Heaven. Take the example of the thousands who have gone before you, having attained eternal rest and joy through their ceaseless labors in this temporal life, through sweat and tears. Make haste to uproot from yourselves sin in all its various manifestations, through the help of Christ the Saviour. Remember, man sows what he reaps (Gal. 6:7), according to the immutable law of God’ s righteousness.

While there is still time, therefore, let us hasten to find Christ and in faith create for Him an abode in our hearts that we not fall prey to the fire of gehenna, as it is written: “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:6). Amen.


At the Heart of Lent March 2, 2018 · Fr. Stephen Freeman (Ancient Faith)

Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You! (Ps. 119:11)

Years ago, I heard a statement from an American monk: “The contemplative need go no further than his own heart to find the source of all violence in the world.” It struck me as true then and has only seemed more so as the years have passed. At the time (not long after the Vietnam War) this monastic was remarking on the many young people whom they had visiting his monastery who were “so deeply angry about peace.” The statement echoed an experience I had some years earlier when I was in high school.

A well-known peace activist, a Catholic priest visited our campus. There was a public discussion surrounding his presentation on the War (Vietnam). I got very involved in what became a vitriolic debate (I was arguing for peace). After the event, the priest said to me, “Stephen, there’s more than one way to do violence to a person.” He saw my heart and its danger for me.

Those early lessons were lost on me, but not forgotten. They haunted me when I first read Dostoevsky. His novels never present “evil” characters. Instead, they present the reality of the human heart. It is there that the source of all violence can be found. Discussing the topic of beauty and debauchery, Dmitri Karamazov examines the contradictions within our experience: “…the devil is struggling with God, and the battlefield is the human heart.”

When the battlefield within the heart is ignored and projected outwards, the result is a world of black and white, good and bad, friend and enemy. But both friend and enemy have hearts that are themselves a mass of contradictions, a battleground of good and evil. Solzhenitsyn famously saw this very thing:

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

I am daily reminded of those early lessons on violence. If my generation was angry about peace, today we are angry about everything. The battleground within is strewn with the dead bodies of those whom we imagine being against us. No holocaust of violence could ever cleanse the world and bring peace to the heart. None of our projects will make the world a better place. The world is the projection of the human heart, and little more.

It is this very battlefield that the Lenten path to Pascha asks us to see.

“Grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother…”

So we pray as we repeat the prayer of St. Ephrem. Everything we see (or imagine we see) in those we judge is present within our own heart. It is only when we know that this is true that repentance can begin and the battle turn towards God’s favor.

Without repentance, every public display of outrageous violence only provokes us to more violence within. The mind races to fix blame and argue solutions. Repentance would, I think, produce silence, as we confronted the shame that the latest carnage should provoke in us all. In a sublime passage that echoes the teaching at the very heart of Orthodoxy, Dostoevsky’s Elder Zossima offers this:

“Love one another, fathers,” the elder taught (as far as Alyosha could recall afterwards). “Love God’s people. For we are not holier than those in the world because we have come here and shut ourselves within these walls, but, on the contrary, anyone who comes here, by the very fact that he has come, already knows himself to be worse than all those who are in the world, worse than all on earth … And the longer a monk lives within his walls, the more keenly he must be aware of it. For otherwise he had no reason to come here. But when he knows that he is not only worse than all those in the world, but is also guilty before all people, on behalf of all and for all,2 for all human sins, the world’s and each person’s, only then will the goal of our unity be achieved. For you must know, my dear ones, that each of us is undoubtedly guilty on behalf of all and for all on earth, not only because of the common guilt of the world, but personally, each one of us, for all people and for each person on this earth. This knowledge is the crown of the monk’s path, and of every man’s path on earth. For monks are not a different sort of men, but only such as all men on earth ought also to be. Only then will our hearts be moved to a love that is infinite, universal, and that knows no satiety. Then each of us will be able to gain the whole world by love and wash away the world’s sins with his tears … Let each of you keep close company with his heart, let each of you confess to himself untiringly. Do not be afraid of your sin, even when you perceive it, provided you are repentant, but do not place conditions on God. Again I say, do not be proud. Do not be proud before the lowly, do not be proud before the great either. And do not hate those who reject you, disgrace you, revile you, and slander you. Do not hate atheists, teachers of evil, materialists, not even those among them who are wicked, nor those who are good, for many of them are good, especially in our time. Remember them thus in your prayers: save, Lord, those whom there is no one to pray for, save also those who do not want to pray to you. And add at once: it is not in my pride that I pray for it, Lord, for I myself am more vile than all …1

And this is the way past our violence and the path to peace.

Have a Blessed Lent!! Prayer of Repentance (St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prayers by the Lake, 29)

“For all the sins of men I repent before You, Most Merciful Lord”

I repent for all those who are worried, who stagger under a burden of worries and do not know that they should put all their worries on You. For feeble man even the most minor worry is unbearable, but for You a mountain of worries is like a snowball thrown into a fiery furnace

I repent for unbelievers, who through their unbelief amass worries and sicknesses both on themselves and on their friends.

I repent for all those who blaspheme God, who blaspheme against You without knowing that they are blaspheming against the Master, who clothes them and feeds them.

I repent for all the slayers of men, who take the life of another to preserve their own. Forgive them, Most Merciful Lord, for they know not what they do…

I repent for all those who bear false witness, for in reality they are homicides and suicides.

For all my brothers who are thieves and who are hoarders of unneeded wealth I weep and sigh, for they have buried their soul and have nothing with which to go forth before You.

For all the arrogant and the boastful I weep and sigh, for before You they are like beggars with empty pockets.

For all drunkards and gluttons, I weep and sigh, for they have become servants of their servants.

For all adulterers I repent, for they have betrayed the trust of the Holy Spirit, who chose them to form new life through them. Instead, they turned serving life into destroying life.

For all gossipers I repent, for they have turned Your most precious gift, the gift of speech, into cheap sand.

For all those who destroy their neighbor’s hearth and home and their neighbor’s peace I repent and sigh, for they bring a curse on themselves and their people.

For all lying tongues, for all suspicious eyes, for all raging hearts, for all insatiable stomachs, for all darkened minds, for all ill will, for all unseemly thoughts, for all murderous emotions–I repent, weep and sigh.

For all the history of mankind from Adam to me, a sinner, I repent; for all history is in my blood. For I am in Adam and Adam is in me.

For all the worlds, large and small, that do not tremble before Your awesome presence, I weep and cry out: O Master Most Merciful, have mercy on me and save me!”


Sermon of St. John of Kronstadt on Forgiveness Sunday, from Russian Orthodox Church Abroad Website.

Word of Saint John of Kronstadt on the Cheesefare week

For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses, says the Lord  (Matt. 6, 14-15).
This Sunday is called Forgiveness Sunday, because today the Church directs us to read the Gospel teaching us to forgive the transgressions of others so that our heavenly Father might also forgive us our innumerable transgressions. For that reason, from the ancient times, among the pious Christians there has been a custom, in this day, and during any day of the Cheesefare week, to ask forgiveness from each other, in those things in which they may have sinned one against another. This is a beautiful, truly Christian custom, for who does not sin against his neighbor in word, deed, or thought; and asking forgiveness from another person proves our faith in Gospel, our humility, our meekness and love of peace; on the contrary, the unwillingness to ask forgiveness from those, before whom we are really guilty, reveals in the one who is unwilling to make peace, a lack of faith, pride, conceit, remembrance of evil, disobedience to the Gospel, resistance to God, agreement with the devil. Whereas we all are children of our heavenly Father by grace, members of Christ God, members of one body of the Church, which is His body, and members of one another; God is love 1), and more than any whole-burnt offerings and sacrifices, requires from us mutual love, that love, which is long-suffering and kind, does not envy, does not make a vain display of itself, does not boast, does not behave itself unseemly, seeks not its own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil, rejoices not over iniquity, but rejoices in the truth. Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things and never fails 2). The entire Law of God consists of two words: love God and love your neighbor. With all that, the human heart is extremely selfish, impatient, self-willed, malicious and remembering of evil: it is ready to get angry at its neighbor not only for a direct evil, but also for an imaginary one, not only for an offensive word, but also for an unpleasant, or a harsh one, or even for a look, which appeared bad, or ambiguous, malicious, prideful, it almost gets angry even at the imagined thoughts of those around it. The Lord, Who sees the hearts, thus says of a human heart: from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness 3).

But against a strong malady there should also exist strong remedies; for the great maliciousness of men is countered by infinite benevolence and all-powerful grace of God: with its help, every evil in oneself and in others is conveniently defeated – by meekness, absence of malice,  acts of concession, patience and longsuffering. But I say unto you, preaches the Savior, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any man will sue thee at the law and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also 4)… For forgiveness of our neighbors’ sins, we are likewise promised the forgiveness of sins by our Heavenly Father, mercy at the Great Judgment, – and the eternal blessedness: the meek shall inherit the earth 5). But the irreconcilable malice is threatened with the just judgment of God and eternal torment. Hear now one story, which makes it evident how God punishes, even here, those men who are malicious and irreconcilable with each other. In the Lavra monastery of Kiev Caves, in ancient times there were two monks, a priest-monk Titus and a deacon, Evagrius. Having lived for a few years in peace and friendship they, because of some things,  have then acquired enmity and hatred toward each other; their mutual malice has lasted for a long time; and they, without having reconciled with each other, even dared to offer the bloodless sacrifice before God. No matter how much the brethren advised them to put away the anger and live with each other in peace and harmony, it was all in vain. Once, the priest-monk Titus became gravely ill. Having lost all hope in life, he started to cry bitterly over his sin and have sent to his enemy to ask for forgiveness; but Evagrius didn’t even want to hear of that and started to curse him harshly. The brethren, regretting such a great delusion, brought him to the dying man by force. Titus, seeing his enemy, rose, with the help of others, from his bed, and fell before him to the ground, imploring with tears to forgive him; but Evagrius was so inhumane, that he turned away from him and furiously cried out: not in this life, not in the future one, I do not want to be reconciled with him! He then has torn himself away from the hands of the brethren, and fell to the ground. The monks wanted to raise him up, but were astonished to find him dead and already so cold, as if he had been dead before that for a long time! Their astonishment grew even more, when the priest-monk Titus, at the same time, rose from his deathbed healthy, as if he had never been ill. In fear of such an unusual event, they surrounded Titus and, one before another, were asking, what did all of that mean. He answered: being in grave illness, while I, the sinner, was angry at my brother, I saw the Angels who stepped away from me, crying about the perdition of my soul, and the unclean spirits rejoicing, – that was the reason why I, more than anything, desired to be reconciled with him. But no sooner than he was brought in here, and I bowed down before him, and he started to curse me, – I saw a certain terrible Angel smite him with his spear, and the hapless one tumbled the ground dead; then the same Angel stretched to me his hand and raised me up from the deathbed. The monks cried over the dreadful death of Evagrius and, from that time, started to watch over themselves even more, that the sun would never set in their anger.

Brothers and sisters! The remembrance of evil is a vice most horrible, and as much as it’s loathsome to God, it is also pernicious to society. We are created in the image and likeness of God: meekness and benevolence 6)  should be our unchanging attributes; for God also, always acts toward us according to His mercy, longsuffering and forgives us without count. And we must forgive as well. – But he, who remembers evil, has not in himself the image and likeness of God: he is more a beast rather than a man.

Why Beauty? By Kh. Krista M West

In this time and place in history, in which so many millions of people suffer in myriad ways from poverty, hunger, oppressive regimes, or simply the daily struggle of living in the modern world, why do those who follow the Orthodox Christian faith seem so preoccupied with beauty? With a steady stream of bad news ever capturing our attention, it seems thoughtless at best, and irresponsible at worst, for Orthodox Christians to figuratively stick their heads in the sand and spend time contemplating the nuances of egg tempera icons or the majesty of early Byzantine architecture or the light play of a resplendent brocade, much less allocate valuable resources of time and money to these pursuits.
But rather than the actions of people who are delusional, or attempting to escape from the dire realities of a damaged and despairing world, for an Orthodox Christian, each and every act of beauty—whether inside or outside of a church building—is an act towards and with God, a beautiful Lord of the Universe who is full of love, mercy, light and truth. Cooperating and participating in beauty means to cooperate and participate in God’s love, His unfailing mercy, and the transformation of the cosmos.
This is the simple yet life-changing truth of the Incarnation, of the Divine Logos taking on physical matter and thereby bringing the material world into a state of redemption, restoration, and transfiguration. The physical world is how Christ came to meet us, to draw close to us in order that we can draw close to Him. It is an ultimately beautiful act by a beautiful God.
As Orthodox Christians we find our truest meaning in desiring to be united with Christ, and much liked a lover who can think only of his beloved, we do what He does and this means that we engage with the physical world by beautifying it. We look for opportunities to bring more beauty into the world, whether it is a kind word spoken to someone in need or bringing a lovely bouquet of roses to the church or building a masterpiece like Haghia Sophia, all of these acts are understood to draw us closer to our ultimate goal of union with the Divine.
We have a deep and abiding understanding that as we work on these beautiful things, they will work on us, transforming and transfiguring us so that we can be ever more and more united with the Divine in the Universe, Christ in the cosmos. We understand the work of beauty to be a holy work, one that brings truth and joy and healing to all things.
As we walk this path of beauty that we are called to by our Incarnate Lord of the Universe, we find that this work of beautifying the cosmos has implications for our own individual souls. I dare you to take on a work of beauty and not experience deep and profound change within your own soul. This is the wonderful, dizzying, unique paradox of beauty in the Orthodox Christian Church—when we work to beautify the cosmos we cannot help but be personally transformed and transfigured. This practice of beauty is a mysterious and mystical, albeit utterly practical way, in which to transform the universe and our souls in turn.
While the work of beauty is the sublime and heavenly vocation of all Orthodox Christians, paradoxically, it can be some of the hardest work in which we will ever engage. Learning a centuries-old handcraft like iconography or vestment making requires a decades-long commitment to tradition and a laying aside of the self that can be just as demanding as the ascetical works of monastics, albeit using a different set of spiritual tools. In company with these craftsmen and monastics can be the sacrificial giving of the donor, another path of beauty which anyone can walk. Some take up the needle, some the paintbrush, and some the checkbook, but if the intention is to beautify the cosmos, all are holy and good and redemptive.
In our day and age, we are accustomed to a “cause and effect” arrangement in which we do one specific task for a specific and desired outcome. We hear about injustice and oppression in a third-world country and want to do our part, so we give a donation to an organization that fights that specific type of oppression or injustice. This is a very modern way of looking at change in which we aim to change only the thing right in front of us that we can see. Conversely, as Orthodox Christians, we have an ancient viewpoint, one espoused by admired philosophers such as Plato and venerated saints such as St John of Damascus, in which we believe that any act of beauty is a way of participating in the redemption of the cosmos.
It is these continual works towards transforming the cosmos that will change the world. Just like the proverbial butterfly effect, a single act of beauty can save the world. This is what motivates us to practice and effect beauty in every arena in our lives as Orthodox Christians, because it is a profound, practical, and mystical way to heal ourselves and the universe.
At the closing of every Divine Liturgy, we address to God the prayer “Sanctify those who love the beauty of Thy house”, but we often neglect to notice that the prayer is followed by a promise that God will “glorify them in recompense.” This glorification is the transformation of the cosmos, the true saving of the world by beauty.
So this is why as Orthodox Christians we pray for those in need and do what we whatever we can for them, but we also are careful not to neglect the practice of beauty in our lives and in the Church. It is a salvific work and the truest, most authentic path we walk towards the ultimate healing of ourselves and the universe. In the words of Dostoevsky, beauty certainly will save the world.


If Chrysostom had watched the Super Bowl! by Father Steven Kostoff (OCA)

The Super Bowl and the secular Super Sunday is going on now. The colossal social phenomenon—the Super Bowl—is viewed by hundreds of millions of people worldwide .  Not to be disparaging or dismissive, it might be wise to approach this phenomenon from the perspective of our shared Orthodox Christian faith.  No sense carrying on about the hype and the madness. When all is said and done, it is what it is.

But I could not avoid speculating on how someone like Saint John Chrysostom, who fell asleep in the Lord in AD 407, would have approached the Super Bowl phenomenon in his own unique and pastoral manner.  Of course, there is a huge chronological gap between Saint John’s time and our own, but we also know that there ‘is nothing new under the sun,” and we can discover some very close parallels just under the surface when comparing different eras and their cultures.  Saint John very well knew and understood the lure of the “games” and other forms of public entertainment in his own time, as he lived in large, cosmopolitan and urban settings such as Constantinople and Antioch. Such urban settings invariably had a hippodrome—the equivalent of our stadiums—at the center of a teeming social milieu that was also open to public entertainment.

What is quite interesting in Saint John’s pastoral approach is that even if there is an implicit criticism of these public forms of entertainment (as he was very critical of the “theatre” as it existed in his day), that was never his main concern.  Saint John would employ what we would call today “sports” and other diverse forms of entertainment in order to exhort his flock to be vigilant and committed in its adherence to and practice of the Gospel.  Being a “fan” of a sport is far from being a “member” of the Church.  As a pastor, Saint John would challenge his flock to ensure that the great gap in that distinction is not somehow closed by lack of vigilance.

The great saint was fully aware of a kind of nominal membership in the Church, and he was quick to point out how erosive of genuine faith that lack of commitment could be for the entire flock under his pastoral care.  Saint John was basically asking whether Christians are as committed to the Gospel and the life of the Church as they are adherents, participants and performers in the “entertainment industry” of the fourth and fifth centuries?  Primarily, this would include athletes and actors. Do Christians show the same level of passion for the Gospel as do the fans of the games and theatre? Here is one example from among many of how Saint John used his rhetorical skills in challenging Christians on this front: “We run eagerly to dances and amusements.  We listen with pleasure to the foolishness of singers. We enjoy the foul words of actors for hours without getting bored.  And yet when God speaks we yawn, we scratch ourselves and feel dizzy.  Most peoples would run rabidly to the horse track, although there is no roof there to protect the audience from rain, even when it rains heavily or when the wind is lifting everything.  They don’t mind bad weather or the cold or the distance. Nothing keeps them in their homes. When they are about to go to church, however, then the soft rain becomes an obstacle to them.  And if you ask them who Amos or Obadiah is, or how many prophets or apostles there are, they can’t even open their mouths.  Yet they can tell you every detail about the horses, the singers and the actors.  What kind of state is this?”

Yet, this rhetorical deflation of the theatre and games serves as a backdrop that only intensifies the strength of his descriptions of the manifold riches of the Church, especially the Eucharist. From the same homily, here is Saint John’s impassioned and rhetorically brilliant description of the glory of the Church: “The Church is the foundation of virtue and the school of spiritual life.  Just cross its threshold at any time, and immediately you forget daily cares. Pass inside, and a spiritual ray will surround your soul. This stillness causes awe and teaches the Christian life.  It raises up your train of thought and doesn’t allow you to remember present things.  It transports you from earth to Heaven.  And if the gain is so great when a worship service is not even taking place, just think, when the Liturgy is performed—and the prophets teach, the Apostles preach the Gospel, Christ is among believers, God the Father accepts the performed sacrifice, and the Holy Spirit grants His own rejoicing—what great benefit floods those who have attended church as they leave the church. The joy of anyone who rejoices is preserved in the Church.  The gladness of the embittered, the rejoicing of the saddened, the refreshment of the tortured, the comfort of the tired, all are found in the Church.  Because Christ says, ‘Come to me, all who are tired and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest’ [Matthew 11:28].  What is more longed for than [to hear] this Voice?  What sweeter than this invitation?  The Lord is calling you to a Banquet when He invites you to church. He urges you to be comforted from toils and He transports you to a place of comfort from pain, because He lightens you from the burden of sins. He heals distress with spiritual enjoyment, and sadness with joy.”

Saint John was not called Chrysostom—the “Golden-mouthed”—for nothing!  He does not admonish his flock in this homily to give up on the games and other forms of entertainment; but he surely makes it clear that there is no comparison between the two.  And that, therefore, our desire and commitment cannot be so misplaced to somehow put the two on the same level of attraction.  The perfectly legitimate desire to “fit in” with one’s neighbors and participate in socially popular events must be balanced by an awareness of not being fully of the world once one is baptized into the Church.

Bearing all of that in mind, if I were to write in the spirit of Saint John and try to apply his approach to parish life in the contemporary world, I would make the following pastoral “suggestions” based on the recent Super Bowl—or for that matter, any existing commitment we might have to the world of professional sports/entertainment.

If you watched the Super Bowl from its opening kick-off to the end of the game, but if you chronically arrive late for the opening doxology of “Blessed is the Kingdom” at the Liturgy, then it may be time to show the same commitment to the Liturgy and arrive at the beginning.  That opening doxology opens us up to a reality hardly matched by an opening kick-off.

If you spent time watching all of the pre-game hype and analysis, all meant to prepare you for the game, but if you have never given much thought to arriving before the Liturgy for the reading of the Hours; then I would suggest arriving in church before the actual Liturgy begins in time for the pre-Eucharist chanting of those very Hours—a mere 20 minutes.  This way you are able to settle in and calm down a bit in preparation for the Liturgy that will shortly unfold in all of its majesty.

If you have been engaged in some of the (endless) post-game analysis ; or watched “highlights” of the game, or recall some of the more significant and game-changing plays of the game, but if you struggle by mid-week to remember what the Gospel was at last Sunday’s Liturgy, then I would suggest engaging in some post-Liturgy analysis of the Gospel that you heard on any given Sunday with family and/or friends (or within your own mind and heart).  Such “analysis” can eventually become genuine meditation of even contemplation.

This is all more than possible, according to Saint John, because of the inexhaustible riches of the Liturgy. Once again, Saint John exhorts us to leave the Liturgy as changed human beings, having communed of the Risen Lord: “Let us depart from the Divine Liturgy like lions who are producing fire, having become fearsome even to the devil, because the holy Blood of the Lord that we commune waters our souls and gives us great strength.  When we commune of it worthily, it chases the demons far away and brings the angels and the Lord of the angels near us.  This Blood is the salvation of our souls; with this the soul is washed, with this it is adorned.  This Blood makes our minds brighter than fire; this makes our souls brighter than gold.”

We are slowly drawing near to the Church’s own “Super Sunday” which is, of course, Pascha.  Let our preparation and desire for that day far surpass any of our other passions or commitments, for the Lord taught us, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” [Matthew 6:21].