Two Paths to the Kingdom: Homily on Zacchaeus and the Apostle Timothy in the Orthodox Church, by Fr. Philip LeMasters, Ancient Faith

Timothy 4:9-15; Luke 19:1-10

One of the worst mistakes that we can make in life is to insist that everyone be just the same. Part of the beauty of the human being is the distinctiveness of our personalities, our interests, and our abilities. We see that in our families, in our friendships, in our work, and in the Church, where the different members of the Body of Christ have different functions in working together for the strength and blessing of all. We should also learn to see that in the spiritual paths that we pursue, in the journeys that we take to share more fully in the life of our Lord.

Zacchaeus’ path to salvation was shocking, decisive, and scandalous. As a chief tax collector, he was a high ranking traitor to the Jews because he worked collecting taxes for the pagan Roman Empire, which occupied Israel. He became rich basically by stealing from his fellow Jews when he took even more of their money than the Romans required and lived off the difference. He was the last person whom anyone would have expected to entertain the Messiah in his home, but that is precisely what he did at the instruction of Jesus Christ. And when people complained how disreputable it was for the Lord to enter his home, Zacchaeus made a bold change in an instant. This man who had apparently loved money and comfort more than his own people or righteousness, repented of his own accord. There is no record that Christ told him to take any particular action, but he immediately committed himself publicly to giving half of his possessions to the poor and to giving back four times the amount that he had stolen. Since he was a chief tax collector and wealthy, these acts of restitution surely involved large sums of money. No one would have ever expected someone like him to do that, and it was such a grand gesture that many probably found it hard to believe.

Jesus Christ knew, however, that he was sincere and would follow through with these outrageous acts of repentance. That is why He said what no Jew ever expected the Messiah to say about someone like Zacchaeus: “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.” Unlike those who wanted a Messiah to reward the righteous, destroy the sinners, and defeat the Romans, our Savior came to bring the lost sheep back into the fold, even those who were so lost that they had gone over to the side of the wolves.

There have been many people whose journey to the Kingdom has much in common with Zacchaeus. Like him, they had turned away from God and many people probably thought that they would be the very last people to find healing for their souls. Remember that St. Paul actually persecuted Christians before the risen Lord appeared to him on the road to Damascus. St. Peter denied the Lord three times during His Passion. In the Old Testament, King David committed murder and adultery. St. Mary of Egypt was a grossly immoral person before repenting so profoundly that she rose up off the ground in prayer. St. Moses the Black was a feared criminal before becoming a model of holiness in the monastic life. The list goes on and on of outrageous sinners who shockingly redirected their lives to the Lord through humble repentance. In contrast with all the darkness of their past lives, His glory shines especially brightly in them.

Not everyone follows that particular path to the Kingdom, however. Tomorrow we commemorate St. Timothy the Apostle, who was converted to the Christian faith by St. Paul together with his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice. He became the bishop of Ephesus and was martyred there for opposing the worship of false gods. St. Paul thought highly of him as his spiritual son, and exhorted him to embrace his calling fully and to be a good steward of his gifts. As. St. Paul wrote, “Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, attend to the public reading of scripture, to preaching, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophetic utterance when the council of elders laid their hands upon you. Practice these duties; devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress.”

St. Timothy came to the faith early in life and the reference to his youth shows that he had responsibilities in ministry as relatively young adult. St. Paul instructed him to be responsible to the great dignity of his calling, to devote himself to cultivating all the spiritual strength that he possibly could, and to be fully aware of the gravity of the grace given him to serve as a shepherd of the flock.

Unlike with Zacchaeus, Timothy apparently did not need astounding repentance. He had the benefit of coming to Christ early in life and needed primarily to be faithful with all the blessings that he had received. That may seem easier than turning away from a life of grave sin, but it is a path with its own temptations, which can be subtle and deadly. It is easy to take for granted what we have known for so long, perhaps for our whole lives. It is appealing to denigrate “the same old thing” that we and our families have done for so long. It is a temptation to become comfortable with our level of spiritual growth or with the place that we have allowed God in our lives. St. Paul surely knew that, so he instructed Timothy straightforwardly to remain focused, take nothing for granted, and give his all to the Lord each day.

At different points in our lives, we will identify more with Zacchaeus and at other times more with Timothy. Some have given their lives to the Savior after falling into the worst forms of corruption that the world has to offer. They have found the way of Christ as a relief and a blessing that stands in stark contrast to the darkness they had previously known.

Some have grown up with the faith and always had some sense of living a Christian life. Nonetheless, we are all Zacchaeus when we turn away from the Lord by embracing darkness in our thoughts, words, and deeds. We may not be traitors and corrupt tax collectors, but we murder people in our hearts when we hate and refuse to forgive them. We fall into adultery whenever we allow lust to take root in our hearts. Married or single, we sin whenever we fuel our passions with images, thoughts, or actions that make us slaves to self-centered desire, that lead us to reject the calling to direct our deepest desires to union with God. When we are stingy with our resources, time, and attention in relation to the needs of our family members and neighbors, we steal from them. But when we reorient ourselves according to the Lord’s purposes for us like Zacchaeus did, salvation will come to our house.

And even if we came to faith from a broken and dark past, we are all Timothy in having gifts of which we must be good stewards. We must devote ourselves to remaining on the path by which we have begun the journey to the Kingdom, refusing to be distracted from our high calling. We must remember the struggles of the past and never take our deliverance for granted, for we are all only one grave sin away from weakening our relationship with the Lord. And if we want to continue on the path to healing and strength that we have begun, we must actually continue on it. St. Paul’s words apply to us also: “Practice these duties; devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress.” Yes, we all owe it to one another to set the best example possible in striving to grow in holiness. This is not a journey that any of us can take entirely by yourselves.

The personal histories of Zacchaeus and Timothy were profoundly different, but they both became shining examples of our Lord’s salvation. The same will be true of us when we turn from sin like that tax collector and mindfully stay focused on serving Christ like that young apostle. No matter where we are on the journey to the Kingdom, we can all learn from these two faithful men. The beauty of our unique personalities will shine all the more brightly when, through humble repentance, salvation comes to our house and when, through steadfast commitment, we refuse to be distracted from offering our lives faithfully to the Savior each day. That is surely His calling to each and every one of us.

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“Thought for the Week” by Father George Ajalat

“Brethren, grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”

In our age of egalitarianism, St. Paul’s words seem strange and unfair- even shocking.  He is clearly teaching us that some people have greater gifts and some lesser.  He also implies that more or less grace is also given. He was trying to heal the jealousies that were engendered in the early church by the differing gifts.  St. Paul is insisting that we, as Orthodox Christians, must understand that there is a hierarchy of gifts and of grace.  Most importantly we should rejoice in this hierarchy.  We must remember that in the parable of the talents one received 5 talents and another 2.  But as each worked so as to double their gift, they each received the same reward and honor.  If someone has received a greater gift, it is because in God’s providence and perfect foreknowledge, that person will use the gift for the salvation of all- so that all may receive equal honor.  Of this person is required greater work and greater responsibility- and he or she will be held to a higher standard before the fearful judgement seat of Christ.    Please remember it is according to the measure of Christ’s gift.  Who are we to argue with the judgment of our God?

Therefore my beloved in Christ Jesus, let us rejoice and be satisfied with the gifts that have been freely given to us, for each of us has a gift- some greater and some lesser.  We can never deserve or merit the gifts that God has bestowed upon us.  We must realize that there are a diversity of gifts and that each one is necessary. We must honor and rejoice in this diversity for it is given to us for our salvation.  We must never be envious of anyone who has a greater gift- either in the hierarchy of the church, in the spiritual life or in life in general.  They have been given this gift so that we might be saved.    Imagine if one was going in for a complex operation and could only feel jealousy that the surgeon had greater knowledge and skill than they themselves had!  We must honor and respect the fact that this surgeon worked so hard to acquire the skills that will save our life!

In exactly a similar vein (no pun intended), we must honor those spiritual elders, monastics, bishops, priests, and spiritual mothers and fathers who have been given  greater or different gifts than we have. They have been given to them by our Lord’s determination of how well and with how much work they will make them effective.  We should not attempt to usurp these gifts nor compete with them in any way, for they have been given to them for our salvation!  As we humble ourselves and learn from our spiritual teachers, their grace will lift us up to heaven and bestow equal honor to each one of us in the sight of our gracious Lord.  This is why we honor those who rule over us- for in doing so we honor the Lord Himself.   This is why there is hierarchy in the church, in the family, and in our workplaces.  This is why we pray to the Saints.  This is why we honor and love the Mother of God.

Therefore my beloved in Christ Jesus, when we meet someone that has been given  greater or different spiritual gifts than we have, let  us honor that person, let us love that person and let us ask for their holy prayers, for they were placed in our midst by God to save us.  Amen.

Homily on the Feast of the Lord’s Theophany, by St. John Of Shanghai and San Francisco.

When celebrating the Theophany, we call to remembrance both that God was made known to people as Trinity and that Jesus was revealed to people as Christ. Where was Christ revealed? Where was His work begun? Did He go to a great city to be revealed there in His Glory? Did He ascend a high mountain, with a crowd of many thousands standing below and looking up at Him like a wonder? No! Christ went into the desert, to the River Jordan, where John was baptizing the people. John preached repentance, calling upon sinners to be baptized in the Jordan as a sign of repentance. Christ, Who has no sin, now comes and asks for baptism as a sinner. John was fearful: “You should baptize me!” Jesus replies: “Let it be so now: for this is how we should fulfill all righteousness” [cf. Matthew 3:13-15].

Adam sinned through pride. He wanted to be exalted, to become like God. But Christ came to fulfill the righteousness of God and to expiate Adam’s pride by His humility. Adam wanted to exalt himself before God, but God humbled Himself before man. Christ descended into the waters, receiving baptism from His servant. John, trembling, placed his hand on His Master and God, while Christ humbly bowed His head before him. Christ’s humility unlocked the heavens. The heavens were then opened and the voice of God the Father was heard: “This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased. This is My Son, Who humbled Himself in order to accomplish My will; this is My true Son Who abases Himself in order to elevate man.” The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus, confirming the word of the Father. Thus, by His humility, Christ opened the heavens, revealing to people the mystery of the Tri-hypostatic Godhead.

St John Maximovitch
Why did He accomplish this in the waters, and not in some other place? Let us recall how God created the world. When God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was without form and void; the Spirit of God moved over the waters. Then God divided the earth from the waters, but in such a way that water still remained everywhere. Water is essential to every kind of creation. Neither man nor any kind of animal can live without water. There is water (humidity) in the air. Pick up a handful of earth from absolutely anywhere: there will be water there. There is water in stone: it might seem to us that there is none there, but when God so wills, He can draw it out, as occurred in the time of Moses. The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof, the world, and all that dwell therein. He hath founded it upon the seas, and upon the rivers hath He prepared it, as the Psalmist says (Psalm 23:1-2). By the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water, the Apostle Peter writes, Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished (2 Peter 3:5-6).
When man sinned, he incurred the wrath of God not only upon himself, but upon all of nature. Man is the crown of God’s creation; he was made nature’s king. But when this king became the enemy of another King, his entire kingdom became an enemy kingdom. The penalty was incurred not only by man, but by all of creation. We know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now (Romans 8:22). But the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same (Romans 8:20). Therefore, the forgiveness of the offender also frees creation from the bondage of corruption. This corruptible nature will be destroyed, being transformed into new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness (2 Peter 3:13). It was in order to make this transformation possible, and to prepare nature for the incorruption that will occur after the dread day, that Christ came to the waters of Jordan.
By His immersion in the Jordan, Christ sanctified not only the waters of the Jordan, but the whole nature of the waters, as the Church cries out in its hymns: “Christ hath appeared in the Jordan to sanctify the waters” (troparion of the forefeast); “Today the nature of the waters is sanctified” (troparion at the Blessing of the Waters). Since there is water everywhere, by sanctifying the waters, Christ thereby sanctified all of creation and the entire universe. Christ prepared nature that it, too, might experience the beneficial consequences of the sacrifice that He came to offer. But this was not yet everything. He gave the waters the power to cleanse human sin. The baptism of John was only a sign of repentance. Christian Baptism is a new birth and the forgiveness of all sins. God punished the sin of the first world with water, destroying it in a flood of waters. Now God saves people with water in the Mystery of Baptism.
Thus, as we sing in the hymns of the Church, Christ crushed the head of the serpent in the waters of the Jordan, the head of that same serpent that deceived Adam and Eve but was defeated by the humility of Jesus. He made known to people that God is Trinity and He sanctified the waters, preparing all of creation, along with the waters, to receive the word of forgiveness and to prepare it for incorruption. Then, having withstood another battle with the devil in the wilderness, Christ went to prepare people for the kingdom to come. He began His preaching with these words: Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 4:17); or, as another Gospel puts it: The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15).
Until that time, John the Baptist had been preaching repentance, preparing the way for the Lord. Now the Lord Himself cries out to people: “Repent!” This voice is not addressed only to the people who lived in the time of Christ; rather, by these words, Christ addressed all people of every time and age. We, too, have heard these words in the Gospel. So long as the festal hymns of the Theophany have not gone silent, they will remind us that the time of repentance is drawing near.
Let us be attentive! For these are the words not of a prophet or an angel, but of the Lord Himself. Let us repent and, in the approaching fast, let us strive to conquer our passions and to receive remission of sins, that in the age to come we might enter the imperishable kingdom prepared by the Lord. Amen

Resolutions or Repentance

By Fr. Steven Kostoff, Orthodox Church of America, (OCA) Website

According to the civil calendar, we begin the year of our Lord 2018 on January 1.  The year of 2018 is based upon the calculations of a medieval monk who, in attempting to ascertain the exact date of the birth of Christ, missed the year 0 by only a few years.  According to contemporary scholars, Jesus was actually born between what we consider to be 6 – 4 B. C.  These were the last years of Herod the Great, for according to the Gospel of Saint Matthew, Jesus was born toward the very end of Herod’s long reign (37 – 4 B.C.).  Christians therefore divide the linear stretch of historical time between the era before the Incarnation; and the era after the Incarnation and the advent of the Son of God into our space-time world.  In other words, the years before the Incarnation are treated as something of a “countdown” to the time-altering event of the Incarnation; and the years since are counted forward as we move toward the end of history and the coming Kingdom of God.  By entering the world, Christ has transformed the meaning and goal of historical time.
Recently, there has been a scholarly shift away from this openly Christian approach to history, as the more traditional designations of B.C. and A.D. have been replaced by the more neutral and “ecumenically sensitive” designations of B.C.E. (Before the Common Era), and C.E. (Common Era).  Understanding and interpreting history from a decidedly Christian perspective, I would still argue in favor of the more traditional B.C. and A.D.
Although an issue of more than passing interest, that discussion may appear somewhat academic in comparison to the pressing issues of our daily lives as they continue to unfold now in 2018.  We will exchange our conventional greetings of “Happy New Year” probably more than once in the next few days.  Under closer inspection, there remains something vague about that expression, and perhaps that is for the better.  Do we wish for the other person – as well as for ourselves – that nothing will go (terribly) wrong in the unknown future of the new year?  More positively, do we wish that all of our desires and wishes for our lives will be fulfilled in this new year?  Or, are we wishing a successful year of the perpetual pursuit of “happiness” (whatever that means) for ourselves and for our friends?  At that point we just may be reaching beyond the restrictive boundaries of reality.  As Tevye the Dairyman once said, “The more man plans, the harder God laughs.”  Perhaps the more realistic approach would be to give and receive our “Happy New Year” greetings as neighborly acknowledgement that we are “all in this together,” and that we need to mutually encourage and support one another.
We also approach the New Year as a time to commit ourselves to those annual “resolutions” that we realize will make our lives more wholesome, safe, sound, or even sane—if only we can sustain them.  A resolution is to dig deep inside and find the resolve necessary to break through those (bad) habits or patterns of living that undermine either our effectiveness in daily life; jeopardize our relationships with our loved ones, our friends and our neighbors; or seriously threaten to make us less human than we can and should be.  We know that we should eat less, swear less, lust less, get angry less, surf the computer less, play on our iPhones less, watch TV less, and so on.  We further know that we need more patience, more self-discipline, more graceful language, more attention to the needs of others, more “quality time” with our families and friends, more forgiving, more loving, and so on.  We know, therefore, that we need to change, and we intuitively realize how difficult this is.  Bad habits are hard to break.  Therefore, we need this annual opportunity of a new beginning and our New Year resolutions to give us a “fighting chance” to actually change.  We may joke about how quickly we break our resolutions, but beneath the surface of that joking (which covers up our disappointments and rationalizations) we are acknowledging, once again, the struggle of moving beyond and replacing our vices with virtues.  May God grant everyone the resolve to maintain these resolutions with care and consistency.
And yet I believe that we can profoundly deepen our experience of the above.  For, as a “holiday” is a more-or-less secular and watered-down version of a “holy day;” so a resolution is a more-or-less secular and watered-down version of personal repentance.  To repent (in Greek, metanoia) is to have a “change of mind,” together with a corresponding change in the manner of our living and a re-direction of our lives toward God.  The New Year’s resolution of our secularized culture may be a persistent reminder – or the remainder of—a lost Christian worldview that realized the importance of repentance.  “There is something rotten in Denmark,” and an entire industry of self-help and self-reliance therapies – totally divorced from a theistic context—is an open acknowledgement of that reality regardless of how distant it may now be from its religious expression.  As members of the Body of Christ living within the grace-filled atmosphere of the Church, we can, in turn, incorporate our resolutions within the ongoing process of repentance, which is nothing less than our vocation as human beings: “God requires us to go on repenting until our last breath” (Saint Isaias of Sketis).  Or, as Saint Isaac of Syria teaches, “This life has been given you for repentance.  Do not waste it on other things.”
Summarizing and synthesizing the Church’s traditional teaching about repentance, Archbishop Kallistos Ware has formulated a wonderfully open-ended expression of repentance that is both helpful and hopeful:  “Correctly understood, repentance is not negative but positive.  It means not self-pity or remorse but conversion, the re-centering of our whole life upon the Trinity.  It is to look not backward with regret but forward with hope – not downwards at our own shortcomings but upward at God’s love.  It is to see, not what we have failed to be, but what by divine grace we can now become; and it is to act upon what we see.  In this sense, repentance is not just a single act, an initial step, but a continuing state, an attitude of heart and will that needs to be ceaselessly renewed up to the end of life” [The Orthodox Way, p. 113-114].
Hard not to be inspired by such an expressive passage!  In the Service of Prayer for the (Civil) New Year, we incorporate into the litanies of the service some of the following special petitions.  Thus, in the language of the Church, these petitions served as an ecclesial form of the resolutions we make to break through some of our dehumanizing behavior, as well as a plea to God to strengthen our better inclinations: “That He will drive away from us all soul-corrupting passions and corrupting habits, and that He will plant in our hearts His divine fear, unto the fulfillment of His statutes, let us pray to the Lord…; That He will renew a right spirit within us, and strengthen us in the Orthodox Faith, and cause us to make haste in the performance of good deeds and the Fulfillment of all His statutes, let us pray to the Lord…; That He will bless the beginning and continuance of this year with the grace of His of His love for mankind, and will grant unto us peaceful times, favorable weather and a sinless life in health and abundance, let us pray to the Lord….”
If you resolve to seek and to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind … and your neighbor as yourself” [Matthew 22:37-38], then I believe that this new year may not be perpetually “happy,” but that it will truly blessed.”

 

The Nativity Sermon of St. John Chrysostom

Behold a new and wondrous mystery.

My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The Angels sing. The Archangels blend their voice in harmony. The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt His glory. All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He Who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.
Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side, the Sun of justice. And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed; He had the power; He descended; He redeemed; all things yielded in obedience to God. This day He Who is, is Born; and He Who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassability, remaining unchanged.
And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.
Since this heavenly birth cannot be described, neither does His coming amongst us in these days permit of too curious scrutiny. Though I know that a Virgin this day gave birth, and I believe that God was begotten before all time, yet the manner of this generation I have learned to venerate in silence and I accept that this is not to be probed too curiously with wordy speech.
For with God we look not for the order of nature, but rest our faith in the power of Him who works.
What shall I say to you; what shall I tell you? I behold a Mother who has brought forth; I see a Child come to this light by birth. The manner of His conception I cannot comprehend.
Nature here rested, while the Will of God labored. O ineffable grace! The Only Begotten, Who is before all ages, Who cannot be touched or be perceived, Who is simple, without body, has now put on my body, that is visible and liable to corruption. For what reason? That coming amongst us he may teach us, and teaching, lead us by the hand to the things that men cannot see. For since men believe that the eyes are more trustworthy than the ears, they doubt of that which they do not see, and so He has deigned to show Himself in bodily presence, that He may remove all doubt.
Christ, finding the holy body and soul of the Virgin, builds for Himself a living temple, and as He had willed, formed there a man from the Virgin; and, putting Him on, this day came forth; unashamed of the lowliness of our nature.
For it was to Him no lowering to put on what He Himself had made. Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its own Creator. For as in the first creation of flesh, man could not be made before the clay had come into His hand, so neither could this corruptible body be glorified, until it had first become the garment of its Maker.
What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of days has become an infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men. He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infants bands. But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness.
For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit that He may save me.
Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been ¡in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.
Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He became Flesh. He did not become God. He was God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things are nourished, may receive an infants food from His Virgin Mother. So, the Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the Magi may more easily see Him. Since this day the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of withstanding tyranny; and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star.
To Him, then, Who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit, we offer all praise, now and forever. Amen.

Saint Macarius the Great, How to Grow in your Spiritual Life – Homily 19

Christians, wishing to advance and grow, ought to push themselves toward every good so as to free themselves from every habitual sin and be filled by the Holy Spirit.
Strive to Show Humility
1. …Believe firmly in the Lord and giving himself completely to the words of his commands and renouncing the world in all things so that his whole mind may not be taken up with anything ephemeral.
Persevere constantly in prayer, always waiting in faith that expects his coming and his help, keeping the goal of his mind ever fixed upon this.
Push yourself to every good work and to doing all the commandments of the Lord, because there is sin dwelling within him.
Show humility before every person and to consider himself the least and the worst.
Do not seek honor or praise or the glory of men as it is written in the Gospel (Jn 12:44).
Always have only the Lord and his commandments before his eyes, wishing to please him alone in the meekness of his heart, as the Lord says: “Learn of me, because I am meek and humble of heart and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt 11:29).
Strive to be merciful and good
2. Likewise, let him accustom himself to be merciful, compassionate, and good according to his power, as the Lord says: “Be good and kind, even as your heavenly Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36). And again he says: “If you love me, keep my commandments” (Jn 14:15). And again: “Strive to enter through the narrow door” (Lk 13:24). Above all, let him take the humility and conduct of the Lord, his meekness and conversation, as his model by ever remembering him. Let him continue incessantly in prayers, always beseeching and believing that the Lord may come to dwell in him and may perfect and give him power to accomplish all his commands and that the Lord himself may become the dwelling place for his soul.
And thus, the things he now does with effort of a reluctant heart, he may perform one day willingly, accustoming himself always to the good and remembering the Lord and waiting for him always in great love. Then the Lord, seeing such an intention and his good diligence, how he strives to remember the Lord and always seeks to do good and is humble and meek and loving, how he guides his heart, whether he wishes or not to the best of his ability with force, has mercy on him and frees him from his enemies and the indwelling sin. He fills him with the Holy Spirt. And gradually without force or struggle he keeps all the Lord’s commandments in truth. Or, rather, it is the Lord who keeps in him his very own commandments and then he brings forth purely the fruits of the Spirit.
Must force ourselves in the Beginning
3. It is, however, necessary at first for one coming to the Lord force himself thus to do good and, even if he should not in his heart be so inclined, he must constantly await his mercy with unshakened faith and push himself to love, even if he does not have love. He ought to push himself to meekness, even if he has none, to mercy and to have a merciful heart. He must force himself to be disregarded, and when he is looked down upon by others, let him rejoice. When he is made light of or dishonored, let him not become angry according to the saying: “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves” (Rom 12:19). Let him push himself to prayer even when he does not possess the prayer of the Spirit. And so. God, seeing him striving so and pushing himself by determination, even if the heart is unwilling, gives him the authentic prayer of the Spirt gives him true charity, true meekness, “the bowels of mercies” (Col 3:12), true kindness, and, simply put, fills him with the fruits of the Spirit.
Though Effort We develop Trust in God.
4. If a person pushes himself to attain prayer alone… without striving earnestly for meekness and humility and charity and all the other commandments of the Lord, neither taking pains nor struggling and battling to succeed in these as far as his choice and free will go, he may at times be given a grace of prayer with some degree of repose and pleasure from the Spirit according as he asks. But he has the same traits he had before. He has no meekness, because he did not seek it with effort and he did not prepare himself beforehand to become meek. He has no humility, since he did not ask for it and did not push himself to have it. He has no charity toward all men, because he was not concerned with it and did not strive for it in his asking for the gift of prayer. And in doing his work, he has no faith or trust in God, since he did not know that he was without it. And he did not take the pains to seek from the Lord for himself to have a firm faith and an authentic trust.
Strive to Live According to the Ways of God
5. For just as he forces himself to prayer, even when unwilling, so, everyone must push himself likewise to trust, so also to humility, so to charity, so to meekness, sincerity, and simplicity, so “unto every patience and long-suffering with joy” (Col 1: 11), so also to regard himself as little and to consider himself as poor and the least of all. He strives not to speak without profit, but always to be concerned to speak the things of God with mouth and heart. He is attentive not to become angry and loud-mouthed according to the saying, “Let all bitterness and anger and clamoring be put away from you, with all malice” (Eph 4:3 1). He strives to live according to all the ways of the Lord, in the practice of virtue and good and noble conduct, to possess all manifestations of goodness, of humility, of meekness, never being proud and high-minded and puffed up and never to speak against anyone.
With approval of Christ all striving becomes effortless
6. In all of these matters a person must push himself if he desires to gain the approval of and be pleasing to Christ so that the Lord, seeing his determination and purpose in forcing himself to all goodness and kindness and humility and charity and prayer with full determination, may give himself completely to him. The Lord himself does all of these things in truth in him without labor and force, which before he could not perform, even by his own determination, because of sin that indwelled in him. And now all the practice of virtues comes to him as though the virtues are a part of his nature. The reason is really that the Lord comes and dwells in him and he is in the Lord. The Lord himself operates in him to accomplish his own commandments, effortlessly now, filling him with the fruit of the Spirit. But if anyone forces himself only to possess the virtue of prayer, until he receives that gift from God, but does not similarly push himself to those other virtues, he cannot really perform them purely and faultlessly. He must orientate himself toward what good he is capable of doing.
Sometimes the divine grace comes to him as he is asking and imploring. For God is good and kind and he gives to those who ask him whatever they are seeking. If one does not strive to be good, does not possess the virtues already mentioned and has not even prepared himself for them, he loses the grace which he has acquired and falls because of pride, or he does not make progress nor increase in the grace that came to him because he does not give himself purposefully to the Lord’s commandments. For the dwelling place and the repose of the Spirit is humility, charity, and meekness and the other commandments of the Lord.
Essential to force ourselves
7. Therefore, it is necessary that whoever wishes truly to please God and receive from him the heavenly grace of the Spirit and to grow and be perfected in the Holy Spirit should force himself to observe the commandments of God and to make his heart submissive, even if he is unwilling according to the saying, “Therefore, I observe all thy commandments and every false way I abhor” (Ps 119:128). As one pushes and compels himself to persevere in prayer until he succeeds, similarly, if he wishes and forces and compels himself to practice all the virtues and develops a good habit, he thus asks and begs of the Lord always. And obtaining his request and receiving a taste for God and becoming a participator of the Holy Spirit, he makes the gift given to him to increase and to thrive as he rests in humility, in charity, and in meekness.
A humble person never falls
8. The Spirit himself graces him with all of these virtues and teaches him authentic prayer, authentic charity, authentic meekness, for which he pushed himself and sought to possess them. And he had a concern and thought about them and they were given him. And thus, growing and becoming perfect in God, he is deemed worthy to become an heir of the kingdom. For the humble person never falls. Where would he fall since he is lower than all others? A proud mind is a great humiliation, while humility is a great uplifting of the mind and an honor and dignity. Let us, then, push ourselves and strive to obtain humility, even though our heart is unwilling, to obtain meekness and charity by praying and begging God in faith and hope and love unceasingly with such expectancy and purpose so that he may send his Spirit into our hearts in order that we may pray and “worship God in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:24).
Pray that the The Spirit will teach us
9. Let us pray that the Spirit may teach us true prayer which now we are unable to accomplish even through our earnest striving. He will teach us how to accomplish, with hearts of compassion, kindness and all the other commandments of the Lord truly without any trouble and force since the Spirit himself knows how to fill us with his fruit. And so we fulfill the commandments of God through his Spirit, who alone knows the will of the Lord. The Spirit has perfected us in himself and He is perfected in us as we are purified from all defilement and stain of sin, as he presents us as beautiful brides, pure and spotless, to Christ. We rest in God, in his kingdom, and God rests in us for all ages unending. Glory to his tender compassion and mercy and love that he has deigned to bestow such honor and glory to the human race and to deign to make them sons of the heavenly Father and has called them his own brothers. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Saint Theophan the Recluse – Homily 4 Life of Prayer

Three times I have spoken to you about prayer
1. About how to read prayers with attention,
2. About how to ascend to God mentally and in your heart,
3. And how to stand constantly before God with a burning spirit.
The Lord instructed us in various degrees and types of prayer, so that each, according to his strength, could be a partaker in the goodness of prayer. For the work of prayer is a great work. It is, as I have said, the testimony of the spiritual life, and also the food of the spiritual life. One must work towards perfection in prayer more than all other things.
Warning – Also Need to Work on the Virtues
I have reminded you how to succeed in each type of prayer. Now I want to warn you:
It is difficult, if not impossible, to succeed in prayer, if we do not at the same time work on other virtues.
If we compare prayer to a perfume, and the soul to a bottle for perfume, then we will understand that as perfume does not keep its fragrance in a container full of holes, also the soul cannot continue to pray if there is a lack of virtue.
If we compare someone who prays to the whole body, then we see the following lesson: as it is impossible for a man without legs to walk, even if the rest of his body is healthy, so it is impossible to approach God, or reach God in prayer, without active virtue. Look in the apostolic teachings, and you will see that in them prayer does not stand alone, but together with a whole host of virtues.
For example, the apostle Paul arms a Christian in spiritual battle and dresses him in the full armor of God. Look at what this is:
The belt is truth,
the armor is righteousness,
the shoes are the gospel of peace,
the shield is faith,
the helmet is hope,
the sword is the word of God (Eph 6.14-17).
Such weapons!
After all of this he places his warrior in prayer as if in some sort of fortress:
“pray at all times in the spirit with all sorts of prayer and petition” (Eph 6.18).
It is possible for prayer alone to defeat all enemies, but to be strong in prayer, one must be successful in faith, hope, truth, righteousness, and all the rest.
In another place, the same apostle adorns the soul with bridal clothing as the bride of Christ, saying,
“Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col 3.12-16).
In many other places in the word of God, prayer is bound up tightly with all the other virtues, as their queen, after which they all strive, and which draws all of them after itself, or even better, as their fragrant flower. As it is necessary for a flower to be covered with leaves as well as having a stem, branches and root, in order to attract attention, it is also necessary for prayer to be accompanied by other good spiritual inclinations and labors in order to blossom like a flower in the soul; faith is the root, active love is like a stem and branches, and labors of a spiritual-physical nature are like leaves.
When such a holy tree is planted in the soul, then in the morning, and in the evening, and during the course of the day, according to its state, the flowers of prayer will freely blossom and fill all of our inner chambers with fragrance.
I remind you of all of this, so that no one would think: “I labor in prayer, and that is enough”. No – one must work and be zealous for all things together, both praying and working at all the virtues.
It is true that it is impossible to succeed in virtues without prayer, but it is also necessary to work at the virtues while praying, so that the prayer can show its cooperation in these virtues.
In order to succeed in prayer, one must pray, but the labor of prayer should be used as the means to virtues.
One must be concerned about all things, and always strive to be on the right side. The same thing happens in a clock. A clock works properly and shows the correct time only when all of the gears and other parts inside are complete and in their correct place, and joined together properly. This is the same in our inner spiritual mechanism: the striving of the soul will be true like an arrow, directed straight toward God, when all other parts of the soul are whole and are established in their correct places, so to speak, put in place by virtue.
Kind of Virtues that Surround Prayer
I will teach you what sort of virtues should surround your prayer, or what sort of prayerful, virtuous life a Christian should plant in himself, not in my own words, but in the words of the holy hierarch Dimitri of Rostov, who briefly lists these things in the following instructions (from Christian Spiritual Instruction, part 1, p. 288):
1. When you wake up, let your first thought be about God, your first word be a prayer to God your creator and keeper of your life, Who is always able to give life or destroy it, who can strike with illness and heal, and who can save or destroy.
2. Bow and give thanks to God Who raised you from sleep, and Who did not allow you to perish in your sins, but with long-suffering awaited your repentance.
3. Make a start for better things, saying with the Psalmist: “I said, now I have made a beginning” (Ps. 76.11) For no one completes the path to heaven except he who makes a good beginning everyday.
4. From the morning pray like the Seraphim, act like the Cherubim, and be surrounded with angels.
5. Do not waste time any longer. Do only those things which are necessary.
6. In all deeds and words, keep your mind in God; do not write anything in your mind except Christ, and let no image touch your pure heart except the pure image of Christ our God and Savior.
7. Awaken yourself to the love of God in all things, whenever you are able, especially say to yourself with the Psalmist: “in my meditation a fire was kindled” (Ps. 38.4).
8. You desire to love God, Whose visitation you always see and gaze upon with your interior eyes, therefore turn away from all evil deeds, words, and thoughts. Do, say, and think all things honorably, humbly, and with the fear of a son.
9. Let meekness with praise and humility with honor be together.
10. Let your words be quiet, humble, honorable, and useful. Let silence decide the words that you say. From henceforth, let no empty or rotten word escape your lips.
11. If something funny happens, allow yourself only a smile, and this not often.
12. You will fall into prodigality through anger, wrath, and arguing: keep yourself moderate in anger.
13. Always observe moderation in eating and drinking.
14. Be condescending in all things, and God will bless you, and people will praise you.
15. You must pray about your death, which is the end of all things.
See what sort of wonderful life is taught to the praying Christian.
It is true that in one place we have spoken more about prayer, that is, of mental and heart-felt turning to God, but in another place, other virtues have been mentioned, and yet without all of them together, it is impossible to get a foothold in prayer.
Let everyone strive in knowledge: standing in prayer and exercising is according to your instruction. How can you stand to pray if you are weighed down with intemperance, or carried away with anger, or if you do not stand in peace, or you are distracted by work and lack of attention and so on?
If we are to avoid these things, then we are to strive to attain the opposite: that is, virtue. For this reason, St. John of the Ladder speaks of prayer, saying that it is the mother and the daughter of virtues.
Hearing this, some might say, “what great demands! What a heavy burden! Where can I ever find time and the strength?”
But be strong, brethren! Very little is necessary, and one must only take up one thing: zeal for God and salvation in Him in your soul.
By its nature, the soul has much good in it and it is only misdirected into all evil things. As soon as zeal for salvation and the pleasing of God is born in one’s soul, all of the goodness gathers around this zeal, and immediately no small amount of good appears in the soul. Then zeal, strengthened by the grace of God, with the help of this initial good, begins to find more goodness, and enriches itself with it, and all begins to grow by degrees.
Zeal itself has the beginnings of prayer already. It is fed at first by natural virtue, and then begins to feed on the works of virtue that it engendered, and grows and becomes strong, and blossoms and begins to sing and hymn God with a harmonious and prayerful song in the heart.
May the Lord help you succeed in this. Amen.