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!”

 

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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.
Amen.

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].

Preparing for our Lenten Journey, by Fr. John Matusiak

Published on Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese (http://antiochian.org)
Orthodox Christians observe the beginning of the pre-lenten season  of the Church year through use of a liturgical book known as the Triodion.
Use of the Triodion begins with the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee, the 10th Sunday before Holy Pascha and the 22nd day before the beginning of Great Lent. It is in the Triodion that the texts for the services of the pre-lenten season, the days of Great Lent proper, Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday, and Great and Holy Week are found.
The Gospel reading for the first pre-lenten Sunday – Luke 18:10-14 – offers a striking contrast between the pharisee, a genuinely religious man, and the publican, an equally genuine sinner, a tax collector known for cheating others. In his prayers, the pharisee boasted before the Lord: “God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.” The publican, meanwhile, “standing afar off,” begged for mercy: “[He] would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner.’” The pharisee’s religious yet boastful piety did not justify him, while the publican’s humble repentance – that repentance to which we especially aspire during the season of Great Lent – is revealed as the first step in our salvation. The pharisee sought adulation; the publican sought – and received – great mercy.

On the second pre-lenten Sunday, the Parable of the Prodigal Son – Luke 15:11-32 – is read. In it, Our Lord reveals that our heavenly Father offers to us unconditional forgiveness and mercy if, like the prodigal son, we “come to our senses,” see ourselves for who we really are, and turn away from the “hunger” of “riotous living” in a “far country.” The prodigal son discerned his need to return to his true home, his father’s house, and acted decisively: “When he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him,” exclaiming “’for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’” In the same way, our heavenly Father unconditionally forgives and receives us, His prodigal children – but it is we who, laying aside our pride, must “come to our senses,” acknowledge that we “have sinned,” and return to our “true home.”

The Parable of the Last Judgment – Matthew 25:31-46 – is read on the third pre-lenten Sunday, commonly referred to as Meatfare Sunday, since it is the last day on which we partake of meat before Holy Pascha. In this parable, Our Lord reveals that, while it is important for us to desire Him, to repentand seek His mercy, to see ourselves for who we truly are, and to return to Him, we also must discern His very presence in everyone around us, in the “least of the brethren,” and minister to them as if we were ministering to Christ Himself – and for the sake of Christ Himself. Our Lord reveals that our salvation and judgment depend on how we put our desire, repentance, and the mercy we receive into action, in the midst of others, for their sake as well as for the sake of the One Who feeds us, clothes us, ministers to us, and ultimately calls us to the life of His Kingdom. “Good intentions,” as Our Lord reveals, are insufficient; crucial as prayer, fasting and almsgiving indeed are, they certainly are not mere “religious exercises” performed for their own sake, and surely not for the sake of acquiring a sense of “pride in accomplishment.” Discerning Christ’s presence in everyone – and especially in those who so often are ignored, forgotten, abandoned, or despised – while offering them the same loving kindness that He first offered to us is the ultimate “fruit” of genuine repentance.

Forgiveness Sunday – commonly known as Cheesefare Sunday, since it is the last day on which we partake of dairy products before Holy Pascha – falls on the eve of the first day of Great Lent. In the day’s reading from the Gospels – Matthew 6:14-21 – we hear Our Lord’s teaching about forgiveness: “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” We also hear His teaching about fasting: “When you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father Who is in the secret place; and your Father Who sees in secret will reward you openly.” Like Adam, exiled from Paradise, we lament our sins. Forgiveness and mercy are ours, but if only we fast from those things, those passions that, with Our Lord’s help, we can bring under control, even if we all too often allow them to control us.
The pre-lenten Sundays prepare us for our “lenten journey.” They arm us with that which we need to “enter the Fast with joy,” to make the most of the “time for action,” for as we sing on the first day of Great Lent, “salvation is at the door.”

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.

“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.