If you are like me, sometimes when you read the lives of the saints you shake your head and think, “I could never do anything like that.” Many endured horrible tortures to the point of death because they refused to deny Christ. Others denied themselves food, clothing, and shelter in ways that seem beyond the strength of human beings. Some accepted insult and abuse while forgiving their tormentors and turning the other cheek in a fashion that seems not of this world. As today’s epistle reading reminds us, the Old Testament saints endured such trials purely in anticipation of the coming of the Savior. Most of us, who have received the fullness of the promise in Christ, cannot fathom how we could be nearly as faithful as was this cloud of witnesses who point us by their examples and prayers to commend our lives to Christ.
On this Sunday of All Saints, we commemorate all those who have united themselves to the Lord to the point that they have become radiant with His holiness by the power of the Holy Spirit, including those whose are not formally canonized as saints by the Church. The canonized saints are like the members of the hall of fame who stand as shining examples of obedience to the Lord. We celebrate them because their lives are such vivid icons of what it means for a human being to become a partaker of the divine nature by grace. We do not know the names of all the saints, of course. Not all who are illumined with the divine glory are known publically as such; of course, the point of holiness is never simply to draw attention to oneself. It is, instead, to be faithful in offering our lives to Christ. Only He knows the names and number of those Who have done that, for He alone knows our hearts.
If we want to join their number, then we must attend carefully to Christ’s teachings today in the gospel reading. “Everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father Who is in heaven; but whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father Who is in heaven.” No doubt, these words concern the importance of remaining faithful to the Lord even in the face of fierce persecution. Martyrs and confessors continue to refuse to deny Him, regardless of the physical abuse they suffer in many countries around the world. But we would let ourselves off the hook by thinking that this teaching refers only to those who lives are literally at risk for being faithful Christians. We must also ask whether we acknowledge Him before our neighbors every day of our lives in what we say and do. It is only our pride that makes us think that true faithfulness must be dramatic and spectacular. Most of us struggle to be faithful even in our routine trials and temptations. We will fail to unite ourselves to Christ in holiness if we fail to see that the most common challenges that we face are our opportunities to acknowledge that we belong to Him, and not simply to ourselves.
The Savior said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.” There is nothing wrong, of course with loving our parents or our children, but if we are to become radiant with the holiness of God, we must keep even our strongest loves in proper order. We must remember that our parents, children, and spouses are gifts of God to us. His love is obviously the ground of all love worthy of the name. Our calling is not to worship people or make them ends in themselves, but to relate to them in a way that fulfills God’s gracious purposes for them and us. If we make false gods out of others, we will make them miserable and probably drive them away. And since God created us in His image and likeness, we will learn the hard way that we will never find fulfillment in anyone but Him.
“People pleasing” is quite dangerous because it is ultimately a self-centered form of idolatry in which we crave the approval of others to the point that we will sacrifice anything for it. Instead of offering even our most prized and intimate relationships to the Lord for His healing and blessing, we end up offering ourselves to others, willing to compromise our faithfulness for the sake of giving whomever we want to impress what we think they want. That is not taking up our crosses, but sacrificing our obedience to the Savior in order to serve lesser gods. And since what drives this attitude is our self-centered desire for the approval of others, it is ultimately a way of worshiping ourselves.
The Lord said that, “everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My Name’s sake, will receive a hundred fold, and inherit eternal life.” That is not only a promise for those who have physically given up their families and possessions, but also for those who have made the less dramatic sacrifice of putting Christ first in how they treat and speak to their spouse, children, family members, and friends. It is a promise for those who have denied themselves in order to have more time, energy, and resources to share with the poor, sick, and lonely. It is a promise for those who turn away from self-centeredness by offering themselves to the Lord in daily prayer, regular worship, and conscientious fasting.
Too often we think that holiness occurs only within the context of the four walls of the Church. If we are to take up our crosses and follow Christ, we must also learn to see the infinite opportunities of dying to self out of love for Him and our neighbors in our daily lives. That means we must take a painfully honest look at ourselves. For example, we may enjoy filling out minds with entertainment—such as news, social media, video games, film, etc.–that only inflames passions of worry, fear, hate, envy, and lust. If so, we need to turn away from it as we focus on the words of the Jesus Prayer or at least something else that does not inflame our passions. If we cannot learn to make such small sacrifices, we will never have the strength to make larger ones.
Regardless of our age, we likely are close to people whose values and way of life are apparently not consistent with obedience to Christ. Even as we must not condemn them personally, we must resist the subtle temptation to compromise our faithfulness to the Lord in what we say and do in order to gain their approval. It is one thing to show everyone Christ’s love as best we can, but another to fail to acknowledge Him by engaging in conduct and conversation that contradict our primarily loyalty to Him. That would be a form of putting other people, and ultimately ourselves, before God, which is a path only to greater weakness for them and us. We must all discern mindfully and prayerfully whether we are acknowledging Christ in situations where it is much easier to act and speak as though He were not our Lord. We must all be willing to take up the cross of obedience to Him even if it means that we will be met with disapproval.
“Many that are first will be last, and the last first.” The Savior’s statement applies to all who have put Him first in their lives, for doing so requires sacrificing much that the world worships. It is obviously the case for martyrs and confessors to this very day, but also applies to everyone who sacrifices, even in small ways, in order to seek first the Kingdom of God. When we direct our time, energy, and attention to serve Christ, His Church, and our neighbors in whom He is present, we take a lower place in the estimation of the world. When we refuse to sacrifice ourselves on the altars of conventional accounts of success and happiness, we embrace the humility of Christ. Even when we do so in seemingly ordinary ways, we take step in running “with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfection of our faith.” That is how, we too, may join that great cloud of witnesses who have become radiant with the holiness of our Lord. Nothing dramatic or spectacular is required, but only true faithfulness.
Let us extol the grace of the Holy Spirit in spiritual hymns, since grace has, on this day, manifested itself to us from heaven. Even though our words are inadequate to express the magnitude of this grace, we shall praise its power and activity insofar as we’re able. For the Holy Spirit delves into all things, even the profundities of divinity.
We’ re celebrating the day of Pentecost, the day of the Descent of the Holy Spirit onto the Apostles, the day of the hope of perfection, the end of expectation, the longing for salvation, the fulfilment of prayer and the image of patience. Today the Spirit Who acted to scatter the nations in the time of Heber has formed tongues of fire among the Apostles. His action of old led to the confusion of the nations, in order to rein in the brazenness of our will, and forestall the concomitant chastisement. On this occasion, however, amid tongues of fire, the deeds performed by the activity of the Holy Spirit were aimed at enabling us to receive teaching, in fulfilment of the will of God.
In the beginning, the Spirit of God moved over the water, and later, in the time of Christ, the same Holy Spirit of God rested upon Him. First He moved, and now He rested, as being one in essence, equal in honour, co-eternal with the Father and the Son.
The Holy Spirit heralded fair weather to Noah over the waters of the flood. At the waters of the Jordan, the same Holy Spirit revealed to the world the Sonship of Him Who was being baptized. Besides, the Lord had a terrifying answer for those who dared to utter blasphemy against the Holy Spirit: ‘Those who speak blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, shall not be forgiven, either in this world or in the world to come’.
Declaring his desire for this Holy Spirit, David prayed to God: ‘Do not turn your countenance away from me, Lord and do not take your Holy Spirit from me’. It’s common knowledge that, where He is absent, every sort of corruption sets in. Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, an evil spirit had entered into him, and this is why David said: ‘Do not take your Holy Spirit from me’.
This same Holy Spirit sanctified the prophets, instructed the apostles and empowered the mar¬tyrs. This same Holy Spirit consecrated Isaiah, taught Ezekiel and revealed to him the resurrection of the dead. As he says: ‘The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord’ [Ezek. 37, 1]. This same Holy Spirit chose Jeremiah from his mother’s womb, and raised up Daniel to deliver Susanna: ‘God raised up by the Holy Spirit a young man whose name was Daniel’ [Sus. 1/ Dan. 13]
David loved the presence of this same Holy Spirit so much that he prayed to God, saving,
‘Your Holy Spirit shall lead me in the land of uprightness’.This same Holy Spirit of God came to dwell in Our Most Holy Lady, embracing her with the communion of the Divine Word as the Father wished, and making her the Mother of God. Filled with this same Holy Spirit, Elizabeth realized that the Lord had come to her through Our Lady and said: ‘How is it that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?’
Zachariah, the father of John, was filled with the same Holy Spirit and he declared that the son born to him would be the prophet and forerunner of the King Who was to come. John himself was also filled with the same Holy Spirit. The eyes of his mind were illumined, and he beheld the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit hovering over Him Who was being baptized, over Him Who baptized with the Spirit and fire.
When He was giving His Apostles His teaching in detail and strengthening their minds for the time of His Passion, the Lord Himself, by the action of the same Holy Spirit, said to them: ‘Unless I depart, the Comforter will not come unto you’. Moreover, revealing to them the Spirit’s consubstantial nature, He said: ‘The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and when He comes, He will guide you into all truth’.
The holy Apostles waited expectantly for the coming of the power of this same Holy Spirit; they waited together to be clothed with power from on high, in accordance with the commandment of the Lord, Who had said: ‘Wait in the city of Jerusalem, until you are imbued with power from on high. For, behold, I shall send the promise of My Father upon you’. So it’s written that when the day of Pentecost was fully come, all the holy Apostles were assembled of one accord in one place, and the Comforter was sent to them under the appearance of tongues of fire.
They received the abundant promise of the Father and the Holy Spirit, were strengthened, and revealed Him Who was sent to them, His grace and His power. Stephen, the martyr and first deacon, was filled with the same Holy Spirit, Whom he received by the laying-on of hands of the Apostles, and performed great wonders and miracles among the people. Filled with the Holy Spirit, he saw the doors of heaven opened and the Only-begotten Son and Word of God standing in the flesh at the right hand of the power of God.
Filled with this same Holy Spirit, Paul became the preacher of divine mysteries. As Ananias said to him: ‘The Lord Saviour Himself has sent me to you, so that thou might receive your sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit’. And Paul afterwards said with assurance: ‘And I think also that I have the Spirit of God’.
The same Holy Spirit came to Cornelius and those that were to be baptized with him, and each of them spoke in his own language and magnified God. This same Holy Spirit came upon the Ethiopian eunuch after he went down into the water. He was filled with elation, and went on his way rejoicing.
This is the same Holy Spirit Who preached by the prophets, Who gave understanding to the Apostles, Who spoke to people. He was given to them by the Lord, and all their adversaries were unable to gainsay or resist Him. As the Lord said: ‘It is not you that speak, but the Spirit of your Father Who speaks in you’.
This Holy Spirit also ordains priests, consecrates churches, purifies altars, perfects sacrifices and cleanses people of their sins. This Holy Spirit abides with the godly, refines the righteous and guides kings. This same Holy Spirit preserved the soul of Simeon, lengthening the time of his life and reversing the rules of death, until the day when he beheld Him Who is the Redeemer of life and death. Because he had been promised by the Holy Spirit, that he wouldn’t see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.
It was the same Holy Spirit Who gave strength to Elijah, and Whose power Elisha desired when he asked of Elijah: ‘I pray you, let there be a double portion of your spirit upon me’.
This Holy Spirit enlightens souls and sanctifies bodies. It is the same Holy Spirit Who descended upon the Apostles and filled them with divine wisdom. Once they had received His gifts, they were all filled with the knowledge of God. Not only were they given divine knowledge, but also spiritual gifts. Simon Magus was a stranger to the Holy Spirit, and fell to his perdition. As Peter said to him: ‘May your money perish with you, because you wanted to purchase the priceless grace of the Holy Spirit thereby’.
Therefore, my friends, let us strive to keep our bodies undefiled. Because those who have acquired a new body, which is a temple of the Holy Spirit, have become true victors over the devil. May what the Spirit of God has said come to pass in me.
Moreover, Joseph, strength¬ened by this same Holy Spirit, asked that his body not be defiled by the vile deeds of this life, since he knew that the Spirit has no truck with a body involved in sin. In this way, he earned a royal rank. This Spirit enlightened Bezaleel, so that he fashioned the tabernacle with great beauty and skill. Joshua, the son of Nun, possessing the same Spirit, be¬came a faithful heir to Moses and obtained the inheritance of the Promised Land for his people. As God said to Moses: ‘Take to yourself Joshua the son of Nun, a man who has the Spirit of God in him’.
This is the Spirit of Whom the Lord, Who, when He breathed upon His disciples after His Resurrection from the dead on the third day, said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’. And, again, it’s the same Spirit Who has vouchsafed to give eternal life to the faithful after the general resurrection from the dead, as is written: ‘You will send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created; and You will renew the face of the earth’.
The gifts of the Holy Spirit are many, varied and all-powerful. As it says in a certain place: ‘By the Word of the Lord were the heavens established, and all the might of them by the Spirit of His mouth’ [Cf. Psalm (Sept.)]. And Isaiah says: ‘The Spirit of God shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and godliness’. Saint Paul adds: ‘The Spirit of adoption and of grace’.
God’s Son and Word, Who is equally ever-existent, and equally without beginning, and Who shares the throne and the honour of God, called this Spirit ‘the Spirit Who is our Comforter’. David calls Him the Holy Spirit, since the Holy Spirit is sent by holiness; the governing Spirit, since He has dominion over all, be¬cause all things came from Him and are kept in existence by Him; and the good Spirit, since salvation and all manner of goodness are from Him.
And what does Isaiah call Him? The Spirit of God, because He proceeds from God the Father, as God Himself tells us. Isaiah further calls Him the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, because all wisdom and good understanding have been given through Him; the Spirit of counsel and strength, because He is able to bring about that which is desired; and also the Spirit of knowledge and godliness. Ezekiel, a man of the spirit, says: ‘And I will give you a new heart and a new Spirit’.
He is one in essence, one in principle and one in counsel with the Father and the Son. Do you wish to believe? Listen to what the Scriptures say of Him: ‘When He prepared the heaven, I was present with Him’. The prophet [Isaiah] further says: ‘The Lord, and His Spirit have sent me’.
Lest anyone think, from what was said, that this new Spirit would come from any creatures living or yet to come, or from any other person, He says: ‘And I will put My Spirit in you’. In the Acts of the holy Apostles, this was ex¬pressed in commandments: ‘The Holy Spirit said, “Separate Barnabas and Saul for me, for the work to which I have called them’”. And again,
‘It seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us’ and ‘I will put My Spirit in you’.
Would you have it demonstrated that this was indeed His coming, as was foretold in parables, and that it was His grace acting upon the holy Apostles? Will you believe what was said? Listen to St. John the Evangelist, who says: ‘The Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified’.
Paul called this Spirit the Spirit of adoption and the Spirit of grace, inasmuch as in the waters of the baptismal font we’re born again of water and the Spirit, and are adopted as [God’s] children. In the same way, the Lord said to Nicodemus: ‘Unless people are born of water and of the Spirit, they cannot enter into the kingdom of God’.
So, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of adoption and the Spirit of grace, since grace and truth came by Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, for those who have been born by the power of God.
Moreover, the Spirit is called the Comforter, because He’s also our advocate with the Father. And not only is He with the Father, but He’s always with us, too, as a gift.
‘And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Comforter, so that He may abide with you forever’, comforting your hearts and making them steadfast in divine patience and trust in Christ. Given that the holy Apostles re¬ceived this testament after Christ’s holy Resurrection from the dead, and that they were sent forth to teach and to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and since we’ve already been vouchsafed this true washing by the Holy Spirit, let us strive to keep our souls and our bodies undefiled as we glorify the Most holy and consubstantial Trinity, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Nowadays people often feel sadness, despair, lethargy, laziness, apathy, and all things satanic. They are downcast, discontent and melancholy. They disregard their families, spend vast sums on psychoanalysts and take anti-depressants. People explain this as ‘insecurity.’ Our religion believes that these states derive from satanic temptation.
Pain is a psychological power which God implanted in us with a view to doing us good and leading us to love, joy, and prayer. Instead of this, the devil succeeds in taking this power from the battery of our soul and using it for evil. He transforms it into depression and brings the soul into a state of lethargy and apathy. He torments us, takes us captive and makes us psychologically ill.
There is a secret. Turn the satanic energy into good energy. This is difficult and requires some preparation. The requisite preparation is humility. With humility you attract the grace of God. You surrender yourself to the love of God, to worship and to prayer. But even if you do all in the world, you achieve nothing if you haven’t acquired humility. All the evil feelings, insecurity, despair and disenchantment, which come to take control of the soul, disappear with humility. The person who lacks humility, the egotist, doesn’t want you to get in the way of his desires, to make any criticism of him or tell him what to do. He gets upset, irritated and reacts violently and is overcome by depression.
This state is cured by grace. The soul must turn to God’s love. The cure will come when we start to love God passionately. Many of our saints transformed depression into joy with their love for Christ. That is, they took this power of the soul which the devil wished to crush and gave it to God and they transformed it into joy and exultation. Prayer and worship gradually transform depression and turn it into joy, because the grace of God takes effect. Here you need to have the strength to attract the grace of God which will help you to be united with Him. Art is required. When you give yourself to God and become one with him, you will forget the evil spirit which drags at you from behind, and this spirit, when it is disdained, will leave. And the more you devote yourself to the Spirit of God, the less you will look behind to see the spirit that is dragging at you. When grace attracts you, you will be united with God. And when you unite yourself to God and abandon yourself to Him, everything else disappears and is forgotten and you are saved. The great art, the great secret, in order to rid yourself of depression and all that is negative is to give yourself over to the love of God.
Something which can help a person who is depressed is work, interest in life. The garden, plants, flowers, trees, the countryside, a walk in the open air — all these things tear a person away from a state of inactivity and awake other interests. They act like medicines. To occupy oneself with the arts, with music and so on, is very beneficial. The thing that I place top of the list, however, is interest in the Church, in reading Holy Scripture and attending services. As you study the words of God you are cured without being aware of it.
Let me tell you about a girl who came to me. She was suffering from dreadful depression. Drugs had no effect. She had given up everything — her work, her home, her interests. I told her about the love of Christ which takes the soul captive because the grace of God fills the soul and changes it. I explained to her that the force which takes over the soul and transforms the power of the soul into depression is demonic. It throws the soul to the ground, torments it and renders it useless. I advised her to devote herself to things like music which she had formerly enjoyed. I emphasized, however, most of all her need to turn to Christ with love. I told her, moreover, that in our Church a cure is to be found through love for God and prayer, provided this is done with all the heart.
CHRIST is RISEN!
Not only did our Lord Jesus Christ teach large crowds—for example, at the Sermon on the Mount—but he also spent time with individuals, in one-on-one situations. The Gospel for this Sunday, the account of the Woman at the Well, the Samaritan Woman, is one example of this, and a very interesting one it is.
The Lord and His followers had come to the city of Sychar in Samaria, near Mount Gerizim, which is about forty miles north of Jerusalem. They stopped at Jacob’s Well, a site venerated by Jews and Christians to this day because the spring here was contained in a cistern created by the Old Testament Patriarch Jacob.
This well was in the news back in the early 80’s, when Jewish zealots broke into the Orthodox chapel over the site and savagely murdered the monk guardian there, who is now regarded as a genuine martyr for the faith—St. Philemon of Jacob’s Well. (When we were in Jerusalem we venerated his incorrupt body at the chapel of the seminary of the Patriarchate of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem.)
It was evening and the Savior, in His human nature, was tired, hungry, and thirsty and sat down at the well. His followers went into the town to see what they could find for a communal meal with the Lord, and at this moment a woman arrived to draw water and the Lord asked her for a drink. There are two important points to make here: first, she was a Samaritan, and the Samaritans were a sect, regarded as heretics by the Jews. In fact there was a saying among the Jews: “May I never set eyes on a Samaritan!” Observant Jews would actually close their eyes when a Samaritan approached.
Secondly, a pious Jewish man would not enter into conversation with a woman in public, not even if she was related to Him. Further, as most of us have heard, an observant Jewish man, even in our time, begins the day with a prayer thanking God for not making him a woman.
So, here we see Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, immediately breaking two of the laws that were binding on the Jews. This woman—whose name, by the way, was Photini—was taken aback and challenged Christ in a tone of voice that said, “Who do you think you are, you, a Jew, speaking to me?” And He responded: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that says to you, Give me to drink; you would have asked of Him, and he would have given you living water.”
Now, “living water” is an interesting term. The Savior meant a“water” that gives life. There is a considerable amount of important information packed into this. First, the Lord speaks of a free gift, something you can’t earn. Then, He makes it clear that He is the only one who can give this gift. And the gift itself life—that is, eternal life and union with God for those who are otherwise dead in sin, as this woman was.
The effect of these words had an immediate effect and she quickly changed tone in which she was talking to Him. Suddenly He was a “somebody” to her. So she initiated a theological conversation with Him, asking if, since He claimed to give “living water,” He is greater than the Patriarch Jacob, at whose well they are conversing. The Lord saw that she did not yet understand and explained to her that anyone who drinks of the water He can give, will never by thirsty again. At this, the woman immediately asked for this “water.”
We all remember—and we heard again in the reading this morning—that Jesus now moved to gently expose her sins to her—and these sins were many and serious. Needless to say, this was even more startling to the woman. Their conversation continued, but we don’t have time to touch on all of the other important elements of this encounter today, except to recall that the Woman at the Well finally said that she knew the Messiah is coming, and when He comes,” she says, “He will teach us everything.”
We must pause here for a moment to note that the Samaritan woman clearly believes that a Messiah is coming but has not yet arrived; that this Messiah was not an abstract idea but a real person and a teacher, not a military conqueror.
One writer has observed that she seemed to have a clearer understanding of Christ than even some of His weak-kneed and weak-minded disciples did!
Not long ago a bright Protestant theologian made this observation: “If the Samaritans could discern the coming of the Messiah and subsequently identify Christ as the fulfillment [of the Old Testament prophecies], what does that say about the Jews [then and today]”?
And then the Lord Jesus Christ quietly said to the woman, who has just acknowledged that the Messiah will come, “I,” He proclaims, “I, the very one speaking to you, am He.”
Now this is only one of several times in the Gospels when Christ speaks in this very distinct and recognizable way—recognizable to the Jews, who knew their Scripture. When the Lord says to her, “I am He”, He uses the Greek from the Book of Exodus (3:14) where the Lord God reveals His personal name, “I AM.”
Jesus used this expression in order to show that He and the Father are One; He and the Father are God.
As I said, this Gospel account is so rich that it cannot be fully and exhaustively explored in just one sermon. As an Orthodox priest once said, “we could speak for days and not exhaust the story of the conversion of Saint Photini, Equal to the Apostles, the Samaritan Woman.”
The Holy Fathers of the Church tell us that, safely tucked away in this remarkable encounter, like a nugget, is a story about how we may obtain the Holy Spirit—for, the Fathers explain, this woman of Samaria did indeed receive the Holy Spirit.
In both Scripture and the Fathers, the Holy Spirit is referred to as both water and, sometimes, fire. As water—for example in Holy Baptism—the Holy Spirit washes the sinner clean. When the Spirit is described as fire, it reminds us that fire burns sin away and also warms a person. In the conversation at Jacob’s Well, the Lord chose to use the image of the Holy Spirit as Living Water.
Jesus Christ put Himself on the path this woman at the Well, just as He often confronts us, too. He did this because He wanted to forgive her sins and also because He wanted to give her Living Water, that is, the Holy Spirit–salvation.
And how does this apply to us?
In order for us to have the Holy Spirit fully and completely living in us, in our hearts and souls, we must change. We must not shrink away or hide when Christ puts Himself on our path, directly in front of us, which happens more often than we think or will admit. Instead, we must be like the Samaritan Woman, and eagerly ask for and receive the Holy Spirit, this Living Water.
To “change” means to become something other than what we are right now, at the present moment. It means admitting that we can’t go on like this. But this can only happen if we choose to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in this saving work, for, as we are now, we have changed very little or not at all from what we perhaps were, say, a year ago, and this lack of ongoing change could well keep us out of the Kingdom of Heaven unless we wake up and pay attention.
Remember, Christ will not always continue to confront us, placing Himself on our path, in front of us. There will come a time when, if we continue to disdain Him, He will stop trying to make “contact” by revealing Himself. And then there will be no change, and the Living Water of the Holy Spirit will not fill us up, and we will be lost. This is Orthodox Christianity, as anyone knows who has read St. Seraphim of Sarov’s famous conversation with Motovilov about the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. (And even if we have read it, I suggest reading it again, as preparation for the coming Feast of Pentecost and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Church.)
For us Orthodox Christians, this is our way of life.
This is what it’s all about. But if this is our way of life, why is it that we do, and say, and think so many things that are clearly NOT part of this saving way of life? This is the question that I want to ask.
We all of us received Baptism and Chrismation, and in these Holy Mysteries, we received the potential for all the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the washing away of sins. For some, we were but wee babes when this mystical event occurred. Others of us were already full-grown, but we received the same potential as those who came on to the saving Ark of Orthodoxy as infants. At some point in our lives, however, whether we are cradle Orthodox or converts, we had an experience with meeting Christ. Perhaps it was very subtle and fleeting, perhaps it was much more than that. But it happened, and it was real. But when we encountered the Lord, did we change? Again, that is the question with which I want to leave us all this morning.
Fr. Seraphim of Platina is famous for telling all of his spiritual children, “It’s later than you think!” And he was right. But I say to all of you this morning here at this humble Skete, gathered for the Divine Liturgy, “It’s still not TOO late for us!” But only if we begin now, today, and do not postpone it one single day longer.
The Lord is here, in the Mystery of the Eucharist. He is here as surely as when He walked upon the earth 2 thousand years ago. And through the power and authority of the priesthood, He will shortly descend and enter into the Holy Gifts, the Bread and the Wine. This is done when the priest calls upon the Holy Spirit to complete this mystical action. Therefore, whether you thought about it or not, whether you like it or not, the Lord is right here on your path, right before each and every one of us, once again, through the agency of the Holy Spirit.
Brothers and sisters, may we eagerly listen to Him, like the Samaritan Woman at the Well, and ask the Holy Spirit for the strength to change!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Christ is Risen!