July 31, 2009

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

The Miracle of the Five Loaves and Two Fishes
Matthew 14:14-22

"Give ye them to eat!" said Christ to His disciples. And He said this to them as if answering their advice: "This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals." But Christ insisted, "Give ye them to eat!" Then the disciples said to Him, "[Teacher], we have here but five loaves, and two fishes" (Mt. 14:15-17).

Let us put ourselves in their position: a tremendous crowd — the men alone were about five thousand, not counting women and children. With the approach of darkness, the places where bread was sold would be closed. So this crowd of many thousands faced a hungry night in the wilderness. With them were little children. While Christ spoke, all physical needs were silent; but now He fell silent and the people were already beginning to feel hungry. What would happen next? People would become weak, children would cry from hunger, and no one would be able to fall asleep. The result would be despondency, disillusionment, and maybe even murmuring. We believed Thee; we came in search of the Kingdom of God and its Truth. That’s why we came to Thee here. Thou didst promise that everything else would be added to us. But here Thy promise has not been fulfilled. We don’t even have the food necessary for our children; and night is approaching, a dark southern night.

Yes, it’s possible to understand the attitude of the disciples. Even their love for their Teacher may have prompted them to warn Him. And He, when they mentioned the inadequacy of their food supply — five loaves of bread and two fish — He commanded the people to sit down on the grass in groups, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, looked upon heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, gave them to His disciples, and His disciples to the people. And they all ate and were filled and gathered the remaining pieces into twelve full baskets (Mt. 14:18-20). A great, unprecedented miracle. And this miracle is historic!

But the power hidden in these five words of Christ, "Give ye them to eat!" many times exceeds both the physical filling of the crowd of many thousands and the two thousand years which separate us from that time.

‘‘Give ye them to eat!" Did this mean physical food only? No. It meant everything that the God-Man has brought to earth: salvation of the human race, spiritual food, all the sacraments which were established by the Lord, the entire Church of Christ, Catholic and Apostolic. But the Apostles were mortal and the Church is eternal. The Apostles would need successors: deacons, priests, bishops. In such a way the Church will exist eternally and feed believers. She will give them that which no one and nothing on earth can give. With the words: "Give ye them to eat!" Christ makes His Church Apostolic. And at that moment, when Christ commanded the people to sit down on the grass in groups — this is the great moment of the organization of the Church. Remember Holy Russia. It consisted of separate groups — parishes — and they all merged into one great whole — the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

In this way the Church of Christ now exists and will exist until the end of the ages.

Let us always strive for Her. And if for some reason we cannot always abide in Her physically, then let us always live psychologically within the Church cycle. And we will find food which leads us into Eternal Life. Only in the Church do we find the greatest Sacrament of Christ, the Sacrament of His Body and Blood which contains Life Eternal.

Sermon by Archbishop Andrei (Rymarenko, 1893-1978)

July 25, 2009

God can use a few sinners!

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

The Healing of Two Blind Men.

Matthew 9:27-35

When the Lord left Jairus’s house, a crowd of people followed Him. Among them were two blind men, who were crying out: "Son of David, have mercy on us!" The Lord as if did not pay any attention to those cries, apparently aiming to test the faith of the two that were calling Him Son of David, i.e. the Messiah. Only when the Lord reached the house (of the unnamed owner), He asked the blind men, who were appealing to be cured, if they believed that He could cure them. Having received the affirmative answer, the Lord touched their eyes, and they opened. As in all such cases, the Lord strictly forbade them to speak of that miracle. However, moved by joy and their gratitude to their Healer, they could not restrain themselves and "spread the news about Him in all that country".

Just after the cured men left, the mute, possessed by the evil spirit, was brought to Jesus. The possessed could not plead for himself as the evil spirit took power of his tongue. Therefore, the Lord did not inquire (as He usually did) him if he had faith, but commanded the demon to leave him, and the ability to speak came back to the man. Amazed, the people declared that nothing like that had ever happened among the Israelites, while the Pharisees, intending to demean this effect that was created by the miracle, were saying that Jesus was casting out demons through the power of the prince of demons, i.e. the devil.

By Archbishop Averky (Tauchev 1906-1976)

Everyone Has a Calling

God creates every human being in His image and likeness for everlasting life. There are no mistakes and no accidents. As the saying goes, “God makes no junk.” Everyone, or, in Biblical language, the “many” are called. But not all are chosen. Some are rejected not because they have no vocation from God, but because they refuse to accept their calling.

Everyone has a vocation. And all vocations are “religious.” This does not mean that everyone is called to serve the church in a professional manner; to be a bishop, priest, deacon, monk, nun, psalm reader or church worker of one sort or another. Obviously not all are called to these specifically ecclesiastical ministries. But everyone is called to serve God and their fellow human beings in some form of life which God Himself wills. This “form of life” is not necessarily a job or profession. For example, some people may be called to suffer on this earth and to bear the results of fallen humanity in the most violent manner; to be victimized by disease, retardation, affliction; to be the objects of other people’s cares, or disdain. This is their vocation, and they are particularly blessed by God and loved by Christ in its acceptance and fulfillment.

In a word, there is a divine plan and purpose for everyone. There is a “predestination,” not in the sense that God programs His creatures or forces His will upon them against their will, but rather that God knows every person from before the foundation of the world and provides their unique life and the specific conditions of their earthly way which are literally the best possible conditions for them (however unacceptable this may seem to us creatures in our limited and fallen state.) And God works together with each one of us so that, by suffering what we must on this earth, we may attain to life everlasting in the age to come.

Everyone Has the Same Calling

In a certain sense every person has the same vocation, which is to be a saint. We are all called to be saints, to be holy as God is holy, to be perfect as the Father in heaven is perfect. (Rom. 1:7, 1 Cor. 1:2, 2 Pet. 1:15, Mt. 5:48) We are all made to fulfill ourselves as creatures made in God’s image and likeness for eternal life. And we can do so because God not only creates us with this possibility, and indeed, this command; but because He also does everything in His power to guarantee its accomplishment by sending His Son and His Spirit to the world.

Since Christ has been glorified and the Holy Spirit has been poured out on all flesh, there is no excuse for those who know and believe this, and experience it in the life of the Christian Church, not to be saints. Everything possible has been done to secure this. There is nothing more that God can do. All is given and all is fulfilled. The rest is up to us. Whatever the Lord may be doing with other people in other places, some things are certain for Christians, and certainly us Orthodox: We can cooperate with God. We can share His holiness. We can become, as the saints themselves teach us, all that God Himself is by His gracious action in our lives. We can become loving, peaceful, joyful, good, wise, true, patient, kind, compassionate, powerful, pure, free, self-determining… Or we can refuse to cooperate with God, never find our true selves, and perish.

Everyone Has His or Her Unique Calling

All are called to be saints, but each person is called to do so in his or her own unique way. No two persons are the same. Each one is different. All are called to partake of God’s being and life. All are called to love as He loves, know as He knows, serve as He serves, live as He lives. But each will do it in his or her own specific manner, according to the concrete conditions and means that God provides.

Some will sanctify their lives being married; others will be single. Some will do it in clerical orders; others as lay people. Some will be monastic; most will live in the everyday secular world. Some will work primarily in a physical way, others will work intellectually. Some will be artists, scientists, business people, professionals. Others may have no particular job or profession. And some may be called simply to suffer, while others, in terms of this world, will hardly suffer at all. Some will have many temptations, and will bear heavy burdens because of the sins of the world and their particular inheritance of a fallen, broken, distorted humanity. And some may have to fight destructive memories, imaginations, and passions that seem at times impossible to bear. While others will be greatly blessed by receiving a highly purified humanity, for which they will especially have to answer before God. For, as Jesus taught, “to whom much is given, of him much will be required.” (Lk 12:48) But each person will have his or her own life to sanctify. And each will answer for what he or she has done. In the eyes of God none is better than the other. None is higher or more praiseworthy. But each must find his or her own way, and glorify God through it. This is all, ultimately, that matters. The rest is details.

The Will to Find God’s Will is Essential

All that is needed to discover the will of God and to do it is the pure desire to see, to hear, to understand and to obey. God does the rest. When people saw Jesus on earth, and yet did not accept and obey Him in love, the Lord Himself gave the reason, quoting the Prophet Isaiah. He said that the people had eyes but did not see; had ears but did not want to hear; had minds, but refused to understand and be saved. (Is 6:9-10; Mt. 13:13-14, Mk. 8:18; Jn 12:36-41)

To find one’s vocation demands that one really wants to do so. It sounds simple. And it is. But, to quote the Lord once more, “Few there be who find it.” (Mt. 7:14) The reason is that it takes courage to allow the Lord to speak, or rather, to hear the Lord when He speaks, and to follow Him. It is also quite painful. Our own will has to go. Our egocentric desires have to be denied. Our ideas about ourselves have to be abandoned. Our personal plans and projects have to be discarded. Our agendas of action have to be thrown away. We have to say to God: Speak Lord, your servant is ready! We have to respond to God: Let it be to me according to Your word! And we have to mean it. If we do, we will find our way. But if we fight it, and keep craving the things that we want, we will be miserable and unhappy. We will realize, as the song says, that we “can’t get no satisfaction.” For the heart of the human person is made for God – for truth, for love, for life itself, and not for mere “existence” – and is inevitably unsatisfied, frustrated, confused, distressed, angered, bored…until it comes to rest in Him.

We Need Help on the Way

To will God’s will is essential. Without this, nothing can happen. With it, everything. One saint of the desert even dared to say that if a person would will God’s will without wavering from sunrise to sunset, by the end of the day he would be “to the measure of God.” But to will God’s will we need help. We need, first of all, the help of God Himself. This means that we have to pray and to participate in the mystical life of God’s Church. Jesus said, “Ask, and you will receive.” (Mt. 7:7) And the apostle James reminds us that if we do not ask rightly, we will not receive. “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and you do not receive because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (Jm. 4:2-3) To find our vocation in life we have to pray to God to show it to us, and to guide us into it for His Name’s sake, and ultimately, for our own.

In addition to the direct help of God, so to speak, we also need His help as it comes to us through others. We need the guidance of those who are experienced in His ways, particularly our fathers and mothers in the faith. “Ask your fathers, and they will show you; your elders and they will teach you.” (Dt. 32:7) The saints of the Church love to repeat this line from the song of Moses. To hear God’s voice, to discern His desires for us, to discover His purposes for our lives, we need the help of those who have found Him, or, perhaps more accurately, those who have been found by Him.

We receive this help in the life of the Church, first of all by our participation in the services and sacraments. We find it also in the Bible and in the lives and teachings of the saints. And we find it in the pastors and teachers whom God gives us. God promises that those who seek instruction will never be left without it. He Himself will see to it, as the saying goes, that “when the disciple is ready, the Master will appear.” Without obedience to God’s Word and Spirit in the services, sacraments, scriptures and saints of the Church, we who claim to be Christians will never discover our calling in life. For we will have rejected the means that God has given us to find it.

We Must Be Faithful Where We Are

Finally, we are taught that to discover God’s will for us, we must be faithful to Him where we are, faithful to and in the conditions in which He has placed us. One of the greatest obstacles to the discovery of one’s vocation in life, which is a clear expression of our disobedience and self-will, is the desire to be someone else, someplace else, sometime else. We have all heard people say that if only they lived in another place, or in another time, or with other people…then they could be holy. Or, if only they were married. Or, if only they were not married. If only this, and if only that! We must come to see how sinful such an attitude is, how crazy and deluded. It is simply blasphemy. And it may well be the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit which Christ says cannot be forgiven, for it dares to tell God that our failures in life are His fault for making us the way we are. (Cf. Mt. 12:31; Lk. 12:10)

God has made us who we are. He has put us where we are, even when it is our own self-will that has moved us. He has given us our time and our place. He has given us our specific destiny. We must come to the point when we do not merely resign ourselves to these realities, but when we love them, bless them, give thanks to God for them as the conditions for our self-fulfillment as persons, the means to our sanctity and salvation.

Being faithful where we are is the basic sign that we will God’s will for our lives. The struggle to “blossom where we are planted,” as the saying goes, is the way to discern God’s presence and power in our lives, to hear His voice, to accomplish His purposes, to share His holiness. Jesus said that only those who are “faithful in little” inherit much and get set over much. Those who are not faithful in the little things of life, and thereby fail to accept and to use what God provides, end up losing the little that they have, or – as Jesus says in St. Luke’s gospel – the little that they think that they have, for even that “little” may exist only in their own deluded imaginations. (Cf. Mt. 25:14-30; Lk. 19:11-27, 8:18)

So the summary of the whole thing is this: We must labor to do the smallest good and to avoid the smallest sin in the smallest, seemingly most insignificant details of life. We must accept who we are, where we are, when we are and how we are, and struggle to sanctify our real state of existence by the grace of God; resisting the world, the flesh and the devil and gaining the Spirit of God through Christ in the Church. We must participate in the services and sacraments, be fed on the scriptures and imitate the saints. We must seek out the help of the experienced, and heed their counsel and advice. And we must go to God Himself and say with a pure heart: “Thy will be done! And He will see that we find our vocation and calling in life, and become the saints that he has willed us to be from the beginning.


July 22, 2009

Hospital for Sinners!

I am a firm believer in not going to medical doctors unless absolutely necessary. This include therapists! I also believe that Orthodox Church is the best medicine for our illnesses. I have personally seen too many people taking multiple prescription drugs in order to treat symptoms of various physical and mental issues they are dealing with. Often people are taking multiple prescriptions for allergies, pain, depression, cholesterol, etc.. It's a wonder they function at all. I wonder if these people have a prayer life or any interaction with the Church. My guess is no. In non-emergency medical situations let us start with humility, by going to confession, participating communion, and receiving unction then go look for a doctor or therapist. I think that Patriarch Kirill's comments below are right on the money!

Patriarch Kirill recommends to get rid of stress in church rather than at psychotherapist

Moscow, July 21, Interfax - Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia believes gentleness and humility are the best medicine from stresses and diseases.

"What are most widely spread illnesses? Stresses, nerve strains. If we look at reasons of these stresses, there will be no need to go to psychotherapist. The radix of it is in human sin as there would be no illness without sin," the Patriarch said in his sermon after the Divine Liturgy in the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Laura on St. Sergius Day.

According to him, the world today clearly shows "the connection between illness, troubles and sin." Patriarch Kirill urged to remember that the Church is a community that "heals people" and saints gives the model of such "recovery that each time depends on human victory over his own restless spirit."

"Gentleness and humility is the greatest power that not only helps manage the world according to God's law, but helps a person find peace and health," the Moscow Patriarchate official website has quoted the Russian Church Primate as saying.

He cited as an example the situation of an ordinary conflict between people. According to the Patriarch, in most cases people answer the opponent's attack and "start speculating, losing peace, trying to look for allies, usually publicly, and today even voice their position through mass media and thus get involved in the argument."

"We shouldn't do it, if we want to be happy. If we want to find peace, we should learn to leave our opponents and enemies to God's judgment. If we feel that we are right, then the first thing to do in a dangerous life situation is to stick to the conviction that only God is a true judge," the Patriarch Kirill stressed.

July 20, 2009

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

The Paralytic (Thy Sins Be Forgiven Thee).
Matthew 9:1-8

The Gospel reading of last Sunday told us how the Gadarenes went out to meet Jesus and how they asked Him to "depart out of their coasts." And this happened because all of them were infected with one sin, the passion for profit, the love of money. This was an insatiable thirst for wealth, more and more of it. And wealth came to them through large herds of swine which were grazing in their pastures. But according to Jewish Law, they had no right to keep them. In this was their sin, and they lived in sin, to satisfy only this passion, this idol of getting rich. And this passion seemed to unite them all. See how the Gospel says: "And, behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus and...besought Him that He would depart out of their coasts" (Mt. 8:34).

Yet not all inhabitants of this town were bad people. Undoubtedly, among them were those who wanted to see Jesus, who wanted to listen to His teaching, and maybe were ready to believe in Him. Salvation was so close, so very close. But this idol, this passion for profit enslaved them; and instead of asking the Lord to remain in their town, they asked Him to go away. They were already deprived of their freedom of will; through sin they were enslaved, a spiritual paralysis possessed them. The Gospel continues, "And He entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into His own city. And, behold, they brought to Him a paralytic, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the paralytic; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee" (Mt. 9:1-2).

There is physical paralysis, but there is also spiritual paralysis. Being paralyzed physically we want to do something, but either our hand or our foot does not move. But being spiritually paralyzed even to think is difficult, and we don’t want to do anything — we lose heart. There is a desire to fulfill a commandment of Christ, and yet we cannot; something is interfering, something is holding us back. And instead of Christ abiding in our heart — there is a storm, and Christ goes away.

What motivated the Gadarenes to ask Christ to leave their land? Sin — the passion for profit. And this sin brought them into spiritual paralysis, and they did not have enough spiritual fortitude to detain Christ with them.

So it happens to us. The only reason is sin. And sin is not only love of money. There is a whole variety of rays from this "black diamond." This means laziness, pride, vain talking, lying, condemnation, gluttony, anger, irritability, cruelty, any kind of impurity, despondency and still more and more. And we all suffer from these sins: whoever has any of these, this is sin. And this is what brings us to spiritual weakness, to spiritual paralysis. Let us look within ourselves and let us honestly recognize that, like the Gadarenes, we all live in spiritual weakness, in spiritual paralysis.

But let us not despond. The Gospel today gives us great comfort. With what words does Christ heal the paralytic? "Thy sins be forgiven thee." This means that in bodily paralysis, also, the reason is often sin. And in spiritual paralysis, sin is always the reason. All you have to do is find this sin, this passion which stands between us and Christ; take it to the Lord and say: "Lord, heal me!" Then the Lord will tell us as He did the paralytic: "Thy sins be forgiven thee.... Arise, take up thy bed and go unto thine house" (Mt. 9:5-6).

And the storm will calm down, will go away from the heart, and Christ will fill it with quiet joy. The weakness will disappear and a new energy will appear in us, a new life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Sermons by Archbishop Andrei (Rymarenko, 1893-1978)

July 10, 2009

Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul

(Jul 12/June 29).

The day of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul is the culminating feasts of the Gospel. Although the last event in the life of Christ which is related in the Gospel as His Ascension into heaven (Mark 16:19; Luke 24:51), the preaching of the Apostles is closely bound up with the Gospel. The Gospel tells us of their being chosen, and the Gospel indicates beforehand the end of Apostolic activity.

Telling of the appearance of Christ on the sea of Tiberias and the restoration to apostleship of Peter, who by his triple confession corrected his triple denial, the Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian speaks also of the prediction to the Apostle Peter concerning the end of his struggle. When thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whether thou wouldest not. This spoke He, signifying by what death he should glorify God (John 21:18-19).

It was not pleasing to the Lord then, to reveal the face of each of the other Apostles, although, when sending them to preach, He predicted to them, the persecutions that awaited them (Matt. 10:17-36). Now, to the question of Peter about John, Christ replied: If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou Me (John 21:22).

The mysterious words of Christ about John, and the extraordinary circumstances of the latter's end, have been the cause for the opinion, which spread in the Church, beginning from the days of the apostles, that John would remain on earth until the Second Coming. Such a view of the end of the earthly life of the Apostle John is set forth in part also in the hymns on the day of his memorial, where mention is made of his special closeness to the earthly Church. Therefore, the Church does not celebrate the day of the repose of the Apostle John the Theologian, which is a1so revered by the Church as a great feast, as is the day of repose of the Apostle Peter, which was definitely predicted by the Lord. It is precisely to the Apostle Peter and to no one else, that the Lord predicted the culmination of his earthly ministry, because it was Peter who first confessed Him, on behalf of all the Apostles, to be Christ, the Son of God; he was the first to receive the promise of power to bind and loose, which was subsequently given to all the Apostles (Matt. 16:16-19; Matt. 18:18); and it was he who renounced Christ and was again restored to apostleship. Indicating to Peter the culmination of his Apostolic preaching when restoring to him the Apostolic calling, the Lord thereby reveals the essence of the Apostolic ministry.

The preaching of the Word of God not only by word of mouth, but also by deprivations, sufferings and death, constituted the following of Christ and the continuation of His work.

The Apostle Peter, as the most zealous of all and one who strove to be before the others in word and deed, by his example aroused the other Apostle Therefore it is primarily him that Christ addresses. He goes in front of the other Apostles, becomes their "leader;" and it is especially to him that the preaching among the Jews was entrusted, while the Apostle of the Gentiles was the one who received precisely this title, being converted later, the no less zealous Paul (Gal. 2:7-9).

These two Apostles were as it were the commanders of the rank of the Apostles, which is expressed (in the service to them) by the word "leaders."

Without having authority over others, they both stood in front of all others by their warm zeal and labors. Their life was the most brilliant and was a personification of the life and labors of all the Apostles. The end of their earthly labors was especially impressive, thanks to the fact that it occurred before the eyes of the whole world. One of them (Peter) was crucified upside down, and the other (Paul) was beheaded, both in Rome, towards which at that time the gaze of all peoples was directed. The news of this quickly dew to all the ends of the universe, all the more in that they were both known personally in many places; their names were everywhere the Savior had been preached

The Apostle of the Jews and the Apostle of the Gentiles departed to Christ on the same day, as if indicating their equal nearness to God and the oneness of the Church of Christ, in which there it neither Greek nor Jew (Col. 3:11). Therefore, the day on which the earthly labors ended for "the leaders of the Apostles, who labored more than all," who "separated in body, are together in spirit;" became one of the memorable days for the whole Church.

The Apostle John the Theologian was still a1ive then, being in Ephesus, from where he was exiled to the island of Patmes. Not long before his transition into the other world, he wrote the Gospel, by which he completed the three Gospels written before him, and which he had approved. Having already completed his Gospel, he added to it, the account of the manifestation of Christ on the sea of Tiberias in order that quoting precisely the words of Christ about himself, he might refute the opinion that he had been promised by Christ to remain on earth until the Second Coming.

In this afterward to the Gospel written by him, the Apostle and Evangelist John set forth the prediction of Christ to the Apostle Peter concerning his martyr's death, and thus he bound the memory of this death with the Gospel.

Just as the last chapter of the Gospel of John is literally the conclusion of the whole Gospel, so also the feast dedicated to the fulfillment of the prophecy set forth there is as it were the conclusion of all the Gospel events kept in remembrance by the Church.

Being an immovable feast, it is nevertheless bound up with the movable feasts, since the preparation for it–the Apostles' Fast–begins one week after the feast of Pentecost; thus, it depends on the date of the celebration of Pascha.

The feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul indicates the lot of the Holy Apostles here on earth and reveals the glory that followed it.

The earthly lot of the Apostles was to go around the earth preaching of the Heavenly Kingdom, in this emulating Christ by their poverty, endurance of dishonor and sufferings, by their love for the children of the Heavenly Father, their inward torments of childbirth over those who heeded their preaching and their grief over those who paid no heed to their words and finally, by offering themselves as a sacrifice.

However, the culmination of their earthly life is the beginning of their heavenly glory. Their end is for them a dissolving of earthly ties and an ascent to Christ, Whom they loved, in order to remain eternally with Him (Phil. 1:23).

The day of their earthly end is the day of their heavenly birth, end the celebration of it is a solemnity of the coming of the future age for those who have followed Christ in this age. The receiving of the crowns of righteousness prepared not only for them, but also for all who love His appearing (II Tim. 4:8). Coming after the feast of the Descent of the Holy Spirit and being in part bound up with it, the feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul culminates the yearly cycle of feasts dedicated to the earthly life of Christ and reveals the essence of His promises.

Just as the Nativity of John the Baptist is the foreword to the Gospel and the beginning of the events described in it, so also the death of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul is their culmination and the afterward of the Gospel.

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist is the beginning of the preaching of the Gospel of the New Testament on earth; his Beheading is the preaching of it in hell; and the day of the Holy Apostles is the realization of it in heaven.

"The firm and God-proclaiming preachers, the pinnacle of the Apostles, Thou hast received into the enjoyment of Thy good things and into repose; for Thou didst receive their pains and death as above all offerings, O Thou Who alone knowest what is in the heart" (Kontakion).

"The feast of the all-honorable Apostles hath come, interceding for the salvation of all of us. Now mystically clapping our hands, let us say: come into our midst invisibly, vouchsafing immaterial gifts for those who praise your feast in hymns" (Glory at Lauds).

Sermon by Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

The Two Demoniacs
Matthew 8:28-9:1

The Gospel reading for last Sunday taught us a lesson on the deep humility of the Roman Centurion, who came to ask Christ for the healing of his servant. But today’s Gospel does not give us a lesson of what we should do, but rather shows us what we should avoid, what we should not do. This shows us the striking reality of the existence of the power of evil. In our time such a reality doesn’t even require proof. Every day, every newspaper tells about a whole list of crimes which simply cannot be explained without recognizing that the person is possessed by an external, evil power.

Today’s Gospel draws a terrible picture for us: two demoniacs came out from the tombs, "exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way" (Mt. 8:28). Christ permitted the demons to enter into a huge herd of swine. The possessed ones were healed, but the whole herd of swine jumped from the precipice into the sea. What a terrible force! A real, overt force of evil!

But here is the last verse of the Gospel: "And, behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus" (Mt. 8:34). And now you expect to find something gladdening: the whole town has united in order to meet the Lord. You want to think that it was faith that united them, that they, as once did the Samaritans, would ask the Lord to remain with them, would thank Him for His healing, for the salvation of two of their townspeople, and also for freeing them from the danger present when passing that way. And what happened? Yes, they asked the Lord, but not to stay with them, but rather to "depart out of their coasts!" (Mt. 8:34).

Here is the most terrible passage in this Gospel. First the demons were in two possessed men. Later, we saw them in an entire herd of swine. And then, a whole town - possessed. With what? With the passion for profit. According to Jewish law, raising pigs was unlawful, sinful. But it made money, and huge amounts of money. And here an entire herd perished. And the people seemed to be saying to the Lord: "You have only set foot on our land and have caused us such a terrible loss. What will happen next if you stay here any longer? You will ruin us completely! We see, we understand your greatness: even the devils are obedient to you! But what does that do for us? What do the two healed men matter to us? We don’t need your miracles. We need thousands, millions of dollars. You are not for us. Go away, go away at once."

Brothers and sisters, let us examine our soul. Doesn’t the same thing happen with us? Some kind of passion takes possession of us, but Christ becomes an obstacle. And in our soul, we whisper the same terrible words: "Go away from us." May the Lord keep us from this! May our words directed to Him always be: "Come to us and never leave us."

Sermon by Archbishop Andrei (Rymarenko, 1893-1978)

July 08, 2009

The Christians in the world

How should a Christian, especially an Orthodox Christian, live their life in the Modern world? I ran across an early 2nd century epistle called the "Letter to Diognetus." The writer of the letter gives a brief on Christianity on how Christians lived at the close of the Apostolic age. He explains how Christians were perceived at that time and how the believed themselves to be in a world that was not Christian but Anti-Christian. This letter is VERY relevant for today, for the more things change the more they stay the same. If we Orthodox Christians strive to live a life half as pious as described of these early Christians our hearts will be at peace.

"Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.

And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives.

They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they, rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.

To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world. As the visible body contains the invisible soul, so Christians are seen living in the world, but their religious life remains unseen. The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures. Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments.

Christians love those who hate them just as the soul loves the body and all its members despite the body's hatred. It is by the soul, enclosed within the body, that the body is held together, and similarly, it is by the Christians, detained in the world as in a prison, that the world is held together. The soul, though immortal, has a mortal dwelling place; and Christians also live for a time amidst perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven. As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such is the Christian’s lofty and divinely appointed function, from which he is not permitted to excuse himself."

From a letter to Diognetus (Nn. 5-6; Funk, 397-401)

Full Letter may be read here.

July 07, 2009

Patriarch Kirill and President Obama meet

Most Holy Patriarch KIRILL presented the US President Obama with an icon of the Most Holy Virgin Theotokos. I pray that our Most Holy Lady will convert his heart.

The Patriarch and the President - Watch more Videos at Vodpod.

Father Arseny

Father Arseny, was a spiritual father in Russia during the period of communist rule under Stalin. Father Arseny is believed to have performed many miracles during harsh times in the cold Siberian prisons, where there was little hope for those who were encamped.

In Stalin's Russia, priests were considered anti-communists because many of them had different political views than Stalin. As a parish priest, Father Arseny was convicted for anti-communist propaganda and became Prisoner No. 18376.

There are two books that have been published about Father Arseny. I recently picked up a copy of Father Arseny: A Cloud of Witnessesand was not dissappointed. Reading the memoirs of Father Arseny and his spiritual children was very inspirational, and I feel brought me closer to God and the Orthodox Church.

Enjoy this Excerpt from the Book: Father Arseny, 1893-1973: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father


During one of the winters, a young man was assigned to Father Arseny's barracks. Aged 23, he was a student and had been sentenced to twenty years in the camp. He had no experience of camp life because he had been sent to this special camp directly from the strict Butirki Prison in Moscow. Still young, he did not fully understand what lay ahead of him. As soon as he entered the death camp, he encountered the criminals.

His clothing was still good for he had only been in prison a few months. The criminals, led by Ivan the Brown, decided to get hold of the young man's apparel. They proposed a card game with clothing at stake. Everybody knew that this lad would soon be naked, but no one could do anything about it; even Sazikov dared not intervene. The camp rule was that whoever interfered would be killed. Those who had been in the camp for a while knew only too well that if the criminals decided to play for your rags, to resist would be the end of you.

Ivan the Brown won all the young man's clothes. Ivan approached him and said, "Take everything off, my friend."

At that point things started to go sour. The young man, whose name was Alexei, thought that the game had been for fun and refused to hand over his clothing. Ivan the Brown decided to make an exhibition of it. He began with mocking kindness; then he started beating him. Alexei tried to resist, to fight back, but by now the whole barracks knew that he would be beaten until he could no longer move, or even to death. Everyone sat still and watched as Ivan bashed Alexei. He bled from the mouth and face and was swaying. Some criminals mockingly urged him to fight.

Father Arseny had not seen the beginnings of the fight; he had been piling up logs near a stove at the other end of the barracks. He suddenly saw what was happening. Ivan was going to kill Alexei. By now Alexei could only cover his face with his hands; Ivan was slamming him and smashing him repeatedly. Father Arseny silently put the logs near the stove, calmly walked over to the fight and, before the amazed eyes of the whole barracks, grabbed the arm of Ivan the Brown. Ivan looked surprised, shocked! The priest had interfered in a fight. This meant he must die. Ivan hated Father Arseny. He had never dared touch him for fear of the rest of the barracks, but now he had a true reason to kill him.

Ivan stopped beating Alexei and pronounced, "O.K. Pop, it's the end for both of you. First the student, then you." A knife appeared in his hands and he lunged towards Alexei.

What happened? Nobody could understand, but suddenly the gentle and weak Father Arseny straightened himself up and slammed Ivan on the arm so hard that the knife fell from his hand. Then he pushed Ivan away from Alexei. Ivan stumbled and fell, and hit the corner of a bunk with his face. Father Arseny went to Alexei and said to him, "Go, Alyosha, wash your face, no one will hit you anymore." Then, as if nothing had happened, he went back to his work.

Everyone was taken aback. Ivan the Brown stood up. The criminals did not say a word. They understood that Ivan had lost face in front of the whole barracks. Somebody discreetly wiped the blood from the floor with his foot. Alyosha's face was completely smashed up, his ear was torn, one eye was closed, and the other one was dark red. Everyone was completely silent. They knew that it was all over now for both Father Arseny and Alexei. The criminals would kill them both.

But in fact things turned out differently; the criminals looked upon Father Arseny's actions as bold and brave. Even though everyone feared Ivan, Father Arseny had not faltered when Ivan the Brown had held a knife, and they respected a man who showed no fear. They already knew Father Arseny for his kindness and his unusual ways; now they respected him for his courage. Ivan retreated to his bunk and whispered with his friends, but he realized that they did not really support him—they had not come immediately to his aid.

The night passed. In the morning everyone went to work; Father Arseny was busy tending the stoves, cleaning up and scraping dirt off the floor. In the evening the prisoners returned from their labor and suddenly, just before the barracks was locked for the night, the supervisor ran in with several guards.

"Attention!" he shouted. All the men jumped down from their bunks. They stood motionless while the supervisor walked along the line of men. When he came to Father Arseny he began to beat him. Meanwhile Alexei was dragged from his place in line by the guards.

"P18376 and P281 to punishment cell No. 1, for 48 hours, without food or water, for breaking camp rules, for fighting," shouted the officer.

Ivan had reported them to the authorities. To do so was considered by the criminals to be the lowest and most despicable act possible.

Punishment cell No. 1 was a tiny house that stood by the entrance of the camp. In this house were several rooms for solitary confinement; there was also one for two people which held a narrow board instead of a bed. This board was less than 20 inches wide. The floor and walls were covered with sheets of metal. The whole room was not wider than three quarters of a yard and two yards long. Outside it was -22°F and windy, so that it was hard to breathe. You had only to step outside to become immediately numb. The occupants of the barracks understood what this meant: certain death. Father Arseny and Alexei would be frozen within two hours. No one had ever been sent to that cell in such cold. Occasionally, someone was sent to it when the temperature reached -21° or -22°, but this only for 24 hours. The only ones who stayed alive were those who could jump up and down the whole 24 hours to keep their blood from freezing. If you stopped jumping, you froze. And here it was -22°, Father Arseny was an old man, Alexei had just been beaten up, and both men were exhausted.

The supervisors seized them both and started dragging them out of the barracks. Avsenkov and Sazikov dared to come out of the line and said to the officer, "Comrade Officer, they will freeze to death in this weather. You can't send them to that cell!" The supervisor slammed them both so hard that they flew dazed against the barracks wall.

Ivan the Brown lowered his head. Fear gripped him as he realized that his own people in the barracks would kill him for this.

Father Arseny and Alexei were dragged to the punishment cell and shoved inside. They both fell, cracking their heads against the wall. It was pitch black inside. Father Arseny stood up and said, "So, here we are. God has brought us together. It is cold, Alyosha, and there is metal all around."

They heard the outer door close, the locks click, the voices and the steps of the guards fade away. The cold seized them and constricted their chests. Through the small window with iron bars the moon shone its milky light into the cell.

"We are going to freeze, Father Arseny," moaned Alexei. "It is because of me that we are going to freeze. We are both going to die. We need to keep moving, to jump up and down, but it is impossible to keep that up for 48 hours. I already feel so weak, so battered. My feet are already frozen. There is no room here, we cannot even move. Father Arseny, we are going to die. They are inhuman, it would be better to be shot!" Father Arseny was silent. Alexei tried to jump, but it did not warm him up. It was hopeless to resist such cold.

"Why don't you say anything, Father Arseny?" Alexei shouted.

As if from somewhere very far away Father Arseny's voice answered, "I am praying to God, Alexei!"

"What's there to pray about when we are going to freeze?" Alexei muttered.

"We are here all alone, Alexei; for two days no one will come. We will pray. For the first time God has allowed us to pray aloud in this camp, with our full voice. We will pray and the rest is God's will!" The cold was gradually conquering Alexei and he was sure that Father Arseny was losing his mind. Making the sign of the cross and quietly pronouncing some words, Father Arseny stood in the ray of moonlight. Alexei's hands and feet were numbed by the cold; he had no strength in his limbs. He was freezing and no longer cared.

Father Arseny was silent now, and suddenly Alexei heard Father Arseny's words clearly, and understood that this was a prayer. Alexei had been in church only once, out of curiosity. Although his grandmother had baptized him when he was a child, his family did not believe in God. They simply had no interest in religious matters. They did not know what faith really was. Alexei himself was a student, a member of the Komsomol. How could he believe?

Through the numbness and the pain from the blows he had received, Alexei could clearly hear the words that Father Arseny was saying: "O Lord God, have mercy on us sinners! Ever-merciful God! Lord Jesus Christ who because of Thy love became man to save us all. Through Thine unspeakable mercy save us, have mercy on us and lead us away from this cruel death, because we do believe in Thee, Thou our God and our Creator." And so the words of prayer poured forth, and in each of these words lay the deepest love and trust in God's mercy, and unconditional faith in Him.

Alexei started listening to the words of the prayer. At first he was perplexed, but gradually he began to comprehend. The prayer calmed his soul, took away the fear of death, and united him with the old man standing beside him.

"O, Lord our God, Jesus Christ! Thou didst say with Thy purest lips that if two or three agree to ask for the same thing, then Thy Heavenly Father will grant their prayer because, as Thou didst say, 'When two or three are gathered in my name, I am among them.' " Alexei was repeating these words after Father Arseny.

The cold had taken over Alexei completely; his entire body was numb. He no longer knew whether he was standing, sitting, or lying down. But suddenly the cell, the cold, the numbness of his whole body, his pain from the blows he had received and his fear all disappeared. Father Arseny's voice filled the cell, but was it a cell? Alexei turned to Father Arseny and was stunned. Everything around had been transformed. An awful thought came: "I am losing my mind, this is the end, I am dying."

The cell had grown wider, the ray of moonlight had disappeared. There was a bright light and Father Arseny, dressed in brilliant white vestments, his hands lifted up, was praying aloud. The clothing on Father Arseny was the same as the priest Alexei had once seen in church.

The words Father Arseny spoke were now easy to understand, they had become familiar—they entered directly into Alexei's soul. He felt no more anxiety, no more suffering, no more fear, only the desire to become one with these words, to understand them, to remember them for the rest of his life. There was no more cell: now they were in a church. How had they gotten here? And why was there someone else here with them? Alexei saw with surprise that there were two men assisting Father Arseny. Both were dressed in the same bright vestments and both shone with an undefinable white light. Alexei did not see their faces, but sensed that they were beautiful.

Prayer filled Alexei's being. He stood up and started praying together with Father Arseny. It was warm and easy to breathe, and happiness filled his soul. Alexei repeated everything Father Arseny was saying, yet he was not simply repeating, but praying together with him. It seemed like Father Arseny had become one with the words of his prayer, but Alexei understood that Father Arseny had not forgotten him and was helping him all the while, helping him to pray. The certainty that God existed, that He was with them, came to Alexei. He saw God with his soul. At times Alexei thought that perhaps they were both already dead, but the firm voice of Father Arseny and his presence kept bringing him back to reality.

How much time had passed he did not know, but Father Arseny turned to him and said, "Go, Alyosha! Lie down, you are tired. I will keep praying, you will hear me." Alexei lay down on the metal-covered floor, closed his eyes, and kept on praying. The words of prayer filled his whole being: " ... will agree to ask anything, it will be given to them by my Heavenly Father ... " In thousands of ways his heart responded to these words: "gathered in my name ... " "Yes, yes! We are not alone," thought Alexei from time to time as he continued to pray.

All was peaceful and warm. Suddenly out of nowhere his mother appeared. She covered him with something warm. Her hands took his head, and she pressed him to her heart. He wanted to speak to her, "Mama, can you hear, can you hear how Father Arseny is praying? I've learned that God exists, I believe in Him."

As if she had heard him speak, she answered him, "Alyoshenka! When they took you, I also found God. This is what has given me the strength to live."

Everything that was awful had disappeared, his mother and Father Arseny were near him. Words of prayer which had been unknown to him now rekindled and warmed his soul. It was important not to forget these words, to remember them all his life. "I never want to be far from Father Arseny, I want always to be with him," thought Alexei.

Lying on the floor at Father Arseny's feet, Alexei listened, half-asleep, to the beautiful words of the prayer. Father Arseny prayed, and the two others in bright garments prayed with him and served him. They seemed amazed at how Father Arseny could pray. Father Arseny no longer asked for anything, he only glorified God and thanked Him. How long all this lasted no one could say.

The only things that remained in Alexei's memory were the words of the prayer, a warming and joyful light, Father Arseny praying, the two others in clothes of light, and an enormous, incomparable feeling of inner renewing warmth.

Somebody struck the door, the frozen lock squealed, and voices could be heard from the outside of the cell. Alexei opened his eyes. Father Arseny was still praying. The two in garments of light blessed him and Alexei and slowly left. The blinding light was fading and the cell at last became dark and, as before, cold and gloomy.

"Get up, Alexei! They have come for us," said Father Arseny.

Alexei rose. The head of the camp, the doctor, the main head of the special sector, and the Major were coming in. Somebody behind the door was saying, "This is inexcusable—someone could report this to Moscow. Who knows how they will look at this. Frozen cadavers—this is not the modern way."

In the cell stood an old man in a patched up vest and a young one in torn clothes with a bruised face. Their faces were calm and their clothing was covered with a thick layer of frost.

"They're alive?" the Major asked in amazement. "How did they survive here for two days?"

"We are alive, sir," said Father Arseny. All looked at each other in amazement.

"Search them."

"Come out!" shouted one of the supervisors. Father Arseny and Alexei walked out of the cell. The supervisors removed their gloves and started frisking them. The doctor also removed a glove, put it under Father Arseny's and then Alexei's clothing and, to nobody in particular, said, "Amazing! How could they have survived? It's true, though; they're warm." The doctor walked into the cell, looked around it and asked, "What kept you warm?"

"Our faith in God, and prayer," Father Arseny answered.

"They are simply fanatics. Send them back to the barracks right away," said one of the supervisors in an irritated voice. As he was walking away, Alexei heard somebody say, "It's amazing. In this cold they could have lived no longer than four or five hours. It's unbelievable, considering it's -22° F out. You supervisors sure got lucky. There could have been some unpleasantness in store for you."

The barracks met them as if they had risen from the dead.

Everyone asked, "What saved you?"

They both answered, "God saved us."

Ivan the Brown was transferred to another barracks within days. A week later he was killed by a falling rock. He died in terrible pain. It was rumored that his own friends had helped the rock to fall.

Alexei became a new man, as if reborn. He followed Father Arseny whenever he was able to and asked everyone he could about God and about Orthodox services.

This story was told by Alexei and confirmed by several witnesses who lived in the barracks at that time.


This chapter was excerpted from Alexander, Father Arseny 1893-1973 Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father, trans. by Vera Bouteneff (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1999) and appears by permission of the publisher.

July 04, 2009

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

The Healing of the Centurion’s Servant
Matthew 8:5-13
From The Explanation of the Gospel of St. Matthew
by Blessed Theophylact, Archbishop of Ochrid and Bulgaria

5-6. And when Jesus entered into Capernaum, there came unto Him a centurion, beseeching him, and saying. This man, too, did not approach Jesus while He was on the mountain, so as not to interrupt the teaching. This is the same man mentioned by Luke [Lk. 7:1-10]. Although Luke says that the centurion sent to Jesus others who were elders, this does not contradict Matthew who says that the centurion himself came to Jesus. It is altogether likely that first he sent others, and then, when death was imminent, he himself came and said:

6-7. Lord, my servant lieth at home a paralytic, grievously tormented. And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him.
The centurion did not bring his servant lying on his bed to Jesus, as he believed that Jesus could heal him even from a distance. Therefore:

8-10. The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldest enter under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. When Jesus heard it, He marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.
The centurion says, "If I who am the servant of the emperor command the soldiers who are under me, how much more so art Thou able to command death and the illnesses, so that they depart from one and beset another?" For illnesses of the body are God’s soldiers and officers of punishment. Christ marvels, therefore, saying, "I have not found such great faith among the Israelites as I have in this Gentile." (1)

11-12. And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit at table with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Jesus did not say outright, "Many Gentiles shall sit at table with Abraham...." But He said it in a roundabout manner, so as not to scandalize the Jews, Many shall come from the east and west. He mentioned Abraham to show that He does not stand in opposition to the Old Testament. By saying outer darkness, He shows that there is also an inner darkness which is less severe. For in hell there are varying degrees of punishment. He calls the Jews the sons of the kingdom, for the promises of the Old Testament were made to them. He is saying, Israel is my firstborn son [Ex. 4:22].

13. And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour. And when the centurion returned to his house, at the same hour, he found his servant well. Healing the servant by His word alone, Jesus showed that He also spoke the truth when He said that the Jews would be cast out from the kingdom.


1. A scholion in the Greek text adds: Others have interpreted these words thus: When Jacob, the renowned patriarch, beheld the ladder reaching up to heaven and the angels of God ascending and descending, he understood that God was present in that place, but not that He is everywhere present. Thus he said, How fearful is this place! This is none other than the house of God. [Gen. 28:16-17] The Lord now marvels at the great and supernatural faith of this Gentile, saying, "Not even in Israel"—that is, in Jacob—"did I find such faith. For Jacob understood that I could appear in one place, but this man understands that I am everywhere in all places and that by word alone I can do all things. For he said, ’Only speak the word, and my servant shall be healed.’"