Sun, 9 September 2018
Homily Notes: Being Nice is NOT Enough
Gospel Lesson: St. Matthew 22:35-46 (The Great Commandment)
Great lesson for the start of the school year: “what is the most important thing ever?” Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind!
CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA: To love God with the whole heart is the cause of every good. The second commandment includes the righteous acts we do toward other people. The first commandment prepares the way for the second and in turn is established by the second. For the person who is grounded in the love of God clearly also loves his neighbor in all things himself. The kind of person who fulfills these two commandments experiences all the commandments. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (pp. 157–158). InterVarsity Press.
Why is it so important? What can't we just skip to the second one, as the non-believers do? Isn't it enough just to love?
No. We have to be intentionally connected to the SOURCE of love. It's like how our homes need to be connected to the generators through the power grid. We might be able to create enough energy “off-grid” to power some things some of the time, but in order for it to be consistent, we need to be on the grid, and that grid needs to be connected to the generators.
Without that, our “love” of your neighbor is going to be based on how we are feeling, and that is a terrible way to love. We can see how well this works just by looking around. Everyone can be nice and sacrificial and patient when it feels right; but who is willing to do it when it is hard and unpleasant?
Loving God with complete openness, humility, and awe allows His love to strengthen us; it also grants the ability to see God in our neighbor – even our enemy – so that when we are serving Him we are also serving Him and thus remain “hooked up to the grid”, so to speak.
There is another point worth making because our context hides it from us: this openness, humility, and awe – this love of God with the whole heart, soul, and mind – needs to be done in community. It is made to be done within the Church. The Church is not just for us; it is the place where the conduit of love connecting us with God and one another is the purest and strongest.
Of course we can create connections without God, playing with institutions and laws and the distribution of power in hopes of finding an optimal solution [and we've done a pretty good job of that in our country because we have tried to create a system where the drive to take care of the self and the family requires one to find ways to serve the needs of others and where the earnest desire to serve others is rewarded with the ability to care for oneself and one's family]... but even so, this can only go so far.
Without the connection to God and the ability to see the image of God in all our neighbors, we are still governed and limited by our own power and our own feelings and motivations. Without reliable access to the source of Goodness, Patience, Love, and Courage, even our system will either break down into an anarchy of competing feelings or calcify into a totalitarianism where one group's idea of love – rooted in fallen ideologies and tribal egoism – will create a hell on earth.
It is not enough to be connected to one another and to try to “be nice.” Let me give one more example before I conclude. Many of us are connected to zillions of neighbors through social media. And when it works well, it is wonderful. But have you noticed how often it sours? How, even those we love and know to be good post things that create pain and division? Even groups that are explicitly Christian can dissolve into into hellish pits of division, hurt feelings, and wickedness. We've all seen it, it isn't good, and there has to be a better way.
There is, and what we are called to do, that thing we called “Orthodox Christianity” is it.
Being nice is not enough. Being “Christian” is not enough. That niceness and that “Christianity” need to be continually reinforced by the grace of God. This is only done through love, and this love is meant to be cultivated, experience, and shared within the Church and from the Church to the world.
The fullness of that Church is meant to be found here at St. Mary's. If we open our hearts and our community to God through sincere worship and immersion in the sacraments; if we open our hearts to and serve one another and the hurting neighbors in our community; the conduit of love will be opened to maximum throttle and the grace of God will light us up and turn us into a beacon of hope and security to the world.
May our light so shine among men that they will see our good deeds and be drawn to worship the God who is in heaven.
Sun, 2 September 2018
Homily Notes on the Wedding Feast (St. Matthew 22:1-14)
Invitation to the Wedding Feast: we don't intuit the context (why not just RSVP? – gnashing of teeth for wearing the wrong clothes!?). What is missing? Mutual obligation! Respect! Duty! Love! Wear the garment – the uniform – the king gave you!
Speaking of uniform: reword the parable with a more familiar context.
The kingdom has been invaded so the king mobilized the elite forces. They refused. Killed their officers. Result? Treason. Death. Is that okay? Next? Mobilized the National Guard. Gave them everything they needed. Sent them to the front to do their duty and exercise their love. One soldier refused to take up his weapon and wear his uniform. This was not a mistake or simple laziness and it was more than mere cowardice; it was a deliberate act of rebellion. Against his sworn duty, against the legitimate authority, against his home and the homes of his neighbors. During a time of war. Doesn't such a one deserve to go where there will be gnashing of teeth?
We have a duty to God. He has mobilized us to bring peace. Are we committed? How does our uniform – baptismal garment – look? Sinless, blameless life? No? Wash that uniform!
Is our weapon – the sword of truth – clean? Do we know how to use it? It is a weapon of love, its slashes are the exercise of patience and its thrusts are acts of service and its counter-thrusts are the movements of forgiveness.
Is our armor strong? It is the combination of humility – humility makes the fragile ego invulnerable – and God's grace.
The Lord has mobilized us here. We have a duty and obligation to do His will. It is His will that all be saved and come to the knowledge of the Truth. Let us now pray and work towards the accomplishment of that very thing.
Sun, 26 August 2018
The Parable of the Wicked Tenants
The primary purpose of this parable at the time it was given was to warn God's chosen people that God had sent His Son – who was now among them – to see how the stewards of his vineyards were doing; to remind them what they had done to the prophets, and to ensure them that if they mistreated the Son of God was in their midst, there would be a terrible accounting.
We need to understand this lesson, but less because of what was going on then and much more because of what is going on now. The primary purpose of this parable NOW is to warn US. We – the tenants and stewards of St. Mary's and of the Church at large - are the Jews in this parable and this parish and the Church is the vineyard.
We see from the structure of the parable that there is a great temptation for tenants and stewards to misbehave; to think of the leased property as their own. We also know from experience that, just as in the parable, evil men will take advantage of the lack of transparency and oversight in situations like this to abuse the innocent and destroy those who question their actions and the illegitimacy of their claim of authority.
It is our calling to manage the vineyard properly, according to the Commands of God. To see that all of its fruits are offered both to the glory of God and to the service of our neighbor... NOT for our own glory.
How are we doing in this? As your pastor I can honestly tell you that there is much here that is done absolutely in accordance with those Commandments: glorify God and serve your neighbor. In fact, right now we are taking the best moments of the week and offering up the very fruit of the vine and wheat of the harvest so that the hungry and thirsty in our midst can be fed. This is the first calling of the parish, and while we could do a better job of inviting our hungry and thirsty neighbors to come and join us, we are completely dedicated to this thing.
This dedication is also seen in our charitable ministries and outreach, and in the way that we care for one another and for every former stranger that comes into our lives. Glory to God. I am sure that we have entertained many angels unawares.
But we must admit that there are things for which we must answer. The harming of innocents in our midst is an abomination and, because of where it occurs and in Whose Name we work, a blasphemy. It would be better for those who harm the innocent that a millstone where hung around their neck and they were thrown in the midst of the sea. These are the words of our Master and He is deadly serious.
It is easy for us to say; “no, Lord – not us.” And it is true that this parish has been protected from the sorts of things that have been occurring in so many of the parishes around us. Thank God.
But we have to take the challenge seriously. It is not enough for us to be blameless. We are running the vineyard and we are responsible for what happens here. As Paschal Psalm 81 proclaims, we must:
Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
This is not just a passive protection, although that is part of it, but a call to hold one another accountable and to bring justice.
Christ is in our midst – we are gathered here in His name, we called Him here! And there will be an accounting.
We are blessed to have been leased a beautiful vineyard. We repent of the times we have shirked our duties and used it for our own glory and against the will of God.
As we celebrate this Liturgy, offering “Thine own of Thine own”, we rededicate ourselves to working to the Glory of God and to the love of our neighbor.
Sun, 19 August 2018
One of the most important questions: Who is Jesus the Christ (Joshua the Messiah)?
1. Man (prophet) who lived 2000 years ago. Very wise. Set an example of love, sacrifice, and a commitment to virtue that we should all emulate.
Better than nothing (but not enough).
But wait there is more – and this is the best part:
2. That He is also God. The God who was God before the world began; the one “through Whom all things are made.”
This feast – and the historical event it commemorates – forces us to move beyond a purely human Jesus to begin understanding the Mystery of him being both fully man (in fact, the ideal man) and fully God.
The unbearable light? The cloud? The voice? When you study the history in the Old Testament, you have to notice that these are all things that only happen around encounters with THE GOD.
3. But here's the payoff. It's not just about who Jesus is: it is a celebration of WHY Jesus is. This event on Mount Tabor happened on the way to the Passion and Resurrection of Christ.
Jesus isn't just 100% human and 100% God – He is the One who came to set us free from sin, to give us the power that protects us from death itself. He is the one that will be our protector and our deliverer.
If we repent of our sins and accept Him – the One who is both God and man – as our God, our deliverer, and our protector; He adopts us as His sons and daughters and delivers us into the kingdom of His glory.
Like the seeds of the spring blossomed into the fruit we see here before us, so will we be transformed from what we are today into radiant children of God.
We have accepted Him as Lord and Master – let us now celebrate this Transfiguration.
Sun, 12 August 2018
Homily on St. Matthew 18:23-35: The forgiving Lord and the unforgiving servant. The main theme of today's homily is that we have the power to transform the world for the better (through gratitude and mercy) or the worse (through ingratitude and tyranny). Enjoy the show!
Wed, 8 August 2018
The Post-Communion Prayers of the Holy Orthodox Church from the Prayer Book of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA.
Wed, 8 August 2018
The Communion Prayers of the Holy Orthodox Church from the Prayer Book of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA.
Tue, 7 August 2018
The Evening Prayers of the Holy Orthodox Church from the Prayer Book of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA.
Tue, 7 August 2018
The Morning Prayers of the Holy Orthodox Church from the Prayer Book of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA.
Sat, 4 August 2018
The Service of Repentance is designed to help believers enter into the spirit of contrition as they prepare for the traditional Rite of Confession. This version consists of the Trisagion prayers, Psalm 50, the Prayer of Manasseh, The Canon of Repentance (abridged), and the the Litany of Repentance. The Canon of Repentance intentionally resembles sections of the Funeral Service.