Cathedral of the Theotokos of Great Grace

Cathedral of the Theotokos of Great Grace

Friday, March 31, 2017

2017 Schedule of Holy Week and Easter Services

The following is the schedule of services for Holy Week and Easter. Due to the fact that the Cathedral is closed for safety reasons, all services will be held in the chapel of the Bishop's residence.

Lazarus Saturday - April 8, 2017

7:00am - Orthros (Matins)
9:00am - Third & Sixth Hours
9:30am - Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom
6:00pm - Great Vigil of Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday - April 9, 2017

7:00am - Orthros (Matins)
9:30am - Pontifical Divine Liturgy of St. Peter the Apostle w/Solemn Blessing
               of Palms and Procession
5:00pm - Vespers
8:00pm - Small Compline

Great and Holy Monday - April 10, 2017

  7:00am - Bridegroom Orthros (Matins) and First Hour
  9:00am - Third Hour w/Gospel
12:00pm - Sixth Hour w/Gospel
  3:00pm - Ninth Hour w/Gospel & Typika
  5:00pm - Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts
  8:00pm - Small Compline

Great and Holy Tuesday - April 11, 2017

  7:00am - Bridegroom Orthros (Matins) and First Hour
  9:00am - Third Hour w/Gospel
12:00pm - Sixth Hour w/Gospel
  3:00pm - Ninth Hour w/Gospel & Typika
  5:00pm - Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts
  8:00pm - Small Compline

Great and Holy Wednesday - April 12, 2017

  7:00am - Bridegroom Orthros (Matins) and First Hour
  9:00am - Third Hour w/Gospel
12:00pm - Sixth Hour w/Gospel
  3:00pm - Ninth Hour w/Gospel & Typika
  5:00pm - Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts
  8:00pm - Holy Anointing Service

Great and Holy Thursday - April 13, 2017

  7:00am - Bridegroom Orthros (Matins) and First Hour
  9:00am - Third Hour w/Gospel
12:00pm - Sixth Hour w/Gospel
  3:00pm - Ninth Hour w/Gospel & Typika
  5:00pm - Pontifical Vesperal Divine Liturgy (St. Basil the Great)
                  of the Lord's Supper w/Service of the Washing of Feet
  9:00pm - Commemoration of Christ's Agony and Betrayal in the Garden
                  (Seven Meditations)

Holy and Good Friday - April 14, 2017

  7:00am - Orthros (Matins) and First Hour
  9:00am - Sixth Hour w/Gospel
12:00pm - Office of the Holy and Redeeming Passion of Our Lord
                  Jesus Christ (Reading of the Twelve Passion Gospels)
  4:00pm - Vespers w/Taking down from the Cross and Burial Service
  8:00pm - Lamentations Service

Great and Holy Saturday - April 15, 2017

  7:00am - Orthros (Matins) and First Hour
  9:00am - Third and Sixth Hours
  9:30am - Divine Liturgy (St. John Chrysostom) of the Harrowing of Hell
11:30am - Reading of the Acts of the Apostles until the start of the Great Vigil
  8:00pm - Great Vigil of Easter
11:30pm - Midnight Office

                    JESUS CHRIST - April 16, 2017

12:00am - Resurrection Matins
12:30am - Pontifical Divine Liturgy (St. Peter the Apostle) of the Resurrection
  5:00pm - Paschal ("Agape") Vespers

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Great Lent

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Every parent wants what is best for their children and God wants what is best for us. You may ask, “What is best for us?” Well, we can say that peace in our lives is a good place to start. That we are here in this sacred and holy place, in the house of God, experiencing the peace which He alone can give is hope for us outside these walls. We lose are sense of peace when we are out in the world. There is so much going on, so much that requires our attention, that physical, spiritual and emotional peace often eludes us. Here in this place, we experience the peace of heaven, a peace which can only come from living our lives in God through Jesus Christ.

In the Gospel of St. John, Jesus tells us that no one gets through the Father except through the Son. That means that we cannot experience God’s peace unless we have Christ in our lives, for Jesus is the face of the Father. When we look upon Christ, we see the Father. Christ is the image of the Father made visible and it is through Him that we have the confidence and knowledge that God loves us with a love that never fails.

Moses went up to Mount Sinai and came down with the Ten Commandments to begin us on our journey to God. In Galilee, Jesus went up to the mountain and taught the Beatitudes to reveal fully how we can enjoy the peace of heaven by knowing the heart of God.

In the Beatitudes, Jesus is praising certain values and attitudes and telling us that if we have these attitudes, we will be close to God, we will be blessed. If we want to know what the heart of God is like, we need look no further than the Beatitudes. Once we know what the heart of God is like, we are invited by the Beatitudes to imitate the heart of God.

Some of the Church Fathers tell us that God became man in Christ so that we would become more like God. The Beatitudes teach us how to become more like God, how to reflect the goodness and beauty and truth of God in our lives; to acquire God’s heart as our own.

It is true that the qualities and virtues praised in the Beatitudes are in many ways contrary to what is exalted and praised in the world. This only tells us how far the world is from the heart of God. Just a quick and simple glance around us and we can see clearly how far off the track we have gone. Our world has succumbed to the heresy of relativism. Love as we know it is not the love of God which should reign in the hearts of all men. The love we experience in the world is a man-made love, one that has a totally different origin and dynamic. The love embraced by and spread throughout the world does not have its origins and foundation in the heart of God. It is a false love, a love that deceives and does not console, comfort, or make happy.

In the Beatitudes, the heart of God is revealed to us and we are given the opportunity to make that heart our own. God’s heart is true; it is faithful and never fails in its unconditional love. The Beatitudes reveal the great depth of God’s love for mankind and what we can expect when we make God’s heart our heart.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” I once heard this beatitude translated as: “Blessed are those who have to rely on God for every breath they take.” This beatitude is not praising economic poverty but rather poverty in spirit, a total dependence upon God for everything. In this beatitude, God is praising those who rely on Him and promises them a reward, ‘the kingdom of God is theirs.”

In the other beatitudes, the reward is in the future, “they will be comforted,” “they will inherit the land,” “they will be satisfied.” But in this first beatitude, the reward is now, “the kingdom of heaven is theirs.” This is surely because those who are poor in spirit are those among us who cling to God, who are one with Him and have made His heart their heart. They are so intimately united with God that even now they are experiencing something of the peace of heaven here on earth.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” We normally understand mourning associated with physical death but this beatitude also means mourning for our sins and the sins of others, so it praises repentance. We mourn for our sins and the sins of others because they are an offense against God. This beatitude tells us we already enjoy blessedness if we mourn sins, but the full enjoyment or reward will be in the future, ‘they will be comforted.”

The Greek word in Matthew’s Gospel which is translated as “comfort” is much more beautiful than comfort. It really means that God will be at our side. Blessed are you if you mourn your sins and the sins of others, God will be by your side to console and comfort you. The full reward for this beatitude is in the future because it will be only at the Last Judgment that we will see how God can bring good out of evil, and on that day, God will be with us, at our side, to comfort and console us.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” The meek are not just those individuals who are obedient, timid, non-confrontational, etc. They are rather people who have the goodwill to change a bad situation into one that is good. People who are meek do not use violence because they do not return evil to evil. A coward can use violence but the meek are not cowards; they are courageous and transform and recreate a situation peacefully. This is what we see in the life of Jesus. In Gethsemane, when Jesus was being arrested, Peter cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant but Jesus put his ear back on and healed it immediately (Luke 22:50-51; John 18:10). Later, in Matthew’s Gospel we hear Jesus say, “Take My yoke upon You and learn from Me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” (Matthew 11:29).

The meek will inherit the earth. These are the children of God who, being fruitful and multiplying their conduct the world over, will change the world for the better and establish and strengthen God’s reign over the earth. The meek will not use violence but rather the heart of God to change the world; they shall be the leaders of nations and local governments, establishing and strengthening the Kingdom of God on earth. Because of them, peace shall prosper and spread throughout the nations of the earth and unite all peoples together in the heart of God.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Those who are righteous are in a right relationship with God. We could say that they are holy. Whenever there is some social situation established on a false foundation it does not reflect the beauty and truth and goodness of God. We hunger and thirst for these false situations to be rectified and justified because we are concerned not only with our personal relationship with God but we want the best for all people. God wants to bless us not only as individuals but He wants to bless society as well so that it reflects more the heart of God. Therefore, when there is anything ungodly in society, such as abortion, hatred, poverty, child abuse, rape, drug abuse, sexual addiction, pornography, etc., we hunger and thirst for righteousness.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” We all stand in need f God’s mercy, but instead of waiting for God to be merciful to us first, this beatitude praises those who act like God by showing mercy to others now.  God is merciful and this beatitude praises those who act like God. When we forgive we transform and recreate. Giving mercy changes a situation from one that is ungodly to one that is godly. We can see this in the Latin word for mercy, “Misericordia.” It means moving our heart (cor) to the miserable situation (miseria) of another, in that way helping them to become once more the image of God.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” The word “pure” used in Matthew’s Gospel is also used to describe the purifying rituals of the Jews, so a pure or clean heart is not just a heart free of impure thoughts but a heart that has been cleansed, consecrated, and made ready to receive God’s holiness. All worldly attachments have been removed from such a heart so it is ready to receive the presence of God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” Jesus, the Son of God, is called the Prince of Peace because He made peace between God and us by the shedding of His Blood on the Cross. We also are peacemakers when we try to bring people closer to God and in that sense we are the children of God. Being a peacemaker involves a great deal of work. It takes patience, humility, charity, perseverance, fortitude, courage and a host of other virtues to bring about peace. It is a noble work but one which is frequently frustrated by human failings and weaknesses and the vices of egos and lust for power and control. But those who pursue peace are truly the children of God, for they know and understand the heart of God. They know that the only way humans can live together in peace is by adopting the heart of God, of making it their own. This means that every person must divest themselves of all that is ungodly, of all that is contrary to the life of Christ, and gird themselves with the garments of light and salvation.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for there is the kingdom of heaven.” This beatitude, and the next following, praises those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel. Only persecution for the sake of righteousness and for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel are said to be blessed by this beatitude. Jesus was physically tortured during His Passion and this beatitude praises those who carry wounds of any type for their love of righteousness and goodness. This beatitude praises those who can identify with Christ through suffering for what is right and just. We should never shy away for taking a stand against evil and injustice. We must defend all that is good and holy and pleasing to God. We must be willing to accept ridicule and persecution for what is right and just in the eyes of God. We are not put on this earth to please men but to please God and Him alone.

“Blessed are you when men shall revile you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake; Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets before you.” What greater joy can there be in our lives than to be shunned and reviled and hated for the sake of Christ and His Gospel? Too many people today are afraid of being Christians. They are afraid to defend the name and honor of Jesus Christ for fear of being ridiculed and persecuted. If you have not noticed, Christ is not very popular in the world today.

Many people seek to rid themselves of Christ’s presence and influence in their lives and in the public square. To be a disciple, and not merely a follower of Christ, is not something many people list as one of their descriptive character traits. To be a person of faith, a truly religious person, is not popular in society today. Many people see being a disciple, even a mere follower of Christ, to be a liability in their pursuit of professional and personal advancement.

Many people fear Christ. They believe that the way of living He advocates is totally incompatible with how society moves and functions today. They see Christ as being insignificant and irrelevant, so they choose to ignore Him. Many go even further: they have learned to despise and hate Him. And why is this?  It is because they fear Him and because they know in their hearts that no matter what they do, they cannot prevail over Him. The more they try, the more they hate Him and everything that has to do with Him. This is one of the reasons people hate and despise the Church so much, because they know that they cannot prevail against it and this infuriates them. It is a vicious cycle in their lives. They become obsessed with attacking and destroying the Church but no matter what they do, no matter how hard they try, they fail in their efforts, and this makes them all the more angry. So what happens? They try even harder the next time to achieve the impossible. Christ promised when He founded the Church that the gates of hell would never prevail against it. Yet, millions of people throughout the world have joined the army of the evil one to fight His futile war against the Kingdom of God on earth.

It is sad that so many people expend so much of their time and energy seeking the Church’s destruction and the elimination of Christ from the human experience because in the end, they wasted much of their life in a worthless and futile endeavor. And all they have for their efforts is unhappiness, a life of anger and frustration and unfulfilled expectations and dreams. Such a waste!

But those who remain faithful, even if they should be reviled and hated by their fellow men because of Christ, His Gospel and His Church, are the one who obtain all that they seek; for God truly His faithful ones with great riches and abundant blessings. I do not know about you, but I would rather suffer the greatest indignities for the sake of Christ, the Gospel and the Church and be shunned by my neighbors because of them, then to live a life filled with empty pursuits, false happiness, and deceit.

The Beatitudes give us a clear and beautiful picture of what the life of a true disciple of Jesus Christ is and how, by adopting the heart of God, our lives can be truly happy not only in the world to come, but in this world as well. I encourage you, beloved, to make the Beatitudes a part of your life. You will be surprised just how happy and fulfilled you will be.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Homily for the Third Sunday of Great Lent

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The question often arises how it is, with so much church-going, Bible-reading, prayer and fasting that most Christians today fail to live the life of complete victory over sin and lack the love and joy of the Lord. One of the most important answers, undoubtedly, is that they do not know what it means to pick up the Cross of Christ and die to themselves and to the world.

Many people perceive Christianity to be a joyless and sad religion; one that always emphasizes suffering and death, sacrifice and penance. What they fail to realize is that it is precisely in that suffering and death, in that sacrifice and penance that inexplicable joy is obtained and experienced. Without suffering and death, without sacrifice and penance, God’s love and holiness cannot have their dwelling place in the heart of any human being.

In order to experience God fully in our lives we must not only repent of our sins but turn from sin completely and from our old nature and self-will. In order to do this, we must bear the suffering of separation and change. We must be willing to die to ourselves and to the world and the false happiness it puts before us in temptation.

Christ Himself taught us that this is the only way to true happiness. He said to His disciples that if any man would come after Him, he must hate and lose his own life. He taught them to take up the cross. Now, when Jesus tells us that we must hate our life, He does not mean that we really should hate ourselves. Rather, He means that we should hate and despise the sinfulness and concupiscence that is within us and keeps us from a perfect life with and in Him and the Holy Trinity. He tells us that we should loathe and fight against the evil that lives within us. In short, we must consider our lives as being filled with sin, and because of that, fall under the sentence of death.

In order to be truly happy, we must give ourselves up; we must give up our own will and power, to the power of the Cross. We must learn what it is to die to ourselves and the world, and to live our lives in the fullness of God’s love and Law.

Our Lord used the Apostle Paul to put this still more clearly. Paul did not know Christ after the flesh, but through the Holy Spirit. In other words, St. Paul never actually saw Christ in person. The Lord was revealed in St. Paul’s heart, and thus he could testify: “I am crucified with Christ; I no longer live; Christ lives in me.” Is this not the most amazing thing you have ever heard? That a man who never laid eyes on the Lord can utter such a profound and powerful statement is astounding. What is even more astounding are all of the letters he wrote which not only professed a deep and abiding faith in Christ but encouraged others in that faith as well, all without Paul actually physically encountering and engaging the Lord.

In more than one of his Epistles, the truth is made clear that, with Christ in our lives, we are dead to sin, and thus receive and experience the power of the new life through the continual working of God’s Spirit in us each day.

During the holy season of Great Lent, our thoughts should be occupied with the sufferings and death of our Lord. The preaching of every bishop and priest during these forty days should be on the sufferings and the Cross of Christ and the gift of redemption and salvation which they offer to us. Both the sufferings and the Cross of Christ are the foundation of our salvation. Yet, these are topics we really do not want to hear or talk about. They are depressing; some may even consider them oppressive. In actuality they are not depressing, and they are only considered oppressive by those who fail or choose to ignore the realities of human life. Freedom and happiness do not come about by ignoring suffering and the Cross. On the contrary, true happiness and freedom are found in the Cross and in suffering for the Truth; for what is righteous and holy.

Suffering is transforming. Suffering strengthens us and opens our eyes to realities we normally do not see in our complacent life and in our pursuit of material comforts and riches. Because we are so wrapped up in this world and its false promises of happiness and joy, we choose to ignore what the real story is, and that is this: life can only be truly good, truly happy and fulfilling when it is rooted in Christ and the Gospel.

Truth is never an easy thing to grasp or embrace. Embracing truth means that we must change the way we think and act, and change is never easy. Embracing truth means facing things about ourselves we do not want to deal with, foremost of which are our own sinfulness and brokenness. Until we can admit to these two basic truths about ourselves, we will never be whole and truly honest people.

Experience has taught me over the years, especially over the past five years, that God’s words, taken into the heart and meditated on with prayer help the soul by degrees to understand the truth and one’s own self better. By setting aside the world and placing yourself in the presence of the Lord, you will find that your heart is more open to the continual teaching of the Holy Spirit and you will be able to appropriate to yourself the spiritual truths, the holy things of God.

The great work of the Holy Spirit is to reveal Christ in our hearts and lives as the Crucified One who dwells within us. This must be the chief aim of our very existence and devotion: complete dependence upon God, and an expectation of continually receiving all goodness and salvation from Him alone. Thus you will learn to die to yourself and to the world. In doing so, you will receive Christ: the Crucified, Risen and Glorified One, into your hearts and lives.

It is not a good thing for us to hang our happiness on fragile things that easily and quickly can be taken from us: health, spouses, children, jobs, homes, or possessions. These are all good and meaningful blessings from the Lord. But they are all an inadequate foundation for lasting joy, because they are all so uncertain and transitory.

While any major loss is emotionally painful, it is crucial that we learn how to work through such losses in light of the life of Christ, because we are all going to face them eventually. St. Peter tells us that it is precisely in times of suffering that the devil seeks to destroy our faith. I know of many people who have abandoned their faith and the Church because they did not know how to face suffering in the light of Christ’s life and suffering. For example, some people have the mistaken notion that because they believe in Jesus, He will protect them from all suffering, whether small or great. So when tragedy hits, they feel that God abandoned them. Others were taught to believe in healing by faith. When that did not work, they were told that their faith was not strong enough or that they did not have enough faith. Others were taught to believe that it is a sign of lack of faith to grieve or shed tears. So they put on a false smile while all the while they are dying and suffering inside.

During this season of Great Lent, we watch as Jesus prepares His apostles and disciples for when they will witness His arrest, passion, and death on the Cross. In a very short time, their world will come crashing down around them; their expectations of deliverance and freedom will seemed dashed and lost. They had put their hopes and staked their futures on their belief that Jesus was the promised Messiah of Israel.

In a few weeks, the people of Israel will acclaim Jesus as their King as He enters triumphantly into the Holy City of Jerusalem. But a few days after that, those same people will scream and shout in anger against Him and demand His crucifixion and death. What an irony! On Good Friday, all that they, and we, had hoped for in Christ will come to a sudden, shocking end as we watch our Lord suffer and die.

Jesus prepares them, and us, for suffering by teaching that the risen Christ will turn our sorrows into lasting joy as we look to Him in faith and prayer. In the Gospel of St. John, Jesus tells us, “A little while, and you will no longer see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me.” This statement caused confusion among the disciples; it has even caused confusion among Bible scholars. Some argue that the first “little while” refers to His Ascension, while the second “little while” refers to His Second Coming. Others take the second “little while” to mean that the disciples will “see” Jesus spiritually when He sends them the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. But it seems obvious to me that the meaning of the first “little while” refers to Jesus’ death, whereas the second “little while” refers to His resurrection.

When Jesus is crucified, the disciples will weep and lament, while Jesus’ enemies will rejoice. But at the Resurrection, the table will be turned; the disciples will rejoice and the enemies of Christ will weep and lament and rend their garments.  At the Resurrection, the disciples’ sadness and sorrow will be turned into lasting joy, which no one will be able to take from them. Out of sadness, sorrow and suffering comes immense joy and happiness. Seems weird and contradictory does it not? But the reality is this: Jesus is the only One who makes it possible for suffering and sorrow to be turned into inexplicable joy and happiness. From darkness and death comes light and life and this can only happen because of Jesus Christ. Were Christ not born into this world to suffer, die and rise again to new life, all would be lost to us forever. There would be no hope, nothing to look forward to except eternal death and suffering.

There is no question we have sorrows and suffering in this fallen and broken world. We truly have it in abundance. God decreed death as the penalty for sin and the suffering and sorrow we experience in this life are a consequence of the sins of mankind, the legacy of that initial disobedience perpetrated by our ancestors Adam and Eve. Although Christ has taken away the sting and victory of death (1 Corinthians 15:54-57), He has not taken away the fact of death and the emotional pain we feel when someone we love dies. So we need to recognize that being Christian does not insulate us or even absolve us from experiencing deep sorrows. Sorrow and pain will always remain part of the human experience; they are the consequences of our willful behavior and choices in not listening to Christ and responding accordingly to the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit. At the same time, sorrow is a reaction borne out of love. For example, the deeper we love, the deeper our sorrow will be when a loved one is taken from us in death, especially when death is unexpected. But what we need to understand is that there is nothing unspiritual about feeling deep sorrow and grief at a time of loss. Jesus felt this intense grief when Lazarus died. Even though Jesus knew that He would raise Lazarus from the dead, nevertheless He felt deep sorrow and grief in His heart at the death of His friend whom He loved dearly.

The grief and sorrow we experience as Christians is different from that of the world, in that we have ultimate hope in Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:13). At least that is the way it should be. And it would be so if our faith in Jesus was strong and impenetrable. Even for those of us who do possess that heroic, strong faith and hope in Christ, we still grieve. Sorrow and sadness still overwhelm us when we experience a profound loss.

I speak of heroic faith because in order to have and maintain a strong faith and hope in the Lord, it takes a great deal of inner strength, fortitude and courage to fight and defend against all the things that are hurled against us every day, things which are designed not only to shake our faith in God but destroy it totally. If a person survives that struggle and battle with his or her faith remaining intact, then it is truly an act of heroism. And why is this? Because they did not give up; they did not succumb to the constant and incessant attacks and assaults hurled against them. No matter how many times they were beaten down, no matter how much they felt defeated or hopeless, they always got back up and moved on because they saw the light of Christ in front of them and His hand stretched out to them in help.

Jesus knows all about suffering and sorrow. He can relate in every way to our feelings and experiences. The Prophet Isaiah describes our Lord as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). If our Lord Himself experienced sorrow and grief how much more acceptable is it for us to experience the same emotions and feelings?

It is not ungodly to grieve. What gets us through our grief is the sustaining grace of the Lord. Even though we may be godly, we are not insulated from experiencing deep sorrow over our losses. In our times of sorrow, we need to look directly at the Cross of Christ and see the power and life that flows from it. When we gaze upon the Cross and Christ crucified upon it, we need to see hope and draw from it consolation. We need to seek comfort in the Lord hanging in death on the Cross. Recognizing the reality of death that we are presented with when we look upon the crucified Christ, we need to see the hope and promise of new life, one so filled with joy and happiness that it defies all description and understanding.

The sorrows and suffering we experience in our lives may be caused by many different factors. There are so many that it would take hours to describe them all to you. But I would like to touch upon a few. First, sorrow can stem from disappointment when something does not go as we hoped.

Think back for a moment to the encounter the men on the road to Emmaus had with Jesus. Their comment to Him, whom they did not immediately recognize, was no doubt one that all the apostles would have agreed with: “But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). They thought that the Messiah would come and establish His reign over Israel, bringing in times of peace and blessing, as prophesied in the Old Testament. The disciples had forsaken everything to follow Jesus in the hopes that He was this promised Messiah. But now, contrary to all their hopes, He was falsely accused and executed. They were deeply disappointed. In the same way, when you hope and pray and work for something that you believe to be God’s will, but it does not happen, you experience sorrow, and possibly even suffer on account of it.

Second, sorrow can stem from confusion over something in the Bible, put forth by the Church, or found in our own life circumstances. The disciples were confused over what Jesus was telling them, but they would be more deeply confused on Holy Thursday and Good Friday when they watch as Jesus is betrayed, arrested, brutally mistreated and tortured, and finally put to death in the most ignominious fashion. In spite of Jesus telling them repeatedly that He was going to Jerusalem to suffer and die, the apostles just did not get it. They simply could not conceive of a Messiah who did not come to establish His kingdom and reign (Psalm 2:6-9; 68:18: 110:1). They understood part of the Scriptures, but not all of them (Psalm 22; Isaiah 53).

In the same way, it is easy for us to get confused because we do not understand the totality of the Bible’s teaching on something. We have our preconceived ideas about how things should turn out and when they do not go that way, we become confused and sorrowful. This is when we need to turn to the Church for counsel, guidance and instruction. We are not able, on our own, to understand the mysteries and lessons of the Bible. It is only in the Church and through the Church that the truth and lessons of Holy Scripture are made manifest and presented to us in ways we can understand.

Even though the Church is the most perfect way to salvation, how many times do we experience sorrow and pain when the Church tells us something we do not understand or find hard to accept? Sometimes, the confusion and sorrow we feel is so intense that it leads to great suffering and pain. But we need to understand and accept the fact that the Truth is never an easy pill to swallow. The Church cannot teach falsehood and we must always remember this. Individuals or groups of people within the Church can cause great sorrow and suffering for others but it is impossible for the Church to do so, since She is the Bride of Christ.

Third, sorrow can stem from the seeming triumph of evil people. We see this both in secular society and the Church. Oh yes, there are evil people in the Church, some who have even made a pact with the devil. People with perverted values seem to always prevail and succeed, while the righteous seem to regularly suffer. Jesus tells His apostles and disciples that the world would rejoice over His death. The smug religious leaders of Jesus’s day congratulated one another over finally getting rid of this pesky preacher from Galilee who threatened their power. In our own day, we see smug, self-serving and faithless religious leaders of the Church seeking to crucify Christ once again; to rid themselves of this pesky preacher from Galilee who threatens their own power and position within the Church.

Fourth, sorrow can stem from living in this fallen creation. For example, when we see the horrific evil of Muslim extremists as they gloat over and celebrate the wholesale slaughter of innocent men, women and children, we feel deep sorrow and grief. When see millions of people throughout the world, especially children, living in abject poverty and starving to death, we feel deep sorrow and grief. When we witness the hatred and prejudice with which human beings treat each other, we feel deep sorrow and grief.

Because of Adam and Eve’s sin, the whole creation was subjected to futility and death (Genesis 3:17-19; Romans 8:20, 22). Although Christ conquered sin and death when He died on the Cross, we still live in a fallen world in bodies that are subject to illness, disease and death. We still have to fight against the flesh, which is prone to sin, with its painful consequences.

When others sin against us, we suffer sadness and sorrow. Sometimes the deep pain we receive at the hands of others, even those we may love deeply, takes years to work through. Being Christians does not insulate us from experiencing such sorrow and pain. But…the risen Lord Jesus promises to turn our sorrows into lasting joy. This brings to mind three very important questions. First, exactly what kind of Savior is Jesus? Second, how does Jesus turn our sorrow into joy? And third, why does Jesus turn our sorrow into joy? Let me answer each of these questions in their turn.

What kind of Savior is Jesus? Jesus is a sensitive, compassionate and deeply involved Savior. He is never far from us, nor does He ever turn His face from us. If we go to Him, if we call out to Him, He is there to lift us up and keep us from all danger and harm. Jesus knew that His apostles and disciples were confused about His teachings. Even though there were times when Jesus expressed frustration with His disciples, most of the time He graciously and patiently acknowledged their confusion and assured them that they would soon experience His lasting joy and come to a full understanding of the Truth.

“Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are but dust” (Psalm 102/103:13-14). This is how Jesus deals with those who fear Him. We may not understand or know everything about Jesus, but if our faith is strong, our eyes will see Him for who He is and our hearts will know Him for what He is.

There is no question that we frustrate the Lord; we are truly a disobedient and willful people. But God does not deal with us according to our iniquities or even our hard-heartedness. He opens His arms to us and invites us to Himself. Even though He knows we are rebellious and stiff-necked children, nevertheless He loves us with a love that never fails and knows no bounds.

Jesus is a suffering Savior who willingly went through unimaginable sorrow and suffering on our behalf. On Holy Thursday night Jesus will sweat great drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane as He agonizes in prayer over the thought of bearing our sins. In his Letter to the Hebrews, St. Paul says, “He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears…” (Hebrews 5). On the Cross, He cried out in great agony the words of Psalm 22:1, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’ He willingly “endured such hostility by sinners against Himself on our behalf for the joy set before Him of bringing many children to glory” (Hebrews 2:10, 12:2).

Having suffered and died on the Cross, Christ opens up the way for us to Paradise. By His death, He destroys the bonds of death forever. Death is no longer something to be feared but rather becomes the doorway to new life; that is if we have lived our lives in Christ. Jesus Christ is the Risen Savior, the One who has triumphed over sin and death. The Cross is no longer the symbol of suffering and death, but of hope and new life. It is the symbol of joy and hope; the weapon of peace and victory. This is a something unbelievers will never understand unless they accept Christ in totality.

Once again let us turn to the Gospel of St. John. Jesus says, “Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you” (John 16:22). The dramatic change in the disciples from grief to lasting joy was founded on seeing the risen Savior. Everything about the Christian faith – everything – rests on the Cross and the bodily Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. As St. Paul boldly states in his First Letter to the Church in Corinth, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17).

In the shadow of the Cross and the glory of the Resurrection, the apostles were transformed from fearful, defeated, confused men into bold witnesses who were willing to suffer and die because they saw the risen Lord Jesus. Since He has been raised from the dead and ascended into heaven, He is coming again to conquer and reign. At that moment, all our sorrows will instantly be turned into eternal joy!

So how does the Lord turn our sorrow into joy? He accomplishes this by showing us the glory of the Cross. There is that fearful word again…Cross. O how the Cross intimidates so many people. O how the Cross incites such hate and foolishness among those who do not believe. You have no idea just how many millions of people think it foolish, ridiculous and even insane to worship a corpse on a Cross or venerate and honor a piece of wood that was an instrument of extreme torture, suffering and death. The real sadness of this is that they will never understand, for they suffer from spiritual blindness. What is worse, they have no desire whatsoever to want to see what is really before their eyes.

To have seen their beloved Lord beaten and bloodied, hanging on the Cross, was the most horrible and shocking event of the disciples’ lives. Many years ago, I saw the movie, The Passion of the Christ. It was, by far, the most violent film I had ever seen with regard to the life of Christ. Many paintings, pictures and icons and movies that depict the Passion and Crucifixion of Christ have a tendency to romanticize the events, to present the events is a “soft” light, but The Passion of the Christ did not romanticize anything. What the Romans did to Christ was brutal and horrific and gut-wrenching. When Pope St. John Paul II was asked about his impression of the movie, he responded by saying, “It is as it was.” The agony and suffering that Christ experienced between Holy Thursday night and His Crucifixion on Good Friday was indescribable, but The Passion of the Christ gives us a realistic account of the gruesome and horrific treatment Jesus endured on our behalf.

But even as gory and horrific as the Passion and Crucifixion of Christ was, none of the Evangelists, or St. Paul, or the other Fathers of the Church down through the centuries, in all of their writings, has ever portrayed the Cross in depressing and mournful tones, but rather as something glorious and triumphant. It was the center of their apostolic teaching and preaching because it was the basis upon which God could forgive our sins (Acts 2:23; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 1 Corinthians 2:2). St. Paul even wrote that he gloried and boasted in the Cross (Galatians 6:14).

In the Gospel of St. John, it is significant that Jesus does not say the sorrow of the disciples will be replaced by joy, but rather that He would turn their sorrow into joy. The Lord uses the analogy of a woman in labor. In Jesus’ day, there was no such thing as anesthesia, so when a woman was giving birth you could hear her crying out in anguish one minute and a few minutes later she was beaming with joy over the very thing that caused her such anguish, namely, her newborn baby.

St. Paul wrote that our sufferings bring us into fellowship with Christ in His sufferings and so we attain to the resurrection of the dead (Philemon 3:10-11). He tells us that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us (Romans 8:18). In his Letter to the Hebrews, Paul tells us that as we fix our eyes on Jesus and His suffering, we can then submit to God’s discipline in our lives, which yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. The Lord turns our present sorrow into joy as we get a deeper understanding of the glory of His Cross. He turns our sorrow into joy by giving us an eternal perspective.

The Cross is not tied merely to this world. It is not merely a thing made of human hands. It is the divine key which opens the gates of paradise to us. The Cross is a bridge from this world into the next. Jesus did not reveal this reality immediately to the disciples on Holy Thursday when He sat with them at supper. But He did give them instruction that enabled them to look back at the traumatic events of His Passion and Crucifixion with clarity and understanding. It is in the Resurrection of Christ that the true glory of the Cross is made manifest. After the Resurrection, as Jesus opened the Scriptures to show His disciples how the Messiah needed first to suffer and then enter His glory (Luke 24:26, 46-47), they got the big picture of what God was doing in history. That eternal perspective enabled them later to endure suffering for the sake of His kingdom.

Jesus turns our sorrow into joy also when we see Him risen from the dead through the eyes of faith. In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus said that the disciples would see Him again and then their hearts would rejoice and no one could take their joy away from them. They saw the risen Lord physically, which we cannot do. But we can see Him spiritually as we believe the apostolic witness. St. Peter wrote to suffering Christians, “And though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8).

It is often in times of suffering that we see the Lord Jesus more clearly as the Holy Spirit opens up the riches of Christ to our souls in fresh ways. And, of course, our ultimate, eternal joy will sweep all our sorrows away forever the instant we see Christ return in power and glory! Thus Jesus is the sensitive, suffering and risen Savior. He turns our sorrow into joy by showing us the glory of the Cross; giving us an eternal perspective; and letting us see Him risen through the eyes of faith.

We come now to the last question, “Why does the Lord turn our sorrow into joy? Jesus turns our sorrow into joy because we grow to be like Him through our participation in His suffering. The Fathers of the Church have consistently told us throughout the centuries that we should consider it a joy when we suffer on account of the trials and tribulations we encounter during the course of our lives. We should exult in our tribulations and trials and thank God for them because, in all truth and reality, they produce perseverance, strengthen our character, and give us hope. Now you might say, “Couldn’t  we just skip the sorrow part and move directly into the joy?” But what good would that do? Even Scripture attests to the fact that our Lord learned obedience through His sufferings. It is not that He, like us, was disobedient and had to learn to be obedient. But through suffering, He experienced what obedience is all about. Through our sufferings, we learn to be more like Him, but we must trust Him throughout the process.

God comforts us in our afflictions so that we will be able to comfort others in their afflictions with the same comfort with which we are comforted by Him. The comfort and consolation of every Christian is Jesus Christ. The hope and joy of every Christian is the Cross of Jesus Christ. Christ is sufficient for everything. Even when our hearts are crushed, bleeding and broken; even when it seems that we are at the lowest point in our lives, Christ is sufficient.

Today we are invited to honor and adore the Cross. Today the Church places the Cross before us to remind us of its glory and awesome power. In a few short weeks, we shall behold with wonder and awe the great work of salvation in which the Cross shall play the leading role. Do not neglect the Cross, beloved. Keep it close to your heart and before your eyes always. Remember also the joy which the Cross has brought into the world and the many blessings which flow from it. In times of sorrow, hold it close to your heart and trust in God that your sorrow will be turned into joy.


Sunday, March 12, 2017

Homily for the Second Sunday of Great Lent

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

“How far would I go for a friend?” This was a question I asked myself last evening as I was reading today’s Gospel in order to prepare my homily. Prior to the event we heard this morning, Jesus had been very busy. He had gone to Capernaum and had performed several miracles, which had caused a great stir among the people. Today’s reading picks up at the point of His return and the town was ready. Again, the home where he was staying was surrounded by the needy and many curious people. So many were there that you could not even get through the door.

There was a paralytic in the town who obviously needed the healing ministry of the Lord. While he could do nothing about it himself, four friends wanted to be sure the man received the touch he needed and carried him, stretcher and all, to the house.

Arriving at the home, they could not get the man close to Jesus. This is where the story gets interesting! Undaunted by the crowd, the men somehow got the man on the roof of the house, creating an opening in the tiles and lowered the stretcher in front of the Lord.

The Gospel goes on to day, “When Jesus saw their faith.” Jesus went on to use this man’s situation as an opportunity to underscore His divinity, forgiving the man’s sins as well as healing his sickness.

I have always been captivated by the faith and perseverance of the men who carried their friend. Take a moment and imagine what they must have done to provide their friend with the gift of healing. Certainly, they could have done something else with their day. They could have gone fishing or hunting. They could have gone to the local tavern and spent time eating and drinking. But they did not. What they did instead was to help their friend, whom they must have cared for and loved very much. In fact, I am sure they did love and care for him very much, because they went through a great deal of trouble to make sure that Jesus saw him.

The modest dwellings of Capernaum would look nothing like our modern homes of today. Most were square and normally only one story – or sometimes two. They usually had a stairway leading to the flat roof, which was often used as a patio. So, finding their way through the crowd to the stairs and then bringing their friend along, they would have to find ropes, dig out an opening in the tiles and then lower him into the house. What an ordeal that must have been!

I can picture the scene from inside the home. As Jesus is teaching, he and the crowd look up to see sunlight streaming through a new opening the men have made. As they continued to watch, a stretcher appears in the opening and is carefully lowered by four ropes, making sure the man does not get tossed off the stretcher. The rest, they say, is history.

So, how far would I go for a friend? Would I have taken up on of the poles of the stretcher and carried my friend to see the Lord? Seeing the large crowd, would I have suggested we turn back and just abandon the plan? Had I heard that the Savior was returning to the village, would my first thought be that my paralyzed friend needed to see and meet Jesus?

In Matthew 9:36, the Evangelist writes, “At the sight of the crowd, Jesus was moved with compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” The phrase “moved with compassion” really describes the actual physical response to what He saw. In today’s language, we might say that “He had a terrible feeling in His gut.”

What troubled Jesus the most was the condition of people who were being harassed by the circumstances of life that were assailing them, while having no inner strength to withstand the pressure. Living in the time of Jesus was not easy. The people not only suffered poverty, but many were sick and had very little chance of surviving even the most serious flu. More than that, they were regularly persecuted and oppressed by rulers and governments that were corrupt and brutal.

I can still remember a science class when I was elementary school, where we took a vacuum pump and removed all of the air from the gasoline can. This was not one of our modern plastic cans but a steel container. As the air was evacuated from the container, it was though an invisible hand had taken hold of the object and was squeezing it. In the end, all that was left was a crumpled lump of metal. That was an image of true helplessness!

While cultures and technologies have changed since the times of our Lord, humanity is not any better off. We are still harassed and helpless, especially in the area of our spiritual life. As Isaiah wrote, “All we like sheep have gone astray. Each one has turned to his own way.” (Isaiah 53:6).

Not only are we often harassed and made to feel helpless, each one of us is surrounded by harassed and helpless people every day. We see them at work, in school, in our neighborhood, at the mall, and often in our own families. But as Orthodox Catholic Christians, we possess a grace that gives us the strength to overcome all those things which seek to keep us down, which seek to oppress us and crush our spirit.

It is only when we look at the lives of others through the lens of the Gospel that we are able to see their true condition. From the outside, many people look just fine; they have good jobs, stable incomes and active involvement on a number of fronts.

While their exterior image may appear wonderful, the fact is that they are not really very happy. They may appear to be happy, but the reality is that true happiness eludes them. Because happiness is never really in their grasp, they keep seeking it in every possible way they can, wherever they can, whenever they can.

What is really needed by people who are not happy is a deep and profound encounter with God. This may seem like a pat and simple solution, but it is not. Having a true intimate relationship with God is not easy. Such a relationship involves sacrifice, a complete change of heart and the way we think, and an acknowledgement that we cannot get through life on our own.

So many people in our own city of Utica and in every city throughout the world are looking for something that will make a difference in their lives. They stay away from Church on Sundays, holy days and feast days because they believe that attending Divine Liturgy or Mass has no real tangible benefit for them. They do not participate in the life and work of the Church because, again, they see such participation as providing no tangible or self-satisfying benefits for them. How wrong they are!

In the seventeenth century, French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal coined a phrase that describes this void when he said, “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.”

For many of us, it is hard to believe that people need what we have. Sometimes, many of us take our faith for granted, not aware that others are like that paralytic on the inside. Some of us are even like the paralytic in today’s Gospel. Yet, we fail to do anything to make our lives better; we are content to live in blissful ignorance of our situation. The difference between the paralytic and us is that the paralytic sought out God, in the person of Jesus Christ. Even though he could not get to Jesus on his own, he had friends who cared enough about him to get him to see Christ.

The same must be true for us. If we cannot get to Christ ourselves, then we should seek out the help from our friends to help us find Him and get to where we can see Him and encounter Him. It would not hurt any of us to extend an invitation to our friends to come and meet Christ. How many of our Protestant and Catholic brothers and sisters have lost sight of Christ or do not even know Him anymore? We would be doing them a great help if we invited them to come and meet Him in our Church community. If our own relationship with the Lord is strong and real, then we in a good position to lead others to Him and to an encounter of love which surpasses all human understanding.

In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI told a group of pilgrims in Rome, “Only in this personal relationship with Christ, only in this encounter with the Risen One do we really become Christians. Therefore, let us pray to the Lord to enlighten us, so that, in our world, He will grant us the encounter with His presence, and thus give us a lively faith, an open heart, and great charity for all, capable of renewing the world.”

The Church calls us all to be evangelists; instruments of the Lord in proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel and leading all people to Christ.  She also emphasizes the importance of sharing our faith with others, and for good reason. Christ Himself has commanded us to do that very thing, “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

In essence, the Church is calling us to be “stretcher-bearers” for those needing a healing touch. This is evangelization. This is one of our duties and responsibilities as Orthodox Catholic Christians: to be salt and light to the world. In order to successfully fulfill our mission, our own faith must be firm and our own relationship with Christ must be secure, and real. We cannot go through life being “cafeteria” Christians. We must actively seek out Christ and understand that it is not just in the Church on Sundays that we find Him; He will be found in the refugees that have come to our community to start a new life free of oppression and persecution, in the unwashed homeless person who stands outside our church begging for money, and in the unwed teenage mother who chose to have her baby instead of aborting it. It is to these and all others that we are to bring the love and compassion of Christ.

Often, when we think of evangelization, we picture people going door-to-door, handing out pamphlets, or trying to engage total strangers in a theological discussion about their soul. Such visions bring about a sense of dread and discomfort. Not only does this sound awkward but it also seems overwhelming. We wonder what to do if people ask hard questions. As evangelists, we are not expected to be catechists or apologists.

For the most part, evangelization, as St. Peter described it in his first letter, simply involves being ready to give a reason for the hope that lies within. (1 Peter 3:15). Through our baptism, we are called to be evangelists and missionaries; to be instruments of God so that all people may be reconciled to His law and to His love.

As Orthodox Catholic Christians, we are called to share our hope in the Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Christ and to proclaim to everyone we encounter that the hope we have does not fail but rather gives us the strength to fight against and overcome all those struggles and temptations which this world hurls against us. Our job is to bring people before Christ and leave the results in His hands.

We must always be on the watch for divine opportunities. One of the greatest single barriers to helping another come close to our Lord involves the issue of inconvenience. Our schedules can be so hectic and our lives already stressed. Yet, we have a call to get involved in the lives of others and it might get a little messy.

In our Gospel reading for today, the friends of the paralytic showed an example of true commitment to the needs of another when they headed up to the roof and opened the roof through which the stretcher could be lowered. They showed a determination many of us can emulate. They also illustrated something else: an eye for opportunity.

One of the best ways to evangelize is to integrate your faith into your professional and social life. Approach every encounter with those you meet with the intent of looking for a divine moment. Very often you will find opportunities will present themselves where you can share something about your personal faith without being pushy. Watch for those divine moments. When they come, simply plant a seed. If the opportunity is right, invite the person to accompany you to a church service or just to come and visit your parish church. If someone shares a problem with you, tell him or her that you will be praying for them. If someone expresses displeasure with their quality of life, simply comment about the importance of Christ in your life and again, invite them to go with you to a service or church event.

We have what people need, a relationship with Jesus Christ and can be used mightily to bring people to a personal faith if we make ourselves available and look for opportunities – those divine moments – when we can share.

We must always remember that God has a human face in Jesus Christ; it for this reason that billions of people throughout the centuries have sought Him out. It is for this reason that the friends of the paralytic sought Jesus out for their friend. They knew that Jesus was God made man and they had faith strong enough to move them to action. They believed that Jesus had the power to heal. But Jesus’ power to heal was not limited to just physical healing. Jesus had the power to forgive sins, and this is exactly what He does in today’s Gospel. He forgives the man’s sins and so gives him spiritual healing as well as a physical healing.

Jesus loves us with a love that endures forever. That is why His emphasis is on sin over physical healing. Our Lord knows that the forgiveness of sins brings about healing in one’s life. It was often thought that illness such as blindness and paralysis of the limbs was the consequence of sin. So, it is natural for Jesus to speak to the man’s sins first in the process of healing him. The crowd that was present would have been more receptive to this than if Jesus simply healed the man’s paralysis from the get go.

The Church offers us many opportunities to achieve spiritual healing. It is made available to us both in the Holy Mystery of Confession and Reconciliation and in the Holy Mystery of Holy Anointing. Too few of us take advantage of Confession. And too many only experience the Sacrament of Holy Anointing during times of illness. But the Church invites us to receive Holy Anointing just before the celebration of the holiest days of the liturgical year. On Wednesday evening of Holy Week, on the night just before Holy Thursday, the Church invites us to receive the Mystery of Holy Anointing. This is, in truth, the Sacrament of the Sick. And the Sacrament is not just for the healing of physical illness and sickness but for spiritual healing as well. Because of its importance, I encourage of all of you to participate in the Holy Anointing Service which will be held in the evening of Great and Holy Wednesday. It is a fitting way to begin the solemn observances and commemorations of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ.

Beloved, do not forget or ignore the great mercy and love of the Lord. Like the paralytic, let us go out and seek Christ. Let us ask Him for healing, that we may be healed of both our spiritual and physical ills. And let us look out for those who are in need of spiritual healing but who cannot get to the Lord under their own power. Let us be stretcher-bearers for those who want to but cannot do for themselves. In serving and helping others you will become the beneficiaries of great blessings and spiritual riches and will find favor with God.


Sunday, March 5, 2017

Homily for the Sunday of Orthodoxy

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

As the Prophets saw, as the Apostles taught, as the Church has received, as the Teachers express in dogma, as the inhabited world understands together with them, as grace illumines, as the truth makes clear, as error has been banished, as wisdom makes bold to declare, as Christ has assured, so we think, so we speak, so we preach, honoring Christ our true God, and His Saints, in words, in writings, in thoughts, in sacrifices, in churches, in icons, worshiping and revering the One as God and Lord, and honoring the others and giving to them due veneration because of their common Lord as those who are close to Him and serve Him. This is the faith of the Apostles! This is the faith of the Fathers! This is the faith of the Orthodox! This is the faith which established and makes fast the inhabited world!

(From the Synodicon of the Sunday of Orthodoxy)

Today, beloved, we celebrate the Feast of Orthodoxy, a joyous celebration commemorating the restoration the veneration of icons in the Church. This celebration is the culmination of an Ecumenical Council which took place in Constantinople in the year 843 A.D., where the controversy over the veneration of holy icons was finally settled. The debate over whether images of Christ, His angels, and the Saints should be venerated, or even whether they should exist at all, raged for over a century. The word “debate”, however, masks the real nature of the controversy.

Since, 726 A.D., various Byzantine emperors opposed to icons (iconoclasts) had used state-sponsored violence to strip churches of images depicting God, Christ, the Virgin Mary and the Saints, imprisoning, mutilating those who continued to venerate the icons. Many priests and monks who, in the main, venerated icons, fled to parts of the Church outside the Byzantine Empire, for example, to Rome.

Upon the death of the last Iconoclast Emperor, Theophilus, his young son Michael III, with his mother the regent Theodora, and Patriarch Methodios, summoned the Synod of Constantinople in 842 to bring peace to the Church. The Council affirmed the legitimacy of the Second Council of Nicea, held in 787 A.D., which declared iconoclasm a heresy with the following decree: “We define that the holy icons, whether in color, mosaic, or some other material, should be exhibited in the holy churches of God, on the sacred vessels and liturgical vestments, on the walls, on furnishings, and in houses and along the roads, namely the icons of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ, that of our Lady, the Theotokos and ever-Virgin Mary, those of the venerable angels and those of all saintly people. Whenever these representations are contemplated, they will cause those who look at them to commemorate, remember and lover their prototype. We define also that they should be kissed and that they are an object of veneration and honor, but not of real worship, which is reserved only for Him Who is the subject of our faith and is proper for the divine nature. The veneration accorded to an icon is, in effect, transmitted to the prototype; those who venerate the icon, venerated it in the reality for which it stands.” After the conclusion of the Council there was a triumphal procession from the Church of Blachernae to Hagia Sofia, restoring the icons to the church.

Today, the heresy of iconoclasm has returned to plague the Church. We see this primarily in regular attacks on Christianity in general and upon the Church in particular by a government that has been openly hostile to the Church and anti-Christian in its policies and laws. There can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that many governments throughout the world, emboldened and supported not only by secularist politicians and unbelievers, but by lukewarm  and apostate Christian leaders, educators, theologians and even hierarchs and clergy, have been busy waging a full-blown assault on both the Church and Christianity. This assault is both covert: hidden and well-calculated and executed, and overt: visible and easily-recognizable. It is the covert operation, however, that is the most dangerous, because it is veiled in softness, appeasement and flattery.

This new iconoclasm embodies other heresies such materialism, relativism and individualism. It is founded primarily on the “same God heresy,” a heresy which declares that all people, regardless of their faith tradition, worship the same God. It is this relativism that reduces Christianity to nothing more than a subjective belief system that brings nothing new to the human experience.

The New Iconoclasm tears down and destroys all those images which reveal and convey the eternal truths of God to human eyes, hearts, and minds. It seeks to remove from the lives of every human being the one constant that God interjected into the human experience when He sent His Only-Begotten Son, the Word made flesh, to dwell among us and restore, by His Passion, Death and Resurrection, that which was lost because of the disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve.

Today’s Iconoclasts tell us that Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and members of every other faith all worship the same God. Nothing can be further from the truth. For example, Jews do not worship the same God as Christians because they do not accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah nor do they worship the God we worship as the Holy Trinity. Muslims do not worship the same God as the Christians, because they worship Allah as absolute oneness; they too, do not worship the Holy Trinity.

The New Iconoclasts tell us that none of the great religions is better one over the other. They say that no particular religion is the possessor of the fullness of divine truth. Whatever they believe that truth to be remains to be seen, but one thing is certain, the “truth” which they put forth is not of God but comes from deep within the bowels of hell.

Christians who buy into the false teachings of the New Iconoclasts often justify their beliefs and positions using the language of religious relativism. Sadly, this is the new language of many in the Church today. This is a double apostasy, for it reduces God’s revelation to a subjective, human conception and equates it to a conception of God that makes Him a theory rather than a certainty. Such a position of course is the complete negation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and a direct rejection of Orthodox Christian dogma.

The New Iconoclasm is a betrayal of Christ by equating the God worshiped in Islam and Judaism with the True God of Christianity, more specifically, Orthodox Catholic Christianity. I make this distinction because even among Christians themselves, there is no uniform or united belief concerning God or Jesus Christ.

As with the iconoclastic heresy of the eighth century, the New Iconoclasm of today is a direct assault against the Church and the Faithful. One of the most pernicious effects of this false teaching is the confusion and wasted energy it introduces into the life of the Church. This assault finds its mark in pummeling the traditional dogmatic teachings of the Church such as abortion, same-sex marriage, materialism, etc. The New Iconoclasm saps the vitality of the Church and dampens efforts at preaching the Gospel and evangelization.

Why should we be concerned with such things as mission and evangelization when some of our own bishops and priests in the Church make statements to the effect that “Christianity and Islam are 90% the same, and differ only regarding the Divinity of Christ?” Why would anybody, be they Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist or Hindu feel drawn to Christ if Christians do not make Christ know to them in real and tangible ways?

As Orthodox Catholic Christians, we cannot adopt the “we all worship the same God” mentality that the Iconoclasts of today would us adopt as the mantra of normalcy when it comes to religions. There is no equal to the Orthodox Christian Faith. There is no more real “truth” than the truth which has been revealed by God Himself to us and which the Orthodox Catholic Church has preserved inviolate for the past two thousand and more years.

Out task as Orthodox Christians is to pivot from false teachings in the same way the Fathers of the Church did in the eighth century when they defeated iconoclasm back then. We must stand firm and vocally in our repudiation of what the New Iconoclasts teach and promote among God’s people today. We must join together and seize the high ground and from there proclaim the Truth of our Faith boldly and without reservation and fear. If Christ be for us, who can be against us?

Once we come to the Truth, we are called to share it: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). The Truth is a Person. This is a reality the New Iconoclasts either seem not to understand or choose to ignore altogether. Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and no one comes to the Father but through Him (John 14:6). “This is the True God, and Eternal Life,” says the Beloved Apostle. And he closes his letter by warning, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).

The New Iconoclasts have torn down the images of holiness, righteousness, purity and truth which God has entrusted to the Church to cultivate among His people and replaced them with the false idols and gods of sex, drugs, materialism, individualism, greed, lust for power and every other vice that arises when God is forced out of human existence.

Ultimately, turning to Christ - embracing the Truth – for each one of us, can be our own personal Triumph of Orthodoxy; and what better time to do so than during Great Lent? This is how we can triumph over the New Iconoclasm. We cannot stand idly by and let God be removed from our lives. Even if it means we must face martyrdom we must fight with all our might to turn back the New Iconoclasm which seeks to destroy both the Faith and the Church.

At Vespers this afternoon, we will celebrate the service for the Triumph of Orthodoxy. During this elaborate service, I will proclaim the Anathemas against all the heresies and heretics which the Fathers of the Church have condemned over the centuries to the present day. Some people say that the service is harsh and archaic, but the opposite is true. The Service of the Triumph of Orthodoxy is just as relevant today as it was when it was first celebrated so many hundreds of centuries ago. The Anathemas are intended for the Church, to strengthen Her as a body and for the faithful individually so that they may know that the Church stands strong to protect and defend them from error. The Service of the Triumph of Orthodoxy serves as a public corrective rebuke to the false teachers and straying hierarchs and clergy who seek to destroy the Body of Christ and lead God’s people into sin and destruction.

As the Fathers of the Church did not waver in their fight against iconoclasm in the eighth century, let us not betray their sacrifices and struggles by following the New Iconoclasts of today. Let us take our fight into the public square and speak against all who would silence the Church and strip our society of the Truth which God has entrusted to us to proclaim without prejudice and compromise. Let us not be lapse in publicly calling out, and, if necessary, condemning all those who seek to destroy the Church and the Faith.

God never abandons, beloved, those who are faithful and obedient to Him. Therefore, let us not fear death and persecution on account of the name and teachings of Christ. How blessed we shall be and how great will be our reward should we be called to give our life for the Master. Great Lent prepares us for such an eventuality and strengthens us to fight against the powers of evil and this world. Rejoice, and be glad, therefore, that you are God’s Chosen People, the beloved of the Lord and the privileged citizens of the New Jerusalem.

To all those who stand firm in the faith and defend the honor of God and His holy Church…Many Years!