Cathedral of the Theotokos of Great Grace

Cathedral of the Theotokos of Great Grace

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Homily for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

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

In our Gospel reading this morning we find a rich young man talking to Jesus about a very important matter. This young man is deeply concerned about eternity and wants to know what he must do to achieve everlasting life. But when Jesus tells him what he must do, the young man is not ready to take that step.

Jesus wants the rich, young man to take a good look at his present life, at his priorities, and start thinking about changing some of them in order fulfill his desire for everlasting life. Part of what Jesus expects from him is sacrifice.

It is misleading for this young man and us to think that salvation comes without a price. Remember the struggles the disciples went through and the price they paid for following Jesus. They gave up a lot for their salvation. Some of the disciples abandoned their homes and families, others their businesses, to follow Jesus. Did not Peter say that “… we have left everything and followed you. What are we to have then?” (Matthew 19:27)

Jesus knew exactly what was important to this rich young man. This young man’s biggest obstacle was that he valued his wealth more than God. So, Jesus tests him to see how serious he is about following Him. To change the course of his life, Jesus tells the young man to sell all he has and follow Him.

Having said that, do you not find it odd that the commandment Jesus gives the rich man does not include the words, "You shall honor no other God but me.” Instead, Jesus tells the rich man to sell all he has and give his money to the poor. Why do you suppose Jesus left out that first and most important commandment? Well, actually, Jesus does allude to that commandment but in a roundabout way. By selling all his possessions and giving it to the poor, Jesus was, in fact, saying to the young man, “Get rid of your false god and accept the true God.” The rich man needed to let go of his god of wealth so that he could allow the one true God to come into his life. But to change his lifestyle, the process had to begin in his mind first. We call this metanoia. In other words, repentance, and conversion of heart.

Towards the end of the Gospel, Jesus tells His disciples that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich man to enter Heaven. Jesus knew that it is almost impossible for a rich man to give up his wealth even for life everlasting. Jesus said it like this, "Where your treasure is there will your heart be also." If our treasure is in this world where moths consume and rust corrodes, our life will pass away just like our treasure. In order to achieve Eternal Life, we must seek the "things that do not pass away, that moth and rust cannot consume or thieves break in and steal," That is our number one priority.

Once we put our priorities in order and decide to live by them, then and only then will our lives change. That is how Jesus was dealing with the young man. After He advises the rich man to get rid of his wealth, his god, then Jesus beckons the rich man to follow Him. Had the young man followed Jesus’ advice, eternal life would have been his. But, he bows his head and walks away saddened. So, what is it about money that can lead us to lose our salvation? Is money really that evil?

You see, there are two basic attitudes about wealth in the Bible. In the Old Testament wealth is considered a blessing from God. God chose Abram and promised to bless him and make his name great (Genesis 12:1-3). Solomon's wealth was seen as a sign of God's favor (1 Kings 3:13;). Does this mean that God hates poverty? No! Does He begrudge us having money? No!

When Jesus talks about money in the New Testament, it is done mainly with stories or parables, which show the dangers of wealth. For example, the parable of the seed and the sower. (Luke 8:14); the destructive nature of wealth in the story of the rich farmer (Luke 12:16-21). But in our world wealth and success are a measure of one’s worth and status.

Jesus considered money or wealth a spiritual power (Matthew 6:24), an object of worship, and a rival to God. That is why He often asked people to turn away from it not because it was money as such but rather because of the adverse effect it has on some people. Look at Zacchaeus. He offered to give half of his possessions to the poor as a sign of his desire to follow Christ. (Luke 19:8). So, the only way to defeat the power of mammon is to give it away (Acts 20:35).

St. Paul also warned against the power of money. In 1 Timothy 6:10 he says: “For the love of money is the root of all evils, and there are some who, pursuing it, have wandered away from the faith, and so given their souls any number of fatal wounds.” Paul may be implying that people who love money will do anything to get it. The desire for money has a way of enslaving the person seeking it. By this parable, Jesus is teaching us that we should never allow money to be our master but rather a servant used for ethical and noble purposes.

Christians are to recognize that God's kingdom is more important than money (Matthew 6:33). God, the owner, gives us material wealth to use, and to share with others in stewardship. Just because we worked hard to amass a sizeable amount of wealth, we must not let that be a justification for spending it all on ourselves. At all times, we are to keep in mind that we will one day give account to God for the use of our wealth.

It is perfectly acceptable for Christians to possess money. But, we must not be possessed by it or enslaved to it. The pursuit of wealth as an end in itself shows that we are truly materialistic individuals. We, as Christians, must guard against the persistent idolatry of materialism that focuses on the material stuff of this world and not on God.

Now, I have a question for you. How much are you willing to give up now, in order to have it all later? Before you answer the question, be sure you think about what you had to endure to get what you have. I am sure it has been a lifelong journey over which good friendships and meaningful relationships have been sacrificed. You put your name and reputation on the line and whatever progress you made has come with great difficulty – and you have got the baggage and scars to prove it. But through it all, you survived. You made it! Now: how much are you willing to give up?

This question confronts the young man who approached Jesus. Perhaps he realizes that no matter what he has done, who he knows, where he has been, or how hard he has tried, there comes a time when the trail of ambition dead-ends because of human limitation.

I dare not minimize the choice to be made, but I do suggest that the time will come when our best efforts fail. And when the time comes, God’s grace will breach the gap between human limits and God’s ability. Of this point in life, John Newton wrote, “Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come. ‘Twas grace that brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.”

Commonly defined as God’s unmerited favor, grace is the act of God giving us what we do not deserve. In Ephesians 2:8, Paul informs us that grace is a gift of God. And, in Romans 5:15, he tells us that grace is God’s free gift which cannot be earned, neither does it require repayment. Our Gospel lesson this morning intersects the point where human ambition gives way to God’s grace. And here the question is raised: What happens when human ambition meets God’s grace?

When ambition meets grace, we are reminded of what really matters. The young man in the Gospel almost had it all. He kept the commandments, he kept up appearances, he kept striving for more, and he kept keeping on. But in all his doing he realized that one prize kept eluding him, and that is where his despair began.

The young man pressed Jesus to tell him what to “do” to “have” eternal life as if he could just try a little harder, increase his portfolio’s diversity, pay off the right people – or maybe he could pray more or harder, or get to temple five minutes earlier. With human agency, this young man attempted to possess eternal life. But he discovered what really matters: God gives eternal life and as such, eternal life must possess you. Eternal life must inform human activity.

Eternal life should drive us to empower the existence of others above and beyond our desire to accumulate “stuff”. In verse 21, Jesus makes the point: since you have everything you need down here, and since you say your concern is with the weightier matter of eternal life, sell what you have and give it to the poor. Since God freely provides access to the kingdom of God when we die, we ought to be about the business of establishing access to the kingdom of God while we live. That means we should give of our excess and not merely what is “just enough.” We should bear one anothers' burdens. We should speak life to one another. If we want God’s kingdom to come, then Mahatma Gandhi had it right, “We must be the change we want to see in this world.” Let the Gospel change you! And use the Gospel to empower someone else, now!

What really matters is also seen in the way we embrace eternal rewards above temporary possessions. Jesus is clear in verses 21 and 22: if you adjust the way you think about what really matters, “you will have treasure in heaven; then come follow Me.” In response, the young man “went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” Jesus offered treasure in heaven and companionship on this side of heaven, but the young man was unwilling to let go of stuff that could be corrupted by moths and rust, and over which thieves could have full reign. He embraced the wrong thing, and for all, we know his tombstone would read: Here lies one who walked away from Jesus. He was rich but his material possessions could not withstand the call of death.

On the question of giving up now or gaining later, I suggest you embrace your eternal reward. When ambition meets grace, we can receive the blessing of God’s kingdom. In verses 23-26, Jesus points His disciples to the ultimate and final blessing to be enjoyed by God’s kingdom: God’s potential. In a dialectical manner, Jesus presents God’s potential over and against a portrait of the impossible. On the one hand, we see the preposterous notion of a camel passing through a space that is much too narrow for it to pass through in one piece. On the other hand, Jesus points the disciples to God who is able to do even the preposterous. Yes, God can do the preposterous.

Verse 25 introduces us to the blessing of God’s kingdom. The disciples asked: “Then who can be saved?” In God’s kingdom, whoever receives God’s free gift of grace – apart from anything they bring to the table, void of the things that bring fame and fortune in this world, free from the bondage of bad ambition – these are the ones who can be saved. I wish the young man had not walked away as fast as he did. If he were still around, he would hear Jesus say, “but for God [and might I add, the One who acts preposterously] all things are possible!”

God can lift us from the bondage of excess and greed. God can open our eyes to the reality of hope. God can reorder our value system. God can cause the dispossessed to hold their heads up high and dare to dream. Jeremiah affirmed it in Jeremiah 32:17. Jesus confirmed it in verse 26 of this morning’s Gospel, and I’m saying it now – there is nothing too hard for God!

When ambition meets grace, we are also required to examine our relationships. As one whose life’s mission was to do the will of the Father, surely Jesus knew the separation He required of the disciples was no small thing. But, in case Jesus needed a reminder, in verse 27, Peter said, “Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” By reordering their relationships, the disciples indicate what matters for eternity. They put Jesus first and demonstrated their readiness to receive the grace of God’s kingdom.

Our loved ones are summoned home by the Lord, or removed from us by time, distance, or experience, and we struggle with this because life is unimaginable without their love. But even here, by God’s grace, heaven has a way of reimagining reality for those who have lost it all for the cause of Christ. In God’s eternity, whatever has been lost in this world will be restored. And, if I read verse 29 right, we come out ahead. God fixed it so that whatever we reorder in our life to follow His Son will be returned to the tune of a value that is too large to consider.

That is why when it looks like following Jesus on the slow, straight, and narrow path will lead you to a last place finish, Jesus triumphantly declares you the winner! The judge is able to review your record, and because you ran with patience the race set before you; because you ran with faithfulness when other folks laughed and mocked you; because you stayed with Jesus when others took what looks like the easy way out, Jesus says: “Well done good and faithful servant. Enter now into the joy of your Lord.”


Sunday, August 20, 2017

Homily for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

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

When I have been wronged, what response should I give? This is a universal question for all people. In our own time, we have seen this question answered with revenge in Northern Ireland and in the Middle East. We have read of people being shot dead after an argument. This desire to “get even” seems to be a part of the human psyche.

It is like the story of a mother who heard her seven-year-old son screaming. She runs into the next room to see what is wrong and discovers her two-year-old daughter is pulling the hair of her brother. The mother gets the hand of the baby unclenched and says, “You will have to overlook this. Your sister doesn’t know what it feels like to have her hair pulled.”

The mother goes back into the kitchen when she hears the daughter screaming. She runs back into the room and says, “What happened?” The boy answered, “She knows what it feels like now.” It is human nature to want to “get even”. However, according to the teachings of Jesus, the appropriate response to this universal question is forgiveness.

Can we truly forgive others when they wrong us? The answer is “yes”. But there are three conditions: we can forgive if we know what forgiveness is not. We can forgive if we know what forgiveness is. And we can forgive if we receive forgiveness ourselves.

We talk a lot about forgiveness as Christians but I am not sure we know much about it. First, let’s think about what forgiveness is not.

Forgiveness is not the same as forgetting. Sometimes people will say, “Just forget about it.” The problem is, we do not forget. The question is how we remember. If we do not forgive someone, we remember the pain and feel all the emotions that went with the hurt and we live it all over again. Or, we can remember the hurt has been forgiven and it is over with.

Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross, was reminded one day of a vicious deed that someone had done to her years before. But she acted as if she had never even heard of the incident. "Don't you remember it?" her friend asked. "No," came Barton's reply, "I distinctly remember forgetting it."

Forgiveness is not the same as excusing. You do not excuse what was done when you forgive someone. It is almost the opposite. We need to forgive them because we have not excused them. If we can excuse something it does not need forgiveness. There is no blame, no one was responsible, it was an accident. Much of what passes today as forgiveness is actually excusing the bad behavior or attitude of another person.

We should never excuse intentional hurts. To excuse intentional hurt from another person is not helping them or helping your relationship with them. Never excuse them; cancel the debt and forgive them.

Forgiveness is not the same as accepting people. We accept people for what they are. They are people made in the image of God. They are people God values highly. So, we accept people for who they are, but we forgive them for what they do.

I need to accept someone even though they are different than I. They may dress differently, look different or have a different background. I need to accept all this for it is part of who they are. But I cannot and should not accept intentional wrongs that are done to me. Hurt does not require acceptance; hurt requires forgiveness.

Forgiveness is not the same as tolerance. You can forgive another person for anything, but there are a lot of things you cannot and should not tolerate. You do not have to tolerate what people do when you forgive them for doing it. Truth is, we can tolerate a whole lot more than we can forgive.

If you are in an abusive relationship you can forgive your abuser, but you do not tolerate the abuse. You call the police. You move out. You go to counseling. But you do not tolerate the abuse.

Forgiveness is not restoration. You can forgive a person who is not the least bit sorry for what they have done. You can forgive them even though you do not trust them. You forgive them even if you think they might hurt you again. Forgiveness does not mean the relationship is restored to what it was before the hurt. Forgiveness does not mean that you let them right back into your life where they can hurt you again. True restoration comes only when the level of trust is high. Forgiveness has no strings attached, but restoration requires strings attached because it could be harmful if that person does not repent or make restitution.

Now that we know what forgiveness is not, let us consider what forgiveness is. Forgiveness means we give up feelings of resentment toward another person. It means we renounce anger against another person. Forgiveness means we refrain from imposing punishment on someone who has offended us. We do not demand satisfaction. That is how God has forgiven us.

Throughout the New Testament, the followers of Jesus are repeatedly called to forgive those who wrong them. Jesus said we are to forgive our brother. Who is our brother? Jesus does not spell it out for us. Jesus intends for us to forgive others as He has forgiven us. In Mark 11:25 Jesus said “you must forgive what others have done to you. Then your Father in heaven will forgive your sins.” Apparently, God’s willingness and ability to forgive us is limited by our unwillingness to forgive others.

Paul wrote to the Colossian Christians “forgive anyone who does you wrong, just as Christ has forgiven you.” [3:13]. Notice that Paul does not identify who anyone is. We are not to forgive only family or friends; we are to forgive anyone. This means that if God dismisses or lets go of our offensive behavior toward Him, we must dismiss the offensive behavior toward us from other people.

We are expected to forgive, again and again; - it is a commitment that is to be sustained every day of our lives. It is not a single action, feeling or thought. Forgiveness is a way of life! But how do we make forgiveness a part of our life?  Not by feelings, I assure you. We do so out of the conviction that God has forgiven us by choice and because we are responding to His love and forgiveness. It is a matter of deciding to obey God.

One outstanding example of forgiving when we do not feel like it occurred when Corrie Ten Boom met a former Nazi Officer who had abused her and her sister during imprisonment. Corrie had been traveling from place to place speaking on the need for forgiveness. After one speech, a man came up and said, “Yes, it is good that God forgives us.” The man was recognized instantly. He said he had become a Christian and asked Corrie to forgive him. As he reached out his hand towards her, Corrie resisted. Then, in obedience to God, as she extended her hand towards him she felt the surge of the Holy Spirit pour through her in a supernatural act of forgiveness. Corrie could let some things go and give forgiveness.

In our anger or pain, we may feel that we should withhold forgiveness until the other person has said, “I’m sorry” and ask for forgiveness. This really is not very helpful. It sets you up to be a victim twice. You are giving power to the person who has hurt you. To withhold forgiveness is like taking poison and thinking the other person is going to die.

We should forgive for the sake of our own well-being and inner peace. The anger and disappointment we carry within us do not hurt the other person at all, but they make us a nervous wreck.  So, we need to forgive others for our own sake. Forgiveness brings us peace of mind and soul.

Our story in Matthew describes how Jesus looks at forgiveness on two levels: the tremendous debt is forgiven by the king and the small debt the servant refused to forgive. The servant had not actually experienced forgiveness because he did not know how to forgive.

The word used for “forgiveness” in the story means “to dismiss” or “to let go”. As an example, we read in the newspaper of a judge who dismisses a charge against a defendant. That person is then forgiven of any wrongdoing. His or her record is clean. In the parable, the king dismissed the debt of the servant.

In like manner, God dismisses or “let's go” of our offensive behavior toward Him. The person who has been forgiven of sin is then restored to the condition of not having sinned. The sin has been dismissed and the person has been released from any penalty. The case against him or her is closed.

God has forgiven all mankind in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God does not wait for us to ask for forgiveness; He has already given it. The Bible teaches us that God has offered forgiveness from the very moment human beings committed the first sin.

God is always willing to forgive us but we must cooperate with Him. We must do our part.

First, we need to be reconciled to God. Reconciliation means “to renew friendship”. Friendship requires two people who want to be friends and who agree to be friends. In his book "What’s so Amazing About Grace," Philip Yancey tells a story about a husband and wife who one night had an argument about how supper was cooked. It was such a terrible argument that when it finally came time for them to retire for the night, they ended up sleeping in separate bedrooms. Neither approached the other to say, “I’m sorry” or to offer forgiveness. They remained in separate rooms years after the argument. Each night they went to bed hoping that the other would approach with an apology and forgiveness, but neither one took the first step.

Here are two people who desperately want reconciliation but cannot exercise the will necessary to bring it about. God wants to be friends with all humankind. God has forgiven us and he asks us to accept his forgiveness so we can be his friends.

Sometimes we get the idea that God needs reconciliation. That is not so. It is not God who needs to be reconciled, it is the human race that needs to be reconciled to God. We are reconciled with God when we confess our sins and repent of them, ask Him for forgiveness, then accept His forgiveness when He offers it, and finally, start living as a friend of God.

Second, we need to accept God’s forgiveness. I read about a prisoner in Florida some years ago that was pardoned by the governor. The man refused to be released from his sentence. The case went to court and the judge decided that unless the man accepted the governor’s pardon he would have to serve the entire sentence. The same holds true for us. Unless we accept God’s forgiveness we will never be free from guilt and fear of death.

Third, we need to forgive ourselves. In the award-winning film called “The Mission,” Robert DeNiro plays a mercenary who has taken asylum in the local church after killing his brother in a fit of jealous rage. He eventually leaves the church and heads to a mission post located above the waterfalls in a South American jungle. Because of what he has done, and how bad he feels, he ties himself to a several hundred-pound net of items that represent his sinful life. He feels compelled to drag this sack around with him as a way to do penance for what he did. As he drags the sack around, he slips under the burden of his past, with the rope choking the very life out of him. He feels terrible and yet he does not know what to do with his sin and the shame that comes with it.

Our hero cannot let go of his past life. Have you ever felt like that? Are you tethered to some transgressions this morning? Are you gasping under the guilt of things you did several years ago? Several days ago? Several hours ago?

What do you do when you realize that you have messed up? How do you stabilize your life when you experience more ups and downs than the stock market? Where do you go when you have failed? Where do you turn when you have hurt those closest to you? Do you grab some rope and hitch it up to your sack of sin and start dragging it around wherever you go?  Or, is there something better?

Maybe the reason you are having such a hard time forgiving is that you have never really experienced God’s forgiveness in your life. You do not know what it means to live with a clear conscience and know that all the garbage in your life that you are so ashamed of, God has forgiven and made you whole.

When you understand how God has forgiven, you will be more forgiving of others. A forgiven person is a forgiving person. If you have not experienced God’s forgiveness, then I would like to offer you the opportunity to do so, in the Sacrament of Confession and Reconciliation.

Make it a point to go to confession as often as possible. As you know, it is the custom in our Church to make a good confession at least twice a month. Confession is a prerequisite for receiving Holy Communion. There must be reasonable assurance that when you approach the Chalice of Life, you are in a state of grace.

One final note. Remember that while God is merciful and forgives all our sins, His mercy and forgiveness are not automatic. They are not a given. In other words, we must repent of our sins, confess them, be resolved not to sin again, do penance, and make reparation for them. Additionally, if we do not forgive those who trespass against us and show them mercy, God will not show mercy to us nor will He will forgive us our sins.

This morning’s Gospel gives us a lot to think about. Can you make forgiveness a part of your life? It is not an easy thing to do, but it can be done if we are properly disposed to it and take seriously God’s commandments.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Archbishop's Statement on Charlottesville

On Saturday, August 12th, we saw evil rear its ugly head once again, this time in Charlottesville, Virginia. If anyone doubted the existence of the devil and the seeds of evil he sows in the hearts men before watching the disturbing and sickening videos of what took place in Charlottesville on Saturday, they could not possibly doubt it now. If, after watching the videos of that disgusting spectacle, one was not offended and repulsed by what one saw, such people are without heart and soul.

We always pray for our country in every divine service we celebrate. But at no other time in our country’s history does she need our prayers as much as during this time of racial turmoil. We are, at this very moment, a nation in crisis. Those that have been elected to govern and lead us are failing us. In fact, the one man we elected to be President of our country has, indeed, failed us.

President Donald Trump has abandoned most of the American people, even those who did not fully agree with him but were willing to give him a chance. Instead of being the center of unity and healing, President Trump seems content on destroying our beloved country by creating division, encouraging hatred, and creating fear among the citizens of America.

Over the past two days, the President has publicly aligned himself with individuals and groups who espouse and perpetuate an ideology of evil. In commenting on what happened in Charlottesville, the President revealed his true heart by stating that “both sides were at fault” in creating the situation that resulted in the death of Heather Hyer and two Virginia State Police Officers.

In making such a statement, President Trump has shown his true colors. He has proven himself to be a racist and a bigot. In all that the President has said since Saturday, and more importantly what he did not say, he has proven himself unfit and unworthy to be President of the United States. It is regrettable and sad to say, but the present incumbent of the esteemed and venerable Office of President of the United States is a morally bankrupt individual, a man without conscience and common decency.

On June 29, 2017, I sent President Trump an eleven-page letter expressing my concern about what was happening in our country. I expressed to the President my personal belief that God wanted him to be President because he could change the direction our country was headed, which was toward a Godless narcissistic society in which human beings are a disposable commodity.

After what the President did, and did not do, over the past two days, I no longer believe in the President or his ability to lead our country. I have no hope or any reason to believe that President Trump can make America better and greater. I pray that our President will change. I entreated him in my letter to take a step back and reflect on the awesome and grave responsibility he has taken upon himself in seeking and accepting the position of President of the United States. I do not know if he even read my letter. Nor did I even expect a response. But my conscience nonetheless compelled me to write him because of the great concern I have for God’s people and the country which I love.

Instead of uniting America, President Trump has divided our nation. Instead of a message of hope and unity, he has sown the seeds of dissension, hate, and division. The President and those who support his behavior and actions have betrayed our country and the American people. He has plunged America into one of the darkest, if not the darkest, periods of the country’s history.

There can be no doubt on where the President stands regarding race relations. He has made it very clear by the unfortunate and abominable statements he made over the past few days that he hates Jews, African-Americans, and Hispanics. One must wonder that if our President harbors such feelings about our Jewish, African-American and Hispanic brothers and sisters, how must he feel about LGBT people or those who are physically or mentally challenged? What kind of demeaning remarks does he utter inside the White House about people he deems unacceptable and inferior to himself? It makes me shudder.

In making the insidious comments he has made, which in essence affirm and support white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and the KKK, President Trump has sent a message to the American people, and to the world, that he believes in ethnic cleansing, a caste society, and the inferiority of all people who are not white. Unless the President publicly denounces these groups in the most vigorous and concise manner, retracts the disgusting statements he has made, and apologizes to the American public for the harm he has caused, he leaves us with no choice but to believe he shares the views and beliefs of those who would seek to inflict harm and even death upon a portion of God’s children.

President Trump has abdicated his moral leadership and has chosen instead to oppose God by advocating, supporting, and encouraging evil and by doing so he has placed millions of God’s children in harm’s way. Sadly, our President is incapable of any kind of empathy for those who have been hurt and are suffering because of what is going on at this present time in our country.

The President's comments regarding what took place in Charlottesville are simply repulsive and disgusting. I cannot conceive how someone who professes to be Christian can support groups of people who themselves distort and make a mockery of God, of Jesus Christ, the Gospel, and the Christian faith by advocating the enslavement, subjugation and even extermination of some of God's children. How could the President place his hand on the Holy Bible at his inauguration and swear to Almighty God that he will uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States, and then turn around and do something as heinous and reprehensible as making statements in support of racists, bigots, and murderers? He is guilty of blasphemy and sacrilege. God will not be mocked!

To President Trump, I say this: Mr. President, you should be deeply ashamed of yourself. But I know that you are not. And to your advisors in the White House, I say this: Shame too on all of you, for by your silence and unwillingness to speak out and call the President to account and reprimand him, you enable him and embolden him. You are complicit with him for the suffering he has inflicted on the people of America and for putting millions of them in harm's way. Mr. President and those in service to him, America and its people deserve better.

There is no place in the family of man for racism hatred, and injustice. Those who have been elected to govern us bear the grave and awesome responsibility of ensuring the safety and well-being of those who elected them. Over the past six months, I have watched with great sadness as that responsibility has been not merely ignored but deliberately set aside in favor of a narcissistic, ego-maniacal, and self-indulgent program.

We, as Orthodox Catholic Christians, and all people of faith and good will must pray earnestly for peace, unity, healing, and justice. But prayer is simply not enough. We know that God can do all things; He can certainly make things right on His own. But, the Lord expects us to do our part. Human beings were created to live in community with one another, to help and care for each other. We must look to God, to Christ, who is the source of love and unity for all mankind, to give us the strength, wisdom, and courage to become once again the people God created us to be.

As a shepherd and pastor of God’s people, I weep at the degree of suffering that is being borne by our Black, Hispanic, Jewish, and LGBT brothers and sisters because of the negligence, indifference, racism, and bigotry of our President. To them, I say this: Do not be afraid, for you are not alone. We will stand with and for you, and if necessary, shed our blood to ensure your safety and rightful place as equals in the human family, in society, and in our communities.

In the beginning, in January of this year, I had high hopes that President Trump would change our country for the better. I believed in his promise to “make America great again.” But I no longer have any faith or hope in the President. President Trump is no longer the hope of America, but its downfall. He is no longer its savior but its destroyer.

Can people change? Absolutely! Can President Trump be a good President? Absolutely! But he must want to change. But the sad fact is, he cares nothing about changing himself and governing well. He cares only about himself. He wanted to add the Presidency of the United States to his life’s achievements. He got what he wanted. Now he cannot be bothered to do the job, unless it benefits him, his business, and his family.

This is not a political statement I make today. This is personal for me. It is personal for me first because I am a citizen of this country, which I love with all my heart. Second, it is personal to me because, as a bishop, I have a divinely-imposed responsibility for the welfare and care of God’s people, a responsibility entrusted to me and placed upon my shoulders by Jesus Christ.

It is not just the members of the Italo-Greek Church that I am responsible for, but all those of God’s children with whom I come into contact. This is a grave and serious responsibility so when I see one or more of them at risk of harm, I must speak out and do something. I see many of God's children at higher levels of risk for physical harm because of the insensitive, outrageous, and racist remarks made by President Trump. Three precious and beautiful lives have been taken from our midst because of hatred. President Trump has put more lives at risk of being taken from our midst by those who seek to "cleanse" America of human beings they consider to be defective and "filth."

As most of you know, our cathedral church is in a neighborhood populated primarily by African-Americans, Hispanics, and Muslims. While most of these people are not part of our faith community, they are nonetheless part of our extended family. We provide for the needs of many of them, and in that regard, they are a part of us. The tie that binds us is a bond of love and mutual respect. We cherish them and love them as our brothers and sisters.

There is no Orthodox Catholic or Catholic Christian who can remain silent or indifferent when it comes to racism and hatred. The despicable events that took place in Charlottesville should be a rude awakening for us all. Evil does exist my friends and we have seen in in action in Charlottesville this past weekend. Let us not be a part of the problem but rather a part of the solution. This is our time to shine. Let us take the Gospel, the living Word of God, and dispel the darkness that hangs over our beloved America.

The evil of racism is a sin, one which the Gospel of Christ reveals but also heals. The Gospel does radicalize people, but it radicalizes them to love, not hatred. As Orthodox Catholic Christians, we must continually educate ourselves about racism and its evils so that we are thoroughly prepared to work diligently, thoughtfully, and responsibly to dismantle it.

I encourage all of you to express your outrage and disapproval to any kind of behavior which seeks to demean, diminish or eradicate the dignity and inherent value of any human being. I ask you to stand in solidarity, not just with words, but by every peaceful means possible, with our African-American, Hispanic, Jewish, Muslim, and LGBT brothers and sisters. The love of Christ compels us to do this.

To my brother bishops in the Orthodox Catholic and Catholic Churches, I ask you to speak, not only as corporate bodies but with individual voices, against the rising tide of racism and hatred that is overwhelming our country. Every bishop has the responsibility before God to protect and defend His children, not just those who are members of our individual Particular and Local Churches, but all His people, regardless of race, creed, or color. We must speak out against the evil which is spreading through our nation like aggressive cancer and do all in our power to ensure and guarantee that the basic dignity and the right of every human being to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are never taken from them.

Let us pray for peace and unity. Let us pray for healing and consolation. Let us pray for Heather Heyer, and her family and friends who are now grieving her untimely and unnecessary death. Let us pray for our President, that the Holy Spirit will open his eyes and reveal to him the path of righteousness, integrity, and honor. Let us pray for our African-American, Hispanic, Jewish, Muslim, and LGBT brothers and sisters, that God will protect them from all those who seek to do them harm. Finally, let us pray for ourselves, that we may acquire the strength and conviction to be an active witness to Christ’s Gospel everywhere in the world and that we become instruments of love, peace, justice, and unity.

If the President has an opportunity to read this letter, I know that he will attack me as he attacks all those who disagree with him or call him to account. But I say this to him: Bring it on, Mr. President. I am fully prepared to go head-to-head and toe-to-toe with you on this issue. You have put a great many of God's children in harm's way and I will fight to protect them and save them from people like yourself who have such low regard for God's children. Race, color, creed, national origin, sexual orientation, and social or economic status do not determine a person's worth and value, Mr. President. God established that a long time ago.

May Almighty God, who is the source of all that is good and holy, bless all of you and keep you in His love and under His mercy always and forever.


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Homily for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

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

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus tells us that the strength of our faith determines our ability to overcome evil. How many times have we heard it said that if we have a small particle of faith, it could move mountains. In a similar vein, today Matthew affirms that if we had faith as small as a mustard seed, it would be enough to move mountains.

Christ teaches us that our faith, however small it may be, is very much alive, very active and powerful! He compares the growth of our faith to the raising of a tiny mustard seed. When we plant and nurture that tiny seed, it will produce a tree so tall that the birds of the air will be able to nest in it. That is how our faith must grow and develop. We must never allow it to lie dormant after we have planted it. Christ tells us if we keep it alive and nature it, we can move mountains with it.

Could there be a hidden meaning in Jesus’ words that by our faith we would be able to move mountains from one place to another? We know that no matter how much faith we have we will not be able to physically pick up Mount Everest by our own strength and move it. It is physically impossible! So, let us consider for a moment that Jesus was not talking about physical mountains, but rather the many sins that we amass in our lifetime. These can grow to mountainous size if we do not do something about them.

Let us assume that Jesus was talking about those things that separate us from God. If we have faith in God, we can very easily make those mountains move into the abyss of refuse. However, it can happen only with the help of God’s grace that we receive every time we attend a Church service, especially the Divine Liturgy. Through confession, reconciliation, and partaking of the Holy Eucharist, we are able to break down the cold and dark mountains of sin and pride and remove the barriers that keep us separated from God.

So, why couldn’t the Disciples cure the epileptic boy? They were with Jesus constantly. They watched Him perform miracles and proclaimed He was the Son of God. It is because they were unable to move those huge mountains of sin in their lives. They still had a distance to go before the Holy Spirit, which Jesus would bestow upon them after His Ascension, would be able to move through them without hindrance. So, Jesus gently chastises them when they asked Him why they were unable to cure the boy. Jesus said to them it was, “Because you have so little faith!”  He made this comment ito humble them. Then He tells His disciples about prayer and fasting, the most powerful means to strengthen their faith.

But, what does it mean to have faith? Is faith the same as belief? Is faith something we can manipulate with our minds? St. James writes in his epistle that “...even the demons believe and tremble,” (James 2:19). However, this kind of “belief” doesn’t lead to salvation because it’s not faith. So then, what is faith?

The dictionary defines faith as a “Trust in God and in His promises as made through Christ and the Scriptures by which humans are justified and saved.” We have faith when we allow Jesus to come into our hearts not strictly by words and ideas, but by contemplation. St. Basil describes the ascent to God by liberating our thoughts from corporeality and temporality and raising our souls to the One who completely transcends the cosmos. He writes, “Now if you want to say or hear something about God, break free from your body, and break free from your sense perceptions. Once you have flown past all these things, transcended the entire created order in your thoughts, and raised your intellect far beyond them, contemplate the divine nature: uncircumscribed greatness, super eminent glory, desirable goodness, extraordinary beauty that ravishes the soul pierced by it but that cannot be worthily expressed in speech.” (Fide 1) In other words, your first step is to unite with God.

Faith is a gift given by God to those who go to confession and purify their hearts. It comes to those who, like Mary, the sister of Lazarus, have learned to sit at the Lord’s feet in silence and desire to learn from Him the secrets of life.

Faith is the rising within us of the rivers of living water promised by Christ to those who have, as St. Seraphim of Sarov so beautifully taught, acquired the Holy Spirit. Faith is released in us from the depths of our souls when we have taken out the garbage that obstructs the image and let go of everything that is unhelpful, unloving and unhealthy.

St. Seraphim of Sarov writes: "Faith, according to the teachings of St. Antioch, is the beginning of our union with God… ‘Faith without works is dead’ (James 2:26). The works of faith (fruits of the Spirit) are love, peace, longsuffering, mercy, humility and bearing one's cross. True faith cannot remain without works. One who truly believes will also surely perform good works." And through prayer and fasting, this is what the Disciples were sent out to do. They were dispatched to preach the Good News and they were able to do it because they were one with and in Christ.

Not all was lost for Jesus’ Disciples. Although they were unable to cure the epileptic boy, eventually, however, they were able to move those mountains of their own personal sins. When that happened, a great change began to take place. By their very ministering of the Gospel about Jesus, and the struggles they went through in their work, they proved their faith and as a result, many people converted to Christianity. Slowly but surely Christianity began to take root and grow to the size it is today. It all began with faith the size of a mustard seed and it grew by leaps and bounds so that, over the centuries, the harvest has been abundant and the fruit rich. By their faith and their good works, the Apostles became saints and secured their proper place in heaven to eternity.

How do we know if a person has faith? Someone once said, “The sign of faith in a person may be miracles or not, but the one sure sign that faith is at work is love and humility. If they are present, then a variety of miracles are already occurring and the eyes of faith can see them.”

According to the Unger’s Bible Dictionary, faith originally meant in Old Testament Hebrew to cover one’s mouth with one’s hand. I hope you see the picture! If I cover my mouth with my hand I can prevent the intake of food right? But guess what else it does. It prevents the outflow of words. Fasting gives us intentional time to listen to God.

Perhaps the reason that so many churches are unhealthy and failing in the United States and Europe is not because of lack of resources or because of lack of skills. I think it is more because we have failed to do what we need to do to listen to God. I think we care more about our own comfort than we do about really covering our mouths to hear God’s Word.

We are self-centered, egotistical, self-serving, and stiff-necked people. Even coming to Church is all about us and not about God. We must feel comfortable in Church. Divine services must make us feel warm and fuzzy, not uncomfortable and uneasy. But that is exactly what attending church is supposed to do. It is supposed to shake us up, to take us out of our comfort zone, and make us feel uncomfortable. Coming to Church places us in the presence of the Almighty. And we should feel uncomfortable before God, especially if we are trying to hide our sinfulness from Him.

We do not come to Church to worship ourselves. Nor is the priest the reason we come to Church. We come to church to worship the Holy Trinity, to worship the Great God who has made us and desires us for Himself. We live not for ourselves but for each other and for Him.

How many of us talk to God about when we are apathetic (without feeling) instead of compassionate (feeling with someone)? How many of us confess to doing the easiest thing rather than the right thing? The right thing is often more difficult to do because it involves more time, more. And it involves sincerity and honesty.

How many of us want to be comfortable instead of obedient and trusting? How many of us want our every need met and will not settle for less? How many of us make prayers to God for the things that we want and desire, most of which have nothing to do with real happiness and contentment. A lot of people no longer go to church because they are angry that God did not answer one or more of their prayers. But the reality is that God does answer every prayer offered to Him. But sometimes, the answer to our prayers is no.  Yes, God does sometimes say no to the prayers we make to Him because it is the answer that may be best for us at that time or in that particular situation. This is where faith comes into play. We must have faith in God to know that He will always do what is right, necessary, and beneficial for our salvation and happiness.

Let me conclude this homily with an old proverb that goes like this: “He who loses money loses much. He who loses a friend loses more. But he who loses faith loses everything and is doomed.”

God grant that our faith be increased and lead us to salvation.


Sunday, August 6, 2017

Homily for the Feast of the Transfiguration 2017

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

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And He was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Him. (Matt. 17:1-3).

The event of the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ stands in the middle of His ministry. Six days earlier, our Lord prods the apostles on a survey about the popular and in-house opinions about Him. Hence comes the two-fold questions: “Who do people say I am?” and “Who do you say I am?”

Our Lord invites three of His apostles to undertake a pilgrimage with Him to the mountain. He chooses Peter, James, and John. The number “three” not only reminds us about the Trinity, but it also indicates completeness, and regarding bearing witness, it is apt.

Jesus chooses those who are willing to climb the mountain with Him (Psalm 24:3). From the Gospels, the three represent the highly ambitious trio within the apostolic college. Peter is determined to stand with the Lord (Matt. 26:33) while James and John request seats at the right and left hand of the Lord in His glory (Mark 10:35-45), and they would experience that glory on the mountain of transfiguration.

Transfiguration means change and not just regular change but significant change. The word means a change in the figure but more technically it means incredible positive change.

The Gospel tells us that when our Lord and the three disciples reach the mountaintop, something amazing happens. While the disciples watch, our Lord’s appearance changes as His face shines like the sun and His clothes become dazzling white. What could be the meaning of this luminous apparition?

Daniel, in his vision, tells us, “I saw One like a Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven; and when He reached the Ancient One and was presented before Him, the One like a Son of man received dominion, glory, and kingship.”

We can see here that what happened at Mount Tabor represents the unveiling of the glory of heaven on earth with the appearances of glorified men of the mountain: Moses and Elijah. No wonder Peter declares as the vision lasts: “It is wonderful for us to be here.”

The Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord reveals to us the divinity of Christ. In what took place on Mount Tabor, we can say that the kingdom of God is beautiful, glorious, and comforting. However, before we get there, we need to ascend the mountain. Mountain climbing is not an easy exercise as it requires resilience, commitment, and discipline.

To get to the mountaintop, one would need to drop one’s baggage at the foot of the mountain. Dropping our baggage entails disengaging from the distractions of the lower region to advance to the upper area. It involves change and profound change as such. It requires disengagement from sin and the things of this world which distract us from reaching our goal, which is the pinnacle of the mountain.

The Transfiguration answers the question of the identity of our Lord Jesus Christ with His glorious Transfiguration before three of His apostles who stand as witnesses. The event further confirms Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi “You are Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). As a beatific vision, it settles our Lord’s promise: “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” (Matt. 16: 27–28).

Have you seen the glory of Christ? Have you glimpsed God’s glory? Have you looked across to the other shore? It is essential for us to have this experience, otherwise, the discouragements and disappointments of life can easily overwhelm us. Only when we glimpse the glory and experience the joy of God can we truly say that our sufferings are more than worth it, that the sufferings of this world cannot be compared to the glory that awaits (Rom 8:18), that our momentary afflictions are producing for us a weight of eternal glory beyond compare (2 Cor 4:17). Have you glimpsed the glory of God? Is this something you even expect to experience? We ought to ask for this wondrous gift because it is essential for us.

Throughout all our difficulties and suffering, and through immersion in His word, God often grants us this vision. Sometimes the vision is unclear to us and this because our faith is weak. Nevertheless, God does grant the vision. But we must be properly disposed and prepared to receive it.

When we see His glory, our eyes are opened and we become fully awake. So great is this glory that Peter, James, and John do not know what to say! Those who have ever really experienced a glimpse of God’s glory know that it cannot be reduced to words. It is ineffable, unsayable, unspeakable! There is an old saying: “Those who know, do not say. Those who say, do not know.”

Peter is babbling at this point and suggests building booths or tents to capture the glory to which He, James and John are witnesses. He probably had in mind the Feast of Booths, wherein the Jewish people remembered the great Exodus, the time in the desert, and the giving of the Law. It was one of the great festivals of the year. Hence, Peter’s suggestion is a way of saying, “Let’s celebrate this! Let’s extend the time in a week-long feast!” But Peter needs to understand that this is but a brief glimpse. There are still troubles ahead and another mountain to climb (Golgotha). For now, though, the vision is wonderful and exhilarating.

So, too, it is for us who are privileged to get a glimpse of God’s glory. It does not mean that we are fully in Heaven yet. For us, too, there are other mountains to climb and valleys to cross. But oh, the glimpse of glory; do not forget it! Let it sustain you in difficult times as it must have sustained Jesus in His Passion.

The Transfiguration is a divine facility placed at our service; it is our transfiguration also. The Transfiguration is a call for us to rise from our preoccupation with lowly things and strive for things with higher value, namely, the eternal things of God.

In life, we grow by changing. Those who do not grow are those who refuse to change. But those who embrace positive change improve, obtain new values, opportunities and new beginnings.

As we celebrate the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ may we strive daily to respond to the invitation to change by ascending to the mountain with the Lord for a better and more resplendent life. May we also accept the instruction of God the Father to listen to His Beloved Son who is pleasing to Him.

The Transfiguration was the mountain-top experience of the apostles which prepared them for their future trials. The Divine Liturgy is our mountain-top experience which prepares us for the trials of our day. Every time we participate in the Divine Liturgy, we are transfigured and transformed. We are taken from the depths of our sinfulness and weakness and are cleansed and strengthened by the most precious Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ in Holy Communion. And in the joy and consolation of Holy Communion we say with Peter, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” And we do not want to leave. But we must leave, for the Lord bids us go forth in peace and love to serve Him and our fellow men. So, as we leave this sacred and holy temple, we pick up our cross once again, empowered and strengthened by the Body and Blood of Christ, and go into the world to face the trials of the day and do the work of the Lord. But having been to the top of the mountain, we know that “nothing can separate us from the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

If we obey Jesus Christ, we will see greater and greater things (John 1:50). If we follow Him, He will lead us to the light and we will see all things by it. Note this, though: where Jesus leads is not always easy. To obey the Father’s command, we must listen to Jesus. We must accept Christ’s instruction to follow Him to Jerusalem and the Cross. Only in this way will we see all things by the Light of Christ which illumines all.

Do you want to see? Then be willing to make the climb with Jesus. He gives us vision if we climb. He gives us vision if we are immersed in His Word, which is Scripture and Church teaching. If we but take up our cross and follow Him through His passion, death, and resurrection, His greatest vision lies ahead for us. 

I wish you all a happy Feast of the Transfiguration and may you experience positive changes in your life that bring you closer to God the Father, in Jesus Christ, His Son, through the power and indwelling of the Holy Spirit.