The Holy Spirit at Work in You

As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  (Matthew 4:18-19)


Two Sundays ago we celebrated the Feast of Pentecost.   On that day, 2000 years ago in Jerusalem, God poured forth His Holy Spirit on a group of rather ordinary people, people like you and I.  Those people were transformed by that experience and went into all the world to proclaim that Jesus was risen from the dead and that the Kingdom of God was open to all of us who will love God.

Since that time, the Holy Spirit has inspired other people like you and I to hear the Word of God and to share God’s revelation with all the world.  Every year some people are inspired by God – some are baptized into Christ.  Indeed, it is the Holy Spirit at work within our lives which enables us to hear the Gospel and to desire to follow the Christ’s commandments.  Some people become filled with joy by the Holy Spirit, some work as peacemakers, they are patient and kind and try to bring healing to people who are at enmity with one another.  People are inspired to be meek and gentle, to exhibit self-control, to speak wisdom and bring light to others who are in darkness or confusion.   Some by the same Holy Spirit bring healing to the sick, or comfort to those in need.  Some are inspired to be charitable, generous, loving, forgiving and good examples – all inspired by God’s Holy Spirit.   When we live our lives according to the Gospel commandments, we become evangelists – we don’t have to tell others about Jesus Christ, we show them Christ alive in our hearts and homes – they see the light of Christ through how we live and what we do.

24756398794_06c796b1a2_nWhether we realize it or not, whether we feel it or not, it is God’s Spirit that works in us because we have been baptized into Christ and have received the Holy Spirit  through Chrismation.  For some of you the Holy Spirit still remains a seed within you which has yet to sprout and bring forth fruit.  Your task is to cultivate the garden of your heart in which that seed has been planted so that you too can bear fruit for God.  Everyone of us is given the Holy Spirit as a gift in Chrismation and so we all are capable of bringing forth spiritual fruit for the Lord.

The Holy Spirit works in  you in myriad ways, sometimes subtly and you aren’t even aware of it.  For example, you are gathered here today by the same Holy Spirit, who enables you to hear God’s word.  When you pray you open yourself to the power of the Holy Spirit, and you are saying to God, please lord let that seed which you placed in me bring forth spiritual fruit to Your glory.  When you seek out and listen to godly advice, it is the same Holy Spirit at work in you. Whenever you remember a Scripture verse or aptly apply it to some situation in your life, that too is the Holy Spirit prompting you toward God’s Kingdom.  Whenever you do some act, however humble, however, small, which brings to others love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, beauty or truth, you are doing the work of the Holy Spirit.  Whenever you decide to resist some temptation, that is the Holy Spirit at work in you.

Today we honor all the Holy Apostles as well as all of the saints of North America.  Imitate these people – discover their lives and deeds so that you can allow the Holy Spirit to work in you the miracles of God.


So far, for the most part, the recognized Saints of North America have been “professional” Christians – clergy or monks.  A gift Orthodoxy in America could give to the entire Orthodox Church would be to have saints recognized from the ranks of the laity – from you, from just normal people struggling to do God’s will in your homes, in your families, on your jobs.  The true flowering and bearing of fruit in Orthodoxy in America will come when we realize the struggle to do God’s will is not the exclusive duty of professional clergy or monks, but is the call to each and every one of us whether we be fathers or mothers, sons or daughters, singles, working class…   May the Holy Spirit give growth to that seed of God which is implanted in each of us and help us realize our high calling in Jesus Christ.

To give us something to think about, how we as just regular can struggle toward doing holy things, I want to mention a book I read many years ago, but the story gives a real idea as to how hard it is to follow Christ, and the unexpected twists life will bring to us if we follow the Gospel.


The novel is MR IVES CHRISTMAS.  In the book, Mr Ives had a difficult life, raised in an orphanage, he had lifted himself up to the level of having a rather decent life.  He overcame his past and became a successful American.   Mr Ives’ 18 year old son was planning on becoming a priest.  Then on on Christmas day his son is shot and killed by some Puerto Rican teenager.  Of course the ethnic identity of the killer is significant for the reaction it is intended to convey to the reader.   Thirty years go by, Mr Ives decides to look up the murderer of his son.  The murderer has now been released from prison.  Mr Ives has struggled over a lifetime with his Christian faith and with God about the death of his son and the man who murdered his son.  No one in his family can understand his desire to meet the murderer face to face.  They all refuse to go with him.  They just want to move on in life and see no benefit in meeting the murderer.  Mr Ives somewhat forces his best friend to go with him to the meeting with the released murderer.  When Mr Ives sits down with the murderer, the murderer immediately begins to cry and repents before Mr Ives.  He recognizes that he has destroyed many lives – not only his own and Mr Ives’ son, but also his family’s and the family of Mr Ives.  In a very emotional scene Mr Ives forgives the murderer.  As Mr Ives and his best friend are leaving the murderer’s home, the best friend says to Mr Ives, “It’s a good thing he was so repentant, because I was planning to shoot him on the spot.” With that his friend pulled out a revolver he had in his pocket to show Mr Ives he meant business.

When we try to live the Gospel in our lives, we find ourselves enmeshed with the values of the people all around us, with the society we live in.  Every action we take has repercussions.  We can think about the story, and think about who we are in that story.  Am I like the Puerto Rican kid guilty of a sin that had destroyed lives of others?  Guilty of a sin of which I need to ask forgiveness from others?   Or perhaps, I am Mr Ives, who wrestles with how sin has impacted my life, struggling with how to live the Gospel, how to forgive people who have hurt me, how to find peace with my enemies.  Or perhaps I am most like Mr Ives’ best friend, carrying a gun wanting to ensure justice even when others are willing to forgive.   Following Christ challenges us to rethink life, that is the life of repentance, of changing our thinking in order to live according to the values of the Kingdom of God.


There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.  (Romans 2:9-10)

SS Peter and Paul: Christianity with No American Advantage

2 Corinthians 11:21-12:9             Matthew 16:13-19


In the Orthodox Church we give honor to the Glorious Leaders of the Apostles, Peter and Paul on June 29.  These two men were both of humble origin, working class,  they were not rich, but were laborers – one a fisherman and the other a tent maker.  They held no college degrees, never were kings or presidents of anything, they never watched TV, never spoke to the mass media, they had no Internet access, never attended a class in business management.  They had no army or superior weaponry to defeat enemies.  They never thought or believed that the United States was the greatest nation on earth.  They spoke no English.   Yet these two men helped bring Christianity to the entire world.  And each of us here today has been touched directly by their lives and work.  We have heard the Gospel because of what these two Jews did.

39062310591_55441d8733_nWe Orthodox Christians in America like to think of ourselves blessed by God because of the nation we live in – blessed with an abundance of food, blessed by an abundance of wealth, blessed to live in the most technologically advanced society, protected by the mightiest military power on earth.    The Apostles, Peter and Paul, never had any of our advantages and blessings.  As we heard in Paul’s Epistle, instead of all these advantages and blessings,  they suffered poverty, persecution and homelessness.  Yet they changed the world by spreading the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire and through that Empire to all of Europe and then to the North American Continent.

Listen again to St Paul’s own words:

Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.


We must not allow ourselves to be deceived and seduced by physical wealth and power or seduced by physical and external blessings – for none of these things are the goal of Christianity or the intended result of Christianity.  Let us not be lulled asleep or blinded by our blessings, our abundance, our material wealth and military power.  The Kingdom of Heaven does not consist of these things.

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:11-12)

Our battle and our warfare is a spiritual one, and we need to be mindful of how distracting all the physical blessing and pleasures can be, and how easily they seduce us into losing sight of our true goal in life.


We Christians are to remember our purpose in life is to do the same thing the Apostles did.  Those men who had so little and yet changed the world.  We have been blessed with an abundance of materials goods, what are we doing with them for the glory of God?   We have a mission to tell others about Jesus Christ, about God’s love and eternal life in God’s Kingdom.

The desire to live and proclaim the Gospel should be our only measure of blessings and success.

We have to consider what Christ told Paul who was weak and  powerless:

My Grace is all you need, for my power is greatest when you are weak.  My grace is sufficient for you.

As St Paul realized, “When I am weak, then I am strong.”

We may have an abundance of food, wealth and power, but those are not the things that help us to follow Christ or live according to His Gospel commandments.  We don’t learn to rely more on Christ when we are completely satiated with all we need, with all we can eat, drink and consume.  We are not much attracted to heavenly realities when we are mired in earthly wealth and pleasure.


We have to change ourselves first before we can change the world.  The strength of God is not found in armies or financial wealth, but rather in the holiness that the saints choose to live by.   We are to learn to rely on heavenly realities rather than on earthly power.   Holiness is the power we need in our lives, and we have to choose it.

Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15)  The answer is revealed in the lives of the saints, who lived for Christ who revealed the kingdom in this world.  For Christ is the One who deifies humanity.  What the saints lived for, struggled with, suffered for, tells us who they believed Jesus to be – Lord, God and Savior.  The saints reveal Christ not only in what they taught but in their very being and in how they lived and died.


Sts Paul and Peter revealed in their lives whom they believed Jesus to be.  And Christ’s question, “Who do you say that I am?”, gives rise to a second question in us. If Jesus is Lord, God and Savior,  “Who am I?”

We should answer with Sts Paul and Peter, I am a disciple of Christ, a child of God, a member of the Body of Christ, one of God’s chosen people, one of the redeemed, I am united to God.

St Paul the Apostle of Christ

But when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.  . . .  But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”  (Galatians 2:11-14)

And count the forbearance of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.  (2 Peter 3:15-16)

It is clear in the Gospel that Jesus prayed for unity among believers – a oneness in the Church:

“I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me.”  (John 17:20-23)

What is the unity for which Christ prayed?  What was He thinking about when He asked that we all be one?  Did He imagine the Church would be a monolith?  Did He imagine we would be like the collective, hive-mind Borg in the sci-fi franchise Star Trek?  Any reading of the New Testament shows us from the beginning of the Christian Church there was diversity, debate and disagreement.  There are four versions of the Gospel which do not agree in every detail.  The Church rejected the effort to eliminate the differences in the text and preserved all four versions of the Gospel.   The Twelve were quickly confronted with the outsider Paul, called by Christ to leadership but not from within the fellowship of the Apostles.  Paul and Peter disagreed on issues.  There was the unexpected growth of Christian communities following the persecution of the Church and a variety of Christian experiences in which, according to the Acts of the Apostles, the Apostles are chasing after the Holy Spirit rather than leading the mission of the Church (see my The Acts of the Apostles and Evangelism).  Then the rise of heresies and a multitude of voices and the Apostles sorting through all the claims to establish legitimacy for Christianity and a recognized message and theology.

Modern historians tend to think that the Church did not start off with uniformity and conformity and then move to diversity.  Rather, they think Christianity diversified right from the get-go, and only later as the Church came into its own in the imperial Church does the leadership begin attempting to demand more conformity and uniformity in the Church.  Church Councils and canon law attempted to reign in on the diversity and bring about expressing the common mind of the Church in a more uniform manner.

Jesus Himself did not send out the Apostles alone into the world, but rather sent them out in pairs, where team work would require the two to have a common mind about what they taught and did.  It meant that oneness of mind had to be worked on and established.

After this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to come.  (Luke 10:1 )

The Apostles themselves had to interpret the parables and teachings and commandments of Christ.  They had to decide how to live the Gospel, and what behaviors, attitudes and ideas were outside the bounds of the Gospel commandments. This is why St Paul tells us we have to work out our salvation – we have to talk with one another, listen to each other and come to a common mind.  This has to be worked on and worked out, it doesn’t happen by magic:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  (Philippians 2:1-2)

Oneness of mind occurs because we choose to love one another and we choose to make it happen.

The Apostles had to apply the commandments of Christ to new and diverse situations, they had to apply a Gospel teaching to issues which Christ had not Himself addressed.  They needed wisdom to understand when new thinking was required of them in order to remain faithful to the spirit of the Gospel.   We can see for example how St Paul emphasized certain teachings of Jesus and downplayed others:

“A few examples are enough to demonstrate this: e.g., Jesus summoned his followers to leave everything; Paul admonished them to remain in the social role in which they had been called (1 Cor 7:27-28).  Jesus promised toll collectors and prostitutes that they would enter the kingdom of God before the pious (Mt 21:32); Paul excluded prostitutes from the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9). Jesus commanded his disciples to dispense with earning a living and having possessions (Mt 10:9; 6:25ff. par); Paul is proud of earning his own living—and recommends that his communities should also do the same (1 Thess 2:9; 4:11).  Paul orientates his ethical instructions on the needs of the local communities; by contrast the ethic of Jesus is … an ‘itinerant radicalism.’”  (Petros Vassiliadis, “From the Pauline Collection to Phos Hilaron of Cappadocia”, SVTQ Vol 56 #1 2012, p 8)

The Apostles not only had to interpret the teachings of Christ, they also had to interpret their own experiences in the light of the Gospel – their successes as well as their failures, their victories as well as their suffering.

“In relating his sufferings to those of Christ (Philippians 1:29) and stating that he desires to share in Christ’s sufferings (3:10), Paul interprets the pain of his fetters as capable of transforming death into life, of revealing Christ’s identity (cf 1:20), and ultimately of glorifying God.  Paul, like Christ, suffers so that life may come and so that God may be glorified.” (L. Ann Jervis, AT THE HEART OF THE GOSPEL, p 57)

As we celebrate the glorious, triumphant leaders of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, we can appreciate the diversity of the Church through its long history.  The Apostles allowed differences in practice or teaching because they believed the Gospel was still preserved in this.  They blessed new communities and a variety of experiences that occurred by the prompting of the Holy Spirit but beyond their control.

While Peter was still saying this, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can any one forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.  (Acts 10:44-48)

The unity of the Church was not the result of the Church being a monolith.  The interior unity of the Church was found in Christ,despite the multiplicity of experiences and expressions.  The unity of the Church is Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Holy Trinity, love.   Because the Church is made up of many diverse peoples with divergent spiritual experiences, it has always had to wrestle with of what its unity consists and how to maintain that oneness that Christ prayed for.  Councils, canons, creeds all were established to help maintain the unity which recognizing the reality of the diversity of peoples and spiritual gifts.  The unity of the Church relies on our willingness to love one another and to cooperate with the Holy Spirit and to accept the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Blessed Saints Peter and Paul

pray to God to help us be one

even as the Father and the Son are one.

The Call of Paul

Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.  (1 Corinthians 5:7-8)

Unlike the 12 Apostles who Jesus originally chose to be in His inner circle, St. Paul was chosen by Christ to be an Apostle without the three year discipleship training the others had enjoyed.  The original Twelve were given several years to hear the Master’s teachings and to observe His behavior.  Paul on the other hand was antagonistic to Christ and His disciples, but then met the Risen Christ and became convinced that Jesus was both Messiah and Lord.

“For Paul, this conviction stemmed from his encounter with the Risen Christ, who had called Paul, the persecutor of Christians, to be an apostle (1 Cor 15:8-11).  Paul describes his call as a kind of premature birth, which may seem a strange expression to use, since he was, he tells us, the last of those to whom Christ appeared.  Yet this metaphor reminds us of the abrupt nature of his conversion/call.  There had been for him no preparatory ‘gestation’ period as a disciple of Jesus: instead, he was suddenly confronted by the Risen Christ.”  (Morna Hooker, Paul: A Beginners Guide, pp 44-45)

This confrontation Paul has with the Risen Jesus causes a profound change in his understanding of God and what it means to be faithful to the Tradition he was so intent on defending.

“Saul’s conversion is so familiar a story that its theological and moral significance is often overlooked.  Saul was a man of violence, persecuting and killing those who adhered to ‘The Way’ sect of Judaism, followers of Messiah Jesus.  Struck down by a blinding light on the road to Damascus, Saul’s violence (cf 1 Tim 1:13) was confronted and transformed.  Speaking out from this heavenly light, Jesus addresses this violence, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ (Acts 9:4-5).  From this dramatic encounter of both conversion and call to ‘bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel’ (Acts 9:15; 26:17-18), Paul becomes the clearest first-century voice for peace and peacemaking, giving his life to unite formerly alienated peoples, and exhorting those caught in divisive rivalry within the newfound congregations to seek peace with one another (Rom 14:19; 1 Thess 5:13; 2 Cor 13:11).”   (Willard Swartley, COVENANT OF PEACE, p 161)

St Paul recognized not only that Jesus was the Christ, but that his whole worldview of a separation between Jews and Gentiles was simply wrong in the face of the Messiah, for Jesus was Lord for everyone, Jew and Greek, male and female, slave and free.  Instead of pushing the Pharisaic agenda that keeping Torah meant keeping apart from Gentiles, now St Paul tried to organize communities in which Jew and Gentile embraced one another and considered each other brothers and sisters – one race instead of two.  All the dividing walls between Jew and Gentile were torn down.  Additionally, Paul abandons his way of enforcing his agenda through violence and endeavors to follow the peacemaking way of Jesus Christ the Lord.

and many nations shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and none shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken. For all the peoples walk each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the LORD our God for ever and ever.  (Micah 4:2-5)

Paul’s conversion meant a radical paradigm shift for St. Paul.  His experience of Christ in his encounter with the Risen Lord has been celebrated as a rebirth which any Christian might experience.  St. Symeon the New Theologian said about his own conversion experience:

“I see the unseeable beauty,

That unapproachable light, that unbearable glory.

My mind is completely astounded.

I tremble with fear.  …

I found him whom I had seen from afar,

The one Stephen saw when the heavens opened,

And later whose vision blinded Paul.

Indeed, he was a fire in the center of my heart.

I was outside myself.  I broke down, lost to myself,

And unable to bear the unendurable brightness of that glory.”

(John McGuckin, ILLUMINED IN THE SPIRIT,  p 240)

Coming to Christ means seeing all things new (Revelation 21:5).

 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.   (Revelation 21:1)

St Paul not only saw everything in a new way, he embraced a new way of life including the rejection of violence as a means to serve God and embracing a ministry of reconciliation for all the people of the world.


And when they (Joseph and Mary) saw him (Jesus) they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” And he said to them, “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them. And Jesus went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.  (Luke 2:48-52)

“The parents assigned to each of us: God caused us to be loved by our parents for this reason, that we might have mentors in virtue. You see, he does not make fathers only for having children but also for instructing them properly, nor cause mothers to give birth to children but also to nourish them properly. The truth of this, that it is not nature but virtue that makes parents, the parents themselves would admit to us.”  (St. John Chrysostom, Old Testament Homilies Vol 1, p. 71)

2019 Post-Pascha to Pentecost Posts

35162630206_33a960e501_mAll of the posts related to the themes of the Post-Paschal Sundays for 2019 have been gathered into one file and are now available at Post Paschal Sundays (PDF).

You can find PDF links for all of the posts on my Blog for each of the past 11 years for Christmas, the Pre-Lenten Sundays, Great Lent, Holy Week, Pascha and Bright Week, and the Post-Paschal Sundays at  Fr. Ted’s PDFs.

THE Message of the Church

For Christ, the apostles, and the Church, the kerygma, the announcement of salvation. ‘Repent, for the kingdom of God’that is the theme of Christianity! We believe in God not because he satisfies our happiness in this world and also promises us, as a kind of bonus, a pleasant survival. Rather, we believe in a God who revealed to us that he created this world, so that ultimately, at the end (in Greek, eschaton), God will be all things, ‘all in all.’ We believe that in Christ each of us will find the image of his ineffable glory. We will all be, as the Pentecost prayer says, “anointed with the Holy Spirit” and become prophets, kings, priests. Ultimately, the glory of God – the Shekinah, communion, presence, knowledge, wisdom – will triumph, and the world will become truly the temple of God and of eternal life. That was the faith, why the martyrs died happy.”

(Alexander Schmemman, The Liturgy of Death, pp. 173-174)

Birth of the Friend of the Bridegroom

In John 3:29, John the Baptist calls himself “the friend of the Bridegroom.”  Jesus said no man born of woman was greater than John the Baptist (Luke 7:28).  John fulfilled the high calling of becoming a human friend of God, something the Lord wanted from the time God had created humans.  The Patriarch Abraham is one of the few people identified as a friend of God (James 2:23).  And in Exodus 33:11 Moses is said to have spoken with God “face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.”  God’s friends were few and far between.

Jesus identified Lazarus, who He raised from the dead, as “our friend” (John 11:11).  After Judas had left the company of disciples at the Last Supper, the Lord Jesus called His disciples “my friends” (John 15:13-15).  Christ also does call Judas “friend” immediately after Judas kisses him in the garden – at the moment the crowd came to arrest Him (Matthew 26:49-50).  As Jesus knew, not all God’s friends really are (John 6:64, 13:11).  John the Forerunner being the friend of Christ the Bridegroom is incredibly special in the history of salvation.  Fr Sergius Bulgakov writes:

“What then is the significance of the Forerunner, whose coming into the world is closely  linked with the coming of the Messiah Himself and the Incarnation?  The coming of the Forerunner is associated with the ‘fullness of time‘ (Gal 4:4; cf Eph 1:10), which must be fulfilled before the Son of God, the Son of man, can come into the world.  This fullness – which is the fullness of the whole of the Old Testament holiness, and in general that of the holiness that is attainable by man – consisted not only in the appearance of the Most Pure Virgin who was worthy of being the Mother of God but also in the appearance of a man worthy of meeting the Lord as a friend, of becoming the friend of the Bridegroom. Becoming man signified for God not only being born of the Virgin, becoming incarnate, but also being received by the human race in the person of the Forerunner.  Once born, the Lord was not to remain solitary among men.  Not even His Most Pure Mother could free Him from solitude, for in Her divine maternity She was one with Him as it were and for this reason could not have entered into a relationship of otherness to Him, could not have become His friend (a ‘third person’, as we tend to say).  Such an ‘other’ in relation to the Savior, capable of meeting and receiving Him before and on the part of all humankind, and worthy of being called the friend of the Bridegroom, should naturally be the greatest of those born of women.  For there is no higher calling and no higher dignity for a man that to be the friend of the Bridegroom.  The Lord wishes to find in man a friend who would be a god according to grace, a creaturely image and likeness of God.  But since the fall, when man stopped being God’s friend and became a child of wrath (see Eph 2:3), his return to God’s friendship, his reconciliation with God, has become the express task of the divine economy of our salvation.  And just as the long history of the Old Testament Church was the condition of the blossoming of the Edenic lily of the Mother of God on the trunk of this tree, so the fullness of the Old Testament holiness was the condition for the blossoming alongside Her of the Forerunner of the Lord, ‘like a fragrant bud, like a sweet-smelling cypress’ (Canon of the Forerunner, 9th ode, 2nd tr.).” (THE FRIEND OF THE BRIDEGROOM, pp 8-9)

John the Forerunner was able to consider himself the friend to the incarnate Son of God.  He is the human whom God has desired to find … a friend.  As God’s friend, like Abraham and Moses, before him, John tries to show people the way to also be God’s friends.

“John saw his mission to call the people out into the wilderness of purification and renewal, out to the Jordan across which they had entered the land that God had promised them in the first place, to renew their Covenant with Him.  In the course of their daily lives, in an era of increasing economic tensions and apprehensions about the future, they had lost sight of the only way they could survive: a return to the observance of the Covenant that God had made with their forefathers at Sinai.  And they would seal their renewed commitment to the laws and traditions of Israel with a single act of immersion … a one-time public acknowledgment of a new, life-long commitment, administered in the flowing waters of the Jordan by John ‘the Baptizer’ himself. . . . To ‘the multitudes’ John reportedly instructed, ‘He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.’  . . . John the Baptist was offering crowds of people who lived under the shadow of Rome and under the burden of Herodian control and taxation a new way to end the pain and uncertainty that plagued their daily lives.  John’s baptism was not a panacea but a symbol of something much more important: a personal pledge to return to the way of life that God had decreed for the People of Israel.  In fact Flavius Josephus knew only of John’s practical teachings, not his apocalyptic visions, reporting … that John was a good man who ‘had exhorted the Jews to lead righteous lives, to practice justice towards their fellows and piety towards God.’ And Josephus understood that John required a commitment from the people to whom he offered baptism, that ‘they must not employ it to gain pardon for whatever sins they committed, but as consecration of the body, implying the soul was already thoroughly cleansed by right behavior.’  That right behavior was a commitment to participate in a national revival of righteousness and renewal of the Covenant of Israel.  And that, of course, meant a forthright and practical rejection of the new kind of world that Herod Antipas was trying to build.”  (R. Horsley & N. Silberman, THE MESSAGE AND THE KINGDOM, pp 33-34)


All Saints: What We All Should Strive to Be

Hebrews 11:33-12:2                     Matthew 10:32-33, 37-38, 19:27-30

Today in the Church, the first Sunday after Pentecost, we honor all the saints of our Church.  Last Sunday we commemorated the coming of God’s Holy Spirit on the world, and today we commemorate all those who were transformed by the Holy Spirit and who are the holy ones of God – the saints.

Saints are models of transformation.  They are people just like all of us, who lived in this world.  They show us it is possible to follow Christ, to be a Christian, even fully united to and transformed by Christ in this world, in our lifetime – despite the world and the times we live in!

The icons of saints, which we see in our churches and homes,  do not offer to us picture perfect portraits of these men and women as they would have been seen in this world, but rather offer us a glimpse of these Christians as deified humans, as humans residing in the Kingdom even when they are portrayed on earth.  They help us to see people as God sees them – holy, in God’s image and likeness, spiritual and spirit-filled.  Icons are reminding us that there is far more to any human than what the eye can normally see.  For the saints are humans who shine with the divine light, who reveal to us the image of God, who show us what it means for a human to be united to God, to attain theosis.

Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15)  The answer is revealed in the lives of the saints, who lived for Christ and who revealed the kingdom in this world in their lives.  For Christ is the One who deifies humanity.  What the saints lived for, struggled with, suffered for, tells us who they believed Jesus to be –  the incarnate Lord, God and Savior.  The saints reveal Christ not only in what they taught but in their very being and in how they lived and died.

Christ’s question, “Who do you say that I am?”,   gives rise to a second – “Who do you say you are?”  or  we can turn the question around and ask our self, “Who am I?”  For in answering the question about who we think Christ is, we come to the answer for the second, who am I?  – a disciple of Christ, a child of God, a member of the Body of Christ, one of God’s chosen people, one of the redeemed, someone united to God.

In the saints we see people from all walks of life united to Christ – males, females, children, even teenagers!  Housewives, businesspeople, students, soldiers, government officials, laborers, leaders, teachers, doctors, merchants, farmers, slaves, wealthy, poor, the educated and the illiterate. Christ dwelling in people with diverse personalities, differently gifted and educated, with various talents and differing incomes.  People deified by Christ, and those just beginning to follow Him.  Terrible sinners who repented and people who had spent a lifetime devoted to Christ.  [Just to challenge us Americans a bit: though saints come from every walk of life with every kind of personality, as far as I know, no Democrat or Republican has been declared a saint.  We won’t find sanctity in our politics, and we won’t bring holiness to America through political parties or polarities.  Of course, maybe some day someone will be declared a saint even though they have a political identity, left or right.]

Each and everyone of you is capable in your own life of being a Christ-bearer, of having Christ dwell in you.  Christ does not wait until you are morally perfect before uniting Himself to you.  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).   You can at any time invite Christ into your hearts – you are capable of making room in your hearts for Christ today and at every moment of your life.  In fact we are all and always either making room for Christ in our hearts or expelling him from our hearts by what we think, say and do.   And none of that is dependent on the status of your life – those things laid upon you at birth over which you had no control – gender, skin color, native language, wealth, social status, IQ, or personality.  Christ stands at the door of every heart and seeks entry into our hearts.  It is our decision as to whether we let Him in or not.

God’s love is extended to everyone, and to all people, even to people we don’t like.

The goal of the Christian life is not to make the world more ‘believer friendly’ but to build up in ourselves a willingness to serve God and live faithfully no matter what the cost to ourselves, no matter how others may view us.  Our challenge is to be able to pass along to the next generation the Faith and the desire to take up the cross to follow Christ (Mark 8:34).  We have to show some joy and zeal for being disciples and bearing our crosses so that those who observe us will want to join us and have in their hearts what we have in ours.

Our spiritual warfare happens not mostly in church or when we are at prayer, though it does happen there too.  Our spiritual warfare is most real when we are watching entertainment on our computers or TVs, or when we listen to music, or are tempted by pornography, or lured by political trash talking.  Holiness exists when we choose how to spend out time or what to fill our hearts and minds with.  Where our treasure is there will be our heart (Luke 12:34).

To whom do we give our allegiance?  Who is the Lord whom we obey?  This is the real spiritual warfare.  And this battle occurs wherever we are – at home, at work, at school, on the beach, in a restaurant.    Will I accept any thought that comes into my head, or will I let Jesus Christ be Lord of my heart, mind, thoughts and feelings?  Will I be willing to repent of those things in my heart which are so dear to me and define my sense of self but which Christ defines as sin?  Will I believe everything I think, or will I submit all to the judgment of our Lord Jesus Christ?

The spiritual life is a life of accountability.  We have to give account to God for all we think, do, believe, say, watch, listen to, repeat, copy, imitate.  We should be giving account to one another – to our spouses, to our father confessor, our sponsors and godparents, our brothers and sisters in Christ, our fellow parishioners.  We are responsible for the health of the parish – when one suffers, we all suffer and when one is glorified we all are glorified (1 Corinthians 12:26) .

We are not called to be a political force in the world.  [A good challenge to those whose identity as Republicans and Democrats comes before seeing themselves as Christian.]  We are called to witness to the presence of the Kingdom of God in our lives.  The battle between good and evil is not really out in the world, in our politics, or philosophical proclivities.   As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote:  “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” The battle between good and evil takes place in your heart!  It is not a war that we read about in some distant land, we feel it within ourselves.  The battle is won or lost in each of our hearts, on a daily basis.

Look at your calendars and your schedules on your cell phones.  What time have you intentionally planned for God in your daily lives?  How is God present in your home, in your dining room, in your bedroom, in your office?    We train ourselves to use computers and technology, to be better cooks, engineers, parents, we learn about health and physical fitness.  What are you doing to be a better disciple of Christ?

What time do you devote to repentance?  For Jesus called all of us to repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.  This is how we become the saints of God.  Holy things are for the holy ones, and you are to change your lives to be the holy ones of God.  Holiness is not just something imposed on you from heaven, it emerges from the battle in your heart, and then emanates to the world through how you live, what you say and what you do.

Saints: Dedicated to God

If you want to learn from the lives of the saints what complete dedication to the love of the Lord means and from Holy Scripture inspired by God, look to Job. How he gave up all he possessed, so to speak: children, wealth, livestock, servants, and everything else that he had, stripping himself completely to escape and save himself. He even gave up his very clothing, throwing it at Satan; yet all the time he never blasphemed in word, neither in his heart nor with his lips before the Lord. But on the contrary he blessed the Lord saying: ‘The Lord gave; the Lord has taken away. As it has pleased the Lord, so be it. Blessed be the name of the Lord‘ (Jb 1:21). Although it was true that he had many possessions, but tested by the Lord, he showed that God alone was his possession.

Just as the bodily eyes see all things distinctly, so also to the souls of the saints the beauties of the Godhead are manifested and seen. Christians are absorbed in contemplating them and they ponder over them. But to bodily eyes that glory is hidden, while to the believing soul it is distinctly revealed. This is the dead soul the Lord raises to life out of sin, just as he also raises up dead bodies as he prepares for the soul a new heaven and a new earth (Rv. 21:1; Is 65:127) and a sun of righteousness, giving the soul all things out of his Godhead.

(Pseudo-Macarius, The Fifty Spiritual Homilies, p. 71 & 203)