The Greatest is Love

If there is no love, other blessings profit us nothing. Love is the mark of the Lord’s disciples, it stamps the servants of God, by it we recognize his apostles. Christ said: “This is how all will know you for my disciples.” By what? Tell me. Was it by raising the dead or by cleansing lepers or by driving out demons? No. Christ passed over all these signs and wonders when he said: “This is how all will know you for my disciples: your love for one another.

For the power to perform those other wonders is a gift which comes only through a grace from on high. This gift of love must also be achieved through man’s own earnestness and zeal. A man’s nobility does not usually stamp the gifts which are given from above in the same way as it marks the achievements which come from a man’s own efforts. Therefore, Christ said that his disciples are recognized not by miracles but by love. For when love is present, the one who possesses it lacks no portion of wisdom but has the fullness of complete and perfect virtue. In the same way, when love is not there, man is bereft of every blessing. This is why Paul exalts love and lifts it on high in what he writes. Still, for all he may say about love, he never fully explains its true worth.

(St. John Chrysostom, On the Incomprehensible Nature of God, pp. 52-53)

Rowing Against the Wind

In Matthew 14:22-34, we learn an important lesson about being Christ’s disciples.

Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary. Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” So He said, “Come.”

And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.” When they had crossed over, they came to the land of Gennesaret.

Did Jesus promise His followers a life free from trials and tribulations?  No .  Jesus said, “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33)

In today’s Gospel, we see the disciples rowing against the howling wind.  But the fact that they are going against the wind doesn’t mean they are headed in the wrong direction or that they are moving away from Christ.  In this Gospel lesson, that raging wind is necessary for their encounter with Christ and for their understanding to grow.

We sense their and our powerlessness in the world – they are too far from the shore for help.  The wind might capsize their boat and sink their mission.   Not only are they being blasted by the wind but their faith is being buffeted by the winds of disbelief.  There is more than one storm raging on that lake.

I remember once when I was in Costa Rica we were trying to get out to a boat that was in the bay.  We had to climb into very small motor boat which had landed on the beach to get to our ship.  A storm happened upon us at that very second.  The wind was blowing the waves roiling.  And this little motor boat was rickety and the crew was a couple of 20 year olds with limited English.  As I climbed into the boat with my kids, I really did think we were going to be capsized and drown.  A few people refused to get on board.  The two young crew men pleaded with them, “We don’t want to drown either” but some abandoned ship and stayed ashore.  The little boat was full of leaks and we had to bail water out of it for the entire trip to our ship, while being tossed by the storm .  It was an apostolic moment in my life.

It might be piously inspiring if in the Gospel we were to see the disciples calmly praying through the storm.  Not so in the Gospel.  They are struggling against the storm and they are panicked and terrified.   Jesus comes to them in the storm, walking on the raging sea.  He doesn’t prevent the storm from happening.  We find Him in the storm and there we are to be strengthened and comforted, calmed and guided in and through the storm.  The values of the Kingdom of Heaven are so unworldly.

The Storms of life are many – violence, stress, financial, family, death, grief, personal struggles, temptations, passions, diseases .  Christ still can be encountered in the storm.  The storms are no less violent, but we can find God if we are looking and we can hold on to God just as Peter grasped the hand of Christ.

In the Orthodox Funeral service we sing:  “Beholding the sea of life surging with the storms of temptations.  And taking refuge in your calm haven I cry to you: Raise up my life from corruption O greatly merciful one.”

We are reminded that there are so many storms we have to face in life.

Just this year Dayton has survived several storms of life – the KKK rally and counter protest, the Memorial Day tornadoes and the mass shooting.

Jesus calls to us from the midst of the storm:  “Take courage! Don’t be afraid!  It is I”   Can we hear Him despite the raging wind of the storm?  Or are we of so little faith that all we hear is the roaring storm and can only imagine human solutions to worldly disasters?

We are Christ’s presence in this stormy world.  In that storm we are to be present offering our hand to those who are drowning.   God is not hidden in heaven, God is present in the midst of the storm.  Besides, as the Scriptures show raging winds are not only threatening but can be useful:

At creation:  “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit/wind of God was moving over the face of the waters.”   (Genesis 1:2)

In the great flood:  But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided;   (Genesis 8:1)

In Exodus 15:10  after Israel crosses the Red Sea, Moses describes God’s intervention to save Israel from the Egyptian army in these terms:  You blew with Your wind, the sea covered them; they sank as lead in the mighty waters.

In Ezekiel 37:9, Ezekiel is given a vision of the resurrection and is told by God:  “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.”  When the wind blew the dead came back to life.

In the book of Jonah, it is the wind which prevents Jonah from running away from the Lord, from going the wrong way:  But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. (1:4)

In the Gospel we see Jesus showing His power over nature as He walks on the storm tossed waters.  We see Peter, a disciple, being given power to imitate our Lord in the midst of the storm.  And we see how we as disciples are dependent on Christ even when empowered by Him.

Peter asked permission to walk on the water.  Christ responds not with an invitation but with a command: “Come!”  Jesus orders Peter to walk on the water!  As Peter walks on the water he and the other disciples are amazed and edified as they learn to what extent they can share in the powers of God’s Son on earth.  As soon as Peter loses sight of the fact that this miracle, that he is walking on water, is being done to edify him and the other disciples, he is sunk.  No miracle, no power of God is given to us to elevate us above anyone else.  All are given to edify us and everyone else.  Nothing is between you and Christ alone.  Everything is done in love for the benefit of all.  Sinking in the storm sea brought Peter back to his senses and he turns again to Christ.

All miracles are done to the glory of God and for the upbuilding of one another.  All miracles are done in order to increase faith and for the edification of all.  Even Peter’s failure was a lesson for all in discipleship.   Let all you do be done in love.

Opening the Eyes of the Blind

In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD, and the poor among men shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.  (Isaiah 29:18-19)

Then turning to the disciples he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes which see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”  (Luke 10:23-24)

St Ephrem the Syrian reflecting on blindness (physical and spiritual) and on Christ healing us writes:

“Great is the gift which is cast before our blind eyes:

for even though we all have a pair of eyes each,

few are those who have perceived that gift,

[who are aware of] what it is and from whom it comes. 

Have mercy, Lord, on the blind, for all they can see is gold!

O Jesus who opened the eyes of Bartimaeus,

You opened his eyes that had become blind against his will;

open, Lord, the eyes that of our own will 

we have rendered blind; thus shall Your grace abound. 

The mud [that You made then], Lord, 

Tells us that You are the Son of our Maker. 

(Select Poems, p. 109)

There is Hope: We Can Change


For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”  (Isaiah 55:10-11)

“Let no one, therefore, who is living in vice despair of himself, know that, as agriculture changes the properties of plants, so the diligence of the soul in the pursuit of virtue can triumph over all sorts of infirmities.”  (St. Basil, The Fathers of the Church, p. 78)

Cleanse the Eyes of Your Heart

“And as St. Augustine reminds us in the following reflections, sand is thrown in the eyes of the heart not only by a multiplicity of images, not only by association of ideas, but also by the refusal to serve one’s neighbor in practical ways. To be too busy filling the coffers prevents one from emptying one’s heart so as to make it attentive to the ‘interior Master’. For ‘where your treasure is,’ says Jesus, ‘there will your heart be also.

To purify yourself, have faith. You would like to see God. That desire is good, it is noble, and I challenge you to make trial of it. You would like to see him? ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’ (Matthew 5.8). Think first of all about purifying your heart…You believe that God is evident to the eyes like a light…But if your eyes were clogged with sand, would you not have to wash them out before you could see the light?

Your heart is defiled also. And avarice spreads its murkiness there…Do you not realize that by hoarding in this way you are covering your heart with mud? How then will you see him whom you desire? 

You say to me, ‘Show me your God.’…

I answer you, ‘Take a look at your heart. Everything you see in it that might sadden God, remove. God wants to come to you. Listen to Christ your Lord: “My Father and I will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14.23). That is God’s promise. If I were to tell you I was coming to stay with you, you would clean your house. Now it is God who wants to come into your heart. Do you not hasten to purify it? How could he dwell with avarice? God has commanded you to clothe the naked. But avarice induces you to strip the one who is clothed…I am looking at your heart. What do you have in it? Have you filled your coffers but thrown away your conscience?…Purify your heart.’ (Augustine of Hippo)”

(quoted in Roots of Christian Mysticism, p. 166-167)

Walking to God

Image result for walking to Emmaus icon

To walk straight to God is to walk in love. This is the way of the undefiled who, as the Psalmist says, “seek Him with their whole heart” (Ps. 119:2), thereby showing what is the desire which has been enjoined upon us. Those who “walk in the law of the Lord” (Ps. 119:1) are those who live in love, the commandment on which the whole law depends (Mt. 22:40). They do so in order that they may straightway strip themselves of all sin, which alone obscures the vision of the soul.

(St Nicholas Cabasilas, The Life in Christ, p. 209)

Romans 12:9-21

In Romans 12:9-21, St Paul lists a variety of attitudes, feelings and behaviors which he believes are genuinely Christian, and thus to be put into practice by all who follow Christ.  The list is simple and straightforward, so no commentary is needed.  We only need to put them into practice in our hearts, minds and lives to demonstrate our own desire to be disciples of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Let love be genuine;

hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;

love one another with brotherly affection;

outdo one another in showing honor.

Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord.

Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

Live in harmony with one another;

do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited.

Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.

If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all.

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

No, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Seek First the Kingdom of God

Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.  (Matthew 6:32-33)

St. Gregory Palamas comments:

When the Lord, on account of the inexpressible ocean of His mercy, appeared on earth as a man to heal the diseases of our soul and take away the sin of the world, He also healed those diseases which the law specified as unclean. So if anyone considers such illnesses to be really impurity and sin, let him confess the one who delivers men from them as God. If, however, he rightly takes such afflictions as symbols of actual uncleanness and transgression, let him understand from the things Christ accomplished in respect of these symbols, that He is truly the one who has power to forgive and cleanse the sin of the world.

It would, in my opinion, also be correct and truthful to say something else. The Lord exhorts us to seek after spiritual things – “Seek ye first the kingdom of God”, he says, “and his righteousness” – and when we look for what is beneficial for our souls and brings salvation, he also promises to supply our bodies’ needs, saying, “And all these things shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). In the same way, when He graciously willed to bow the heavens and come down from on high to our lowest state, in order to cleanse us from our sins, He granted in addition that the lame should be put back on their feet, the blind see and the lepers be cleansed, and simply healed all our bodily sicknesses and diseases, as He is rich in mercy. (The Homilies, pp. 503-504)

Ignore Evil. Look to Christ.

God has placed power in man’s soul. But it is up to him how he channels it – for good or for evil. If we imagine the good as a garden full of flowers, trees and plants and the evil as weeds and thorns and the power as water, then what can happen is as follows: when the water is directed towards the flower-garden, then all the plants grow, blossom and bear fruit; and at the same time, the weeds and thorns, because they are not being watered, wither and die. And the opposite, of course, can also happen.

It is not necessary, therefore, to concern yourselves with the weeds. Don’t occupy yourselves with rooting out evil. Christ does not wish us to occupy ourselves with the passions, but with the opposite. Channel the water, that is, all the strength of your soul, to the flowers and you will enjoy their beauty, their fragrance and their freshness.

You won’t become saints by hounding after evil. Ignore evil. Look towards Christ and He will save you. Instead of standing outside the door shooing the evil one away, treat him with disdain. If evil approaches from one direction, then calmly turn in the opposite direction. If evil comes to assault you. Turn all your inner strength to good, to Christ. Pray, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.’ He knows how and in what way to have mercy on you. And when you have filled yourself with good, don’t turn any more towards evil. In this way you become good on your own, with the grace of God. Where can evil then find a foothold? It disappears!

(Elder Porphyrious, Wounded by Love, p. 135)