Purification, Illumination, Theosis, Discipleship

Sunday, March 26, 2017: Sunday of St. John Climacus; Synaxis in honor of the Archangel Gabriel, 26 Martyrs in Crimea, Irenaeus the Hieromartyr of Hungary

Epistle: Hebrews 6:13-20
Gospel: Mark 9:17-31

The_Ladder_of_Divine_Ascent_Monastery_of_St_Catherine_Sinai_12th_century.jpgGlory to Jesus Christ!

Today the Orthodox Church commemorates our father among the saints John Climacus. He is also called John of the Ladder because he is the author of The Ladder of Divine Ascent. In Orthodox monasteries, this work is read daily throughout the Great Fast. It traces the “rungs” or steps in the monk’s spiritual life from his initial repentance to union with the Holy Trinity.

Unfortunately, we don’t have time this morning to go through all 30 rungs on John’s ladder. But he’s not the only Church father who saw the spiritual life as a journey with concrete steps or stages.

St Dionysius the Areopagite, for example, offers us a simpler, more compact, three-step process by which we grow in holiness. These steps or stages are purification, illumination, and theosis (or in the West, union). He also sees a tripartite structure reflected in the three grades of the priesthood that mirrors the soul’s progress in holiness.

To help us understand his teaching on the spiritual life let’s look briefly at what Dionysius says about holy orders.

As the one who calls the Church to lay aside the “cares of this life” and enter into prayer, the deacon embodies purification. The presbyter (priest) in and through his ministry of teaching, counseling, and administration, embodies illumination. This means that the priest is charged by God with helping the faithful see things as God sees them.

Finally, the bishop.

Because of his intimacy with God and his commitment to both the doctrine of the Church and to love, the bishop is called by to preside at the Divine Liturgy. Moreover, and as an expression of his liturgical role, the bishop is the guardian of the bonds of charity that unite the members of the Church to God and to each other.

Given that Holy Tradition cannot envision the office of bishop apart from the local church, Dionysius says that the bishop is called by God to embody theosis, that intimate friendship with God, through which the soul comes to share in divine life. It belongs above all to the bishop to be certain that all things in the Church are rightly ordered so that all the faithful can become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).

It is also important to stress that the deacon, presbyter, and bishop are not independent of each other. Rather each office assumes the other two and depends on them for its own, proper functioning. So while the Church is hierarchical, it is not a hierarchy of power but of mutual support and dependence; it is a hierarchy of loving, mutual service. The Church is a community held together by mutual love and service. This why St. Paul says, “if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26, NKJV).

This also means that the proper functioning of one member of the Body of Christ depends upon the proper functioning of the rest of the Body. So for the deacon to fulfill his ministry, he needs the bishop and the presbyter. Likewise, the presbyter needs the deacon and bishop and the bishop needs the deacon and the presbyter. Each assumes the existence of the others, each supports the others, and each is supported by the others in their exercise of their respective ministries.

And all three, the deacon, the presbyter, and the bishop need the whole of the laity. We grow in holiness together through our mutual love for each other. So let’s turn now from ecclesiology to our spiritual lives.

For St Dionysius, there is a symmetry between the internal life of the Church and the hidden life of the soul in Christ; they mirror each other. The tripartite structure of holy orders–as I said a moment ago–reflect the stages through which we pass as we grow in holiness: purification, illumination, and theosis.

In our psychological and individualistic culture, to call the threefold structure of the spiritual life “stages can be misleading. Just as, with ordination, this threefold process isn’t strictly speaking sequentially. Yes, at any given moment in my spiritual life one part of this process will be more pronounced, say purgation.But I need to keep in mind that this is the fruit of the other two.

In the purgative moment, even if all seems dark and God far away, I know that I’m a sinner because God by His grace has illumined my soul. And this illumination, this light, what else is it but the experience of God drawing close and sharing His life with me? As for repentance, what is this except the Bright Sadness that comes from knowing God love for us? It is this love, that the hallmark of theosis and which leads us to say, with St Antony the Great, “I no longer fear God, I love Him!”

In response to their very public failure, the disciples ask Jesus why they were unable to cast out the demon. He tells them that some demons can only be conquered “by prayer and fasting.”

In other words, the disciples hadn’t yet sufficiently purified themselves for the task before them. Their lack of faith, their powerlessness against the demon, are symptomatic of an immature life of prayer and ascetical struggle.

Realizing this is for the disciples (and the boy’s father) is a moment illumination. They see their sins. But at the same time, they see the cure for their sins. And, in seeing these, they also experience the “strong consolation” of those who, with a mature faith, “who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us” in Jesus Christ.

Purgation, illumination, and theosis are all given to us, as they were to the disciples, at once. And this why, to return to today’s epistle, we are able to look to Jesus Christ as an “anchor … sure and steadfast.”

My brothers and sisters in Christ! As we come to the last half of the Great Fast, if we can, let us increase the time we give to prayer and decrease the amount we eat and drink. But whether we can do this or not, we should be mindful that we fast and pray so that on Pascha we are able to greet our Risen Lord and together with the apostles, disciples and all the saints, are able to go out to the world and proclaim boldly and with joy the Gospel:

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Sunday of the Holy Cross

Sunday, March 19, 2017: Sunday of the Holy Cross; The Holy Martyrs Chrysanthus and Daria, Demetrios the New Martyr

Epistle: Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:1-6

Gospel: Mark 8:34-38; 9:1

God is always ready to heal and forgive us because in Jesus Christ He understand us. He understands us not simply as God but in His Son as one of us. Because of the Incarnation, because the Son has taken on our nature, He is able “to sympathize with our weaknesses.” Jesus has “been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” That last phrase, “without sin,” might strike some as suggesting that Jesus’ understanding of us and our situation is–in some vague way–lacking since, unlike us, He never sinned.

But think for a moment what it means to sin.

When I sin, I don’t simply turn inward, I turn away. In my sin, I turn away from God and my neighbor. When I sin, I refuse to love; sin drives out and kills the very sympathy that the Son has for us and which we are called to have for each other.

We can rephrase the epistle this way: “[W]e have … a high priest who is [able] to sympathize with our weaknesses, …  one who in every respect has been tempted as we are” without ever wavering in His great love for us.

It is because of the constancy of His love for us, that Jesus Christ “can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward.” Though “He Himself is beset with weakness,” in Him these are not occasions for sin. Rather His weakness deepen—if I can dare you such a phrase—His love for us by elevating human love through its participation in the Father’s love.

Living as I do in an “adulterous and sinful generation,” when Jesus speaks to me His word of life, I’m tempted to be ashamed of Him. Nevertheless He, for His part, is always ready to hear my repentance and always willing to offer His forgiveness to me.

And not just to me.

Jesus will receive anyone who is willing “take up his cross and follow” Him as His disciple.  The offer of forgiveness, of communion with God and the life of the Church is there for anyone who is willing to receive these things from the hand of a loving and merciful God.

So how do we do this? How do we receive what God is eager to give?

St Augustine says “There is no other way for you to follow the Lord except by carrying [the Cross] for how can you follow Him if you are not His?” Often, however, rather than carrying the Cross, we are “carried and dragged along” by it.

By this Augustine, means we become preoccupied with “the morality of this flesh.” It is our humanity corrupted by sin that is the cross Augustine says we must carry. And it is this cross that “will be crucified.” It is this cross, the burden of my own sinfulness, my own fear of death and my unwillingness to love either God or my neighbor that “will be nailed to the fear of God.”

I must then acknowledge my sin and resist it.

Resisting the lure of sin is possible because, through His Cross, Jesus has broken the hold of sin and death over us.

Through the Cross, sin and death are no longer able to fight against us “with free and unfettered limbs” (Augustine, “Letters 243, To Laetus,” in ACCS NT vol II: Mark, p. 112-113).

Through the Cross. sin and death have been taken captive by Christ and you and I have been made free.

Through the Cross, we are liberated from bondage to sin and have come to share in the life of God (see, 2 Peter 1:4).

So what does it mean to pick up our cross and become a disciple of Jesus Christ?

In the ancient world, crucifixion was a shameful death reserved for only the worst offenders. This is the death that Jesus suffers for us and in our proclamation of His death we must be “shameless in a good sense.” Our “contempt of shame,” that is our contempt of the standards of this world, makes us “foolish in a happy sense.”

To be a disciple of Christ means to shamelessly and happily proclaim that the “Son of God died”!

To be a disciple of Christ means to shamelessly and happily proclaim that the “Son was buried”!

To be a disciple of Christ means to shamelessly and happily proclaim that the “He rose from the dead”! (Tertullian, “On the Flesh of Christ, 5 in ACCS NT vol II: Mark, p. 114)

It is unavoidable. To be a disciple of Christ means that we are in opposition to everything—and everyone—outside the Church. But our opposition is not to destroy them but to save them; not to defeat or enslave them, but to bring them to victory and freedom in Christ.

This is why I must always fight the temptation to be ashamed of Christ; not only for my sake but also yours. If being a Christian were simply a matter of being kind or being a good person, then being a Christian would not only win me praise in this life, it would be easy.

But to be a Christian means that I cannot “avoid suffering” for Christ and the Gospel.

To be a Christian means I can’t “be ashamed to confess: ‘Blessed are they who suffer persecution for my Name’s sake.’” Tertullian says that in this life, to say nothing of the life to come, “Unhappy, … , are they who, by running away, refuse to suffer as God at times requires” (“Flight in Time of Persecution, 7” in in ACCS NT vol II: Mark, p. 114).

It is to strengthen and encourage us not only in our asceticism but our discipleship and our evangelical witness (our martyria), that the Church in her wisdom put the Cross in front of us this morning.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! Last night at Vespers, the Church turned to our First Parents and said to them:

Come, ye first created couple who fell from the heavenly rank through man-destroying envy, because of a bitter delight resulting from the taste of the olden tree. Behold, here cometh in truth the most revered Tree. Hasten to kiss it, shouting to it in faith, Thou art our helper, O most revered Cross, of whose fruit when we partook we attained incorruption and received securely the first Eden and the Great Mercy.

Through the Cross, everything is made new.

Today, together with Adam and Eve, we come forward to kiss the “revered Cross.”

Today, we come forward in Holy Communion so that we can receive with our First Parents the “fruit” of the Cross that grants us “incorruption,” the grace of “the first Eden” and God’s “Great Mercy.”

And all this we receive so that we can not only follow Christ as His disciples but live in this life as His witnesses. And all this we do so that, in the life to come, we can share in His Glory!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Growing in Love

March 12, 2017: Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas; Theophanes the Confessor, Symeon the New Theologian, Gregory Dialogos, Bishop of Rome, Phineas, grandson of Prophet Aaron

Epistle: Hebrews 1:10-14; 2:1-3
Gospel: Mark 2:1-12

Before both the epistle and Gospel reading, we are commanded to pay attention. This is sensible. When God speaks I ought to listen.

But God being God, when does He not speak? When is God not speaking to the human heart? When is not revealing Himself to us?

To be sure, God can (at least from my point of view) speak with greater or lesser subtlety. Yes, He appeared to Moses in a burning bush(Exodus 3:2) and lead the Hebrew children to the Promised Land as a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night (Exodus 13:21-22).

And yet, when He spoke to the Prophet Elijah, God spoke not in “a great and strong wind” that “tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces.” God didn’t speak in “an earthquake” or “a fire.” No, when He spoke to Elijah, He spoke as ultimately He always does, in “a still small voice” (1 Kings 9:11-12, NKJV) in the depth of the human heart.

This is why, as we heard in the epistle, “we must pay closer attention to what we have heard.” God’s voice is small and still and unless we quiet ourselves and listen so we can hear what He has to say, we will simply “drift away.”

While we might imagine that people make a conscience decision to separate themselves from the Church and to stop following Christ, more often faith—like marriage—dies by a series of small acts of neglect. It is indifference and distraction that usually steals the soul from Christ. Major sins, what the Apostle John calls sins “leading to death” (1 John 5:16, NKJV), are never the starting point. They are rather the fruit of a habit of spiritual or moral negligence; of prayers rushed or skipped, sins of omission rather than commission.

Recall the miracle in the Gospel we just heard.

Like many of our Lord’s miracles, this one was public; Jesus heals the paralytic scribes who only a moment ago accused Him of blasphemy for forgiving a man his sins. Given the times, it isn’t wholly unreasonable that the scribes took offense at Jesus’ words.

But their anger at Jesus is so overwhelming that it causes them to miss what the crowd saw. The crowd was attentive and so when the man ” took up the pallet and went out before them,” they were “amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We never saw anything like this!’”

The difference between the scribes and those in the crowd wasn’t what the eyes saw but what the heart heard. For all their ignorance of the Law, the hearts of those in the crowd were open to hearing the small, still voice of God.

And this brings us the saint who we commemorate today: Gregory Palamas.

There is neither the time nor the place to explore the subtle of the saint’s theology. Suffice it to say that for Palamas the voice that we hear in our hearts is really the voice of God. It isn’t a psychological phenomenon but God speaking to us directly and personally. He was tenacious in his argument that our experience of God in prayer, in the Liturgy and the others sacraments and services of the Church is a real, unmediated and direct experience of God.

What we have, in other words, is not knowledge about God but knowledge of God. A real, unmediated, direct, and personal intimacy or communion with God.

We can summarize the goal of the asceticism that so occupies us during the Great Fast in this way. First, the ascetical life helps us overcome the myriad distractions in our lives that come between us and God. How frequently, to speak only for myself, I become fascinated with some idea I have about God. That this idea is true is, from the point of view of our communion with God, is secondary. The spiritual life isn’t a collection of true ideas or wholesome feelings about God any more than it is about living a morally good life. To be sure, these all have their place but in service of pointing us beyond themselves to God. Or, as St Seraphim of Sarov says:

Prayer, fasting, vigil and every Christian work, however good it is in itself, does not constitute the goal of our Christian life, but serves as a means for its attainment. The real goal of human life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit.

As distractions wane, our ability and desire to focus on God, and God alone, waxes. This second goal of the ascetical life is often overlooked. Christian asceticism is not about being able to perform great feats of physical endurance. No, asceticism is rather about learning to fix the heart and mind, indeed the whole person, on the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity.

Asceticism without love makes me no better than then the demons. Think about it. The demons keep vigil because they don’t sleep, they fast because they don’t eat. Not having physical bodies as we do, their attention never wavers. What they lack is not the elements of asceticism but it’s inspiration and goal, the love of God.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! As we enter now into the third week of the Great Fast, let us ask God to help us grow in our love for Him and in Him for our neighbor and in this way fulfilling the whole of the Law.

To this end, that is to grow in love, let us as well offer to God not only our heartfelt prayers but also our ascetical struggles. We offer them not because God needs them but because we do so that we can celebrate Christ’s Glorious Resurrection a little freer from sin, a little freer to love.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Friendship in Christ

Sunday, March 5, 2017: Sunday of Orthodoxy; Conon the Gardener, Mark the Ascetic, Righteous Father Mark of Athens, John the Bulgarian, Mark the Faster, Parthenios the New Martyr who contested in Didymoteichos, George the New-Martyr of Rapsani, Eulogios the Martyr, Eulabios the Martyr

Epistle: Hebrews 11:24-26, 32-40
Gospel: John 1:43-51

What do the Scriptures say about the relationship between God and Moses? The “Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11, NKJV). And what was a singular blessing for Moses is something that Christ offers to all the Apostles. “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15, NKJV).

Immediately after this, Jesus tells the disciples that as He has befriended them, they are to befriend each other commanding them “to love one another” (v. 17). So powerful is this command that, as an old man at the end of his life, the Apostle John makes our mutual love the sign of our love for God. “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (1 John 4:20, NKJV).

In saying this, John adds nothing of his own to the Gospel. He is merely repeating what he heard from the lips of Jesus Himself. “By this, all will know that you are My disciples if you have love for one another” (John 13:35, NKJV).

Turning to the epistle we heard this morning, what else are the saints but, after Christ, our great and true friends?

Those who are “well attested by their faith” now stand before the Throne of the Lamb that was slain. They have welcomed us to their fellowship with Christ. And what do they do for all eternity? They glorify God and intercede on our behalf (see Hebrews 12 and Revelation 5). Thier love for God deepens their love for us.

As God befriends Moses and Jesus befriends the Apostles and the saints befriend us, we are to befriend each other. It is this, our bond of mutual friendship, that both only testifies to our faith and draws others to Christ.

To see this look at the Gospel we’ve just heard.

Immediately after hearing Jesus’ command “Follow me,” what does Philip do? He goes and finds Nathanael!

He goes to find his friend not out of disobedience but as the fruit of his new relationship with Jesus. Like the rest of the disciples, Philip won’t understand until much later what it means to be friends with Jesus. But even its first moments, his friendship with Jesus, or maybe more accurately, Jesus’ friendship with him, begins to change Philip. He wants to introduce Nathanael to the Messiah, to “him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

We need to pause here for a moment and reflect on ourselves.

When people find out I work with college students they ask me, “How do I keep my child in the Church?” The sad fact is that not those raised in the Church and those who become Orthodox later in life, leave in distressingly high numbers.

Though I don’t have the numbers to say for sure, having spent several years looking at the demographic data, I suspect that in America the number of practicing and lapsed Orthodox Christians are—at best—about equal (and if anything, our numbers are better than they are in traditional Orthodox countries).

While there are many reasons why any individual will stay or go, I think one common factor is the quality of the person’s friendships with other Orthodox Christians.

The kind of friendship I mean is not the kind of casual friendship a person might have with a co-worker. While there’s nothing wrong with conversations at coffee hour about football or the weather or politics or television, these conversations aren’t significantly different from what people talk about at work.

No, the kind of conversations—and so the kind of friendships—that helps not just young people but all of us remain faithful Orthodox Christians is what we hear about in the Gospel.

Just as Philip does with Nathanael, we need to invite each other to enter a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. We do this by being willing to talk with each other about our own spiritual lives, our own struggles, and successes, as Orthodox Christian followers of Jesus Christ.

Does this mean we can’t talk about football or the weather or politics or television with each other? No, of course not! These kinds of conversations are a good and proper part of any friendship. If we never talk about our shared, everyday interests, our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ become stilted.

In fact, I suspect one of the reasons we do such a poor job at keeping young people, is precisely because we get so concerned about instructing young people in the faith that we neglect befriending them. And let’s be honest here. None of us wants to stay around people who are always telling us what to think or how to behave. While we all of us understand some of that is necessary, a steady diet of it is off putting.

What is needed not only in our relationship with young people but also with each other is to strike a balance. To only talk about the spiritual life with each other is as unwholesome as never talking about our relationship with Jesus Christ.

And again, having spent a fair amount of time looking at the data about why people leave, I would ask you to consider the possibility that where we need to do better is learning how to talk to each other about our relationship, or lack of one, with Jesus Christ. We need to make the effort to speak with each other about what it means to us, personally, as Orthodox Christians to be followers of Jesus Christ.

So how do you do this?

Just begin. Start the conversation today.

Would you like to know what to say?

I can’t tell you because it isn’t for me to say. This is something that only you and your friends can decide for yourselves. And frankly, as long as it doesn’t disrupt the peace of the Church, it’s none of my business what you and your friends talk about.

All I can say is what Philip said to Nathanael. “Come and see.” Come and see what it can mean to speak to each other, face-to-face with each about your own struggles and joys, your hopes and fears, as Orthodox Christian followers of Jesus Christ.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Forgiveness Sunday

Sunday, February 26, 2017: Forgiveness Sunday; Porphyrius, Bishop of Gaza, The Holy Great Martyr Photine, the Samaritan Women, Holy Martyr Theocletus, John Claphas the new Martyr

Epistle: Romans 13:11-14; 14:1-4
Gospel: Matthew 6:14-21

Through the Apostle Paul, the Church reminds us that today, this morning, “salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand.” There is, or should be, a sense of urgency in how I approach the Great Fast. It’s beginning signals the growing nearest of our victory in Christ.

On first hearing, the Apostle Paul’s words might seem negative—“ cast off the works of darkness.” But this “no” to the “the flesh” is in the service of a greater, “yes.” We cast off the darkness of sin so we can “put on the armor of light.”  We have the strength to throw away “reveling and drunkenness, … debauchery and licentiousness, … quarreling and jealousy,” because we have experienced the mercy of God in our own lives and so long to live in charity with our neighbor, especially for the one “who is weak in faith.”

Just before today’s Gospel reading, the disciples ask Jesus how to prayer and so He teaches them the Lord’s Prayer. Reflecting on the prayers, St John Chrysostom says that “everywhere” Jesus “is teaching us to use this plural word that we might not retain so much as a vestige of resentment against our neighbor.”

Our willingness to forgive—to lay aside our resentment for the harm others have caused us—“makes us like God” Chrysostom says.  To be like God means to be like Him “Who has made ‘the sun to shine on the evil and on the good.’” This is why,

…Christ is seeking in every possible way to hinder our conflicts with one another. For since love is the root of all that is good, by removing from all quarters whatever mars it He brings us together and cements us to each other (“The Gospel of Matthew, Homily, 19.7,” in ACCS: NT vol Ia Matthew 1-13, p. 139).

Rooted in the grace of the sacraments—above all Holy Communion and Confession—we can summarize the of the acetical life and the life of virtue as nothing more or less than removing all that disfigures or impedes our love for one another.

We often hear people say so long as they don’t hurt anyone, they can do as they want. According to this standard, while quarreling and jealousy are wrong, reveling and drunkenness, and as long as they are consensual, debauchery and licentiousness are merely private choices, no better or worse than any other. Sadly, even Christians, who ought to know better, are liable to hold to this view of the moral life.

This, however, is to get Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel exactly backwards.

In the verses after those we’ve just heard Jesus tell us

The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matthew 6:22-23, NKJV)

A jealous and argumentative attitude toward my neighbor is the corrupted fruit of exactly those sins that St Paul tells us to lay aside. The more I give myself over to “the flesh,” the more I will come to “despise” my neighbor and to “pass judgment on him.”

This happens because just “as when the eyes are blinded, some of the ability of the other members is diminished, their light be quenched, so also when the mind is depraved, your life will be filled with countless evils” (St John Chrysostom, “The Gospel of Matthew, Homily, 20.3,” in ACCS: NT vol Ia Matthew 1-13, p. 142).  To root out the petty jealousy and arguments that ripe apart families and parishes and society I need to root out my own selfish tendencies. I need to fight against those very sins in my that I’m likely to overlook or indulge because they (seemingly) don’t hurt anyone else. But they do because they harm my ability to love my neighbor and so impede our shared restoration and journey to the life God created us to have.

 

To root out from my heart the petty jealousy and arguments that rip humanity apart, I need to root out my own selfish tendencies. I need to fight against those very sins in me that I’m likely to overlook or indulge because they (seemingly) don’t hurt anyone else.

But they do harm you because they harm my ability to love you and so impede our shared journey to the life God created us to have.

Think with me for a moment about the Apostle Paul command that we welcome “the man who is weak in faith.”

For the Apostle, “the person in question is not healthy” and in need of the love and care of the whole Church. It isn’t just the priest who heals through the sacraments; all of us by virtue of our baptism and willingness to embrace the stranger as our friend also have a role to play in his salvation.

But some of us are “disconcerted by” their neighbor’s weakness. And even though “they do not share it,” their neighbor’s weakness makes them “liable to fall into uncertainty themselves” (St John Chrysostom, “Homilies on Romans,” 25, in ACCS: NT vol VI Romans, p. pp. 337-338).

My neighbor’s weakness reminds me of my own. My willingness to look away from him because there are sins that I have not yet laid aside. In his weakness, my neighbor reveals to me that I am an enemy of charity.

This is why Paul goes on to say that I am not to pass judgment on my neighbor in his weakness. It is in that moment when your weakness reminds me of my own, that I am most tempted to turn you away in the vain hope of finding some relief from my own failings.

I judge my neighbor, I engage in “quarreling and jealousy,” because he reminds me of what I would not see in myself, my own lack of repentance. And the “reveling and drunkenness” the “debauchery and licentiousness,” the petty arguments and jealousy? What are these but feckless attempts to dull the pain, to justify myself by denying my failings?

My brothers and sisters in Christ!

Today is the last Sunday before the beginning of the Great Fast. At Vespers and Matins, we recalled the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden. And on this day as well, we formally ask one another for forgiveness. We ask forgiveness even from those we don’t know and so couldn’t have offended. We ask forgiveness even from those we have never met because we know, I know, that my sin harms them.

Whether the harm is great or small, my sin has harmed you, it has exploited your weakness and impeded your reconciliation with the Father, with our Father. Because my sin harms you, the first step in casting “off the works of darkness,” and putting “on the armor of light,” is simply to acknowledge my failure to love you.

So, my brothers and sisters, forgive me a sinner!

May God grant us a blessed fast and a glorious celebration of His Son Holy and Life-giving Resurrection!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

What Forgiveness Is And Isn’t

Sunday, Feb 12, 2017: Sunday of the Prodigal Son; Meletius, Archbishop of Antioch, Antonius, Archbishop of Constantinople, Christos the New Martyr, Meletios of Ypseni

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 6:12-20
Gospel: Luke 15:11-32

We often associate forgiveness with a certain kind of response to injury. If I hurt your feelings, I am expected to apologize; to seek your forgiveness. You, for your part, are likewise expected to accept my apology; to forgive me.

Assumed in all of this is that forgiveness brings about the restoration of our relationship to what it was before the offense was give. Forgiveness means the bad thing between us never happened.

When we think like this we end up tying ourselves in knots.

Yes, I want to forgive those who harmed me. This is different from saying that the harm that was done doesn’t matter. I can’t ignore the past; it is unwise—and foolish—for me to try and create a new past out of whole cloth. I can’t create a past where we weren’t estranged, the past where I didn’t hurt you or you didn’t hurt me.

To go down this path isn’t to forgive but to lie. Or maybe more gently, to confuse forgiveness with wishful thinking.

What does the Gospel say about forgiveness?

The father joyfully welcomes his prodigal son back into the family. “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry”!

The father isn’t simply willing to forgive his son, he is eager to do so. Jesus paints a picture of a father going out, day after day, hoping that, today, will be the day that his son returns.

And when his son comes home?  Seeing while “he was yet at a distance” the father runs to meet him. The father is moved by “compassion” for his son and he embraces and kisses his formerly wayward child.

At no time, however, does the father minimize or ignore the past. He tells his servants “this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”

Some time after this, the father is confronted by his elder son. The older brother is angry and refuses to celebrate the return of his younger brother. He is indignant and says to his father, that though

…these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends.  But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!’

What the brother can’t at that moment understand is how his father can welcome back his younger brother. He can’t even bring himself to call him brother, referring to him instead as “this son of yours”!

Implicit within the elder son’s words is the notion that forgiveness undoes the past. In effect, he says to his father, “Bad enough that you’ve never rewarded my loyalty, now you ignore my brother’s disloyalty! How can the past not matter to you?”

When I think that forgiveness means ignoring the past, it becomes hard—and depending on circumstances, impossible—for me to forgive.

Think about what we often say to others, or ourselves. “You just need to let go of the past.” Or we might ask ourselves, “Why can’t I just let things go?”

But ignoring the past—letting it go—isn’t what the father does. Nor is it what Jesus calls us to do in the parable.

Listen again to the father’s words.

Twice he says “this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” The son’s past, indeed the past of both sons, is very much alive for the father. But the past doesn’t obliterate hope.

And so he says to his eldest boy: “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” At the same time, “It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”

Forgiveness isn’t a psychological trick for ignoring the past; much less is it a way to pretend that we don’t hurt each other.

Forgiveness isn’t about having warm feelings for those who hurt you. Nor is it is a decision to ignore the past. It is rather to imitate the God Who, as St John Chrysostom tells us, never acts out of a desire for vengeance but “with a view to our advantage, and to prevent our perverseness becoming worse by our making a practice of despising and neglecting Him” (“Theodore After His Fall,” Letter 1:4).

Despite the harm they cause me, to forgive someone means—again, like God for me—to will what is best for the other person so that his situation isn’t made worse.

Do you understand this?

Forgiveness means two things. First, to do no harm to the one who has harmed me. Second, to do what I can to prevent him from falling into even worse sin.

This is why the father welcomes back his prodigal son in the way he does.

Imagine the boy’s future if, instead of a warm welcome, he was received coldly, formally, and with the clear message that he had lost his father’s love forever? And imagine if, instead of being restored as his son, the father made him a hired hand?

How long would it be before the younger son’s repentance turned to bitterness?

And what of the older son? How long before his resentment of his younger brother turned to open contempt and even violence?

Instead and wisely, the father does what is needed to encourage the repentance of both his sons to prevent them from falling into even greater sin.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! This is what forgiveness means! To do what we can, little though it may be, to keep those who have harmed us from falling into even greater sin.

Forgiveness doesn’t forget past injuries, it wisely discerns how we can help those who harmed us from falling into the same, or worse, sin again.

Forgiveness is how we come to share in God’s merciful redemption of those who have harmed us.

And we do this because this is what God in Jesus Christ has done for each of us. He has freed us from our sin and gives us the grace to avoid even greater sin.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Homily: From Guilty Sorrow to Cheerful Fidelity

Sunday, Feb 5, 2017: Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee; Triodion Begins Today; Agatha the Martyr, Polyeuktos, Partriarch Of Constantinople, Antonios the New Martyr of Athens, Theodosios, Archbishop of Chernigov, Afterfeast of the Presentation of Our Lord and Savior in the Temple, Theodosios of Antioch

Epistle: 2 Timothy 3:10-15
Gospel: Luke 18:10-14

We misunderstand the relationship between the Church and the world if we assume that it is simply one of contention and conflict. Yes, the world frequently sets itself against the Gospel—this, in fact, is what the Scriptures mean by the phrase “the world.” More specifically, “the world” refers to the creation, under the guidance of human beings, in rebellion against God.

We shouldn’t make any mistake here.

Creation’s rebellion against the Creator is led not the air or water, by seed-bearing plants or animals, but by us. This is why St Paul’s says that “the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19, NKJV). Sin has not only corrupted the human heart but, working through our hearts, corrupted creation as well.

This corruption, this state of rebellion, isn’t the whole story, however.

Sin’s power over creation isn’t absolute because it’s reign over the human heart isn’t absolute. Sin corrupts but it doesn’t destroy; it obscures but it doesn’t obliterate the image of God in us.

No matter how powerful the grip of sin, divine grace, mercy, and love still attracts us. If this weren’t the case then, then Paul couldn’t say that “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (Romans 4:3; see also Genesis 15:6).

And, as we will celebrate on Pascha, whatever hold sin and death had over the heart is now broken. Simply put, Christ’s Resurrection has destroyed the power of sin and death.

Because sin’s reign is not absolute, there are moments when the world makes common cause with the Church. The parable of the publican and the Pharisee is one of these moments. Or at least, part of the parable is.

The one sin that our culture seems willing to name and condemn is hypocrisy. That this sin would be the worst sin make sense in a culture that has largely dispensed with objective moral standards. What offends us so about the hypocrite, is that he pretends to hold to moral standards the rest of the culture rejects.

In other words, the hypocrite pretends to be better than me.

I know he’s pretending because, if I’m following along with the culture’s thinking, morality is subjective. There is no right or wrong. The hypocrite is a liar; he pretends to hold to standards he, and I, know don’t really exist.

Basically, he’s lying to me.

Our cultural condemnation of hypocrisy is why at least part of this morning parable resonates with many. We recoil when the Pharisee and say: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.”

Hearing this, many see the Pharisee as stuck up. We condemn him because he thinks he’s better than everyone else. He is, in a word, “judgey.”

And all this is said without a hint of irony or self-knowledge.

So hated is this one sin that pointing it out in others exempts me from any self-reflection. In the face of hypocrisy, I’m exempt from self-examination. The sin must be condemned and its condemnation overrides any other considerations.

And yet, what actually happens in the Gospel? Jesus doesn’t condemn the Pharisee. If anyone does, it’s me. And that’s my sin.

What Jesus does instead is commend the publican for his humility.

For the fathers of the Church, the sin of pride—which is the sin that parable condemns—is only cured by humility. The “tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’”

Yes, the sinful human heart is drawn by grace and the world’s rebellion is always only partial. But for all this, sin still holds us, holds me, in its grip. Reflecting on the parable, St Gregory the Great warns us that pride takes many forms. And whatever its form, humility is the only cure.

We need to be careful here that we don’t mistake the publican’s repentance for the virtue of humility. St Basil the Great says that when the “soul is lifted up towards virtue” we experience “cheerfulness” even in the midst of sorrow. Repentance is the door to humility.

St Basil says humility allows us to remain faithful to Christ and our vocation even when we are troubled by events or the opposition of others. Humility fosters in us a “loftiness of mind” that differs from “the elevation” which comes from pride. The latter, he says, is like “the swelling flesh which proceeds from dropsy.” But humility of soul is like the “well-regulated” and healthy body of an athlete.

Pride casts us down “even from heaven,” St John Chrysostom says, but “humility can raise a man up from the lowest depth of guilt.” This is precisely what we see in the parable. Jesus shows us the opening moments of the publican’s transformation, of his journey from guilty sorrow to cheerful fidelity to Christ. Having laid aside his sin, he is now on the path to spiritual health.

If I condemn the Pharisee, I remain enslaved to sin. If I am unrepentant, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are of no more value to me that they were to Pharisee. Instead, these works—good as they are in themselves—will stand in witness against me in the life to come because they were done without repentance, without humility.

My brothers and sisters in Christ!

We shouldn’t be quick to condemn anyone’s sin but our own. We must make our own the words of today’s Kontakion:

Let us flee the proud speaking of the Pharisee and learn the humility of the Publican, and with groaning let us cry unto the Savior: Be merciful to us, for Thou alone art ready to forgive.

To acquire humility, as we hear throughout at Matins through Great Lent, we must pass through the “door to repentance.” It is when we pass through this door that we learn to walk in cheerfulness, live in fidelity to our vocation, and to love one and other.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Homily: Called to Heal Others

Sunday, January 29, 2017: Sunday of the Canaanite Woman; Removal of the Relics of Ignatius the God-bearer, Laurence the Recluse of the Kiev Caves, Ignatius and Nicandrus of Sinai

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 6:16-18; 7:1
Gospel: Matthew 15:21-28

The word for church in Greek is ecclesia. It means the gathered. From before the last words of the New Testament were written, this idea of the Church as those called out from the world and gathered together into Christ, had a Eucharistic meaning. We read, for example, in the Didache, “…as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Your kingdom” (¶ 9; compare, Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, Ephesians 4:4-6).

Thank about this for a moment. How do we get bread?

Wheat is planted and cultivated, it harvested and threshed, it made into flour, then mixed with water and yeast and finally baked. From the scattering of the seed to the breaking of the bread, there is a multi-step process. And of course, before all this, the ground needs to be prepared.

The point is that wheat doesn’t just become bread any more than grapes just become wine. Both require that human labor and ingenuity be mixed with divine grace. It only then that bread and wine can become through prayer and the invocation of the Holy Spirit the Body and Blood of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ.  While there are differences to be sure, the bread and wine on our tables and the Body and Blood of Christ on the Altar, are both the fruit of human labor and divine grace.

And the Church is like this as well.

The Church is the fruit of divine grace mixed with human labor and ingenuity. This is why the fathers call the Church a theandric community. Like our Lord Jesus Christ, the Church is both divine and human. Divorce one from the other and whatever you have, it isn’t the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Seeing the evidence of human labor and ingenuity in the Church is easy. Walk into almost any Orthodox church and you are overwhelmed by its beauty. Icons, vestments, incense and singing all combine to glorify God.

If we take a step back, we realize that the church we are standing in was designed and built by human hands even as it was financed and paid for by human labor.

All of this testifies not only to the potential of human labor but also to the heights of human dignity. We are created in God’s image and called to glorify Him in our lives. The latter is done as much in the myriad actions that make up our everyday lives as in the liturgical worship of the Church. Both are needed.

But why, if what we do every day is so important, are we called out of the world? Shouldn’t we be called to the world? No. We are called out because the world is fallen, marred by human sin. It has become, in Paul’s phrase “unclean.”

The uncleanness of the world is this: through human sinfulness, through my sinfulness, creation is deformed and is an instrument of human rebellion. King David says in the Psalms of our tendency to sin: “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands (115:4, NKJV). The Prophet Isaiah makes the same diagnosis. Reflecting on Israel when it abandoned God he says that “Their land is also full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made” (2:8, NKJV).

Christ calls us out from the world—and to purified—because we have fallen horribly in love with our own abilities.

Tragically, we hear the echo of this even among Orthodox Christians. How easily we fall in love with “our church,” or our position in the parish, or even the pew in which we sit or the place where we stand. This why St Paul tells that, having received the promise of salvation through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, “let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God.”

We can find no better example of what this means than the Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel.

One of the fathers said that in coming to Tyre and Sidon, Jesus left the unbelief of the Jews in search of faith among the Gentiles. In like fashion, the Canaanite woman “left behind idolatry and an impious life” in search of Jesus (Epiphanius the Latin, “Interpretation of the Gospel,” 58 in ACCS, NT vol Ib: Matthew 14-28, p. 27). St Augustine says this woman is “a figure of the Church” and an icon of humility. “The more humble a person,” he says, the more “receptive and full he becomes” of divine grace, mercy and love (“Sermon,” 77.11-12, in ACCS, NT vol Ib: Matthew 14-28, p. 31).

St John Chrysostom goes right to the heart of the matter. So deep is her humility and faith that when Jesus calls the Jews “children,” she calls them “master.” Such is her wisdom, the saint says, that she doesn’t say “a word against anyone else. She was not stung to see others praised, nor was she indignant to be reproached.” All she wants is for her daughter to be “made whole.”

It is because of her faith, humility and wisdom that the woman “contributed not a little to the healing of her daughter” (“The Gospel of Matthew,” Homily 52.3 in ACCS, NT vol Ib: Matthew 14-28, p. 30).

All that we do in the Church, the whole of our labor and creativity, has the same goal as the Canaanite woman. We are called aside by God and purified by His grace, in order that—with Him—we can “contribute not a little” to the healing of others.

Our task is first and foremost to stand before the Altar of God and intercede on behalf of not only the Church but the whole world. This is why, in the Great Litany and again in the Anaphora, we pray for bishops, priests, deacons, monastic and indeed to all the faithful in all the Churches of God. In these prayers, we also pray for the President of the United States, all civil authorities and the armed forces.

And our prayer isn’t a vague, humanistic sentiment; we don’t just wish people well or have good thoughts for them or send them good energy. No, we prayer that all the members of the Church grow in their faith and come to love Jesus Christ and their neighbor more fully.

And to this prayer, we add our fervent request that the whole world—including the civil authorities—come to that same great faith in Jesus Christ that we saw in the Canaanite woman.

My brothers and sisters in Christ!

We have been called by God to imitate the example of the Canaanite woman. Everything we do in the service of the Gospel begins here, in our fidelity to the example this unnamed woman. We are called, like her, to contribute “not a little” to the healing of others.

Let us begin!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Being Christ’s Witness

Sunday, Jan 22, 2017: 15th Sunday of Luke; Timothy the Apostle of the 70, The Righteous Martyr Anastasius of Persia, Joseph the Sanctified

Epistle: 1 Timothy 4:9-15
Gospel: Luke 19:1-10

St Paul in his epistle, tells St Timothy to “not neglect the gift” he was given “by prophetic utterance” and the laying on of hands. Timothy wasn’t consecrated as a bishop because of he was talented; he wasn’t made a bishop because of any personal quality that he had. No, he becomes a bishop for the same reason St. Mathias replaces Judas. God chose both men. He makes clear His will to the Church that it is these men who have He has called to lead His People.

The gift that Timothy must not neglect is much more his ordination as a bishop; it is his membership and role in the great prophetic community which is the Church. Like all bishops, Timothy’s unique task is to lead that band of prophets called the Church. He is to be for them “an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” He is to listen daily to the Scriptures and to share the fruit of his mediation in preaching and teaching “so that all may see your progress.”

Again, St Paul’s words to St Timothy, are applicable to all bishops.

The bishop in an exemplar—as “canon” or “standard”—of the Gospel in the life of the Church. The bishop reminds us that there is an objective content to our prophetic witness that endures throughout the history of the Church. As Paul writes, “God is not the author of confusion but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33. NKJV). It belongs to the bishop in his diocese, and the all the bishops assembled in local and ecumenical councils, to guard and protect the peace that God grants to His Church.

This peace is maintained in the Church not by suppressing different viewpoints. Much less is peace protected by punishing honest disagreement. No, peace in the Church, in the family and in the human heart, comes when we are faithful to that “faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). The bishop is the canon of faith because he is himself a disciple of Jesus Christ and a witness to the resurrection. He guards the faith by boldly preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ without apology or compromise.

To paraphrase St Augustine, the bishop is all this for us, because he is first with us a Christian.

But to say that the bishop is the canon of faith is to say not only something about him but about ourselves.

As the bishop is for the members of his diocese, so the Christian must be for the world. The bishop leads a band of prophets, of witnesses to the Resurrection of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ. For this reason, it is not enough for us merely to affirm the Creed. It is not enough for us to learn theology or sing the hymns of the Church. No, it is not enough for us to be anything less than witnesses to the Resurrection!

And so all too briefly, let us turn to the Gospel and example of that “man named Zacchaeus” a chief tax collector.

To be a disciple of Jesus Christ, to be a witness of His Resurrection, means to be like Zacchaeus. St Cyril of Alexandria says that the story of Zacchaeus “contains a puzzle.” There is no way, the saint says, a person can “see Christ and believe in Him except by climbing up the sycamore, by making foolish” all that the world values and so become a fool in the eyes of the world (“Commentary of Luke,” Homily 127 in ACCS, vol III: Luke, 290).

St Augustine makes the same point.

The wise and powerful “of this world laugh at us about the Cross of Christ.” They taunt us saying “What sort of minds do you people have, who worship a crucified God?” Caustically, Augustine answers back:

What kind of minds do we have? They are certainly not your kind of mind. “The wisdom of this world is folly with God” (1 Corinthians 3:19). No, we don’t have your kind of mind. You call our minds foolish, but for our part, let us climb the sycamore tree and see Jesus.

To be a disciple of Christ means not only to rise above the foolishness of this world, but to be a fool in the eyes of the world. Just as “Zacchaeus grasp[ed] the sycamore tree,” we grasp the Cross of Christ “fix[ing] it on our foreheads, where the seat of shame is” (Sermon 17.3 in ACCS, vol III: Luke, 290, 291).

And when we lay aside the concern for the world’s opinion of us, what do we discover but a deep, and abiding concern for the life of the world? This is what Zacchaeus discovered and this why he said, “if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”

Alright, maybe I haven’t defrauded anyone.

Maybe I’m not guilty of any, truly heinous sin.

But can I really say that I haven’t at least is small ways, by my many little acts of indifference robbed others of that peace that comes from faith in Jesus Christ?

Aren’t there times in my life, however fleeting I think they are, that I failed to bear witness to the Resurrection? How little it costs me to smile, to say a kind word, to offer a short pray silently in my heart. And yet, how frequently am I unwilling to make even this sacrifice.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! We shouldn’t make complex the simplicity of the Gospel.

… as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him (Colossians 3:12-17, NKJV).

Let us at each moment, do what good we can, commending ourselves, and one and other, to Christ our Lord, to Whom be glory and honor forever, Amen!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

For the Life of the World

January 6, 2017: The Holy Theophany of Our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Epistle: Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7

Gospel: Matthew 3:13-17

The ascetical character of Orthodox spirituality is hard to miss. Talk to an Orthodox Christian about his or her spiritual life and you’ll hear about fasting and long services.

Sometimes, though, it does seem as if we miss the point of the ascetical life. For many of us, it does seem as if the ascetical struggle is the point of the Christian life and not, as we hear in the epistle, a means to an end.

We are the Apostle Paul tells us called to turn away from “ungodliness and worldly lust” so that we can, in turn, live “soberly, righteously, and godly” lives. The fruit of ascetical struggle isn’t simply moral improvement but faith in our “great God and our Savior Jesus Christ” and “blessed hope” in divine “kindness and love.” Asceticism, in other words, is meant to transform us into disciples and apostles of Christ.

Important as ascetical struggle is, it is not the source of our life in Christ. No, the source, the beginning of our transformation is found in Holy Baptism.  St Paul means when he says that we who have been baptized in Christ share in His burial resurrection (see Romans 6:3-4, Galatians 3:27). Or, as he says in today’s epistle, we are saved “by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit, which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour” in Holy Baptism. And it is through this great gift of baptism that we are “justified by his grace” and made “heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

Without prejudice to the other sacraments—above all the Eucharist—our life in Christ begins in baptism.

And how could it not? Look what happens in the Gospel when Jesus is baptized in the Jordan by John.

As Jesus comes up out of the water, “the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.'” What the Father says to the Son, in the Son he says of each of us at our baptism. And the same Spirit that the Father sends to anoint His Son, He sends to us as well in our chrismation.

And because like Jesus, we are now beloved of the Father and because, again like Jesus, we are anointed with the Holy Spirit, how can we—how can I—fail to do the works that He did?

How easily, we—I—forget that all the Father gave the Son  He has given me, given you, as well. All that the Father gives to the Son on the banks of Jordan, He gives to us as well at our baptism and chrismation. This is why we can be called “Christian.” We are, each of us, “other Christs” and His ministry is ours as well.

This is why we need to keep the ascetical life to the best of our abilities. We have been set aside, ordained if you will, by God for the same great work of His Son. Ascetical struggle is nothing more or less than the habit of receiving in gratitude the grace God has given us in Holy Baptism.

Ascetical struggle also helps, as Paul suggests in today’s reading, to cultivate the habits of sober, righteous and godly living. sobriety, righteousness, and godliness are the fruits of Christian discipleship; of lives shaped around the Person and teaching of Christ. And the fruit of discipleship is the good work of a daily, hourly, witness to Christ and the Gospel.

My brothers and sisters in Christ!

Having been baptized in Christ, we have been clothed with divine glory! Let us commit ourselves to ascetical struggle not as an end in itself but as the means by which we remove from our lives anything that obscures the beauty of our calling. And let us do this not simply for our own sake but for the life of the world!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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