Tag Archives: 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

God Searches for You!

Sunday February 16 (O.S., 3), 2020: Sunday of the Prodigal Son. Afterfeast of the Meeting of the Lord. Holy and Righteous Symeon the God-receiver and Anna the Prophetess. Prophet Azarias (X B.C.). Martyrs Papius, Diodorus, Claudianus (250). Martyrs Adrian and Eubulus (308-309). Martyr Blaise of Caesaria (III).

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

Glory to Jesus Christ!

One of the things that never ceases to surprise me is not simply the number of people who don’t know that they are loved by God but those who will argue that God can’t possibly love them.

For some, God’s love is something to be earned. Seeing themselves as failures, they think God’s love is reserved for successful people. God loves, their thinking goes, the sleek and the strong, the competent and well liked. Being none of these (at least in their own minds), they conclude that God doesn’t, and can’t, love them.

Others see themselves as unlovable because of their moral failures or even minor shortcomings. It is their sin that closes the door to God’s love for them. And that door, now closed, can never be reopened.

To those who have never experienced God’s love for them, life is lonely and plagued with anxiety and the fear that, eventually, others will come to see them as they see themselves. As fundamentally unloved and, what is worse, unlovable.

In response to this we have the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

The context of the parable is important. Immediately before He tells the story of this rather sad and broken family, the Pharisees and scribes had been criticizing Jesus for “receiv[ing] sinners and eat[ing] with them.” It is in response to these complaints that Jesus tells the story of the Prodigal Son (see, Luke 15:2, 3).

Rabbi Abraham Herschel in God in Search of Man says that we perish not “for want of information; but only for want of appreciation. The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living. What we lack is not a will to believe but a will to wonder.”

The source of wonder is this. God loves us, each and ever single one of us.

And, following from this, it isn’t me who goes looking for God but God Who in Jesus Christ comes looking for me. And not just me. God comes looking for you and everyone.

This is what the son discovers “when he came to himself” and returned to his father.

When he does, the son is surprised to find that his father is there waiting for him. The father has left his house and gone in search of his son. The father went in search of his son, before the son goes in search of his father.

And not only does father just go in search of his son. He goes eager to find him and ready to restore him. The father wants nothing more than to return the son to his place in the household.

In this the father reflects what God has done for each of us in Jesus Christ.

In Christ and through the sacraments, God goes out to meet us. Unlike the father in the parable, however, God doesn’t simply restore us to our former place. Instead He calls us, He calls each of us, His children in this life and promises us a greater intimacy and dignity in the life to come.

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure (1 John 3:2-3).

Let me pause here for a moment and return to the first verses of the parable.

At least in the beginning, the family that Jesus holds up as a type of the Kingdom of God is anything but admirable.

The youngest son is so greedy, he wishes his father dead. Failing that, he lays claim on his inheritance as if his father were already dead.

And what can we say about the father? At best, he is overly indulgent. It would, however, be more accurate to call him weak. He knows his son and so knows that in giving in to the boy’s demands he is colluding with his riotous living.

Then there is the eldest son. What can we say about him except he is so committed to duty, so willing to be obedient, that he has no charity for his younger brother or ability to share in his father’s joy.

What changes the family is this: the father’s willingness to go in search of his son.

As with parable, so to with us and with the Church. What transforms us is not primarily our repentance but God the Father going in search of us. We are changed because, wonder of wonders, God desires to draw us to Himself even while we, even while I, flee from Him.

No matter how I seek to justify it, no matter how resigned I am to it, when I deny that God loves me, I’m fleeing from God. Like Adam after the Fall, I hide from God.

But try as I might, I can’t hide from God! And neither can you!

God always comes for you!

God is always eager to love you!

God is always drawing you closer to Himself!

It is this–God searching for us–that transforms us personally and as a community.

It is this–God searching for us–that makes it possible for us to be who He has created us to be rather than who the world, our own sin or neurosis, tells us we are.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! Today God comes in search of you! Go and meet the God Who out of His great love, comes to find you!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Homily: Self-Knowledge & the Knowledge of God

Sunday, February 4 (O.S., January 22), 2017: Sunday of Prodigal Son; Apostle Timothy of the Seventy (ca. 96). Monk-martyr Anastasius the Persian (628). Martyrs Manuel, George, Peter, Leontius, bishops; Sionius, Gabriel, John, Leontus, Parodus, presbyters; and 377 companions in Bulgaria (817). Martyr Anastasius the Deacon of the Kyiv Caves (12th c.).

Ss Cyril & Methodius, Madison, WI

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

modern1St Antony the Great taught that to know God, I must first know myself. For St Antony and the fathers of the Church, self-knowledge is the road to the intimate, experiential knowledge of God. If we think about this for a moment it makes sense. God’s first revelation for Himself to me is, well, me.

Created as we are in the image of God, we are each of us also a revelation of God. This is why self-knowledge is the way to God. God reveals Himself to me.

The readings this morning make clear to us the importance not simply of self-knowledge but accurate self-knowledge. Too frequently, I allow a partial or even false self-understanding to influence my behavior. The Church in Corinth is an example of this.

Many in Corinth embraced to Gospel but they misunderstood what it meant to be free in Christ confusing it with permission to engage in immorality. While they knew themselves as free they didn’t understand the nature of freedom.

Seen in this light, St Paul telling the Corinthians to “flee sexual immorality” is nothing more or less than asking them to remember who they are. And who are they? They are temples of the Holy Spirit called to “glorify God” not only in words but in their deeds. In effect, the Apostle tells the Church at Corinth become who you are!

The obstacle to this, to become who I am, is there for us to see in the Gospel.

Like many of us, the young man in the parable has a picture in his head of who he is. It’s important to keep in mind that the young son doesn’t say to his father, “Give me my inheritance so I can waste it on prodigal living with harlots and loss living.” No, and like many of us at 18 or 19, he asks for what is his so that he can strike out on his own. It is only when he acts on this self-image that he discovers its wrong.

The son discovers what all of us at one point need to discover, what the Christians in Corinth discovered, that freedom doesn’t mean the absence of responsibility. Rather, Christ makes me free precisely so I can embrace my responsibilities.

Again, it is likely that the young man didn’t want his inheritance to spend it on riotous living. But, and again like many college students, he discovered that his new, independent life, brought with it new burdens for which he simply wasn’t prepared.

He didn’t strike out on his own to live a life of immorality. Instead, he slowly succumbed to ever greater temptations until he discovered that lost he was no longer free. Little by little, his freedom evaporated until he found himself envying the pigs the garbage they ate.

In that moment, he saw not only the depths to which he sunk but, in coming back to himself as the parable says, he understood that freedom exists so that we can serve others.

Having come back to himself, he rises from his humiliation and returns to his father. But now, rather than being a demanding son, he returns as a servant. Like God the Son in His Incarnation, the boy lay aside what is his by right. Like Jesus, he “empties himself and takes the form of a servant” (see Philippians 2:7).

Finally, the boy sees himself as he is. He comes to understand that it is in service to others, in the practical works of charity, that we find ourselves. In Christ, God has made us free not, as Paul reminds the Corinthians, for immorality but charity. We are made free for sacrifice and it is in and through our sacrifices that we find not only God but our neighbor and ourselves.

What about us? What must we do?

If we would find God and learn to love Him and our neighbor, we must first turn inward. And, looking at ourselves as we must, first of all, accept ourselves as we are. This doesn’t mean saying that everything we see in ourselves is good–much of it isn’t–but that we don’t turn a blind eye toward what we see.

Without self-acceptance, there can be no repentance, no reform our lives, and so no growth in love for God or neighbor.

It may sound strange but the key to the kind of self-acceptance that leads to repentance and growth in charity is rooted in gratitude. If I would grow in the knowledge of God and love for my neighbor, I must first thank God for the gift of my life. And not only this. I must also thank Him for the knowledge of my failures as much as for my successes.

When God reveals my sinfulness to me He is also at the same time revealing His love for me, His willingness (with my co-operation) to heal what is broken in me, to restore me to a greater wholeness of being.

Listen again to St Paul’s words: “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” In revealing our sinfulness to us, God shows us the way forward from bondage to sin to the freedom and joy that are the “fruits of the Spirit” (see Galatians 5:22-23).

My brothers and sisters in Christ! God asks us today not only to know ourselves but to do so so that we can become who He has created us to be. This morning through St Paul’s words to the Corinthians and Jesus’ parable, God says to each of us, lay aside your sin, stop listening to the lies sin tells you about yourself, lay aside the fear that sin brings and find the courage to become who you are!

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

Be Transformed!

Sunday, February 28, 2016: Sunday of the Prodigal Son; Venerable Basil the Confessor, companion of the Venerable Procopius at Decapolis; Blessed Nicholas (Salos) of Pskov the Fool-For-Christ; Hieromartyr Proterius the Patriarch of Alexandria; Hieromartyr Nestor the Bishop of Magydos in Pamphylia; Venerable Marana of Syria; Venerable Kyra of Syria; Venerable Domnica (Domnina) of Syria.

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

St Paul in his epistle reminds us that food is for the stomach not the stomach for food. This seems straightforward enough. When we move from the physical to the moral or spiritual dimensions of life, even may Christians have trouble understanding that there is a goal (teleos) to human life and it is that goal, and not my intention, that determines the meaning of my actions. It isn’t my intention that makes my behavior morally good, it is my behavior that makes me good. I become good by doing good things, and doing them consistently,

As we approach the season of the Great Fast, it’s good to remember that our Lenten ascetical disciplines are not ends in themselves. They have a purpose; we pray, fast and give alms for a reason. St John Chrysostom says that “An ascetic effort that is carried out in accordance with the law makes people merciful, restrained, modest, able to keep back their anger, to tame their desires, to give alms, to be kind towards others and to exercise every virtue.” In other words, ascetical discipline is for the moral reformation and graced transformation of the person. While we can distinguish two stages in our change—reformation and transformation—as we grow in the life of Christ, we come to realize that the difference between them is more logical than actually.

Through ascetical I learn to deny my own self-centered and self-aggrandizing tendencies. In other words, I learn, in very practical ways, not to give in to sin. And as sin recedes, virtue grows in me. In fact, what I discover is that virtue is natural to me and it is sin which is the deviation from who God has created me to be.

But what of transformation? Or to use a word maybe more familiar to Orthodox Christians, transfiguration? Does my transformation depend upon a prior moral improvement? No.

There is never a time when the grace of God is absent from the human heart. It is rather the opposite. God is not estranged from me; it is I who am estranged from Him. His grace is always present and available to me though I am not always present and open to His grace.

The reason for this is because of sin. Or maybe it is more accurate to say, sin describes how I am separated from the God Who has joined Himself to me, Who created me and sustains me in each moment of my life. As I enter into the demands of the ascetical life, I discover that God has always been in my life and that what I thought of as my own effort at moral improvement was also the fruit of His presence in my heart. Moral reformation, like physical growth, is the fruit of divine grace.

Chrysostom uses an odd, and potentially disturbing, phrase. He refers to “ascetic effort that is carried out in accordance with the law.” Law in this case doesn’t mean an external juridical mandate but a trusting obedience to the tradition of the Church. But again, this obedient trust has a goal, our growth in mercy, self-restraint, modesty, peacefulness and generosity to others in their need. These are the standards of the ascetical life and it is these that should guide us in how fully we keep the ascetical disciplines the Church puts before us.

If fasting makes me irritable or if attendance at services causes me to neglect those who need me, then I need to re-evaluate carefully my situation. Maybe I need to fast less or attend fewer services. On the other hand, maybe the problem is my attitude. Maybe my fasting is superficial and sloppy. Likewise, it could be that the problem isn’t that I am attending too many services but that I misuse my time when I’m not at church.

Keeping—or rather, not keeping—the Lenten ascetical is not strictly a matter of sin. Yes, the attitude that I bring to my asceticism can be sinful. But what I eat or how much I eat? This isn’t a question of sin but personal circumstances.

Great Lent is a preparation not only to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ. It is also a preparation for our personal and shared transformation in Christ; “first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also” (Matthew 23:26, NKJV). God transforms the Christian from the inside out. And why wouldn’t He? In baptism He has not only joined us to Himself, He has come to dwell in our hearts. The ascetical life builds in the presence of Christ in us.

Turning to the Gospel, what do we see?

Hearing as we do the parable of the prodigal son every year as we approach Great Lent, we might allow familiarity to lull us into thinking we know the story. The story breaks down neatly for us into the merciful father, the repentant wayward (i.e., prodigal) son and the resentful older brother. But this is. I think, too easy. We need to reflect on parable in terms of the family.

Like fasting, family life has a goal. In fact, and just like our asceticism, the goal of the family is the reformation and transformation of the person. God the Father gives us the life of the family not simply as a means of communicating physical life but as the means to form us into the likeness of His Son, our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ. It’s in the family, that we first learn—or at least should first learn—the virtues we need to live life in Christ. So with this in mind, what do we see?

In a word, failure.

Yes, the younger son wastes his inheritance on dissolute living. But remember, his father gave him that money. To us a contemporary phrase, the father enabled his son’s bad behavior. At least in the beginning of the story, the father is not only, not a model of forgiveness, he really isn’t much of dad.

But something happens to the father after his son leaves home. The absence of the son begins to change him. He comes to miss his son. In fact, doesn’t just miss his boy, he longs to see him again. So intense is his longing, the father stands waiting for his son’s return.

And when he sees his son? He runs to embrace him. Father and son both experience a profound change because the experience an absence of love in their lives that couldn’t be filled by either sensual pleasure or the presence of others,

And when that absence is absent? When we don’t feel the absence of love in our lives? Well, then we become like the elder son. Proper and upright but indifferent to the great mystery of divine grace and mercy at work in the human heart. I remain untouched by the work of grace in your heart because I am indifferent to grace in my own.

And like asceticism, and like the family, the life of the Church also has a goal. Like the family and ascetical struggle, the life of the Church is about the transformation of the person. But as we see in the parable, this only happens if we experience the pain of love’s absence in our lives. If we come to church expecting to be filled, or to have the sting of love’s absence taken away, we undermine what God would do for us.

The comfort we are offered in the life of the Church is this: The Church points us to Christ and reminds us that it is only in Christ, that the sting of love’s absence is lifted.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, as we prepare to enter into the Great Fast and make our annual journey to Pascha, let us ask God to make us aware of the absence of love not only in our own lives but in the lives of all we meet. And, having experienced that absence in ourselves, let us have the courage and the compassion to point others to Christ.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory