Tag Archives: 10th Matthew

Homily: The Silhouette of Virtue (revised)

Sunday, August 13, 2017: 10th Sunday of Matthew; Apodosis of the Transfiguration, Maximus the Confessor, Our Righteous Fathers Sergius, Stephanus, Castor and Palamonus, Dorotheus, Abba of Gaza, Tikhon of Zadonsk

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 4:9-16
Gospel: Matthew 17:14-23


Glory to Jesus!

What does it mean to be a fool for Christ’s sake?
Some Orthodox Christians think that this means that the Church doesn’t value human reason or education. Wrongly the imagine that the Church doesn’t value science or other forms of secular knowledge.

This would have surprised St Basil the Great, who compares the place of secular learning in the life of the Christian to leaves on a fruit tree.

Just as it is the chief mission of the tree to bear its fruit in its season, though at the same time it puts forth for ornament the leaves which quiver on its boughs, even so, the real fruit of the soul is truth, yet it is not without advantage for it to embrace the pagan wisdom, as also leaves offer shelter to the fruit, and an appearance not untimely.

Looking at the examples of Moses and Daniel, St Basil says these men were fools not because they were uneducated. No, their folly was that were obedient to the One God rather than to any earthly prince. As for their “severe” training in “the learning of the Egyptians” and “the sacred teachings” Chaldeans, these they placed wholly and unreservedly at the service of God (Address to Young Men on the Right Use of Greek Literature, III).

Though the circumstances of our lives are different from theirs, we share one vocation with Moses and Daniel. Like them, we are called to serve God in all we do.

And like the Apostle Paul we have been set aside as disciples of Jesus Christ and it is our great honor to “bless” those who revile us, to remain faithful to Christ even when we are persecuted and to forgive and reconcile to Christ even those who slander us and reject us “as the refuse of the world, the off-scouring of all things.”

All of this is folly in the eyes of the world.

What we need to struggle against is the temptation to respond harshly to those who reject us. A harsh response serves no one and it harms our witness. When I give in to anger and resentment, I’m not being a fool for Christ’s sake. I’m simply a fool.

But I can hear the counter-argument. What about Jesus in the Gospel you ask? Doesn’t He at times response harshly to people? Doesn’t He respond harshly to His disciples in today’s Gospel?

St John Chrysostom says that Jesus speaks as He does to the disciples because they are afraid that they have “lost the grace with which they had been entrusted” to cast out demons. More importantly, Jesus speaks to the disciples as He does to prepare them for the events of Holy Week. They know, Chrysostom says, that Jesus is going to die “having heard it continually.” What they don’t know is the “kind of death” He’ll suffer. Much less do they know about who Christ’s Resurrection on Pascha will being the “innumerable blessings” (The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 58.1 in ACCS vol Ib: Matthew 14-28, p. 62).

But Jesus does speak a harsh word to the boy’s father and the Jewish people. Even here, though, the point is not to alienate others but to draw them closer to the Kingdom of God. And so immediately after speaking harshly to them, He heals the boy. The harshness of His words is tempered by a tangible demonstration of God’s love and mercy.

What should we take from this?

First, we need to keep in mind that witnessing to Christ will sometimes bring us into conflict with others. Sometimes even someone we love. To paraphrase the Apostle James, friendship with God will bring us into conflict with the world (see James 4:4). While I ought not to go out of my way to find conflict, shouldn’t be afraid of it when it comes my way.

Second, when conflict does come I have to balance my hard word with a tangible demonstration of affection for the person. But, how do I do this?

When I disagree with someone, I need to actively search for what St Basil calls “the silhouette of virtue”(X). I need to look for a least faint glimmer of goodness in the person.

Yes, it’s easier to think there isn’t anything good or true or beautiful in those who hurt me or to imagine our disagreement is because of your bad will. But to say this isn’t simply to offend against the person’s dignity and moral worth, it is also to deny God.

When I refuse to see at least “the silhouette of virtue” in others I deny they’re created in the image of God. And isn’t this refusal to see other people as icons of God what it means to live a life apart from Christ?

My brothers and sisters in Christ, just as God sees what is good, true and beautiful in us, we must do the same with others. To be a true fool for Christ is to see “the silhouette of virtue,” the intimation of God, where the world sees only evil, lies, and ugliness

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Homily: The Paternity of God

Sunday, August 9, 2015: Tenth Sunday after Pentecost & Tenth Sunday of Matthew, After-feast of the Transfiguration of Christ

Apostle Matthias; translation of the relics of Venerable Herman of Alaska, wonderworker of America

EPISTLE: 1 Corinthians 4:9-16

GOSPEL: Matthew 17:14-23

Paternitas (New Testament Trinity) Novgorod School, end of the 14th century

Though often misunderstood, paternity is a central, actually essential, concept to the right understanding of the Christian tradition.

Strictly speaking the only Father is God the father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Other fathers—biological or spiritual—are fathers only by analogy. Human fathers are only fathers to the degree that they reflect faithfully the paternity of God.

For classical Christian orthodoxy, to call God Father isn’t to make a statement about sex but relationship. God the Father is (as we hear in the service of the Church), the Unoriginate Source. This doesn’t mean that God exists in isolation from either of the other two Person of the Holy Trinity. The Son is the Son because He is begotten by the Father. Likewise the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit because He is breathed forth from the Father. And none of this implies moral or social or ontological necessity; there isn’t something or someone “behind” God compelling Him to generate the Son or breathe forth the Spirit.

Something similar happens with creation.

There is nothing external to God requiring Him to create. What He does, He does simply from love. God loves us not because of who we are but because of Who He is and it is His love that makes us who we are.

Paternity then in the tradition is not about power or authority as the world understands them. To be a father is to love in such a way that the beloved becomes more fully who he or she is. How does this happen? How do I, like Paul, love people in such a way that they become more themselves? There an interesting notion in Hasidic spirituality that can help here.

Tzimtzum or self-contraction is the idea that God creates not by imposing the His will on what isn’t God. Rather God creates by drawing back, making Himself “smaller.” In other words, God creates by making room for whatever isn’t God. God makes room for us; He allows us the space and freedom we need to find Him and so find ourselves.

The Christian counterpart to this is kenosis, the self-emptying of the Son that culminates in the Cross (Philippians 2). The Apostle Paul is faithful to this self-emptying example of Christ. And it is because he is faithful that—like other apostles—he is like a man “sentenced to death; … a spectacle to the world, to angels and men.” The Apostle’s fidelity to not only the teaching of Christ but to the example of His Person means that Paul is a fool, and a man held in disrepute by the powerful of this world.

Paul’s fidelity is also the source of his great moral and spiritual strength. It is why he can bear all things not only for the sake of Christ but for the salvation of the Corinthians. His willing self-emptying, his tzimtzum, is what that makes Paul more than simply a guide or a teacher. His kenosis makes him a spiritual father for the Corinthians, the Gentile world and each of us.

Turning to the Gospel reading, it is absence of this self-emptying faith that makes the disciples powerless over the demons. As of yet they haven’t come to accept for themselves what Christ has accepted for Himself. “The Son of man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him, and He will rise on the third day.”

Just as God the Father doesn’t impose His will on His Son, He doesn’t impose Himself on us. Instead God woos us. God creates us in love and then, to speak in human terms, He falls in love with us over and over and over again. In the Song of Solomon the bride says of her beloved that “he comes leaping over mountains, bounding over the hills” (Song 2:8). Commenting on this St Gregory of Nyssa says Christ has “made every rebellious power subject to Himself, both the inferiors powers [i.e, ‘hills’] and those that are greater [i.e., ‘mountains’]” all “are trampled and destroyed by the same power and authority” of God’s love for us (“Homilies on the Song of Songs,” 5 in ACCS, OT vol IX, p. 138).

Origen says that if we want to see Christ leap, “we must first hear His voice” (“Commentary on the Song of Songs,” 3.11, in ACCS, OT vol IX, p. 138). To hear the voice of God means to give ourselves over to stillness and prayer. It is in this way that we can come to love the God Who loves us. It is through stillness and prayer that I respond to the God Who calls me by name (Isaiah 43:1) and who has loved me from my mother’s womb (Jeremiah 1:5). Especially at first, I might be hesitant to open myself up in this way to God. This is understandable. But I need to remember that God doesn’t impose Himself on us. At creation, in the incarnation and above all on the Cross, God empties Himself, He makes Himself small so that there is room for us to grow, to develop, to blossom and to become the persons who from all eternity He created us to be.

Spiritually as well as biologically, a man can’t become a father without a woman who is willing to become a mother. Spiritual fatherhood is only possible under the guidance and example of the Most Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary. She is the Mother of the Church and the Mother of priests. It is to her that bishops and priests as well as biological fathers must look to fulfill their obligations. It is only in being faithful to the example of Mary ‘s maternity that they can be faithful to God’s paternity.

Whatever the failures or successes of our earthly fathers—biological or spiritual—we have a Father in Heaven Who waits patiently and in love to receive us, ever eager to reveal His love and affection for us, to forgive us our sin and to heal us from all that binds us. To borrow from St Herman of Alaska whose memory we celebrate today, “let us make a vow to ourselves, that from this day, from this hour, from this very moment, we shall strive above all else to love God and to fulfill His Holy Will!”

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory