Tag Archives: sermon

Be of Good Cheer Little Flock

Sunday, January 5 (OS December 22) 2020: 29th Sunday after Pentecost. Sunday before the Nativity of Christ, of the Holy Fathers; Forefeast of the Nativity of Christ; Holy Ten Martyrs of Crete (III): Theodulus, Saturninus, Euporus, Gelasius, Eunician, Zoticus, Pompeius, Agathopus, Basilides, and Evaristus (250); St. Niphon, bp. of Cyprus (IV); St. Paul, Bishop of Neo-Caesaria (IV); St. Nahum of Ochrid, enlightener of the Bulgarians (910); Nativity fast, wine and oil allowed

Ss Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Church, Madison, WI

Epistle: Hebrews 11:9-10, 17-23, 32-40
Gospel: Matthew 1:1-25

Glory to Jesus Christ!

The Geneology of Christ according to St. LukeSometimes we think of Christmas as the end of the story. This is, in a certain sense, reasonable. The last almost 40 days have after all been a preparation to celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ.

In another sense though, Christmas is only the beginning. It is the opening movement in a series of events that will see the Child grow into a Man, preach the Gospel, “heal the brokenhearted, … proclaim liberty to the captives, … recovery of sight to the blind, … set at liberty those who are oppressed” and “proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4 18, 19, NKJV).

And as the fathers are keenly aware and quick to point out, Christmas Day announces the eventual death of Christ on the Cross, His three days in the tomb, and His resurrection from the dead.

In a similar way, the events of Christmas Day lead to all the good things that today we take, if not for granted, then as natural. Think of all the great accomplishments of Western culture; not only art, philosophy, and literature, but science, politics and economic development. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that in spite of all our failures and enduring sinfulness, these are all the fruit of Christmas.

One can see this not simply in the great Christian cathedrals or lives and writings of the fathers and the saints. We can see this not only in art or liturgy but around us today here in Madison.

A great university, a vibrant (if frequently contentious) tradition of political involvement and philanthropic concern. All of these are at the fruit of the Christmas, the result of generations of men and women who united themselves to Christ in baptism, nourished themselves in Holy Communion and followed Him as His disciples and evangelists.

There is nothing good around us today, that doesn’t owe its existence in large part to the Gospel.

To be sure, this debt is often overlooked or when it isn’t actively denied. But for all that, the roots of not just Western culture or America but Madison are firmly planted in the Gospel.

As I mentioned a week or so ago, we live in politically and culturally contentious times. Whether this is more or less than at other times is an interesting question but rather beside the point. Whatever times we live are always marked by conflict, by the knee jerk willingness of partisans on each side to think the other side is if not actively evil, then benighted or simply foolish.

In this, our time is no different than the time into which Jesus was born. That time, like our time,  was disfigured by violence and contempt for others.

It is into that world, which is our world still today, that Jesus comes and preaches repentance, the forgiveness of sins and the reconciliation of humanity with God and so with itself.

And like those times, our own times can seem overwhelming. Like the disciples in the early hours of Pascha, we are tempted to hide if not from “fear of the Jews” (see John 20:19) then, well, pick the person or group you fear most and so love least.

But now, as then, Jesus comes to stand in our midst, granting us His peace, breathing upon us the Holy Spirit and sending us out to proclaim the Gospel (John 20:21-23). Because you see, whether it is Christmas or Pascha, the Annunciation or Pentecost, the Gift, and the Call, are the same.

We are given not a word about Christ or even a share in His life. We are given at Christmas and every day, Christ Himself. And having received Him, He tells us what He told the disciples. “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).

Look around you.

Everything you see is the fruit of not just of Christmas but of that “little flock.” All around us we see the fruit of those in the Old Testament who lived in hope for His coming and those in the New Testament and throughout the history of the Church down to this day and in this place who in faith followed Christ.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! We are that little flock not because we are few but because the Church always seems small in the face of human sinfulness. To us today, Jesus says as He did to Israel, never despair, never give up hope.

And He says to us today, as He did His disciples, do not be afraid, rather be “of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

The Foretaste of Our Salvation

April 13, 2017: Vesperal Liturgy for Holy Thursday

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 11:23-32
Gospel: Matthew 26:1-20; John 13:3-17; Matthew 26:21-39; Luke 22:43-44; Matthew 26:40-75; 27:1-2

Mystical Supper coptic.jpgThe events recounted for us in the Gospel this morning–and for the next several services–are grim. Fear, anxiety, betrayal, torture, crucifixion and, finally, death. And yet there is also this morning one shining moment that cuts through the darkness.

Though the events of Good Friday and Holy Saturday are still in the future, in the Gospel today, for the Apostles at least, the work of Christ is accomplished.

No, Christ hasn’t yet been tried. He hasn’t yet be scourged or crucified. He hasn’t died yet nor has He descended into Hell to proclaim liberty to those who are held captive there.

And yet, for the disciples at the Last Supper, the work of Christ is accomplished.

Today they receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. For most of the disciples at least, their estrangement from God is now in the past. We must not let our focus on “Judas, the deceitful traitor,” the cowardice of the disciples or Peter’s threefold denial, blind us to what Christ accomplishes today in the life of His disciples.

Today, as every day, the Divine Light of Christ “light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5, NIV).

Recently there have been a number of books and articles, some by Orthodox authors, sounding a warning that our culture is in decay. While I don’t want to minimize the concerns these authors highlight, I find myself wondering, “When has the world not been corrupt?” And, more importantly, when has Christ not been victorious.

From the Fall of Adam until today, creation has been “subjected to futility,” in bondage waiting for the revelation of the “glorious liberty of the children of God” (see, Romans 18-25, NKJV).

But, from “before the foundation of the world” the Son has reigned (see 1 Peter 1, NKJV).

Turning for a moment from the events of Holy Thursday to our own life, what do we see? What lesson do we draw?

Just this, not matter how dark the world around us, not matter how much we fail, Jesus Christ remains as King and Victor over the powers of sin and death. There has never been a time when the world wasn’t corrupt and humanity not fallen.

But there has never been a time when Christ wasn’t victorious over sin and death. Of Jesus and His victory, the Apostle Paul says this:

…He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence (Colossians 1:15-18, NKJV).

Today at the Mystical Supper we see in the lives of the disciples a revelation of what will in a few days be true for all of us, all humanity and for the whole creation. Let us then not lose hope but rush to the Empty Tomb there to greet our Risen Lord!

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

Both Humility & Boldness Are Needed

December 4, 2015: Barbara the Great Martyr, John the Righteous of Damascus, New Hieromartyr Seraphim, bishop of the Phanar in Greece, Juliana the Martyr of Heliopolis, Alexander Hotovitzky, New Hieromartyr of Russia, Missionary to America

Epistle: Galatians 3:23-29; 4:1-5
Gospel: Mark 5:24-34

Jesus uses a curious phrase in this morning’s Gospel. St Mark says that Jesus “knowing that power had gone out of Him” asks “‘Who touched My clothes?'” (5:30, NKJV)

In a sermon attributed to St John Chrysostom we read that divine grace is Christ’s alone to impart those “who touch Him by faith.” The sermon goes on to say that grace doesn’t “go out of Him locally or corporeally, nor in any respect pass away from Him.” Rather Jesus says what He does “to show that with His knowledge, and not without His being aware of it, the woman was healed.” In other words, what Jesus is aware of is not a change in Himself, much less a loss, but a change in the woman with the flow of blood. It is a change in her, not Himself that He comments upon. And so Jesus asks “who touches Him so “that He might bring to light the woman… and proclaim her faith.” And what of the crowds? While the throng about Him, they “cannot be said to touch” Christ because ” they do not come near [Him] in faith” (Pseudo-Chrysostom in St Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea “Mark 5:21-34).

The Venerable Bede makes much the same point. Jesus asks what He does to invite the woman to “confess [her] faith … [and] her sudden belief and healing.” Above all though Christ speaks to confirm her in her faith, making her “an example to others” of the necessity of faith (Catena Aurea “Mark 5:21-34).

St Paul in today’s epistle that the Law isn’t there to reveal my goodness but as a tutor. If anything, the Law (and so my obedience to it) reveals not just my immaturity but my bondage to what he calls “the elements of the world” (4:3, NKJV). Whether we are Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, whatever our social status, we are all of us apart from faith in Jesus Christ my “pernicious freedom” is just “the matrix of sin” (Ambrosiaster, Epistle to the Galatians, 4.3 quoted in vol VIII of ACCS NT: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, p. 53).

Like the woman in the Gospel, I pursue “useless remedies” when instead what I need to do is realize “time is short” and “healing is not given to the silent, nor to the one who hides her pain” from Christ. And like her, in the silence of my heart I must take what I dare “not ask for … knowing that healing and forgiveness may be bestowed in this stratagem” and that in “an instant, faith cures where human skill has failed” (Peter Chrysologus, “On the Daughter of the Ruler of the Synagogue, and On the Woman Suffering From An Issue of Blood,” quoted in vol II of ACCS NT: Mark, p. 74).

Faith in Jesus Christ requires from us both humility and boldness. Awareness of my sin makes me humble; confidence in God love makes me bold. One without the other is of no use; both together sets us brings healing, forgiveness and a share in divine glory in this life and the life to come.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory