Tag Archives: thanksgiving

Grateful Faith

September 30 (O.S., September 17): 8th Sunday after Pentecost. Sunday after the Exaltation. Afterfeast of the Exaltation of the Cross. Martyrs Sophia and her three daughters: Faith (Vira), Hope (Nadia), and Love (Lyubov), at Rome (137). Martyr Theodota at Nicaea (230) and Agathoklea. 156 Martyrs of Palestine, including bishops Peleus and Nilus, the presbyter Zeno and others (310).

Epistle: Galatians 2:16-20
Gospel: Mark 8:34-9:1

Ss Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Mission, Madison WI

Glory to Jesus Christ!

We are, the Apostle Paul tells us, not saved “by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ.” To be more accurate, we are saved by the personal faith of Jesus Christ, by His faithful obedience to His Father. Or as Paul says in another place: “not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” Philippians 3:9, KJV).

Our faith then is in Him Who is always faithful, Our faith, my faith and yours, derives from the faith of Jesus Christ.

This doesn’t mean that our faith need not be personal. Too often, Orthodox Christians imagine that conformity to the Tradition of the Church is sufficient for salvation. But it simply isn’t enough to be carried along by Holy Tradition like a stick in a stream.

Faith to be faith must be personal or it isn’t faith. Think about the words we say before receiving Holy Communion. “I believe O Lord and confess, that you are truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, Who came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the first.”

More importantly, for faith to be personal it can’t be limited to only one aspect of the work of Christ. Think about it for a moment. A meaningful relationship, a relationship that is truly personal, is one in which we embrace and accept the whole of the other person.

Who has ever, to take only one example, built a happy marriage by focusing on one aspect of their spouse’s personality to the exclusion of the rest? We love the whole person or we don’t love at all.

This means that to have faith in Jesus Christ means to love Him not only as Redeemer but also Creator. St Irenaeus the Great says that when God the Father created the heavens and the earth, He did so with His right and left hands, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

To have faith in Jesus Christ as both Redeemer and Creator means to see creation as coming from the hand of a loving God. As Orthodox Christians, we believe that Creation, both as a whole and in all its parts, is a revelation of His love. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead” (Romans 1:20, NKJV).

Not only does God reveal Himself to us in Creation, in creating us He endows our lives with meaning. While it is still incumbent on me to live a life worth living, I create such a life from the natural talents and spiritual gifts God gives me.

My talents were given me at the moment of my creation in my mother’s womb; my spiritual gifts are given to me in Holy Baptism and are sustained and deepened through the other sacraments and the life of prayer.

To have faith in Jesus Christ, then, means to have confidence that my own life is meaningful and that God has called me to mix my freedom with His grace to live a life that is profitable. Such a life is, as we have seen, one that serves your salvation and so that my own as well.

More broadly, and this is harder, to have faith in Jesus Christ not only as Redeemer but Creator, means to accept the circumstances of my life as His gift given to me for His glory, my salvation, and the salvation of the world. To have faith in Jesus as Redeemer and Creator means to accept each moment of life as a sacrament of His grace to be received with the same thanksgiving with which I receive Him in Holy Communion.

I should pause here and make an important distinction. To receive each moment in thankfulness as a sacrament of God’s grace, doesn’t mean to remain passive in the face of evil.

It means rather that I must understand that when I see evil around me or in me, God is calling me to fight–or at least resist–sin and the harm it does. it is only when we are confident that each moment of life is filled to overflowing with God’s grace, mercy, and love, that we are able to stand against the myriad manifestation of sin in human affairs.

Make no mistake. Only the grateful and faithful Christian heart can hope to resist successfully the blandishments of sin.

This is what it means, to turn to today’s Gospel, to pick up our cross and follow Jesus as His disciples.

And again, make no mistake, to carry the cross in faith and gratitude requires from us a real death to self.

How much easier it is to think of life as something wholly of my own creation.

How much easier it is to think the meaning of my life, the terms of success or failure, of virtue or vice, are wholly my own to determine, keep or ignore.

How much easier it is to think that my life is simply mine.

But my brothers and sisters in Christ! Like Jesus, our lives are not our own! He lived to do the Father’s will and so save humanity from the powers of sin and death.

And you? Your life, like Jesus’ life, like mine life, is God’s gifts to you to be received with thanksgiving and lived in faith. We do this not only for our own sake but in fidelity to the example of Christ, for the salvation of the world.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Praise God

Sunday, April 24, 2016: Palm Sunday, Elizabeth the Wonderworker, Savvas the General of Rome

Epistle: Philippians 4:4-9
Gospel: John 12:1-18

Suffering often invokes in us a sense of failure. Whatever form it takes, the sense of personal failure seems intrinsic to suffering. Especially when the pain is intense, I say to myself that this bad thing has happened because I am a bad person. It doesn’t end here, however.

This internal dialog is complemented, if you will, by what I hear around me. I might think that my suffering is my fault. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2, NKJV)

And yet, the events of Holy Week run exactly contrary to the  association we make between suffering and personal failure. The “chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death” not because of any offense he committed but because of the grace he had received and “because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.” Lazarus, in the view of some, must suffer and die because in restoring him to life, Jesus ” confirm[ed] the universal Resurrection” (Troparion, Lazarus Saturday).

We see this in more clearly in the Person of Jesus Christ. His suffering and death, though it makes Him a failure in the eyes of the world. The reality, however, is quite different. “Like the children with the palms of victory, we cry out to You, O Vanquisher of death; Hosanna in the Highest! Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord!” (Troparion, Lazarus Saturday)

Yes, there are times when our suffering is the result of our own failure. At other times, though, we suffer not because we have failed but because we have succeeded. As disciples of Christ living as we do in a fallen world, we must expect that there will be times when suffering comes to us because we are faithful; the Cross will at times come to us because we are successful.

There are times when as Christians we will suffer because, like Lazarus, we have been blessed by God.

There are times when, like Jesus, we will suffer because we have been faithful and obedient to the will of God for our lives.

There are times when we will suffer because, in us, death has been vanquished and the resurrection of all has been confirmed.

Sometimes, in other words, we suffer because we have succeeded.

Ironically, it is in these moments that I am also most tempted. In the midst of my suffering, I likely find little comfort in Jesus’ response to the disciples, that the man was born blind not for his sin or that of “his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him” (John 9:2-, NKJV). At this moment, I might, like Judas, turn away from Jesus seeking to conceal my infidelity behind noble, but nevertheless false, motives. “Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was to betray him), said ‘Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?’ This he said, not that he cared for the poor but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it.”

The hymnography of the Church suggests that Judas’ betrayal is motivated by “avarice,” his love of money.

When the glorious disciples were enlightened at the washing of their feet before the supper, then the impious Judas was darkened, ailing with avarice and to the lawless judges he betrays You, the righteous Judge. Behold, O lover of money, this man who because of money hanged himself. Flee from the greedy soul which dared such things against the Master. O Lord, who is good towards all men, glory to You! (Troparion, Great and Holy Wednesday)

I need to be careful here.

Looking into my own heart, I might think that because avarice is absent, because I’m not greedy for money, that my heart isn’t also darkened. Yes, the love of money is always a problem but it isn’t the only reason the human heart will turn away from God. There are other, equally deadly, sins that can cause me to turn away from God. Remember what we hear later this week at Matins:

Behold the Bridegroom comes at midnight, and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching, and again unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless. Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down with sleep, lest you be given up to death and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom. But rouse yourself crying: Holy, Holy, Holy, are You, O our God! Through the Theotokos have mercy on us!

To avoid becoming another Judas, we must be watchful, we must know ourselves. And to self-knowledge, we must add ascetical self-discipline so that our thoughts and actions reflect the great dignity of our calling.

Above all, though, to self-knowledge and ascetical struggle, we must offer our praise to God. We must join the angels and offer to God the hymns of thanksgiving.

“Rouse yourself crying: Holy, Holy, Holy, are You, O our God!”

This is why the Church prefaces the Gospel account of the events surrounding Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem these words from the Holy Apostle Paul:

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!”

It isn’t simply that Judas loved money, he lacked joy. IAs for the children of Jerusalem, they  betrayed Jesus, because their praise of God was motivated by anxiety rather than “prayer and supplication.” Their words lacked joy and so they didn’t greet Jesus “with thanksgiving” but resentment of their oppressors.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, as we begin now our final journey with Christ our true God to His glorious resurrection, let us take to heart not only the failures of Judas and the children of Jerusalem but also be mindful of our own tendencies to turn away from our Savior. Whether we suffer because of our own sinfulness or the envy of the Enemy, whether we suffer because of our own failure or because of our fidelity to Christ, let us take to heart Paul’s counsel to the Church at Philippi:

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.

Let us, in other words, never tire or falter in our praise of God and in giving thanks to Him for whatever grace He has given us and those around us.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory