Tag Archives: witness

Witnesses to Beauty

Sunday, May 13 (O.S., April 30), 2018: Sixth Sunday of Pascha; Sunday of the Blind Man; Holy Apostle James, the brother of St. John the Theologian (44); St. Donatus, bishop of Euroea (387); Uncovering of the relics of Hieromartyr Basil, bishop of Amasea (322). Martyr Maximus.

Epistle: Acts 16:16-34
Gospel: John 9:1-38

Christ is Risen!

St Paul tells the Church at Ephesus that they are to speak “the truth in love.” He tells them this so that they might not be “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men” and “in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting.”

And they are to speak the truth in love so that they

…may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love (see Ephesians 4:14-16, NKJV).

We need to pay close attention to what the Apostle says here.

The command to speak “the truth in love” is not something we do to draw others to Christ. Speaking “the truth in love” is essential for our own salvation, own growth in Christ and spiritual maturity.

Compare this to the idea that, as I’ve heard more than one Orthodox Christian say, “The most loving thing I can do is to tell someone the truth.” Did you catch the difference?

Paul says that for your own salvation and to become more like Christ, let love guide your words. This is different from the rather crass assumption that my words are loving because they are true and I’m telling you something for your own good.

The naked expression of the truth is not loving. Far from it. It is simply a means of gaining power over others by shaming them. Rarely, if ever, are the people who say the most loving thing you can do is to tell someone the truth open to such “love” themselves.

Look at the reading today from Acts.

The slave girl is saying something which is indubitably true. St Paul and his companions “are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” And yet, as events unfold, we discover that while what is said is true, it is said not “in love” but because of demonic possession. The girl says something true in the service of extending the power of demons.

Her owners, by the way, are fine with this. They are happy to see this girl enslaved to a demon because it makes them rich. They are willing to grow wealthy by enslaving not only the girl’s body but also her soul.

And in all this, she tells the truth but she does so without love.

Compare the situation of the slave and her owners with what happens at the end of today’s reading.

A “great earthquake” opens all the doors of the prison freeing all the prisoner. Because of this, the jailer is prepared to commit suicide rather than face the consequences of allowing the prisoners to escape.

But what does Paul do?

At the cost of his own freedom, he remains in his cell with Silas and cries out to his jailer: “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.”

Speaking the “the truth in love” is salvific because it puts the good of my neighbor before my own. To speak “the truth in love” means that I sacrifice myself for you. And it is this sacrifice for others that join us ever closer together in Christ and which fosters our spiritual maturity.

What, though, does it mean–concretely–to speak “the truth in love”? We get a glimpse in today’s Gospel.

While the text says Jesus restored the man’s sight, this isn’t strictly speaking true. The man was, after all, born blind. He didn’t live in darkness because, never having seen light, he had no understanding of its absence.

While he felt the sun on his face, he never saw its light. He felt the wind but never saw trees bend. He felt the rain but never saw clouds.

And then is one amazing moment–and for the first time in his life–the man born blind saw the beauty of creation. And he saw this beauty not gradually but in an instant!

He saw the sun he only felt.

He saw the trees bend in the wind.

He saw the clouds that carried the rain.

All around him and all at once, he saw the beauty of creation. And, in that same instant, he saw the face of Jesus, of God become Man.

To speak “the truth in love” is to heal the blindness of the human heart. It is to reveal to others a beauty that, like the blind man, they could not even imagine.

To reveal this beauty to you, I must first see it you, in creation, in myself and in God. That which is True, and for that matter what is Just and Good, is Beautiful.

And because Truth is one, if I can’t–or won’t–see the beauty in one part of creation, I can’t see the beauty elsewhere. If I can’t see beauty here, I can’t see it there; if I can’t see it in you, I can’t see it in myself and I certainly can’t see it in God.

Or rather, I fail to see the beauty around me and in me because I fail to see it in God Who is the Uncreated Source of all the is Good, True, Just and yes Beautiful.

Why does beauty matter? Because it is in the nature of beauty, of beautiful things, to attract us. To speak “the truth in love” is to make manifest not simply the beauty of the Gospel but of the person to whom we speak.

And. as I said, I can’t do this unless I have grasped something of the beauty of God and creation, of my neighbor and myself.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! God has called us to reveal beauty to the world. We are here, in this small and poor room today, for no other purpose. This is why we concern ourselves with, among other things, not only being the Church but building a church. So that we can through our words and deeds reveal the Beauty of God to the world.

May God bring to completion the good work He has started in us.

Christ is Risen!

+Fr Gregory

Homily: Stand Firm in Christ

Sunday, September 3, 2017: 13th Sunday of Matthew; Anthimus, Bishop of Nicomedea, Holy Father Theoctistus and his fellow struggler Euthymius the Great, Polydorus the Martyr of New Ephesus, Translation of the relics of St. Nectarius the Wonderworker, Bishop of Pentopolis, Chariton the Martyr, Phoebe the Deaconess.

Ukrainian Orthodox Mission, Madison, WI

Epistle:1 Corinthians 16:13-24
Gospel: Matthew 21:33-42

Here in Madison, I have two distinct, but related, pastoral roles as a priest.

For the last several years, I’ve worked with the Orthodox Christian Fellowship at the University of Wisconsin. Campus ministry has always been a special love of mine because it was a college student that my faith was kindled.

My second role is a new one that begins today with the first Liturgy of a mission so new it doesn’t even have a name. We’re just the “Ukrainian Orthodox Mission of Madison.”

Because we are new, we don’t have a church. We’re renting space from a local Protestant community. We’re here this morning with a folding table for an altar, icons on plate holders on that table serve as our icon screen, and we share our “sanctuary” with tables and chairs only recently stacked against the back wall.

While our situation is different from that of most Orthodox communities celebrating Liturgy this morning, it is very much like that of the early Church. Like those first Christians, we have as a community very little. And in a city where Orthodox Christians are in the minority, we are the smallest of the three small parishes.

But just as poverty and being on the margin of society wasn’t a disadvantage for the Christians at Corinth (a community to which, for good and ill, Madison bears more than a passing resemblance), it is a blessing for us as well.

Over the years I’ve heard many Orthodox Christians worry about losing their sons and daughter when they go off to college. This is a worry we share with other Christian and non-Christian traditions.

Unlike those other Christian communities though, we invest–let’s be frank–very little in campus ministry. Very rarely do students have ready access to the sacraments. Yes, local parishes are often welcoming of students when they show up. But in the main, we tend to neglect campus.

We do this not out of malice but from a misunderstanding that colleges and universities are mission fields. As such, they have their own unique culture. A college campus presents its own pastoral challenges and opportunities. If we don’t respond to these difference we shouldn’t be surprised that we lose our children when they go off to college.

Today we have our first Liturgy essentially “on campus.” Whether we will stay here is for God to decide. But for as long as we are here, or so it seems to me, we need to embrace God’s invitation to us to minister to college students.

This we do regardless of our age or education. Some of us are faculty, others staff at the UW. Others of us live and work in the area. And some of us are students.

But all of us are members of the Body of Christ. Each has his or own unique gifts and so vocation (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). This however shouldn’t cause us to lose sight of the fact that we share a common vocation, a common call, to be disciples of Christ and witnesses to His Resurrection.

We are each of us called to, as St Paul says, to “be watchful, stand firm in …faith,” to “be courageous, be strong” and to do what we do “in love.” In this our size and relative poverty can be a great advantage. Why? Because as Jesus says at the end of today’s Gospel: “‘The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes?’”

These words and those of St Paul, are directed to each of us this morning. We need to understand that these words are not simply for today but for every day, every moment, of our lives.

We must always be watchful over our own hearts so we stay close to Christ. We must be watchful as well for those moments when we can bear witness to Him.

To be watchful in these ways requires that we always stand firm in our faith. We must first commend ourselves and all those in our lives to Christ. The fathers of the Church were keenly aware that apart from Christ, the tendency of creation to change leads only to death and decay. All things change, all things pass away, only Christ remains. Without Christ, not only will even the good things in our life will disappoint us, they will fail us and yes, even betray us.

It is only in Christ that our lives, our relationships, our projects and accomplishments, acquire a lasting meaning. This is what Fr Alexander Schmemann meant when he said Jesus comes not to make bad people good, but dead people alive. What does it mean to be alive in Christ? Just this. Not simply that we endure but are constantly made new (2 Corinthians 5:17).

To remain firm, however, means more than just having an individual relationship with Christ. We must know His friends, those who love Him and those who hate Him. Above all, we must know the faith the Church. Think about what it means to know someone, to become friends.

A true friendship means I not only know you but your likes and dislikes. I know how you look at the world and what you think about yourself, other people and events. I also know those who love you and, yes, those who hate you or would do you harm.

 

This is why I say to stand firm in Christ, means as well to stand firm in the Church and to know what we believe as Orthodox Christians. The tradition of the Church is nothing more or less than the record of those who love Christ, and those who hate Him. In the Church’s teaching we discover not only Who Jesus is–the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16)–but what it means to be His friend. We learn Who Jesus is and we learn what it means to love Him with all our heart and all our soul and all our strength (Matthew 22:27).

And, of course, because we love Jesus, we love not simply those who love Him but those who hate Him. Why? Because whether we love Him or hate Him, Jesus loves all of us.

The courage and strength we need to love others is the natural fruit of fidelity to Christ. It is this love, and only this love, that will help us not only to follow Christ but to be His witnesses here in Madison, at UW, in our jobs and with our family and friends.

And because this love flows naturally from our commitment to Christ, our witness will likewise be natural. It will be spontaneous and there will be nothing artificial in our words or actions, nothing aggressive or disrespectful of others or their views. But, again, only as long as we draw near to Christ.

My brother and sister in Christ! Draw close to Him Who has drawn close to you! It is only in this way that the good things in your life will last and you will be able to fulfill your vocation has witnesses to the Resurrection!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory