Sunday, July 31, 2016

Homily for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Our Lord Jesus Christ does not care only for the soul, but also for the body. It is not that He has simply redeemed the soul, but that He also concerns Himself with the physical health and well-being of our bodies, as we see today in the healing of the man with palsy. God is not content to create a heaven filled with disembodied spirits. No, He wants resurrection and perfection of our earthly bodies in glory. He wants us to live as we were meant to live from the very beginning, with both body and soul cleansed and freed from sin forever.

We have needed this cleansing because our bodies and souls are filled with corruption and sin. What God created in beauty and majesty, we have defiled with the sins of pride, greed, lust, indolence, intolerance, all manner of immorality. The list can go on and on. We have weakened our bodies and disfigured them by our sinfulness. But God is great and merciful. He gives us the means by which we can cleanse our souls and bodies, to strengthen and purify them. These means of which I speak are the Holy Mysteries or Sacraments, especially those of Confession and the Holy Eucharist.

Every day of our lives, we can see the results of sin in both soul and body. Sickness and illness come upon us, even tragic and serious afflictions such as the paralysis and palsy of the man we meet in the Gospel this morning. Eventually, our bodies die, reaping the harvest of the sins we have committed over our lifetime. This is one harvest, however, that we do not want to reap in abundance, for its fruit is bitter and unfulfilling. We can lessen the burden of this harvest at the time of our death by taking attentive care to the condition of our souls and bodies now, while we are alive, by watching what we do and what we say, by how we act toward ourselves and toward one another.

When Christ came and dwelled among us, he had no need to suffer our sicknesses and pain. The life of the sinless Son of Man could have been completely free of illness and suffering. Yet He came to take our lives upon Himself, to take upon Himself our sins, our diseases and our infirmities. Jesus is not insensitive to our condition and our suffering. He can sympathize with our weakness. More than that, He took upon Himself the death that His holy life did not deserve. He did not have to suffer death at all. He suffered it nonetheless, out of love for us.

Jesus looks upon each of us and is moved by compassion. He sees us paralyzed by sin and weakness, by temptation and the overwhelming attractions and allurements of the world. We now, and our ancestors before us, have always believed that we are perfectly fine by ourselves, even though we very infrequently seek to do good works before God. We are so delusional in our beliefs and self-understanding.

A physical paralytic knows his or her condition because it is very obvious. But we are spiritual paralytics. A spiritual paralytic is one who cannot see  his or her illness and does not even belief they are ill. We cannot see that we do not walk in the way of righteousness, nor can we see that we do not lift up our hands to help our neighbor in ways that are pleasing to God. Our counterfeit works, even though they appear real to us, are not real works in the sight of the Judge of all mankind.

The paralytic who was brought to Jesus knew his condition, for he lived it in a physical way every day of his life. He knew not only his physical disability but his spiritual infirmity and sickness as well. St. Matthew tells us the man had faith. He did not merely have faith that Christ was a healer who could cure his paralysis. He also knew that he was a sinner, and depended upon God’s grace and mercy to heal him.

Christ heals the paralytic in both body and spirit. He gives the man absolution that erases the man’s sins forever. The He also heals the paralysis so that the man is able to walk perfectly well. See how great a miracle it is – the man fully regains the use of his limbs. He does not have to learn how to use them, nor does he have to exercise them for a time to reverse the weakness of atrophy. No, the man is fully capable of walking the moment Jesus speaks His mighty Word.

Jesus comes to us to heal our paralysis, especially our spiritual paralysis. The Absolution of Christ has been spoken upon us no less than it was spoken upon the paralytic and all the others Jesus healed while we walked on the earth. In the Holy Mystery of Confession, the very voice of Christ declares us forgiven from all our sins. This forgiveness, however, gives more than a mere cleansing from sin. It gives us also life and salvation. When we participate in the Holy Mystery of Confession we are freed from the deadly and dreadful effects of sin upon our body. Since we are absolved by Christ through His priest, our broken and ill bodies are healed and we are given the spiritual medicine we need to continue the good fight and our journey to Paradise. If we regularly avail ourselves of this spiritual medicine, we will see our bodies resurrected to eternal health.

Sometimes in this life, Christ gives us healing from the things that afflict us. Sometimes, he allows us to remain in our afflictions so that we may be purified and learn the important lessons we have chosen to ignore. But we know that whatever we suffer now is only temporary. Jesus will, eventually, speak to us in the grave and say, “Arise and walk!” That will happen, of course, only if we have sincerely tried to live a good life and are truly repentant of our sins. God’s mercy and forgiveness are not automatic. We must want them. There is no mercy without justice. God’s mercy and forgiveness are never withheld from those who truly want it and seek it and are repentant of their sins. If we are properly disposed, then when the Lord utters those words, “Arise and walk!” we will do exactly as He says for His Word is mighty and effective, even over death.

By the Holy Mysteries of Confession and the Eucharist, our spiritual paralysis and ills are cured, but we must maintain a solid regimen of spiritual and physical preventive medicine that is designed to keep us healthy. If we do this, we should be able to walk in the paths of righteousness because the Lord has caused us to rise up out of sin and live before Him.

By Christ’s death and resurrection we are freed from the curse of eternal death, which is the consequence of sin. But we must do our part. Our salvation is not automatic and guaranteed simply because Jesus dies and rose from the dead. We must remain pure and righteous and do works of service that are real and good and pleasing in the sight of God. Always, we should keep this distinction straight. It is not our actions in themselves that please God. If the very same works were done without faith, no matter how good the works looked to us, they would be useless and unclean in the Father’s eyes. Likewise, it is not the actions that earn the forgiveness of sins. On the contrary, we love much because He has forgiven us much. He Himself, through the power of His Gospel and His Spirit that always accompanies it, causes us to do the works that are pleasing.

So we are like the former paralytic. He got up and walked about, apparently under his own power. But it was the power of Christ that worked in his legs, causing him to move. We also do deed of mercy and compassion. Yet it is not our goodness that is seen, but the goodness of Christ working in us.

So the Gospel does both. It announces the Good News of life and salvation, and it calls us to repentance and change, providing us with a blueprint according which we can build and live righteous and holy lives that are pleasing in the sight of God. The Gospel also lifts us out of our paralysis and sets us in motion, which is sanctification, the work of the Spirit to make us do good works. Without the Gospel, the good works wither and become stunted and flavorless. They become dead works because they are done without faith.

But for those who have faith, you are fully alive by God’s grace. He has shown mercy to you and made you alive by water and the Spirit. He sustains you and strengthens you with His Holy Mysteries. He gives you, even commands you to do good works, not under the slavery of the Law, but in the wonderful freedom of the Gospel.

So listen carefully and pay attention to the voice of your Savior as He speaks to you and offers you His forgiveness. He is the One who took your flesh and redeemed it. He is the One who cared so much about your body and soul that He healed and redeemed both. He took both upon Himself, as he became man, possessing both human body and human soul while at the same time remaining fully God. He had to take on both in order to redeem both. He had to suffer in both upon the Cross. He suffered both physical and spiritual anguish far beyond our imaginations. Because He has done this, He has accomplished your healing, both physical and spiritual, both now and in the life to come; for what Christ does is always perfect, and He has saved you perfectly.

Jesus does not wait for you to come to Him, for that would be a very long wait indeed on the part of some of us. But, rather, He makes Himself available and present to us at all times in the Eucharist. He invites us to sit at table with Him and to partake of the heavenly and life-giving and life-changing divine feast. The door to the feast is never closed to those who hunger and thirst for the holy things of God; to those who hunger for God to come into their lives.

The paralysis of sin prevents us from going anywhere, least of all to Christ, your Savior. But Christ makes sure that loving people of faith are always here to carry you in your infirmity to Him for forgiveness and healing. There He will stand over you, paralyzed and helpless as you are, and say to you, “Your sins are forgiven you. Rise up and walk!.” So much power packed into so few words! Yet Christ speaks them with such great authority that even the devil Himself cowers in fear.

Christ gives His power and authority to forgive to men, to His bishops, and through them, to His priests. He has opened the floodgates of mercy and forgiveness so that salvation can flow like a mighty river to all.

What you have heard in this morning’s Gospel reading is the truth. Do not doubt this Word, for it is the very Word of Christ, as sure and certain as He is present among us this morning. God Himself has declared His mercy to you, the same mercy that His Son revealed and acted out upon the Cross, the same mercy that flowed in red rivers down His body on Calvary. This same mercy has come to your ears this morning and declared unto you the great and awesome power of God.


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Archbishop Now on Skype

The Office of Communications of the Italo-Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of the Americas and Canada is pleased to announce the activation of the personal Skype account of His Eminence, the Most Reverend Archbishop Stephen J. Enea, Primate of the Italo-Greek Orthodox Church. If you are a Skype user and wish to communicate directly with His Eminence, please add the Archbishop's Skype name, which is "padresje" to your existing account. At the present time, the Archbishop is available for Skype video chat between the hours of 12:00pm and 3:00pm and 8:30pm and 10:30pm on Mondays; and 8:30pm and 10:30pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He is also available at other times by appointment.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Homily for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

In this morning’s Gospel reading we once again see a manifestation of Jesus’ great power to heal and make whole. From the beginning of the eighth chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel, we have seen the power Jesus has over diseases in the healing of the leper, the centurion’s servant, and Peter’s mother-in-law. We saw the power He has over the winds and waves. And this morning, we see the power he has over demons.

In the New Testament, when a demon inhabits a person, there are three areas where it can be seen affecting the person’s life. These include physical problems, metal problems, and violence. Sometimes they also exhibit superhuman strength.

Can people be demon possessed today? From what I have just mentioned, do people who have these symptoms suffer from demonic possession? Scripture makes it clear that these issues are spiritual in nature. And such spiritual problems are not cured by a psychologist or psychiatrist. They can only be cured by Jesus Christ.

However, to label people as “demon possessed” is not wise. When people in our society act insane, we lock them up in an institution and try to forget them. Demons are a lot smarter than that though. They want people who are under the influence of evil to be out in society. Less sophisticated societies like ours have some individuals that could be labeled as demon possessed, but in more sophisticated societies such as ours, it is not common. We tend to ascribe such extreme behavior to medical or psychological problems, Also, to assume that we know everything there is to know about demonic possession is not good. True demonic possession is related not only to the physical person but to the spiritual person, to the spiritual world in which the human person walks. To be in league with the devil, with Satan himself, is a very serious and dangerous thing. There is nothing real about a relationship with Satan except that it exists and is real. Everything else concerned with such a relationship is based on deceit, lies, deception and falsehood.

We hear that the demoniacs lived in the tombs, a place of corruption, decay and stench. This is exactly what the environment of evil is like. It is putrid and vile environment but it is, nevertheless, an environment in which many people freely choose to live. It is a dangerous world in which there are no boundaries and human life has no value or worth.

We hear no one could pass by the place where the demoniacs lived. No one dared go on that road from the seashore. I am sure these two demoniacs hurt the local economy, especially since the best way to get from the seashore to the town was to go by the cemetery. But because these two maniacs were there, people took a longer more indirect route or avoided the town altogether because of them. There is certainly a lot to talk about in this regard, but let us talk first about the pigs.

Around Galilee there were communities of Jews and communities of Gentiles. Obviously, this is community of Gentiles. Jewish people do not eat pork and they would never have anything to do with pig farming. Pigs were considered unclean. In the Gospel of St. Mark recounting this same story, we are told that there were 2,000 pigs in the area. Even in our day this is a large herd of hogs. Probably several people in the town went into together and owned this large herd in partnership. Whatever the case, we must ask the question, “Why did the demons want to go into the hogs?” We are not told the reason why. All we know is that Jesus gave them leave to enter into the pigs and the pigs raced down into the lake and were drowned. The devil and his demons hate all of God’s creation so maybe they figured that if they could not destroy the humans at least they could be in the pigs and destroy them. This is not to say that Jesus did not care about the pigs for they too are His creation. But maybe He figured that it was better for the demons to destroy the pigs than the humans.

When the people who were gathered around saw what happened, they became afraid and asked Jesus to leave their town. Certainly those who owned and tended the pigs were not very happy with Him, since He permitted the demons to enter and destroy the pigs. Yes, Jesus did heal the demoniacs but He destroyed someone else’s property and income in the process.

This is not the first time we hear of such a thing happening. In the Acts of the Apostles, we read a similar story. “Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune telling. This girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting ‘These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.’ She kept this up for many days. Finally, Paul began so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!’ At that moment the spirit left her. When the owners of the slave girl realized their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities.” (Acts 16:16-19).

What we see from this story in Acts and from that of today’s Gospel is that what is evil or bad does bear consequences. In other words, when we work with Jesus to rid our lives of the evil and bad things which assault us, this causes dramatic and sometimes unpleasant changes. For example, the owners of the pigs did not like losing their herd because it meant losing their lifestyle. Likewise, the owners of the slave girl lost an opportunity to make a lot of money off her once Paul cast out the spirit from her, but it was not honest money that they were making.

Many today do not want Jesus in their life because they are afraid He might change their lifestyle. Following Jesus means living a life of repentance. It means leaving our life of sin, our lives of greed, selfishness, deception, deceit and dishonesty and taking up the life of repentance, righteousness, accountability, purity and holiness.  Many of us do not want to change how we presently live. Many of us love our sins and would rather live in our sins than leave them.

How many times have we all heard our doctors tell us, “You need to change your life style. You are one pack of cigarettes or one bottle of scotch away from the grave or one cheeseburger away from a massive heart attack.” But do we listen to him or her? No, we just go on doing what we do. But the wages of sin is death. And yes, eating too much, drinking too much and similar behavior is a sin. And sinning and living in constant sin will bring death, not only physical death but spiritual death.
Jesus’s power to heal caused the townspeople to panic because they observed the One who not only controlled the demons, but also took the souls of two men and gave them back to them. Supernatural things make people uncomfortable. The people of the town were absolutely panicked by the presence of Jesus in their midst. Instead of falling at His feet in worship ad thanksgiving, they said, “Go away! We don’t want you here!”

People think that is everybody could see miracles, they would believe. Unfortunately, many of the people who saw the miracles of Christ did not believe. In fact, they nailed Him to a cross instead. Some people, and there are actually many of them today, when exposed to the awesomeness of God, want nothing to do with Him. They remain steadfast in their unbelief, nothing that Jesus does or says convinces them and makes them believers.

Then there are those who do not have an opinion either way. I am sure that as this whole event with the demoniacs unfolded and played itself out, there were those who said, “Well, isn’t it good that those raving lunatics are no longer a problem?” These are the people who do not go against the grain. These people are the ones who say, “Well, the owners of the pigs and those who are sacred of Jesus all want him to go, so why should I say otherwise?”

St. Matthew tells us this morning that “the whole city came out” and I am sure that there were some in the crowd who wished Jesus would go away because He was causing so much trouble for others or who wished He had never come among them in the first place. Without even investigating Jesus or knowing what He was all about, they already made up their minds about Him because of others’ opinions of Him. It is easy to prejudge somebody. We do it every day. We frequently judge others or form opinions about them based upon what we hear about them from others. We could go without meeting someone and still have an opinion about him or her because of something we heard about them from someone else or read about them in the newspaper. If what we hear or read is good, then our opinion of them is positive. If what we hear or read about them is bad, then our opinion of them is negative. Even if we know someone personally and know them to be a generally good and honest person, let that person do one or two things wrong, then our opinion of him or her changes for the worse;  and we shun them and end our relationship with them. Forgiveness is a godly virtue but not one which many of us possess.  

The things that Jesus does are not natural; they go against the sinful nature of man. What He says to us is inconvenient and disrupts our comfortable but sinful lives. What He says about adultery, even adultery in the heart, forbidding divorce, hatred, loving your enemies, turning the other cheek, all of these are too hard to hear. They seem impossible and unrealistic. He tells us: “Enter through the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it. (Matthew7:13-14).

It is interesting to note that the people gathered around Jesus in this Gospel account really did not care that He healed the demoniacs. If Jesus had healed a nice kindly person, they probably would have reacted much differently. There probably would have been much rejoicing and Jesus would have been welcomed and even treated to a nice dinner, maybe even a feast. And many disciples would have been made that day. However the two demoniacs caused a great deal of trouble for the town and its people. They were despised and consider a nuisance. They might be healed for the time being but what about later? How does their healing affect the community now? What good does their healing bring to the community? Some of the towns people probably said regarding Jesus, “What good has this man really done for us? These two may still be a problem for us. And, if this man Jesus associates with the likes of these, do we really want Him here in our town?”

Jesus once said that anyone who hates his brother is a murderer and that such a person does not have eternal life within him.  Can you believe that such people are in the Church today, even in this parish? There are many people here and in this community of Utica and all over the world who “hate” their brother or sister. Hatred is not just hatred in its real sense, but hatred in the spiritual sense.  This means shunning one of your fellow human beings who is in need or distress or trouble, no matter what that need, distress or trouble may be. When we ignore those who are suffering or in any kind of need, we are guilty of the sin of murder for we kill not only their physical bodies but their spiritual lives as well. We cause them to despair, to lose hope and faith.

Jesus does not compel us to do the right thing. He invites us, by His example of His own life to do so. Maybe this is why He permitted the demons to enter the swine, to show us the supreme importance of human life over all other creation. No matter how ugly human existence and life can be, it can still be transfigured and retuned back to the state in which it was created.

It is not just the physical well-being of humans Jesus was concerned with He was concerned with interior life as well; the health and well-being of their souls. That is why He permitted the demons to enter into the swine. It was for the good of the interior being not only of the demoniacs but of all those who had witnessed what Jesus had done. If they could not believe what their own eyes had seen, what then would it take to make them believe, in anything?

As I said, Jesus does not compel us to believe. Jesus is a gentleman and when asked to do so, He goes away. “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the doors, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:20). When we open the door to Christ, our lives will be changed forever. But that does not mean we are bound by chains in obedience to Jesus. Once we let Jesus into our lives, we choose to obey because we decide to do so freely.

The accounts of this same story that we find in the Gospels of St. Mark and St. Luke tell us that the demoniacs were bound by chains and that the chains were not strong enough to hold them. But physical chains are not the only restraints that keep people bound in sin and suffering. Today we have other methods of restraint: drugs, sex, alcohol, greed, egotism, pride. These can be even stronger than any physical restraints. These are the restraints with which Satan securely binds those who are enslaved to Him.

When Jesus controls someone He enriches their lives and empowers them to be all that God intended them to be.  When the devil and demons control someone’s life their personality is sucked dry and they are left wanting and unsatisfied. They cannot even speak on behalf of themselves. Notice in our Gospel reading today that the demons speak through the demoniacs. They know who Jesus is and recognize His authority.

People who are demonically possessed have access to demonic knowledge they would not normally have. Not all clairvoyants and psychics, for example, get their information from sources that are good and benevolent. Much comes from the dark side, from Satan himself, in an attempt to destroy and deceive innocent people. This is especially true of people who do not believe in God or whose faith in Him is lukewarm. They turn to other sources of “spiritual enlightenment” and guidance.

We live in a world where horoscopes and psychic readings and advisors are the norm. For many it all seems playful and harmless, but for some it is very real and they follow to the letter what these psychic advisors and counselors tell them. This is such folly and it is very dangerous. It can very easily open the door to a relationship with the devil. We are only to consult God for wisdom and understanding about our lives, not hose instructed by the devil and his demons.

Many people seem to think that simply knowing Jesus and confessing Him as their Lord and Savior is enough for salvation. But there is a lot more to it than that. Even the demons themselves recognize that Jesus is the Son of God. St. Matthew says of the demons that, “they began screaming at Him, ‘Why are You interfering with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torture us before God’s appointed time’?” (Matthew 8:29).

Demons know and fear Jesus. It seems that they are fearful of punishment. St. Luke tells us that the demons were afraid of being cast into the abyss. They knew Jesus as the “Son of God”, but they refused to recognize Him as Lord. How many of us are like the demons? We know Jesus to be the Son of God, but we refuse to recognize Him as Lord. St. James tells us, “You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! But even the demons believe this and they tremble in fear and terror.” (James 2:19)

It is not enough to just recognize Jesus as the Son of God but we must also come under His authority as Lord. he is the One to whom we can entrust our life and our future, our fortunes and our destiny.  Only Christ can help and save and make our lives what we truly want them to be. All of us come under authority of some sort, but we can choose who will rule our lives.

The demons we met today knew that Jesus had not come to tame or reform them. He came to cast them out. And demons do not like to be cast out, especially when they find a comfy and secure home in a human being. Demons always go for the unclean. Pigs were considered to be unclean. That is why the demons begged Jesus, “If you cast us out, send us into that herd of pigs.” “All right, go!’ Jesus commanded them. And the demons entered the pigs and the whole herd plunged down the steep hillside into the lake and drowned in the water. The ASPCA and other animal rights movements would have been horrified at this but these men are more important to Jesus than the pigs.

There is no question that Jesus comes into our lives to disrupt them. He comes to cast the demons out that live within us. He wants us to fight the powers of darkness and to know that He gives us the power to do so. In the Church, through the Holy Mysteries, Christ gives us all that need to fight against the evil one and his minions. The choice is ours, however, as to whether or not to avail ourselves of these great and powerful weapons. What decision will you make?


Sunday, July 17, 2016

Homily for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

This morning’s Gospel lesson leads once again to the topic of faith. We speak quite a lot about faith. This is because faith is so important to what we believe and profess as Orthodox Catholic Christians. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1).  Faith is believing in something that reason can only explain to a certain point.

Jesus admires people who have faith. We know this from what St. Matthew tells us, that when Jesus heard the words of the centurion, “He marveled.” Literally, Jesus “admired” this man’s faith.

There have been people I have met throughout my life that have “impressed” me with their faith. Circumstances and situations arise in their life that would devastate most people yet these individuals have remained steady and sure in the face of their adversity and troubles. They put their faith and hope in the Lord. It is one thing to impress someone, but the centurion in today’s Gospel lesson even made Jesus say “Wow!”

At this point in His ministry Jesus had traveled many miles, visited many towns and villages and encountered countless people. He preached to many souls, performed many miracles, and healed many sick people. But there is something quite different about Our Lord’s encounter with this man. The centurion was not just your average person. He was a person who had position, power and authority. But with all that he possessed, he had even greater faith.

Faith is essential to the Christian life. Our salvation is by grace through faith, which manifests itself in the works we do in benefit of others. Christ invites us to walk in faith every day of our lives. If we study Scripture, especially the New Testament, we find several examples where faith is rewarded. First, there is the faith of those four men who brought the paralytic to Jesus to be healed. Second, there is the faith of Jairus, whose daughter Jesus brought back from the dead. Third, there is the faith of the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment. Fifth, there is the faith of the lepers who were cleansed. Then, there is the faith of the sick that were healed. And, finally, there is the faith of those disciples, especially the Twelve, who followed Jesus based upon His teachings and way of life. St. Paul, in his Letter to the Romans, tells us that “the just shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17)

Jesus said, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you shall say unto this mountain, ‘Move!’ and it shall be moved; and nothing shall be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20). Faith, especially faith that is strong and secure, can help us overcome every obstacle and adversity in our life. Faith can dissolve doubt and allow us to trust more fully in God and in His ability to provide for our needs.

The centurion made a request of Jesus that required faith. He made His request known to Jesus directly and forthrightly. “And when Jesus came into Capernaum, there came unto Him a centurion, beseeching Him.” A centurion was a Roman military officer who commanded a group of 100 men. We learn much about this man’s character from the few verses that record his story. At a time when many other masters would have sent his servant to an infirmary, the centurion invested his own time into seeking help for this man. He had a deep concern for his servant.

The centurion sets a good example for us today. We have loved ones or friends who are in need of help, maybe even in need of a miracle. We can and should go to Jesus on their behalf. If the centurion went to Jesus on behalf of his servant, his slave, does it not stand to reason that you too should go to Him in behalf of a loved or friend who is in some kind of trouble or need?

The centurion’s servant is described as being “sick of the palsy.” This could be interpreted as maybe having epilepsy or some other kind of debilitating illness or condition. Whatever the case, we know for sure that the servant was in a helpless situation. We are not told what caused the illness but we are informed about how serious it was as we heard that the servant was “grievously tormented.”

Somehow, the centurion had heard of what Jesus had been doing in the area and he believed that the Lord could help his beloved servant. What tremendous faith the centurion had to presume, without even knowing Jesus, that He could help his servant, maybe even cure him. Would that we had faith as great and deep as the centurion, how different our lives would be.

Every person here this morning knows someone who is in worse shape than the centurion’s servant. This servant was in torment physically. Some of our family members and friends are tormented not only physically but spiritually as well. The word tormented is literally translated as “tortured.” So you can imagine that the degree of suffering is unimaginable for one who is tormented.

After Jesus heard what the centurion had to say, He tells the centurion that He will come and heal his servant. Is it not nice to know that when you go to Jesus you will get a response? It may not always be the response you want, but you will not be ignored. You may get a “yes,” or a “no,” or even a “not right now,” but you will get a response. The centurion took his issue to Jesus and Jesus said, “’Go your way; and as you have believed, so be it done to you.’ And from that hour, the centurion’s servant was healed.”

Jesus rewarded the faith of the centurion. As a result, the servant was the beneficiary of an even greater reward. It is very rewarding to see a loved one get healed after praying for them. When this happens, we are rewarded with great peace and joy. See what wonderful things happen when we have faith?

Now, we have already seen that the centurion has a deep measure of faith, just in the fact that he came to Jesus in the first place. But as we look further, we see a little more about this man’s character. One of the most poignant aspects of his character is his humility. Listen again to what he said to Jesus, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof; but speak only the word and my servant shall be healed. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” With all of the authority and power he possessed, there shines forth from the centurion a sincere and profound humility.

The first degree of humility is to acknowledge the necessity of God’s mercy, and our own inability to help ourselves. The centurion was not saying that Jesus was not welcome in his home. He was saying, “Lord, I am not worthy to have You come into my home because I am such a great sinner.” None of us is worthy to have Jesus come into the home of our lives. Why? It could be because our lives are so dirty and in such disarray. There is no question most of us have a big mess to clean up. Some of us are ashamed that our lives are so messy and some of us just don’t care.

Humility is a good place to begin when trying to reorder our lives and setting proper priorities. Humility sets the stage for how we live and act and how we treat others. But being humble is not easy. It takes a lot of inner strength and discipline. It’s a lot easier to be selfish, prideful and self-centered. A lot of us are guilty of this behavior. We always think of ourselves first and others after. This is not to say that there are none among us who put others first, who think of others before themselves, but they are certainly in the minority.

We all must work harder to practice humility. We must try to be more like the centurion. He was a person of rank and position but he was also a man of great humility and faith. He was also honorable. This man, because of his faith and humility, impressed Jesus greatly. That is why Our Lord marveled and said of him, “Truly I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not even in all of Israel.”

What do you think the centurion did after all this happened? What do you think he told his comrades-in-arms? Do you think he said, “Did you hear what Jesus said about me? Yup, He said that I have greater faith than anyone else in the area!” That very likely would be my response. But I really do not think it was the case for the centurion. Someone with that kind of humility would not even think of saying such a thing.

Jesus marveled not only at the centurion’s response but also at his behavior, his demeanor. Jesus thus used the centurion as an example to teach those who were around Him. It was at this moment that Jesus also pointed to another imperative truth. Consider this if you will: “And I say unto you, that many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness, where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Jesus was stating that gentiles from all over the world will fellowship with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven, but that many of the Israelites (for whom the Kingdom was initially prepared) would be thrown into outer darkness. Jesus speaks of a place of weeping, gnashing of teeth, darkness and torments. What a stark contrast! Gentiles, basically unbelievers, would be sitting at the eternal banquet table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in Paradise while the Jews (believers) would burn in the lake of fire. How could this be? The reason is that some who do not have strong faith but live righteous lives will find mercy with God, while those who profess to be devout believers of great faith but do not practice or live what they believe will be condemned to hell.

For the Christian, this means that it all boils down to a deep, and living, faith in Jesus Christ, a faith which finds its reality in all that Jesus Christ is, does and teaches. In the Gospel of St. John, we read, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved. Those that believe in Him are not condemned, but those that do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God.”

The destiny of every human being is summed up in those verses. For those who have come to know Jesus Christ, faith or belief in Him is required for salvation. Willfully rejecting Jesus results in eternal torment, in a condemnation to an eternity of torment in hell, the place of nothingness where there is only weeping, wailing and the gnashing of teeth.

Jesus Himself tells us that He is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no man comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6). The centurion had faith and was rewarded. He had a burden and went to Jesus with a request for help for a loved one. Jesus heard his plea and answered his prayer. The servant’s life was changed as a result of the faith of the centurion. Do you have that kind of faith, the kind of faith that can bring about positive changes and miracles? Do you have the faith in Christ that will lead you to the Father? No matter how you look at it, no one who knows Christ and denies Him will get to the Father.

As we continue our reflection on this morning’s Gospel, there is something else we need to consider. Jesus had a bad habit of talking to people who were considered bad company by the religious Jews of His time. This is one of the things I like about Him the most! He was frequently caught talking to Roman soldiers, small children, shady ladies, people of other religions and people of other colors and ethnic origins.

Jesus frequently modeled a kingdom and lifestyle that was impervious to prejudice of any kind. Jesus did not see people in the categories we place them. To Him, there was and there is no color, race, social status or other distinction which separates or isolates the people of His Kingdom.

Have you ever heard the story of the two apples hanging in a tree looking down on all the fighting, hating, stealing and killing in the world? If not, it goes like this. The first apple says, “Look at all those people destroying each other. No one seems to be getting along with his fellow man. Someday, we apples will be the only ones left. Then, we will rule the world.” The second apple said, “Which of us, the reds, the greens or the yellows?”

When will we as people who live in the Kingdom of God on earth, which is His Church, understand that in the eyes of the Lord, things like race, culture, skin color, social status, etc. are insignificant. Surely, they are a part, but only a very small part, of who and what we are. They do not totally define us as a person nor do they increase or decrease our value as human beings. In the eyes of God, there is no age. To Him there is no gender. To Him there is no scar, no stain, no sin that conditions or affects in any way His desire and ability to love and give to those who seek Him in sincerity of heart and truth. He gives each and every one of us His complete and undivided attention as well as His love, mercy, acceptance and forgiveness.

In reflecting on this Gospel lesson, I am reminded that, given half the chance people will often crawl out of the boxes into which we have relegated them because of our prejudices. Jesus gave people a chance. In this particular situation, a complete stranger, totally unknown to Jesus, comes up to Him to ask His help for someone who happens to be his servant, not necessarily a family member or friend, although it does appear that the servant was much loved and thought of by his master.

Yes, Jesus gave people a chance. Jesus gave people the time of day. He did not dismiss people or turn them away. He did not make them feel worthless or unimportant. He affirmed the value and worth of every person that He came into contact with. He had conversations and associated with people we probably would not have anything or very little to do with.

Does it not make you happy that Jesus takes the time to talk to you? Are you not glad that He does not possess the blind fears and selfish preferences that limit our views when it comes to helping others? Despite all of our weaknesses, failings, shortcomings and sinfulness, Our Lord Jesus Christ never turns us away or dismisses us when we approach Him. He never ridicules us or demeans us because of our need or problems. He simply accepts us at face value.

Let us go back to the centurion for a minute. According to the religious laws of his day, because he was a Roman soldier, he was deemed unworthy for any kind of help from God. But, he was a compassionate man, a man concerned about others, even a lowly servant. He was also a man who “knew his place.” He understood what having position, power and authority meant and the obligations and responsibilities they imposed upon him. Yet, the centurion was a man of humility and faith. And not just average faith, but “great faith” as Jesus Himself points out, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.”

Jesus sensed and saw something in the most unsuspecting of petitioners that He called “great faith.” I suppose there are times when we would hope to possess this quality that Jesus admired so much. I mean, after all, that would be quite a compliment coming from the Sovereign Lord and Savior Himself.

What exactly is “great faith?” Great faith is totally giving one’s life over to God. It is unconditional and unreserved confidence in the ability of God to do all things. Great faith means that there are no presumptions upon God, no expectations, no demands attached to the requests we make of the Lord. Great faith requires great humility.

We should always take great care not to confuse faith and presumption. In Ecclesiastes 5:2, we read, “Do not be quick with your mouth, and do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.” The centurion knew his place. He evidenced faith by acknowledging to the Lord that he deserved nothing. He did not present himself before Christ speaking lofty and many words. He spoke only what was necessary.

I do not think the prayer of faith is about reminding God of how much faith we have and what we have a right to do or not do as His children. Having great faith means understanding that Jesus’ authority and power is absolute, that there is nothing God cannot do for us.

“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16). This sounds like “great faith” is very confident and aggressive. St. Paul seems to be saying that we should throw our weight around a little bit when we are praying. What he is really saying though is that one of the secrets of great faith is submission to authority. With total submission to authority comes a humble but vibrant confidence that allows us to speak forthrightly from the heart.

If we possess genuine humility, then it is easy to submit to authority. It is not so much that we become subservient to that authority, but rather we reverence and respect it, we revere it and honor it. In other words, we trust the one who has authority over us to do the right thing. When it comes to God, we believe that God knows what He is doing and that He possesses the power to do as He wishes and this is okay with us because we trust Him. Faith is trusting the voice of God when He speaks.

The life of a Christian is one of great faith. To be a Christian, one cannot be merely a person of faith. On the contrary, to be a Christian, especially today, one must be a person of “great faith.” Having great faith does not mean we have “blind faith;” quite the opposite in fact. Our Christian faith is about losing our blindness. We do not obey Christ and the Church blindly. Rather, we trust in the power and authority of God and His Church to do what is in our best interests. In Jesus Christ and the Church, God has provided the perfect means to salvation and true faith.

You see, the Church is the Ark of Salvation. She is the ship upon which we safely travel the oftentimes stormy seas of life. She is the only vessel which can safely navigate the rough waters of this world and get us to our destination in one piece. We often take that for granted. But the centurion, in approaching Christ believed in His heart that the Lord could do the impossible. He did not take Christ for granted. That is how great the centurion’s faith was. It was not blind faith, but a faith based upon what he perceived to be reality and truth. He did not need pictures or figures to prove the reality or certainty of Christ’s sovereignty and power. He believed because the Holy Spirit revealed this truth to his innermost heart. He knew that the gods of this world were false but that Jesus was the true God, the promised Messiah come into the world. His was a not a blind faith, but a confidence born out of knowledge and understanding. But there is nothing to suggest that the centurion’s confidence is a confidence without reason or against the evidence.

No doubt we can find Christians with some really funny ideas, either today or sometime in the Church’s history. And no doubt we can find many people today who call themselves Christian who believe (so to speak) out of habit or unthinkingly. But that is not the issue. The issue is that whatever is described in Scripture, it is always belief with good reason, the faith of the centurion being just one example.

A great many people today say that Christianity is based upon a lot of made up stories; that there is no physical evidence to prove that Jesus ever really existed. We don’t know where the manger or the tomb are located. There are no written records other than the Bible, no documents, no books, etc. They ask why it is that, for example, the ancient Egyptians left so much physical evidence of their existence but that there is virtually no evidence at all proving the existence of Christ. From their point of view, believing in Christ, especially as God made man, seems highly irrational. But to believe that all that has been written about Christ is nothing more than a mere fabrication, part of some elaborate conspiracy that for some reason a great many people were prepared to die for, is just as ridiculous and irrational. Why would hundreds of thousands, in fact millions, of rational and reasonable people, sacrifice their lives for a lie or a story? You see, that is the evidence this centurion saw in Jesus.

Exploding all around him as Jesus went through all the towns and villages the centurion could see a divine power of life at work – a power which in some sense must come from outside the natural world - but in Jesus was now breaking into a world reeling under the shadow of death. And as his servant lies tormented by illness, in terrible suffering, he finally acknowledges his desperate need to know this One with authority over even life itself. It is evidence we too can see as we read these accounts of Jesus’ activities and works and recognize their authenticity. We must note also that even Jesus’ enemies never denied these things were happening. And we can see where they are heading too. These are mere foretastes of the supreme evidence of Jesus’ claims, of his divine power and authority, which are demonstrated beyond doubt through His death and Resurrection, the evidence of which are manifested and witnessed to daily in the life of the Church which He established.

People who have no faith are like a man made of water trying to climb out of the water on a ladder made of water. There is simply no substance or foundation to them or their lives. A person without faith, or even lukewarm faith, is always negative and prejudiced about everything. A person without faith has no hope, in or for anything, especially anything that is good. Without Christ in their lives, all is lost and hopeless, but some refuse to admit to this fact.

In Jesus, and in His Church, God has provided the means to true faith and salvation. This is all we need to know. We do not have to accept and believe all the details all at once. We just have to trust Jesus. The Holy Spirit will reveal to us all we need to know in due time, each according to his or her abilities. But, no matter how long it takes, if we have a deep and great faith, all the things of God will ultimately be revealed to us and we will increase in wisdom and holiness and in the stature of Christ.

“Lord, I do not deserve that You should come under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.” This is what we need to say to the Lord with all humility. If our intentions are sincere when we utter these words, not only will our souls be healed, but they will also be enlightened and filled with the holy things of God, with the knowledge of the truths of eternity.

“When Jesus heard this, He was astonished and said to those following Him, ‘I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.’” May God grant that our faith be as deep as that of the centurion, for people like him will go ahead of the many ‘privileged subjects of the kingdom’ to join Abraham, Isaac and Jacob at the feast in the kingdom of heaven. That particular barrier has been broken now, but something similar remains true. Those with simple trust in Jesus may yet go ahead of those who seem to know much more.

Consider carefully what was given to the centurion today. May the benefits he received because of his great faith be multiplied a thousand times over in your own lives because of your great faith.


Sunday, July 10, 2016

Homily for the Third Sunday of Pentecost

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus gives us with a very poignant reality check: “Who of you, by being worried, can add a single hour to your life?” It is a very true statement, is it not? How much worrying have you done in the past week? Has all the worrying you have done about this or that added any more time to your life? Did any of you get a letter from your doctor telling you that your worries have added a couple of days, or weeks or months to your life? I doubt it. In fact, if your doctor addressed this issue with you he most likely would have told you that worrying reduces your time on this earth. Stress is a terrible thing; it is an insatiable killer.

Are not most of the struggles we encounter in our lives, especially when viewed in hindsight, nothing more than an inconvenience? We live through the struggles of life. We grow through the struggles of life and, hopefully, we learn from those struggles and grow in wisdom and maturity through them. We must learn that life’s troubles, no matter how difficult and painful they may be, are nothing more than inconveniences. Once we go through them, we become empowered. That is what the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us does for us: it gives us the strength to overcome what we perceive to be insurmountable, a hopeless cause.

Someone jumps in line ahead of you at the supermarket. It is not a problem, just a rude inconvenience. Someone takes a parking space that you are about to pull into, that is not a problem; it’s only an inconvenience. Your social security check is late and you have bills to pay. It’s not the end of the world, it is just an inconvenience. You are on your way to the airport and you get a flat tire which causes you to miss your flight. Really inconvenient and aggravating, but it is not the end of the world. Your spouse dies and you do not know how you are going to go on alone. This too is an inconvenience because the loss disrupts and changes your life moving forward. But it is nothing to worry about because God provides and will always make sure that you are okay.

I remember having a conversation not too long ago with a not too elderly parishioner who was in the hospital dying of cancer. He said, “You know, Father, all the other problems I faced in my life were nothing compared to this. I would give up all my money and all the things that I own to only have my health back. All of the rest is meaningless. In fact, much of it was an inconvenience and a burden. One’s good health, both physical and spiritual, is much more valuable and important.”

I had the opportunity to be there when the gentleman died. With his family by his side, I read the prayers of the parting of the soul from the body. I wished you could have seen the contentment in his face. Slowly life ebbed from his body and he passed peacefully into the arms of the Lord. His death could be seen as a tragedy, as utter devastation, especially to his loving family. But for those who have faith, for those who believe in Christ with all their being, death is nothing more than an inconvenience.   

If we are honest, most of the situations that we become anxious about, are also the ones that we have little or no control over; much like these very difficult times we are all facing individually and as families, as a nation and as the Church. But they too are only an inconvenience.
We are all called to be good stewards of all that God gives us and to bring to Him our lives, our industry, the fruits of our labor, our tithes and our offerings. Being a good steward of all that the Lord gives us will cause our Master to open up the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing upon us until it overflows.

We should not worry about things, especially material things. Jesus does not want us to worry. Three times He commands His followers not to worry. For those who are already living in worry, He basically says to them, “Stop the worrying.” For those who are about to start worrying, He declares, “Do not go that route. Do not even begin to worry. Worrying is not going to make things better.”

Jesus’s command is meant to keep His followers from getting hurt. Worry hurts. It affects people and their relationships. It strangles people. It chokes them. It even affects their sleep. It destroys faith. It leads to a lot of trouble.

Our Lord Jesus gives us three prescriptions for a worry-free life. In order for these prescriptions to work, they require attitude, value and life adjustments. They require repentance, the seeking of divine help, and an honest evaluation of our lives.

The first prescription for living a worry-free life is to make the right decisions.  Making the right decisions is not always easy. Sometimes, we like to cut corners. What we decide to do with our lives, with our time, with our talent and with our treasure determines in what direction our live will go. One of the first things we must do is to prefer the non-perishable, durable, eternal and heavenly treasures over those that are perishable, non-durable, temporary and earthly treasures. When you set your sights on the heavenly eternal things, your life here on earth becomes much easier.

We must make the decision to live according to God’s will or our own. This is the issue of the two “eye conditions” that Jesus talks about in verses 22-23. The good eye sees. It is acquainted with the things of God. It refers to a life guided by biblical truth and values. The bad eye is blind. It is incapable of seeing beyond itself. It is a selfish eye. Knowing the truth and deciding to live by it keeps you from worry.

Finally, we must make the decision to serve the right master. To serve the Lord is to live a worry-free life. To serve the other “gods,” especially the gods of this world leads us to despair and destruction. Serving a false master is to engage in a life of deception and falsehood. Jesus Christ is the only Master whom we should serve. He is a loving, compassionate and beneficent Master who desires only what is good for His faithful servants. To be a slave of Christ is to be totally free. Only in total submission to Christ does one experience the fullness of freedom.

The second prescription Our Lord gives us to help us live a worry-free life is to trust the right Father. Twice does Jesus point to God the Father as reason not to worry about anything; He teaches us that to worry and have a heavenly father is inconsistent with our faith. How can you worry when you have God as your heavenly Father? He also chides those of us who worry by pointing out the obvious: “worry is useless.” It is a futile exercise, a total waste of time, of effort, of energy. One cannot prolong his or her life by worrying. In fact, worry shortens life.

There are those among us this morning, and many who are not here, who need to rediscover God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Some relate to God as they relate to their earthly fathers. Absent, uncaring, unable, undependable earthly fathers do not represent God the Father Who is loving, compassionate and solicitous of His children’s well-being and happiness.

Our attitude is often similar to that of the disciples. In the Gospel of St. Mark, Chapter 4, verses 35-41, for example, we read that the disciples were with Jesus all day and were on their way to another town when they encountered a furious squall on the lake. Frightened and upset, the disciples rushed to Jesus, who was sleeping in the back of the boat, and accused Him, saying, “Teacher, do you not care if we are to drown?” Of course, Jesus did care. He also had power over the storm that had arisen on the lake which threatened the boat.

When we let our fear and doubt dictate our emotions, we become unreasonable and lose hope. Christ never lets us down. He will never let us founder in the turbulent seas of life. He will never let the storm overtake us for He Himself guides us through the tempest. Christ calms the stormy seas that crash into and threaten our lives. It is only with the help of God that we can hope to get through the trials and tribulations which are so much a part of our human experience. Only God, and no other, can help us.

The third and final prescription Jesus gives us for a worry-free life is that we pursue the right ambition. Instead of worrying about food, water, clothes and the like, we are to passionately seek God’s kingdom and righteousness. This is not a new theme Jesus introduces us to here. This is a theme which runs throughout all the Gospels. To care for God’s business is to be assured that God will care for your personal business, that He will care for all of your affairs.

So Jesus offers an alternative, a Plan B. “People who do not know God run after these things, but you are different. Pursue My kingdom, make it your first priority. Make it your dream, your ambition.”

The kingdom which Jesus refers to is His personal reign, God’s rule in Christ. So what does it mean to seek his kingdom above all else? First, it means to desire that one’s own life be placed under Christ’s rule. I desire that my whole life, every aspect of my life, be placed under His care, direction and plan. To seek God’s rule in our life means that we want, above all things, that His will be done in our lives, in our homes, in our family life, in our marriages, ministries, relationships, finances, future, etc.

Second, it means an overwhelming desire to see people enter God’s kingdom so that they too might experience the joy and happiness that He has prepared for those who have been faithful to Him since the foundation of the world. To seek God’s kingdom is to make evangelization our most important responsibility as a Church family and as individuals. Our ambition must be to see people come out of the darkness into God’s marvelous light.

What about righteousness? To seek God’s righteousness involves wanting God’s righteousness. It is a gift given to God’s people. We should want more of that. We should want to live in righteousness, to live in the transfiguring light of God’s sanctifying and redeeming grace.

We should not only desire but strive, with all our heart, to please God continually. To live to please God should be our ambition. This involves wanting to see God’s righteousness demonstrated in our world and in the communities in which we live. Ministering to the poor and the weak, to those suffering from poverty, sickness, and oppression, to those who are homeless and unemployed, shows God’s care for His people. These are all expressions of God’s righteousness. Visiting those who are homebound, who are in the hospital, prison, etc. are all expressions of God’s righteousness. When you take care of God’s business you can be assured that God will take care of your business.

So why worry about things you cannot control. Worry is an attitude unbecoming a child of God. Worship and service is better. To worry or fret is a useless endeavor. It is a complete waste of time. To believe is better. If you are living in worry, it is time to make some important changes in your life. Make the right decision. Trust the right Father. Pursue the right ambition. Do these things and you will be greatly rewarded now and in Paradise.


Sunday, July 3, 2016

Homily for the Second Sunday of Pentecost

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

“And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then he said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him.” The meaning of the command, “follow Me,” is very simple, “your place is following after me.”

One of the problems we have in the Church today, and in life in general, is that we do not know how to follow. More to the point, we do not want to follow…anyone. We want to lead our own lives, without being told what to do and how to do it. When it comes to our faith or to the Church, we are quite happy to call ourselves Orthodox Catholics but we give little or no thought of following either the way of Christ or the instructions and teachings of the Church. Who knows better than ourselves what is best for us? Certainly not the Lord and most definitely not the Church! Heaven forbid we should look to the Lord or the Church for guidance or instruction!

“Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” is not just an invitation but a command. God calls us to be His disciples and follow His way of life. He calls us to follow His example. He calls us to follow Him in His work. “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” is a powerful command to live a life of service, of obedience, of committed faithfulness.

It is no small decision to follow Jesus. It is very possible to hear the Lord’s teaching and still not be a disciple, to be a camp-follower without being a soldier, to be a hanger-on in some great work without pulling one’s weight. To follow Christ is to set aside our own goals and pleasures and to embrace the purposes for which God created us. Those purposes include knowing God in a personal way and making disciples of others by teaching them about God in word and by example. All those who are serious about being true disciples of Christ must exchange their affections, goals and priorities for His.

When Jesus called Peter and Andrew their goal was to be successful fishermen. In asking them to forsake this goal, Jesus commanded them to follow Him and He would make them fishers for men’s souls. Jesus did not simply command His disciples to become fishers of men but rather he promised to make them fishers of men.

The common image of a fisherman in our day is of a man with a fishing pole casting a lure into the waters of a stream or lake. However, such was not the case when Jesus called His disciples. They caught fish with nets and by experience they found that their best fishing took place at night. We know that this is true by looking at Luke 5:5. When Jesus told Peter to cast his nets on the other side of the boat, Peter said to the Lord, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing, nevertheless, at Your word I will let down the net.” How did they fish at night? They used a very powerful and effective method, light. Fish were attracted to light.

So how are we to compare fishing for fish to fishing for followers for Christ? Jesus uses this same method to draw people to Himself. In the Gospel of St. John, Jesus tells us, “I am the light of the world. Those who follow Me shall not walk in darkness but have the light of life.” (John 8:12).

Just as fish were attracted to the disciples’ light, God wants people to be drawn to His light shining through His disciples. The light of every believer is the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in our lives. St. Paul stated in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, “For it is God who commanded light to shine out of the darkness who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels; that the excellence of the power of God may be of God and not of us.” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7). We are not the light, but merely the reflection of God’s light. Thus God uses us as His vessels to bring His light to those who sit in darkness. This is one of our duties as disciples of the Lord.

Our call, as Orthodox Catholic Christians, is to forsake all attachment to worldly things and follow Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Forsaking all things for Christ actually brings to us all those things we so earnestly desire. If we are truly able to detach ourselves from all worldly pursuits and temptations, then the eyes of our soul will open and we will be flooded with the light that illumines for us realities yet unseen.

Following Jesus is definitely not an easy thing to do. We encounter so many distractions and diversions. Even if our intention to follow Him is sincere, we often find ourselves being distracted and diverted, going in this direction and that and ultimately losing our way and our focus. It is at these times that Holy Mother Church reaches out to us and tries to guide us back and point us in the right direction, back on the right path. She reminds us that being a disciple of Christ entails a great deal of determination and inner strength and discipline. Being a disciple of Christ is a life choice that requires many changes; changes in the way we think, the way we act, and the way we live. Being a disciple of Christ requires a reordering of our priorities. And, most of, it requires a great sacrifices; sacrifices which must be made a freely and with an honest heart.

Peter and Andrew “left their nets,” suggesting that they left their present occupation. James and John “left their father,” suggesting that following Christ takes precedence over even maintaining close relations with family members.

The requirement for following Jesus is not the same for everyone. For some, it means leaving their present occupations to follow Him. For others, it means a willingness to leave family and the closeness of family and enter into a different way life and manner of living. But one thing is common to all who seek to follow Christ, and that is our willingness to exchange our affections, goals and priorities for His.

Listen carefully, my children, to the statement I am about to make because I do not want you to misunderstand me. The worse thing in life may not be that we fail in our effort to be good disciples of the Lord. The greatest failures occur when we succeed in areas that are not God’s will for our lives and are not true to the clear teaching of Scripture, success that keeps us from pursuing God’s real plan for our lives. The worse thing in life is not failing but succeeding in a worldly pursuit that leaves Christ out of our lives. Any endeavor undertaken with Christ is ultimately doomed to failure. Oh yes, there will be some perceived success and even enjoyment, but as time goes on, that success and happiness will wane and fade. And they will wane and fade because our desires and goals were selfish.

That’s precisely why we must listen to the Lord’s call to follow Him. Like Peter and Andrew, we must immediately forsake our nets, our old ways, our old world, and follow Jesus as his disciples in a new life, a new way of doing things and living. But being a disciple doesn’t mean just being a follower, it means being a doer. A call to discipleship is a call to turn aside from our old ways and devote our full time and entire life to the Lord Jesus.

Peter and Andrew, James and John, in answering the call of Jesus realized three things. The first was opposition. They knew that not everyone would be receptive to or accept what Jesus had to say and teach. They knew that following Jesus would entail opposition and possibly even persecution. The reality of this became more and more a reality as Jesus entered more deeply into His public ministry.

The second thing these first apostles and disciples came to understand was that following Jesus was a mission, an assignment and discipleship that brought with it tremendous difficulty, hardship and sacrifice. They came to realize very quickly that following Jesus was not an easy life. It did not bring them wealth, or power, or position.

When they first accepted Jesus’ call, the one thing that they never considered or thought about was that they would be called upon to give up their lives for Christ. In the end, all the Apostles except John were martyred for Christ. James was beheaded by Herod Agippa. Peter was crucified upside down. Andrew too was crucified. St. John alone was exiled to the Island of Patmos, where he spent the rest of his life in exile and isolation. But they all did so willingly for the love of Christ and the Gospel.

The third and final thing that understood in accepting the call of Jesus to be His disciples was the promise that never fails. In making the self-surrender of everything they knew and everything they possessed, Jesus promised them a better life. Accepting the invitation to that life meant saying goodbye to father, and mother, children and friends. It meant turning aside from everything they knew that was familiar and comfortable to them. All that they had ever known was forsaken and left behind at the hearing of the words, “Follow Me.”

Jesus’ promise to make them fishers of men was significant. There was a never a Rabbi who made an invitation or promise like that to any student. Those who were taught by other Rabbis followed their Masters in order to learn something. For example, Saul of Tarsus, later St. Paul, first came from the capital of Cilicia in Asia Minor to sit at the feet of Gamaliel in order that he might learn all of the rabbinical tradition. That is why Saul was a disciple of Gamaliel; he was learning from him.

But Saul’s relationship with Gamaliel is different from discipleship to the Lord Jesus. For the Lord called Peter and Andrew, James and John, as He calls us today not just to follow Him and learn from Him, but to become something. Jesus called them and calls us to do something. There is a difference between being a disciple who sits at a master’s feet in order to learn something and one who follows the Lord in order to become and to do something. We, like the first Apostles and disciples, are called to do something. And that something is to be salt and light to the world.

Let me present to you an analogy which I believe is fitting, by asking you this question? What is the difference between the Orthodox Catholic Church and all those other ecclesial communities that call themselves “churches?” Certainly, there are many devout, and holy, and sincere people who gather together every Sunday to worship and praise the Lord; who love to listen to the exposition of the Word, who love to learn the deep and holy things of God, and they themselves to a discipleship of learning, just as Saul of Tarsus did. Every Sunday, they sit at the feet of their master, their teacher, listen attentively to what is being taught to them, just like all the pupils did in the rabbinical schools of Gamaliel and Shemi and all the other centers of theological learning at that time.

But the true discipleship of the Lord is an altogether different kind of a calling. We are not only called to learn. We are not only called to study. We are not only called to open our hearts to the truth of God that the Lord tries to teach us, but we are called to become something and we are called to do something. We are called to an active life in Christ and to manifest and share that life with others, drawing them fully into its mystery, glory and promise. That is what being a true disciple of Jesus Christ means and is. It’s a work, a labor of love that transmits the love, mercy, compassion and fellowship of God to those who sit in darkness and longing.

That was the great challenge of the Lord to Andrew and Peter and to James and John. “You come after Me, you follow Me, and I will make you be something. I will teach you to do something. Follow Me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.” So, the four leave their fathers, their wives, their children and their homes; they leave their nets, their business, the old world, the old life, and take up with Jesus, the promise and salvation of the world.

In the Gospel of St. Luke, we learn something more about Simon Peter in the day of that call. After the disciples pulled in their nets filled with fish, Peter falls down at the feet of Jesus and says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.” Why did Peter do that? What happened to him that he felt compelled to do and say such a thing? At the moment Peter saw the miracle of the fishes, he immediately felt unworthy. He knew that he was in the presence of someone greater and more powerful than himself.

Peter, an experienced fisherman, sat in his boat and watched as the Lord made their nets fill with fish, something they had been unable to make happen themselves. He listened and understood as the Lord Jesus cast out a spiritual net to catch the souls of men. He understood the symbolism and meaning of the overflowing net of fish. He knew the ministry to which Jesus had called him and the other disciples, and he felt so grossly and so deeply inadequate and unworthy.

At that very moment, Simon Peter must have though in his heart, “Lord, how in the world could I ever do that? How could I deliver a message like that? How could I ever be a fisher of men like that?” And then he looked intently and astonishingly at those nets.

This morning’s Gospel teaches us that despite our many failings and shortcomings, God gives us the power to do many great things. All things are possible with God and without Him, nothing is possible. No matter what we do, it will always be mediocre at best. Our finest hour, our greatest achievements, are those which are rooted in Christ. It is in Christ that we truly shine and that our works have merit and worth and meaning. In Christ, there is the promise that we can do all things. We must have courage, take heart, and have faith. When we do, great things happen.

When the Apostles dropped their nets into the sea and drew up a great catch of fish, they were amazed and astonished. So great was their catch that the boats began to sink. And Simon Peter, seeing this, fell at the feet of the Lord, acknowledging his unworthiness. Peter saw the futility and failure of his own life and hands. But he also saw the success of a life lived with the Lord. Just as Jesus saw the fish where the Apostles did not, He also sees into the depths of our hearts, to the bottom of our souls, into its darkest recesses. He reaches deep within us and pulls out an abundance of good.

Just before Jesus was crucified, He said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, Satan has desired to have you that he may sift you like wheat. But when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers. I have prayed for you.” (Luke 22-31-34). When Peter denied the Lord, the Lord looked upon him, and he went out and went bitterly. But on the day of Pentecost, Peter stood up, brave and courageous as a lion, and preached the Gospel of the Son of God.

What a glorious thing it is when the Lord who knows everything about us, who knows our weaknesses and failures, nevertheless chooses us to do His work and spread His Gospel. Whatever we lack, the Lord provides. Despite our history of disobedience, pride, lust and all the other things that grieve the heart of God, He still issues the invitation and command, “Follow Me!” He says to us, with great love and intention of purpose, “Stand up! Stand up, and fear not! I have chosen you to be fishers of men.” There is nothing better than to be a fisher of men.

It is an amazing thing that Almighty God can take the likes of a prostitute, or a drunk, or a murderer, or a drug addict, or a thief, or a liar, or someone who is lazy or ignorant, or anyone who is everything vile and villainous, wicked and bad and convert them and turn them into a faithful and fruitful disciple of the Lord. “Follow Me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.”

In the context of vocations, this call and command is directed to all you young men and women to follow Jesus in a more intimate way. Have you ever thought that Our Lord may be calling you to a life of service to His Church? Some of you young men may have the thought of becoming a priest or deacon, and some of you young women may have thought of becoming a nun. This is a noble thing. There is no better life than that of a priest or monastic. While both have different functions in the Church, both share a common foundation in their life of service to Christ and His Church. I encourage you that if you feel the Lord calling you to be a priest, or deacon or a nun, do not ignore the stirrings of your heart. Respond to that call. Talk about what you are feeling with me, your priest and your parents. Do not be afraid of what God may be saying to you. Do not hesitate to say to the Lord, “Here I am Lord. I will go, if You lead me.” The Church needs you, my dear young ones, more than you know. You are the future of the Church so if you hear the Lord’s voice calling you, do not run away or ignore Him. And if you are older, in your thirties, forties and even early fifties, if you too are hearing the Lord call you to be fishers of men, do not delay in answering His call. If a vocation to the priesthood, diaconate or the monastic life is what God desires for you, then you must discern it honestly. My hope is that today’s Gospel will awaken in each of you a desire and intense yearning to discern your vocation to become a true disciple of the Lord and make it real in your lives.