Saturday, October 15, 2005

The Protection of the Theotokos

(Protection of the Most Holy Lady Theotokos) (Luke 10:38-42, 11:27-28)

At the end of today’s Gospel reading from St. Luke, we hear a woman in the crowd say to our Lord, “Blessed is the womb that bore Thee, and the breasts which Thou didst suck.” Our Lord replies that it is those who hear the word of God, and keep it, that are blessed.

This passage, together with one found in the Gospels of Ss. Matthew, Mark, and Luke, where our Lord is told that His mother and brothers are outside waiting for Him, and He replies that His mother and brothers are those who hear the word of God, and do it, are often cited by many in the protestant groups as evidence that we should not give any special honor to the most holy Theotokos, and should not offer prayers to her. Likewise, they would say, of the account in the Gospel of St. John the Theologian of our Lord on the Cross, committing the care of His mother to the disciple whom He loved, that this referred only to St. John. Of course, our Lord did, indeed, commit the care of His mother to St. John, who took her into his own home from that time forward; but it can equally be argued that the “disciple whom He loves” is also each one who hears the word of God, and keeps it, and lives according to it. As such, the care of His mother, the most holy Theotokos, has been committed to each of us; and it is the great teaching and practice of the Orthodox Church to love and honor the most holy Mother of God.

What mother would not have love for anyone who loves and respects her son? What mother would not do anything in her power on behalf of those who honor and obey her son? I am speaking in human terms, of an ordinary relationship between a mother and her son. If we, being sinful, know how to love and help those who honor those near and dear to us, why would this be any different of the most holy Theotokos? She is worthy of our respect and veneration, because she yielded herself completely, in the fullness of her being, body, mind, and spirit, to the will of God. She is worthy of our respect and veneration because of the virtuous life she lived in preparation for this service, and after the birth of our Lord. She is honored and loved by Her son, our Lord Jesus Christ; and why would He object if we also love and honor her? After all, in doing so, we do nothing more than follow His example. And her response, among others, is to intercede for us who love her Son, and to offer her protection to us, as we celebrate this day.

Brothers and sisters: Let us keep this festival with joy and thanksgiving for the protection of the most holy Theotokos. Let us join her in loving and honoring her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ; and let us give thanks for her prayers for our deliverance, and our salvation.

You and Your Talents

(16th Sunday after Pentecost) (Matthew 25:14-30)

How many talents has your Master entrusted to you? How have you put those talents to work for Him?

We do well to ponder these questions for ourselves, because we will one day be called into His presence to give an account for all that we have done. Now, I don’t know about you, but, for myself, I’d much rather hear Him say to me, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” Does anyone want to be called a wicked and slothful servant? But if we don’t consider how we use the blessings that God has given to us, we have, in effect, buried our talent in the earth; and will find ourselves judged, as was the servant who had been entrusted with one talent.

Because the “talent” spoken of in the parable has monetary value, we can, and should, and must, speak about how we use the material resources with which God has provided us. In our Orthodox life of prayer, and fasting, and struggling to acquire the virtues, there is also the component of giving – that is, of using the material resources (sometimes called “time” and “treasure”) we have for the work of God. Scripture speaks to us of the need for us to give tithes and offerings: giving our tithe – 10% – to support the work and operations of the Church; and making offerings for the needs of others. Are you tithing to support the church? If not, why not? Are you giving to feed the hungry, house the homeless, clothe the naked? If not, why not? This is certainly one aspect of understanding this parable of the talents in our world today.

Consider all that the Lord has given to you. Not sure what that might be? Well, let’s make a list. It’s not a comprehensive list – I can’t give you all the answers! But we can certainly cover a few of the more important gifts each of us has received.

To begin with, God has given you your life. You didn’t have to exist, you know! God, for the sake of His love, has called each one of us into existence, and desires that we might enter into a relationship with Him – one that He intends will never end. And, in giving us life, He has done so in a way that establishes His image in us – a very significant action. (We’ll come back to this point later.)

In giving you life, God has also given you the power to believe. Our power to believe is an amazing one: partly residing in our hearts, and partly in our minds; and being as well an act of our will. We then go forth and act in accordance with what we believe; and to help us in this, God has revealed Himself to us: in nature, where we can see the work of His hands; in Scripture, where we learn of His mighty acts; and through our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, made flesh for our salvation. When we believe the testimony of nature, and the Bible, and of the Holy Church, our belief leads us to have faith; and it is by faith that we are saved, for faith impels us to examine our lives, and repent of our sins, and to seek to be transformed, that we might save our lives.

God, we said, in giving us life, has also made us in His image. This tells us something else about the talents we have received. The Holy Apostle and Evangelist, St. John the Theologian, whose repose is commemorated on this day, tells us that, “God is love.” For us, then, to live in the image, and after the likeness, of God, we must love.
Sometimes, it is easy to love. As a general rule, we love our families: husbands and wives love each other; parents and children love each other; brothers and sisters love each other. Even when relations are strained, or even broken, there is always the hope that the love once there will be renewed. It is also easy, for the most part, to love those who are similar to us. This is one of the things that make the Church so much like a family: we’re all in this together, and have chosen to travel in the same direction along the same path. It’s not as easy to love those who hate us, or reject us, or make fun of us, or ignore us – and yet God loves each one of us even when we sin against Him, or against each other. Forgiveness is only possible with love; restoration to each other is only possible with love; we can only be true to ourselves when we love; we can only resemble God by love. God loves us even when we are unlovely, and unlovable; and if we could only realize some part of the incredible depths of God’s love for us, we would be ashamed of how shallow our own lives are; and be moved to be instead vessels of God’s love, poured out into the world on behalf of all, and for all.

Brothers and sisters: There are no greater riches than the love of God for us. He has given us His love, and has entrusted this treasure, this “talent,” this ability to love and care for each other in His name, and on His behalf, to each of us. Let us put this, and all our other time and abilities into service to Him Who loves us with a most incredible love. Let us love one another, as Christ loves us and gave Himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Taking Up the Cross for Love

(15th Sunday after Pentecost)

What made it possible for our Lord Jesus Christ to take up His Cross, and die for us? Love. It is the love between God the Father and God the Son that enabled our Lord, in His hour of struggle, to say, “Not my will, but thine, be done,” and for the Son to be obedient to the Father to accomplish our deliverance from sin and death. It is the love of God for us, the work of His hands, that caused Him id not depart from us, but rather to come and dwell in our midst, identifying Himself with us completely by joining our nature to His own. His coming and His Cross are empowered by love.

What made it possible for the martyrs to endure suffering and death rather than denying that Jesus Christ is Lord? It was their love for God that led the holy martyrs Trophimus and Sabbatius to reject their high positions in this world and to be faithful to our Lord during a time of persecution. It was the love for those to whom we are joined in the faith that led the martyr Dorymedon to tend to the wounds of Trophimus and Sabbatius during their time of torture, which led to his own martyrdom. Faithfulness and tenderness are empowered by love.

In the two Gospel readings appointed for today, we hear how it is necessary for us to fulfill the Summary of the Law; and to take up our cross and follow the Lord. You know the Summary: “Love the Lord your God will all your heart and soul and mind and strength; and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Our Lord fulfills both these teachings by taking His Cross, an act of love for God and for us, whom God has made His neighbors by living among us. The martyrs fulfill these teachings, loving God more than they loved life in this world, and caring for each other, even at the risk of death. Without love for God, it is impossible for us to take up our cross and follow Him; without love for God, it is impossible for us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

What about us? Can we honestly say that we love God? Perhaps your answer will be like mine: I love God, but not with all my heart and soul and mind and strength; I love God, but I also love myself, and I am still attached to many pleasures of this life and world, and must struggle when the time comes to give them up, and I often fail in the time of trial. Perhaps your answer might be like mine: I love my neighbor, but I love myself more.

Every time we choose the ways of this world instead of the way of God – every time we sin – we show that our love for God is incomplete. Wealth, comfort, power, fame – these lead us to greed, and laziness, and pride; and, ultimately loving ourselves more than we love God. Every time we allow ourselves to become angry, such as when we get cut off in traffic; every time we become impatient or irritated, or we don’t get our own way; in all these things, we show that we do not love our neighbors as well as we love ourselves. What about us? Can we honestly say that we love God? Without love for God, it is impossible for us to take up our cross and follow Him; without love for God, it is impossible for us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

We show our love for God when we take up our cross: when we dedicate ourselves to serving God by laboring to be transformed increasingly in His likeness through the way of life of the Orthodox Church – through prayer and fasting and giving and struggle. We show our love for God when we take up the cross of humbling ourselves, setting ourselves aside, and considering others as more important, and more worthy of love and respect, than we think we are, ourselves. It is not easy; but when we recognize that we are loved by God, and truly believe in the power of His love for us, then the task becomes one that is worth the effort – and you are truly, deeply loved by God.

Brothers and sisters, beloved of God: let us show our love for God by caring for each other, and considering others more worthy than ourselves. Let us show our love for God by taking up our cross, and following faithfully the way of life given to us in His Church. With us, in our strength alone, this is impossible; but we will succeed through the power of His love.