Wednesday, November 30, 2005

"We have found Him" -- "Come and See!"

(23rd Sunday after Pentecost) (Luke 8:26-39)

Today the Church celebrates the life and ministry of the holy Apostle Philip. Philip lived in Bethsaida, the city in which also dwelt St. Andrew the First-called, and his brother, St. Peter. When our Lord met St. Philip, He said to Him, “Follow me.” Philip will follow our Lord throughout His earthly ministry. We hear him mentioned at the miracle of the feeding of five thousand with five loaves and two fish; for, when our Lord asks where bread might be purchased to feed the multitude, it is Philip who replies that they do not have enough money to buy enough bread to give each person a morsel. Philip is mentioned again in Jerusalem, after Lazarus had been raised from the dead. Some Greeks came to him and said, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” Philip takes them to St. Andrew, who takes them to our Lord.

But I think the two most significant mentions of the holy Apostle Philip are the first, which we heard read today as the second Gospel reading, and the last, also from the Gospel account of St. John the Theologian. In the last occurrence, he is with the Lord and the other disciples at the Last Supper, and he asks our Lord, “Show us the Father, and that is enough.” In reply, our Lord gives him an important bit of information: “If you have seen me,” He says, “you have seen the Father.”

After the day of Pentecost, Philip, in the power of the Holy Spirit, goes to Greece and then into Asia to preach the Gospel of our salvation. Many miracles took place as he journeyed. In one place, where the Jews sought to kill him, there was an earthquake, which swallowed up his persecutors. There were miraculous healings, which helped bring many from paganism to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. In one place, the pagans kept an enormous snake, which they worshipped as a god. St. Philip killed it with a prayer, as if he had thrust a spear into the snake. The enraged pagans seized him, together with St. Bartholomew, and crucified them both upside-down, on a tree. Again, there was an earthquake, in which the earth consumed those responsible. This led the others to try to release the apostles. Bartholomew was still alive; but St. Philip had already departed this life to be with the Lord once more.

So we see St. Philip ends his life as he began to live after having been called by our Lord; for, having met Jesus, Philip goes to his friend, Nathanael, and says to him, “We have found the one we have been waiting for, the one Moses spoke of, and the prophets. He is Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph, the carpenter.” He does the work of an evangelist. Though he did not then know what he would know later, he brings his friend, telling him, “Come and see.”

Brothers and sisters, the Lord has also said to us, “Follow me,” just as He called St. Philip. He has given us the Holy Spirit, just as St. Philip also received the Holy Spirit. If we see Him – through the way of life we can learn from the Orthodox Church, and our fathers before us in the Church: through prayer, and fasting, through giving, and through struggling to overcome our sins and to live a life pleasing to God – we have also seen the Father. And, while we may not be able to go to the marketplace, or the assembly, or some other gathering, and proclaim the good news of our salvation in Jesus Christ, yet we can still do as St. Philip did for his friend Nathanael. We can, by being prepared to speak of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ our Lord, and by laboring with God in the transformation of our lives, we can say to people, “We have found the One all the world has been waiting for – the One Who sets us free from sin and death”; and, when they say, “How can we find Him?” we can say, “Come and see,” and bring them here to meet our Lord, even as we are gathered here to meet Him, to praise and worship Him, and to love and care for each other with the love He gives to us to share.

Brothers and sisters, let us prepare ourselves, in word and in deed, to be evangelists, to bring to those in the world around us the good news of Jesus Christ; to the glory of God, and the salvation of souls.

Holy Apostle Philip, pray to God for us!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Choosing Our Place in Eternity

(22nd Sunday after Pentecost) (Luke 16:19-31)

The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus should make every one of us nervous; because, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’d have to say that our lives more closely resemble that of the rich man, who, we are told, dressed in fine clothing, and ate sumptuously every day. (Sumptuously: that means that he ate well. That means a table overflowing with the best food, and the best drink. Something to think about, as Thanksgiving Day draws near.) Every one of us has a roof over our heads, clothing to wear, and food to eat – indeed, even though we don’t consider ourselves to be rich, by comparison to some – the Donald Trumps of this world, for example – we should recognize that we live more comfortably, and with more luxury, than the vast majority of people across time and space. Only a few of us have ever suffered, or will ever suffer, in the way that Lazarus is seen to be suffering in the Gospel today.

Why does this matter? It matters because, among other things, our way of life blinds us to the truth – a truth that includes the reality of hell. Hell is real. The suffering is real. What’s more, God does not send people to hell – those who go there have chosen to do so. That’s part of the point our Lord is making in telling us this parable. He wants us to know that hell is real, that the torment there is real – and that the way we live makes a difference on the great and terrible Day of Judgment, when we must give an accounting for our lives, for every deed, every word, every thought, every desire. What have we done with the life God has granted to us? What have we done with the talents and abilities and resources God has entrusted to us? Have we been good stewards? Or have we been selfish?

Those who show no mercy, and those who give no alms, be warned: eternal punishment awaits you! Those of you who suffer, in body, mind, or spirit, rejoice! For you have hope to receive good things in the life to come, if you patiently endure your circumstances in this life. Consider Lazarus in his suffering. He has no place to live, but makes his bed at the front gate of the rich man. He has no food to eat, and would be grateful if he could eat of the food that falls to the floor in the rich man’s house, as the dogs do. He suffers from bodily sores, and from the agony of having the dogs lick those sores, being powerless to drive them away. Yet in all of this, he does not blaspheme; he does not curse God, or even blame Him, for his suffering; nor does he hate or blame or condemn the rich man for his wealth, or his refusal to share it, or make a charitable use of a part of it on behalf of Lazarus. When he dies, he is met by the angels, who escort him to a place of blessed repose. We know his name, for his name is also written in the Book of Life.

The rich man, on the other hand, is not given a name. He is not worthy to be remembered by God by name. He died, and was not met by angels, but was buried, as his soul had been buried all those years, buried alive in his flesh. He never had a heavenly thought during his lifetime; and so his soul departed, not for heaven, but to hades, to a place of torment.

Which end would you prefer? In which place would you rather dwell? (Well, duh!) So, consider this question: Where is the Lazarus in your life? Who is the person (or persons) you can help by using a portion – and we’re only talking about a portion, mind you – of what God has given to you as a blessing, to be a blessing, to be used wisely in His service? Maybe the answer isn’t as simple as it was for the rich man, who had a beggar outside his own front door. But the season is now at hand, here in the Valley, when we will have beggars on the street corners with their cardboard signs. Maybe you could set aside something to have at hand to stop from time to time and give them something. Thanksgiving Day is at hand; and even though it is not, strictly speaking, an Orthodox holiday (after all, we should give thanks to God every day, continuously), it is a day in our culture where we enjoy the richness of God’s bounty; and there are those who make it a point to provide a meal for those who might otherwise have nothing, or have only crumbs. You can make a donation to a local food bank – in fact, you can do this at any time of the year – but the need is particularly great right now.

Brothers and sister, beloved of God: We choose our place in eternity; and we demonstrate our choice by the way we live. Let us use the time God has given us wisely: in prayer and fasting; in studying the Bible, and the lives of the saints; in loving and caring for each other; in setting ourselves free from the world and our possessions by giving for the needs and work of the Church, and alms for those in need around us; and by struggling to turn away from our sins, and practice in their place the virtues pleasing to God. Then we also will have good reason to hope in the mercy of God, and to be met by angels when we depart this life, and be escorted by them to a blessed repose. Let us live with patient endurance and generosity, to the glory of God, and the salvation of our souls.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Crucified with Christ

(21st Sunday after Pentecost) (Luke 8:5-15)

St. Paul, writing to the Church in Galatia, says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” This is a particularly appropriate text for us, as last week, on Wednesday, new life was granted to four new members of the household of God, four new members of the Body of Christ. Remember the significance of your baptism and chrismation, as St. Paul writes: When we are baptized, we are buried with Christ in His death, and raised to new life in Him. Our entry into the water of the font, being submerged in it, is likened to being buried in the grave; and, as Christ rose from the grave, and so conquering death and entering into life without end, we also, raised with Him, enter into life without end. After being baptized, each of us can say what St. Paul said: “Christ lives in me.” The challenge for each of us thereafter is to make this a reality – to show forth the life of Christ in our own lives.

Do others see Christ in you? If not, why not? This is a part of the challenge, this is a part of the struggle we face as Orthodox Christians: To turn away from the ways of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and to walk instead in the way that God has established for us. We have Christ living in us – but when we sin, we hide His face beneath the filth of our sins. He cannot be seen, because we live in the flesh, and not in the Spirit, Who will lead us into all truth, and will do in and through us good works, if we will let go of our attachments to this world, and the pleasures, momentary and temporary as they are, of our sins. As long as we do not do our part to be transformed, as long as we neglect the way of life that is ours for the taking – of prayer, and fasting, and giving, and struggling against our passions, struggling to acquire the virtues – humility, chastity, self-control, generosity, and, above all, love – His life will be hidden and unseen in us.

This is what St. Paul means when he says, “I have been crucified with Christ.” It means he has lived the way of the Orthodox life: he has struggled to live as Christ lived in our midst, without sin, doing the will of our Father in heaven. There is a connection between the Passion of our Lord in His death, and our striving to be dead to sins – for we suffer when we pursue righteousness. It isn’t easy to turn down that delicious food (“just a little taste, just one more bite”). It isn’t easy to say, “Lord, have mercy” or “Lord, forgive them” when someone has done something we don’t like, and would respond with angry words or actions against them. It isn’t easy to look at someone else and say, “My sins are worse than theirs.” Yet each time we do so, we put our flesh to death – and so we are also crucified with Christ, when we actively struggle against our sins.

It is not possible for us to do this on our own. We need help. The good news is, help is there! We receive the Holy Spirit when we are chrismated; and He will help us, if we let Him. When we pray, we draw near to God, and that helps make us different persons. When we fast, we teach our flesh that it cannot always have what it wants, and we strengthen ourselves for the labor of purity and righteousness. When we give, we set ourselves free from attachments to this world. And when we receive the holy Mysteries of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, we have Him living in us in a most profound and wonderful way – and we are empowered by Him to live His life.

Brothers and sisters: We have been given a marvelous gift – the life of Christ in us. We were washed clean of our sins in baptism; but have fouled ourselves once more by our sins. Let us repent of our sins, and confess them to God, that we might be made clean once more by His grace. Let us rejoice in the life of Christ in us; and let us commit ourselves to the Orthodox way of life, that we might be transformed into His likeness, and show Him forth, in holiness and love, for all the world to see. Let us prepare ourselves to receive Him, and His most holy Body and Blood, that we may evermore dwell in Him, and He, in us – to the glory of God, and the salvation of souls.

Monday, November 07, 2005

"Joy of All Who Sorrow"

(20th Sunday after Pentecost) (Luke 7:11-16)

In the year 1688, a woman named Euphemia, the sister of Joachim, the Patriarch of Moscow, was suffering from a serious wound in her side. When the doctors were unable to treat her, she “fell down” in prayer to the most Holy Lady Theotokos. Euphemia was told in prayer by the Mother of God to go to the Church of the Transfiguration, and ask the priest there to serve a Molieben before the icon, “Joy of All Who Sorrow.” Euphemia was obedient to this instruction. She went to the church; and, when the priest served the Molieben before the icon, she was completely healed.

What mother who loves her child would refuse that child any reasonable request? So it is for us with the most holy Mother of God. She loves those who love her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ; she loves us with a mother’s love. Now, this is a difficult thing to accept, especially for those of us who did not grow up in the Orthodox Church and faith, but came to the Church and faith from a Protestant background. We all need to remember what transpired at the foot of the Cross, when our Lord, seeing His mother and the disciple He loved, gave her into the care of that disciple, and told him, “Behold your mother.” From that hour, we are told, the disciple took her into his own home, and cared for her as his own mother. Who was that disciple? In time and space, the Church tells us, it was the holy Apostle, Evangelist, and Theologian, John. But the disciple loved by Christ is each one of us, who live Him. And this is part of the blessing: His mother loves us, and she does so with the love that only a mother can have for her child. So it shouldn’t surprise us that Euphemia was healed; and it shouldn’t surprise us when we ask for her help, and our request is answered.

Now, what greater sorrow can there be than when a mother must watch her child die? So it was for the most holy Lady Theotokos, who saw her Son put to death on the Cross. What terrible sorrow pierced her heart, as if by a spear, when she saw this child of hers suffer and die? And how great, then, her joy at His resurrection! Because she has known both sorrow and joy in great measure, her love for us carries this experience as well – and so she can truly be the “Joy of All Who Sorrow.”

What makes all of this possible? Love. It begins with God, Who, we are told, is Love. It is the love of God that calls us into being; it is the love of God that sustains all creation. It is God’s love for us that calls us into communion with Him, Who is Three Persons in One Being – a community one in love, as we, also, are called to be. It is love that causes the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, to be obedient to the will of God the Father; and so He became incarnate, which is also a sign of His love for us, for He came to save us from death, and set us free from sin. It was love for God that led the most holy Theotokos to yield herself, in the fullness of her being, to the will of God, allowing our Savior to take on our nature, and enter the world to save our souls, and make us one with God.

Beloved of God, we are also called to love. We are called to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength – with the fullness of our being, as did the Mother of God. We are called to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, as did Christ, Who made us His neighbors by coming into our midst. We are called to love our enemies; as did Christ, Who died for us, even though we deny Him, even though we hate Him, whenever we sin. It is love that heals us; it is love that saves us, it is love that provides for our every need, from the smallest crumb to the greatest joy to the hope of our salvation in Christ.

Brothers and sisters, let us love one another, as Christ loved us, and gave Himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God. Let us love God more than we love the world, and the ways of the flesh. Let us devote ourselves to the service of God, as bearers of Christ within ourselves; and let us show Him forth to the world with the love we have for each other, and for all who are made in the image of God. Let us love one another, to the glory of God, and the salvation of souls.

Most holy Theotokos, save us!

Friday, November 04, 2005

Correctness and Love

(St. John of Kronstadt) (1 John 4:7-11)

The Orthodox faith is rich, and deep, and wonderful. We have the holy Scriptures, in which God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is revealed to us. We have the teachings of the Fathers, and the lives of the saints, to show us how to think, and what to do, and how to live. Our worship glorifies God, and touches us in all our senses: the icons, and the candles, and the vestments, even the architecture of the church have meaning for our eyes; the music, and the chanting, and the preaching, for our ears; incense and candles for the nose; bows and prostrations and relics that we reverence by touch; and the bread and wine we taste. It is important for us to be knowledgeable, and there is a great deal for us to know: when to pray, and what prayers to use, for morning, and evening, and in preparation for receiving Holy Communion, and after receiving Holy Communion, and in times of need; when to fast, and how to do it as the fast days and seasons vary from strict days to “wine and oil” days to fish days; when to make bows, and when to make, or not make, prostrations – the list goes on and on. It is important to know what to do, and how to do it correctly: for example, how to cross yourself, and when to do it. We put the thumb and first two fingers of the right hand together at the tips, which symbolizes the Holy Trinity; while the other two fingers are kept together in the palm, symbolizing the two natures, divine and human, of our Lord Jesus Christ. With the three joined together, we touch our forehead (“Father”, and then lower our hand to the abdomen, just about at the navel (“Son”); then to the right shoulder (“Holy Spirit”), and then across to the left shoulder (“Amen”). Once completed, we bow forward slightly – not before we’re done, so that we don’t “break the Cross” and so delight the demons. We move slowly, with dignity, not waving our hand about, or moving as quickly as we can.

Everything that is present in the Church has meaning and purpose. Every word we say or hear has meaning and purpose. Every movement we make, and when we do not move, has meaning and purpose. We should do all that we can to learn these things, and do our best to do them correctly. But all of these things are for nothing, brothers and sisters, if we do not do them for love. If we rush through our prayers without the desire to draw near to God, for love of God Who loves us, the words are empty and meaningless, and there is no reason to think that God will hear or honor our prayers or bless the time we spend offering them. If we give alms and offerings without love for our brothers and sisters, without love for those who are in need, what have we done, and what have we gained? When we sin, we show that we love ourselves and the pleasures of this world more than we love God. When we sin against each other, we show that we love ourselves more than we love our neighbor – and so all of our Orthodoxy is good for nothing, all our claims to be Orthodox Christians will be charged against us on the great and terrible Day of Judgment, unless we do what we do for love.

Brothers and sisters: As we celebrate the feast of St. John of Kronstadt, who, by his great love for God, and for the people God entrusted to his care, was also greatly loved by them as a spiritual father, let us remember the great love that God has for us, and seek to find His love in our hearts, that we may fulfill the commandment given to us. Let us be earnest in prayer, and ask to be filled with the love of God, for Him, and for each other, and for all who are made in His image. Let us love one another, as Christ loved us, and gave Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God, that we may do the same, to the glory of His name, and the salvation of our souls.

God's Love for His Unfaithful People

(19th Sunday after Pentecost) (Luke 6:31-36)

The holy Prophet Hosea, celebrated today on the calendar of the Church, lived in the northern kingdom of Israel during a time of wars and turmoil and political intrigue. Six kings ruled in the final 25 years of the northern kingdom. Four of them were killed by those who then took the throne; only one was succeeded by his son. Israel was a vassal state of Assyria, paying tribute; and the intrigues and disloyalty of her last two kings led to invasions by Assyria, which ultimately destroyed the kingdom and caused the exile of the people from that land. The ten northern tribes of Israel vanished into history.

The prophet’s own life was marked by peculiarities as well. He was commanded by God to marry an adulterous woman; and their three children (two of which were probably not his) were given names that were symbolic of the destruction that was to come if the people did not repent, and abandon their worship of idols, and return to the true and proper worship of God. The names given to the children are translated as, “God scatters”; “not loved”; and “not My people.” Yet Hosea is commanded by God to love his wife, even though she has been loved by someone else, and is guilty of adultery. The holy prophet is obedient, and redeems is wife from the slavery into which she had fallen, serving as a prostitute. He tells her, as God has commanded, that she is to live with him and be faithful to him, and he will love her and care for her.

The people of God are being told, through the prophet’s actions, of the great love that God has for them, even though they have not been faithful to Him. The withdrawal of God’s protection occurred when they would not repent of their worship of idols: which included the offering of their children as sacrificial animals in fire, making them burnt offerings to their gods. The people of God also engaged in a number of different forms of sexual activities they had learned from the pagan peoples around them, including sodomy and bestiality. They did not repent; and so their kingdom was destroyed, and they were taken away into exile from the land God had given them, never to return. Even then, God promises that He will continue to love His people; and, for those who repent, He will bring them to Himself, and love them, and provide for their needs, as Hosea does for his wife after she has been unfaithful to him.

At a glance, we who are the new Israel, might wonder what may be in store for us, as we dwell in a land where the lives of unborn children are offered up as sacrifices on the altar of convenience; and where we are told that we must accept all sorts of sexual practices as acceptable “alternative lifestyles.” We would do well to examine our lives, and see if we have departed from the ways that God has given us to walk in; to see whether or not each of us has been faithful to the Lord, or unfaithful. Of course, if we look honestly, we must say that we have been unfaithful, for we have sinned – and our sins show us our unfaithfulness, and the idols we prefer to our God. Pride, greed, lust, gluttony; as well as a lack of prayer, neglecting to fast, failing to give alms and offerings, and indulging our passion, rather than struggling against them – all these things point to our spiritual adultery in our relationship with God. Yet God’s promise still is true: for those who repent and return to Him, He will love, and provide for their salvation.

If we will dwell in God’s love, we can do what our Lord Jesus commands in today’s reading from the Gospel of St. Luke. If we are filled with God’s love, as He promises, we can love our enemies, as well as those who love us. This should make us stop and think. When someone hates you, they expect that you will hate them in return. If, instead, we love them, there is the possibility that they may be changed, as their hatred is met with love and kindness and patience and forgiveness. If we do so, we are like God, Who has loved us when we hated Him, Who has blessed us when we were His enemies. And if we strive to love everyone, we are like God, Who is merciful to the unthankful and to those who are evil – as we have been, and are, each time we sin.

Brothers and sisters: Let us repent of our sins, and return to the worship of the God Who has shown the depth of His love for us by the sacrifice He made of Himself on our behalf. Let us love our Lord with the fullness of our being; and love our neighbor as we love ourselves. If we do these things, we need have no fear on the great and terrible Day of Judgment; for we shall be safe in the love of God.

"Depart from Me, O Lord"

(18th Sunday after Pentecost) (Luke 5:1-11)

“Well, when I get to heaven, I’ll explain it to God, and He’ll understand, and I will be forgiven.”

Maybe you know someone who has said something like that – or maybe you have said something like that. It’s probably a comforting thought to many; but, if you ask me, I think that, when we are summoned into the presence of God to give an account of our lives, we will find ourselves unable to speak, confronted as we will be with the fullness of the glory and majesty and righteousness of God. If we can say anything at all, it will probably be along the lines of what St. Peter says to our Lord after witnessing the miraculous catch of fish: “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

St. Paul, in his epistle to the Church in Rome, wrote to say that all of us have sinned, and so we have fallen short of the glory of God. Christ alone is without sin; the only human being to have lived without sinning. Now, you might say, “Well, His human nature was joined to Him in His divinity – so of course He did not sin!” That’s another way of saying, “Well, it was easy for Him!” That’s not true, of course. He was tempted as we are tempted; He knew every human weakness, every human desire – and overcame them. How? I’m sure that the absolute holiness and righteousness that God possesses by nature was part of the source of power our Lord Jesus used to live without sinning. But the greatest part of His power came through His obedience to the commandment He also gave to us: to love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength; and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Above all, it was His love for God the Father that allowed our Lord to overcome sin.

What does this mean for us? It means that we have a path we can follow, if we will choose to do the same. Think about it. It is true that we did not come down from heaven and become incarnate, so we do not have a divine nature by the natural order of things. We are not holy and righteous by nature. However, we have been given grace to accomplish what is not ours by birth; we have been given the life of Christ in our Baptism, and the power of the Holy Spirit in chrismation. And we have the commandment to love God, and to love our neighbor. This means that the only thing that keeps us from fulfilling what has been established in us is our love for the pleasures of this world, and the desires of our flesh. We love ourselves more than we love God; because if the reverse were true, it would mean more for us to choose the way of holiness than the way of sin. We love ourselves more than we love our neighbor; because if the reverse were true, we would not murder them, or steal from them, or desire what they have; we would not speak harshly to them, or about them; we would consider ourselves to be better, more worthy, or more entitled to fame and power and prestige than they are. And so all we can say, in the light of truth, is that we are sinners – and that the Lord would do well to depart from us.

But there’s good news. God, holy and righteous, has not departed from us, nor turned His back on us. Rather, He has come into our midst, and desires us to come to Him. It is His love for us that brings Him to us. It is His love for us that forgives our sins, and blesses us with the grace by which our lives are changed. It is His love for us that transforms us more and more into the likeness of His Beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters: Let us consider the holiness of God, and how far we fall from showing His likeness. Let us, with St. Peter, confess ourselves to be sinners. Let us remember the love of God that saves us; and let us walk in His ways as an offering of ourselves in love to Him – to the glory of God, and the salvation of ou

Persistence and Diligence

(17th Sunday after Pentecost) (Matt. 15:21-28; Matt, 13:44-54)

If we had to “boil down” the thrust of the two readings today from the Gospel of St. Matthew into a key word for each, I’d suggest that these key words would be persistence and diligence. Persistence and diligence. (I hope you’re paying attention, because there’s going to be a quiz later.)

In the first passage, the Canaanite woman has a request she very much wants our Lord to grant – she wants Him to heal her daughter, who is ill. Here is our lesson in persistence: Although she does not initially receive a favorable response to her entreaties, either of our Lord or of His disciples, she persists. By the way, there are two levels of persistence here. She does not stop seeking what she desires – she persists in asking; but, more importantly, she does not lose faith, but rather persists in her knowledge that the Lord cis able to grant her request. It is her persistence above all in her faith that finally leads her to obtain the healing of her daughter.

In the second passage, our Lord tells us about the kingdom of heaven, and of how we should value it. The treasure in the field is the proclamation of the Kingdom of heaven in the world; and the pearl of great value is the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. In each case, those who are wise, when they recognize that these treasures can be theirs, give up everything they have in order to obtain the desired treasure.

We have the same opportunity – indeed, as Orthodox Christians, we are already heirs of the kingdom. The pearl of great value, the knowledge of Christ, has already been entrusted to us – but do we truly regard these great riches as we should? For, if we did, we would know that we, also, are called to give up everything we have in order to obtain the reality of the rich inheritance that is ours. This means that we must lay aside all earthly cares; all our possessions; all of the power and prestige and influence we may have – anything that holds us and binds us to this life, to this world. We must let all these things go, and embrace the Orthodox life – through prayer, and fasting, through giving, and through the struggle to replace our passions with the godly virtues – and we must persist in this way of life. It is not enough to pray once, or fast once, or give once, or struggle only for a day, or an hour, or a moment. The Orthodox way of life is one in which we must persist, if we hope to be transformed, and take on more fully the likeness of Christ in us.

Having spoken of the riches of the kingdom, our Lord then speaks of the need for diligence, when He tells the parable of the kingdom as a net cast into the sea, which makes a great catch of fish. After the net is brought in, the fish are sorted, with those that are good being kept, but those that are not being cast out, thrown into the fire. Now, you may ask, what is the basis for distinguishing a good fish from a bad fish? The fathers tell us that this separation of the good from the bad speaks to us of the great and terrible Day of Judgment; and that it is not enough to believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, not enough merely to say this – for, by our deeds, by the way we live our lives each day, we “say” much more than we express in words. And so we must be diligent to examine ourselves, and to see if what we do is consistent with what we say when we say we believe that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior. This pearl of great value, our Lord Jesus, should transform us, and we should live in a way that models His life in our own. He is humble, patient, slow to become angry, quick to forgive, and, above all, filled with a love for God that cannot be contained, but instead is a river flowing with love for us, made in the image and likeness of God. Do we live like that? Are we humble, or are we given to pride? Are we patient, or do we want our own way, right away? Are we slow to become angry? Are we quick to forgive? Do we love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength? Do we love our neighbors as we love ourselves? We must be diligent. We must examine ourselves regularly, and when we find that we have not been faithful bearers of Christ in ourselves in the world, we must repent, and confess, and seek once more God’s help and grace to be less of who we were, and more like Him Who dwells in us. We must be diligent; and we must persist in this diligence.

Brothers and sisters, loved by God: Let us give thanks to God for His mercy and grace and love given to us, unworthy and sinful as we are. Let us give thanks that the knowledge of God in Jesus Christ has been entrusted to us; and let us so value this knowledge that we may persist in following the Orthodox way of life, and be diligent about examining ourselves as we do so; that we may be transformed more and more into His likeness – to the glory of God, and the salvation of our souls.