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UPCOMING EVENTS




St. Clement of Ohrid
 
WEEKLY SERMONS & ORTHODOX ARTICLES
 
Sunday, September 17th - 10:00 am Sunday service
Thursday, September 21st - 10:00 am Nativity of our Holy Mother of God
Sunday, September 24th - 10:00 am Sunday service
Wednesday, September 27th - 10:00 am Elevation of the Life - Giving Cross
Sunday, October 21st - 10:00 am Sunday service
Sunday, October 8th - 10:00 am Sunday service
Sunday, October 15th - 10:00 am Sunday service
Sunday, October 22th - 10:00 am Sunday service
Friday, October 27th - 10:00 am Mother Paraskeva - Sv.Petka
Sunday, October 29th - 10:00 am Sunday service
 
 
THE 15-TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
MASTER, WHICH IS THE GREAT COMMANDMENT?

But when the Pharisees had heard that He had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together. Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. Out of immeasurable spite this man comes forward to put the Lord to the test. For when they saw the Sadducees put to shame and the Lord praised for His wisdom, they came forward to test Him to see if He would add something to the first commandment, and thus give them the chance to accuse Him of being an innovator who corrects the law. But the Lord discloses their malice, and because they came not to learn, but rather, devoid of love, to show their envy and their spite, He reveals to them the exceedingly great love expressed by the commandments. And He teaches that we ought not to love God partially, but to give all of ourselves to God. For we perceive these three distinctions of the human soul: the vegetative, the animal, and the rational. When the soul grows and is nourished and begets what is like unto it, it resembles the plants; when it experiences anger or desire, it is like the animals; when it understands, it is called rational. See, then, how these three facets are indicated here. Thou shalt love thy God with all thy heart—this is the animal part of a man; and with all thy soul (or life)—this is the vegetative part of a man, for plants are alive and animate; and with all thy mind—this is the rational. So one must love God with all one's soul, that is, attend to Him with all the parts and powers of one's soul. This is the first and great commandment, training us in piety. The second is like unto it, exhorting us to do to other men what is just and right. For there are two things which lead to perdition, evil doctrines and a corrupt life. Lest we fall into unholy doctrines, we must love God; so that we do not lead a corrupt life, we must love our neighbor (see Levit. 19:18). For he who loves his neighbor fulfills all the commandments, and he who fulfills all the commandments, loves God. So by means of each other these two commandments are welded together and united, containing within themselves all the other commandments. Who is it that loves God and his neighbor, but also steals, or bears grudges, or commits adultery, or murders, or fornicates? This lawyer, then, at the onset came to test Him but then, hearing Christ's answer, he amended his ways, and the Lord praised him, as Mark also says that Jesus looked at him with love, and said, Thou art not far from the kingdom of heaven (Mk. 12:34).

41-46. While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, saying, What think ye of Christ? Whose son is He? They say unto Him, The son of David. He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call Him Lord, saying, the Lord said unto my Lord, Sit Thou on My right hand, till I make Thine enemies the footstool of Thy feet? If David then call Him Lord, how is He his son? And no man was able to answer Him a word, neither dared any man from that day forth ask Him any more questions. Since they thought He was a mere man, He overturns their belief and by means of the prophecy of David (Ps. 109:1) teaches the truth, that He is also the Lord, proclaiming His own divinity. For when the Pharisees said that the Christ was the son of David, that is, a mere man, He says, How then does David name Him Lord, and he does not simply name Him Lord, but in spirit, that is, as revealed to him by the grace of the Spirit? He does not say this to deny that He is the son of David, but to show that He is not a mere man, descended only from the Davidic seed. The Lord asks these questions so that if they would answer, "We do not know," they might ask and learn; or if they would answer the truth, that they might believe; or if they could not answer, that they might be put to shame and leave, no longer daring to interrogate Him.

 
THE NATIVITY OF OUR MOST HOLY LADY THE MOTHER OF GOD AND EVER-VIRGIN MARY

The Nativity of Our Most Holy Lady Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary: The Most Holy Virgin Mary was born at a time when people had reached such a degree of moral decay that it seemed altogether impossible to restore them. People often said that God must come into the world to restore faith and not permit the ruin of mankind.

The Son of God chose to take on human nature for the salvation of mankind, and chose as His Mother the All-Pure Virgin Mary, who alone was worthy to give birth to the Source of purity and holiness.

The Nativity of Our Most Holy Lady Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary is celebrated by the Church as a day of universal joy. Within the context of the Old and the New Testaments, the Most Blessed Virgin Mary was born on this radiant day, having been chosen before the ages by Divine Providence to bring about the Mystery of the Incarnation of the Word of God. She is revealed as the Mother of the Savior of the World, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Most Holy Virgin Mary was born in the small city of Galilee, Nazareth. Her parents were Righteous Joachim of the tribe of the Prophet-King David, and Anna from the tribe of the First Priest Aaron. The couple was without child, since St Anna was barren.

Having reached old age, Joachim and Anna did not lose hope in God’s mercy. They had strong faith that for God everything is possible, and that He would be able to overcome the barrenness of Anna even in her old age, as He had once overcame the barrenness of Sarah, spouse of the Patriarch Abraham. Sts Joachim and Anna vowed to dedicate the child which the Lord might give them, to the service of God in the Temple.

Childlessness was considered among the Hebrew nation as a Divine punishment for sin, and therefore the righteous Sts Joachim and Anna had to endure abuse from their own countrymen. On one of the feastdays at the Temple in Jerusalem the elderly Joachim brought his sacrifice to offer to God, but the High Priest would not accept it, considering him to be unworthy since he was childless.

St Joachim in deep grief went into the wilderness, and there he prayed with tears to the Lord for a child. St Anna wept bitterly when she learned what had happened at the Jerusalem Temple. Never once did she complain against the Lord, but rather she prayed to ask God’s mercy on her family.

The Lord fulfilled her petitions when the pious couple had attained to extreme old age and prepared themselves by virtuous life for a sublime calling: to be the parents of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, the future Mother of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Archangel Gabriel brought Joachim and Anna the joyous message that their prayers were heard by God, and of them would be born a most blessed daughter Mary, through Whom would come the Salvation of all the World.

The Most Holy Virgin Mary surpassed in purity and virtue not only all mankind, but also the angels. She was manifest as the living Temple of God, so the Church sings in its festal hymns: “the East Gate... bringing Christ into the world for the salvation of our souls” (2nd Stikhera on “Lord, I Have Cried”, Tone 6).

The Nativity of the Theotokos marks the change of the times when the great and comforting promises of God for the salvation of the human race from slavery to the devil are about to be fulfilled. This event has brought to earth the grace of the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom of Truth, piety, virtue and everlasting life. The Theotokos is revealed to all of us by grace as a merciful Intercessor and Mother, to Whom we have recourse with filial devotion.

 
THE 16-TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit!

Today's Gospel of the talents is perhaps well-known to us - but like any other Gospel, each time that we read it, new points strike us.

Firstly, we may notice that in this Gospel the Lord gives each of His servants a different number of talents. We are not equal to one another - we are different from one another. This does not mean that the Lord prefers one person to another. Simply it means that the Lord knows what is best for each one of us, and He gives, as the Gospel says, 'to every man according unto several ability'. In other words, the Lord never gives us something to do which is beyond our ability, whatever we may demand of ourselves, He asks of us to cultivate only the abilities that we do have and that He knows that we have. Thus, He asks one who is clever with his hands to use them to make beneficial things out of cement, or wood or metal or some other material. He does not ask him to plan huge buildings. He who has to plan huge buildings, the architect, has been given gifts in mathematics and physics and drawing, and he himself may be quite unable to use his hands to make anything. In a similar way, I once met a famous composer who could not sing, and a famous singer who could not compose. The Lord gives each of us abilities and we are called to use them to do something for God. We are different. Our equality comes only from using our different abilities to an equal extent. Our equality is not in the values of this world, but spiritually, before the face of God, in the extent to which we use our various God-given gifts.

Secondly, this parable speaks of the man who was given only one talent which he went out and buried, failing to multiply it. When called to account, as we all shall be at the end of the world, he excuses himself for his laziness, answering the Lord: 'I knew that thou art a hard man'. This is the answer of the selfish man, who has done nothing with his God-given talents, who has done nothing for his neighbour, but has kept his talent for himself, burying it. Unlike his fellow-servants, he has achieved nothing, on account of his selfishness.

Thirdly, this answer is also the answer of the sinful man, who always justifies himself, who always blames others for his failures. Self-justification is one of the worst sins, it is an aspect of pride, for it discloses the human heart which is so selfish, so locked up in itself, that it is incapable of taking blame, of recognizing its own sin, of being humble and therefore willing to improve.

It is this sin which is most harshly judged, for which is promised casting out unto outer darkness and weeping and gnashing of teeth. This day, therefore, we should ask ourselves what we are doing with our God-given lives and our God-given gifts. Are we bottling them up, complaining that others are hard with us, or are we using them, in their different ways, for the building-up of the Kingdom of God?

 
ELEVATION OF THE CROSS - KRSTOVDEN

The Elevation of the Cross, celebrated on the fourteenth of September, commemorates the finding of Christ’s Cross by Saint Helen, the mother of the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century; and, after it was taken by the Persians, of its recovery by the Emperor Heraclius in the seventh century at which time it was “elevated” in the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. From this latter event the “universal elevation” of the Cross was celebrated annually in all of the churches of the Christian Empire.

The day of the Elevation of the Cross became, as it were, the national holiday of the Eastern Christian Empire similar to the Fourth of July in the United States. The Cross, the official emblem of the Empire which was placed on all public buildings and uniforms, was officially elevated on this day by the bishops and priests. They blessed the four directions of the universe with the Cross, while the faithful repeated the chanting of “Lord have mercy.” This ritual is still done in the churches today after the solemn presentation and elevation of the Cross at the end of the Vigil service of the holy day following the Great Doxology of Matins.

The troparion of the feast which was, one might say, the “national anthem” sung on all public occasions in the Christian Empires of Byzantium and Russia, originally petitioned God to save the people, to grant victory in war and to preserve the empire “by the virtue of the Cross.” Today the troparion, and all the hymns of the day, are “spiritualized” as the “adversaries” become the spiritually wicked and sinful including the devil and his armies, and “Orthodox Christians” replace the names of ruling officials of the Empire.

The holy day of the Elevation of the Cross, although it has an obviously “political” origin, has a place of great significance in the Church today. It remains with us as a day of fasting and prayer, a day when we recall that the Cross is the only sign worthy of our total allegiance, and that our salvation comes not by “victories” of any earthly sort but by the only true and lasting victory of the crucifixion of Christ and our co-crucifixion with him.

When we elevate the Cross and bow down before it in veneration and worship to God, we proclaim that we belong to the Kingdom “not of this world,” and that our only true and enduring citizenship is with the saints in the “city of God” (Eph 2.19; Heb 11.10; Rev 21–22).

The first Old Testamental reading of the Vespers of the day tells of the “tree” which changes the bitter waters into sweetness—the symbol of the Tree of the Cross (Ex 15.22–16.1). The second reading reminds us that the Lord chastens and corrects those whom He loves and that Divine Wisdom is “a Tree of life to those who lay hold upon her and trust in her, as in the Lord” (Prov 3.11–18). Again the reference is to the Cross which is, as the epistle reading of the day proclaims, “to those who are called ... the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1.24).

The third Old Testament reading is from the Prophecy of Isaiah which tells of the “city of the Lord” where both Jews and Gentiles will live together and “shall bow themselves down” at the place of God’s feet and “shall know that I the Lord am Thy Saviour and Thy Redeemer, the mighty One of Israel” (Is 60.11–16). Here we have the direct reference to God’s city where men shall worship at His feet; and together with the psalm line repeated constantly during the services which calls us to “bow before His footstool,” we have once again the reference to the Holy Cross (Ps 99.5, 110.1, et al.).

Before Thy Cross, we bow down in worship, O Master, and Thy holy resurrection, we glorify (Hymn of Veneration before the Cross).

This central hymn of the Elevation of the Cross which lasts for eight days in the Church is sung many times. It replaces the Thrice-Holy of the Divine Liturgy. The normal antiphons are also replaced by special verses from the psalms which have direct reference to Christ’s crucifixion on the Cross (Ps 22, 74, 99). At the Matins, in the gospel reading from Saint John, Christ says that when He is elevated on the Cross He will draw all men to Himself (Jn 12.28–36). The long gospel reading at the Divine Liturgy is the passion account from this same gospel.

Thus, at the Elevation of the Cross the Christians make their official rededication to the crucified Lord and pledge their undivided allegiance to Him by the adoration of His holy feet nailed to the life-creating Cross. This is the meaning of this holy day of fasting and repentance in the Church today.

 
THE 17-TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit!

Tired of the crowds and the Pharisees with their cunning attacks, our Lord left the Jews and went into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon. Why? Humanly speaking, he was quite simply fed up with the ruses of the Jews, especially the Pharisees. But divinely speaking, he went to the land of Tyre and Sidon to reveal the Universal Kingdom of God to the pagans who lived there.

These two towns which still exist today were not Jewish in origin, but Syro-Phenician and Greek. In other words they were pagan. Indeed, the woman with whom today's Gospel is concerned was also a pagan, a Canaanite. When she first spoke to the Saviour, the disciples, who were Jews, naturally would have nothing to do with her and wanted her sent away. But the Lord considered that she belonged to the lost sheep of the House of Israel, and that therefore she should speak and so His Divine mission to the 'lost sheep of the House of Israel' should be revealed.

We should note that the Canaanite women recognised that her daughter had a devil. She did not make up some story, full of excuses and blame, that her daughter was ill. No, she had faith and recognised the demons for what they are. Here, we see the faith of the Canaanite woman, for although she had suffered the bigotry and prejudice of the Jews, yet she was still willing to plead for the help of a Jew, the help of Christ, calling Him 'Thou Son of David'.

It would seem to us that Christ's reply to her, virtually calling her a dog, was very hard. In fact, of course, He was merely testing her reaction and thus revealing her faith, a faith greater than that of the Jews, especially the Pharisees, with whom He had recently spoken. Indeed, the Canaanite woman was not insulted by Christ's words. Instead, in all humility, she replied that even dogs are glad to eat the crumbs that fall from the table of the Master. Thus she had shown not only faith, but also humility.

At once she was rewarded with the healing of her daughter at a distance, a miraculous healing, like that of the servant of the centurion, miracles which can take place only through the might of the Saviour, Who overcomes the barriers of space and time to heal. Thus we see that for any miracle to take place, we first need faith and then humility, the faith and humility of the Canaanite woman, who asks for Christ's mercy and help.

However, if we go further and penetrate into the inner meaning of this miracle of faith and humility, we will find even deeper significance.

This miracle occurred in the land of Tyre and Sidon. Now, scholars tell us that the word 'Tyre' means 'beseiged'. And the daughter of the Canaanite woman was exactly in that situation - she was beseiged by demons. Indeed the pagan world as a whole was beseiged by demons whom it even worshipped.

And the word 'Sidon' means 'those who seek'. And there were those in the pagan world who did just that - they did seek, for they were not so engrossed in vice that they could not, like the Canaanite woman, still seek the truth.

Finally, the word 'Canaan' means 'prepared by humility'. And that is precisely the case of the Canaanite woman. For if we are beseiged by demons and we seek, prepared by humility, then we shall find Christ, as did the Canaanite woman from Tyre and Sidon.

Here we should be careful for there are those who seek and do not find. This is because they are not prepared by humility. They are indeed doing the opposite of seeking, they are 'self-seeking', in other words seeking only to dominate through pride and seeking to intrigue through selfishness. They are not seeking the healing of their soul, for in their pride they do not even acknowledge it to be ill.

Today's Gospel then has a universal significance, especially for today's neo-pagan world. For today's world is like Tyre 'beseiged' by demons. Part of it is content to remain like that. Part of it seeks its own advantage in such a situation. But part of it is genuinely coming out from Sidon, 'seeking' and 'prepared by humility'. That part is ready to accept even the crumbs that fall from the table of the Master. And what are those crumbs? They are the crumbs of the Bread of Life, the Body of Christ, the Eucharist of the Church. This is available to all who seek with humility through prayer, fasting and confession. And those who seek thus, will assuredly find.

Let us this day, like the Canaanite woman, also cry out:
Have mercy on us, O Lord! Lord help us!

 
THE 18-TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Today, St. Paul challenges us with this elemental truth of the Gospel—that “he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly.” We’re presented today with an opportunity to consider our attitude toward giving of ourselves, our resources, to consider how much we give back to God from that which He’s so greatly blessed us.

St. Paul challenges us in today’s Epistle to consider what we would call today our spiritual ‘investment’ in our own future. He does so, calling to mind a farmer sowing seeds: A farmer who sows sparingly—only that which he thinks is the bare minimum he can get by with to produce a crop, will suffer loss: bad weather, drought, a heat wave, pests, other unforeseen problems can devastate his harvest since he’s sown only sparingly. The smart farmer, on the other hand, sows abundantly, more seed than just what he thinks he may need, knowing that some of the seeds won’t sprout, will be eaten by the birds, or will be taken by inclement weather.

So it is with us: we ‘sow the seeds’ of our time, talents, and treasure, our spiritual resources, in order to reap a great harvest for our souls. The work of the farmer who sows the seeds doesn’t end with the sowing: he has to tend the crops once they sprout; he has to make sure the plants receive enough water, sun, are protected from pests and weeds. It’s a tireless job.

Those who are satisfied with occasional church, who rarely pray, confess, or give of themselves through service to God, are missing out on the blessings that God has for us as we entrust our gifts, talents, and treasure to Him; their souls become weakened. It’s often the case that those who are sparing toward God and His Church with their gifts, talents, resources, are often those who struggle most with faith and trust in God and His provision in their lives, both physical and spiritual; they are most easily enticed by love of money and gain and struggle with understanding God’s central place in their lives because they don’t realize essentially that their money is not their own, but that it belongs first to God and that our Christian life is sacramental in nature.

Allow me to explain: While warning us that those who sow sparingly will also reap sparingly, St. Paul assures us in the same Epistle that the reverse is also true: that he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. This belief has been lived out in our Orthodox Faith since the beginning of the Church: it’s what we call “sacramental living.” A wonderful example of sacramental living is seen in our theology of the Eucharist we celebrate today: God enables us to grow the wheat and the grapes that we harvest in order to make bread and wine. We offer these Gifts to the Lord in the Eucharist, “the thanksgiving.” He blesses and transforms them into the precious and holy Body and Blood of Christ, the “Medicine of Immortality,” which unites us with Himself.

So it is with our giving to the Church: God enables us to labor, to be productive; we earn a wage for doing so and we give a portion, a ‘first fruit’ back to God by enabling and building up His Church. He receives these gifts and transforms them into spiritual blessings to us, provides for the ministries of the Church that feed our souls spiritually, and further grows His Church.

Though Christ God speaks repeatedly in the Gospel about money, its hold on us, its corrupting of us, so as to warn us and put it back into its proper place, our giving to God in the Church is never just meant to be about our money. Instead, we also are given the opportunity to view our time, our gifts and talents, our service to God in a sacramental way as well.

What we give of ourselves now, impacts our future—just as we hear in today’s Epistle. We build on the foundation that Christ has laid for us in the founding of this local church, which is a part of His Body, so that we can continue to grow and provide for the needs of all who come to be part of this church family.

In our own Mission, the needs are great but so are the opportunities to serve. We are looking to move to our own space in the future. We look to increase opportunities for worship, teaching, and outreach. Just think how this mission can grow if we all give the “first fruits” of our time, our talents, and our treasure to help provide for this church, which provides for the spiritual needs of her parishioners and others, which has served as a ‘spiritual hospital’ and home for many of us these past three years since our founding.

This future is now upon us. We sow now in 2014 that these worthy ambitions can become a reality in the nearer future, assured that God will take whatever we offer him today and bless it and give it back to us to further His ministry, his church, and His work in our lives.

Increasingly, we will need to minister to young families with small children too, while also serving the students and adults whom God brings our way. We need more opportunities for teaching and learning the faith too. We need to be able to provide for our children. We need to have Sunday School move from twice a month to once a week. In a couple of years, we’ll need to start a youth group program to help our pre-teens and teens navigate the difficult waters of teendom, while learning to ‘own’ their faith, which will be invaluable to them keeping their faith let alone growing in it in our present culture.

And, before we realize it, it will be time to build a church of our own—if we are faithful with the gifts and blessings Christ God has entrusted to us. Growing the church demands a full-time priest, but maybe not in the way that you are thinking: The priest leads and shepherds, he pastors and ministers the Sacraments, he equips the faithful and disciples them, but then it’s the faithful—all of you—who are called to go forth to build up this local body of Christ’s holy Church, your gift of yourself, your time, talents, and treasure, your growing witness and living out of the faith is what will grow this church more than anything.

Today, we’re invited to “sow bountifully so that we may also reap bountifully.” Today we offer to the Lord our commitments for 2014. What do you want to receive from the Lord this next year? What is missing from your life in terms of your life in Christ, what can be strengthened? Where does your faith and trust need to grow? How can you serve? Where do you want to see Christ make a difference in your life, through your life and the blessings He’s entrusted to you? If for whatever reason you struggle to open your hand to God or come outside yourself to serve, I encourage you to trust His word, to take another step of faith. Christ offers us an opportunity to take that step of faith today, to come outside of ourselves to love and to serve, to continue to grow individually and corporately in our mutual communion in Christ. As we do so, we’re assured that we will grow as a community in spirit and in numbers, which benefits us all.

Give of yourself and you’ll receive much more in return: No one who sows abundantly will be disappointed by God’s outpouring, as St. Paul reminds us in closing today: “Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness, while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God” (II Cor. 9:10-11).

 
THE 19-TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Today is the Synaxis of the Holy Unmercenary Healers or, as they are called in some traditions of the Church—“Physicians without silver”, which still has a resonance in our day, given the exorbitant costs of medical care and health insurance premiums. We remember this day these Holy Physicians without silver: Panteleimon, Cyril and John, Cosma and Damian, and the others, who sacrificed themselves for the physical and spiritual healing of others. Americans spends hundreds of billions of dollars treating our illnesses and diseases each year and hundreds of billions on prescription drugs that treat the symptoms of our diseases, but do not offer a cure.

The healings that Christ performed in the Gospels, as we see in today’s reading, are complete: the woman with the flow of blood is healed completely of her hemorrhage and Christ raised Jairus’ only daughter from the dead completely, restoring her to life and demonstrating His power as God. Christ God, the Logos (Word) of God, Who spoke creation into being, sustains us all, triumphs over sin and death on our behalf, entering into death as man and defeating death as God, making a path for us to find healing for our souls and eternal life with Him.

But then we read in today’s Epistle the words of St. Paul that can confound us, “a thorn in the flesh was given to me” and concerning this thorn, St. Paul besought the Lord three times to take it away from him and God would not!

Why does God choose to heal some and not others? Why does He permit some to suffer terrible diseases while others enjoy health? Why do the righteous suffer much affliction while it often seems the godless don’t? These are some of the common questions we’ve all heard. It’s another version of the age-old question of, “Why does God permit bad things to happen to good people?”

To some, God may seem ‘capricious,’ unfair. We think of Job, who loses almost everything dear to him, including his children, and then loses even his own health. His wife then advises him to “curse God and die” (Job 2:9). To some, this may seem like the logical response to such terrible pain and suffering.

The fact is, for many, it’s easier to put their trust in medical science than in God, especially if it’s God they’re blaming for their illness and in their bitterness toward him; it’s easier to put their trust in the doctors than in God, knowing that some receive healing, while others do not. It’s easier to pop a pill than to prepare yourself spiritually for anointing in faith; it’s easier to rely on medical science as our culture does than to be among the few who believe in miracles of physical healing, let alone the spiritual healing of a sin-sick soul.

The truth is, God can work through medical science to bring about physical healing or He can heal without science. But the Church recognizes that true healing is ultimately more complex: physical healing involves not only the body, but also always involves the soul.

If one is physically fit but neglects the soul, what have they gained? In fact, Christ God asks this very question of us, “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matt. 16:26). In other words, our physical bodies and our temporal pursuits will wear out, some sooner, some later, but they will in the words of the prophet Isaiah, “vanish away like smoke, The earth will grow old like a garment, And those who dwell in it will die in like manner; But My salvation will be forever, And My righteousness will not fail” (Isaiah 51:6).

This gives us confidence because, brothers and sisters, we are all, to varying degrees sin-sick and in need of continued healing in the Lord. He alone is our Savior. He receives us as we are, broken, sick, diseased, even dying, and He gives us a future and a hope with Him. Christ gives us a new name, a new identity. We become adopted children of the living God, Who was, and is, and is to come. Medical science can fail us, our bodies can fail us, but a soul that is humble, that is open to God’s healing and growth in holiness and righteousness, in communion with God, a person striving to place Him first in life, will grow stronger and stronger in spirit, even if his or her body wears out like a garment.

New beginnings are always possible with God just as is His healing: He is the God of redemption, the God of those who want to be redeemed. He is the Savior of those who recognize their need for God, who put their trust in Him and “not in princes and sons of men,” as we sing at Vespers from Psalm 1. He is the Great Physician of our souls and bodies.

So yes, God can bring us healing, but while faith is necessary for healing, not everyone who approaches Christ God with faith receives healing. His healing remains a mystery. God sometimes allows us to suffer with various afflictions. These crosses can be our patient teachers, if we’re willing to bring Christ into the midst of our physical limitations and afflictions of body and soul. This means, we avail ourselves of anointing, regular confession, reception of the Eucharist, and, daily prayer, a life spent day by day and moment by moment with God the Holy Trinity in mind and heart. Then, by God’s grace, we find step by step healing for the sin-sickness of our souls even as our bodies may continue to demonstrate their mortality.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” If everything always goes our way, if we have everything provided for us and perfect physical health, if there is no accountability for our sins, we may never come to the place of recognizing our need for the Savior of the world, the only Lover of mankind, our Lord and God Jesus Christ. In our weakness of body and/or soul, we can call out to God as our Savior, beseeching Him to save us, have mercy on us; we can learn to entrust ourselves to Him and prioritize the needs of our immortal souls, that is, our communion with Him who is life itself, over all else.

Whatever happens to our bodies, God assures us today that “the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them…” that, “Those who trust in him will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with him in love, because grace and mercy are upon his elect, and he watches over his holy ones” (Wisdom, 3:1,9). May the Holy Unmercenary Saints, the holy Physicians without silver, intercede for us before the merciful Lord for the healing of our souls. And may the same Lord God who healed the woman with the issue of blood because of her faith and raised from the dead the only daughter of Jarius, Jesus Christ, also heal us from our sin-sickness and all our infirmities to the glory and honor of His holy Name.

 
THE 20-TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Here, on the doorstep of the Nativity Fast—yes, that’s right, we’re beginning the journey to the Holy Nativity this Friday—we’re given the opportunity to renew and deepen our life in Christ, to grow in our love of God and neighbor, and strengthen our commitment to living out the Gospel—to “go and do likewise.” Christ gives us today the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

In the West, this holy season is called “Advent,” meaning “the coming.” This title refers to the coming of the Messiah foretold by the prophets and culminating in the miraculous virgin birth we celebrate at the Nativity six weeks from now. But it also refers to the a second advent, or coming—that of Christ God’s Second Coming when He will judge the living and the dead and gather all His faithful who know Him into His near presence.

In the Orthodox Church our Nativity Fast is longer than that in the West, which is just four weeks. For us, Advent constitutes a mini-Lent. And while less strict in the observances to which we are called than Lent and more ‘joyous’ in tone (it’s goal is not Passion Week but the Incarnation), it’s an ascetic preparation that equips us to more fully participate in what the Incarnation of our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ means for us.

We’re given a gift in having the Parable of the Good Samaritan thrust in our faces just before we begin the Fast so we may begin now to put its lessons into practice and arrive at the Feast of the Nativity that much stronger in our faith and practice at the celebration of His holy birth.

Christ gives us this parable in response to a question put to Him as a test by a lawyer: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Now, people are putting Christ to the test all the time, asking questions like, “Why do I have it so tough? Why do I pray and (so it seems to me) nothing happens? Why do I not get what I want, what I asked for? Why does that person seem to have it so much ‘easier’ than I do?”

But all such questions are, in reality, also an ‘opportunity’: if we recognize what’s behind such questions, to make them into a cry for help from God: an admittance of lack of faith is a cry for more; a recognition of ego-centricism becomes a prayer for increased focus on Christ, of praying for others to get our focus off ourselves and the problems we often create for ourselves by turning inward instead of turning to our Savior, the only One who can really help us.

In the case of the lawyer, Jesus aids him in coming to see his own pridefulness; He helps him to gain humility by asking the lawyer a question in return: “what’s written in the Law?” In response, the lawyer quotes from Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus affirms his answer, but in his pridefulness, the lawyer’s still not satisfied: he’s still hoping to stump Jesus so he asks Him yet another question: “And who is my neighbor?”

The parable of the Good Samaritan is Jesus’ final response. But Jesus turns the lawyer’s question on its head: instead of answering the question, “who is my neighbor?” Jesus shows the lawyer what it means to be a godly neighbor, and, he calls on all of us to do likewise.

Jesus teaches us throughout the Gospels to prioritize those people we meet who are in need, both physically and spiritually. In fact, the two are inseparable in the Gospels. Now, this is not some ‘social gospel’ that Christ is teaching, which generally ministers exclusively to the physical and temporal aspects of need. The priority with Christ is always on a person’s immortal soul, on their finding life in Him, repentance from their sins, which, if left unrepented of, would keep them from being able to be in His holy presence and find healing and glory for their souls.

The fact is though that someone lying on the side of the road, beaten and bloody cannot escape our notice, but the spiritual needs of those ‘storm-tossed’ by our culture, ravaged by the ‘thieves’ of the truth: secularism and nihilism, and all godlessness, is something so ubiquitous, we can easily find ourselves numb to their need and suffering. We can easily find ourselves just like that priest and Levite, who pass by indifferent to the needs of the dying souls around us.

The goodness of the Samaritan can be summed up in one word, “mercy.” He showed mercy on the man who fell among robbers. Mercy and love are very closely related. Mercy and love, when they’ve taken root in us through Christ, produce compassion and overcome indifference.

Some of the Fathers interpret the Good Samaritan to be a figure of Christ Himself: the bandages, oil and wine are sacramental images for the clothing of the neophyte at Baptism in a garment of white, signifying new birth, which heals us of the wounds of sin, the oil of Chrismation, gives us new life going forward in the Holy Spirit by whom we are sealed, the wine, which is the communion of the divine Blood of Christ, deifies us and leads us to eternal life with Christ God.

Now here’s a challenge to us: do we love enough to address with the love and truth of Christ the evil we see harming those around us? Are we willing to go that extra mile and really address the core issues in our own life, so we too can become an inspiration, an example, and a vehicle through which God can work in the lives of those around us?

We don’t have to be already healed to minister to others; we do need, however, to be heaLING. In other words, we have to be taking our spiritual medicine if we’re going to have credibility with others whom we urge to do the same. We need to fight to make use of the tools of salvation Christ gives us if we’re to impact the world and the people around us with the Gospel of Christ.

When we come outside ourselves, our own struggles and problems to love and care for those around us in body and in soul, when we really strive to love and serve, when we speak the Truth to those who need to hear it by authentically struggling to live that Truth—where else are they going to hear it if not from us in the Church—then we’re assured that God will always supply in us what is lacking; He’ll use such opportunities to work in us and through us.

Having finished His parable, Jesus asks the lawyer, “which of these was a neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” And the lawyer responds, “he who showed mercy.” Christ says, “Go and do the same.” Pray to God for such opportunities to be used; pray for eyes of mercy. He who is Himself the Good Samaritan and calls on us to be the same, will give them to us!

 
VENERABLE PARASCEVA (SVETA PETKA)

Saint Paraskeva the New was born into a pious family, living during the eleventh century in the village of Epivato, between Silistra and Constantinople. Her older brother Euthymius became a monk, and later he was consecrated as Bishop of Matidia. One day, while attending the divine services, the words of the Lord pierced her heart like an arrow, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself” (Mt. 16:24). From that time she began to distribute her clothing to the needy, for which reason she endured much grief from her family.

Upon the death of her parents, the saint was tonsured into monasticism at the age of fifteen. She withdrew to the Jordanian desert where she lived the ascetic life until she reached the age of twenty-five. An angel of the Lord ordered her to return to her homeland, so she stayed at Epivato for two years.

St Paraskeva departed to the Lord at the age of twenty-seven, and was buried near the sea. Because of the many miracles which took place at her grave, her relics were uncovered and found to be incorrupt. They were placed in the church of the Holy Apostles at Epivato, where they remained for about 175 years.

St Paraskeva’s relics were moved to Trnovo, Bulgaria in 1223 and placed in the cathedral. Patriarch Euthymius wrote her Life and established the day of her commemoration as October 14. The Turks occupied Bulgaria in 1391, and her relics were given to Mircea the Elder, Prince of the Romanian Land (one of the districts of Romania). In 1394 the relics were given to Princess Angelina of Serbia (July 30), who brought them to Belgrade. For 120 years St Paraskeva’s relics rested in Constantinople in the patriarchal cathedral.

On June 13, 1641, her incorrupt relics were transferred to the monastery of the Three Hierarchs at Jassy in Rumania, where many healings took place. On December 26, 1888, after being rescued from a fire, St Parasceva’s relics were moved again. This time they were placed in the new cathedral at Jassy, where they remain until the present day.

 
THE 21ST SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit!

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ today we heard the familiar parable of the sower in the Gospel. When our Lord concludes this parable He says “he that has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Luke 8:8) Jesus says this to indicate to those present that there is a deeper meaning to the story then what is on the surface; just seed being scattered and sprouting.

The disciples realize this and ask “What might this parable be?” (Luke 8:9) The Lord replies to this question with “Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.” (Luke 8:10)

In this response our Lord Jesus Christ makes a distinction between His followers and those that just hear His words and see His works. God bestows His grace upon those that choose to follow Him. When we choose to follow Him our spiritual eyes are opened so that we may know the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. As followers of Christ our God, He may at times speak to us in very direct terms. The Gospel of Saint John reminds us of this in Christ’s last conversation with His disciples before His death; “These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs: but the time comes, when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs.” (John 16:25)

What is the deeper meaning of this parable?

“A sower went out to sow his seed” (Luke 8:5) is the start of the parable. The sower is Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ who left His eternal existence with the Father and Holy Spirit to enter into time. The incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ, went out into His world. The world that He created out of nothingness as described in the Book of Genesis.

The field that our Lord went out to is that of human souls. He went out into the field of human souls to sow the seed of salvation. God desires our salvation as it says in Saint Paul’s first epistle to Timothy; He “will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” (1Timothy 2:4) Additionally, God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) The seed of salvation is sown into the souls of men through Christ’s teachings.

The parable tells us that three parts of the seed is lost. The parable makes it clear that the failure of this seed is not the fault of sower or the seed but of the ground upon which it fell. We need to be willing to cooperate with God in order to receive salvation. This means that we must abandon our self will and follow Christ in order to receive salvation. We are given an example of this when our Lord calls His disciples James and John. They leave their work and their father for Christ when He says the words “Follow Me.” (Matthew 8:22)

The lost seed in the parable does not mean that God will not benefit from making His word known to those that will not receive it. We only need to look to the parable of talents to see that even in the case of the servant that made no use of the talent given to him that the Lord still received that talent back. This is further demonstrated for us when Jesus sends His disciples out to teach giving them the following instructions “And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you.” (Matthew 10:13)

So my dear brothers and sisters in Christ be the good soil that receives the seed of God’s salvation so that you may have the ears to hear and the eyes to see the mysteries of the Kingdom of God.


Archbishop †Stefan
Archbishop †Stefan




Mitropolit †Metodij
Mitropolit †Metodij




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