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WEEKLY SERMONS & ORTHODOX ARTICLES
Saturday, June 3rd - 8:00 am
Memorial Saturday - St. Constantine and Helen - Service
Sunday, June 4th - 9:30 am
Pentecost-Holy Trinity - Divine Liturgy
Sunday, June 11th - 10:00 am
Sunday, June 18th - 10:00 am
Sunday, June 25th - 10:00 am
MEMORIAL SATURDAY - June 3, 2017
Saturday is the day which the Church has set aside for the commemoration of faithful Orthodox Christians departed this life in the hope of resurrection to eternal life.
In addition to the Liturgy, kollyva (wheat or rice cooked with honey and mixed with raisins, figs, nuts, sesame, etc.) is blessed in church on these Saturdays. The kollyva reminds us of the Lord’s words, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).The kollyva symbolizes the future resurrection of all the dead. As St Simeon (September 15) says, man is also a seed which is planted in the ground after death, and will be raised up again by God’s power. St Paul also speaks of this (I Cor. 15:35-49).
It is customary to give alms in memory of the dead in addition to the prayers we offer for their souls. The angel who spoke to Cornelius testifies to the efficacy of almsgiving, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God” (Acts 10:4).
Memorial services for the dead may be traced back to ancient times. Chapter 8 of the Apostolic Constitutions recommends memorial services with Psalms for the dead. It also contains a beautiful prayer for the departed, asking that their voluntary and involuntary sins be pardoned, that they be given rest with the Patriarchs, Prophets, and Apostles in a place where sorrow, suffering, and sighing have fled away (Isaiah 35:10). St John Chrysostom mentions the service for the dead in one of his homilies on Philippians, and says that it was established by the Apostles. St Cyprian of Carthage (Letter 37) also speaks of our duty to remember the martyrs.
The holy Fathers also testify to the benefit of offering prayers, memorial services, Liturgies, and alms for the dead (St John Chrysostom, St Cyril of Jerusalem, St John of Damascus, etc.). Although both the righteous and those who have not repented and corrected themselves may receive benefit and consolation from the Church’s prayer, it has not been revealed to what extent the unrighteous can receive this solace. It is not possible, however, for the Church’s prayer to transfer a soul from a state of evil and condemnation to a state of holiness and blessedness. St Basil the Great points out that the time for repentance and forgiveness of sins is during the present life, while the future life is a time for righteous judgment and retribution (Moralia 1). St John Chrysostom, St Gregory the Theologian, and other patristic writers concur with St Basil’s statement.
By praying for others, we bring benefit to them, and also to ourselves, because “God is not so unjust as to forget your work and the love which you showed for His sake in serving the saints...” (Heb. 6:10).
SAINT CONSTANTINE AND EMPRESS HELENA
Constantine's parents were Emperor Constantius Chlorus and the Empress Helena. Chlorus had other children by another wife, but from Helena he had only Constantine. After his coronation Constantine fought three great battles: one, against Maxentius, a Roman tyrant; the second, against the Scythians on the Danube and the third, against the Byzantines. Before the battle with Maxentius, while Constantine was greatly concerned and in doubt about his success, a brilliant Cross appeared to him in the sky during the day, completely adorned with stars and written on the Cross were these words: "By this Sign Conquer." Astonished, the emperor ordered a large cross to be forged similar to the one that appeared to him and that it be carried before the army. By the power of the Cross he achieved a glorious victory over the enemy who was superior in members. Maxentius was drowned in the Tiber River. Immediately after that, Constantine issued the famous Edict of Milan in the year 313 A.D. to halt the persecution of Christians. Defeating the Byzantines, Constantine built a beautiful capital on the Bosphorus which from that time on was called Constantinople. Before that, however, Constantine succumbed to the dreaded disease of leprosy. As a cure, the pagan priests and physicians counseled him to bathe in the blood of slaughtered children. However, he rejected that. Then the Apostles Peter and Paul appeared to him and told him to seek out Bishop Sylvester who will cure him of this dreaded disease. The bishop instructed him in the Christian Faith, baptized him and the disease of leprosy vanished from the emperor's body. When a discord began in the Church because of the mutinous heretic Arius, the emperor convened the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea, 325. A.D., where the heresy was condemned and Orthodoxy confirmed. St. Helena, the pious mother of the emperor, was very zealous for the Faith of Christ. She visited Jerusalem, discovered the Honorable Cross of the Lord, built the Church of the Resurrection on Golgotha and many other churches throughout the Holy Land. This holy woman presented herself to the Lord in her eightieth year in 327 A.D. Emperor Constantine outlived his mother by ten years. He died in Nicomedia in his sixty-fifth year in 337 A.D. His body was interred in the Church of the Twelve Apostles in Constantinople.
PENTECOST: THE DESCENT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
In the Old Testament, Pentecost was the feast which occurred fifty days after Passover. As the passover feast celebrated the exodus of the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt, so Pentecost celebrated God’s gift of the ten commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai.
In the new covenant of the Messiah, the Passover event takes on its new meaning as the celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection, the “exodus” of men from this sinful world to the Kingdom of God. And in the New Testament as well, the Pentecostal feast is fulfilled and made new by the coming of the “new law,” the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples of Christ.
When the day of Pentecost had come they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed as resting upon each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit…(Acts 2:1-4).
The Holy Spirit that Christ had promised to his disciples came on the day of Pentecost (Jn 14:26, 15:26; Lk 24:49; Acts 1:5). The apostles received “the power from on high,” and they began to preach and bear witness to Jesus as the risen Christ, the King and the Lord. This moment has traditionally been called the birthday of the Church.
In the liturgical services of the feast of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit is celebrated together with the full revelation of the divine Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The fulness of the Godhead is manifested with the Spirit’s coming to man, and the Church hymns celebrate this manifestation as the final act of God’s self-disclosure and self-donation to the world of His creation. For this reason Pentecost Sunday is also called Trinity Day in the Orthodox tradition. Often on this day the icon of the Holy Trinity – particularly that of the three angelic figures who appeared to Abraham, the forefather of the Christian faith - is placed in the center of the church. This icon is used with the traditional Pentecostal icon which shows the tongues of fire hovering over Mary and the Twelve Apostles, the original prototype of the Church, who are themselves sitting in unity surrounding a symbolic image of “cosmos,” the world.
On Pentecost we have the final fulfillment of the mission of Jesus Christ and the first beginning of the messianic age of the Kingdom of God mystically present in this world in the Church of the Messiah. For this reason the fiftieth day stands as the beginning of the era which is beyond the limitations of this world, fifty being that number which stands for eternal and heavenly fulfillment in Jewish and Christian mystical piety: seven times seven, plus one.
Thus, Pentecost is called an apocalyptic day, which means the day of final revelation. It is also called an eschatological day, which means the day of the final and perfect end (in Greek
means the end). For when the Messiah comes and the Lord’s Day is at hand, the “last days” are inaugurated in which “God declares: ...I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.” This is the ancient prophecy to which the Apostle Peter refers in the first sermon of the Christian Church, which was preached on the first Sunday of Pentecost (Acts 2: 1 7; Joel 2: 28-32).
Once again it must be noted that the feast of Pentecost is not simply the celebration of an event which took place centuries ago. It is the celebration of what must happen and does happen to us in the Church today. We all have died and risen with the Messiah-King, and we all have received his Most Holy Spirit. We are the “temples of the Holy Spirit.” God’s Spirit dwells in us (Rom 8; 1 Cor 2-3, 12; 2 Cor 3; Gal 5; Eph 2-3). We, by our own membership in the Church, have received “the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit” in the sacrament of chrismation. Pentecost has happened to us.
The Divine Liturgy of Pentecost recalls our baptism into Christ with the verse from Galatians again replacing the Thrice-Holy Hymn. Special verses from the psalms also replace the usual antiphonal psalms of the liturgy. The epistle and gospel readings tell of the Spirit’s coming to men. The kontakion sings of the reversal of Babel as God unites the nations into the unity of his Spirit. The troparion proclaims the gathering of the whole universe into God’s net through the work of the inspired apostles. The hymns
“O Heavenly King and We have seen the True Light are sung for the first time since Easter, calling the Holy Spirit to “come and abide in us”
, and proclaiming that “we have received the heavenly Spirit.” The church building is decorated with flowers and the green leaves of the summer to show that God’s divine Breath comes to renew all creation as the “life-creating Spirit.” In Hebrew the word for Spirit, breath and wind is the same word,
The Great Vespers of Pentecost evening features three long prayers at which the faithful kneel for the first time since Easter. The Monday after Pentecost is the feast of the Holy Spirit in the Orthodox Church, and the Sunday after Pentecost is the feast of All Saints. This is the logical liturgical sequence, since the coming of the Holy Spirit is fulfilled in men by their becoming saints, and this is the very purpose of the creation and salvation of the world.
1st SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST. ALL SAINTS.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit!
I congratulate you all, dear brothers and sisters, with your saint’s day, because today is All Saints Sunday and it is our name-day today. Today the Church glorifies all saints, holy God-pleasers, – both Christians who lived before us and those people who were led by the Holy Spirit even before coming Christ to the earth. Each nation irrespective of its faith has such notion as a saint. A person is usually called a saint when he differs from other people surrounding him, by his best features. Though, as a rule, it is difficult for people to explain what holiness is. But in the teaching of the Orthodox Church this question is solved simply: saint is the one who is connected with the Holy Spirit.
Not a single person being born from sinful parents and leading a sinful life can’t be saint itself, because human nature fell down because of the sin. A person can’t be a generator of God’s grace. The source of grace is only God. And if a person is striving for God, if his striving is sincere, deep, real, then the Lord seeing it, comes to meet this man, and there takes place connection of human soul and God’s soul. This connection is called holiness or eternal life, because everything that is not connected with God and has no God’s spark is perishable, and what is connected with God is not perishable. God is eternal and when human soul connects with God’s soul, the soul of a person becomes eternal.
The Lord has founded the Church not to pray for repose of the dead, to read the burial service or perform services of need. The only God’s aim is to bring all of us to Him, and this can take place by God’s grace, through connection with grace of our spirit. And today’s Holy Gospel tells us how to achieve this connection, how to achieve holiness. But the Gospel was written long ago when there were no saints yet, so it is much easier for us now. We can study the life of any saint, we can see what he did, what he said and we can begin to imitate him in our life in order to achieve the same communication with God. In the Holy Gospel and the saints’ lives we are shown the way how to achieve holiness. And if during our life we want to achieve what saint God-pleasers achieved, if we want our going to church, our communion, studying Holy Scripture, in general, our life to have some fruit, then we must go exactly this way. And if we are striving for something more besides holiness, then our life will be fruitless.
The Lord tells us what holiness begins with, “Everyone who will confess me before human beings, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But the one who will deny me before human beings, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 10, 32-33).
The thing is that holiness is not fixed, settled state. This is not simply the result of ascending from the valley of sin to the top of justice: once you have achieved something and have rested content. Holiness is not an order which is awarded for intensive spiritual work or for successful battle with the angel of darkness. Holiness is, in general, not a result but a process. Holiness is continuous movement to Christ. The movement where stop, rest, even short-time rest are impossible. It goes without saying that any result of such movement can’t be finale, the end of efforts but can be only intermediate, uncompleted phenomenon.
The Church celebrates the memory of the saints to show us living examples of people whose souls were saved, so that we can imitate them in our lives. They teach us how to please God. So the word of God commands us, “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith” (Heb. 13, 7). Glorifying the saints, we, at the same time, call them to pray for us, as they love us, and daring to pray before God throne, they can help us by their prayers in our salvation. Glorifying the saints, we glorify their virtues, and glorifying virtues, we glorify God – the source of all virtues.
There are a lot of saints glorified by their pious and righteous life. According to some church historian, as stars in the sky light all parts of the world and show the way to travellers on the earth and in the sea, so the deeds of saints shine, spiritually enlighten and show the way to those who want to be saved. And let nobody be despaired in their salvation as the saints’ lives show that people of any rank, class, under different circumstances and life conditions have achieved a state of grace. Neither the place nor the conditions save a person. We must do only one thing: not to break conscience and the law of God by our work and life. Amen
HOMILY FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
Sometimes we long for things to be crystal clear, cut and dried, totally black and white. We think that it’s easier to decide what to do when the options are laid out before us with no ambiguity or confusion at all. Unfortunately or not, life usually isn’t like that. There are shades of grey in our daily lives and we’re not always sure what we should do.
So we may think that Peter, Andrew, James, and John had it easy. Jesus Christ walked right up to them and said, “Follow me.” He told them to stop what they were doing, leave the life they had known behind, and become His traveling disciples. No longer would they catch fish for a living; instead, they would become fishers of men who would draw others into the new life that the Savior has brought to the world. They had to leave their nets behind in order to join the Lord in His ministry of preaching, healing, and casting out demons. They had a part to play in the coming of God’s Kingdom, which required a radical change of life. They would now use their time and energy in very different ways.
To this day, some hear that same clear and radical call. They leave home and what they have done so far in life in order to become priests, monks, nuns, missionaries, or take up other forms of full-time Christian service. We may envy them because of the apparently simplicity of their decision to leave the old behind and to undertake a new journey.
But things are rarely that easy. Hardly anyone takes such a step of faith without a lengthy process of discernment, a measure of fear and trembling, their own doubts, and the criticism of others who can’t understand why they left behind a conventional life for rewards that you can’t put in the bank. The truth is that few become rich and famous through radical discipleship. And who isn’t concerned about putting food on the table and the happiness and well being of their family?
Actually, there’s not that much difference between how Christ called His disciples and how He calls anyone today. The outward details may be different, but no matter what our age or our life circumstance, He invites us all to leave behind whatever nets we’ve become tangled in and to play our part in the ministry of His Kingdom. He wants to make us fishers of men who have aspirations higher than simply meeting our material needs through our daily work.
Of course, that’s hard enough to do today when so many people can’t find good jobs or sometimes any job at all. Christ did not denigrate any honest labor and neither should we, but neither should we accept the lie that the sum total of our lives is how much money we have or how much worldly prestige our profession or education may bring us. Remember that Christ did not start His ministry by calling the movers and shakers of first-century Palestine to be His disciples. He went after fishermen: hardworking, common people who had no illusions that they were important or sophisticated in the eyes of the world.
I’m sure that’s not what you learn in business school about how to assemble a leadership team for a new venture. The wealthy and powerful of that day have been forgotten, but the work of these apostles continues and we honor them for courageously laying the groundwork of the Church. No, it wasn’t easy for Peter, Andrew, James, and John to leave behind the life that they had known to follow a traveling rabbi. They surely had their own doubts and fears and faced opposition beyond what any of us can imagine. But they still responded to the call, despite the cost.
It’s entirely possible that some God will direct some of us to new forms of service that will require a radical reorientation of our lives. We may have here today future missionaries, priests, deacons, youth workers, or others who will hear a life-changing call.
For most of us, however, things will be different. Christ will call us to stay right where we are—in the heat and drought of West Texas—to be living witnesses of His salvation through our service in this mission, in our community, in our friendships and families, and in our current occupations. Most of us are called to use our gifts and talents in the service of Christ in our local setting, right where we are.
On the one hand, that’s comforting because we probably don’t want to quit our jobs and move away. But on the other hand, it’s never quite as exciting to stay at home, to remain where we have been for years, to face the challenge of being faithful in our present circumstances. It’s tempting to think that life would be better elsewhere, that it would be easier and more exciting to serve the Lord and our neighbors if we could start over in a new setting.
Yes, there is a time to move or to take on a new ministry in a new location. But the challenge to most of us is to open our eyes to the opportunities for service in the here and now. Yes, familiarity may breed contempt. We may be so used to thinking of life here in certain ways that we can’t imagine really doing anything differently. But that’s our mistake. Jesus Christ says to each of us, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” He calls each of us a radical spiritual change, to the new life of the Kingdom. As members of Christ’s Body by the power of the Holy Spirit, we all have the gifts and talents to participate in the Lord’s ministry, to play our role in strengthening the Church and drawing others to the new life in Christ.
But in order to discern what we are called to do in the here and now, we have to listen. We need the spiritual clarity to hear, recognize, and obey the word of the Lord to us. Jesus Christ is not likely to appear visibly and tell us precisely what to do. We have to listen for Him in silence and stillness. This requires prayer, fasting, worship, and a faithful life. It’s a matter of taking our spiritual lives seriously, of genuinely working at opening our hearts, souls, and minds to God.
If something is important to us, we devote time and energy to it on a regular basis. If the life in Christ is important to us, we will do the same by daily prayer, faithful attendance at services, regular fasting, confession of our sins, generosity to the poor, forgiveness of those who have wronged us, and using our gifts and talents to strengthen St. Luke Mission. You can’t be a good athlete or musician or member of a profession if you don’t practice your skills, stay up to date on your training, and seek to improve. You have to work out, practice, and study; there’s simply no other way. And if we want to be in good spiritual shape to hear and discern God’s calling in our lives, we have to do the same.
We are members of one another in Christ. He is the Head of the Body of which we are members. A physical body won’t be healthy if any of its members is weak or sick. Likewise, our parish will be weak if each member does not maintain his or her spiritual strength. The Lord calls not only particular people, but entire churches to fulfill certain roles in the ministry of His Kingdom. We as a parish will able to discern and fulfill that role only if we all take the necessary steps to find healing and strength in Christ. The point here is not legalism, but the simple reality that we are members of one another. We serve the Lord together. And if we are to serve Him faithfully as a body, we must be faithful as particular people, offering our lives to Him through the spiritual practices of the Church.
As a parish community, we need to become fishers of men. We need to leave whatever nets hold us back from hearing and responding to what Christ is calling us to do right here in Abilene.
The same Holy Spirit who made those fishermen supremely wise and wonder-working ministers of Christ has come upon us. By His power, we may escape whatever holds us back and step forward into the brilliant light of the Kingdom in Jesus Christ, Who still brings life to the world. So let us leave our nets and follow Him through our personal spiritual disciplines and our life together as a parish family. Like those first apostles, let us truly become fishers of men.
THIRD SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
Today's Gospel is taken from the Sermon on the Mount, the first piece of preaching in Christ's public life.
In it Our Lord says that the light of the body is the eye. If the eye is light, so the body will be light. But if the eye is dark, so the body will be dark. By 'eye' is meant the soul, for the eye is the window of the soul. In these words Our Lord says that we are not to blame our bodies for our sins. Our bodies are the servants of our souls. If our souls are corrupted, then so also will be our bodies. On the other hand, if our souls are clean, then our bodies will also be clean. It is not our bodies which control our lives, or even our minds, but our souls. And it is our souls that we are called on to cleanse, cultivate and refine first of all. It is the spiritual which has primacy in our lives. Once our souls are clean, then our minds and our bodies will also be cleaned.
Neither can we serve two Masters, the master of the material world and the master of the spiritual world. One must be superior to the other. Thus we cannot serve God, the master of the spiritual, and Mammon, the master of the fallen world. The word Mammon is simply the word in the language spoken by Christ for 'money'. This saying runs counter to the whole ideology of modernity. Our societies are called 'capitalist', for they are based on investments, stock exchanges, 'capital', in other words, money. Indeed the whole modern world is ruled by currencies, whether the dollar or some other currency dependent on the dollar. Furthermore, the philosophy which guides modern governments and much of human nature is called 'monetarism', in other words the belief in the primacy of money in human life and human motivation. Such a philosophy causes panic and depression both among those who have no money and also among those who have a lot, for such a philosophy excludes God from the workings of society and men, basing everything on the idolatry of paper and electronic numbers.
'Take no thought for your life', says Our Lord. The birds are nourished by God, the flowers grow, and they take no thought. We are told not to devote ourselves to what might or might not happen tomorrow. No-one by taking thought, can add anything to his stature. The Gospel tells us to do our best and then leave the rest to God, to trust in God. Modern life, on the other hand, tells us to constantly worry, to be stressed. Such worry only causes depression, for it excludes God and His loving providence. On the other hand, there is nothing inevitable in the life of those who believe in God and His providence. Even the most horrendous situations can evolve positively, if we let God into our lives and societies. If we include God, then we can exclude worry and depression.
We can see this in our own lives and in the lives of those around us. In the last few years we have all known apparently impossible circumstances and situations, dead ends, which have been resolved by unexpected events. Those unexpected events are solutions which have come from the providential love of God. As they say: 'Man proposes, but God disposes'. The fact is that we do not always, if ever, know what is best, simply because we do not have a long-term view, let alone the eternal view of God which utterly changes all our perspectives. However, 'Your Father knows you need all these things', says Christ. And He tells us that if we put the spiritual first, then all other things will work out around that: 'Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all those things will be added unto you'.
It is no coincidence that this Gospel reading coincides this year with the Sunday of all the Local Saints. Usually this Feast of the Local Saints follows immediately after the Sunday of All Saints. However, because last Sunday was the Feast of the Nativity of St John the Baptist, this year the Church moved the Feast of the Local Saints to this Sunday. This is the Sunday when local Orthodox Churches remember their own Saints: the Russian Church remembers the Saints of Russia, the Romanian Church those of Romania, the Americans remember the Saints who shone forth in America, on Mount Athos they remember the Saints of Athos, and so on.
Today's Gospel is also a Gospel for all the Local Saints. For what did the Saints do? They simply put the Kingdom of God and His righteousness first. These values, to put the things of the spirit first, are the values of the Saints of God. They are exactly the opposite of the values of modern society, which puts anti-Gospel and anti-spiritual values first. By following the Gospel, we challenge all the crudity and barbarianism of the modern world. And spiritual values prove that the only true revolution is the revolution that occurs in individual human lives and societies as a whole, when human hearts and souls put the spiritual first.
May all the Saints of our lands pray to God for us that we may come to partake of their values and their lives.
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