Saturday, August 29, 2009


A culture of entitlement has arisen in contemporary America. Many feel that they are entitled, by the mere fact of their existense, to whatever they can get. Their only concern is that their own egotistical needs and desires be fulfilled, sooner rather than later. Our schools encourage this attitude by striving to bolster the student's self-esteem without reference to any actual accomplishment or success.

In the Gospel parable, a servant owes his master an incredible sum of money (somewhere in the neighborhood of 52 million dollars). When the master demands the money and threatens to sell the servant and his family into slavery, the servant falls at his feet and beseeches him to give him more time (though it's obvious there's no way he could ever pay back so great a debt). Then the master has compassion on his servant and forgives him everything.

Now one would think that having been forgiven so much and recued from sure and certain ruin, the servant would be overwhelmed by gratitude toward his master and a burning desire to show a similar compassion toward others. Such, however, is not the case. Having taken leave of his master, he immediately encounters a fellow servant who owes him a paltry sum (perhaps $44) and grasps him by the neck, demanding the money. No doubt he feels entitled to the master's compassion, but he feels no obligation whatsoever to "pass it on." When the fellow servant begs him for more time, he hardens his heart and has the poor wretch thrown into prison.

When expressed in such simple and obvious terms, it is easy for us to judge and condemn the wicked servant for his ingratitude and lack of compassion. How could he have forgotten so quickly how he himself had been shown mercy and saved from the most dire circumstances? But the fact is, we ourselves have been forgiven so much more than a mere temporal debt. Through our Lord's voluntary death on the Cross, we have been forgiven the crushing burden of our sins and saved (if we so choose) from an eternal hell of our own making. Nor is this all: Christ offers us the gift of eternal life in His heavenly Kingdom.

Like the servant in the parable, however, we're quick to forget (or never really reflect upon) all that the Master has done for us. How often do we become angry and make harsh judgments against our neighbor, take offence at the slightest provocation, harden our hearts and refuse forgiveness toward those who have grieved us in any way? And this happens because we so very self-centered and consider our own needs and desires to be more important than those of others. We lack that genuine humility without which it is impossible to be saved. Nor do we feel truly grateful for God's great gift of salvation, because deep down we feel entitled to it. Of course we pay lip service to our own sins and imperfections, but in our hearts we feel we're nearly perfect, or if not, we darn well should be.

This is why it is so hard to forgive: true forgiveness requires a humble heart that regards our neighbor (even our worst enemy) as more deserving than we are. If we can indeed say with St. Paul that we are the "chief of sinners" while fully realizing that Christ nevertheless suffered and died for our salvation, how can we not forgive from the bottom of our hearts all those who have in any way offended us?

Saturday, August 22, 2009


When our Lord was transfigured on the mount, Peter said "Lord, it is good for us to be here: if Thou wilt, let us make three tabernacles, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." There are, incidentally, no high mountains in Israel. Tabor was high in a spiritual sense: here was revealed a profound mystery that transcends time and space and all this-worldly conceptions. This was why Peter spoke not knowing what he said: his mind could not grasp what was happening and no words could express this experience "not of this world."

So he sought to somehow contain this experience so that it could be comprehended in earthly terms: they would build material structures to memorialize and make concrete the occasion. But then, while he was yet speaking, a cloud overshadowed them and there was a Voice from heaven, God the Father confirming that Christ was indeed His beloved Son. At this, the disciples were cast to the earth, overcome with awe by the incomprehensible event. Indeed, the human heart can not conceive of the good things God has in store for those who love Him and who persevere on the path to salvation.

Until our hearts have been purified and our spiritual eyes opened to divine revelation, we cannot see God face to face, but only, as St. Paul says, as though "through a glass darkly." Without first hand experience of God and the spiritual world, we remain earth bound and our understanding is confined and limited to earthly categories. But as our Lord tells the Apostle Thomas, "Blessed is he who has not seen, and yet believes."

Though we may be mere beginners on the spiritual path, we have the witness of the Scripture and the saints to strengthen and sustain us. By faith (which is the assurance of things not seen) we can become partakers of the divine nature even in this life, ever striving to be made worthy of the transforming power of God's grace.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


When our Lord returned from the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James and John, he found the father of a demoniac complaining that His other disciples were unable to cure his son. (This man thought, falsely, that his son was somehow afflicted by the influence of the moon, hence the term "lunatic"). Christ first castigates the father's lack of faith, bemoaning the "faithless and perverse generation" to which he belongs, then casts out the demon afflicting the boy by a simple word.

Later the disciples ask the Lord in private why they were unable to cast out the demon, and He replies that if one has faith as a grain of mustard seed, one can move mountains. "Howbeit," He adds significantly, "this kind can come out by nought but prayer and fasting." Now the faith of which our Lord speaks is not the simple faith of believing in God, and that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity. He refers rather to that faith which is needed to work miracles. Indeed, simple belief is easy and costs nothing. Even the demons believe, and tremble. That faith that can move mountains, on the other hand, is born of boldness before God, which is given to those who strive always to do His will. Such boldness requires a great struggle to purify the heart (by God's grace) of every sinful passion, that we may not only believe in God, but to know Him as our heavenly Father.

As Christ points out elsewhere, what father would give his child a stone when he asks for bread, or a serpent when he asks for a fish? Perhaps a very cruel and sadistic father might, but surely our merciful Father in heaven will not deny His children any legitimate request. The problem is, though, we are all part of that faithless and perverse generation that professes belief in God but does not truly know Him. So it is we are repeatedly thrown into the fire of the passions and drowned in the waters of worldly cares and concerns. We think it is enough to profess God with our lips while living our lives not in order to please God, but rather to please ourselves. Because our prayers are half-hearted and our fasting mostly superficial, we make ourselves the playthings of demons.

Truly our faith could move mountains, but instead we are crushed by a mountain darkness, doubt and despair. We do not even truly believe all the teachings and traditions of the Church. Today we celebrate the memory of the venerable father Anthony of Rome, a true ascetic who achieved sanctity through prayer and fasting. Through God's strange providence, he traveled all the way from Rome to Novgorod on a rock floating upon the sea. Though this no doubt sounds far fetched according to our modern rational understanding, this is what the Church teaches, and it behooves us to believe without doubt that this is truly what happened. Indeed, all things whatsoever are possible to the God Who created from nothing all things visible and invisible.

When shall we awaken from the deadly slumber into which we have fallen? Lo, Christ is standing even now at the very door of our heart waiting to come in, but we are too distracted by the things of this world to hear Him knocking. "Put not your trust in princes, in the sons of men in whom there is no salvation." Put your trust only in the living God Who can accomplish for us whatsoever we ask--even our eternal salvation in His heavenly Kingdom.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


In our Lord's parable, there are ten virgins--five wise and five foolish--awaiting the arrival of the Bridegroom. After a long wait, they all fall asleep--only to be awakened at midnight by someone crying, "The Bridegroom has arrived!" Abruptly they awaken in the darkness, for their lamps have gone out. Fortunately the wise virgins remembered to bring extra oil, which the foolish ones neglected to do. So the foolish ones ask the wise ones to share their oil, but the wise ones say, "Not so! If we share with you, we may not have enough for ourselves. You'd better go out and buy some oil for yourselves." Which is precisely what they do, but where at that hour could they find a seller of oil willing to sell? Nevertheless, they apparently found the oil somewhere. Unfortunately by the time they returned, the Bridegroom had taken the five wise virgins into the bridal chamber and closed the door. Nor would He open, though the foolish ones pleaded. "I know you not," was all He would say.

"Watch, therefore," says our Lord, "for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of Man cometh." Truly the day of salvation is now, while the door is still open for all who would enter. Truly the door of salvation will close for each of us individually at the moment of our death, and for the whole world when our Lord returns at the end of time to judge the living and the dead. What, then, is the oil in the lamps? A common interpretation of the Church Fathers is that the oil represents the virtues, but I would suggest another way of looking at it: the oil represents our good disposition. Good deeds in themselves, after all, can be merely an outward show of piety, a mask to conceal our inner coldness toward God and one's neighbor. On the other hand, authentic good deeds spring naturally and spontaneously from a good disposition.

The door of salvation opens wide to those who have their hearts in the right place, hearts that our softened by grace and turned toward God in love, ever zealous to do His will. A good heart is ever vigilant lest we lose our way on the path of salvation and fall prey to the Devil's deceptions. Truly we must be on guard at all times and in all places against carelessness and deadly complacency, lest like the foolish virgins we find our lamps burning low on the day of reckoning.

What this means is that we should resolve to live each day as though it were our last, ever fearful that we should find ourselves unexpectantly shut out from the Kingdom. Let us strive to lay aside all worldly distractions and foolish desires and set our hearts on the "one thing needful"--our eternal salvation in God's heavenly Kingdom. Ever beware lest we be cast into that outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.