Saturday, December 26, 2009


Our Lord was teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath when he saw a woman who had been suffering from a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years. As a result, she was all bent over and could not even walk. Feeling compassion for this unfortunate suffering woman, Jesus healed her by a simple word and the touch of His all-pure hands. I would imagine the woman cried tears of joy over her miraculous delivery, but the ruler of the synagogue was incensed. How dare He heal the woman on the Sabbath, when there are six other days of the week whereon he might do this "work?" (Strictly speaking, no work whatsoever was permitted on the Sabbath, and healing was technically considered work).

Our Lord's famous reply, however, put the ruler to shame: "The Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath." And if this is so regarding the Old Testament Law, h0w much more so concerning the law of love Christ came to proclaim? The rules and canons of the Church are, in fact, not meant to enslave us, but to liberate us. We have not been given a list of senseless and arbitrary rules and regulations, but rather a path to salvation and the means to follow it.

Christ's healing of the woman was an act of love, and the law of love surely supercedes any strict interpretation of the Law. In fact, the entirety of the Jewish Law has already been fulfilled in Christ, Who has revealed to us a new law of grace. Yet there remain many Christians to this day who believe if we are simply "good" enough and obey all the rules, God will reward us by allowing us to go to heaven when we die. But this is legalism pure and simple, and has nothing to do with the Christian revelation.

Surely the rules and guidelines we follow as Christians can never be viewed as ends in themselves. Their sole purpose is to provide for us the means of uniting our souls with God, and this union already is heaven for those who achieve it. But the biggest obstacle to this union is pride, which is why our Lord so roundly condemned the Pharisees: these people thought they were better than anyone else simply because they followed the letter of the Law. Having been thus blinded by the spirit of pride, they failed to see the forest for the trees: by focussing on the literal fulfillment of the Law, they lost sight of the supreme law of love.

This is why we must all, as St. Paul says, put on the "whole armor of God," because the Devil prowls about like a roaring lion ever seeking whom he may devour. And his greatest weapon is to instill in our hearts a spirit of pride. His goal is not so much to turn us all into atheists, but rather to make us think we are righteous and holy when in fact all of our righteousness is as filthy rags. "A humble and contrite heart Thou wilt not despise," says the Psalmist, and this indeed is the greatest armor of all against the wiles of the enemy and the surest path to salvation.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


In the Parable of the Rich Fool, a landowner has been blessed over the years with abundant crops. It finally gets to the point where he no longer has room to store it all, and so he comes up with a bright idea: he will tear down his old barns and build new and bigger ones. Then, having set aside so much, he will not be required to work anymore. Instead, he'll "eat, drink and be merry," devoting his life to the pursuit of pure pleasure. Unfortunately for him, however, "Man proposes, but God disposes." That very night God will take his soul and demand a reckoning.

"So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." Now the point of this parable isn't that we shoudn't make wise provision for our future and the well being of our loved ones. Surely God expects us to be responsible stewards of the material blessings He gives us, and especially that we should share these blessings with those less fortunate than ourselves. The problem is, the Rich Fool puts all of his hope and trust in these blessings, while forgetting their Source.

Rather than thanking God for His blessings and using his resources to better serve Him, he sees his good fortune as an opportunity to "take his ease." This seems to be the goal of most contemporary Americans--to get to the point where we can get by doing as little work as possible and can simply enjoy life. But the truth is, we haven't been put on this earth for the sake of our own personal enjoyment and happiness. Rather, the time allotted us has been given for repentance, that we might strive to work out our "own salvation with fear and trembling." And since we don't know when God will demand an account of our actions, it is imperative that we live each day as though it were our last.

Just like the human mind in the old commercial, the time given us by God is a terrible thing to waste. It would indeed be nice if our life were like a video cassette: we can pause it or rewind it any time we wish and start all over again. But the reality is, we only live once. There can be no second chances. All too quickly, time passes by relentlessly like sand through an hour glass, and before we know it, we've wasted the best years of our life in foolish and frivolous pursuits.

That is why we are called upon to "redeem the time," for the days we live in are evil and we can all too easily lose sight of "the one thing needful." The time we have been given in this life is our most precious resource, and it stops for no man. For this reason, today is the day of salvation: tomorrow it may be too late.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


A lawyer comes to Jesus and asks Him, "What is the greatest commandment of the Law?" Instead of answering directly, our Lord asks him what he thinks, and he replies, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy mind, and with all thy soul, and thy neighbor as thyself." Jesus replies that he has answered correctly, but the lawyer, "seeking to justify himself," asks, "And who is my neighbor?" For the Jews considered only their fellow Israelites to be their neighbors, which provided an exellent loophole for treating all others as outside the pale.

Now Jesus could have simply said, "Your neighbor is anyone in need--not just your fellow Jew." Instead, he tells a parable about a man (no doubt a Jew) who is set upon by thieves. A priest and a Levite both pass by and look upon the unfortunate victim and pass by, offering no help whatsoever. Perhaps they felt some desire to help, but you see, there was the risk of coming into contact with blood, and this would have rendered them ritually unclean, thereby requiring some rather extensive purification rites, which would have been just too inconvenient. Finally a Samaritan, a member of a race despised by the Jews, passes by. He not only offers immediate help, but takes the victim to an inn and takes care of him. Not only so, but when it is time for him to depart, he leaves money with the innkeeper and charges him to spare no expense in his care of the victim.

Finally Jesus asks the lawyer which of the three was neighbor to the man in need, and the lawyer answers rightly, "The one who showed mercy." Then Jesus says simply, "Go and do likewise." For indeed, it is only when we actually show mercy toward another that the relationship of neighbor comes about. Technically, both the priest and the Levite were neighbors to the victim, but only the despised Samaritan proved to be a neighbor in fact.

God says in the Scriptures, "I will have mercy and not sacrifice"--while the priest and the Levite are more concerned with preserving their ritual purity than in fulfilling the commandment of love. And so we all can easily fall into the trap of thinking we are faithful Orthodox Christians because we keep the fasts, say our daily prayers, attend church and receive Holy Communion--all the while neglecting those concrete acts of love that constitute the essence of the Christian life.

It is not enough to be perfectly correct in all of the outward aspects of the Faith if at the same time we neglect the command to be merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful. For even if we somehow manage to faithfully observe every single canon of the Church--that is, "the letter of the Law"--we are condemned for not keeping the most essential canon of them all, which constitutes the spirit of the Law--love of God and neighbor.

Today we celebrate the memory of the holy apostle Matthew, a former tax collector who (due to his profession) was in flagrant violation of the Jewish Law. Yet when Christ says to him, "Follow me," he gives it all up out of his love of God, while this very same love inspires him to sacrifice his whole life in service to his neighbor. Suffering gladly every hardship in order to preach the Gospel to those who are perishing, he finally dies a martyr's death. So may we all, through the prayers of the holy apostle Matthew, be strengthened in the Faith and inspired to follow his good example.