Tuesday, February 25, 2014


In today's Gospel, we read how when the Lord returns with all his angels on that last day at the end of time, "all nations" shall be gathered before His Throne to be judged.  On that great and dreadful day, he shall separate the "sheep" from the "goats."  On His right hand shall stand those who have fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, given hospitality to strangers, visited the sick and those in prison.  These are the sheep who shall be blessed to enter into God's eternal Kingdom, because what they have done on behalf of the least of our Lord's brethren, they have done unto Him.  Those on His left hand--the goats--shall be cast into the eternal fires... because they have failed to perform these practical acts of charity.

Now it would be easy and tempting to take this passage as a "to do" list of those good deeds we must do if we desire to be saved--but such an interpretation would constitute a misunderstanding of our Lord's intent.  These are, indeed, all virtuous acts pleasing to God--but only if they truly are works of charity--that is, an outward expression of our love toward God and neighbor.  As St. Paul writes, we are saved by faith, not works.  Nevertheless, he also insists that "faith without works is dead."  God, you see, judges us not primarily according to our outward actions, but rather according to the inner disposition of our heart.

Our Lord in no way implies in this passage that we need not bother with prayer, fasting and regular participation in the  sacramental life of the Church: these are, indeed, essential means for the softening of our hearts, preparing them to receive the fullness of God's love--without which all of our good deeds are done in vain.

Good deeds done apart from God--not as a pure and spontaneous expression of the love that dwells within us--will quickly become a source of pride and a means to acquire the admiration of our fellow man.  When this happens, we have already received our reward. 

Strive, then, to acquire the love of God in your heart, and all else will follow as day follows night.  Only then shall we begin to be merciful, even as our heavenly Father is merciful.  For truly, the only insurmountable obstacle to our salvation is our failure to love.  If we truly love God with all our heart, soul and mind--and our neighbor as our very own self --we shall with joy and gladness naturally fulfill His commandments.  Only thus shall we be found worthy on that Last Day to enter into His eternal Kingdom.

Thursday, February 20, 2014


Webster's defines "prodigal" as "a person who spends his money with wasteful extravagance; a spendthrift."  Having received from his father his inheritance, the Prodigal travelled to a "far country," where he recklessly wasted it on harlots and loose living.  The term "prodigal," however, does not only apply to the irresponsible spending of money.  As baptized Orthodox Christians, God has bestowed upon each and every one of us--as His beloved sons and daughters--an inconceivably great inheritance.

The question we need to ask ourselves is: Have we used wisely those resources and talents God has given us for the sake of serving Him as we advance toward His heavenly Kingdom, or have we squandered them in order to indulge our sinful passions and desires?  The truth is, we too often have squandered the abundant grace and blessings He has so freely given us.  We thoughtlessly waste the precious time that has been allotted to us for the sake of "working out our own salvation with fear and trembling" for the sake of vain and frivolous pursuits, and we scatter abroad the many opportunities God has granted us in order that we might pray fervently and grow in the Faith, that we might serve Christ and our fellow man.

So it is that we so often feel that gnawing sense of dissatisfaction and emptiness. This is a profound hunger--spiritual rather than physical--like unto the famine the Prodigal Son experienced in the far country.  This happens because we have wandered so far from God, striving to receive our nourishment not at the hands of God, but rather from the dry well of worldly pleasures and occupations.

Thus it is that the Church provides for us the season of Great Lent as a time for serious reflection upon our spiritual condition, an opportunity to grow closer to God through prayer and fasting, and especially through sincere and heartfelt repentance.  May we all strive to use this God-given time wisely, that through the grace and mercy of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ we might be deemed worthy to be call sons and daughters of God.      

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


"All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.  But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived," writes the Holy Apostle to Timothy.  Thus it was in Russia under the Communist Yoke, and thus it is in America today--though the persecution we are likely to suffer in this post-Christian culture is much more subtle than what occurred in the former Soviet Union...and is, for this very reason, much more insidious, because it is so easy to be complacent, to be lulled into a false sense of security and righteousness. 

The fact is, if we were truly living the radical faith our Lord commands in the Gospels, we truly would suffer persecution from the "evil men" of this age.  When persecution does arise, however, it is the proud and self-righteous who are the first to fall, to accommodate themselves to the evil forces that strive to pervert the essential goodness of God's creation.  So it was that the Pharisees exalted themselves above other men, thinking themselves to be righteous and holy, yet they were the very ones  who conspired to put to death He Who is the source of all holiness and righteousness.

The Pharisee in the Temple wasn't praying at all--he was merely patting himself on the back, congratulating himself for being such an upright, virtuous person.  The Publican, on the other hand, was painfully aware that he was a sinner, and so he sincerely repented, casting himself down and beseeching God's mercy.  For this reason he was justified: having abased himself, he was exalted.

For those who struggle to take up their cross and to follow Christ, suffering and persecution is inevitable in this vale of tears--and truly, only those who endure unto the end will be saved.  But unless we are strengthened by the grace of God, all of our efforts will be in vain.  And it is only to the humble and contrite that this grace is given.  In this respect we should strive at all times to imitate the Publican, that having been humbled, we may in the end be exalted to the heights of heaven.

Monday, February 3, 2014


"For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost."  It is for this reason that Jesus is likened to the good shepherd who sets off in search of the one lost sheep while leaving the other ninety-nine behind.  Thus did the Jewish leaders condemn Him, grumbling because He had gone to eat at the table of a sinner.  Likewise did the elder brother of the Prodigal Son take offense when his father prepared a lavish feast on the occasion of the homecoming of his long lost son.

Truly is it written that the angels in heaven rejoice more over the one sinner who is saved than the many who have never fallen into the depths of iniquity.  Zacchaeus was indeed a sinner: as chief of the publicans (that is, those who collected the taxes for the despised Roman authorities) he was an oppressor of the poor and downtrodden, striving to enrich himself at the expense of those who struggled to barely survive.

So it was that Jesus sought him, picking him out from among the crowd and commanding that he come down from the sycamore tree.  The significant fact, however, is that it was Zacchaeus himself who--by his own free will--first climbed that tree, and the reason he did so was because he fervently desired to see Jesus.

On that day salvation came to Zacchaeus' household--not by some arbitrary act of God, but because he sincerely repented, voluntarily promising to give half of his goods to the poor and to restore fourfold whatever he had taken by false accusation.

The fact is, we are all sinners in need of salvation--we are all lost sheep, having wandered far away from the pasture of the good shepherd.  The only question is, shall we--like Zacchaeus--choose the path of repentance, or shall we--like the self-righteous Pharisees of old--condemn ourselves to a hell of our own making?