Friday, September 18, 2015


The lawyer approached Jesus and asked Him, "Teacher, what is the great commandment in the Law?"  And our Lord replies, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the first and great commandment.   And the second is like unto it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these  two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."  (The text implies that the commandments "hang" like a door upon its hinges).  It sounds simple: only two straightforward commandments to consider!  Yet in practice... how very difficult to fulfill!  For which one of us would be so bold as to claim we have done so?  Indeed, do we even have the slightest concept of what it would mean to love God and our neighbor with such absolute devotion?  Yet it is exactly to this level of devotion that we have been called, "that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh" (St. Paul).  For having once died with Christ in the waters of Baptism, we are destined to partake of His glorious Resurrection.

These two great commandments, you see, are not some new revelation added on to the Jewish religion: they are taken directly from the Old Testament itself.  Over the course of time, however, the Jews had added on so many additional commandments (213, if I'm not mistaken) that one could no longer see the forest for the trees.  That which is essential--to love God and neighbor--had become  obscured by a vast collection of rules and regulations that were never intended to be ends in themselves. 

Likewise, many sincere Orthodox Christians think that by literally and slavishly  following all the Canons, they shall be saved.  Yet if we keep all the Canons perfectly but have not love, we are like unto those "clashing cymbals" the Holy Apostle speaks of elsewhere.  Don't get me wrong: the Canons are indispensable guidelines for keeping us securely upon the path of salvation.  But we must never forget that our ultimate goal is to become partakers of the Divine Nature, and this can only come to pass when we are willing to die to our own self-centered thoughts and desires and to receive into our hearts the unconditional love of God.

But as St. Paul reminds us, "we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us."  We cannot lift ourselves up by our own bootstraps, nor can we achieve salvation by an act of sheer willpower.  It is, in fact, our own self-centered will that is our greatest obstacle on the path leading to the heavenly Kingdom.  "Who then can be saved?" as the Apostles once asked Jesus, and He replied: "With men this is impossible.  But with God, all things are possible."

Friday, September 11, 2015


"For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just and holy man, and he protected him.  And when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly."  Fact is, Herod honored and respected John and held no grudge against him--despite the Baptist's objection to his unlawful marriage, which he was in nowise willing to annul.  It was rather his evil wife Herodias who hated the Baptist with a passion and so desired his death.  And so it came to pass that when the woman's abused and dysfunctional daughter demanded John's head as the reward for her lascivious dancing (in a futile ploy to please her mother) Herod "was exceedingly sorry."

Yes indeed, he was truly sorry and knew the murder of John was wrong--yet he lacked the moral integrity to forswear the evil oath he had made to his hapless daughter.  Ultimately, though, it cannot be said that it was Herodias' daughter who was to blame for this unfortunate turn of events--she was merely a tool manipulated by her conniving mother to accomplish the diabolical goal she sought.

But even the vengeful and cold-hearted Herodias is not directly responsible for the tragic decapitation of the Baptist, for it was Herod himself who gave the order for the execution--and he can nowise be justified by shifting the blame for this heinous crime.  Because, you see, his eyes were fully open and he knew exactly what he was doing--and he knew full well that it was wrong.  For though his lustful passions no doubt clouded his judgment in that moment, he was in no way constrained to commit this evil act.

The same can be said of you and I: how often are we guilty of committing deliberate acts of sin, knowing full well that what we do is wrong and contrary to the will of God?  And then instead of sincerely repenting with bitter tears, we search diligently for ways to at least partially exonerate ourselves from responsibility for our actions.  We are, after all, only human.  We were led astray by others, and our parents never did set a good example.  The excuses we can draw upon are legion... but when we stand at last before the dread judgment seat of Christ, none of our alleged excuses or justifications will be worth a tinker's damn.  We truly do know the difference between right and wrong--and unless we repent now, we are doomed to suffer eternally in a hell of our own making.