Saturday, November 12, 2016


 St. James writes in his epistle, ""Thou believeth that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.  But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?"  It was on the basis of this verse that Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, excised this book from the Holy Scriptures, calling it a "straw epistle."  St. Paul does declare that we are "justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the Law."  But he also writes, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling."  For while the Law of Moses is insufficient in itself to restore to us our broken communion with God, the Law of Love revealed in and through our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ demands that the faithful Christian struggle to overcome every sinful passion while acquiring those virtues by which we are made worthy of entering into God's eternal Kingdom.  As our Lord Himself declares, "from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force."

In today's Gospel, the demoniac cries out, "what have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou son of God most high?  I beseech Thee, torment me not!"  How remarkable!  The devil itself confesses its belief in God, and acknowledges Jesus as His Son.  The devil truly believes, and yet it trembles in fear, fully aware that God is All-Powerful--and therefore the demon's days are clearly numbered. 

It is for this reason that St. Peter cautions us in his epistle: "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour."  Satan and his minions know full well that their days are short, and so they are desperate to drag down into hell as many souls as they can, by whatever means, until that final day when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead.  The fact is, Satan and his army of demons hate the human race with a white hot hatred far exceeding our comprehension.  Had God not set limits upon what the demons can do in their effort to draw us away from God, they would surely do unto us exactly what they did to the swine, killing us outright.  Yes, the demons truly do believe in God--and they are, therefore, dead set on destroying and perverting by whatever means God's good creation. 

And what of you and I, miserable sinners that we are?  No doubt we do believe in God, and surely our intentions are good... we are, after all, basically "good people," right?  Except it is not by "goodness" that we are saved, but rather by holiness... which is gained, as St. Seraphim of Sarov explains, through acquiring within ourselves the Holy Spirit of God.  And this means going beyond bare belief and basic human decency, striving through a martyric struggle to fulfill the Gospel commandments, that our love for God and neighbor might be made fully manifest in all of our thoughts, words and deeds, and that we might--by God's grace--gain victory over the forces of evil that seek to destroy us.

Saturday, November 5, 2016


In today's Gospel, our Lord relates a parable concerning "a certain rich man" (no name given), and "a certain beggar named lazarus."  Now it comes to pass that "the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom,"   while  "the rich man  also died, and was buried." 

As Orthodox Christians, when we are baptized, receive Holy Communion, or partake of any other sacramental rite of the Church, we are called by name.  Likewise, when the particles are taken from the prosphora during the proskomide in order to commemorate the living and the dead, a name must be pronounced.  And not just any name, but rather the name of that saint with whom we share a sacred bond.  Thus, it is improper for a convert to use a secular name in the world, while reserving their "church name" for "religious" occasions. 

As individuals striving to achieve personhood in and through Christ, we are known to God by name.  This name signifies our inner essence and our personal connection to God.  The rich man--being totally absorbed by the "good things" of this life rather than the love of God--essentially has no name, and therefore he has set himself apart from those eternal, heavenly good things God has in store for those who love Him and abide by His commandments. 

Thus Lazarus--having patiently endured the trials and tribulations of this earthly life--finds himself worthy to ascend to a place of eternal rest, while the rich man--having been simply buried in the earth like an irrational beast--has placed himself outside the sphere of God's grace, where he experiences the fiery torment of a hell of his own making.

Yet it is neither the case that God rewards the righteous by allowing him to go to heaven, nor does He punish the  sinner by "sending" him to a place of eternal torment.  That impassible gulf that separates the one from the other is a natural consequence of those choices we have freely made in this life: either we strive by the grace of God to become partakers of the divine nature, or we choose instead to live a self-centered, worldly, and passionate life.  May we all, therefore, choose wisely while there is still time, lest we find ourselves in the end trapped eternally in a place of eternal darkness--where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.