Tuesday, January 31, 2017


Today's Gospel concerns "a man named Zaccheus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich."  In this context, of course, a publican is not the owner of a pub, but rather a tax collector.  For this reason was Zaccheus despised by the Jews as a sinner and an outcast, a traitor to his own people, a vile collaborator who conspired with the Romans to oppress the Jewish people by means of extortion and violence.  A tax collector in those days could, indeed--like a modern day Mafia don--force people to pay over and beyond what was actually due to the government, pocketing the difference for himself.  For this reason was Zaccheus considered by the Jewish elders to be beyond redemption. 

Nevertheless, both St. John the Baptist and our Lord Jesus Christ begin their ministries with the words, "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!"  The call to repentance--to "turn again"-- is indeed at the core of our Christian Faith.  The whole of our earthly life, in fact, should be devoted not to vain and frivolous pursuits, but rather to an ongoing struggle for genuine repentance--to make a 180 degree turn  from the darkness of our egotistic desires and sinful passions to the light of God's redeeming grace. 

So it is that Zaccheus--inspired by divine grace--sincerely repents, promising to give half his goods to the poor, while restoring fourfold whatever he had unlawfully taken from his victims.  And so Jesus declares, "This day is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which is lost."  As in the Gospel parable, our Lord willingly leaves the ninety-nine sheep in order to save the one that was lost (over whom the angels in heaven rejoice). 

"By grace we are saved,"  writes the Holy Apostle, and indeed--apart from the grace of God, no man living can be made worthy of eternal life in God's heavenly Kingdom.  "For God desires not the death of a sinner, but rather that the sinner should turn from his way and live." 

Yet there is nothing magical or automatic about salvation.  Even sinners such as you and I can be saved--but only if we strive and struggle in this earthly life to be made worthy of this grace.  Zaccheus, after all, sought to see Jesus.  He ran before, and climbed up into a sycamore tree.  And finally, at our Lord's behest, he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully.  And having done so, he stood and confessed to Jesus his willingness to renounce his sinful life.

And so--while it was by the grace of God that Zaccheus was saved--it was only through his own freely-chosen efforts that this grace could penetrate his stony heart.  We are, indeed, saved by grace, but unless we open our hearts to receive this grace, ever striving to purify our hearts of every sinful passion and to fulfill the Gospel commandments, we will in the end be cast into that place of outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Saturday, January 21, 2017


As the Holy Prophet Isaiah proclaimed, "The people which sat in darkness saw great light; to them that sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up."  Today this prophecy is fulfilled, for having descended into the waters of the Jordan, Christ enlightened the whole universe with the grace and glory of the Holy Trinity.  Through Baptism, the path of salvation has been revealed and the gates of Paradise have been opened to those who repent (that is, turn again to the light of Truth).  Therefore does our Lord proclaim at the beginning of His ministry, "Repent: for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."

Thus "unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ."  And so it is not true, as our nation's founding document states, that all men are created equal.  Even the pigs in that perceptive novel Animal Farm had to concede in the end that while all animals are created equal, some are more equal than others.  God grants His good gifts to all and sundry according to His inscrutable Providence, and it is manifestly evident that some people are given greater gifts than are others.  We are not all equal, but... we are all nevertheless totally unique and infinitely precious in the eyes of God.  Nor is any gift truly small if we use it humbly for the greater glory of God.  What matters in the end, as St. Paul assures us, is "that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief."

It is through sincere humility and a genuine spirit of repentance that we are saved: not because we are somehow better or more exalted than other people, but rather because we have taken whatever measure of grace God has bestowed upon us and used it wisely, according to our best God given ability. 

And now--though I am a priest--I will end this sermon on a political noteThe Bodiless Powers--the Heavenly Hosts who were created at the dawn of time--are hierarchical in nature, as demonstrated by the mystical theologian St. Dionysios the Areopagite.  The Church Christ established reflects this same pattern, as does a God protected Orthodox monarchy. Thereby is maintained a peaceful order and the faithful discharge of obligations--while God-given rights are guaranteed at every level of society.  And this, my friends, is the ideal image that will only find its complete fulfillment when the Kingdom of God is fully revealed at the end of time. 

Friday, January 20, 2017


According to the Gospel, the baptism of John was "the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins."  The Baptist himself declared that One mightier than himself--even Jesus Christ our Lord, the eternal Son of God--would come into the world in order to fulfill the mission he himself had begun.  "I indeed have baptized you with water," says the Forerunner, "but He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

This is the Baptism of the Church, by which we the Faithful have been enlightened, having become partakers of the Divine Nature and citizens of the New Jerusalem above.  The gift of the Holy Spirit given at Baptism is the source of sanctification and holiness for all those who believe God's promise and who strive by His grace to fulfill His holy commandments.

It is a spiritual law, nevertheless, that it is impossible to serve God and Mammon at one and the same time.  Nor can one straddle the fence between a worldly and passionate way of life and a life of total devotion to God and that heavenly Kingdom revealed in and through our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ.  Sooner or later, a critical moment arrives for every soul when a choice must be made.  Such a moment arrives for the ruler in today's Gospel when he asks Jesus, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" 

Our Lord first states the obvious: if you would inherit eternal life, keep My commandments.  And when the ruler professes that he has done so since his youth, Jesus takes it a step further, and tells him: if you desire to be perfect, sell all your possessions, distribute the proceeds to the poor... and come follow Me. For this reason, the rich young ruler was sorrowful: because his heart was set upon earthly treasures, rather than those heavenly treasures we receive so abundantly when the Holy Spirit--the "Treasury of Blessings and Giver of Life"--enters into our heart.

According to St. Seraphim of Sarov, the entire aim and purpose of the Christian life is to acquire the Holy Spirit of God, in the same way that a worldly merchant acquires his  wealth--by trading.  The means by which this heavenly wealth may be gained differs from one person to another.  The martyrs trade their own blood, receiving in return eternal glory in the Age to Come.  Others acquire this Gift through ascetic self-denial, almsgiving, hospitality, selfless service to the sick and needy, or through sacrificing one's own comfort and self-centered desires in order to bear and to raise pious and God fearing children.

The means differ, but the goal is one and the same: to be transformed and enlightened by the grace we received at Baptism as a deposit, and to multiply how ever many talents God has entrusted to us by living a life of sacrificial love, that we may proclaim with St. Paul, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ in me."  Otherwise we shall surely be condemned like that unfaithful servant who dared to bury in the ground his single talent, thereby being cast out into that "outer darkness, where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

Thursday, January 12, 2017


An angel appeared to the shepherds who were keeping watch in the field to announce "good tidings of great joy....  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."  And so, you may well ask, where is this peace and good will the Gospel proclaims?  Look around the world today, and you will find little evidence of such a felicitous state of affairs.  Is it all just a scam after all, as the atheists might suggest?

Well, we'd probably complain if we were not given a new rope to hang ourselves.  Nervertheless... the simple and obvious fact is that life in this fallen world is hard--and sometimes downright brutal.  And yet somehow we imagine: in a perfect world, things would be different.  And so it might occur to us to wonder: if God really is perfect and all-powerful as we Christians proclaim, why can He not give us such a perfect world?

In other words, if God is truly good, why does He allow all the pain, suffering, and sadness in this world?  Why can He not simply wave His magic wand and give us that "peace and good will" the angelic hosts so joyfully and triumphantly proclaim?  For surely, an omnipotent God could easily create for us a perfect world devoid of pain and suffering, banishing every trace of sickness and sorrow.

But what sort of world would this be?  A world of robots, without free will, programed either for a false, superficial happiness, or else compelled to be good... either the soulless society of Brave New World, or else the totalitarian nightmare of 1984.  In either case, it would be a nihilistic world lacking any ultimate meaning or purpose.

Truth be told, the peace that Christ promises His Church is not the mere absence of conflict between nations.  It is, rather, an inner peace that enables us to endure with patience the trials and tribulations inevitable in this earthly life on this side of the eschaton, that we may be made worthy in the end of God's eternal Kingdom.

Life is too short and the stakes too high to fritter away the time allotted to us by God in pursuit of an ephemeral "happiness" that cannot, in the end, satisfy the deepest longings of our soul.  For truly, to paraphrase St. Augustine, "our hearts are ever restless, till they find their rest in Him."