Tuesday, February 28, 2017


"But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof,"  writes St. Paul to the Romans.  In other words, we should pray to God day and night that He may deliver us from the destructive passion of self-love: the inordinate desire to please ourselves above all else, to satisfy at all costs the desires of the flesh, rather than striving to please God alone, willingly sacrificing the fulfillment of our own carnal desires for the sake of our love for Christ and our fellow man--our neighbor.

It is often said by those who have been offended: "I can forgive that person... but I can never forget."  Now what, precisely, does this mean?  In what sense can we claim to have forgiven someone their offences (real or imagined) against us, when we cannot set aside the remembrance of wrongs?  This is nonsense! 

When the Prodigal Son "came to himself" and returned home, begging his father's forgiveness, the father does not say: "I do forgive you and welcome you back, though I cannot quite forget the foolish things you have done...."  In fact, he simply ignores his son's plea that he be reckoned henceforth as a hired servant.  Rather, he sets aside any remembrance of his son's misdeeds and embraces him with love, restoring to him the tokens of his inheritance and ordering that a great feast be made.

Truly God forgives us our trespasses whenever we sincerely repent, but this forgiveness is neither more nor less than the action of His unconditional love: a love that has already "forgotten" whatever wrongs we may have committed.  As we pray in the Lord's Prayer: "Forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors."  In other words, we are called to forgive others in the very same way God forgives us, setting aside the very remembrance of wrongs.

It is pride alone that prompts us to proclaim that we have forgiven our neighbor, while refusing to forget.  Inflated by pride, our false egos make a pretense of forgiveness, while stubbornly holding on to its self-righteous claims.  The fact is, though, we cannot truly love our neighbor as our very own self until we have "ceased to exist" as self-centered entities, having died with Christ in the waters of Baptism that we might partake of his holy Resurrection.  We must strive to put to death every egotistical thought, word, and desire, that our hearts may be opened to the all-consuming love of God in Christ Jesus.  Only then can we say with the Holy Apostle, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ in me."

Sunday, February 19, 2017


When the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory: and before Him shall be gathered all nations: and He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats."  What a frightful prospect is this Final Judgment, that shall be revealed at the end of time!  It is truly dreadful to contemplate, precisely because it is final.  For while it is certain that there is no repentance after death, one can nevertheless hope to be delivered from hell through the prayers of the Church.  But on that Day when our Lord returns to judge the living and the dead, the can be no recourse nor possibility of acquittal for those who have failed in this earthly life to abide by the Law of Love as set forth in the Gospel of Christ. 

And according to this passage, it all comes down in the end to whether or not we have been willing during our earthly pilgrimage to minister in a concrete way to the least of Christ's brethren: to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, take in the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned--all for the sake of the love of God that dwells in our hearts. 

And if--God forbid--we shall be found lacking, what can we possibly say in our defense?  Perhaps: "I saw Facebook posts of starving children and war-torn refugees, and I clicked 'like' and 'share.'"  Or: "I prayed for world peace and participated in protest marches against injustice."  Or: "I willingly paid my taxes so that the government can set up programs to help the poor."  And for good measure, I even honked my horn to prove that I love Jesus!  All well and good... but what is truly personal about any of this?  Because the God we worship is a personal God, so is our love and compassion toward the least of Christ's brethren meant to be person to person, face to face, while we strive to see in every person we encounter the face of Christ and the Image of God--no matter how darkened or distorted this Image may be.

It should be understood, however, that it is not because we dutifully performed such acts of charity that we are saved.  It is rather according to the disposition of our heart that God judges us.  If our love for God and our fellow man is genuine and sincere, we will naturally do those things that are needful for our salvation--often without thinking twice (after all, the sheep themselves did no remember what they had done to deserve such a reward).  A humble and contrite heart God will not despise; nor will He fail to impart His grace and mercy unto a heart burning with compassion and a fervent desire to endure sacrificial suffering on behalf of those downcast and less fortunate.

Opportunities abound in our daily lives to put into practice the faith we profess.  Unfortunately, we are often too blind and distracted to see far beyond our own selfish needs and desires.  Like the goats in the Gospel passage, we are clueless regarding those times when we failed to minister unto the least of Christ's brethren.  And so may God have mercy on us all, and grant to us a new beginning as we prepare to enter into the season of the Great Fast.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017


Webster's defines the term "prodigal" as "wastefully or recklessly extravagant." This  is the defining characteristic of the Prodigal Son in today's Gospel... not merely, as many think, that he was wayward... though most certainly he was.  Certainly this younger son was restless and impatient, demanding of his father that he receive the inheritance due to him at once. Perhaps against his better judgment, the father acquiesces to this demand, and soon thereafter the Prodigal "took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living" (a colorful term indeed!)   That is to say, he departed from the promise of a heavenly homeland into a realm ruled by the darkness of the passions, unilluminated by the light of God.

And so he squandered those God given gifts by which he might have attained eternal life and salvation, preferring instead to wallow in the mud of sensual desires, rather than striving to acquire those ineffable good things God has in store for those who love Him and abide by His commandments.  And why?....  Because it is so much easier to follow the path of least resistance, willfully distorting that divine image implanted within us at our creation, blinding the eyes of our soul to the truth  while seeking in every possible way to justify our unbridled indulgence in sensual pleasures. 

And so it is that we, like the Prodigal Son, prefer the transient joys of "riotous living" over a life devoted to the struggle to achieve self-denial and sacrificial suffering for the sake of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.  But what, precisely, does this life of "riotous living" entail?  Drunkenness and debauchery on numerous levels, to be sure, but at the basis of it all is... fornication!  Which, in the broadest sense, includes all forms of idolatry: exalting any person, object, or idea above God, which includes worshipping any ideology or "ism" in the place of God. 

On the most basic, physical level, though, fornication simply means... having sex outside of marriage, no matter the circumstances or self-justification.  Thus, St. Paul exhorts us to "flee fornication," because "your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own."  By this means we can refute those pro-life woman who insist that their body is their own, and they are free to do whatever they want with it.  But I shouldn't need to say any more on this topic: as Orthodox Christians, we are well aware that abortion is purely and simply murder. 

But are we so firm in our convictions when it comes to fornication?  To be blunt: do we truly consider any  sexual relations outside of marriage to sinful, always and everywhere, and despite the circumstances?  Back in the old days (before the so-called "sexual revolution") fornication was widespread enough to be sure, but nevertheless, everyone knew it was wrong, and those who transgressed were subject to the sanctions of a society that was still imbued with Christian values.  But things have changed.  "Living together" and having "partners" has become so much a part of our moral landscape that even professed Christians barely bat an eyelash. Yet Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever--and so are those moral standards He has imparted to us by divine revelation.  And so we must cast to the wind our "political correctness" and our fear of "offending," calling a spade a spade--not in a spirit of judgement and condemnation, but rather in a spirit of love and compassion, that the sinner might by God's grace and mercy return from his evil ways and live.