Sermon Content Is What Appeals Most to Churchgoers

by Lydia Saad

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Three in four worshippers say sermons a major factor in why they go
  • Youth programs, outreach and volunteer opportunities also important
  • Preferring to worship solo is main reason non-attenders eschew services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As Easter and Passover help fill churches and synagogues this week, a new Gallup poll suggests the content of the sermons could be the most important factor in how soon worshippers return. Gallup measured a total of seven different reasons why those who attend a place of worship at least monthly say they go. Three in four worshippers noted sermons or talks that either teach about scripture or help people connect religion to their own lives as major factors spurring their attendance.

Reasons for Attending Church or Other Place of Worship
Is each of the following a major factor, a minor factor or not a factor in why you attend church or a place of worship?
Major factor Minor factor Not a factor
% % %
Sermons or talks that teach you more about scripture 76 16 8
Sermons or lectures that help you connect religion to your own life 75 16 8
Spiritual programs geared toward children and teenagers 64 21 15
Lots of community outreach and volunteer opportunities 59 27 13
Dynamic religious leaders who are interesting and inspiring 54 28 17
Social activities that allow you to get to know people in your community 49 36 14
A good choir, praise band, cantors or other spiritual music 38 36 25
Based on adults who attend church, synagogue or mosque monthly or more often. % No opinion not shown
GALLUP, MARCH 9-29, 2017

Religious programs for children and teenagers are a major draw for just under two in three worshippers. Providing opportunities for community outreach or volunteering, as well as having dynamic religious leaders are highly important to majorities as well.

About half of regular worshippers say that getting to know people in their community is a major factor in why they attend, while 38% cite having good music, such as a choir or praise band.

These results are based on a nationally representative survey of U.S. adults interviewed from March 9-29, who attend a church, synagogue or mosque at least monthly. In line with the religious composition of the country, the vast majority of these respondents indicate they are Christian, allowing for a comparison of Catholics’ and Protestants’ answers.

Sermons and Music Matter More to Protestants Than Catholics

While the rank order of priorities is similar between members of the two Christian branches, Protestants (including those who identify as simply “Christian”) attach much more importance than Catholics to the content of sermons, as well as to the quality of music.

Catholics and Protestants attach nearly the same levels of importance to the more social or pragmatic aspects of church, including access to youth programs, community outreach opportunities and social activities. However, Protestants are not significantly more likely than Catholics to care about the style of their religious leaders, saying the presence of dynamic leaders who are interesting or inspiring is a major factor.

Reasons Protestants vs. Catholics Attend Church
% Major factor
Protestant/Other Christian Catholic
% %
Sermons that teach about scripture 83 62
Sermons that help connect religion to own life 80 67
Spiritual programs for children/teens 68 63
Community outreach and volunteer opportunities 61 56
Dynamic religious leaders 53 47
Social activities 49 48
Choir or other spiritual music 44 29
Based on those who attend church monthly or more often
GALLUP, MARCH 9-29, 2017

Overall, Catholics rate none of the factors as more important reasons for attending than do Protestants, suggesting that the latter group — with dozens of denominations and branches of Protestantism to choose from — may be more attuned to specific dynamics of what they prefer in their church experience than Catholics.

Why Some Choose to Not Attend Church

The poll also asked the 35% of Americans who are lapsed worshippers — those who attended a church, synagogue or mosque at least monthly growing up but who seldom or never attend today — to rate the importance of nine different factors explaining their absence.

There is no overarching reason why former churchgoers no longer attend. Preferring to worship on one’s own tops the list at 44%, and just over a third say not liking organized religion is a major factor. These suggest not an antipathy to religion per se so much as a dislike of the group format.

More mid-level explanations — those mentioned as major reasons by 16% to 22% — include not finding the right church or other place of worship, not having enough time, not being sure which religion is right for them and not liking being asked for money when they attend.

The least-mentioned important factors include being prevented from going due to poor health and not feeling welcome when they attend.

Based on adults who attended church, synagogue or mosque growing up, but now seldom or never attend
Please say whether each of the following is a major reason, a minor reason or not a reason why you [seldom / never] attend church or a place of worship.
Major factor Minor factor Not a factor No opinion
% % % %
You prefer to worship on your own 44 21 34 *
You don’t like organized religion 36 25 37 1
You aren’t very religious 33 32 33 2
You haven’t found a church or other place of worship that you like 22 24 53 1
You don’t have the time 19 28 52 1
You aren’t sure what religion is right for you 17 23 59 1
You don’t like being asked for money when you attend 16 29 55 *
Poor health or other problems prevent you from going 10 19 71 *
You don’t feel welcome when you do attend 9 25 65 1
GALLUP, MARCH 9-29, 2017

Bottom Line

Belonging to a church, synagogue or mosque provides people with important social benefits that Gallup research shows improve personal well-being. While social benefits are clearly important to majorities of those who worship regularly, what most motivates them to attend is learning more about the tenets of their faith, as well as connecting that faith to their lives. Protestants, who have more control over their church leadership and flexibility in where they worship, place even greater emphasis on the quality of sermons than do Catholics, although both groups rate sermons highly.

Fulfilling these expectations could be critical in order for religious organizations to survive. But to expand their ranks, reigniting the interest of lapsed members should be a priority. Converting those who say they aren’t very religious or who don’t like organized religion may be futile. But churches and others may find some success with the message that worshipping in communion with others has benefits that can’t be achieved worshipping alone — addressing the No. 1 reason non-attendees give for not attending.

Source

Ordination to the Diaconate – A Homily by Metropolitan Anthony Bloom


The Primary task of the diaconate is love. The deacon protects the prayer of the priest. The deacon proclaims the Gospel with power and authority, but only if he himself has received the word.

Translated by Dcn. Nicholas Parks

The ordination of one of the members of a Christian parish to sacerdotal rank is an event that concerns to the entire community, and even extends beyond the local community to the whole Church.

Today we performed an ordination to the diaconate. But exactly what is this rank of deacon which the Church — and through her Christ — gives to her servant?

The first deacons were appointed that they might manifest the Church’s compassionate love. The Church is compassion, the Church is love and not anything else — and if she becomes something else, then she ceases to be the Church in all of her fullness. This love must be penetrating, deep, personal, and concrete.

In the first centuries of Christian life, when the entire Church was full of love, she selected people with deep hearts — hearts that were alive — people with pure lives, men of prayer – so that she might make them instruments of her love among the poor and needy, among those experiencing misfortune and grief [Acts 6:3-6].

To be a member of this brotherhood of compassionate love is a great responsibility, for to give we must have a giving heart. We must possess profound compassion and love, so that people can accept our gifts without shame. For when we give with a cold heart or out of a sense of duty, when we are outwardly compassionate but our heart is not moved by love, then he who receives our gift receives also humiliation, pain and insult.

And so our new deacon P. has before him a life-long task. By a life of patient labor, of zealous and attentive work on himself, he is to cultivate a deep and merciful heart that is able to respond quickly and constantly. He must cultivate a heart that never tires, is never disappointed, and is ever filled with Christ’s love, so that that love might pour out through him upon all who need it.

Later, this love that is the deacon’s task was tied by the Church to the performance of her Mysteries. Here the deacon becomes both the guardian of the priest’s prayers and the leader of the prayers of the faithful. He provides the theme for your prayers; answering the petitions which he proclaims, you repeat, “Lord, have mercy,” or give yourselves into the hands of God, saying “To Thee, O Lord,” or confess the truth of the Church’s words, saying, “Amen.”

This love is great: step by step the deacon leads us into the liturgical mystery, drawing us in to its very depths, into those depths which you would not have been able to reach by yourself in your own spiritual life.

But the deacon has another assignment as well: to protect the prayer of the priest. During the divine services the priest should be prayer, he should forget everything, so that he might stand before God as a living candle. All care about the service, even about the actual conducting of the service, is laid on the deacon, so that the priest may give himself to prayer without distraction.

We wish, then, that our new deacon would pray with such depth of spirit that you also would enter fully into the spirit of the divine service. May he lead you by his own prayer, into the depths of the Eucharistic Mysteries, and let him be a man of peaceful heart and peaceful body, able to guard the priest’s prayer so that the priest may stand before God with full attention.

Thirdly and finally, I wish to remind you that the deacon proclaims the Gospel. He is not called to preach in his own words – that creative act which, according the ancient saying makes each priest a fifth evangelist. He is called only to proclaim the word of God. But if he is to proclaim that word with power and authority, and to reach hearts and minds persuasively, then he must first himself receive the word.

He must proclaim it from the depth of his own heart and from the experience of a truly Christian life, as the word of a Teacher whom he understands and to whom he is obedient in everything. Therefore he must all the more attentively pursue the Gospel and live by the Gospel as fully as he can, so that, proclaiming it, he does not proclaim his own condemnation.

May God grant him a pure life and a truly evangelical life that will enable him to fulfill the three tasks of which I have just spoken. As for you, who are attending this ordination and praying during this miracle – the descent of the Holy Spirit on a person, whom he has invested with His power for a service which not one person could dare to take upon himself – you must all continue to pray for him, because we are all brethren and temptations surround us on every side.

Pray for him every day, that the Lord will make him a worthy servant of His Church and that he would in everything follow – as we ask in the prayer of ordination – the first deacon, the Protomartyr Stephen. Pray that he would become like Christ, just as Stephen became like Christ, that he would witness to Christ as Stephen did, and that he would enter into the peace of Christ, as Stephen did when he entered into the glory of God. Amen.

Source

 

Ordination to the Diaconate – A Homily by Metropolitan Anthony Bloom

The Sermon Outline: The Basics of Deductive Preaching

sermon-outlines

from Orthodox Ruminations

Preaching is an art! It is a craft! Preaching is a calling that can be coupled with the skills of a rhetorician. There is no doubt that the preacher is an orator. I believe that preaching is a skill. Of course preaching is above all else a calling, but I believe sincerely that if we are called to preach that we should put work, energy, effort, and time into our preaching to develop our rhetorical and oratorical skills. I also believe that we must also work on our own salvation as preachers as we go through the process of theosis. However, I do not accept neglecting preaching and the skills it takes to be great at it!

We see even among the Church Fathers unfathomable skill in homiletics! The Church Fathers were deeply brilliant men trained in the arts and highly educated. I once read that St. John Chrysostom focused more on the moral development and salvation of the preacher, however, if one reads his sermons it is clear the man knew how to preach! And preach he did and for hours at a time! I can’t express enough the importance of developing our homiletical skills and expanding our homiletic toolbox.

I believe one way to improve our preaching and thus the rhetorical/oratorical side of the craft is by developing a sermon outline. I know many will be turned off by such an idea in the Orthodox Church, but I do not 1) see anything unOrthodox about developing a sermon nor 2) do I expect everyone to do this. I have a degree in preaching and spent the last 5 years learning the craft. I do have a passion for preaching and for further developing my calling to preach. I think it is an extreme disrespect to the Liturgy, the Church, and the Fathers to put our preaching on the back burner. This is important stuff! The Didache says this of preaching,

My child, night and day remember the one who preaches God’s word to you, and honor him as though he were the Lord. For wherever the Lord’s nature is preached, there the Lord is.”

When we preach we are partaking in a very sacramental, holy act thus it is entirely respectable and encouraged for us to want to develop our skills and calling as preachers. We should take seriously the call to preach! I believe there are some great benefits to developing a sermon outline:

  • It gives us a manuscript to preach from during the delivery thus preventing digression
  • It helps to clarify our thoughts on paper
  • It helps us to see the shape of the sermon and where “fat” can be trimmed off the sermon
  • It gives us a visual manifestation of our sermon
  • It serves as a guide
  • It keeps us on track in the writing of the sermon
  • It creates a ebb and flow effect for the sermon
  • It fosters audience attention and helps them to follow you on the journey of delivery
  • It makes for easy recollection by the audience
  • It allows you to type up an outline with blanks to have the audience fill in
  • It is didactic in its very nature

These are just a few of the benefits I have discovered of creating an outline. If you take up the task of trying this, what may be new, way I’m sure you’ll discover the benefits as well. The outline I am going to show for you today is called deductive, which in the homiletical world means that one arrives at a thesis statement for the sermon and unpacks it in a systematic way by points 1, 2, and 3 (or more, but I suggest 3). Dr. Daniel Overdorf, my Homiletics I and II professor at Johnson University, had us develop a very basic deductive outline for one of our final exams, which included these things he taught us:

  • Biblical Problem- this is the problem, issue, or concern that the chosen Scripture text is addressing (posed as a question)
  • Biblical Solution- this is the Biblical solution the text issues as the resolution to the problem
  • Contemporary Problem- this is the contemporary contextualization of the Biblical problem in our lives
  • Contemporary Solution- this is the contemporary application of the Biblical solution found in the text
  • Thesis Statement- this is the central, concise driving statement of the sermon
  • Purpose Statement- this is the purpose or accomplishment of the sermon you write
  • Transition with Key Word- this is the transitioning statement within the sermon after the introduction/prologue and sets up the 3 main points
  • Main Points- these are the 3 points of the sermon outlined, but expanded and unpacked in the manuscript for delivery

I want to provide you an example based on Mark 8:32 of what the basics of the deductive outline look like:

 Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

  • Biblical Problem- why were those listening to Christ not willing to go the extremes for Christ?
  • Biblical Solution- to be His disciples one must deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow Christ.
  • Contemporary Problem- we have many restraints preventing us from following Christ completely; what are they?
  • Contemporary Solution- we must deny ourselves daily and be willing to bear our crosses to become truly followers of Christ.
  • Thesis- To accept Christ we must disavow ourselves dying daily to the old self
  • Purpose Statement- after hearing this sermon, the parish should be able to see that following Christ implies denying our old self, the Ego, and taking up the cross in order to die to that Ego daily (Note: you can work this statement into the actual deliver in some form if you like, but it is not a requirement)!
  • Transitional Statement- We attain from Christ’s statement that in order to accept Him fully as Lord of our lives we must grasp, live out, and cultivate these 3 commands:
  • Main Points- 1st Command:Deny Yourself; 2nd Command: Take Up Your Cross; 3rd Command: Follow Christ

This is a very basic introduction to the deductive outline for a sermon. I hope that over the next weeks I can explore more means of outlining a sermon for those who are following along and have an interest in developing their homiletical skills. There is more to this process than the simple outline above, but this is a solid introduction to those who may find this a foreign approach for developing a sermon.

I hope that this will prove a useful resource for those who may go forth and try it. I hope you find it enriches your homiletic experience from the sermon writing to the delivery. May God grant you vision and bring forth much fruit from the efforts you put into becoming a better preacher. I know your parish will most definitely be impressed, refreshed, exhorted, convicted, and challenged, which great preaching is all about!

Source

 

The Sermon Outline: The Basics of Deductive Preaching

A Sermon About Our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane

gethsemane

by St. John Maximovitch

When the Lord had finished the Mystical Supper with His disciples and given them His Instructions, He went with them to the Mount of Olives. On the way He continued His final teachings, after which He addressed the Heavenly Father with a prayer for His disciples and those who would believe their word (Jn 17).
 
On crossing the stream of the Cedron, the Lord and His disciples went into the garden of Gethsemane, where He had been accustomed to gather with them earlier. Here, He left His disciples, except for Peter, James and John, telling them to sit down for a time while He prayed. Then, He Himself with Peter, James and John went on a little further. He wanted to be on His own as much as possible, but knowing all that was going to happen, He began to sorrow, to be distressed and horrified, and He said to those with Him: My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death. Stay here and watch with Me. And going a little further off, He fell face down on the earth and prayed.
 
Twice the Lord interrupted His prayer, and went up to Peter and the sons of Zebedee. Alas! They were there, but not watching: sleep had overcome them. In vain did their Divine Teacher exhort them to watch and pray, so as not to fall into temptation:

The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. (Mt 26:41; Mk 14:38)

The disciples again fell asleep and immediately the Savior departed from them in order to continue His prayer, which ended only when the hour of the betrayal of the Son of Man into the hands of sinners drew near. Jesus’ intensity of prayer reached the highest degree—He came out in a bloody sweat which fell in drops on the earth (Lk 22:44).
 
Masaccio_-_Christ_in_the_Garden_of_Gethsemane_(detail)_-_WGA14212 What did Jesus pray about with such fiery intensity? What did He beseech the Heavenly Father, falling face down to the earth three times? Abba, My Father! All is possible to Thee; O if only Thou wouldest grant that this cup be taken from Me. If it is possible, let this cup pass by Me; take this cup from Me. However, not as I will, but as Thou willest; not My will, but Thine be done. My Father, if this cup cannot pass by Me, but I must drink of it, may Thy will be done.
 
The Lord Jesus Christ was the God-Man. The Divine and human natures, without merging into each other and without changing, undivided and un-separated (the dogma of the Chalcedonian Council) were united in Him in one Person. In accordance with His two natures, the Lord also had two wills. As God, Jesus Christ was of one substance with God the Father and had one Will with Him and the Holy Spirit. But as perfect man, consisting of a soul and a body, the Lord also had human feelings and a human will. His human will was completely obedient to His Divine will. The Lord subjected His human will to the Divine will—He sought only to do the will of the Heavenly Father (Jn 5:30);

His spiritual food was to do

the will of Him Who sent Me and to finish His work. (Jn 4:34).

But the work which was set before Him to finish was greater than any other, and even unfeeling, soulless nature was bound to be amazed at it. It was necessary for Him to redeem man from sin and death, and reestablish the union of man with God. It was necessary that the sinless Savior should take upon Himself all human sin, so that He, Who had no sins of His own, should feel the weight of the sin of all humanity and sorrow over it in such a way as was possible only for complete holiness, which clearly feels even the slightest deviation from the commandments and Will of God. It was necessary that He, in Whom Divinity and humanity were hypostatically united, should in His holy, sinless humanity experience the full horror of the distancing of man from his Creator, of the split between sinful humanity and the source of holiness and light – God.
 
The depth of the fall of mankind must have stood before His eyes at that moment; for man, who in Paradise did not want to obey God and who listened to the devil’s slander against Him, would now rise up against his Divine Savior, slander Him, and, having declared Him unworthy to live upon the earth, would hang Him on a tree between Heaven and earth, thereby subjecting Him to the curse of the God-given law (Deut 21:22-23). It was necessary that the sinless Righteous One, rejected by the sinful world for which and at the hands of which He was suffering, should forgive mankind this evil deed and turn to the Heavenly Father with a prayer that the Divine righteousness should forgive mankind, blinded by the devil, this rejection of its Creator and Savior. Such a holy prayer could not fail to be heard, such a power of love was bound to unite the source of love, God, with those who even now would feel this love, and, understanding how far the ways of men had departed from the ways of God, would manifest a strong determination to return to God the Father through the Creator’s reception of human nature.

And now there came the time when all this was to come to pass. In a few hours the Son of Man, raised upon the cross, would draw all men to Himself by His own self-sacrifice. Before the force of His love the sinful hearts of men would not be able to stand. The love of the God-man would break the stone of men’s hearts. They would feel their own impurity and darkness, their insignificance; and only the stubborn haters of God would not want to be enlightened by the light of the Divine greatness and mercy. But all those who would not reject Him Who called them, irradiated by the light of the love of the God-Man, would feel their separation from the loving Creator and would thirst to be united with Him. And invisibly the greatest mystery would take place—mankind would turn to its Maker, and the merciful Lord would joyfully accept those who would return from the slander of the devil to their Archetype. Mercy and truth have met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other. (Pss 84:10); righteousness has pressed close from Heaven, for the incarnate Truth has shone out on the cross from the earth. The hour had come when all this was about to take place.

The world did not suspect the greatness of the coming day. Before the gaze of the God-Man all that was to happen was revealed. He voluntarily sacrificed Himself for the salvation of the human race. And now He came for the last time to pray alone to His Heavenly Father. Here He would accomplish that sacrifice which would save the race of men. He would voluntarily give Himself up to sufferings, giving Himself over into the power of darkness.

However, this sacrifice would not be saving if He would experience only His personal sufferings—He had to be tormented by the wounds of sin from which mankind was suffering. The heart of the God-Man was filled with inexpressible sorrow. All the sins of men, beginning from the transgression of Adam and ending with those which would be done at the moment of the sounding of the last trumpet—all the great and small sins of all men stood before His mental gaze. They were always revealed to Him as God—all things are manifest before Him—but now their whole weight and iniquity was experienced also by His human nature. His holy, sinless soul was filled with horror. He suffered as the sinners themselves do not suffer, whose coarse hearts do not feel how the sin of man defiles and how it separates him from the Creator. His sufferings were the greater in that He saw this coarseness and embitteredness of heart, the fact that men have blinded their eyes that they should not see, and do not want to hear with their ears and be converted, so that they should be healed.

He saw that the whole world was even now turning away from God Who had come to them in human form. The hour was coming and had already come (Jn 16:31) when even those who had only just declared their readiness to lay down their lives for Him would be scattered. The God-Man would hang in solitude upon the Cross, showered with a hail of insults from the people who would come to see this spectacle. Only a few souls remained faithful to Him, but they, too, by their silent grief and helplessness would increase the sufferings of the heart of the Virgin’s Son, overflowing with love. There would not be help from anywhere…
 
True, even in these minutes He would not be alone, for the Father was always with Him (Jn 8:19; 10:30). But so as to feel the full weight of the consequences of sin, the Son of God would voluntarily allow His human nature to feel even the horror of separation from God. This terrible moment would be unendurable for His holy, sinless being. A powerful cry would break out from His lips: My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? And seeing this hour in advance, His holy soul was filled with horror and distress.
 
Still earlier, when some Hellenes came to see Jesus, He allowed His human nature to experience the approach of that dreadful hour. When these sheep from another fold came to Him, the God-Man saw that the hour when everyone would come to Him as He was raised upon the cross, was near. His human nature shuddered, His soul was in distress. But Jesus knew that without His sufferings the salvation of men was impossible, that without them His earthly activity would leave a trace as small as that of a grain which lies for a long time on the surface of the earth before being dried up by the sun. It was therefore at that time that He appealed to His Father not to allow human weakness to prevail over all the thoughts and feelings of His human nature:
Now is My soul troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save Me from this hour? And yet for this purpose have I come to this hour. (Jn 12:27).

And as if heartened by the remembrance of why He had come to the earth, Christ prays that the Will of God for the salvation of the human race be carried out:

Father, glorify Thy name. (Jn 12:28)

glorify it on earth, among men, show Thyself to be not only the Creator but also the Savior (St. Basil the Great, Against Eunomius, Bk 4).

I have glorified it and will glorify it again (Jn 12:28)

came a voice from Heaven announced that the time for the fulfillment of the Mystery which had been hidden from the beginning of the age was coming (Col 1:26; Eph 1:9; 3:9).

And now that time had already come. If before the human nature of Christ had shuddered and been troubled at the thought of what was to come, what did it experience now, when in expectation of the coming of His enemies and betrayer He for the last time prayed alone to God? The Lord knew that every prayer of His would be answered (Jn 11:42), He knew that if He would ask the Father to deliver Him from torments and death, more than twelve legions of angels would appear (Mt 26:53) to defend Him. But had He not come for this? So that at the last moment He should refuse to carry out that which He had fore-announced in the Scriptures?

However, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. The spirit of Jesus now burns (Rom 12:11), wishing only one thing—the fulfillment of the Will of God. But by its nature, human nature abhors sufferings and death (St. John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Bk 3, chapters 18, 20, 23, 24; Blessed Theodoret; St. John of the Ladder, The Ladder, word 6, On the Remembrance of Death). The Son of God willingly accepted this weak nature. He gives Himself up to death for the salvation of the world. And He conquers, although He feels the approaching fear of death and abhorrence of sufferings. Now these sufferings will be particularly terrible, terrible not so much in themselves, as from the fact that the soul of the God-Man was shaken to its depths.
The sin of man that He takes upon Himself is inexpressibly heavy. This sin weighs Jesus down, making the sufferings that are to come unendurable.

Christ knows that when His sufferings reach their peak, He will be completely alone. Not only will no man be able to relieve them I looked for one that would sorrow with Me and there was none, for one that would comfort Me and none was found. (Pss 68:21). I looked, but there was none to help; I was appalled, but there was no one to uphold. (Is 63:5). But in order that He should feel the full weight of sins, He would also be allowed to feel the burden of separation from the Heavenly Father. And at this moment, His human will can wish to avoid the sufferings. But it will not be so. Let His human will not diverge for one second from His Divine Will. It is about this that the God-Man beseeches His Heavenly Father.

If it is possible for mankind to re-establish its unity with God without this new and terrible crime against the Son of God (St. Basil the Great, Against Eunomius Bk 4), then it is better that this hour should not come to pass. But if it is only in this way that mankind can be drawn to its Maker, let the good Will of God be accomplished in this case, too. May His Will be done, and may the human nature of Jesus, even at the most terrible moments, not wish anything other than the fulfillment of the will of God, the completion of God’s economy. This is precisely what Christ prayed for in the garden of Gethsemane: He offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him Who was able to save Him from death. (Heb 5:7).
 
He offered up prayers and supplications to Him Who was able to save Him from death, but He did not pray for deliverance from death. It is as if the Lord Jesus Christ spoke as follows to His Father:

Abba, My Father, the Father of Him Whom Thou has sent to gather into one the people of Israel and the scattered children of God—the people of the Gentiles, so as to make out of two one new man and by means of the cross reconcile them with Thee. All is possible to Thee, all is possible that is in accord with Thy boundless perfections. Thou knowest that it is natural for human nature to abhor sufferings, that man would always like to see good days (Pss 34:14) But he Who loves Thee with all his heart, with all his soul and with all his mind wishes only that which is pleasing to Thy good and perfect will. I have come down to earth to fulfill Thy wise will and for this purpose I have communed with flesh and blood, assuming human nature with all its weaknesses, except the sinful ones. I also have wished to avoid sufferings, but only on one condition—that this is Thy holy will. If It is possible that the work of economy should be completed without a new and terrible crime on the part of men; if it is possible for Me not to experience these mental sufferings, to which in a few hours’ time will be united the terrible sufferings of the human body; if this is possible—deliver Me then from the experiences and temptations which have already come upon Me and which are still to come. Deliver Me from the necessity of experiencing the consequences of the crime of Adam. However, this request is dictated to Me by the frailty of My human nature; but let it be as is pleasing to Thee, let not the will of frail human nature be fulfilled, but Our common, pre-eternal Council. My Father! If according to Thy wise economy it is necessary that I offer this sacrifice, I do not reject It.

But I ask only one thing: may Thy will be done. May Thy will be done always and in all things. As in Heaven with Me, Thine Only-begotten Son, and Thee there is one will, so may My human will here on earth not wish anything contrary to Our common will for one moment. May that which was decided by us before the creation of the world be fulfilled, may the salvation of the human race be accomplished. May the sons of men be redeemed from slavery to the devil, may they be redeemed at the high price of the sufferings and self-sacrifice of the God-Man. And may all the weight of men’s sins, which I have accepted on Myself, and all my mental and physical sufferings, not be able to make My human will waver in its thirst that Thy holy will be done. May I fulfill Thy will with joy. Thy will be done.

(jesus_christ)gethsemane-001The Lord prayed about the cup of His voluntary saving passion as if it was involuntary. (Sunday service of the fifth tone, canon, eighth hirmos), showing by this the two wills of the two natures, and beseeching God the Father that His human will would not waver in its obedience to the Divine will (Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Bk 3, 24).

An angel appeared to Him from the Heavens and strengthenedhis human nature. (Lk 22:43). His human nature, while Jesus Who was accomplishing the exploit of His self-sacrifice prayed still more earnestly, being covered in a bloody sweat. And for His reverence and constant obedience to the will of the Father, the Son of God was heard. Strengthened and reassured, Jesus rose from prayer (Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Bk 3, 24).

He knew that His human nature would not waver any more, that soon the load of the sins of men would be taken away from Him, and that by His obedience to God the Father He would bring human nature that had gone astray to Him. He went up to His disciples and said:

You all sleep and rest. It is finished, the hour has come: Lo! the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Arise, let us go, he who betrays Me is at hand. Pray that you do not fall into temptation.

Coming out to meet those who had come for Him, the Lord voluntarily gave Himself into their hands. And when Peter, wishing to defend His Teacher, struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear, the Lord healed the servant, and reminded Peter that He was voluntarily giving Himself up:

Put your sword into its sheath: am I not to drink the cup which the Father has given Me? Or do you think that I cannot now ask My Father and He will send Me more than twelve legions of angels? How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, that this must come to pass?

And willingly drinking the whole cup of mental and physical sufferings to the bottom, Christ glorified God on earth; He accomplished a work which was no less than the very creation of the world. He restored the fallen nature of man, reconciled Divinity and humanity, and made men partakers of the Divine nature (2Pet 1:4).

Having accomplished the work which the Father gave Him to do, Christ was glorified also in His human nature with that glory which He as God had before the world was (Jn 17:5), and sat in His humanity at the right hand of God the Father, waiting until His enemies should be laid at the footstool of His feet (Heb 10:13).

Having been made for all those who obey Him the cause of eternal salvation (Heb 5:9), Christ remains even after His ascension known in two natures without confusion (Dogmatikon of the sixth tone), bearing two wills according to each nature unto the ages (Sunday canon of the fifth tone, troparion of the eighth eirmos), but His glorified body cannot now suffer and does not need anything, while in accordance with this His human will, too, cannot diverge from His Divine will in anything. But with this flesh Christ will come again on the last day to Judge the living and the dead, after which, as King not only according to His Divinity, but also according to His humanity, He will be subject to God the Father together with the whole of His eternal kingdom, so that

God may be all in all. (I Cor 15:28).

 

 

A Sermon About Our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane

On the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul

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by St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo

Today the Holy Church piously remembers the sufferings of the Holy Glorious and All-Praised Apostles Peter and Paul.

St. Peter, the fervent follower of Jesus Christ, for the profound confession of His Divinity:

“Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God,”

was deemed worthy by the Savior to hear in answer,

“Blessed art thou, Simon … I tell thee, that thou art Peter [Petrus], and on this stone [petra] I build My Church” (Mt.16:16-18).

On “this stone” [petra], is on that which thou sayest:

“Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God”

it is on this thy confession I build My Church. Wherefore the

“thou art Peter”:

it is from the “stone” [petra] that Peter [Petrus] is, and not from Peter [Petrus] that the “stone” [petra] is, just as the Christian is from Christ, and not Christ from the Christian. Do you want to know, from what sort of “rock” [petra] the Apostle Peter [Petrus] was named? Hear the Apostle Paul:

“Brethren, I do not want ye to be ignorant,” says the Apostle of Christ, “how all our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ” (1 Cor.10: 1-4).

Here is the from whence the “Rock” is Peter.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the final days of His earthly life, in the days of His mission to the race of man, chose from among the disciples His twelve Apostles to preach the Word of God. Among them, the Apostle Peter for his fiery ardor was vouchsafed to occupy the first place (Mt.10:2) and to be as it were the representative person for all the Church. Therefore it is said to him, preferentially, after the confession:

“I will give unto thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in the heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth: shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt.16: 19).

Therefore it was not one man, but rather the One Universal Church, that received these “keys” and the right “to bind and loosen.” And that it was actually the Church that received this right, and not exclusively a single person, turn your attention to another place of the Scriptures, where the same Lord says to all His Apostles,

“Receive ye the Holy Spirit” and further after this, “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them: and whose soever sins ye retain, are retained” (John 20: 22-23);

or:

“whatsoever ye bind upon the earth, shall be bound in Heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth, shall be loosened in heaven” (Mt.18:18).

Thus, it is the Church that binds, the Church that loosens; the Church, built upon the foundational cornerstone, Jesus Christ Himself (Eph 2:20), doth bind and loosen. Let both the binding and the loosening be feared: the loosening, in order not to fall under this again; the binding, in order not to remain forever in this condition. Therefore

“Iniquities ensnare a man, and everyone is bound in the chains of his own sins,” says Wisdom (Prov 5:22);

and except for Holy Church nowhere is it possible to receive the loosening.

After His Resurrection the Lord entrusted the Apostle Peter to shepherd His spiritual flock not because, that among the disciples only Peter alone was pre-deserved to shepherd the flock of Christ, but Christ addresses Himself chiefly to Peter because, that Peter was first among the Apostles and as such the representative of the Church; besides which, having turned in this instance to Peter alone, as to the top Apostle, Christ by this confirms the unity of the Church.

“Simon of John” — says the Lord to Peter — “lovest thou Me?” — and the Apostle answered: “Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee”; and a second time it was thus asked, and a second time he thus answered; being asked a third time, seeing that as it were not believed, he was saddened. But how is it possible for him not to believe That One, Who knew his heart? And wherefore then Peter answered: “Lord, Thou knowest all; Thou knowest that I love Thee.” “And sayeth Jesus to him” all three times “Feed My sheep” (John 20:15-17).

Besides this, the triple appealing of the Savior to Peter and the triple confession of Peter before the Lord had a particular beneficial purpose for the Apostle. That one, to whom was given

“the keys of the kingdom” and the right “to bind and to loose,”

bound himself thrice by fear and cowardice (Mt.26:69-75), and the Lord thrice loosens him by His appeal and in turn by his confession of strong love. And to shepherd literally the flock of Christ was acquired by all the Apostles and their successors.

“Take heed, therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock,”

the Apostle Paul urges church presbyters,

“over which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers, to feed the Church of the God, which He hath purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28);

and the Apostle Peter to the elders:

“Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof not by constraint, but willingly: not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind: neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock. And when is appeared the Prince of pastors, ye will receive unfading crowns of glory” (1 Pet. 5:2-4).

It is remarkable that Christ, having said to Peter:

“Feed My sheep,” did not say: “Feed thy sheep,”

but rather to feed, good servant, the sheep of the Lord.

“Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor.1:13).

“Feed My sheep”. Wherefore “wolfish robbers, wolfish oppressors, deceitful teachers and mercenaries, not being concerned about the flock” (Mt.7:15; Acts 20:29; 2 Pet 2:1; John 10:12),

having plundered a strange flock and making of the spoils as though it be of their own particular gain, they think that they feed their flock. Such are not good pastors, as pastors of the Lord.

“The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:11),

entrusted to Him by the chief Shepherd Himself (1 Pet 5:4). And the Apostle Peter, true to his calling, gave his soul for the very flock of Christ, having sealed his apostleship by a martyr’s death, is now glorified throughout all the world.

The Apostle Paul, formerly Saul, was changed from a robbing wolf into a meek lamb. Formerly he was an enemy of the Church, then is manifest as an Apostle. Formerly he stalked it, then preached it. Having received from the high priests the authority at large to throw all Christians in chains for execution, he was already on the way, he breathed out

“threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1),

he thirsted for blood, but

“He that dwells in the Heavens shall laugh him to scorn” (Ps 2:4).

When he,

“having persecuted and vexed” in such manner “the Church of God” (1Cor.15:9; Acts 8:5),

he came near Damascus, and the Lord from Heaven called to him:

“Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?”

and I am here, and I am there, I am everywhere: here is My head; there is My body. There becomes nothing of a surprise in this; we ourselves are members of the Body of Christ.

“Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me; it is hard for thee to kick against the goad” (Acts 9:4-5).

Saul, however,

“trembling and frightened”, cried out: “Who art Thou, Lord?”

The Lord answered him,

“I am Jesus Whom thou persecutest.”

And Saul suddenly undergoes a change:

“What wantest Thou me to do?”

— he cries out. And suddenly for him there is the Voice:

“Arise, and go to the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do” (Acts 9:6).

Here the Lord sends Ananias:

“Arise and go into the street” to a man, “by the name of Saul,” and baptize him, “for this one is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9: 11, 15, 18).

This vessel must be filled with My Grace.

“Ananias, however, answered: Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he hath done to Thy saints in Jerusalem: and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Thy Name” (Acts 9:13-14).

But the Lord urgently commands Ananias:

“Search for and fetch him, for this vessel is chosen by Me: for I shall show him what great things he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:11, 15-16).

And actually the Lord did show the Apostle Paul what things he had to suffer for His Name. He instructed him the deeds; He did not stop at the chains, the fetters, the prisons and shipwrecks; He Himself felt for him in his sufferings, He Himself guided him towards this day. On a single day the memory of the sufferings of both these Apostles is celebrated, though they suffered on separate days, but by the spirit and the closeness of their suffering they constitute one. Peter went first, and Paul followed soon after him. Formerly called Saul, and then Paul, having transformed his pride into humility. His very name (Paulus), meaning

“small, little, less,”

demonstrates this. What is the Apostle Paul after this? Ask him, and he himself gives answer to this:

“I am,” says he, “the least of the Apostles… but I have labored more abundantly than all of them: yet not I, but the grace of God, which was with me” (1 Cor.15:9-10).

And so, brethren, celebrating now the memory of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, remembering their venerable sufferings, we esteem their true faith and holy life, we esteem the innocence of their sufferings and pure confession. Loving in them the sublime quality and imitating them by great exploits,

“in which to be likened to them” (2 Thess 3: 5-9),

and we shall attain to that eternal bliss which is prepared for all the saints. The path of our life before was more grievous, thornier, harder, but

“we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12: 1),

having passed by along it, made now for us easier, and lighter, and more readily passable. First there passed along it

“the author and finisher of our faith,” our Lord Jesus Christ Himself (Heb 12: 2);

His daring Apostles followed after Him; then the martyrs, children, women, virgins and a great multitude of witnesses. Who acted in them and helped them on this path? He Who said,

“Without Me ye can do nothing” (John 15: 5).

 

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On the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, Leaders of the Apostles

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by St. Gregory Palamas

Brothers, this is the unofficial feast day of Preachers Institute, and on the feast of the glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul – the greatest preachers of the Christian faith, we offer this sermon from St. Gregory Palamas. Let these examples be before us as lamps in these dark times reminding us of our high calling, the excellence of our homiletic work, and the end for which we serve the Lord. We have received a great gift for the salvation of the people Christ loves and died for. Be refreshed in your spirit to preach and teach with the boldness of these ardent preachers, and let their prayers ignite in us the grace to preach worthily to save every soul we encounter.

Homily Twenty-Eight

1. The commemoration of each of the saints on the appointed feast day is an occasion for town and country, citizens and their rulers to share in rejoicing, and brings great benefit to all who celebrate.

“The memory of the just is praised”, says the wise Solomon (Prov. 10:7 LXX),

“When the righteous is praised the people will rejoice” (cf. Prov. 29:2 LXX).

If a lamp is lit at night, its light shines for the service and enjoyment of everyone present. Similarly, through such commemorations, each saint’s God-pleasing course, his blessed end, and the grace bestowed on him by God, because of the purity of his life, bring spiritual joy and benefit to the whole congregation, like a bright flaming torch set in our midst. When the land bears a good harvest everyone rejoices, not just the farmers (for we all benefit from the earth’s produce); so the fruits which the saints bring forth for God through their virtue delight not only the Husbandman of souls, but all of us, being set before us for the common good and pleasure of our souls. During their earthly lives, all the saints are an incentive to virtue for those who hear and see them with understanding, for they are human icons of excellence, animated pillars of goodness, and living books, which teach us the way to better things. Afterwards, when they depart this life, the benefit we gain from them is kept alive for ever through the remembrance of their virtues. By commemorating their noble deeds, we offer them that praise which, on the one hand, we owe them for the good they did our Ancestors, but which, on the other, is also fitting for us at the present time, on account of the help they give us now.

2. When we call to mind what they accomplished we add nothing to their good deeds. How could we, given that we are not even competent to depict their virtue as it really is? For the sake of the sublime rewards promised by God, they strove honourably to the limit of human nature and showed us a way of life that was equally sublime. We certainly do not augment their treasures by praising them—not at all! But we do increase their bounty to us by looking up towards them as lanterns aglow with divine light, and by understanding better and welcoming the beautifying power which comes from them.

3. If, as we have said, we commemorate each of the saints with hymns and appropriate songs of praise, how much more should we celebrate the memory of Peter and Paul, the supreme Leaders of the pre-eminent company of the Apostles? They are the fathers and guides of all Christians: Apostles, martyrs, holy ascetics, priests, hierarchs, pastors and teachers. As chief shepherds and master builders of our common godliness and virtue, they tend and teach us all, like lights in the world, holding forth the word of life (Phil. 2:15-16). Their brightness excels that of the other radiantly pious and virtuous saints as the sun outshines the stars, or as the heavens, which declare the sublime glory of God (cf. Ps. 19:1), transcend the skies. In their order and strength they are greater than the heavens, more beautiful than the stars, and swifter than both, and as regards what lies beyond the realm of the senses, it is they who reveal things which surpass the very heavens themselves and indeed the whole universe, and who make them bright with the light

“in which there is no variableness neither shadow of turning” (cf. Jas. 1:17).

Not only do they bring people out of darkness into this wonderful light, but by enlightening them they make them light, the offspring of the perfect light, that each of them may shine like the sun (Matt. 13:43), when the Author of light, the God-man and Word, appears in glory.

4. The appearance to us this day of both these luminaries together brightens the Church, for their meeting produces a wealth of light, not an eclipse. It is not the case that one has a higher orbit and is placed above, while the other is lower down and passes under his shadow. Nor does one rule the day, the other the night, such that one would overshadow the other if they appeared opposite each other. Light is not produced by one and received by the other in such a way that the latter’s radiance would vary sometimes depending on the distance between them. Rather, both share equally in Christ, the everlasting Source of eternal light, and have attained to the same height, glory and radiance. That is why the coming together of these lights signifies their solidarity and support for one another and illuminates the souls of the faithful twice over.

 Peter w keys5. The first traitor, who incited the first man to desert God, saw Him Who had earlier made Adam, the father of the human race, later re-creating Peter as the father of all true worshippers. He not only saw, but also heard the Creator saying to Peter:

“Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18).

Once the prince of evil found this out, being the epitome of wicked envy, he tempted Peter, the first leader of God’s faithful people, as he had previously tempted Adam, the founder of the race of men. Realizing that Peter was endowed with intelligence and afire with love for Christ, he did not dare make a direct attack. Instead he came upon him from the right flank, cunningly deceiving him into being excessively eager. At the time of the saving Passion, when the Lord told His disciples,

“All ye shall be offended because of me this night” (Matt. 26:31),

Peter disobediently contradicted Him. He also exalted himself above the others, saying that even if everyone else were offended, he would not be (Matt. 26:33). Because he had been beguiled into arrogance, he fell further than the rest, so that by humbling himself more than them he might eventually appear more radiant. Unlike Adam who was tempted, vanquished and completely brought down, Peter, having been tempted and led astray a little, overcame the tempter. How? Through his immediate condemnation of himself, his intense sorrow and repentance, and the medicine which brings forgiveness, tears.

“A broken and contrite heart”, it says, “O God, thou wilt not despise” (Ps. 51:17),

and

“Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of” (2 Cor. 7:10),

and

“They that sow their supplications in tears shall joyfully reap forgiveness” (cf. Ps. 126:5).

6. Anyone who looks at Peter will see that through repentance and painful grief he not only adequately healed the denial into which he had been drawn, but he also completely rooted out of his soul that passion which had made him fall behind the others. Wishing to demonstrate this to everyone, the Lord, after His Passion in the flesh for our sake and His rising on the third day, used those words to Peter

which we read in today’s Gospel, asking him,

“Simon, son of Jonah, lovest thou me more than these” (John 21:15),

meaning, “more than these disciples of mine”. But see how much humbler he has become. Whereas before, even without being asked, he set himself above the rest and said that even if all forsook the Lord, he would not; now, on being asked whether he loves Him more than the others do, he affirms that he loves Him, but leaves out the word “more”, saying

“Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee” (John 21:15, 16, cf. 17).

7. What does the Lord do? Since Peter has shown that he has not lost his love for Him and has now acquired humility as well, He openly fulfils the promise made long before and tells him,

“Feed my lambs” (John 21:15).

peterWhen He was referring to the company of believers as a building, He promised to make Peter the foundation stone, saying,

“Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18).

On the other hand, when He was talking in terms of fishing, He made him a fisher of men with the words,

“From henceforth thou shalt catch men” (Luke 5:10).

But when He speaks of His disciples as sheep, He sets Peter over them as a shepherd, saying,

“Feed my lambs, feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17).

It is clear from this that the Lord’s desire for us to be saved is so great, that He asks of those who love Him only one thing: to lead us to the pasture and fold of salvation.

8. Let us long to be saved, and obey those who lead us in that direction through their words and deeds. As long as each of us wishes to take the road leading to salvation, the teacher, prepared by our common Saviour, is at hand, together with the Giver of salvation, Who, in His overwhelming love for mankind, is more than ready without being called or beseeched. Christ asks Peter three times so that three times he can reply affirming his faith, thus healing his threefold denial with his threefold confession. Thrice Christ appoints him over His sheep and lambs, placing under him the three categories of those being saved: slaves, hirelings and sons, or, alternatively, virgins, chaste widows and those honourably married. But when Peter was asked again and again if he loved Christ, the Scripture tells us he was grieved by the repeated questioning (John 21:17), supposing that the Lord did not believe him. Knowing that he loved Christ, aware that his questioner knew him better than he knew himself, and feeling under pressure, Peter not only confessed that he loved Him, but also proclaimed that the Lord he loved was

“God over all” (Rom. 9:5), by saying, “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee”, because only “God Who is over all” is all-knowing.

9. Once Peter had made this heartfelt confession, the Lord ordained him Shepherd and Chief Pastor of His whole Church, and also promised to encompass him with such strength, that he who previously was unable even to stand being spoken to and questioned by a young girl (John 18:17), would endure unto death, even death on a cross.

“Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast younger”, both physically and spiritually, “thou girdest thyself”, meaning, you used your own strength, “and walkest whither thou wouldest”, doing what you liked and living according to your natural inclinations. “But when thou shalt be old”, having reached the peak of your physical and spiritual age, “thou shalt stretch forth thy hands”. With these words, Christ indicates that Peter will die on a cross, and bears witness that his crucifixion will not be involuntary. “Thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee”, meaning strengthen, “and carry thee whither thou wouldest not”, that is to say, out of this life (cf. John 21:18).

Our nature is unwilling to be dissolved in death, and Peter’s superhuman martyrdom also demonstrates our attitude as human beings to life.

“Strengthened by Me”, Christ tells him, “you will willingly endure all these things for my sake and bear witness to me; for the desire to do so is not natural but supernatural to human nature”.

10. Peter was the sort of man who can be described in a few words.

Paulpreaching

As for Paul, on the other hand, what tongue or how many and what sort of tongues can depict even to a limited extent his endurance unto death for Christ’s sake? He was put to death every day, or rather he was always dead, no longer alive himself, as he tells us, but having Christ living in him (Gal. 2:20). For love of Christ he not only counted everything in the present world as dung (Phil. 3:8), but even put things to come in second place compared to the Lord.

“For I am persuaded”, he says, “that neither death, nor life, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (cf. Rom. 8:38-39).

He had zeal for God, and was jealous over us with divine jealousy (2 Cor. 11:2). The only one to equal him in this was Peter, but hear how humble he is when he says of himself,

“I am the least of the Apostles, that am not meet to be called an Apostle”(1 Cor. 15:9).

Apostle Paul11. Given that Paul made the same confession of faith as Peter, and had the same zeal, humility and love, surely they received the same rewards from Him Who measures everything with completely just scales, yardstick and plumbline. Anything else would be unreasonable. That is why the Lord told Peter, “Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18), whereas He said to Ananias of Paul,

“He is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles and kings” (Acts 9:15).

Which name? Clearly the name we have been given, the name of Christ’s Church, which rests on the foundation stone of Peter. Notice that Peter and Paul are equal in prominence and glory, and both hold up the Church. Consequently the Church now bestows one and the same honour on both, and celebrates them together with equal esteem. As we consider the outcome of their lives, let us imitate how they lived, or at least how they were restored through humility and repentance, even if we cannot attain to their other great and exalted achievements, which are appropriate to great men and fitting for great men to emulate. In fact, some aspects of their lives are probably impossible for anyone to imitate. Amendment through repentance, however, is more appropriate for us than for the great, since we all sin many times every day, and unless we lay hold of salvation through continuous repentance, we have no hope of it from any other source.

12. Repentance is preceded by awareness of our sins, which is a strong incentive to mercy.

“Have mercy upon me”, said the Psalmist and Prophet to God, “for I acknowledge my transgressions” (Ps. 5 1:1, 3).

Through his recognition of sin he attracted God’s compassion, and through his confession and self-condemnation he obtained complete forgiveness.

“I said”, the Psalmist tells us, “I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my heart” (cf. Ps. 32:5),

because acknowledgment of our sins is followed by condemnation of ourselves, which in turn is followed by that sorrow for our sins which Paul calls “godly sorrow” (2 Cor. 7:10). After godly sorrow confession and prayer to God with a contrite heart come naturally (Ps. 51:17), as does the promise to keep away from evil from now on. This is repentance.

13. This is how Manasseh escaped being punished for his sins, even though he had fallen into many great and serious transgressions, and wallowed in them for years on end (2 Chr. 33:1-20). As for David, the Lord set aside his sin because of his repentance, nor did he deprive him of his Prophetic gift. When Peter resorted to repentance, he not only recovered from his fall and obtained forgiveness, but was also appointed to protect Christ’s Church.

As you see, Paul too was rewarded with this role after his conversion, once he had made progress and become more closely God’s own than the others. Repentance which is true and truly from the heart persuades the penitent not to sin any more, not to mix with corrupt people, and not to gape in curiosity at evil pleasures, but to despise things present, cling to things to come, struggle against passions, seek after virtues, be self- controlled in every respect, keep vigil with prayers to God, and shun dishonest gain. It convinces him to be merciful to those who wrong him, gracious to those who ask something of him, ready with all his heart to bend down and help in any way he can, whether by words, actions or money, all who seek his assistance, that through kindness to his fellow-man he might gain God’s love in return for loving his neighbour, draw the divine favour to himself, and attain to eternal mercy and God’s everlasting blessing and grace.

14. May we all attain to this by the grace of the only-begotten Son of God, to Whom belong all glory, might, honour and worship, together with His Father without beginning and the all-holy, good and life-giving Spirit, now and for ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

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“Christ’s Ascension to Heaven is Also Our Ascension to Heaven”

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Christ is Ascended to the heavens! And we with Him!

This sermon was originally given at the Monastery of St. Jacob the Persian in Deddeh on June 2, 2011. The Arabic original can be found here.

efraimlibanon1In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.

On this day we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ from earth to heaven in his glorified body. You have heard about the event of the Ascension from the Evangelist Luke and from the Acts of the Apostles, which Luke also wrote. In Luke, the event is tied to the Resurrection, while in the Acts of the Apostles it comes forty days after the feast of the Resurrection!

In Luke, Christ appears to the disciples risen from the dead after a discussion of how is body is of flesh and blood, but this body that is risen from the dead is separated from them. He leaves the earth after fulfilling his dispensation of salvation. He goes to heaven, upwards, and the disciples return to Jerusalem, as the Gospel says, with great joy. After that, they began to meet in the temple, praising and glorifying the Lord.

What is the purpose of this feast and what is its meaning? Why all this salvific dispensation? The Lord achieved in himself what he wants us to achieve in ourselves. The Fathers say that Christ’s ascension to heaven is also our ascension to heaven. In his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul clearly says that our true homeland is in heaven with Jesus Christ, who is glorified unto the ages. Our life on this earth is a passing prelude to true, eternal life.

This is the meaning of the Feast of the Ascension. We are called to grow toward the true homeland, which is heaven, that is the Kingdom! Here we live by the Holy Spirit, whom the Church considers to be the pledge of eternal life. This is the meaning of the monastic life.

Why did the monastic life arise? Because the monk always gazes toward his true homeland, to this angelic kingdom which awaits him while he is on earth. He suffers, but he also rejoices that the Spirit of God is within him, the Holy Spirit. He rejoices in having received this pledge from now on. As the Holy Fathers say, we now live in our heavenly homeland. We taste this country ahead of time. We have a foretaste and we wait patiently to go where the Lord Jesus went in glory and sat at the right hand of the Father. And we will live with him forever, amen.

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Sermon Against the Pogroms

anthony 2by Blessed Antony Khrapovitsky, Metropolitan of Kiev

Cathedral of Zhitomir April 20, 1903

The joyous feast of reconciliation, the Resurrection of Christ, continues. We have completed the commemoration of the Thomas, who was the first to confess that the risen Jesus is our true God, and we are now singing of the deeds of the myrrhbearers.

We commemorate those women who did not grow weak in their faithfulness to Christ even during the terrible days when He was betrayed and put to death, and who were accounted worthy to announce His resurrection to the apostles. The apostles would enlighten the world by proclaiming the resurrection, but these holy women had first enlightened the apostles with it.

In extolling their faith, the Church calls all of us to imitate this struggle and to participate in the preaching of the resurrection. We are called upon to become so penetrated by joy in Him that we not only forget about the evil done against us by enemies, but to forgive from our hearts their hatred toward us and not only forgive them, but even love our enemies. We must now strive to embrace with love all mankind, inviting them to share with us the spiritual ecstacy of that new life revealed so clearly to us, that everlasting life filled with blessed communion with God. Now is fulfilled that prophecy of Isaiah;

“And everlasting joy … illness, sorrow and sighing have, fled away” (Is 35:10).

The grace of Christ’s resurrection shines brightly even in our corrupt age, and it shines not only on the pious but even on those who are unconcerned. During these sacred days, those who did not pray earlier now turn to prayer; even those whose hearts were hardened. We greet one another with the kiss of peace, and even the unmerciful and miserly find pleasure in showing love toward their neighbour.

“Christ is risen and life springs forth”

as the God-fearing voice of Chrysostom proclaims. But amidst such comforting circumstances in our Christian life, sorrowful, shameful news reaches us that in the city of Kishenev, on the very day of Christ’s resurrection, on the day of forgiveness and reconciliation, there occurred the cruel inhuman massacre of unfortunate Jews.

At the very time when in the holy temples there was being sung,

“Let us embrace one another and say ‘brother’ even to those who hate us…”

yes at that very time, outside the church walls, a drunken, beastly mob broke into Jewish homes, robbing the peaceful inhabitants and tearing human beings into pieces. They threw their bodies from windows into the streets and looted Jewish stores. A second crazed, greed filled mob rushed in to steal the clothing and jewelry from the bloodied corpses, seizing everything they could lay hand on. Like Judas, these robbers enriched themselves with silver drenched in blood – the blood of these hapless human sacrifices!

O God! How did Thy goodness endure such an insult and offence to the day of Thy saving passion and glorious resurrection! Thou didst endure Thy terrible struggle so that we would be dead to sin and live in Thee (Rm.6:11), but here they cruelly and in a most beastly manner slaughtered those who are Thy relatives according to the flesh, who, though they did not recognise Thee are still dear to Thy heart as Thou Thyself didst say not long before Thou didst suffer in the flesh,

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou who killest the prophets and stone those who are sent to thee; how often have I longed to gather your children as a hen gathers its chicks under its wing, and you desired it not” (Matt. 23:37).

O brethren, I wish to make you understand this so that you would comprehend that even today the Jewish tribe is dear to God’s heart, and realise that God is angered by anyone who would offend that people. Lest anyone suppose that we are selecting words from the sacred scripture with partiality, let me cite for you the words of that man whom the Jews hated above all men. This is the man whom a company of the Jews vowed neither to eat nor drink until they had killed him (Acts 23:12) – Apostle Paul.

Hearken to the words of God’s spirit speaking through him:

“I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing my witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen” (Rm. 9:1-5).

Startling and frightening word! Did you truly write them, Paul, you who came to love Christ, who began to live in Christ as Christ lived in you? For whose sake did you consent to be separated from Christ? Was it not you, Paul, who wrote the lines preceding this verse

“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rm.8:38-39).

Even the angels could not have done that which you would voluntarily have done for the sake of the salvation of the Jews – those who were your enemies, your betrayers, they who beat you with whip, chained you in prison, exiled you and condemned you to death.

Behold, brethren and marvel: these words of Apostle Paul are spoken concerning the Jews, even though they were opposed to Christ’s faith. Lest your perplexity i continue, that same apostle and martyr explaining in the following chapter, the reason for his love of the house of Israel!

“Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (10:1-2)

The words are confirmed in our own day by the life of the Jews. Observe for yourselves their dedication to their law, their preservation of the Sabbath, their faithfulness to their spouses, their love of work and their love toward their children, whom they encourage toward obedience. There was a time not so long ago when Christians excelled them in all these things, but in our present corrupt and degenerate age, we must look with regret upon all these qualities of the way of life of pious Jews. In our cities, the majority of Christians no longer distinguish between the ordinary day, feastdays and fasts, but have fallen into negligence and a loose life.

It is true that there are also some like this among the Jews, but from whom did they learn such a disorderly path? Alas, from those whose forefathers confess Christ, from European and Russian nihilists who, like toads, swarm over our land, whose books and newspapers poison the air around us like the plague and cholera.

The Karaim and Talmud Jews must be respected, but woe to both those nihilists from among the Jews and from among us, who are corrupting both family and society, who sow the seed of their contagion among Russian and Polish youth, and who are the main cause of the hatred toward the descendants of the holy forefathers and prophets beloved by the Lord. I am not speaking about respect for these nihilists among the Jews.

Listen as the blessed apostle further explains the reason for his warm, self-denying love toward this people; hear how he explains their unbelief and obduracy toward Christ

“I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy” (11:11).

If the Jews had all accepted Christ’s faith, then the heathens who despised the Jews would have rejected it. If the Jews had all believed, then we, brethren, would not have become Christians, but would still be worshipping Jupiter and Venus or Perun and Volass as our pagan ancestors did. Be cautious, therefore, about slandering the unbelief of the Jews; rather grieve over it and pray that the Lord may be revealed to them. Do not be at enmity with them, but respect the apostolic word about the Israelite root and the branches that broke from it

“Because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. ” (11:20-21)

O Christians, fear to offend the sacred, even though rejected, tribe. God’s recompense will fall upon those evil people who have shed blood which is of the same race as the Theanthropos, his most pure mother, apostles and prophets. Do not suppose that this blood was sacred only in the past, but understand that even in the future reconciliation to the divine nature awaits them (2Pt.1:4), as Christ’s chosen vessel further testifies,

“For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written. There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins” (11:25-27).

Let the savage know that they have slain future Christians who were yet in the loins of the present day Jews; let them know that they have shown themselves to be bankrupt opponents of God’s providence, persecutors of a people beloved by God, even after its rejection (11:28).

How sinful is enmity against Jews, based on an ignorance of God’s law, and how shall it be forgiven when it arises from abominable and disgraceful impulses. The robbers of the Jews did not do so as revenge for opposition to Christianity, rather they lusted for the property and possessions of others. Under the thin guise of zeal for the faith, they served the demon of covetousness. They resembled Judas who betrayed Christ with a kiss while blinded with the sickness of greed, but these murderers, hiding themselves behind Christ’s name, killed His kinsmen according to the flesh in order to rob them.

When have we beheld such fanaticism? In Western Europe during the middle ages, heretics and Jews were shamefully executed, but not by mobs intent on robbing them.*

How can one begin to teach people who stifle their own conscience and mercy, who snuff out all fear of God and, departing from the holy temple even on the bright day of Christ’s Resurrection, a day dedicated to forgiveness and love, but which they i rededicate to robbery and murder?

O believers in God and His Christ! Fear the Lord’s judgment in behalf of His people. Fear to offend the inheritors of the promise, even though they have been renounced. We are not empowered to judge them for their unbelief; the Lord and not we will judge. We, looking upon their zeal even though it is

“not according to knowledge” (Rm.10:2)

would do better to contemplate their fathers: the righteous Abraham, Isaak, Jakob, Joseph and Moses, David and Samuel and Elijah, who rose to heaven still in the flesh. Look upon Isaiah who accepted voluntary death for the faith, Daniel who stopped the mouths of beasts in a lions’ den, and the Maccabbee martyrs who died with joy for the hope of resurrections. Let us not beat, slay and rob people, but soften their hardness toward Christ and Christians by means of our own fulfilment of the law of God. Let us multiply our prayer, love, fasting and alms and our concern for those who are suffering, let us be zealous about the true essence of the faith; let our light so shine before people that they may glorify our heavenly father and Christ. Let us overcome unbelief and impiousness among Christians first, and then concern ourselves with the Jews,

“And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heavens must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.” (Acts 3:20-21).


 

Met Antony not only preached against the pogroms, and attempted to influence the government to intervene, but on at least one occasion, he placed himself in the breach. While he was bishop in Volyn, a mob of pogromists was marching on the local synagogue. Metropolitan Antony drove his carriage into the path of the surging march, placing himself between the mob and the synagogue, and censured the crowd for their intended crime.

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