26 March 2007

The Greatness of God

The following is an excerpt of a sermon preached at Holy Incarnation Orthodox Church on Passion Sunday. To read the full sermon, subscribe to Holy Incarnation NEWS.

In concert with all the great philosophers, St Peter Chrysologus reminds us that human observation cannot recognize how great God is, but only that He exists. Why is this? Why can we not innately see the greatness of God? Let me suggest two reasons.

First, we are creatures. So our human minds can neither comprehend nor fathom the mystery that God is. Otherwise, we would be like God. So the nature of being human prevents us from ever truly knowing the full extent of God’s greatness. Or to say it more simply: we can’t know God’s greatness because we are not God, but made by God.

The second reason we can’t know God’s greatness is because we don’t know what true greatness is. Our minds are so clouded over by arrogance, by lust, by disordered passions, and by our selfish near-sightedness that we do not know see that true greatness consists not of might but of mercy; and not being able to have and do and control whatever we want, but being willing to sacrifice all for the sake of love.

This second reason is because of sin. Instead of striving to be in God, we strive to be like God. And in our misguided striving, we miss the mark because we are aiming at the wrong thing. And the wrong thing is the desire to raise ourselves, the need to promote ourselves, the straining and struggling and stressing to make sure we make it. The focus is all wrong. In straining to be like God, we strain to be noticed; and so we strain toward a selfish goal.

But notice, now, the true greatness of God. The Son of God, who is all and has all, emptied Himself of all that He is and has, and took the form of a servant, and became one of the creatures He made, being made in the likeness of men, taking on the mortal weakness of men. And so, not for His sake, but for the sake of man and all creation, He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.

[Here, then, is true greatness.] It is the High Priest using His own blood to sanctify not only the temple, not only the pious and righteous, but even more so the most defiled, the most despicable, the least deserving, the filthiest, and the most unclean. This is the way of Christ, who by the Holy Ghost offered himself unspotted unto God, [to] cleanse our conscience from dead works, [so that we might be permitted] serve the living God. In this way, the unholiest is sanctified not by an incantation, not by the right ceremony, but by the Holy One becoming sin; by the Deathless One dying; and by the Lover of men being the most despised.

Let us then not only consider, but take to heart, the greatness of Our Lord God. Let us not only understand, but also believe His meekness. Let us both comprehend, and then seek our life in the unfathomable love that He is and so readily gives. For He does not abandon us to our self-destroying ways. Neither does He make us first seek Him out and somehow ascend to Him. Rather, in His deep and abiding mercy, Our Lord Jesus comes to us. And in coming to us, He gives us all that we need to return to Him, to live in true repentance, to forsake our selfish appetites, and to live for Him in the same self-sacrificing way that He lives for us.

04 March 2007

Transfigured for our Sanctification

The lectionary for Mass according to the rite of St Gregory (WRV) appoints the Matthean account of Our Lord's transfiguration as the Gospel for the Second Sunday in Lent (Reminiscere). Here is an excerpt from the sermon I preached today on that pericope. For the full sermon, click here.

Our Blessed Lord Jesus, the Savior of mankind, established the Faith which calls the wicked to righteousness, sinners to repentance, the unmerciful to acts of mercy, the proud to humility, and the dead to life. This faith, then, is not inert, but active. It is not a true statement that we hold in our minds, but the life we are to live. For this reason, the holy Apostle Paul beseeches us not merely to believe, but also to walk in the faith we have received. For your sanctification is the will of God; which means, that Our Lord and God showers His mercy upon us so that we might become holy, just as He is holy.

Yet let us clearly understand and even confess that the holiness to which Our Lord calls us, the holiness His Spirit desires to live within us—this holiness is not lived by what we determine to be holy deeds, holy words, holy thoughts, or holy actions. The holiness to which we are called is the holiness Our Lord lived and taught, which is the same holiness expounded by the Apostles, which is the same holiness given by Christ’s holy Church.

So when the Church urges you to fast, to pray and to give alms; to exercise self-discipline, to attend liturgy and to be merciful; to abstain from fleshly lusts, to call upon Our Father without ceasing, and to reward evil with kindness—the Church is both calling you to true holiness, and showing you the path of holy living.

Yet the call to a life of active holiness is not easy to follow. For our fallen inclination is either to prefer what we call holy, or to dabble in works of darkness which lead us away from holiness, and so away from the Holy Spirit.

So that we might see true holiness; so that we might understand and strive for the goal of holiness; and so that we might be strengthened to live not for ourselves but for our holy God, Our Blessed Lord and Savior sets before us a shining example in His own body.


Knowing our weak selves, then, and so that we might not hesitate in taking up the cross by living the life of self-discipline, prayer, and mercy, Our Lord Jesus shows the brightness of His glory to Peter, James and John; and through them, to His Holy Church and so also to us. For like these holy apostles, we surely acknowledge and confess the majesty of God in Christ. Yet we must also know and believe that such majesty, such glory, such power, such salvation and such undying mercy is contained within His Body.

It is this Body of Christ that, unworthy as we are, we are graced to take into our own bodies by means of the Holy Eucharist. And it is this Body of Christ that, unworthy as we are, we are blessed to live within as member of His holy Church. And by this Body of Christ, we are strengthened in the Spirit to live against the desires of our sullied minds and polluted flesh, and instead to will to do whatever is pleasing to God our Father.

03 March 2007

Swiss Invade Liechtenstein (Oops!)

This amuses me to no end! No doubt, it's just my strange sense of humor again.

[A] company of Swiss soldiers got lost at night and marched into neighboring Liechtenstein.

A spokesman for the Swiss army confirmed the story but said that there were unlikely to be any serious repercussions for the mistaken invasion.

[Liechtenstein] Interior ministry spokesman Markus Amman said nobody in Liechtenstein had even noticed the soldiers, who were carrying assault rifles but no ammunition. "It's not like they stormed over here with attack helicopters or something," he said.
Pertinent facts:
  • Liechtenstein (population 34,000) does not have an army
  • Switzerland is officially neutral.

What a Fine Gift!

Recently, one of my parishioners gave me a copy of A Commentary on the Psalms by J. M. Neale & R. F. Littledale. He gave it because we are currently studying the Penitential Psalms, and I lamented how the translation of St John Chrysostom's commentary on the Psalms does not contain comments on each of the 7 Psalms.

The Neale set is four volumes and is by no means not a new production. And it's a set I've desired for some time. It's packed with patristic commentaries on each Psalm as well as the liturgical use of the Psalms according to a number of usages (Gregorian, Ambrosian, Byzantine, etc.)

For those who are looking to buy their priest a great gift, or for those who are interested in an excellent resource for the Psalms, I highly recommend this set. It's not cheap, but it's worth every penny. You can purchase your copy here.

01 March 2007

Striving Together, Not in Isolation

After Great Vespers on Saturday, 10 February, St George Orthodox Church in Troy hosted a banquet celebrating the formation of Holy Incarnation Orthodox Church. His Grace, Bishop MARK, was the guest of honor and Fr Joseph Antypas, Dean of the Michigan Deanery and priest at St George, was the master of ceremonies. Several speeches were given. As the one assigned to serve Holy Incarnation, I was also asked to address those who attended. The following is an excerpt of my address.

The Lord’s abundant and undeserved mercy is the context in which we live. It is the setting in which we strive to live soberly, and justly, and godly in this world. As such, our Christian striving is part of the mercy of God, even as it is blessed by God.

During this striving, we are supported and encouraged by the prayers of the saints, the blessed dead and all the faithful. For the man who strives alone quickly falls prey to either pride or despair. But the man who strives with the help of others; the man who is cheered on by those who have finished the race, and who runs with those who work as a team to reach the same prize—this man perseveres. He may stumble, but the others will help him up. He may get discouraged, but the others will urge him to stay the course. And so he will persevere precisely because he strives not alone, not by himself, but in a supportive community—a community that prays for him even as it strives with him.

Permit me to suggest that what is true of each Christian is also true of each parish. Each parish as a whole strives to be a godly Christian community. Each parish faces struggles, heartaches, set-backs, fears, and hard times. Yet each parish perseveres in order to obtain the prize—not the prize of being the biggest or most active, but the prize of entering the kingdom of heaven.

The parish which strives on its own, the parish which strains and endeavors by itself to be what it should be—that parish quickly falls prey to pride or despair; and it runs the risk of devolving into a social club. To avoid the risk of running the race but losing the prize, a parish must not run alone. Instead, each parish must seek the prayers of the saints—and especially its patron. And each parish must also see that it strives together with other parishes.

For the parish that runs alone dies.

In the same way, the parish that is left alone and not supported by fellow parishes also dies.

So parishes must support another. Each parish must be supported by the prayers, the encouragement, and the kindness of other parishes. And when the parishes support each other, they must do so not only in word but also in deed and in truth. They must do so because they love one another. They must do so because they race not against each other, but run together toward a common goal. And they must do so because each parish is straining to obtain the goal that the same prize.

With the blessing of Metropolitan PHILIP and Bishop MARK, Holy Incarnation will strive to run the good race as a fledgling parish. And because of the blessing of His Eminence and His Grace, I am absolutely confident that this new little mission will continue to have the support of our good Father Dean, and the gracious members of St George, and the priests and parishioners of many other churches, and our local monastic communities.

And you can be just as confident that Holy Incarnation will not run alone. We will not strive in isolation. It is our earnest desire also to run together with all the parishes and monasteries of all Orthodox jurisdictions.

For despite our different homelands, despite our varieties in rites and ceremonies, despite our different strengths, and even in spite of our different jurisdictions, all Orthodox parishes of whatever kind have the greatest thing in common: “We have seen the true light. We have received the heavenly Spirit. We have found the True Faith, worshipping the undivided Trinity, for He hath saved us.”