Monday, March 31, 2008

Prayers of the Church:Typology of the Cross in prayer - catechetical talk


A Discussion of the rich typology about the cross in Scripture, using prayers from the services for the Cross as examples.

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Prayers of the Church:Before Thy Cross - catechetical talk

Great Lent, Sunday of the Cross 2008 - Two Ways - Mark 8:34-9:1


Mark 8:34-9:1And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. 35 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it. 36 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? 37 Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. 1 And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.

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Great Lent, the 4th Week, Monday, Vespers - "Fair and foolish"

A golden ring in a swine's snout, a woman fair and foolish.

Great Lent, the Fourth Week, Vespers, Proverbs 11:22 from the selection: Prov 11:19-12:6

The Proverbs has many pithy and sometimes humorous phrases.

What a sight it would be to see a woman, beautiful in all ways, except that she has the nose of a pig, with a ring in it! I daresay it would be much easier to avoid the lust of the eyes as soon as our gaze lights upon that nose with that ring!

Perhaps you have the same humorous image I had when I read this verse. Sometimes humor can help us, and although this verse can be thought of as humorous, it speaks of a multitude of sins which we must avoid.

The “Fair (beautiful) and foolish woman (or any person)” is foolish because of their vanity. Their beauty was given by God, or perhaps they altered their image by surgery, but in any case, it was not earned. It is foolish to be proud, but even more so, to be vain about things which are trifles, or which we have no control.

It is also foolish to value external beauty, or money, or anything that is temporary.

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: (20) But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: (21) For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

The foolish vain person sees himself in a flattering light, but to God, and those with God's wisdom, he appears foolish. In a like way,

A golden ring in a swine's snout:

a man rich and foolish

a famous man and foolish

a man who is proud of his family, or ethnicity, or education, and foolish.

A pig is an unclean animal. We are unclean when we are proud of our few accomplishments, our looks, or wealth, or position, or anything we have, and do not cultivate the virtues.

Raising the Cross at McKinney - Sunday of the Cross 2008 - PICTURES


Saturday, March 29, 2008

Great Lent, the Third Sunday, Of the Cros - Priorities - Mark 8:34-9:1

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today is the third Sunday of Great Lent and the day in which we adore the precious and life-giving cross of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ.

In life, if you do anything, if you're to be successful, then there are two main ingredients for this success. One is the knowledge of what you want, how you should do it -- you must have understanding. Then you must also have the correct priority based on this understanding -- or should I say, based on reality. You must be able to perceive what reality is. If you wish to become extremely good in sports, as a basketball player, then the reality is you must work over and over and over again on the fundamentals of basketball. If you wish to be a musician or a scholar or a Christian, you must work over and over and over again on the fundamentals of that discipline, of that way of life. And you must know what is good and what is bad for your desire, and you must have your priorities set straight, so that you will act in accordance with what is good and cast away what is bad.

Today, this reading really speaks about priorities. It speaks about reality, about the ultimate reality. And it poses a question that every one of us should ask of ourselves every day: " What can a man give in exchange for his soul?" [1] Nothing; nothing is worth as much as the soul. Our Lord said, if He gains the whole world, it's not worth one soul. All that is corruptible, all that is passing away, you can hold onto for a while, but it's like catching wind, because when you die, there's nothing left. So what does it matter if you gain that which is corruptible? What does it matter if you plant flowers in your garden if it's going to be bulldozed the next day? What does it matter when you paint your house, if it's burning? That's what's happening in this world. The world is passing away, so if we hold on to the things of this world, we hold onto that which is corruptible.

Underlying the priorities of a Christian is the understanding of reality, the understanding that the world is passing way. And this is not a bad thing; this not a gruesome thing at all. Who wants to save the world the way it is? With corruption, with death, with sadness, with imperfection, incompleteness, with that longing in our hearts that can't be fulfilled by anything in the world? Who wants to save the world the way it is? Even people that are outside of Christianity don't like the world the way it is. Sometimes they invent things to cover it up, or they lose themselves in some sort of debauchery or some sort of bad opinion or heresy or something of that nature, but basically they're dissatisfied with the world.

But there's a strong illusion that the Evil One puts upon men. But we're willing; we allow it to come into our hearts. The evil one disguises the reality that the world is passing away, disguises the reality of Whom Jesus Christ is, and that to be a Christian is to become like Christ, to struggle, to work, to labor, to sweat, to desire. He disguises this. People want to have power, or wealth, or comfort, or sex, or drugs, or something else that is their passion, something that they think of as life. Now, some people are completely immersed in this thing, in these things of the world. But then others, such as Christians who have not yet perfected themselves, are influenced by the world, by the cares of the world, by their ambitions and their passions. And so constantly we must make an effort to see the difference between reality and what the world presents as reality.

The only solution for us to be able to look past all this delusion--and it is powerful delusion, very, very powerful delusion -- the only solution is to labor in the Church. That's all. Not labor outside of the Church; labor within the Church. We have to labor where Christ is to be found. And we must recognize who we are -- the reality -- who we are, why we're here, why we were born. And we must recognize the purity, the dignity of our soul. Our bodies contain that which is of infinite worth. The Lord equates nothing to the high worth of our soul. He says that everything in the world is not worth one soul. No matter how much money, no matter how much prestige, no matter what goes on in the world--none of it can be bartered for a man's soul. That's a terrible trade.

Today's Gospel summarizes how we are to live, and why. It tells us about real reality. Not what the world tells us is real, but about how a Christian should live, how a Christian should think, how he should be. Our Lord said, " Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me."

[2] It almost sounds like a riddle. To many people in the world this makes no sense whatsoever, and unfortunately also to many Orthodox Christians. They don't understand it. "What do you mean, deny myself?" We spoke about this a little bit last night. God knows that we have built into our character a desire for survival, a desire for life. We don't wish to do harm to ourselves; we wish to protect ourselves. We don't wish to harm our loved ones; we want to nurture them and help them. This is not the kind of denial that's being spoken of. The denial that's being spoken of is the denial of what we think of as ourselves that is actually cruel delusion. When we define our lives by how we live in the world, by our passions, by our lusts, by our desires. No, we are far above those things.

We are created for a purpose. We are created to know the Holy Trinity, intimately, and the whole purpose of our time on earth is to know God. And I tell you, you cannot know someone without loving them. And you cannot love someone without desiring to be like them. Even in a secular sense we understand this. We love people as far as we should love all men, but I mean in the context of loving someone intimately, a husband or a wife or our children. We see that which is good in them, and we rejoice in it. And we might see a friend or a spouse and say, "There's something that is good and wholesome in them, and I want to emulate them. I want to become like that." It's our nature to want to return good for good. That's why it says, " We love Him because He first loved us ." [3]

God loves us, and we return that love. This is the reality of life.

God also said here, whosoever will . In other words, whosoever desires . If you desire, I will fill you, says the Lord Jesus Christ. If you do not desire, I will not force you. But deny yourself. Deny those things in you that are not in keeping with who you are. Deny those things that are on the outside of you. Don't let them come inside -- the passions and lusts and all the things that will fall away. But I tell you, He said, if you wish , if you desire . Compel yourself! He gives you the choice, but as a man you shouldn't give yourself the choice. Over and over you should compel yourself to do good and to avoid evil. It's a choice of the will. God will help you with this choice, absolutely, but you must make this choice. You must decide to keep the fasts, you must decide to say your prayers, you must decide the give alms, you must struggle against passions. And if you do these things, God will strengthen you and help you in them. But He won't force you.

And He says, take up his cross . He tells us to take up our cross. What does this mean? This means to work, to labor, but to labor with a purpose. No man digs a hole for no reason; he digs a hole for a purpose, in order to plant a tree. We labor so that we will become like our Savior, so that we will recognize Him and He recognize us, so in the eighth day when He judges all of mankind, He will say, "I know you. Come, join the angels and the saints."And He will not say those words, those terrible words, "Depart from Me, because I don't know you." [4] We don't want to hear that.

The only way we can know Christ is to live like Him, to become like Him. And we have no excuses. Our Savior lived just like us. What does the epistle say today? It says, " For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." [5] He fulfilled everything that He tells us to fulfill, to the letter, and beyond the letter. So we have the capability in Christ to live godly, holy, pure lives - but with effort, by taking up our cross, by making an effort.

So deny yourselves. Don't deny yourself of godliness; deny your passions and affirm good works. Deny things earthly, and think on things heavenly. Deny grumbling and laziness, and be obedient. Deny illusion, all that is within the world that is illusory, and affirm truth. Feed on truth, which is to be found in the Church. Deny corruption, and strive for perfection. This is our life, and I tell you, when you give into your passions, whatever they are, no matter how big or how small, you are denying reality. Do you realize that? You are denying reality. Now a man who is at the edge of a cliff and says, well, you know, I think I have got anti-gravity shoes on, and jumps off the cliff, is crazy, and everyone would realize he is denying the reality of gravity. Well, just as real is the pernicious effect of sin in our life. And every single time that we sin, we deny that which is within us. That's craziness. It's actually insanity. To sin is to be insane. Well, God will heal us, though, of our insanity, if we struggle, if we take up our cross.

Now the cross is bitter, isn't it? The cross is a bitter way to die. It was known as the most bitter way to die in ancient times; it was reserved only for the arch-criminals. A Roman couldn't be put to death on the cross -- only strangers and foreigners. It was a very painful way to die, and it was shameful. Well, medicine can be painful and can be difficult to take. But if we don't take it we won't get well. So our Lord showed that He could take the bitterest of medicines for our salvation. So we should be willing to quaff a little bit of bitterness from our cup.

I tell you, it's not really so bitter, because once you start to taste the sweetness of Christ, you want nothing else. Once you feel His yoke setting easily on your shoulders, and you're at peace, you wish to labor. You wish to work harder. You wish to become better. It's from within, not from without. It's from inside a man, because that's where God lives, and that's where God enlightens. He lives in the heart and He enlightens us, and we wish to become better, and better, and better. And if we do become better, it's because we have an understanding of what God will do for us and what He's already done, and we deny those things that are not in keeping with that. That's the meaning of this phrase, deny yourself .

Then our Lord continues, " For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it." [6]

To those in the world, another riddle, another difficult riddle. How can I lose my life? My life is precious to me, says the world. Yes indeed, your life is precious, but eternal life is what God is talking about here. He says, if you lose that which is outside of eternal life, that which is of the world, if you lose the things that are going to go away anyway, then you will save your life. See, there are two lives here. One is a life in the world, a life of lust and depravity and heedlessness, and the other life eternal, of perfection. And if you lose those things that are heedless, those things that are depraved, then you will save your life. If you lose your life for My sake, He says, and the Gospel, you will save your life. Lose your life for the sake of what God has taught you. And I tell you, you only learn the Gospel inside the Church, because that's where it is preached. So all that is within the life in the Church, if you live that life, and struggle, then God will save. It's rather frightening. The Church understands about passions very well, and in hell, all men will still have their passions. That's what it means when it says that they will be thrown into " the fire that shall not be quenched, where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched" [7] , where Christ describes hell in the Gospel of St. Mark. You'll still have all your passions when you're in hell. If a man has a desire for drink, or for something illicit, he'll still desire all those things, but he'll have no way to quench his desire, and they'll burn him for the rest of eternity. That's a terrible, terrible thought. But if you lose your life in this world for the sake of the gospel, then God will save you.

Losing your life means conquering your passions, denying the evil that's within you, and I tell you, it comes only from understanding reality, actual reality. You know, recently, I was in New York City, and I was rather amazed. It was a very invigorating place. But it was so full of illusion. I saw all these things all over, and it was such illusion. We even have words for it -- the "Madison Avenue mentality", about advertising and such. But you can have illusion everywhere, in Dallas, or somewhere else, because illusion is when we allow ourselves to believe that which is untrue. And the only way that you can really believe is by living the life. Philip said to Nathaniel, come and see, because he asked, " Can any good come out of Nazareth?" [8] You have to live it; you have to experience God. If you don't experience Him, then these are just words, then they are just rules. Why in the world should I fast? It smells so good; why should I fast? Why should I not have these thoughts that are only in my head; how is it bothering anyone else? Those are the kind of thoughts a man has when he doesn't understand who Christ is. You must live the life to know who Christ is.

And Christ asks a question you must ask of yourself every day. This is a terrible question. I tremble when I read it, every time. " What shall it profit a man, if he should gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" [9] Nothing; nothing is equal to the soul. If we lived according to these words, we would not sin, at all. We'd really believe. We'd live as Christians. But we allow ourselves to be deluded over and over and over again. So we must renew ourselves over and over and over again. God knows about our infirmity, and He will save us, if we struggle, take up our cross, and follow him in truth. Ponder this question often. Fear your depravity. Not just because you realize it's a sin, but because if you continue in it, you'll be separated from God, eternally. That's a terrifying thought. Every man should fear it. Not to fear God's judgement, so much, but to fear that you will miss the sweetness of God. That's what you should fear.

And then Christ says some other hard words. " Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of Me and My Word in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also shall the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels." [10] He uses adultery here to show betrayal, dishonesty, uncleanness. Adultery is one of the most unclean of sins, because what is it? It's denying intimacy. When two people love each other and have a deep, intimate bond with each other, and when one or the other denies that bond, it is a terrible, terrible sin. Well, we indeed have an intimate bond with our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. He has given us the grace of baptism. He gives us his Holy Mysteries, and all of the life of the Church for our benefit. And when we deny him by the way we live, we are adulterers. We commit adultery.

So don't deny Christ, either by your attitude, by your priorities, by indulging in things that you know are unclean, or by fear of another's opinion. You know, there is that meaning to this phrase as well -- when people are afraid to show that they are Christians, because especially in our country here, people sometimes think you're crazy when you're an Orthodox Christian. Too strict about fasting, or this or that. You make the sign of the Cross? What for? All these things. Or, you follow that calendar? Why do you do that? That's not the real calendar. All these questions. We should not be ashamed. God has enlightened us and planted us in his vineyard, and we must bear fruit.

God help you all to see reality, to see what God has done, and then, to set your face forward, to be on the plow and not to look back, but to set your priorities, to live the Christian life. God help you. Amen.

[1] Cf. Mark 8:37 "Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?"

[2] Mark 8:34, partial

[3] 1 John 4:19

[4] Cf. Matthew 26:31-45, and especially, Luke 13:24-27: "Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. {25} When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are: {26} Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. {27} But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity. "

[5] Hebrews 4:15

[6] Mark 8:35

[7] Cf. Mark 9:42-48 "And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea. {43} And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: {44} Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. {45} And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: {46} Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. {47} And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: {48} Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched."

[8] John 1:46 "And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see."

[9] Mark 8:36-37

[10] Mark 8:38

Hebrews 4:14-16,5:1-6

Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. {15} For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. {16} Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. {5:1} For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins: {2} Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity. {3} And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins. {4} And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. {5} So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee. {6} As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.

Mark 8:34-38

And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. {35} For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it. {36} For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? {37} Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? {38} Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. {9:1} And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.

Great Lent, the Third Sunday, What shall we trade? - Mark 8:34-9:1

Brothers and sisters, a Christian must always be able to answer questions. You must always be comparing things. Constantly, daily, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute, you should be making comparisons and you should be making trades. St. Andrew of Crete, in his Great Canon, urges himself to be a great trader.

What is this that he is trading? What shall we trade?

There is a question -- several questions, actually -- that the Lord asks us in the Gospel for the Cross today. He says, "What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" This is not a rhetorical question. This question has a correct answer. Actually, it has two answers that are equally correct.

One answer is that a man can give nothing to deserve salvation, nothing in exchange for his soul. Nothing is worth eternal life. There is no way he can pay God so that he will deserve salvation. That is one answer.

And then, there is another answer, which is the more important of the two, I would say. What can a man give in exchange for his own soul? His life. If a man gives his life, God -- God redeems him. We don't deserve it, we are weak, but we can give our heart to God, give our way of thinking to God, give our priorities to God, give our striving and our effort to God. Not our successes, not our abilities, because we can give nothing in exchange for our soul. We don't have enough ability to give to God; all God wants of us is our heart, and He provides us with the ability.

And how so? St. Paul very succinctly, tersely, beautifully sums up the meaning of -- the reason for -- the Incarnation of God. He says "we have a great High Priest, Who has passed into the heavens," and he goes on to say, "We have not a High Priest Which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Jesus Christ became as we are, the same stuff that we are made of, tempted in all ways as we are, and yet did not sin -- and not only did He not sin, but He ascended back to His Father, in the flesh. The things which He tells us to do -- and He tells us many things -- we are capable of doing because He Himself fulfilled these things. He is not some unreachable, far away High Priest that we cannot identify with. He bore our weaknesses and made them strong. He bore our infirmities and healed them. Everything that He expects of us, He has already done! As a man, he has done these things. If we understand what Christ has done for us, then we will understand how we can give our life in exchange for our soul. There is nothing that we have of ourselves that is worth salvation -- to be able to gaze up on our God. But Jesus Christ has made us capable.

Now, how do we go about making this exchange -- this exchange of things corruptible for things incorruptible, things temporal for things eternal, things that fade away for things that endure, things that will be forgotten for eternal remembrance? How can we make this exchange, brothers and sisters? This question should be one which you are answering moment-by-moment. We make this exchange by denying ourselves, and taking up our cross, and following our Savior on the same path that He walked and the same path that the saints walked.

And how is it that you deny yourself? You deny those things that are not according to God; your deny those things that are corrupt and that will go away; but trade, trade with you will, your heart, your desire, so that you can create a great treasure in Heaven. The way of the Cross is a way of denial, it is a way many times of sorrow, and pain, but it is a way of enlightenment, and of being invigorated. Good comes out of the soul when God dwells in it, and you desire to do what is right because God dwells within you, and you can think nothing else. Denying yourself, brothers and sisters, is just denying what you already know is going to go away. If you struggle against a lustful thought, that struggle is eternal and will be remembered. If you say one kind word to someone, that will be remembered. The promotions you get, the television programs you watch, the vacations you go on, the foods you eat--all of that will be forgotten. None of that is eternal. But any good work done in the name of God is remembered and is permanent.

Brothers and sisters, in our hearts is a desire for eternal life. All men have it -- that is why people want to be famous, that is why people want to leave things to their heirs, that is why people want to do something big in the world -- because they have a desire for significance. But that desire for all those things is really just a perversion, a twisting, of that good desire that God has put in our heart to be permanent, to not change, to be perfected, to be whole. This is what the Christian life offers us. Have you ever wondered why at the end of this reading the Lord says "There are some that stand here that shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power?" Why does He say that? He is talking about the Cross, a little bit, and all of a sudden, almost out of the blue, He says "there are some here that will not taste of death, until they see the kingdom of God come with power." What He is referring to is what happens right afterwards, which is: He goes up on a mountain at night, with Peter, James, and John, and He is transfigured before them, and they see Him as He is, the Uncreated Light, God -- so as to show them, and therefore, through them, us, that He is reliable; the things He tells us to do, they will get us where He wants us to go, and where we should desire as well. After He came down the mountain, He looked just like any other man, and when He was on the Cross, He bled like any other man, and He felt pain like any other man, and He died like any other man. But the apostles remembered, and we should remember too, the One Who hangs on the Cross is the One Who hung the stars in the heaven. The One Who suffers on the Cross is the One Who takes away every suffering. The path that He tells us to walk, He walked Himself, and He did more so besides.

Now we understand in secular things that it is nonsensical to pay more or something than it is worth, or that it is nonsensical if there is a great bargain not to take it. Why in spiritual things do we understand the medium of exchange so poorly? Why is it that we pick things that will not last, things that will only indulge ourselves for a moment, for a season, and then they're forgotten, they're gone? Why do we do this? The Lord says, "What can a man give in exchange for His soul?" Nothing, and everything. Everything you do should be in exchange for your soul, brothers and sisters, not for your indulgence. Everything you do should be for your salvation. Deny those things that you know are wrong, and live for Christ.

Now, some people are frightened by Christianity, even within the Church, because they think of Christianity as only denial, self denial: "I can't have any pleasure, I can't have any fun." That's not it at all. If a person follows Christ even a little, inside their heart is such happiness that it is all they desire. Any amount of denial is inconsequential to them. Does an athlete, when he is stretching for the finish, having raced a long race, tired, with pains in his legs and in his lungs--does he care about his physical pain? When he is stretching for the finish, he only sees the victory ahead of him. Everything else is inconsequential; it matters not. For a Christian, we feel pain, things are difficult. But it should not matter. Does a woman, after her travail, regret that she went through pain? Does it matter to her when she has her baby? Not at all. If this were the case, that she had regret, everyone would have only one child. But she is willing to go through the pain again because of the love for that child.

Brothers and sisters, the Christian life is really in many ways no different than secular life. If you put effort into it, and desire, you will be rewarded. Without effort, there is no fruit. An athlete who does not train is mediocre. A scholar who does not study does not know the things that he purports to know. The big difference between the Christian life and secular life is that your efforts, if they are in denying yourself and taking up the cross, are eternal.

The taking up the cross that He is speaking of is not just to be suffering. If suffering happens, so be it. But the taking up the cross is "You, walk as I walk. I have given you an example, you follow it." When your enemy smites you on the cheek, turn the other cheek to him also. If your adversary has taken your tunic, give him your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go with him one mile, go with him two. This is taking up the cross. The Christian life should be mostly described in terms of positives. In the old testament -- we were speaking in the Bible study yesterday, that Jesus Christ, when He referred to the Old Testament in His sermon on the mount, He would say "you have heard it said…," or "the ancients said…." In the old days it was said that you shalt not do this, you shalt not do this, and there were strict penalties for all these things. But when Jesus Christ came with the new revelation, with the fulfillment of the old, with the perfection of the old, which was only barely, barely seen in the old days, Jesus Christ didn't say thou shalt not, but thou shalt. That's what the beatitudes are -- the Christian commandments.

And all the rest that Christ did showed us how to live. We are capable of it because we have a great High Priest, Who went through everything we went through, and more so besides, and was successful. The only way to appropriate this success, brothers and sisters, is to deny the things that you know in your heart are wrong, and to strive for righteousness. Only the righteous can understand righteousness, only the pure can understand purity. It is a great joy when one is pure. But you can't understand this joy without striving for it -- which means casting off things that are impure and struggling to take up your cross and live the Christian life.

I've told you before, I guess I'll say it a thousand times more: the greatest heresy of our age -- the greatest heresy, I believe, of the era since Christ came -- is that salvation can be won without labor. What a nonsensical thing. The Lord says "take up your cross." He will make you able to carry your cross. And in your self-denial, you will be free.

We are in the middle of the fast -- a period when we are supposed to be denying ourselves. Some people look at Lent as a difficult, long ordeal. I tell you, I wish lent lasted all the year. I'm never more at peace then during Lent. A time when things kind of settle down -- I can see things a little more clearly.

Brothers and sisters, deny those things that are not of God. Struggle to take up your cross. The Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, struggled with His Cross as well, and was victorious. His Cross was much larger than ours; His Cross included our cross. He has already made us capable; He has already walked the path. All we need do is follow Him. What a glorious thing it is to be a Christian. There is no greater name, no greater honor, than to be able to suffer if need be for our Savior. May God grant you true spiritual wisdom to be able to trade that which will not endure for that which will become eternal. Amen.

[1]This sermon was transcribed from one given on the Third Sunday of Great Lent, 2002, at St Nicholas Russian Orthodox church, Dallas, Texas

Great Lent, the Third Sunday, Of the Cross, Русская версия

Во имя Отца, и Сына, и Святого Духа. Аминь.

Братья и сестры, мы дошли до середины Великого поста. И сейчас мы обращаем внимание на крест. Крест для нас – это символ победы, но также это и символ желания, символ борьбы, символ воли. Потому что Господь говорит: «кто хочет идти за Мною, отвергни себя, и возьми крест свой, и следуй за Мною.» Мк.: 8, 34. Мы поем: «Кресту Твоему поклоняемся, Владыко, » и потом на едином дыхании мы продолжаем: «и святое Воскресение Твое славим.» Почему же мы говорим о воскресении и о кресте одновременно? Потому что воскресение происходит посредствoм креста.

Когда Вы действительно всмотритесь в жизнь, что Вы увидите? Что присуще всем нам? Каждый из нас имеет волю, желания, и мы все делаем выбор ежеминутно, ежедневно, непрерывно делаем выбор, хорошо или плохо. Многие из наших выборов заводят нас в места, в которых нам не следовало бы быть, расстраивают нас, усложняют нашу жизнь, причиняют боль людям, которых мы любим. Но многие выборы – правильные, сделанные честным, добрым сердцем, с сокрушением, в соответствии с Законом Божьим. Это очевидный во всем мире факт, если мы следуем Закону Бога, Его Воле, мы будем счастливы. Поэтому Господь говорит: «кто хочет...». Если Вы пожелаете, согласно Вашему выбору, без принуждения, если у Вас есть желание следовать за Мной, то вам нужно делать следующее: Вы должны отрицать себя, запрещать себе вещи, которые ведут Вас ложными путями. Отрицать неправильный выбор, отвергать вещи, которые не ведут к жизни. Возьми свой крест – символ победы, а не просто символ усилия или боли, это символ победы – и следуй за Мной. И это важная часть – следуй за Мной.

Христианство – это религия откровения. Господь Сам открывает Себя для познания человеческому сердцу. Ни один человек не может распознать Его, ни один человек не может Его постичь, ни один человек не может открыть Его с помощью философствования. Бог Сам открывает Себя человеческому сердцу. И если Господь не открывает себя, то человек Его не знает. И единственный способ познать Бога сердцем, это стать таким как Он. По мере того, как Бог раскывает Себя нашему открытому сердцу, оно начинает понимать. Но как нам этого достичь? Как нам открыть наши сердца Богу? Какими нам должно стать, чтобы Господь раскрыл нам Себя, и мы смогли Его познать? A познать Его, означает познать всю радость, все удовольствие, быть чистым во всем. Как мы можем это сделать? Только следуя за Ним.

Христианство – это путь подражания, следования за Христом, а также следования за теми, кто следовал за Ним. Святой апостол Павел говорит: «Будьте подражателями мне...» 1 Кор:11,1. Но здесь наш Господь говорит: «возьми крест свой, и следуй за мной». Как Он может так говорить? Он говорит так, потому что Сам прошел по этому пути. Он сделал это будучи человеком. Поэтому в своем послании к евреям Св. Апостол Павел говорит с чуством немощи: «мы имеем не такого первосвященника, который не может сострадать нам в немощах наших» Рим.:14, 15. Другими словами, Он прочувствовал все, что мы чувствуем. Любая человеческая немощь, которая есть в нас, была и в Нем. С единственным исключением, как говорит Апостол, Он был искушен во всем, также как и мы, за исключением греха. Он подвергался таким же искушениям, как и мы, но не согрешил. И именно это позволяет нам быть способными не грешить. Наш Господь прошел по пути, по которому Он хочет, чтобы следовали и мы.

Лицемер говорит: «Следуй за мной» и не следует тому, о чем просит. Наш Господь не лицемер. Наш Господь осветил путь и сделал человеческую плоть способной поступать праведно во всем. Поэтому, когда Он говорит «возьми крест свой, и иди за Мной», Он говорит с правом, потому что это именно то, что Он сделал Сам. Для Него взять Свой крест не означало только умереть, быть казненным языческими властям. Для нас это не является «взять свой крест», и не было предназначено для Господа.

Взять свой крест означает следовать за Господом во всем: будь-то тяжело или легко, иногда это тяжело, иногда не так уж и тяжело. Но мы должны идти за Ним все время. И почему? Потому что крест - это победа. Мы можем распознать это даже в ежедневной жизне, даже в светской жизне. Когда мы выполняем что-то трудное для кого-то, о ком мы заботимся, даже если в это вовлечены и боль, страдание, недосыпание, потеря дохода, но далаем для кого-то, о ком заботимся, мы счастливы. Затраченая нами энергия стоит того. Это и есть взять крест. Но это только для того, что бренно и пройдет. Когда мы берем на себя крест для Бога, то делаем это навечно. Борьба, которую мы ведем, запомнится в вечности. Пролитые нами слезы запомнятся в вечности. Желание запомниться в вечности. Но есть что-то, что не запомнится. И хорошо об этом знать. Наши грехи, в которых мы покаялись, не запомнятся в вечности, потому что Господь видит наше желание. И мы даже замечаем подобное в ежедневной жизни. Если мы видим, что кто-то сильно старается, разве мы не поверим в него? Если кто-то прикладывает все усилия, пусть у него и не слишком получается, разве мы не дадим ему больше шансов? Конечно же дадим. Такова наша натура, потому что это натура Бога любить тех, кто борется. Господь не говорит здесь: «возьми крест свой, стань совершенен во всем, не греши вообще, и только тогда Я тебя прииму.» Все что Он говорит: «возьми крест свой, и следуй за Мной.» Это означает, следуй за мной настолько, насколько хорошо ты можешь. Я помогу тебе. Сам Господь смог полностью завершить то, о чем просит нас. Мы же не можем совершить полностью все, но можем частично, а Господь заполнит оставшееся.

Действительно, жизнь заключается в постоянном выборе. Жизнь заключается в принятии решений, в наших рассуждениях. Мы все время это делаем. Какого рода рассуждения Вы имеете в своей жизне? Как Вы ответите на заданный Господом вопрос: «Ибо какая польза человеку, если он приобретет весь мир, а душе своей повредит? Или какой выкуп даст человек за душу свою? » Мк.: 8; 36-37.

Мир - проходящий. Все его удовольствия, боль, гордость, вся его красота пройдут. Большая часть его красоты – ложная и мимолетная. Единственная истинная красота в мире – это та, которая преследует волю Господню. И эта красота никогда не пройдет. Как Вы отвечаете на вопрос «Какой выкуп Вы дадите взамен за свою душу?» Какой выкуп, какую цену Вы можете приписать своей душе? Сколько Вы можете за нее заплатить? Стоит ли делать великие затраты за свою душу? Многие люди не верят, что стоит. Поэтому они живут жизнью «здесь» и «сейчас» независимо от того, называют ли они себя православными или нет. Они живут «здесь» и «сейчас». Они живут в удовольствии, развлечении, в собственной гордости. Они живут для удовольствия в данный момент, и они избегают труда. Но труд – это то, что нас спасает. Христос трудился заради нашего спасения, поэтому и мы должны трудиться. Как можем мы быть лучше Хозяина? Чем глина может отличаться от Гончара? Мы должны бороться также, как боролся и Он. Он был в этом успешен. И это означает, что мы тоже будем успешны.

Так часто люди рассматривают христианство, как что-то тяжелое, от чего можно устать. Тяжело читать молитвы каждый день, тяжело не иметь определенных мыслей, тяжело удерживать себя от того или иного греха. Это сложно, потому что мы смотрим с неправильной стороны. Крест – это не тягостное задание.. Думайте о кресте, как о бремени. Что же о бремени сказал Христос? Он сказал: «Мое бремя легко» Мт.11:30. Но почему многое в жизни кажется нам тяжелым? Потому что, если противиться бремени, появляются раны. Если Вы растрачиваете энергию на другие вещи, у Вас не остается сил нести крест. Причина, по которой он нам кажется тяжелым есть то, что мы не прикладываем к нему достаточно усилий. И потому что мы рассматриваем его как тяжесть, а не как то, что приносит нам милость, то, что приносит нам жизнь.

Я уверен, что причина, по которой мы постимся заключается в том, чтобы понять, что означает «кто хочет идти за Мною, отвергни себя, и возьми крест свой, и следуй за Мною.» Удерживать себя от определенной еды и есть немного меньше на самом деле не так уж сложно, как нам кажется. Существуют вещи намного сложнее. Но это небольшое действие самоотрицания, которое мы регулярно повторяем на протяжение всего года, помогает нам помнить, что же значит нести крест. Когда вы поститесь, Вам следует почувствовать легкость в душе. Не быть в плохом настроении, не чувствовать себя всегда голодным, но ощутить легкость. А если Вы не ощущаете легкость, если для Вас это очень тяжело, тогда вы рассматриваете пост в неверном ракурсе. Вы рассматриваете пост, как тяжелый крест, тяжкую ношу вместо как что-то, что приносит жизнь. И точно также, если Ваша жизнь Вас обременяет, если Вы находите много очень тяжелых для исполнения вещей, и Вас интересует, зачем Я все это делаю, почему я не могу остановиться, или почему я даже начинаю, тогда Вы рассматриваете крест неправильно. Вы рассматриваете его, как сложный и тяжелый, в то время, когда он приносит жизнь.

У Господа был крест. Он нес его, Он был в состоянии его нести, и Он не отличается от нас. Об этом нам говорит Апостол. То же самое человеческое ество, те же слабости, та же хрупкость. Но Он с помощью Своей воли сделал Свои слабости крепкими. И мы также можем сделать свои слабости крепкими с помощью своей воли, которая привлечет Его милость.

Итак, в чем же заключается жизнь? Как нам следует отвечать на вопрос о том, что мы дадим взамен за свою душу? Что может дать человек взамен за свою душу? Мы отвечаем на этот вопрос не словами, но своими поступками, жизнью, борьбой.
Поэтому я Вам говорю, если что-то для Вас является сложным; что-то, с чем Вы не можете расстаться, может Вы даже и не хотите оставлять это прямо сейчас; что-то, что Вам нужно начать, а Вы может и не хотите начинать; что-то, что Вы чувствуете и знаете, что не должны, но до сих пор чувствуете; это те вещи, от которых Вам нужно отречься. Не рассматривайте это только, как обременительное задание. Смотрите на это, как на что-то, что дает Вам жизнь. Потому что так оно и есть. Цена - это жизнь.Крест – это победа. Крест – это не тяжелая ноша. Когда мы берем на себя крест, то становимся крепче, легче и счастливие.

Поэтому давайте будем, как наш Господь. Давайте подражать Ему, давайте следовать за Ним. Пусть нашим выбором будет взять свой крест. Это будет небольшой крест. Мы не сможем справиться с большим. Но давайте все же возьмем его. Давайте будем бороться, следовать за Христом для того, чтобы в нас произошла перемена. Аминь.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Great Lent, the 3rd Week, Friday, Vespers - "A deceitful balance" - Proverbs 10:31-11:12

A deceitful balance is an abomination before the Lord: and a just weight is his will.

Great Lent, the Third Week, Friday, Vespers – Proverbs 11:1, from the selection: Proverbs 10:31-11:12

The Proverbs are excellent texts for checking ourselves. Many of you have heard many times that we must read the scriptures with the intent of finding personal correction and guidance.

When we observe good or bad behavior, do we resemble it? When there is a rebuke, would we deserve the same? When a prayer is uttered or a promise made, would we be truth tellers or liars if we said the same thing?

Here we are told something about honesty. In old times, product was weighed on a balance, and sold by weight. An unscrupulous merchant could add weight to the side on which he weighed the product, so that a small amount would seem heavier, or he could label the weights that he added to the other side incorrectly, by overstating their weight. In either case, the result was (for instance) that a customer would think he was buying a pound, but in reality the weight would only be twelve ounces.

The way we judge things, and present ourselves to others may be considered a “balance”.

Our balance is deceitful, if we prefer one person over another because of their wealth, or position or notoriety, as the Holy Brother of the Lord tells us:

My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. (2) For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; (3) And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: (4) Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4 KJV)

We have a deceitful balance if we speak ill of another behind their back.

Our balance is false if we are more likely to talk or listen to someone if they are pretty, or interesting.

Is not our balance deceitful, when we promise to do something, and do not do it?

Anytime that we hide dark thoughts in our hearts regarding our brethren, regardless of whether we think that we act upon them, we carry within us a deceitful balance.

Sunday of the Cross EVENT at St Nicholas

Exalt ye the Lord our God, and worship at his footstool; for he is holy.
Psalms 99:5

On the Sunday of the Cross, March 30, 2008, at 2:00 PM, the faithful of St Nicholas Orthodox Church are raising a large wooden cross on their land in McKinney.

We are in the midst of finalizing building plans and intend to build a temple beginning in June this year. In the meantime, we intend to use the land regularly for worship; this cross will be the first change we have made to the ground to sanctify it and use it for worship.

After we have raised the cross, we will have a moleben to the cross, during which time we will sing with prostrations “Before Thy Cross, we bow down in worship, O Lord, and Thy holy resurrection we glorify” (and also “Christoo Tvoyemoo”) as loudly as we can, for all the world to hear. We will also serve Sunday vespers.

The erection of the Cross is the beginning of our permanent presence in McKinney. We invite everyone to come to pray and serve with us and share in our joy.

Our land address is 708 S Chestnut St., McKinney, TX 75069. Take Highway 5 to Christian, and turn West. The land will be at the next intersection, on the NW corner of Christian and Chestnut. It is a few blocks South of the Historical Square.

Contact Priest Seraphim Holland for more information.
Phone 972 529-2754. Cell:972 658-5433. Email:
St Nicholas website: Almost daily BLOG:

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Great Lent, the 3rd Week, Thursday, The Sixth Hour- "the ensign of the people" - Isaiah 11:10-12:2

In that day the root of Jesse, who standeth for an ensign of the people, him the Gentiles shall beseech, and his sepulchre shall be glorious.

Great Lent, the Third Week, Thursday, The Sixth Hour, Isaiah 11:10, from the selection: Isaiah 11:10-12:2

The “root of Jesse” is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ, who came from the line of Jesse.

Ensign” can also be rendered “standard”, and this is a foreshadowing of the precious cross. The cross is our ensign; we venerate it because of our Lord's accomplishments upon it, and we look to it to teach us the “way of the cross”, that is, imitating the moral life of our Savior.

His sepulchre shall be glorious” is a prophesy regarding our Lords tomb – it indeed would be glorious when He rose from the dead in it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Great Lent, the Third Week, Wednesday - "Joyful celebration of the fast"

As we continue in the joyful celebration of the fast, we cry aloud: keep us all in peace, O Lord, deliver us from every snare of the enemy, and in Thy surpassing love count us worthy to venerate with love Thy precious cross, through which thou grantest to the inhabited world Thy mercy, O Thou who alone art most merciful.

Great Lent, the Third Week, Wednesday, The Sixth Hour, Sessional Hymn, Tone Two (by Theodore)

The services are enthusiastic! I love to hear their enthusiasm about the living of the spiritual life, and their frequent enraptured meditation on the truths and dogmas of our faith.

I hope you do too.

This hymn is one of many during the Great Fast that count this “tithe”1 of the year as great blessing, and joy.

This attitude is a different perspective for some of us. For some, Great Lent is a time to “give up” things, and deal with inconvenience and difficulty in planning meals.

The reason for these feelings is a serious misunderstanding of the Fast, and also the main reason for the Fast, the following of the commandments.

The Fast is not IMPOSED upon us, nor are any of the sweet commandments of the Lord imposed upon us. We follow the commandments because they are the only way of life, and because we will be changed and perfected.

Does anybody want to stay the same way they are right now? Do you still want to have bouts of laziness, depression, shame because of your behavior, intrusive thoughts that make you feel dark and cold? If you like this state, you may have it forever, and you need not do anything to achieve it!

If a person wants to change, the Fast is a joyful time, because it facilitates change. We will not always be in our current, wretched condition; we will be changed.

The joyful faster always has that “blessed hope”2 within him when he fasts. The fast may truly have great difficulties and sorrows for us, but the Christian is joyful, even in his sorrow, because he knows that he is getting better. Most of the time, we cannot “feel” that we are getting better; we will believe this only as we continue to struggle and God sends us ineffable consolation.

To those who consider the phrase “joyful fast” and oxymoron, the church hymns constantly invite: “Come and see!”

1Great Lent and Holy Week, including Holy Saturday is 36 days, and therefore encompasses almost exactly a tenth of the days of the year, and many spiritual writers have commented on this.

Here is the math:

  • Great Lent is 6 weeks long, and Saturday and Sunday are not rigorous fasting days. Counting only weekdays, this gives us 6 weeks of 5 days each = 30 days.

  • Holy Week is also a week of fasting, so this adds another 5 days. We are now at 35 days. S

  • Since Holy Saturday is considered to be a fast day (we can have wine, but not oil), we add another day, giving us 36 days.

  • 36/365 = 9.8 percent, or, rounded up, 10%, a tithe of the year.

2Titus 2:11-14 KJVA For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, (12) Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; (13) Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; (14) Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Great Lent, The Second Sunday - The Paralytic - Interpretation by St Gregory Palamas - Mark 2:1-12

We just read the Gospel from St Mark about the paralytic this past Sunday of Great Lent. I just saw the following quote from a sermon by St Gregory Palamas, and I thought it was too good to wait until next year to share it with you.

"... the paralyzed man is any soul that thinks of turning back to the Lord and is brought to Him by these four things:
confession of sins,
the promise to renounce evil,
and prayer to God." On the subject of the Paralyzed Man Taken from The Homilies of St. Gregory Palamas Vol. 2, compiled by Christopher Veniamin. Homily 29 "On the subject of the Paralyzed Man who, according to Matthew the Evangelist, was healed in Capernaum. Also on Godly Sorrow"
It would be a worthwhile use of your tiume if you read this sermon.

Great Lent, the 3rd Week, Tuesday, Vespers - Wisdom has built a house for herself, and set up seven pillars - Proverbs 9:1-6

Wisdom has built a house for herself, and set up seven pillars. 2. She has killed her beasts; she has mingled her wine in a bowl, and prepared her table. 3. She has sent forth her servants, calling with a loud proclamation to the feast, saying, 4. Who so is foolish, let him turn aside to me: and to them that want understanding she says, 5. Come, eat of my bread, and drink wine which I have mingled for you. 6. Leave folly, that ye may reign for ever; and seek wisdom, and improve understanding by knowledge.

Tuesday in the Third Week of Great Lent- At Vespers - Proverbs 9:1-6, from the selection Prov 8:32 - 9:11

Christ, he means, the wisdom and power of God the Father, hath builded His house, i.e., His nature in the flesh derived from the Virgin, even as he(John) hath said beforetime, "The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us."(8) As likewise the wise prophet(9) testifies: Wisdom that was before the world, and is the source of life, the infinite "Wisdom of God, hath builded her house" by a mother who knew no man,--to wit, as He assumed the temple of the body.

"And hath raised(10) her seven pillars;" that is, the fragrant grace of the all-holy Spirit, as Isaiah says: "And the seven spirits of God shall rest upon Him,"(11) But others say that the seven pillars are the seven divine orders which sustain the creation by His holy and inspired teaching; to wit, me prophets, the apostles, the martyrs, the hierarchs, the hermits, the saints, and the righteous.

And the phrase, "She hath killed her beasts," denotes the prophets and martyrs who in every city and country are slain like sheep every day by the unbelieving, in behalf of the truth, and cry aloud, "For thy sake we are killed all the day long, we were counted as sheep for the slaughter."

And again, "She hath mingled her wine" in the bowl, by which is meant, that the Saviour, uniting his Godhead, like pure wine, with the flesh in the Virgin, was born of her at once God and man without confusion of the one in the other.

"And she hath furnished her table:" that denotes the promised knowledge of the Holy Trinity; it also refers to His honoured and undefiled body and blood, which day by day are administered and offered sacrificially at the spiritual divine table, as a memorial of that first and ever-memorable table of the spiritual divine supper.

And again, "She hath sent forth her servants:" Wisdom, that is to say, has done so--Christ, to wit--summoning them with lofty announcement.

"Whoso is simple, Let him turn to me," she says, alluding manifestly to the holy apostles, who traversed the whole world, and called the nations to the knowledge of Him in truth, with their lofty and divine preaching.

And again, "And to those that want understanding she said"--that is, to those who have not yet obtained the power of the Holy Ghost--"Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled for you;" by which is meant, that He gave His divine flesh and honoured blood to us, to eat and to drink it for the remission of sins.

St Hippolytus of Rome, On Proverbs

Monday, March 24, 2008

Great Lent, the Third Week, Monday - "With the Fire of abstinence... - Matins Sessional Hymn

With the fire of abstinence let us all burn up the thorns of the passions that assault us, and with streams of tears let us put out the flame that shall never be quenched; and let us cry aloud to Him Who shall come to judge the whole earth: O Savior and all-merciful Lord, guard us uncondemned and grant us the forgiveness of our sins.

Great Lent, the Third Week, Monday, Matins Sessional Hymn, Tone 8

Our services contain numerous exhortations and explanations about how to live the way of life; their poetry, especially when they are sung, touching the soul in sublime ways.

This hymn is an amazing example of one of the favorite poetical themes of our hymns – juxtaposing opposites, by taking some aspect of scripture and looking at it from a different perspective that is useful for our instruction and edification.

We sing a request for fire to BURN UP our passions. One does not usually think of fire in this way.

In scripture, fire is often used to allude to strong, “hot” passions, such as anger, hate, lust, and all passions of the flesh which burn within us. For instance, when the man with the demoniac boy described the pitiful state of his son, he said:

Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is epileptic, and suffereth grievously; for oft-times he falleth into the fire, and off-times into the water.” (Mat 17:15)

The fire represents these “hot sins” and the water “worldly sins” such as acquisitiveness, distractions and vanity.

St Andrew of Crete vividly describes fiery sins in his Great Canon, when he refers to Esau as Edom (which is translated “red”):

Esau was called Edom for his extreme passion of madness for women. For ever burning with incontinence and stained with pleasures, he was named Edom which means a red-hot sin-loving soul.” (Great Canon, Tuesday, Ode 4)

Abstinence is not generally thought of as a “fire”, but rather as something which cools it and starves it. After our Lord healed the demoniac boy, his disciples asked why they could not expel the demon. His answer is a main reason why we fast:

Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast it out? (20) And he saith unto them, Because of your little faith: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. (21) But this kind goeth not out save by prayer and fasting. (Mat 17:19-21)

This hymn looks at fire in a wholly different way, but not without precedent. Here, abstinence is referred to with the same vehemence as we would describe “hot” sins which often overpower the soul with their hot ferocity. Here abstinence is overpowering fire!

How can such a thing be? Only if we fast with desire. When the soul is aflame with fiery sins, it is taken away, and thinks of nothing else when the flame is burning. So it should be with our fasting.

If we fast haphazardly, occasionally, with numerous “exemptions” due to “circumstances”, then we are not burning our sins with fasting. We fool ourselves. If fasting can burn out fire, it must be even hotter than fire; if we fast inconsistently, or without strong resolution, then our fasting is only lukewarm, and lukewarmness is good for nothing in the spiritual life, and even causes our condemnation.

So because thou art lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spew thee out of my mouth.” (Rev 3:16)

This hymn calls the passions “thorns”; no thorn is part of the vine of Christ. In the end, that which does not abide in Christ will be burned:

If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. (John 15:6)

Brothers and sisters! With our fasting, we have the opportunity to burn our passions before they burn us! If our abstinence is as fire, we are fulfilling the scripture:

If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as through fire. (1Corinthians 3:15)

Let us pass through the fire now, at a time of our own choosing! Our abstinence is difficult, and indeed, we suffer loss, but with this loss, we burn away our passions, so that in the end, we will not be burned.

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