05 02 2021 PASCHA St Nicholas Orthodox Church Southbridge MA
Dear Parish Family,
Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen! Krishti U’Ngjall! Vertet U’Ngjall!
Below is the link to the Resurrection Liturgy at St Nicholas, Southbridge.
Pascha! The Feast of Feasts and Holiest of Holy Days!
The Feast of the Resurrection is the absolute heart of the Orthodox Christian Faith. If Christ is not risen, as St Paul says, then we are the greatest and most pitiful of fools. The Resurrection is an all or nothing proposition. Either it happened and we may have hope in the rising of our own bodies on the last day, or, we simply go into the earth and go to dust. It is one or the other.
We believe in a real, physical, bodily resurrection. Like Christ's own body, our risen body will be the same flesh as the body that was laid in the tomb-
The words of the homily of St John Chrysostom put our hope this way:
"If anyone is devout and a lover of God, let him enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival.
If anyone is a wise servant, let him, rejoicing, enter into the joy of his Lord.
If anyone has wearied himself in fasting, let him now receive his recompense.
If anyone has labored from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward.
If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let him keep the feast.
If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; for he shall suffer no loss.
If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near without hesitation.
If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let him not fear on account of his delay.
For the Master is gracious and receives the last, even as the first; he gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to him who has labored from the first.
He has mercy upon the last and cares for the first; to the one he gives, and to the other he is gracious.
He both honors the work and praises the intention.
Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward.
O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy!
O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day!
You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today!
The table is rich-
The calf is fatted; let no one go forth hungry!
Let all partake of the feast of faith.
Let all receive the riches of goodness.
Let no one lament his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn his transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free.
He that was taken by death has annihilated it!
He descended into hades and took hades captive!
He embittered it when it tasted his flesh!
And anticipating this Isaiah exclaimed, "Hades was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions."
It was embittered, for it was abolished!
It was embittered, for it was mocked!
It was embittered, for it was purged!
It was embittered, for it was despoiled!
It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!
It took a body and, face to face, met God!
It took earth and encountered heaven!
It took what it saw but crumbled before what it had not seen!
"O death, where is thy sting? O hades, where is thy victory?
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!
For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the First-
To him be glory and might unto ages of ages. Amen."
4 30 2021 The Matins of Holy Saturday (the Lamentations Service Holy Friday Evening)
The Lamentations Service marks the beginning of the Resurrection. Though we still wear the dark colors of Lent, the prophecy of Ezekiel presents us with the powerful and haunting image of the Valley of Dry Bones wherein God commands the prophet to prophesy to the dried bones to come together, put on sinews and skin, and finally to receive the breath of life from the Holy Spirit. We celebrate the harrowing of hell, when the Lord destroys death by means of His own death and rescues those held captive.
Link to service:
4 30 2021 Vespers of Holy Friday (The Taking Down from the Cross)
The Vespers of Holy Friday recounts the crucifixion and burial of the Lord. At the end of the gospel reading the Lord's body is taken down from the cross and wrapped in a lined cloth. It is then brought into the altar, where it will remain until the eve of the Feast of the Ascension. Later in the service the epithaphion (the large cloth icon of the entombment of Jesus, surrounded by the apostle John, the Theotokos, the other Mary's and the centurion) is brought out in solemn procession and placed under a canopy decorated with flowers in the middle of the church. The epistle reading ( I Corinthians 1:18-
Link to service:
4 29 2021 Holy Thursday Passion Gospels St Nicholas Orthodox Church Southbridge MA
The 12 gospel readings about the Lord's Passion reveal the darkest side of our fallen human nature. There is betrayal, denial, suicide, course political maneuvering, and callous cruelty everywhere. The "Hosannas!" have turned into, "Crucify Him!" and darkness falls at noon. The encounter of God with man ends in a murder-
4 28 2021 Holy Wednesday Unction Service St Nicholas Orthodox Church, Southbridge, MA
The Service of Holy Unction, done on Wednesday night in Holy Week in the Byzantine tradition, is a service of both healing and forgiveness. The connection between illness, sin, and death is grounded in the disruption caused by the Fall. It is God's response, in Jesus, that points us to the way out from the seemingly endless triumph of death over life, sickness over health, and sin over righteousness. In Christ the old order has been, is being, will be, overthrown. God's compassion will heal us, God's justice and mercy will overcome sin, God's love destroys death and restores life.
Link to the Unction Service: https://youtu.be/SLi57ktcWLw
04 25 2021 Palm Sunday The sermon topic, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Crucify Him!”, looks at the fickle cruelty of our broken human nature. God’s response is even more astonishing—defying human logic and justice. In the days ahead we see humanity at its very worst—and this includes all of us from the beginning of time until the end. It’s not just about first century Jews and Romans; we must see ourselves in them if we are to even begin to understand the great mystery we celebrate in this most holy of weeks.
Link to today’s liturgy: https://youtu.be/x4IIZ_z2gjo
04 18 2021 Fifth Sunday in Lent (St Mary of Egypt) St Nicholas Southbridge MA
The Sermon today, "How much am I willing to give up in order to be saved", is based on the life-
Link to today’s liturgy and sermon: https://youtu.be/dlr1l5UfpgA
04 14 2021 PRESANCTIFIED LITURGY St Nicholas Southbridge MA
The Presanctified Liturgy is served on Wednesdays and Fridays during Great Lent. The communion is taken from the holy gifts consecrated the Sunday before and given to the people at the Presanctified Liturgy. This beautiful Lenten service is slow moving and meditative. It repeatedly celebrates the mercy and compassion of God toward the weak and the fallen.
04 11 2021 The Fourth Sunday in Lent St Nicholas Orthodox Church Southbridge MA
Link to today’s liturgy and sermon: https://youtu.be/f3CEkSaY9OA
4 4 2021 The Third Sunday in Lent St Nicholas Orthodox Church Southbridge MA
Today’s sermon, “The Feast of Paradoxes”, focuses on our Lord’s commandment to take up our cross and follow Him. The image of the cross was one of a horrific death saved for the very worst of criminals. The suffering of the crucified was intentionally terrible—a sign from the Roman government that no opposition, no resistance would be tolerated. The “burial” of one who was crucified was often to be thrown in a garbage dump to be eaten by wild dogs and vultures. To ask for the body of the crucified in order to give it a decent burial was in itself a subversive act.
So, why did Jesus command us to take up the cross? What was it that turned the curse of that terrible form of punishment in a source of joy and hope? And how can our own suffering and humiliation, caused by the “cross” we are called to take up, become the very means by which we enter into the Kingdom of Heaven?
Here is the link to today’s liturgy: https://youtu.be/2dhqeRBSjvY
3 28 2021 Second Week in Lent St Nicholas Orthodox Church Southbridge MA
The sermon today focusses on the call to all Orthodox Christians to counter the anti-
Link to today’s Liturgy: https://youtu.be/GN0zWdGFUkQ
3 21 2021 Sunday of Orthodoxy St Nicholas Orthodox Church Southbridge MA
The sermon today focusses on the theme of the Sunday of Orthodoxy, which is, restoration of the holy icons after several periods of fierce iconoclasm (literally, the smashing of icons) by the Byzantine Emperors. The massive resistance by the monastics and lay people was met with ferocious persecutions.
So, why was the restoration of icons so important? Why is iconoclasm such a big deal? Why is it not only good, but necessary, to have depictions of Christ, the Theotokos (Birthgiver of God), the saints and angels in our churches? What do icons have to say about the reality of the Incarnation of God in Christ? What do they have to say about us?
Link to today’s Liturgy:
3 14 2021 Forgiveness Sunday St Nicholas Southbridge MA
"There is no such thing as love without forgiveness" God, in Christ, reveals His infinite love for the world He made. His forgiveness of even our greatest offence (crucifying His only-
The link to today’s liturgy can be found here:
3 7 2021 Liturgy St Nicholas Southbridge, MA Sunday of the Last Judgment
Sermon: “Active Compassion: The Only Passport into Heaven”
Link to today’s Liturgy: https://youtu.be/8Y4va-
Sunday February 28 2021 (Prodigal Son)
Sermon: "Our Father Will Meet Us on the Road: It is Up to Us to Decide When to Start the Journey"
Dear Parish Family and Friends, below is a link to a beautiful setting of the Hymn to the Theotokos (Birthgiver of God) that our choir will soon be singing. The singers here are, our choir director, Emily Daly, and her fiance, Stephen Pye.
Sunday, February 21, 2021: The Sunday of the Publican & Pharisee
The sermon today focusses on the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (tax collector). Where are we on the spectrum? What about our society?
Link to today’s Liturgy: https://youtu.be/_njWEH812uk
Sunday February 14, 2021: Zacchaeus Sunday
The sermon topic today ("Canceled!) is based on the gospel story of Zacchaeus. In this gospel we see that Zacchaeus has been walled off from the rest of society-
Here is the link to today’s Liturgy: https://youtu.be/tG7wi6nsdFU
02 07 2021 The Sunday of the Canaanite Woman
Sermon: Jesus and the Canaanite Woman: The Power of a Desperate Love
Link to today’s reflection : https://youtu.be/yvZJgfK0jkU
In this extraordinary gospel reading we are confronted with Jesus’s apparent coldness and indifference to the plight of the Canaanite woman. He first ignores her and then compares her and her people to dogs. In the culture of the times, it was a grave insult and it continues to be in Middle Eastern cultures today. Why did Jesus do this? Was he testing her? Is he testing us? Or, was he teaching us something about the desperate quality of selfless love that overcomes every division and endures every insult in order to acquire what is necessary for the beloved?
Sunday January 31, 2021, Feast of the Presentation of the Lord (by anticipation)
Today we celebrated by anticipation the Feast of the Lord's Presentation in the Temple. The actual Feast Day is on February 2 (this coming Tuesday) and marks the end of the Christmas cycle (which starts on November 15, the beginning of Advent). The sermon focusses on recognizing the Messiah in the infant Lord and allowing Him to "presented" within the temple of our own hearts, to allow Him to grow in us. We are all called to bear witness to the hope and consolation of Christ in what often seems to be a hopeless and inconsolable world.
Here is the link to today’s liturgy: https://youtu.be/dyoWo4XXMBY
Liturgy Sunday January 24 2021 St Nicholas Southbridge, Sanctity of Life Sunday
Sermon topic: "They Passed Their Children through the Fire". We look at how the Canaanites tempted the Hebrews into offering their children to their demonic gods and how God rejected the practice as the most abominable of all sins. They brought destruction upon themselves and the valley of Hinnom (where the sacrifices were offered) outside Jerusalem became the Hebrew word for hell (Gehenna). What will become of our nation if we don't repent of this evil? What can we do as Orthodox Christian people to assuage the evil our country has fallen into? How can we help mothers keep their children? We are not powerless to act, therefore we must act.
Link to the Divine Liturgy: https://youtu.be/kAWcXQYVBLg
Liturgy Sunday January 17 2021 St Nicholas Southbridge
What are you NOT willing to give up? The sermon today focusses on the rich young man in this morning's gospel who asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. After listing the things the young man ought to do-
Here is the link to the Liturgy: https://youtu.be/j5fjK4qHw6g
Sunday January 10 2021 Liturgy and Great Blessing of Water (Sunday After Theophany)
The link to the Liturgy and Great Blessing of Water can be accessed here: https://youtu.be/_2q3Lu3aBpg
In the sermon today we look at the images of Light and Darkness in the Gospel. Why is the Light of Christ both joy and suffering for the Christian believer? Why would anyone prefer the darkness to the Light? How do we learn to embrace both the suffering and the joy (the Cross and the Resurrection)? How do we come to accept that we cannot have the one without the other?
The Link to the Liturgy for Sunday January 3, 2021 is here: https://youtu.be/DiYebQu54w4
The sermon today explores St. John the Baptist's admonition to repent of our sins and turn to the One Whose sandals he was unworthy to untie. What does this mean? How do we do it?
12 27 2020 Divine Liturgy St Nicholas Southbridge (the Sunday After Christmas)
In the sermon today we look at King Herod as the model of this world's kingdom, subject to the politics of death and destruction, versus the Kingdom of God come into the world in Jesus Christ. Ultimately there is no peace to be found in the "politics" of this world. The rulers of this world understand "victory" as obtaining power and using it to meet their own agendas, often at horrific costs to those around them. We are presented with a choice when we meet Christ. Do we follow the way of the politics of this world and, like Herod, attempt to kill the Christ in us before it can grow? Or, do we choose, like Mary, to keep him in our hearts so that we can be changed into His likeness? The choice is simple and clear. Are we citizens of the dying world of Herod, or citizens of the Kingdom opened to us through the baby in the manger in Bethlehem?
Christmas Liturgy 2020 St Nicholas Orthodox Church Southbridge MA
Divine Liturgy Sunday December 20, 2020 (Holy Ancestors of Christ)
On this Sunday of the Holy Ancestors of Christ, we are taught that God reaches out to human beings where they are. The question is how do we respond? In the sermon today, we look at some of the people mentioned in the Epistle and Gospel genealogies. If God could take the likes of Jeptha, who sacrificed his own daughter-
LINK TO LITURGY & SERMON:
Sunday, December 13, 2020 The Second Sunday Before Christmas (Holy Forefathers)
Today's sermon is taken from the Gospel in which Jesus tell the parable of the ungracious guests who made excuses not to attend a great supper given by a wealthy man. Seeing the ingratitude of his original guests, he orders his servants to bring in the poor, the maimed, the blind and the homeless living in the streets and hedgerows of the city and countryside. Here Jesus tells of the "righteous" who cannot see their need for the Lord's hospitality and the "sinners" who know they need God's help desperately. Who we identify with?
Please see the YouTube video link below for our Liturgy and sermon:
Divine Liturgy, St Nicholas Feast Day, St Nicholas Orthodox Church, Southbridge, MA December 6, 2020
As we celebrate our patronal Feast Day, we recall the "real" St. Nicholas as a true icon of the good bishop and defender of his flock in times of peril. The sermon focusses on the life of St Nicholas as one of mercy, justice, truth, and courage. His role as intercessor for all of us, and especially for those of us who have him as our patron, is especially important in our current time of plague and civil unrest. `
Divine Liturgy St Nicholas Orthodox Church Southbridge MA November 29, 2020
Dear Parish Family,
Today’s Gospel reading focusses on the relationship between the Law and human frailty. The Law given by God to the Jewish people revealed the impossibility of human perfection and therefore, the need for humility on our part so that we may be open to the healing grace and mercy of God. The bent woman’s humility and God’s mercy in Christ reveal this beautifully.
Below is the version of the Great Doxology sung before every Divine Liturgy at St. Nicholas and on other important occasions.
Dear Parish Family,
Below is the link to the Liturgy for Sunday November 22, 2020.
The sermon today looks at the question, "Who is my neighbor?", in the context of our mission in this time of plague. It turns out that our neighbor is sometimes our enemy, in terms of beliefs or practices. Sometimes they are the ones who end up saving us.
Dear Parish Family,
Below is the Link to the Liturgy for Sunday November 15
The two links below will bring you to some beautifully rendered hymns from our Sunday Liturgy made by Emily Daly, our choir director, and Stephen Pye, her beau.
The Hymn to the Theotokos in 3 parts (2 voices)
What Shall I Render to the Lord in 5 parts (2 voices)
Dear Parish Family,
Below is the link to the Liturgy for Sunday, November 8, 2020
Dear Parish Family,
Below is the link to the Divine Liturgy yesterday.
God Bless you all and keep you well!
Dear Parish family,
The link below will lead you to the Divine Liturgy at St Nicholas, Southbridge, MA Sunday, October 25, 2020.
Sermon topic: “Truth, Beauty, and Goodness-
God Bless you all and keep you well.
Dear Parish Family,
Below is the link to yesterday's Divine Liturgy. Stay well and God Bless you all!
The Divine Liturgy from St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, Southbridge MA
Dear Parish Family,
Below is the link to the Liturgy at St Nicholas on Sunday, October 4, 2020.
We will NOT be open next Sunday as Fr John has to be away.
We will RESUME posting our online Liturgies on Sunday, October 18, 2020.
Dear Parish Family,
Here is the link to Sunday September 27 Divine Liturgy at St Nicholas Southbridge, MA.
Below is the link to the Liturgy and Sermon for Sunday September 13 2020, The Sunday before the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
We will not be online next Sunday, September 20. The church is OPEN. We will resume our online Liturgy beginning Sunday September 27.
Our choir director Emily Daly and her beau Stephen Pye made this four part harmony rendition of the Lord's Prayer we sing at St Nicholas. This lovely version of the Lord's Prayer was done over the course of this Sunday (today) afternoon. It requires Emily to sing the alto and soprano part while Stephen sings the bass and tenor parts. Then all the parts have to be put together and uploaded. Thank you Emily and Stephen for sharing this with us. Our regular liturgy will be placed online tomorrow (the process takes a few hours to complete).
Dear Parish Family,
Below is the link to yesterday’s liturgy and sermon.
Video Link to Liturgy and sermon: https://youtu.be/wz2OGSbG7t8
Sermon topic: “All of creation rejoices in you, O full of grace!” Why Orthodox venerate the Mother of God and what this has to say about the role of women in the Church.
Dear Parish Family and Friends,
Here is the link to the Divine Liturgy for Sunday August 9, 2020:
Due to very slow internet in my part of Worcester today, we are very late publishing our Liturgy for Sunday August 2, 2020.
Here is the link : https://youtu.be/FEq1iDBONt0
Link to the Liturgy and sermon for Sunday July 26 at St Nicholas Orthodox Church, Southbridge, MA
(Sermon Topic: God's persistence vs human resistance.)
Liturgy & Sermon 07 12 2020 St Nicholas Southbridge
The sermon topic this week contrasts the godless "heaven on earth" proposed by the communists who murdered the Russian Imperial family on July 17, 1918 with the true Kingdom of God. Any system or ideology based in division and hatred (left, right, or otherwise) proceeds from the mind of the great divider and hater of humankind, the devil. Only the Christian virtues of forgiveness, mercy, and love can overcome division and fear. Our constant struggle must be against returning hatred for hatred, violence for violence, injustice for injustice. The meekness and humility of the last Tsar and his family in the face of the ever-
Sunday, July 5, 2020 Divine Liturgy and sermon (“Orthodox Patriotism”)
Sunday June 28 2020
Dear Parish Family,
Here is the link to today’s Divine Liturgy and Sermon:
Sunday of All Saints of North America June 21 2020 Divine Liturgy and Sermon
Divine Liturgy: The Sunday of All Saints June 14 2020
Divine Liturgy at St Nicholas Orthodox Church Southbridge MA – Albanian Archdiocese/Orthodox Church in America
Sunday May 31 2020 The Sunday after Ascension (Divine Liturgy with sermon)
Sunday May 24 2020 The Sunday of the Man Born Blind-
THE SUNDAY OF THE MAN BORN BLIND
"One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see" (John 9:25)
In this last of the gospels of illumination the chief character boldly announces that he has been enlightened-
Of course, on the surface this is a physical healing, but the early Christians would have clearly understood the story in the context of baptism (just as they would have understood the two previous gospels-
The blind man received his sight when Jesus mixed His spittle with clay (note the comparison to the creation of Adam in Paradise) and placed it on the man's eyes, then told him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam-
In this case, though, the man who was born blind never wavers for even a moment. He confesses that he was born blind and that now he sees and that no one has ever heard of a sinner who could do such miracles as give sight to the blind. He was fearless even when threatened with expulsion from the community he grew up in-
By definition we are Illumined, Enlightened, given the power of spiritual insight through Holy Baptism-
In the so called, real world, we may be all too often tempted to act as if we are still blind because the cost of bearing witness seems too high. In a culture that has very low esteem for the virtues of humility, chastity, patience, and selfless love it may seem best or at least easiest to pretend to be blind to the very things that are of the greatest necessity and value for the healing of our world. Acting them out openly and being willing to talk about them in the public sphere may seem overwrought if not downright perilous for further advancement on our career paths! Yet the spirit of the blind man would have us cry out, “I once was blind but now I see, and seeing, I cannot remain silent!”
It is not so much issues that we are called to address, though there certainly are many burning moral issues out there today that merit our attention, so much as it is the way we are—the way that we live our lives as Orthodox Christians-
May 17 2020 The Sunday of the Samaritan Woman
The story of the Samaritan Woman reveals the love of God in Jesus Christ not only for the “good” but for the broken and sinful—especially for those who are most broken. Human “goodness” is nothing when compared to the goodness of God, Who is by definition, the only truly Good One. Only the humility that comes with opening our hearts to Jesus, Who will knows “all that we have done” can overcome what is sinful and broken in us. In fact, we will become far more effective witnesses to Christ when we put aside our pretenses and approach everyone as a fellow sinner, a fellow patient in the hospital of God’s love. Very few will want to hear about God’s wrath and punishment towards “sinners” (unless they are convinced of their own perfection), but everyone will respond to the message of God’s love. True repentance comes from the hope and surety of salvation, not from the conviction that one is hopelessly damned. The Samaritan Woman (known as Photini in the Orthodox tradition) is a symbol of such true repentance—motivated by love and hope rather than fear and dread.
A Man Healed at the Pool of Bethesda
After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, ]waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had. Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-
The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”
Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked.
And that day was the Sabbath. The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, “It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed.”
He answered them, “He who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your bed and walk.’ ”
Then they asked him, “Who is the Man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.”
The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.
The Resurrection of the Body: Let’s Get Physical
The resurrection of the body; the rising from the dead of the physical, corporeal, three-
A blonde Tiffany stained glass, “Jesus the Teacher” requires no extraordinary extension of one’s faith in any direction. But even the briefest exposure to the blinding glory of “Jesus, Risen Lord, Man-
HE IS NOT HERE. HE IS RISEN! A Meditation for the Third Sunday of Pascha, The Myrrhbearing Women at the Tomb
Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they said among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away – for it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples – and Peter – that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.” So they went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
Midweek Meditation, Second Week of Pascha:
"Perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18)
The first letter of St John speaks a great deal about the love God has for us and about the requirement that we love one another. In fact, we cannot say that we love God if we don't love our neighbor. St John tells us further that perfect love casts out all fear, whether it be the fear of illness and death or the fear we often have of one another. The COVID plague has raised the level of anxiety and fear of billions of people throughout the world and the danger is that we will be tempted to blame others as the cause of our suffering and allow fear to fuel hatred and despair. The singular antidote is to become absolutely convinced of God's eternal and abiding love for each and every one of us. Fear divides, but true love unites. God's perfect love abiding in us will become a mighty weapon against despair, depression, anxiety and fear and it will permit us to become truly and more completely human in His image and likeness.
When the plague passes we will be left with two choices; continue in the path of fearful torment, or to grow more perfect in God's love. The evidence of which choice we make, as always, will be shown in how we treat one another. Will we come out of this with hearts more compassionate and aware of the suffering of others-
MY LORD AND MY GOD! THE WILL TO SEE AND BELIEVE-
Belief of any kind requires an act of will—especially when the evidence is not easily replicated. For instance, I believe the sun is a star 92 million miles away and not a lamp in a giant scientist’s laboratory based on the credibility of the thousands of years of scientific observation AND ALSO, because any other theory is basically incredible. Likewise, I believe that images taken of stars millions of light years away are also credible based on the science we have at our disposal today. We have credible witnesses who give us a credible theory.
But to believe in the resurrection from the dead of a human being requires me to stretch my willingness to accept something which is not readily evident and not re-
Resurrection reverses the normal course of existence and cannot be easily explained away—especially as in the case of Lazarus, who was in the tomb dead for four days, and even more so in the case of Jesus who was very publicly and brutally executed in front of a large crowd. And yet, a large number of people were there to see the rising of Lazarus and large numbers of people reported seeing the risen Christ. There was indeed evidence, but it was incredible or unbelievable because of its extraordinary nature. To believe Jesus rose from the dead requires much more willpower than to accept the status of the sun in the sky. I must combine my willingness to be open to the story in the first place with the credibility test—meaning, do I believe that the storytellers are credible people. Since they have nothing to gain and a lot to lose by telling the story of the risen Christ, the women disciples and the apostles have a degree of credibility. Yet, I need more evidence than that. One might argue that they were all insane, or that they all had experienced a mass hallucination, etc. That, however, seems more incredible than the story itself. A mass hallucination is unlikely simply because people are more inclined to see an event differently than the same—hence the trouble cause by “witnesses” to a crime in a jury trial. As for lying; isn’t there always someone who will blow the whistle? Is it really credible to believe that all the witnesses were lying and that no one ‘fessed up?
Ultimately, though, I believe based on the evidence and the alternatives. Since there was little to be gained by telling such a story and almost all the original witnesses came to bad ends (Peter: crucified, Paul: beheaded, to begin with the chief apostles), the credibility of the witnesses rises. Few people will tell a story that will shame and even destroy them and even fewer will want to be associated with people who will bring shame and destruction to those who listen to them.
The final reason why I am WILLING to believe has to do with the changes this story brings to my own life. Because Christ is risen, I have the hope of rising again to eternal life, and not only me, but all those whom I have ever loved. We are not lost to the darkness but wake to the Light which never fades. The story gives meaning and purpose to life—all life, my own included. The Resurrection of Jesus gives hope where there was none and consolation when there none could be expected. My will to believe only makes the evidence clearer. Like Thomas, my eyes are opened, not closed, by an encounter with the Living God, Who is brighter than the sun in the sky and more solid than the earth beneath my feet. I believe, not having seen Him and touched Him, but because others saw and touched and believed have made the story credible. In fact, it is the most credible of all stories told in this already incredible world.
WHEN "SEEING" IS BELIEVING: THE LIFE OF SAINT GEORGE.
In our times we tend to regard the "Lives of the Saints", if we think of them at all, as fairytales or over-
MEDITATION FOR GREAT AND HOLY PASCHA:
MEDITATION FOR GREAT AND HOLY SATURDAY:
The Cherubimic Hymn for Holy Saturday speaks of the need for silence and contemplation in the face of the great events of the Lord's Passion and in anticipation of His Holy Resurrection. This is the time to look within and consider the great gift that we have been offered: Life in return for death; light to overcome all darkness; joy emerging from sorrow; peace after so much violence and struggle. "Let all mortal flesh keep silent and in fear and trembling stand, pondering nothing earthly-
Below is a link to Fr. John's homily for the day:
FOR GREAT AND HOLY FRIDAY: Today's meditation is based on the readings from the prophet Isaiah, where the prophet describes the suffering of Christ 500 years before Jesus was born, and from St Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, where he discusses the “foolishness of the cross”
MEDITATION FOR HOLY THURSDAY
On the evening of Holy Thursday we read the 12 gospel readings about the Lord's Passion and death. The paradox of the Son of God, who Himself is the Creator of the Universe and the eternal Son of the Father suffering in the flesh of a man because He is both man and God is beautifully stated in the 15th Antiphon for the Matins of Holy Friday:
Today He who hung the earth upon the waters is hung on a tree. The King of the angels is decked with a crown of thorns. He who wraps the heavens in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery. He who freed Adam in the Jordan is slapped in the face. The Bridegroom of the Church is affixed to the cross with nails. The Son of the Virgin is pierced by a spear. We worship Thy passion, O Christ. Show us also Thy glorious resurrection.
The greatest mystery of all is that the love of God is so strong that He accepts these insults and still says, "I forgive you. Come back to me. It is never too late".
Fr. John's homily can be found at the link below:
Meditation for Holy Wednesday:
The Orthodox understanding of sin is one of a condition of universal brokenness, sickness, and death. The original fall of the dark angels under Lucifer/Satan was a choice against God out of anger that they could not be God. The war waged against humankind by Satan (as tempter in the Garden) has gone on from our beginning. In this case the evil angels wage war against the creature made in the "image and likeness" of the Creator. It was the entry of the Creator into the creation (Jesus Christ) that has opened to us forgiveness and the hope of the Kingdom where there will no longer be any brokenness or death. This is the mystical understanding of the Holy Unction Service done on Holy Wednesday.
Fr. John's video link below:
Meditation for Holy Tuesday:
Pilate and Caiaphas represent the limits of worldly political power. Any agreement they can arrive at will always have its breakdown in violence and often, genocide. Jesus gives us an entirely different image of the kingdom; one that must become incarnate in each of us and which gives a peace the world can never give.
Meditation for Holy Monday
Dear parish family:
Here is the updated meditation for the Feast of Palms (Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday. I will be updating reflections throughout Holy Week and Pascha as well as providing online places where we can see the services of the Great and Holy Week.
Fr. John's homily for the Fifth Sunday in Great Lent, St Mary of Egypt. April 5 2020
Fr John's homily for Sunday March 29, 2020
A PRAYER TO SAINT NICHOLAS
In A Time of Great Need
You are a righteous man that flourished like a palm tree planted in the courts of the Lord. Dwelling in Myra you have diffused the fragrance of myrrh, and you pour out the ever flowing myrrh of the grace of God.
By your presence most holy Father, the sea was sanctified when your most miraculous relics were carried to the city of Bari, from the East to the West, to praise the name of the Lord.
O most superb and most marvelous wonderworker, speedy helper, fervent intercessor, good shepherd that saves the rational flock from all dangers: We glorify and magnify you as the hope of all Christians, a fountain of miracles, a defender of the faithful, a most wise teacher, a feeder of the hungry, the gladness of those that mourn, a clother of the naked, a healer of the sick, a pilot of those that sail the sea, and a liberator of prisoners.
We glorify and magnify you as the nourisher and protector of widows and orphans, a guardian of chastity, a gentle tutor of children, a support to the elderly, a guide of fasters, the rest of those 40 that labor, and the abundant riches of the poor and needy.
Father Nicholas, hear us that pray to you and flee to your protection.
Show your mediation on our behalf with the Most High, and obtain through your God-
Keep this holy house, together with this region and every city and town, and every country, and the people that dwell therein, from all oppression through your help.
For we know that the prayer of a righteous man avails much for good; and, besides and beyond the most holy Theotokos, we have you as a righteous mediator with the All-
Do you, as a watchful and good shepherd, keep us from all enemies, pestilence, earthquake, hail, famine, flood, fire, the sword, the invasion of enemies, and in all our misfortunes and affliction do you give us a helping hand and open the doors of God’s compassion; for we are unworthy to look upon the height of heaven because of the abundance of our unrighteousness.
We are bound by the bonds of sin and have not done the will of our Creator nor kept His commandments. Wherefore, we bow the knees of our broken and humble hearts to our Maker, and we ask your fatherly intercession with Him.
Lest we perish with our sins, deliver us from all evil, and from every adverse thing, direct our minds and strengthen our hearts in the Orthodox Faith, which, through your mediation and intercession, neither wounds, nor threats, nor plague, nor the wrath of our Creator shall lessen.
Grant that we may live a peaceful life here and see the good things in the land of the living, glorifying the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, one God glorified and worshipped in Trinity, now and forever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Looking at the Hardest Cases: A Meditation on the Sanctity of Human Life
January 22 2020
January 22, 2020 marks the 47th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision to enshrine abortion as a woman’s “right”. Since that day well over 50 million and probably closer to 60 million abortions have been performed in this country. The Center for Disease Control (CDC), a government entity, estimates that about 20 percent of all pregnancies in this country are “terminated” each year.
Using data from various sources to determine the percentage of women who have abortions due to rape or incest or to save the life of the mother, we learn that somewhere between 1/10 of 1 percent and 1 ½ percent of all abortions are done for those extremely “hard case” reasons. Abortions for persons under the age of 15 account for about 6/10 of 1 percent of the total. Thus, extreme “hard” case abortions account for less than 2 percent of all abortions. At least 98% of all abortions are in some way for convenience.
Why am I mentioning this? Because it is almost invariably cited in conversations on this topic.
Each year on the Sanctity of Life Sunday (commemorated in the Orthodox Church in America on the Sunday nearest to the Roe v Wade anniversary) I preach a sermon on the topic of the sanctity of all human life. I often allude to this again on the Feast of the Annunciation (March 25) when we celebrate the taking on of our human nature by God in the womb of Mary. These are the most difficult sermons of the year for me because they touch on a matter that is politically explosive, morally appalling, and pastorally tragic and painful.
The bottom line on the subject for Orthodox Christians is this: We believe that we are made in the image and likeness of God and that God sanctified His image and likeness in us by taking on our nature, not at the birth of a baby in a manger, not at some point in the adult life of a Galilean rabbi named Jesus, but at the very moment of His conception in the womb of a virgin named Mary. He became human as one of us at the same point we all become human—right at the very beginning.
Though science and theology are often put at odds today there is one thing they both agree on: Human beings are human beings, on the most fundamental biological level at least, right from conception. The abortion (and euthanasia) debates have nothing to do with whether the baby in the womb (or the old woman with Alzheimer’s) is human; it is all about what is the value—the price—of a human being. Is it infinite? Or, can it be calculated on some utilitarian scale based of its “usefulness”, its ability to “produce” (its use as a product/producer), or its rating on some scale for contributing to “the greatest good for the greatest number”?
The Church’s answer is that the value of each human life is infinite and irreplaceable. Period.
But what about those hard questions?
I am a father of a beautiful young woman. The same “what ifs” about those “hardest cases” that I’ve been asked about by my parishioners have occurred to me, too. They are not mere statistics. They refer to real human beings, real girls and women with names and faces, created in the same image and likeness of God as all others. They are our daughters, our granddaughters, our sisters, our wives and our mothers. So, this is not a question to be dealt with tritely.
The question that always arises in my heart is this: Will an abortion undo a rape or a case of incest? Will it assuage those most terrible acts of violence against a human being possible short of murder? Will the painful invasion of a woman’s womb for a second time reduce the original hurt? Will the murder of an innocent in some way balance out the rape of another innocent? Or, will it only add more to the trauma by turning the victim into a victimizer?
Perhaps there are some who would say, “yes”, an abortion might lessen the horror of a rape, though I cannot comprehend the logic of such reasoning. I know there are many who simply do not care, who say that the choice is private and no one else’s business. I know others who say that carrying and bearing such a child would only add to the pain. But I cannot imagine how the willful destruction of an innocent human life—one’s own child—can lessen the pain of anyone. If a violated womb also becomes the tomb, the grave, of tiny baby, isn’t the psychological and spiritual pain involved increased, not decreased? Will a mother not count the months and wonder about the day on which her child would have been born? Will she not wonder whether it would have been a boy or a girl? Will she not think, even if only in the innermost depths or her heart, about what her child’s name might have been, what its talents might have been, what it life might have been like? Will the weight not grow over time, rather than lessen? Our human experience tells us that we do not forget, we do not fail to wonder, and that the weight of some sorrows increases rather than decreases over the course of our lives.
Of course, a woman should not have to carry the child of a rapist because she should not have been raped in the first place! But that child is not truly the rapist’s or his victim’s for that matter, but a separate and irreplaceable person in his or her own right. Killing that innocent human being does nothing to bring about justice, or healing, or right. It avenges no one, it heals nothing, it does no good whatsoever. It brings no peace and it only adds to the grief, pain, and horror surrounding the event. Giving birth whether to raise the child as one’s own or to give him or her up for adoption has as its consolation the knowledge that at least one human being in this world (and potentially many others) has been given the opportunity to experience the joys and sorrows of life. A child who would not have been will look at the nighttime stars and wonder, will dream and laugh and cry, will experience the touch of another, will love and be loved. Small consolation, perhaps, to some but what consolation is there at all in knowing that same being’s end was in a dumpster?
Abortion is inherently violent. It brings about the violent, often horrifically painful end of a human life. As such, it can contribute nothing good to the world; it can add no true value to anyone’s life. It is incomparably ugly and it is disguised by euphemisms and lies, presented as a “choice” about which no one is to ask, “a choice for what? a choice to do what?”. It is veiled in awful silence or by distracting questions (what about those hardest cases?). It cannot bear to have the light of day shone on it because we all know what it will reveal. It has sixty million witnesses and counting against it in our country alone. It simply should not be.
"Today the son of man has come to seek and to save that which was lost" ( Luke 19:10)
When Zacchaeus climbed into the sycamore tree to see Jesus passing through Jericho he was doing more than defying a hostile crowd's unwillingness to let him catch a glimpse of a famous rabbi. Zacchaeus knew well why the people hated him; he was a tax collector for the Romans, a collaborator with a hated enemy, a man who made himself rich at the expense of his own countrymen. His lack of 'stature' was not merely physical. He had no status at all among his people. He ranked with the lowest of the low. For all his wealth, he was no better than the common whores and thieves of the back alleys.
Yet, Zacchaeus was searching for something that money couldn't buy, and knowing full well that he had no status, he had no reason to pretend. Like the other denizens of the back alleys, he was aware of how lost he was, of how far he had strayed from paths of righteousness. But, unlike many of the so called righteous of his time (and of every age) Zacchaeus seems to have perceived that true righteousness had less to do with the keeping of the mere letter of the law, than with something deeper-
When Jesus calls Zacchaeus down from the tree, Zacchaeus comes down joyfully and confesses that he already gives half of what he possesses to the poor and restores fourfold anything he collects from someone because they were falsely accused (meaning at a serious cost to himself). Zacchaeus would be the rarest of all tax collectors, an honest man!
But what Zacchaeus is truly searching for is not the wealth or recognition of this world, it is the salvation which can be offered by God alone. He is searching for the Messiah, the Anointed One of God (in Greek, the Christ) who will come bringing salvation. And in when Jesus looked up and met his eyes in that sycamore tree he knew he had been found. He who had felt so lost, the one with absolutely no status anywhere, had been found-
How many Zacchaeus's are there out in the world scanning the highways and byways looking for salvation? How many good hearted people are there among us whose goodness goes unknown or disregarded because what they do for a living seems unimportant or maybe even slightly disreputable? How many outright sinners are inwardly trembling over the disposition of their souls but have been kept back from seeking salvation by a wall of self righteousness and hostile critics who effectively bar them from returning to Church? (These are the ones who don't even make it into the branches of the sycamore tree because someone in the crowd thought to saw them off in advance!)
Zacchaeus reminds us that we Orthodox Christians have a mission to those who lack stature and status in the world. It is this: we are make way for them so that it is easy for them to come in among us and find a place in our ranks. The gospel and the sacraments will heal them of their infirmities. If we believe that "Christ is in our midst" as we say He is, He will do as He has promised and He will perform miracles of "healing of soul and body".
What we must not do is force those who are lost and of little stature to have to find a way to climb above the ranks of the hostile self righteous to seek the face of the Living God who so loved the world that He came into the world for the salvation of the human race. And, God forbid that we should saw the branches off the tree so that they can't climb up at all!
Rather, may we open our hearts and our parishes to all who are seeking-