Peter and Paul, examples of repentance

On the eve of the Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul from St. Tikhon’s Monastery here

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Today the Church sets before us the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul: the two mighty pillars of the Church; St. Peter, the Apostle to the Jewish Nation, and St. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. When we venerate the icon for this feast, we often see Peter and Paul embracing one another in fraternal (brotherly) love. They both certainly were different people with different temperaments. They both ministered to two mutually opposed groups of people (the Jews and the Gentiles, i.e., the rest of the world.) And they both certainly had their differences, recalling when, to use St. Paul’s words, he (Paul) at one time even “withstood (or opposed) Peter to his face, for he was to be blamed” (Galatians 2:11.)

In spite of this apparent tension, however, we see today within this feast an example of how we are to live with each other in the Church. Certainly, as people from all walks of life, we will have differences. We are all different people with different needs. However, today’s feast shows us that the Church is first and foremost a place where God’s love reigns (as the Lord said, the world will know us by the love we have one for another.) It is this love from God that enables us to overcome our interpersonal difficulties and it is this love that reminds us that with God all things are possible, and hence, when Christ commands us to “love our enemies” it is with the full knowledge that it is His love and grace that will empower us to do so. God doesn’t ask us to “like” our neighbors and enemies, He commands us to “love” our neighbors and our enemies, a task which is far greater and is not predicated on how we feel but it is a choice: it is a conscious decision on our part to will the highest good for everyone we come into contact with. Love is therefore a choice. It is how we choose to act/respond.

The great Saints Peter and Paul exemplify to us that even if we are different and even if we have disagreements, we can still live and work together in the Church and we can find reconciliation one to another through God’s grace and love, that is, if we are willing. Often times the only thing that stands in the way of us being truly reconciled one to another is a conscious choice to be humble and to say with heartfelt meaning to those who offend us the two words that literally BURN the devil: “Forgive me.”

Today’s feast also reminds us that we cannot live our Christian life alone. Peter was one arm of the Body of Christ and Paul the other,  both of which the Lord used to build a foundation which stands rock solid to this very day. They were like the Sun and the Moon, providing the light for the Church day by day, for almost two millennia. Enough can not be said concerning the two greatest Apostles that the Church and the world has ever known. And yet, they both had been exceedingly humbled by circumstances in their lives and thereby also became two great examples of repentance.

St. Peter denied the Lord not once, but three times. The Church has always considered apostasy and denial of our Savior Jesus Christ to be an offense of incalculable magnitude.  However, Peter by his sincere repentance, was re-instated after the Lord’s Resurrection and was empowered with the Holy Spirit. The once fearful disciple became a Light to the world and even died for his faith around the year 67 A.D.

We recall that St. Paul persecuted and even killed Christians before he received His call from on high, when he saw the Lord in the blinding light that darkened his eyes but enlightened his soul. Both of these teachers and luminaries had two essential wings by which they flew to heaven: the first, the life giving repentance for their past sins. And second, the real contact they had with the Savior and Lord Jesus Christ which gave them a life giving faith in His True Divinity.

The great Elder, Fr. Sophrony of Essex, explains to us that real “Life giving faith consists in an unquestioning belief in Christ as God. Only when Christ is accepted as perfect God and perfect Man does the plentitude of spiritual experience described by the Apostles and Fathers become possible. Christ, having linked God and man inseparably in Himself, is the one and only solution of the apparently insoluble conflict [of evil in the world]. He is in truth ‘the Savior of the world’ (John 4.42.) He is the sole way to the Father. He is the sun which illumines the universe. Only in His light can the way be seen.” (His Life is Mine, pg. 50.)

In the Gospel today (Matthew 16), the Lord asks Peter “Whom do you say that I am?” Peter answers Him “Thou art THE Christ, the Son of the Living God.” The Lord then responds to him, “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but rather my Father who is in Heaven.” It is God Himself who must reveal the Truth to us. We can not rationalize our way into the Truth about God. Thinking about the truth will often times result in speculations, each person coming up with varying and different conclusions. (For example, if I have to speculate about what is being said in a conversation in the back of this Church building during this sermon, I have no real way of knowing what is really being said. Someone would have to reveal the truth of the matter to me.) Likewise, heavenly, divine things which the ‘eye has not seen nor the ear ever heard nor have never entered into the heart of man’ (1 Cor. 2) must be revealed by the Holy Spirit Who has always abode in Heaven with the Father and the Son. It cannot be otherwise.

However, it is this life giving faith in the truth of the Gospel message, that the Lord Jesus Christ is God from God, the Eternal Word of God in the flesh, it is this truth that not only brought St. Peter and St. Paul to repentance but also turned them into luminous stars for the universe and teachers for all the nations of the world. It is this faith that Christ is God that has immortalized and engraved their names and lives on the sands of time forever. ‘With what beauties of song then shall we hymn Peter and Paul? They are the wings of divine knowledge who soared above the ends of the earth and were upborne to the heavens, they are the hands of the grace of the Gospel, the rivers of wisdom, the arms of the Cross… they are the dreadful swords of the Spirit, the splendid adornments of Rome, the nurturers of the whole world, the noetic and divinely graven tablets of the new covenant, whom Christ, Who hath great mercy, proclaimed in Sion.’ (Lord I Call Stichera, Vesperal Hymns) ‘We magnify you, O apostles of Christ, who enlightened the whole world with your teachings, and led all the ends of the earth unto Christ.’ (Magnification, Matins.) Wherefore, beseech Him, O Apostles, in our behalf that our souls may find grace and mercy here and in the world to come. Let us therefore all strive to imitate their repentance and also there life giving faith which will enable us to to conquer the world as well. May we see in their relationship our own reconciliation with one another in the Church: knowing that it is always possible through Gods grace to walk hand in hand even if we don’t always see eye to eye, so that united by the love of God, we will be able to proclaim with one voice the Life Giving Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, to Whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

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I am God

From a recent interview with Morgan Freeman on Fox411 here:

Fox411: Ok then, let’s move on. Tell me about your series ‘Through the Wormhole.’

MF: It’s a science series. It’s a series that asks a lot of heavy questions about the universe, the solar system. For instance is there a God, if there is did we invent him?

Fox411: Do you think there is a God?

MF: Do I think there’s a God? Um (pause) yeah.

Fox411: You paused.

MF: I paused because I am God.

Fox411: Because every man is created in God’s image.

MF: Yes or God’s created in my image.

All of God’s blessings

“We all receive God’s blessings equally. But some of us, receiving God’s fire, that is, His word, become soft like beeswax, while the others like clay become hard as stone. And if we do not want Him, He does not force any of us, but like the sun He sends His rays and illuminates the whole world, and he who wants to see Him, sees Him, whereas the one who does not want to see Him, is not forced by Him. And no one is responsible for this privation of light except the one who does not want to have it. God created the sun and the eye. Man is free to receive the sun’s light or not. The same is true here. God sends the light of knowledge like rays to all, but He also gave us faith like an eye. The one who wants to receive knowledge through faith, keeps it by his works, and so God gives him more willingness, knowledge, and power.”

St. Peter the Damascene
Source: Western American Diocese

The Faith of the Centurion

A centurion comes to Jesus in this morning’s gospel reading. A mighty, powerful, military leader with about 100 soldiers under his command. This man possessed authority. He was also a heathen, he was a Roman solder. Yet, this doesn’t mean he was a godless man. Surely, in the reading this morning he’s portrayed as being quite godly.

I think it’s interesting to hear about centurions in the New Testament. There are some Christian denominations which refuse to have anything to do with the military and are complete pacifists. While the gospels give us plenty of instances where Jesus came into conflict with the Pharisees and the Jewish scribes and those who wanted only to follow the letter of the law, the New Testament’s portrayal of centurions, however,  is not so negative. In fact, every Centurion is mentioned in a positive light in the New Testament. There was, for example, the centurion at the Cross who  recognized Jesus as the Son of God(Matt 27:54); then there’s Cornelius, the first Gentile convert in the book of Acts (Acts 10); there was the centurion who protected Paul having discovered that he was a Roman citizen (Acts 22); there was the centurion saved Paul when he learned of a plot to kill him (Acts 23); there was a centurion with Paul when he was shipwrecked on his way to Rome (Acts 27).

And the same goes for the centurion in this morning’s reading. A man with such great authority and power comes to Jesus and it’s not power or authority or might which he exhibits – but humility. His high position in life doesn’t prevent him from being grounded, from being down to earth, from being realistic. Not only does he know what it means to have authority but, to the surprise of Jesus Himself, he recognizes God as having true and real authority. Just say the word, he says to the Lord, and I know my servant will be healed.

You know, in our Serbian Church and our Serbian calendar we celebrated these past few days a sort of a centurion of our own. He was a military leader and he was just as great and mighty and powerful as the one described in this morning’s gospel reading.  And he was just as godly.  This is Tzar Lazar of Kosovo and we remembered him in our prayers this past Thursday when we celebrated Vidovdan. Just as the centurion from this morning’s gospel recognized the authority of God over man’s authority so did Tzar Lazar  recognize the value of God’s eternal kingdom over this earthly, transient world.

When we celebrate the Battle of Kosovo in our church it’s not so much the battle itself that we concentrate on. It’s the choice to go to battle. The Turkish army was much larger and much stronger yet Tzar Lazar chose rather to go into battle and to fight for freedom than to be simply defeated and become a slave.  He chose Heaven and the Serbs he led into battle declared “Боље гроб него роб” (“Better the grave than a slave”).

And so we celebrate the battle of Kosovo, which was in fact a defeat of the Serbian army and roughly 77,000 Serbian people perished at that battle, yet we celebrate it as a victory. Not so much because of the battle itself but because of the choice to go to battle. Thus, the battle of Kosovo is different from other battles in the history of mankind. All battles last, some shorter some longer, and then they are finished and they enter history; but the battle of Kosovo has lasted, behold, over six hundred years.  Because ultimately it is the battle for the Heavenly Kingdom, for the Honorable Cross and Golden Freedom, for those eternal values without which there is no life. For this reason every generation, every age, every man is really fighting the battle of Kosovo and has to make that choice to fight for the God’s holy Kingdom.

That was the faith that Tsar Lazar had and that was the faith that the centurion in gospel reading had. It was that great faith, not the power or authority or military might or anything else that – but that great faith in God which causes us to read:   And when Jesus heard it,  he marvelled at him, and turned and said unto them the multitude that followed him, Truly I say to you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.

God grant that our faith in God be just as great as Tzar Lazar, the centurion and all the Saints that we celebrate today and everyday throughout the year. Amen.