St. Michael the Archangel
Russian Orthodox Church
335-37 Fairmount Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19123
March 25, 2018 Sermon - That we may journey with Him and be Crucified with Him

This sermon was given by Fr. Emmanuel., who was visiting with us on Sunday, March 25.
 
With deep devotion, our Christian Tradition vividly recalls the journey which the Old Testament people embarked upon, traveling to reach the Promised Land.  Christians always hold dear the events of the newly emancipated Jews, engaging in their freedom walk from Egypt to the new land that God had pledged to them. As we carefully read the scenario of God journeying in the company of His beloved race, it's hard not to notice how God personally undertakes the inspiring leading role in this completely new, yet very significant, chapter of history.  He travels at their helm, directing every step of His historic group (columns of fire).  Together, they forged a brand new road within the history of the world.  After all, it is God's Promised Land:  a beautiful dream come true!  A vision that was long anticipated including a finale everyone yearned for, despite the tremendous costs.  I seriously question if our Israeli spiritual forefathers truly understood what the establishment of the new Land of Milk and Honey really meant for them and for the world.  Could they have ever anticipated the many sacrifices and the great hardship of their travels?  Did they ever realize how much personal suffering this new freedom journey would cost them? More importantly, did they every conceive that their spiritual mission was evolving into something much greater?  Did they ever imagine the historical consequences of such a mission? And lastly, could our Israeli forefathers ever detect, in their wildest imaginations, in their craziest dreams, that the Promised Land was in fact the Crucifixion and Resurrection of the Son of Man?  It is obvious in Isaiah 52:13-53:6:

"See my servant will act wisely; He will be raised  and lifted up and highly exalted.  Just as there were many who were appalled at Him...He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance  that we should desire Him.  He was despised and rejected by men...Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows...but He was pierced  for our transgressions...The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him and by His wounds we are healed...and we, like sheep that have gone astray..."
 
We recall Mark's Gospel,"Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem and the Son of Man will be delivered...and on the third day he will rise."  This narrative describes Christ's final trip to Jerusalem along with His disciples.  It was written for historical but more importantly, for instructional purposes.  Reading between the lines, we immediately detect a parallel to the Exodus of the Israelis from Egypt.  The people of God (this time the disciples),  depart for their final journey to Jerusalem (from Egypt to the Promised Land) following the shadow of Jesus, their Master, who was leading them (the pillars of fire).  Jesus was the last one sent by God to lead God's people.  Our Lord's purpose was to lead the Disciples (and us) to the Kingdom of God, much as God led His people to the Promised Land in the Old Testament.

Jesus' acceptance of self-sacrifice, a death by Crucifixion, gave way for God to respond by offering, new life, the Resurrection.  Because Jesus obeyed His Father and willingly accepted the way of the Cross, God lovingly responded by offering (Pascha) the Kingdom of God.  We rejoice with the New World of God which is free from illness and death.  Death no longer has dominion..... the stings gone.  God has granted us eternity, life beyond the grave. 

Today, as we stand looking backwards in history, we see man's journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, we see the parallel journey of Christ and His disciples to Jerusalem for the Crucifixion and ultimately, receiving the Resurrection, and we stand awestruck.  Could we have ever anticipated  such a finale?  Man can only learn of God's wonder and understand the total meaning of our life's journey when, as Christ,  we learn to fully obey God and sacrifice ourselves for the sake of others.
 
History teaches us that the Jews had a difficult time understanding the breadth of God's plan for their race.  History also teaches us that Christians today unfortunately have the same inability to see beyond themselves.
 
In a few days we shall relive the final days of Christ.  We shall intensely relive Golgotha and the glorious Resurrection.  Christ's journey came across many inhibitors.  Our life's journey to the Promised Land also has many dead ends.  Did we already forget how easy God removes such barriers, much as He opened the road for Jesus' Resurrection (the new Promised land)?

Death and New Life are recurring events in our journey with Christ.  These were not singular events of the past but are repeated continuously in the present and the future.  Let us absorb completely God's wonder and His purpose for us.  Lets us understand that our life is not a random event but a call to obey God fully and serve Him by offering ourselves sacrificially to others in need.

Let us dwell on these thoughts as we stand before the Cross of Christ on Good Friday and throughout Holy Week.  Let us rekindle our sacred purpose inner own journey to our own Cannan.  When we hear the verse,  "we journey with Him and become crucified with Him" what comes to mind?
March 18, 2018 Sermon - Fourth Sunday of Great Lent St. John of the Ladder

At the end of today’s gospel we hear Jesus telling His disciples: “The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day.” So with these words we have reached already and again the Fourth Sunday of the Fast, with a hint of the Resurrection to come with precious few days left to prepare. Perhaps the best way to prepare for the Resurrection is the Sacrament of Confession. Since we had planned to have a round table discussion about the Sacrament yesterday afternoon, I decided before the mini-retreat to base this sermon on whatever came up is discussion yesterday; here are three questions, each of which lead to lively discussions: Question Number 1: what should or could a good confession be? First off, it actually may be more difficult to describe a confession that is not good, because every confession is worthwhile, as long as the words that the penitent choses to say before God are truthful. Notice that the words are said before God; the priest with the penitent to serve the Sacrament, and sins are confessed before and in the presence of God. But to reach “what a good confession should or could be” does require more; Fr. Alexander Elchaninov in his Diary of a Russian Priest wrote that: “Confession is an act of fervent, heartfelt repentance, a thirst for purification; it springs from an awareness of what is holy, it means dying to sin and coming alive again to sanctity.” Repentance is crucial to a “good confession;” after all, the word penitent means (according to Merriam Webster): “a person who repents their sins or wrongdoings and (in the Christian Church) seeks forgiveness from God.”
Question Number 2: Should I make a list of my sins and bring it with me? A good question and one without a pat answer. I have confessed both babushkas and young Americans who brought list, sometimes detailed ones. The value in bringing a list is not so much in not forgetting something, as it is in preparing ahead of time in order for the penitent to state clearly before God what is weighing down her or his conscience. Without specifics as to the sin committed, it’s very difficult to make any progress in stopping that sin. If one confesses to being a “bad person,” how can that person concentrate on changing? What should be changed? A sin undefined is a sin that can’t be overcome. Fr. Alexander explains this perfectly: “Preparation for confession…means striving to attain such a state of consciousness, seriousness, and prayer that your sins will become as clear as is they had been exposed to light. In other words, you should bring to your confessor not a list of sins but a feeling of repentance… a contrite heart.” It’s the clarity of the oral description of sins, stated out loud to God, that allows the truly repentant person to know exactly what behavior has to be changed, if one is to have any hope of changing for the better.
Question Number 3: How do I get past being afraid to go to confession? Firstly, today, being the Sunday of St. John Climacus, who gave us the Ladder of Divine Ascent, we can take solace in his wonderful advice: “Do not be afraid, even though you fall every day, so long as you do not depart from the ways of God; stand courageously and the angel who guards you will respect your patience.” But secondly, a large part of this issue has to do with not knowing what to expect in the sacrament, sort of fear of the unknown, especially if one has not confessed one’s sins in a long time or, for younger people, may have never had the Sacrament. This fear is easily cured by asking for advice from your confessor before confession, especially because the focus of confession is not to obtain advice from the priest during the Sacrament. A few years ago Matushka and I attended a retreat at which an inspirational lecture was given by an archimandrite about confession. Immediately at the end of the talk another Matushka sitting next to us leapt to her feet and said something I will never ever forget: “Father, I just can’t wait to go to confession.” That, Brothers and Sisters, is the best example I can give you of the “thirst for purification” that was quoted in the section on Question Number 1. And truly none of us can really wait too long to confess our sins, because as Elchaninov says: “Insensibility… deadness of soul—these are the result of long established sins which have not been confessed in time. The soul is greatly eased if we immediately confess the sin we have just committed, while we still feel its pang. Confession, if postponed, leads to insensibility.” Other writers have described that feeling as a hardening of the soul, a dullness to sin, indifference to our own conscience and lack of concern for our own salvation. Today we commemorate the uncovering of the relics in 1966 of St. Luke, the Blessed Surgeon of Crimea. In explaining the section on despondency in St. Ephrem’s Prayer to his flock as their Archbishop, St. Luke wrote this: “If you open your heart before a pastor of the Church at confession and receive the Body and Blood of Christ, you will feel relief and joy, and the spirit of despondency will be driven away from you in disgrace.” It’s the promise of that very relief and joy that overwhelms any possible feeling of apprehension or uncertainty about confession, and the confessing of sins that must precede absolution is a crucial prerequisite to entry into the Sacrament of Communion.
Yesterday we discussed the role of the priest in the Sacrament, especially since it is God to whom we confess, not the priest. I say “we” because the topic of the confession of the clergy came up, given that some may not realize that deacons, priests, and, yes, even hierarchs must confess their sins to God and in the presence of another clergy. It is of no small note that a priest removes his pectoral cross before he confesses, because all of us must stand before God in the same way, as repentant sinners seeking God’s infinite mercy. But as for the role of the priest, we can all profit from the words of St. John Chrysostom in one of his many recorded sermons: “The silversmith, when he fashions a vessel and lays it aside, will find it the next day just as he left it. This is not so with [priests]. Exactly the opposite since we have not lifeless objects to create but rational beings. We do not, then, find you as when we left, but after we have labored diligently to refashion your thinking and increase your zeal, urgent matters pull you away and create for us all kinds of difficulty. For this reason I plead with you to help in the work yourself and when you leave here show the same interest in your well being that I have shown for your improvement.” A final note on the concept of what constitutes a “good confession.” The consensus of the discussion group was that leaving the sacrament with tears in one’s eyes is a strong indication of a good confession. This Thursday evening we will again sing the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete and we will hear these definitive words on the concept of a “good confession:” “Take my heavy sinful burden away from me and give me tears of repentance!” The water of your baptism washed away your sins then, but only the water of your tears of repentance can wash away your sins now. Brothers and Sisters.
Fr. Gregory

March 11 Sermon - Veneration of the Life Giving Cross

Tone 7   Third Sunday of Great Lent
Veneration of the Life Giving Cross
    
     In his letter to the Hebrews read today, St. Paul tells us: "So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, today have I begotten thee.  As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec."
The last few words of this passage may be familiar to you; those words are a part of what is called the introit, that is a verse, usually from the Psalms, that is said by the priest right after "Wisdom, stand up!" at the Little Entrance on the Feast of the Nativity of Christ:
"Out of the womb before the morning star have I begotten thee; the Lord hath sworn and will not change His mind; thou art a Priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek."  The original reference comes from Psalm 110 (109 as numbered in the Septuagent) in which King David wrote: "The LORD hath sworn, and will not relent: 'Thou art a priest for ever after the manner of Melchizedek." So who is this Melchizedek? In the fourteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis, after Abraham (then still called Abram) had won a decisive battle, we learn from the writing of Moses that: " Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth."  Melchizedek, the priest, is not mentioned anywhere before he sort of appears out of nowhere bearing bread and wine and blessing Abraham. And of course his coming and bearing that bread and wine is the Old Testament foreshadowing of the Last Supper; that's why Christ, who is both King and High Priest, is referred to as a "priest after the order of Melchizek."  The first sheet (see below for copies) that was distributed today shows an icon of Melchizedek bearing the bread and wine, along with King David and the great Prophet Isaiah with a scroll of the prophecy that Christ would come from "the root of Jesse" the father of King David.  Below the icon is the painting from the 1600s by Peter Paul Rubens showing Melchizedek meeting Abraham with the bread and wine.  This painting is in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.
       And even the bread and wine were blessed by Christ at that Last Supper to be eaten by the disciples, Judas was on his way to the most terrible betrayal in the history of the world, a betrayal that would lead to Our Lord being nailed to the Life Giving Cross, the Cross that we venerate here today on the Third Sunday of the Great Fast, the Weapon of Peace that we see festooned with beautiful flowers on the tetrapod. Brothers and Sisters, you may have venerated this Symbol of the True Cross many times, but have you had the time to look closely at the symbolic words and icons that so richly adorn it?  When you come to venerate today, take a closer look, but for now there is a second sheet handed out showing a similar Holy Cross with some of those symbolic words and graphic representations.  All of us know the significance of the three bars of the Life Giving Cross.  The icon at the top of the top bar in the handout is the Icon of Christ Not Made by Hands (written in Slavonic text) the picture of Christ that miraculously appeared on the towel by which His face was wiped on the way to Golgotha.  On the top bar are two "angels of the Lord" (written in Slavonic), ministering to Christ Crucified with towels as His servants.  Under each of the angels in Slavonic are the words King of Glory.  The inscription that Pilate had put on the top bar of the Cross in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews is not shown on this sheet, only the Greek letters IC XC the contraction for Jesus Christ; however, if you look at this Cross closely you will see it in Slavonic letters just as on the top bar of the Cross on the fresco over our sanctuary. I H Ts I. But on both the sheet and on this Cross are the Greek letters NIKA "He Conquers" which along with IC XC are stamped on the prophora that will become the body of Christ. And on the halo of Christ are three Greek letters that mean: He who is. The ineffable name of God that was never to be spoken by the Jews.  Notice that Christ does NOT have a crown of thorns on the Cross, as is the norm in Western painting, neither is Christ shown in a suffering pose, but rather in a peaceful one.
       Now looking at the middle bar, over Christ's arms are contractions in Slavonic for Son of God and the sun (on the left) and the moon (on the right) are labelled in Slavonic.  Under Christ's arms is written a long Slavonic sentence.  You heard and will later hear the choir sing this today: "Before Thy Cross we bow down and worship O Master and Thy Holy Resurrection we glorify!"
     The vertical post of the Cross has spear standing straight up on the left side of the picture (marked with a K in Slavonic), the spear that the soldier used to pierce His side, and a reed on the right side (marked with a Slavonic T for sponge), being the reed and sponge that the soldiers used to give vinegar to Him.  On the bottom bar, you can see buildings of Jerusalem in the distance from Golgotha and of course the bar slants up to Christ's right to show the way to heaven for the Good Thief and down to His left for the other thief.  And finally on the bottom of the sheet there are two Slavonic G's for Mount Golgotha, and four letters in a square shape, MLRB that stand for The Place of the Skull, Where Adam Was. Brothers and Sisters, that skull and crossbones at the bottom of the sheet represent the actual place where Adam, the first man, was buried, and the place where the New Adam, Christ Our God, was crucified.  Those two letters at the very bottom are G A, standing for Skull of Adam.  It's such a shame that the very popular use of skull and bones for pirates and for other unthinking secular uses comes directly from the Christian symbolism of the skull of Adam.
       The link between Christ and Adam is so powerful and so important that it is the basis for today's Kondak: Now the flaming sword no longer guards the gates of Eden; It has mysteriously been quenched by the wood of the Cross! The sting of death and the victory of hell have been vanquished; For You, O my Savior, have come and cried to those in hell: "Enter again into paradise."   Brothers and Sisters, you have before you today the Weapon of Peace by which each of us can gain eternal life.  For as Christ told the people who came to Him and His apostles: "Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.  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."   
  
Father Gregory

 

 
March 4 Sermon

"...wake up the soul during Lent..."

"My soul, my soul, rise up! Why art thou sleeping?" With these stinging words begins the Kondak of the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, the beautiful, heart rending service that takes place in the darkened church lit only by a few candles that is served on each of the first four days of Lent. Even though we stand only on the second Sunday of the fast today, we know from past experience that in the blink of an eye, Great Lent will turn abruptly into Holy Week and the very next line in that Kondak will weigh heavily on us: "The end draws near and soon you will be troubled." Brothers and Sister, the time is now to take an inventory, and a critical one, of how much progress each of us has made this year on our journey back to God. Can you honestly say that you have used the three pronged tool of Lent---the tool of fasting, of prayer, of almsgiving-to tune up your soul for this journey?

Another way to wake up the soul during Lent is by putting down the remote, putting down the mouse, putting down the iphone, and picking up a book, a book that can pick up, and wake up, your soul. Each year I like to make suggestions for Lenten readings; after the veneration of the Cross today this flyer will be available with a few books suggested by Holy Trinity Publications. Most years I will put down a book that I was unable to finish before Lent started and pick up a book such as one of those on the flyer starting right on the first Monday of Lent. But this year, being about halfway through a book I had been gifted, I decided to press on, mainly because this mostly secular work was so obviously based on Judeo/Christian teachings that my soul was wide awake while reading. And I am glad I did press on. This book is a sort of how to book, the kind of book I really never read, but its insights into life as it has come to be lived in the 21st century, giving a set of rules for living as an "antidote to chaos" as the dust cover says, owe so much to the Book of Genesis and to the Gospels as to be valuable Lenten fare for the soul. I bring this up not to recommend this book, but rather because the author uses three words over and over again in describing the character traits that lead to chaos in our lives: deceitfulness, arrogance, and resentfulness. Hearing this constant refrain, I began to wonder whether the true antidote to chaos can be found in St. Ephrem's Prayer, even though not one of those words-deceitfulness, arrogance, nor resentfulness--- is found in that prayer. Now first of all, the matter of translation: St. Ephrem, who lived in the 300's in the very area of Syria on the border of what is now Turkey where civil war has been raging for the last few years, wrote in the Syriac language, so his prayer had to be translated into Greek first, and then later was translated into Slavonic. That's why you might hear different words when the prayer is recited. Just as an example, the first sentence of the Greek version translated into English states "Give not to me the spirit of idleness,...." while the Slavonic translated into English yields: "Take away from me the spirit of idleness....." These are very different concepts. But even more to the point for the trio of words I was trying to understand: In both Greek and Slavonic, the word that is translated into English as "chastity" is just too narrow, implying being chaste only in a sexual way, where in fact the Syriac word used by St. Ephrem can be translated into Slavonic as tselomoodriya (which is literally "whole mindedness") meaning soundness of mind, discretion, and prudence, and this is consistent with the more broad Greek term as well. And then I knew that the antidotes to the three chaotic tendencies that pollute our lives in the 21st century---deceitfulness, arrogance, and resentfulness---- were indeed to be found in the second line of St. Ephrem's Prayer.... for humility overcomes arrogance, for love overwhelms resentfulness, and because a sound mind is incapable of deceit.

St. Ephrem's prayer is recited by the priest at two different times in the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts---in front of the closed Royal Doors in this manner: first, at each sentence of the prayer a full prostration is made (kneeling down and placing the forehead to the floor) by the priest whose actions are followed by the congregation; then, the priest stands and prays twelve times: God have mercy on me a sinner; and lastly, the priest recites the full prayer with a full prostration at the end of the prayer only, followed by the congregation. As a result, St. Ephrem's prayer is conjoined with a short version of the Jesus Prayer: "O Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on me a sinner." Of course, the use of the Jesus Prayer as a manner of prayer without ceasing in what is called the hesychast manner is the reason that the second Sunday of Lent is known as the Second Triumph of Orthodoxy, for it was the overcoming of the controversy concerning the use of that prayer by the skillfulness and theologically firm thinking of St. Gregory of Palamas, who lived in the 1300's and who defended the use of the Jesus Prayer from those who sought to ban its use, that is seen as a Triumph of Orthodoxy, on the same level as the Triumph of Orthodoxy that we celebrated last Sunday, the Triumph that brought icons back into the church even though the iconoclasts had attempted to ban them. St. Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonika in Greece, whose icon is on the tetrapod today, is celebrated each second Sunday of the Great Fast as a defender of the faith, faith in the very Gospel reading from St. Mark today in which we see that Christ will indeed forgive those sins about which we cry for mercy in the Jesus Prayer, that in truth and in fact even deceitfulness, arrogance, and resentfulness can be forgiven. For like the paralytic in the Gospel, we are paralyzed by our sins, but throughout Lent we can repent and earn that forgiveness if we remember these words of Our Lord: "Why reason ye these things in your hearts? Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins." We must say, as Christ did, "Arise," but we need to say "Arise, O my soul, why are you sleeping?" O Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on me a sinner.
Fr. Gregory

February 18 Sermon

February 18, 2018 Tone 4 St. Theodosius Martyr Agatha

Forgive me, Brothers and Sisters.

“ And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.” So with St. Paul’s words in mind let us approach the Great Lent that is nigh before us, our annual pilgrimage back to God. In his Diary, Fr. Alexander Elchaninov wrote: “Lent strengthens the spirit of man. In Lent man goes out to meet the angels and the demons.” This year let’s meet that challenge with an unbending resolve to undertake the three tasks to which we are called each year: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
First, prayer. This past week we celebrated here in our church the Feast of the Meeting of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the Temple, one of the twelve Great Feasts of the Orthodox Church. This Feast seems to have been given a number of names, but the use of the translation of the Greek into Meeting is probably the best, for as the Ever Virgin Mary and St. Joseph brought the infant Jesus to the Temple 40 days after His birth, as required by Jewish law to redeem the male child by making a sacrifice of birds and to purify the mother after 40 days from childbirth, the family met an old man, Simeon, who had waited for years to see the Messiah as he had been promised by God he would before he died, and upon meeting the infant St. Luke tells us that St. Simeon uttered these famous words: LORD, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace; according to Thy word: for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people: to be a light to lighten the gentiles and to be the glory of Thy people Israel. Brothers and Sisters, you will hear this prayer of St. Simeon twice later today: firstly, because the prayer, referred to as Nunc Dimittis in the Latin church, is sung by the choir near the end of the service of vespers in the Orthodox church, and we will serve a part of the Forgiveness Vespers at the end of the Liturgy today. Secondly, because we will baptize and chrismate the infant Virginia here today after Liturgy, and the churching of the child at the end of those two sacraments requires the recitation of St. Simeon’s prayer by the priest.
A second prayer that you will hear today that you have not perhaps heard for a while is the prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian, the prayer we use throughout Lent. The entire prayer is printed on the face of the bulletin; if you don’t have a copy of St. Ephraim’s prayer at home, please keep the bulletin and place the front page somewhere where you will see it every day. As I have in the past, I will speak more about this critical prayer for Lent during the next six weeks.
While we are called to increase our prayer, we are also called to the second requirement of Lent, fasting. Brothers and Sisters, fasting is a lot more than just giving up certain foods. If you saw the video “Becoming Truly Human” last Sunday, you heard a number of young people describe themselves as “spiritual” and as such they feel that they have no need for organized religion, and especially no need for the rules of organized religion. Metropolitan Kallistos, you may know him as the former Timothy Ware author of the classic “Orthodox Church,” has written: “One reason for the decline in fasting is surely the heretical attitude toward human nature, a false ‘spiritualism’ which rejects or ignores the body, viewing man solely in terms of a reasoning brain.” Christ tells us in today’s gospel exactly how to fast: “ Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.”
St. John Chrysostom takes the words of Our Lord and ties fasting to the third requirement of Lent, almsgiving, when he says:
“The fast is of real value only when it stems from a pure heart; when one is ready to deny wealth, and stand above money; when one is ready to give alms to the poor; when one has love and affection, not only for one's own children, but also for the orphans and the poor. One manifests real fasting when he is ready to deprive himself of food, in order that the hungry and destitute might be fed. One really fasts when he maintains his equilibrium under all stress, never allowing himself to lose his temper and explode like a volcano, destroying everyone around him. A genuine fast involves the willingness to discard all vain ambition, which often results in destruction — not only for those who practice it, but for all who are close to them. One who is actually fasting never manifests covetousness or jealousy.”
That oil that Christ tells us to use on our faces is in fact an almsgiving it itself, for when we put on Christ in baptism He is in our heads, and anointing our heads is symbolic of pouring out our own deeds of mercy, and when He tells us to wash our faces, He is telling us to do that with the tears of repentance.
And that repentance is a crucial part of our pilgrimage back to God this year. How can we truly repent without the sacrament of Confession, without stating our sins out loud before God, without declaring our true intention “to turn from our wickedness and live,” as the prayer of confession so beautifully says. And here, on the Sunday of Cheesefare, we can make a clean start toward true repentance by forgiving all of those around us and not even near us, for any sins that we might feel have affected us, for as Our Lord said: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Please forgive me. Father Gregory

February 11 Sermon

Now it all begins.  It is hard to believe that we are right at the beginning of the season that we all knows helps to cleanse ourselves,  If we are honest with ourselvesand with God, it is not all that difficult to find our place. 
                                                                                                                                      
The Gospel text tells us the very simple truth about salvation.  We hear the words - words that are easy to understand.  We are told: When the Son of  God comes in His glory escorted by all the angels, then He will take His seat on the throne of glory .All the nations will be assembled before Him and He will separate men from one another as the shepherd separates sheep from goats.He will place the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left.

Then the King will say to those on His right hand:"Come, you whom  My Father has blessed, take for your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundations of the world."

And God will publicly announce His rewards."For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink.  I was a stranger, and you made me welcome".  People find themselves confused by their part in God's plan for salvation.                                                                                           
 
So where does this take all of us?  It actually prepares us to take our place in the great season of Lent.
Many people make a mistake regarding this season, and its meaning for the faithful.  Let us be certain not to do this,  Instead, let us willingly accept Lent and grow with it.
February 4 - The Prodigal Son

Sermon February 4, 2018 
Tone 2 New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia; Apostle Timothy
 
           When we hear the story of the Prodigal Son we know that Great Lent is imminent.  Even if nothing more jumps out at you from St. Luke's account of the parable that Our Lord told for the benefit of the Pharisees, you can certainly focus on the first words of that the younger son said on his return: "Father, I have sinned against Heaven and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be thy son."  Brothers and Sisters, this is the boy's confession-out loud and in the presence of and directly to his father, God."  In Great Lent, when we set out on our yearly journey back to God, we absolutely must do the same, repent in a heartfelt manner in the Sacrament of Confession, out loud before God, with the priest there only as a witness.  Without this, the road back to God is closed.
       But there is so much more in this parable, some of it much less apparent without thinking hard about the meaning of Christ's words.  Because the world refers to Luke 15:11 as the Parable of the Prodigal Son (and the word prodigal means wasteful, not absent or runaway as some assume), it's easy to think that this lesson is centered only on the one son, the younger one, the Prodigal.  But Our Lord's message is much more rich, much deeper than it first appears, mainly because there are a number of actors other than the Prodigal who are significant and worthy of analysis.  Of course, the Father is God, but those "hired servants" that the Prodigal longs to join up with are the catechumens, those who are not yet sons of God, but they are on their way; they hear the Word, just as the catechumens hear the Gospel during the Liturgy of the Catechumens, and are therefore closer to God than the Prodigal was before he returned.  The hired hands are to be distinguished from those identified as the "servants of the Father."  Some say that these are the angels, the bodiless powers who serve the Father, and bring the robe to dress the Prodigal.  That robe is the baptismal garment, as the Prodigal repents and confesses his sins he puts on Christ, just as we did in our own Sacraments of Baptism, and then the angels bring a ring, symbolizing the seal of the Holy Spirit, given at the Sacrament of Chrismation by the anointing with myrrh---the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit.  And the fatted calf, the sacrificial animal fed on wheat, is Christ Himself, who gave His body and His precious blood for us to be the Sacrament of Communion, when the bread made of that wheat becomes the body of Our Savior and the wine becomes His blood.
   And what of the envious elder son?  Is this parable really all about him?  If you read the beginning of Chapter 15 of Luke, you will find out the these Pharisees were murmuring in the crowd before Christ started the Prodigal Son story.  Why?  Because Our Lord had just finished another parable, that of the one lost sheep out of the flock of one hundred that was found, which ended with Christ saying: "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth."  The Pharisees were murmuring because they, like the elder son, thought themselves perfect before God and were outraged when sinners, who didn't do the heavy lifting, were forgiven by Christ, just as the elder son was outraged by the killing of the fatted calf for someone who clearly didn't deserve that treatment.  But here's the key: note well that the Father does not punish the elder son, instead He forgives him saying: "Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine." God's mercy is illimitable and the lesson about the elder son is such a crucial one for us as we enter Great Lent.  Like the Prodigal, who Christ said "came to himself," we too can find ourselves and rediscover the reason that we come back to God.  When we come to ourselves we will clearly see the reason that we come to Church in the first place---for our own salvation.  Today we celebrate the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia---those who were slaughtered in the bloody reign of the Soviets in trying to stamp out the Holy Church.  One of those martyrs. Archbishop Hilarion Troitsky, wrote: "There is no Christianity without the Church."  Our own Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev has been quoted many times as saying that the Church exists for one reason---for the salvation of our souls.  In the Diary of a Russian Priest, Fr. Alexander Elchaninnov, whose words you will hear quoted by me quite frequently, especially during Lent, wrote this: "We often mistake for religion a vague mixture of the reminiscences of childhood, the sentimental emotions sometimes experienced in church, colored eggs and cake at Pascha.  How shall we succeed in awakening in our soul any sense of the way of the cross which it must follow toward God?"
       Brothers and Sisters, Orthodoxy is a way of life, and our lives have a bit in common with the lives of both the Prodigal and the elder son.  Both sons could have, and each of us can, profit from this advice from St. Paisios of Mt. Athos: "The mind and the heart must be constantly fixed on how we can reach our destiny: the Kingdom of Heaven.....it seems that, perhaps, you have not yet set Heaven as your goal.  You still have earth as your goal.  The salvation of your soul has yet to become a heated topic for you.  But then, if we do not take the salvation of our soul seriously, what will we take seriously?"
 
Fr. Gregory
 
 
January 28 Sermom

I thought that it would be a mistake not to remember that which brought us to where we are today. It starts as a story of some time ago and far away.

The people who came from Europe, and who founded this and other churches like it came from Lemkovia in Eastern Europe.

In those days repressions were imposed on "Russophile" clergy, both Uniate and Orthodox.  The area also had informers.  Not only the police, village clerks, and sheriffs and teachers, as well as members of the clergy denounced their neighbors. 

In some areas of Carpatho-Russia, the entire educated class: priests, lawyers, judges, teachers, high school and university students were all arrested.  The prisons were quickly filled with people accused of treason.Suddenly, the word orthodox was replaced by the word catholic.

Throughout the Carpathian region a tremendous upheaval shook the parishes. Life had become difficult for the few orthodox priests and their families in Carpatho-Russia and Galecia.

One such priest was Maxime Sandovich. He was born in Xhdynya.  His father was a prosperous farmer who also served as cantor in the local parish church. Maxime’s father could see his son was talented, and he arranged for him to live at the dormitory in Novy Senaz.  There he had the opportunity to study the Russian literature, language and history; as well as the history of the christian church, and culture.  The students were supervised by a teacher from Russia.

Maxime was able to cross the border into Russia and then entered novitiate at the great Lavra of Pochaev in Volymia.  The abbot there introduced him to Archbishop Anthony who helped those men who wanted to study in Russia.  Early in 1905 Vladyka sent this student (Maxime) to Zhitomir.

Maxime studied there and and graduated in 1910.  He then returned home to visit his family at Easter and Bright Week. Word of his arrival soon reached the ears of certain villagers who had spent some time in American Orthodox churches and making their confessions to other Orthodox priests then came to Maxime and begged him to stay, obtain priestly ordination, and organize an orthodox parish.

In November of 1911 Father Maxime and his wife travelled to his native village of Zhdynya. Walking through the marketplace, the some of the people seeing an orthodox priest dressed in a long riassa, wearing a pectoral cross, who was also not shaving or cutting his beard made fun of him saying: "Look , St Nicholas has come to the Carpathians.”

When the people there learned that Father Maxime was at his father's house, they sent a delegation an invited him to find/start an Orthodox parish.  Shortly after he served the first liturgy in the new parish, he received  a letter addressed to him as a "lay man”, which he refused to accept.

The next letter was addressed correctly. But it forbid him to conduct services.  When he refused to comply he was jailed for a month.This provides us with an idea of what life was about.  Not only was Father Maxime separated from his father and wife, shortly thereafter, he was shot.

 

January 21 - Theophany

For the next week we will be in the Afterfeast of the Theophany, the great Feastday that we celebrated here on Thursday evening and Friday morning with the great blessing of the water at each service. While we generally associate Theophany, or Epiphany as it is also called, with the blessing that makes the holy water that we use throughout the year, but the meaning of the word Theophany is Appearance of God.  And as we discussed last Sunday, the appearance at issue is the beginning of Christ's ministry on earth when He voluntarily came to the Jordan River to be baptized by the Prophet, Forerunner, and Baptist John and began His ministry immediately after His Baptism.  And as today's Gospel reading from St. Matthew for the Sunday after Theophany makes clear Our Lord began that ministry with the same words that the Baptist had used before Him: "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Today is also the Sunday of Zaccheus, yes already we are preparing to enter the Great Fast, very early this year, and this signals to us the beginning of the season of repentance.  But true repentance can only come through a serious confession of our sins and a sincere desire and intention to stop engaging in the behavior of which we have confessed before God.  The only way to do that is by the sacrament of confession, in which those sins are expressed orally before God, at which sacrament the priest is merely the witness to that sincere repentance before God.  As that witness, the priest can then read the prayer of repentance over the penitent asking God to show mercy on that person and grant unto him or her "an image of repentance." Only after that prayer does the priest absolve the penitent, by that power given by Christ to the Apostles, the power to loose and remit sins.
But repentance is only one aspect of the beginning of the ministry of Christ.  There is another important aspect that we hear about throughout the services of Theophany.  In those services, there is a constant leitmotif, that the appearance of God is all about light, the miracle of light.  In the vespers of Theophany the first Old Testament reading is from the first chapter and first verse of Genesis: "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness."  In the beginning of the service of the Great Blessing of the Waters we hear the choir sing: "The Baptist became all trembling and cried aloud: How shall the candlestick illumine the light?"   The Prokeimenon of that service is all about light:   "The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?"  In the litany that follows and that comes before the blessing of the waters we pray "That the Lord our God will illumine us with the light of understanding and of piety with the descent of the Holy Spirit"   And as the priest prays before the blessing, we hear: "The Sun sings thy praises, the Moon glorifies Thee, the Stars also stand before thy presence. The light obeys thee."   The appearance of God reminds us that in the Creed we say: Light of Light, True God of True God." That light is the light about which we hear on Pascha: "Come take light from the light that never fails." It's the light of the Transfiguration, the uncreated light that shown forth from Christ on Mt. Tabor.  It's the light of enlightenment in the Tropar of Theophany that the choir will sing today as we bless the church with the new Holy Water: "O Christ our God thou has revealed thyself, and has enlightened the world, glory to Thee."  It's the "unapproachable light" of the Kondak of Theophay, It's that very light that we heard near the end of the Gospel today:
"The people which sat in darknss saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up."
Brothers and Sisters, let's take heed of the dual teachings in today's Gospel: each of us can come out of the darkness.  Each of us can heed the words of Our Lord and Repent!  And with that repentance each of us can place our feet on the path to salvation, the path that leads to the light, for the kingdom of God is at hand.
January 7

The church celebrates festivals that are for us to understand and to celebrate - Christmas is not one of these.
In Christmas, God shows us his divine nature combined with his human nature. This is not something we can easily understand. The only way to make sense of Christmas is to understand it as a feast of the love of the creator for his creatures.
Jesus Christ’s divine nature exists for all eternity. His human nature came from a Jewish background. The blood that flowed in his veins was from the royal house of David. This came from his mother Mary, who though poor, belonged to the lineage of the great King David.
Saint Matthew shares witness and he opens his Gospel sharing a record of the ancestry from which Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham, was born.
The name “Jesus” was fairly common among the Jews. In the original Hebrew language, it was Joshua. The angel told Joseph that Mary would “bear a son, whom they would call Jesus, for he is to save his people from their sins.”
Jesus was given another name at the same time –
Emmanuel:
   Behold, the virgin shall be with child,
   And shall bear a son
   And they shall call him Emmanuel
   Which means God is with us
Let us all remember these words. For it is the truth.
God is with us.

December 31 - St. Sebastian

Sermon December 31, 2017
Tone 5 Sunday of the Fathers 30th Sunday

On the Orthodox Christian calendar every day is a Name Day; but for many reasons today, the last day of the secular year and the Sunday before the Nativity of Our Lord, we can see as a Names Day. A treasure trove of names. The first obvious reference to names is the first part of the first Chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew that is read on the Sunday before Christmas: 16 verses that are comprised in their entirety of names. Fifty names spanning forty two generations. Fifty names of judges, of kings, and of priest, according to the three generations; but also fifty names of harlots, such as Rahab, of those born of adultery, such as Solomon born of Uriah's wife by David, and gentiles, such as the Moabite woman Ruth. All the way from Abraham the father of the Hebrews to Joseph and then to the Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary, forty two generations and thousands upon thousands of names.

And the entire text of St. Paul's letter to the Hebrews, of which only a part was read here today, is similarly awash in names: Going back all the way to Abel and Cain, and Noah, and Abraham's lineage (that we celebrated on the day of the Forefathers last Sunday) all the way through Moses and Samson and Samuel and all the prophets "who through faith subdued kingdoms." The emphasis on names is continued in the celebration of the Ancestors of Christ, as the Sunday before Christmas is called, which group of names includes those in the family tree of the Virgin Mary, since the genealogy as set forth in Matthew is in accordance with the Hebrew tradition of tracing the family only through males. So today the Fathers of the church tell us that we also celebrate Joachim, the father of Mary, who was the son of Bar-Panther , son of Levi, son of Nathan, son of King David; hence, Mary is the Root of Jesse, the father of King David, just as Isaiah the Prophet wrote: "And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse will stand for an ensign of the people." And in the Tropar and Kondak for this Sunday of the Ancestors we hear more names: Daniel and the Three Holy Youths. Who are these youths? The name day for Daniel the Prophet, whom most know as having been deported to Babylon and there served King Nebuchadnezzar as an interpreter of dreams, was yesterday, December 30, and with him are celebrated the Three Holy Children: Ananias, Misael, and Azarias. These three Hebrew boys, renamed in captivity Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, refused to bow down to the golden idol that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up and were thrown into the fiery furnace by the Chaldeans. But as Daniel, who by the way had been renamed Belteshazzar by his captors, wrote in his Book, the three youths survived when the Archangel Michael came to them in the furnace, cooled the flames, and led them to safety. This part of Daniel is read in its entirety on Holy Saturday, foreshadowing the Resurrection, and the three boys with six names are always celebrated before the Nativity Feast.

The name of the saint that we celebrate today may be known to many, but not much may be known about him: St. Sebastian was a Roman educated in Milan during the last days of the persecution of Christians. He rose to the be the head of the imperial guards during the murderous reign of Diocletian and, as a Christian, and as he had converted many of his soldiers to Christianity, he was interrogated personally by the Emperor who sentenced him to be tied to a tree and shot with arrows. There are many Western works of art celebrating St. Sebastian, such as Peter Paul Ruben's painting in the handout, that show him pierced by arrows, but the Lives of the Saints tell us that St. Sebastian miraculously survived that torture, and was nursed back to health by Irene, the wife of one of the martyrs with him. He was later beaten to death in the Coliseum at the order of Diocletian. The Orthodox icon of St. Sebastian in the handout shows him holding the arrows that could not kill him.

Names are important, but names of people are of paramount importance. Shakespeare was right when he said "A rose by any other name;" and we do give our pets endearing names, but the name of a human being is a name that identifies a soul, an eternal soul. When each of us approaches the chalice, both laypeople and clergy, we say out loud to God our first names, the names by which we were baptized. There is no need for a last name, because God knows each of us by our baptismal names. That's why when we pray for the living or for the departed, whether at the proskomedia or during a litany or at a panykhida, we use only first names, baptismal names, the names by which Christ will recognize each of us at the Last Judgment.

And two final names for today: for near the end of Matthew's gospel we heard the famous words: "Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God is with us." The prophet who is referenced is Isaiah, for in chapter 7, verse 14 of his prophecy, it is written: "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign: Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel." Then why, one might ask, does the Gospel reading today end by telling us that Joseph called the son Jesus? The explanation by the Fathers of the church is that Joseph obeyed the angel who commanded him: "Thou shalt call his name Jesus," while the prophecy of Isaiah as interpreted says that "they" shall use the word Emmanuel; and that name is a reflection of all of the events in the life of Jesus Christ that proved that Him to be God. A name earned by doing, rather than just a name given at birth. For that reason, next Saturday at the Compline Service the choir, remembering all of the events in the life of Christ and His Glorious Resurrection by which He earned the name Emmanuel, shall sing out joyfully: "God is with Us!"

December 17 - Great Martyr Barbara and Martyr Juliana

Today’s Epistle reading was from St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians; but do we know where that early church was located?   Colossae was a city in the middle of what we now call Turkey and that middle was known then as Phryigia.  It’s interesting that, while the early church grew in Colossae because of St. Paul’s teachings, the city was destroyed by an earthquake and later overrun by the Saracens, and eventually was abandoned. The people left for the nearby city of Chonae, which was the place of the miracle of St. Michael shown in this icon on our iconostasis. St. Paul wrote this to the nascent church in Colossae:    “Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.”

Two of the most famous of those “saints in light” we commemorate today and on Tuesday: St. Barbara the Great Martyr today and St. Nicholas on Tuesday with Divine Liturgy at 10am.

St. Barbara, the daughter of wealthy pagan named Dioscorus during the 3rd Century AD, secretly became a Christian, notwithstanding her father’s efforts to hide her away  in a high tower and arrange for her marriage to someone he found suitable. When the father ordered a bath house with two windows to be built on the property, Barbara secretly changed the plans to have three windows built in honor of the Holy Trinity, sending Dioscorus into a rage. He ordered  Barbara to be tortured in order  to turn her from Christ, but she refused steadfastly, causing a woman in the crowd, Juliana, to denounce the torturers. As a result both women were beheaded, Barbara by her own father.  But Dioscorus was struck by lightning for his evil deeds and because of that St. Barbara is the patron of artillerymen, miners,  and those who work with explosives, such as bomb disposal squads, of which now, unfortunately, we have way too many.   She is the patron saint of the Italian navy, and in fact the hold of ship in which explosives are kept in Spanish is “santabarbara.”  Of course, of the city of Santa Barbara, California was named after her.  In many western paintings and Orthodox icons of St. Barbara a tower appears in the landscape, in remembrance of her father’s imprisonment of her, as well as St. Juliana, the woman who stood up for her and was also martyred.  Unfortunately, her Feastday has been removed from the Roman Calendar, even as the British, Canadian, and Australian armies continue to remember St. Barbara on December 4.  The Epistle reading for St. Barbara comes from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians which contains the truly famous lines:

 "For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus."

 "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ"

That last phrase substitutes for “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal” in the Divine Liturgy on certain feast days and is sung in the Sacrament of Chrismation.  St. Barbara’s faith as expressed in those three windows she commissioned that lead to her martyrdom is remembered in the Kondak for her Feastday:

Singing the praises of the Trinity, / you followed God by enduring suffering; / you renounced the multitude of idols, / O holy martyr Barbara. / In your struggles, you were not frightened by the threats of your torturers, but cried out in a loud voice: / “I worship the Trinity in one God-head

Most of us know a lot more about St. Nicholas than we probably did before today about St. Barbara: that he was a Bishop of Myra in Lycia in Anatolia(now Turkey) in the 4th Century AD, that he attended the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea at which he fought strongly against Arianism (the heresy that taught that Christ was begotten of  God the Father at some point in time after the creation,  and was therefore subordinate to God), that by doing so he  was  instrumental in the writing of the Nicene Creed (which negates Arianism  completely by including  the phrase “begotten of the Father before all ages”), and that he is known for his miracles (hence the name St. Nicholas the Wonderworker) and his acts of kindness which led to the western concept of St. Nicholas as Santa Claus.  But let’s just focus on the Epistle to the Hebrews that will be read here in our church this Tuesday:

“Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

“Every good work:” the perfect remembrance of the Wonderworker Nicolas. The tropar to St. Nicholas gives us the words we need to pray to the Sainted Bishop of Myra  for the rest of Advent and always, to pray to him for the sake of our salvation:

In truth you were revealed to your flock as a rule of faith, / an image of humility and a teacher of abstinence; / your humility exalted you; / your poverty enriched you. / Hierarch Father Nicholas, / entreat Christ our God / that our souls may be saved.

 


December 10 - St. James of Persia
Today's Gospel and Epistle readings perfectly identify the challenges we have ahead of us as St. Phillip's Fast rolls into its third week. Challenges that, as both readings tell us, are based on the roadblocks to salvation---roadblocks in the form of potholes and detours and accidents on the other side of the road that draw our attention as rubberneckers --- all of these are strewn by the devil like so many tacks and nails and pieces of broken glass into our paths.   In Luke's Gospel (Lk. 13:10-17) the devil is called out by name---Satan---even as Christ heals the woman who was bent over for over eighteen years.   That woman's affliction---being bent over so thoroughly that she was unable to straighten herself out---is clearly the work of the Satan, and that very same affliction can plague many of us in these modern days---we just can't straighten out our lives, we can't walk a straight line, we can't straighten up and fly right. And we can't look up. Why? Because we are bent into a pretzel by focusing mostly on the temptations that the devil uses to distract our attention from our own good intentions, our resolutions to fast, to pray more, to read the scriptures, to help others during the Advent fast.
 
St. Luke tells us that Our Lord:  "laid his hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God." And then Christ said: "And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?"
 
The Blessed Theophylact reminds us that "it was Satan who brought about our fall by which we lost our incorruptibility" and it is still the devil that takes our minds off the straight and narrow road; that's why we keep falling into the ditch.
 
St. Paul teaches us the way to keep on the smooth straight road in his letter to the Ephesians (Eph.6:10-17) when he says: "Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil."   In Paul's day, athletics were just as important to the people of the Roman Empire as they are in our America of 2017. So the Epistle writer uses the analogy of wrestling to teach the new Christians of Ephesus: " For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."
 
Principalities and powers are categories of the bodiless ones, the angels, and in this case the reference is to the revolting angels who chose to follow Satan rather than the angels, like the Archangel St. Michael, who chose to follow God. When you come up to the Cross later today, look back over the choir loft and study carefully the stained glass icon of St. Michael battling the devil. The words in Slavonic over St. Michael's head "Kto Yako Bog" are the words that the Archangel said when rebuking Satan: "Who is like God?" And that phrase is the meaning of the name Michael in Hebrew.
 
Brothers and Sisters, the devil is real; temptations abound around us every day, and that's real life. St. Basil the Great wrote that "Life is like a scale. On one side, the shallow plate contains the devil and all his wiles. On the other side of the balance, we have the angels of God. To whom will we offer our hearts? Which side carries more weight for us?" Dostoyevsky, took up St. Basil's simile almost verbatim when he famously wrote that "God and the devil are fighting for the soul of man. And the battlefield is the human heart."
 
Advent won't last very long. It's past time to join the battle. Let's all waste no more time and rise up to follow St. Paul's advice to actively fight the good fight during what remains of the forty days: "And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."