St. Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church
872 N. 29th St. Boise, ID
an American parish of the Russian Orthodox Church

The weekly homilies are now also available on YouTube in video format:  Homilies

11/20 - Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death

Luke 8::41-56

Just a few weeks ago we heard about a great act of faith.  A Roman centurion came to Jesus to ask Him to heal his servant who was ill.  As Jesus agreed and began to proceed to the home of the centurion to heal the servant, the centurion stopped him and declared that he knew that Jesus could heal his servant with just a word without even coming to the house.  Seeing such great faith in the power and authority of Jesus Christ on the part of a gentile, Jesus marveled and declared to those who were following Him, “I have not found so great a faith, no, not in Israel” (Lk 7:10).  He then turned to the centurion and sent him home, for his servant was healed in that very hour that Jesus spoke.  Today we see another example of someone coming to Jesus asking Him to heal someone dear to them.  In this case it was Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue who came to Jesus asking Him to heal his daughter who was near death.  But Jairus did not have the great faith of the centurion and so begged Jesus to come quickly to his home where his daughter lay a dying.  And so Jesus set out to the home of Jairus.  But the crowd was great and Jesus moved slowly.  Jairus was fretting all the while for his daughter could die any moment and here Jesus was coming so slowly.  And then the worst thing in the world for Jairus happened.  Jesus stopped, turned and asked “Who touched me?”  How could Jesus stop and ask such a question when his daughter could die any moment.  Even the disciples remarked that given the press of the crowd, this question seemed foolish.  But Jesus was adamant and repeated the question.  A woman in the crowd who had been ill with a hemorrhage of blood for 8 years finally confessed that it had been she who reached out to touch just the hem of Jesus’ garment and indeed she was healed in that instant.  By this time Jairus was beside himself with anxiety – his daughter was dying, they needed to hurry.  And then the messengers arrived saying not to bother Jesus for his daughter had died. Imagine the grief of Jairus – here he had begged Jesus to come, but now it was all in vain. 

Let us take a moment to recall just who Jairus was and how he knew about Jesus.  When Jesus first returned to Galilee and began His teaching, He was in the synagogue and was given to read a passage that was overtly messianic.  Having read the message, He then said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” thereby proclaiming that He Himself was the promised Messiah, that He was indeed God incarnate.  The people were filled with wrath at this statement and they took Jesus to the brow of a hill intending to throw him off the cliff to His death.  But miraculously, Jesus passed through the midst of the crowd and went His way.  Now this same ruler of the synagogue, who had recently been among those who tried to kill Jesus was there, in great despair, begging for help.  Perhaps he even thought that Jesus had dallied on purpose to punish him.

But Jesus turned to Jairus and said to him, “Fear not. Believe only and she shall be made whole.”  And so Jairus grasped at that thin straw of hope that Jesus held out to him and he followed Jesus back to the house.  There the mourners were already wailing at the death of this young girl and when Jesus entered the house, he said to them, “Weep not, she is not dead but sleepeth.”  And they laughed at Him and mocked Him for His obvious ignorant foolishness.  But even so Jairus stayed with Jesus, holding on to that hope he had been given.

Jesus took the maiden by the hand and said, “Maid arise.”  Her spirit returned to her at that moment and she sat up.  Jesus commanded that she be given something to eat and her parents were amazed at what had occurred.  The faith of Jairus, even in the face of bitter defeat and disappointment, was vindicated – his daughter was made whole by the power of the God/man Jesus Christ.

From this event let us take a brief look at a few of the lessons that are offered to us.  First, the faith of the centurion as compared to that of Jairus.  Each man had faith in Christ, but one was greater than the other.  Even so Jesus did not discriminate but dealt with each according to his own strength.  To the centurion, Jesus gave the word and the servant was healed.  Jairus, who had the weaker faith, was helped by Jesus all along the way, at every step being held up and encouraged by our Lord.  If our faith is strong, then Jesus will act according to that strength, but if our faith is weak, even then He will support us, He will walk with us, He will hold us up and encourage us so that we can go with Him the whole way, even through seeming defeat and hopelessness.  He will not disparage us, no matter if our faith is strong or if it is weak – still He is with us and He will care for us.

Also, Jairus, despite his weak faith did not give up but held onto the thin fiber of hope offered to him by Christ.  He was anxious, he was worried, he doubted, but he held on and followed Jesus no matter what.  So also when we reach out to our Lord, we should follow Him with the same tenacity.  The Psalmist says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” This is where Jairus found himself and it is where we all often find ourselves as well – in the midst of the valley of the shadow of death, in a place of hopelessness, a place of darkness, a place of fear.  But if we, by our faith, hold onto the hope that our Lord holds out to us and trust that He is with us all the way, then the hopelessness is defeated by our faith, the darkness is enlightened by the Light of Christ, and fear is destroyed by the love of God which drives out all fear.  Do not give up, even when it seems hopeless, even when those around us laugh at us and mock us for our faith, even when we are told by the “voice of reason” to give up – even in that moment hold on to your faith in Christ, hold on to the hope that He holds out to you, hold on to Him and He will not abandon you, He will not leave you alone, but He will walk all the way with you, holding onto you, lifting you up when you fall and even carrying you when necessary.  He will bring you into the light of His love and mercy and salvation and you will be amazed as the parents of the young girl were amazed at the great power of God.

Finally let us consider the words of our Lord, “love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to those who hate you and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you.”  Here we see that our Lord did not speak these words in emptiness, but rather He fulfilled them at every moment of His life.  Certainly we see His dramatic fulfillment of this in the events of the crucifixion, but here, at the beginning of His labors we see them fulfilled in no less of a manner.  He is approached by one who had recently sought to kill Him and rather than take revenge or be satisfied that now he was getting his “due repayment” for his deeds, Jesus chooses instead to embrace His former enemy, to walk with Him, to support Him and in the end to manifest the amazing power of God to raise even the dead and bring his daughter to life.  All this without even the mention of their previous unpleasant encounter.  Let us therefore go and do likewise.  Let us reach out to all those who come to us, freely forgiving (even without being asked to forgive), freely extending ourselves on behalf of another person no matter what they might have done, or not done on our behalf.  Let us love all mankind – our families, our neighbors, our friends, strangers and even our enemies, for in doing this we do the will of our Father which is in heaven and we imitate the life and actions of our Lord and God and Savior, the God/man Jesus Christ.

My brothers and sisters, may we all begin by placing all our trust and hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, knowing that He will come to us no matter how strong or weak we might be.  Let us persist in following Him, even through the valley of the shadow of death.  Let us therefore imitate His love for us and extend our love, our compassion, our mercy, our forgiveness to every person that we come into contact with no matter who they might be.  In this we acquire the grace of God by which we are transformed into His likeness and become citizens of His heavenly kingdom.

11/13 - Demons or Swine - Fr. Matthew Garrett

In this morning’s gospel, we heard about the healing of the Gadarene demoniac, a man possessed by a demon which caused him to cry out, to act violently toward others and even to cause harm to himself. There was clearly something wrong with this person, and people had stopped even trying to deal with him. They had tried binding him up with chains, they had sent him off to live among the tombs, but mostly they just avoided going near him. The people in the area knew that there was something wrong and so they kept their distance.

In our world today, many people have rejected the existence of God, or the existence of spiritual powers. But even those who believe in God often deny the existence of demons. People have made fun of the very notion of demonic influence for so long that it is considered folly to think that there is anything or anyone working against us and our salvation. And as this has happened, we have also learned to deny the evil works that they would have us do. Things that were considered grave sins and unspeakable evils not that long ago are now considered normal, routine, or even praiseworthy. We have taken the demoniacs of old and invited them to live among us. We don’t bind them up, we don’t cast them out, we welcome them.

Christians have always lived apart from the world even when living in it. They have always sought to bind up the demons and cast them out through prayer and fasting, they have sought to have nothing to do with them and instead to live lives of holiness, to be a light on a lampstand so that others can see the light that shines in us, the uncreated light which God gives us by His grace and love for mankind. Knowing this, and seeing the darkness that surrounds us in this world, we are tempted to fight against it with all of our strength. And yet we should hear the words of our Lord from the Sermon on the Mount: “resist not evil.”

Our Lord does not mean that we should be sinners, that we should give evil a place in our hearts, but that we should not be evil in our opposition to evil. To this end, He tells us not to strike back when someone strikes us, He tells us to “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” Just as the Father makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and rain on the just and the unjust, we should be the same toward every person. We should commend them to the will of God, we should pray for them, we should forgive them, we should love them. But we should not become like them. Neither should we accept their ways as equal to God’s ways.

It is telling that in the same gospel reading we also hear about the people living in that country of the Gadarenes. While the man was possessed by a demon, the people living there were unclean. They were raising swine in violation of the Mosaic Law. These people could point to the demoniac and recognize his sin, they could chain him up and cast him out, but they would not let go of their own uncleanness. In fact they were persuaded to cast out Christ because He sent their pigs away along with the demons. When the legion of demons had been driven out, there sat one man cleansed of his demons, clothed and in his right mind, made whole again by the grace of our Lord, and there too was a multitude of people who were cleansed of their uncleanness but longing to get it back.

The world around us is sinful, and we are right to speak of the evils that surround us. But we must not allow the evils of this world to blind us to our own uncleanness. The Church is a hospital for our sick and dying souls to be made well that we might have life and have it more abundantly. But while we are still sick, while we are still recovering, we need to tend to our wounds. Some wounds we need to cut open that we might apply healing medicine directly to the illness. We must learn to scrutinize ourselves seeking the source of every pain, every malady, every fever, and turn to the Physician of souls to have Him make us well.

It is only if we do this that we can be made to be a light to the world, and only by this that we can be a call to repentance for those around us. The demoniac was made well by Christ, not by the actions of the people. The sinful people in this sinful world will be made well by Christ. Our hope is that by our Christian lives we can show others a better way, the Way, which is Christ.

Saint Paul, in his epistle to the Galatians makes clear that the keeping of the law will not save us. He is not referring simply to the Ten Commandments, neither is He referring to the Mosaic law in particular, but to the keeping of all of the Jewish purity laws. We cannot be made pure or clean by following the rules. He was speaking to the Galatians against the teaching of the Judaizers, but his words are important to us as well. We will not made perfect by keeping the fast perfectly, or by crossing ourselves at the appropriate times, or by reading the right prayers, we will be saved by Christ living in us.

“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” “nd those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”

The epistle this morning comes from the ending of Saint Paul’s letter to the Galatians. In this epistle, Saint Paul is faced with the Churches that he planted in Galatia being persuaded by Judaizers to the keeping of the law. There were those among them who were accepting circumcision, who were following laws of purification, or the keeping of Jewish Feasts.

The words of Saint Paul are often invoked by those who want to drive a wedge between faith – by which they mean belief – and works – by which they mean any good works. Such a teaching is a distortion of the words of Saint Paul, and can lead us to grave error. The works that Saint Paul refers to here are works of the Law which refer to far more than the ten commandments, far more even than the Old Testament purity laws, and include thousands of rules which governed the daily life of the Jewish people of the time.

Saint Paul says to the Galatians “And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law.” “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation.” We are meant to be a new Creation which is sanctified by the Holy Spirit, but we can’t do this in the midst of the swine. We have to cast off all lusts and works of the flesh which seek to enslave us:  “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like.” These are the swine that surround us. Like the prodigal, even if we do not partake of these things, we would gladly fill our bellies with the pods that the swine eat. We must flee all these things, and we must cultivate the fruits of the Holy Spirit – “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”

The Lord said to the Chief Priests and Elders of the Jewish people, “Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.”

 In our baptisms we renounce Satan, and all his works, and all his angels, and all his service, and all his pride. We don’t reject these on behalf of the whole world, but personally. We cannot drive sin out of this world, but we can drive it out of ourselves by the grace of God – by cooperation with the Holy Spirit. We are not called to drive away the demoniacs from us while we live swinish lives of uncleanness. No amount of self-righteousness will make us truly righteous. Rather, we are called to be like the demoniac who after he was cleansed of demons was found clothed and in his right mind and sitting at the feet of Jesus.

11/6 - The Chains That Bind

Luke 16:19-31

In his novel, the Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens describes the ghost of Jacob Morley, Scrooge’s deceased partner, as being weighed down with an elaborate chain which he forged during his lifetime of greed.  This massive chain kept him bound to roam the earth in payment for his wasted life.  He appeared to Scrooge in order to warn him to change his life so that he might avoid sharing a similar fate.  Scrooge, in the end, heeds the warning, changes his ways and hopefully avoids his punishment.

The Gospel today tells us a similar tale, but with a very different result.  Instead of  Scrooge, we hear of the fate of the unnamed “rich man” and of the beggar Lazarus.  During his life, the rich man lived a life of great luxury and gave no thought to the condition of the poor beggar at his door.  The beggar, Lazarus, suffered greatly, not having even the most basic of necessities.  This “rich man” did not in any way amend his sin, and when he died he suffered torment for his heedless, sinful life.  Like the ghost of Jacob Marley, the rich man was hindered after his death by the sins he committed in his life.  We too are forging for ourselves a spiritual chain in this life which will link our soul to its spiritual dwelling after our death. 

Our deeds are the material from which this chain is forged.  If, like Jacob Marley of the novel or the rich man of this parable, we choose in this life to tie ourselves to riches and earthly comforts, then the chain which binds our soul will also be tied to those earthly desires.  However, though we will desire them, we will be unable to fulfill that desire.  Our soul will wish to be satisfied with the bodily comforts it had in this life, but because it is separated from the body, it will no longer be able to find that satisfaction.  We will in fact, be in torment, from this unfulfilled and unfulfillable desire; like the itch that can’t be scratched or the thirst that can’t be quenched.  And we are tied to this torment by the chain of desires forged in this life.

This chain of desire has its origin in the will, which is the seat of our desire.  If we exercise our will to satisfy ourselves then the desires generated by the will are self centered and self serving.  If however, we follow the commands of Christ, if we subject our self will to His will by self denial and obedience to the law of God then the desires generated by the will are centered on the love of God and we are ruled by our desire for Him.  The chain wrought by such a will, which has all its desire centered upon God, brings us not to the torment of unfulfilled desire, but rather brings us ever closer to our Lord Jesus Christ in paradise Who is the fulfillment of all desire for the soul focused upon Him.

In the parable we see that Lazarus also dies and is found not chained to the place of torment, but rather hidden “in the bosom of Abraham” or in other words in paradise.  In his earthly life Lazarus did not develop an attachment to worldly things for he used his poverty as a means by which he could release himself from worldly desires and instead attach himself to the love of God.  Lazarus forged a “chain” in this life made up of love of God and love of neighbor and as a result, his soul was bound by that chain to the bosom of Abraham, to paradise. 

Another similar point in these two stories is the desire of the dead to visit the living so that they might avoid the punishment and torment of the life lived, not so much in sin but rather of the life lived in enslavement to the passions.  Jacob Marley comes to visit Scrooge on such an errand and subsequently sends three more “spirits’” to persuade him to give up his greedy, miserly ways.  The rich man of the parable begs Abraham to allow Lazarus to return to earth to warn his brothers of their sin that they might avoid the torment to come.  In a statement prophetic of his own death and resurrection, Jesus tells his listeners that “even if one were to rise from the dead” he would not be heeded.

Indeed in another place in the Gospel, Jesus also warns that the only sign that will be given this “wicked” generation is the sign of Jonah.  This sign of Jonah refers to Jonah’s “death”, being thrown overboard in a storm and his “burial” in the belly of  a large fish, and his “resurrection” at being thrown up on the land.  This is an image, of course of our Lord’s own death, 3 day burial and resurrection.  And what did the experience produce in Jonah?  Repentance – for Jonah repented of his rebellion against God and submitted himself to God’s will.  So also this sign of Jonah – this resurrection of one who has died, is given to the world just as the rich man requested.  This sign of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection leads, us to repentance, it leads us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Christ.

Now I just want to note briefly that the Most Glorious Resurrection of Christ is much more than a sign for it is also the victory over sin death and the devil by which we are enslaved and chained by our fallen, sinful nature.  By the power of the Resurrection, those chains are broken, they can no longer hold us and we then are free to forge new chains for ourselves.  Will these chains then be again the chains of worldly desire or will they be chains of love of God.

My brothers and sisters, we have been warned, we have all received the sign of Jonah that we might be led to repentance.  We see the glorious Resurrection of Christ by which we are freed from our previous enslavement to sin, which makes it possible then for us to re-forge the chains upon our soul so that they hold us no longer to our worldly desires, but rather to the love of God and heavenly paradise.  Let us no longer labor in enslavement to our passions and worldly desires, but setting aside these things, let your hearts be set upon acquiring not worldly treasure, but on acquiring the Holy Spirit and the grace of God which are heavenly treasures.  Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.    If your heart is bound by chains of worldly desire and love of pleasure then you will be bound to these things, even after death when they torment you rather than bring pleasure.  But if your heart is bound by chains of love of God, then you will be bound to Him so that even if you suffer in this world, you will receive joy and the fulfillment of your desire with Him in paradise.

10/30 - Seeds and Bread - Fr. Matthew Garrett

In the gospel this morning we heard the Parable of the Sower, and the explanation of this parable given by our Lord to His Disciples. Our Lord speaks in this parable of Himself, the only-begotten Word of God, as the sower, who went out from the Father to sow seeds for eternal life. He spoke, not as the prophets did, but of His own authority. The words which He spoke were His words, and he sowed these same seeds everywhere. What differs—what affects the growth of the seed -- is the kind of ground that the seeds fall on. Our Lord does not sow by the wayside, or on rocky ground, or among thorns because He wants the seed to go to waste, but rather He sows everywhere because He desires that all should hear His word and be saved.

Our Lord spoke in parables so that all could hear the same thing, but only those who are seeking Him would understand, that is those who have prepared the ground of their hearts and minds to receive that seed. We see that even the Disciples had trouble understanding the meaning of the parable and had to have the Lord explain it to them. We hear in our Lord’s explanation that it is only those who have an honest and pure heart will keep the word and bring forth fruit with patient endurance.

Our Lord’s use of this image of sowing seeds is one that would have made sense to many people at the time, but the deeper meaning would only make sense to those who desire to bring forth good fruit. He taught the people by speaking about the realities of their everyday lives, but with a depth that communicates the great mysteries of the Kingdom even to us two thousand years later. For those who seek to understand in purity of heart, understanding will be given.

Those seeds that fall by the wayside are trampled by passersby or taken away by birds, who either don’t see them nor care for them to grow. They are unconcerned with the greater mysteries of the Kingdom. Those seeds that fall on rocky ground don’t take root and whither away, they might accept the word of the Lord, but they are not prepared to keep it for all their life. Those seeds that fall among thorns are choked out by all the cares and concerns of this life and are unable to bring forth fruit. It is not that they don’t try, it’s not that they don’t even put down roots, it’s just that they can’t bear fruit because they are too caught up in the things of this life. It is only those who have good ground, who receive the word and patiently care for it above all the other cares of this world that can bring forth fruit.

The Holy Prophet Hosea whom we commemorate today witnessed the falling away of the chosen people of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, into idolatry. It was not enough to be children of the promise made to Abraham and his descendents, the people still had to live a life dedicated to God. In Hosea’s time, however, the people acted like a faithless wife, and departed from the Lord, committing adultery and fornication with foreign gods. To such faithless people, he spoke these words: “Sow to yourselves in righteousness; gather in the fruit of life; light for yourselves the light of knowledge; seek the Lord till the fruits of righteousness come upon you. Why have you passed over ungodliness in silence and reaped its wrongdoings? You have eaten the fruit of deception, for you have hoped in your chariots and in the abundance of your power.”

The seed that God has sown in you through His word, through Holy Baptism and life-giving illumination is a gift which cannot be ignored once it starts to sprout, rather it must be nurtured and protected that it might be brought to fruit. We must be vigilant and live righteously, avoiding evil and the temptations that come to us from the great deceiver, and we must trust solely in God who is our deliverer, and not on our own strength or the strength of others. While we are in this world we will have temptations, we will be called to turn aside from Christ our Bridegroom and to worship idols – whether fortune or fame, sensual pleasures or leisure, pride or wrath, or all manner of other gods. But we must seek to faithfully and patiently endure in the task that has been given to us, the care of a small seed,  and we must be ready then for the harvest.

In his epistle to the Corinthians, Saint Paul also spoke of the sowing of seed, saying that God “supplies seed for the sower, and bread for food.” We should understand that God is not providing two separate things here, seed and bread, but one. The sower goes out to sow and if the ground is prepared to receive it through honesty and purity, if it is kept safe from the birds of the air and the thorns and thistles, and if we patiently endure, that seed will bring forth fruit, and from that fruit we will have more seed to sow and grain enough to have bread to eat.

The bread that we eat is made from grains of wheat which will not be planted. Each grain of wheat that is planted in the ground is a sacrifice that it might die and bring forth much fruit. The grain of wheat that we plant in the ground does not just make a new grain, but brings forth many more grains of wheat. So each time we plant, we do so in hope, knowing that what we reap will be far more than what we deny ourselves of today. The bread we deny ourselves of in this season allows us to eat more abundantly when the day of harvest comes.

And so Saint Paul tells us to be cheerful givers, to sow bountifully that we might reap bountifully and that the Lord might increase the fruits of our righteousness. That initial seed given to us which brings forth a hundredfold is both seed for sowing and bread enough for today if we are willing to sacrifice. When we continue abundantly sowing seeds by God’s grace we bring forth even more seed that we might even eat of the heavenly bread at the harvest.

But this is the struggle. We must continue to make the ground fertile by our labors. We must dig deep in the earth through humility, we must continue to water these seeds with our tears of repentance, and we must fertilize them with virtuous living. We must be willing to sacrifice our present satisfaction for a future harvest, and we must always be ready for the day of harvest so that whatever fruit is brought forth does not waste away in the field.

When it is time for us to sow seeds ourselves, we must be generous just as the Lord is generous. We must sow these seeds everywhere as our Lord does because we also desire that all should be saved, that all should enjoy the same blessings that we do. Our Lord loves us and died for us even while we were still in our sins, how can we choose where to cast these seeds ourselves?

If like the foolish rich man, we seek to simply store up our harvest, if we choose not to share the rewards of our labors, we will find that our souls are required of us and we have no riches prepared in the Kingdom. What benefit will there be to us if we nurture one seed to fruit but then hoard the grain for ourselves, or gluttonously satisfy ourselves with bread and have nothing more for the next season, or sow sparingly and reap sparingly? We must continue in honesty, purity, humility, repentance, and patient endurance for all our days, and we must dedicate our lives to service to God in vigilance and righteousness, and we must sow abundantly that we might reap abundantly especially in that great day of the final harvest of our souls.

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