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Does anyone know what time it is? Our student Vanya just got a new watch, he and Dennis both. He might say: 11:04:25 A.M. EST. One holy man said: It is later than you think!

What we do for Christ is not for now but for eternity. What we do for ourselves is for now and passes. Lord it is not that I don’t believe. I just don’t have any concept of eternity and the mansions beyond this world. Why? Maybe because I am united with this world and its fixtures, while God calls and invites me to come to the wedding feast of His eternal Life. Come let us dine together through the Eucharist, through our life together in Christ, through following Him and being in the company of the saints.

The Lord made the invitation, yet by the parable we see how uninterested humanity was and is in it. Who came? Not the people invited, not the guests. The Lord had to scour the highways and byways; He had to drag people in. Even today we see this apathy towards goodness, a yawning before eternity and divinity. God invited us, and what is our excuse—oxen, land, marriage. So God calls the sick—the healthy seem too busy.

We are filled with ideas and good intentions. Your actions speak so loudly, a saying goes, I can’t hear a word you are saying. There is a world of difference between thinking about love and loving, between noble thoughts and noble actions. We have enough talk, enough ideas. We need action. We need deeds; not that deeds buy our ticket to heaven, but talk definitely doesn’t.

St. Nicholas lived what he taught. They say that St. Nicholas, as a priest, increased in virtue day by day. Who is keeping track of our virtue, which is our obedience to the will of God, our adherence to His commandments against our fallen nature or impulses? Who reflects to see each day, did I do better? Am I still angry?

We talked a few weeks ago about our inner attitude, our idealized image, how we really are and who we really are. We spoke of the Good Samaritan and promised to be like him with our fellow human beings. Now we see in the person of St. Nicholas the incarnation of the Good Samaritan—someone who followed the Lord’s words and example. St. Nicholas, they say, imitated the Good Shepherd and was himself a good shepherd. He considered the wealth and possessions in his care just as would a steward for the poor and needy. Later, as a priest, he fasted and prayed and kept vigil. While before he kept the secrets of his life with Christ private, as a priest he shared them with his flock, as a father shares his wealth with his children.

We hear of the ancient miracles of St. Nicholas, saving sailors at sea, providing a dowry for three young maids. He continued his good works even in fourteenth century, when he renewed the eyes of St. Stephan of Decani, who had been blinded by his father. St. Nicholas appeared to him to assure him, showing him a set of eyes and saying, I have your eyes Stephen, don’t worry, they will be restored. And at the translation of St Nicholas’ relics from Lycia to Bari, St. Stephen’s eyes were miraculously healed. Recently in Harbin, St. Nicholas saved a pagan Chinese person who believed in him, and also others who venerated him and looked for his help. In the 1930’s, there was a man whose great grandfather was lost in a storm, and St. Nicholas found him and drove his sleigh back to the road before departing. Also, during the Russian revolution, St. Nicholas came into a prison camp dressed in green Bishop’s vestments, bringing all thirty-five prisoners form one barrack to pray in the middle of the camp, where prisoners were usually executed. They prayed together in the open, and then he walked with them past the guards and out of the camp. St. Nicholas continues to help us to from the realm of eternity, reaching into our lives and circumstances. The whole world loves him. Why? Because he loves us and continues to do so even now.

May we enter the wedding feast of the Lord being united with Him now during this Divine Liturgy and throughout the time of our lives in obedience to Him.

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We are not just made up of individual ideas and reactions, but of a coherent or definite mind and attitude that determines our life here and in eternity.

The attitude of the Good Samaritan towards people was that all people are my brother, and I will respond to their needs as my own. The attitude of the rich man whose barns were full was that these are my goods, for my present and future needs, and I will preserve and care for them to make my life easier. There is no indication that he had thoughts for anyone else. We can easily say that this man is selfish and the other generous.

What inner attitude do I have? Let’s think about this and compare it with the attitude of our Lord and what He commands of us. Let’s compare it with the attitude of those we respect and of the saints. If we do, we will probably be disappointed and see that our inner attitude is as selfish and self-serving as the rich man, although at times we are like the Samaritan—on a good day or by chance.

Perhaps we were steeped in a family life that was confused or had a certain attitude or prejudice. Now we have Christ, and we can change.

Perhaps we have a delusion regarding our own goodness, but our inward inventory proves that we are not as good, or as loving towards people, or as forgiving and tolerant of their shortcomings as we think. Elder Simeon talks about this in his book. Popadia read the transcript of the English translation, and told my son and I about it. She described his observations as a spiritual father of thousands of people. He said that we work against the delusion of an idealized image of ourselves. We believe and see ourselves in a certain way, not based on truth, not because this is the way we really are, but because this is what we really wish to be. And we really think of ourselves this way. This is why repentance is so difficult, and why people say that when they became Orthodox things got harder. Of course, if we have to wake up and smell the coffee, as they say, sometimes it is a rude awakening. Popadia’s description of the delusion of our idealized image was so clear and, frankly, disturbingly real, that I told her somewhat jokingly, “Now you’ve really ruined my day.” I’m not the knight in shining armor! I am not generous, am not really pursuing the truth, am really selfish and self-centered, am sinful in some of my thinking, and am short even with people who are sick. My self-generated image is one of the saints, and yet I am acting like Cain, Judas, the Pharisees.  I AM A LITTLE SCROOGE, and yet I am supposed to be a LITTLE CHRIST! What am I to do?

What a wonderful life our Lord has given us. This life is for repentance. We can change now, and now is our time. If I continue to believe, “I’m not so bad. I’m really okay, and there’s not much that I need to change,” when in fact this is true only if I compare my self to a mass murderer, and not to the goal—God became man so that man might become like God—then my life needs to move onto  another horizon and another goal.

Becoming aware of what is going on inside us, in our inner attitude and decisions– this is a good thing. We should steep ourselves in the inner world of the Church: the mind of Christ, the mind of the Fathers, the life of the Church. When we steep our self in the literature of the Fathers, for example, when our mind is steeped in the lives of the Saints, we become aware of entering a different world than we are used to living in. This is a good thing. As our life is steeped in the prayers of the Church, in the Jesus Prayer, we become able to change our inner attitude, and God helps us move these personal mountains.

It all starts with this inner attitude, and we need to align it with God and with our neighbor, caring first for the things of God, valuing them, and pursuing them as our first order of business. In this season of celebrating God’s love for man and His sympathy and compassion for us, let us also show compassion for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Let us show appreciation towards God Who is above all but willingly came to be with us and to dwell among us. I believe that, this year, the Lord has a present for each of us which will transform this inner world and attitude into one that suits us for the Kingdom of Heaven.

Yet if we don’t struggle against selfishness and coldness towards our brother, when we approach God, will He just say, “That’s alright. I said ‘love your neighbor’ but … whatever … come in. You have resentments, you feel better than everyone, you don’t listen to anyone, you gossip. But it’s okay, because pride in something or other has veiled and blinded you … whatever.”

Come let us be simple! Let us be reverent! Let us be changed because we don’t presume our goodness. We are nothing in ourselves, but in Christ and with Him we are like Gods. Let us be little Christs, not little scrooges. Let us be like the Good Samaritan, not like the haughty rich man whom the Lord called FOOL! When our life is taken from us, when our barns are left behind, we will have with us our inner attitude, our virtue, as our substance. The rest will not come with us when we leave this world . The pleasing sacrifice to God: our Christ-like inner attitude, a transformed heart–this is the beautiful sacrifice that Abel presented to the Lord.

Fruitful Inconvenience

Patience is born often out of situations that require more patience than we expected. Love is born out of the necessity to give more than is comfortable, to sacrifice ourselves. We might produce more virtue if we expect inconvenience and a little suffering, a fruitful inconvenience. Then when the weight of a cross leans on our shoulders we will willingly lift it up and follow in the way of the Lord. My yoke is good and my burden is light.

Elder Nektary of Optina tells us that each day has its special grace, and that we as Christians are meant to capture the grace of the day. The grace is given through the Gospel and Epistle assigned to the day (which we find in the Church calendar), the life of the saint (from the Synaxarion, or books of the lives of the saints for the whole year), and the Troparia and Kontakion of the day (which are hymns that summarize the special qualities and accomplishments of the saints).

Look at the Gospel and Epistle. These are our instructions for the day–the Lord’s commandments to His disciples and the Apostles echoing the way of the Lord. The life of the saint will also bless us with a certain depth of feeling for the practical application and embodying of the way of the Lord. We can’t do everything and read everything, but we can look to these direct instructions and try to capture the grace by pondering and doing what we can. We will see that the events of the day will require what we have read and heard.

As a person in battle or one “ready for the game” in sports has to be alert and exercise themselves, and fulfill their orders or game plan, so we should be alert and exercise ourselves and thereby catch the grace of the day given to us from the hand of the Lord through His Church.

 

Buried Talent

God is love, St. John proclaims. Love, love, love … This is reported by St. John as the very nature of God, repeated as the theme of the Gospel, reiterated by His apostles and saints and required of us. The greatest commandment from the God Who is love is for us to love. We have a great capacity to love, and to do it would be a blessing for those we love and for us–for all the world. Imagine … if we really set out to fulfill the two great commandments each day and in all ways. The results would be worthy of the praise of God. Therefore, in the parable of the talents given to the servants of the Lord, maybe we should consider that one of the talents that God gives us is the capacity, necessity and opportunity to love; and when we block love, we are burying a very important gift of God.

Anxiety, guilt, and looming, intrusive thoughts steal away our freedom and our capacity to love. That is why we should guard against these states. One spiritual father taught that the guilt that gnaws and incapacitates is a sin. It is different from guilt that leads to reflection, sorrow and repentance, which is healthy. It is a partial truth mixed with lies and bearing corrupt fruit. Truth bears fruit that witnesses to the good seed and its progenitor.

We Christians are a people given talents. We are loaded with potential, possibility, and ability buried as it were under a mound of egocentricity. In the feast of the Baptist we realize that we must decrease so the Lord, the fullness of man and God, might increase. What a wonderful thought. As Christians we are not seeking self annihilation but self purification, self awakening and self fulfilling in Christ. This is why our union to and awareness of Him is called a wedding feast, not a death, though we must die to a false concept of ourselves.

The talents are given freely by the Lord and unequally. St. Nicolai Velimirovich said that the Lord purposely created this inequality in His wisdom. There then began a battle: Lucifer sought to overcome this inequality and fell. Adam and Eve were tempted by Satan to be equal with God. Cain wanted equality with Abel.

The talents are distributed unequally but all have value, and the value is in the inner realm. Some say that the five talents are the five senses through which a child experiences life. The two talents are the duality of body and soul, which is the arena of struggle for the spirit to rule over the flesh. This is clear in the youth emerging to adulthood. And the one talent is the unified mature person who is then meant to live out their life in Christ. At this point is the greatest temptation and greatest possible loss. When a man finally matures and then, instead of serving the Lord with strength, gives himself to pleasures, he is then burying the one talent with the excuse the Lord is harsh and is One Who takes where He does not sow.

When a young person is taught how to drive a car, his father, mother or friend teaches him the way to control this vehicle of power. He learns to steer, to brake, to shift gears. After he accomplishes this control, the boy on his own might realize the power of the car. Vrmmm, vrmmmm … He is exhilarated by the discovery of power, which, true, needs to be controlled; but nonetheless something big can happen. We too might discover the power and capabilities within us especially when we realize that circumstances try to shape us but do not determine what we do. We can do more; we can give more. We can love and be creative in almost any situation. This is proven by the lives of the saints. What a pity to bury the greatest talent of God’s image and breath in us. The really hard circumstances are squeezing and calling this gift out of us. The buried talent that should instead be traded and used is our capacity to LOVE, which is indeed a great power because God is love.

“He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me …”

We face our own martyrdom and become confessors at least in a small but significant way each day. Each day we stand before the powers of the world in our daily life and face opportunities and choices in confessing the truth or not. All of us have probably felt ourselves shrink back before the pressure of displeasure of others if we confess Christ before family, friends or colleagues.

Pleasing people and pleasing God is not always simultaneously possible. We can agree with a snide remark about another mutually disrespected person and unite in judgment against them, so pleasing a man but displeasing God. We can condone something we know is wrong and not blessed by God through our silence or participation, and end up pleasing a person but not the Lord.

Is God so abstract to us and objectified that we don’t think of His pleasure? Is our image in front of men so important to us that we will bend to avoid their displeasure at all costs? When the Truth stands before us in the Person of Our Lord Jesus Christ, do we ask with Pilate: “What is Truth?” missing The Truth Who is before us?

Living the Truth is linked to knowing the Lord and our relationship with Him. When the Truth is known as a Person and not as a series of facts, then obeying the Truth or disobeying has consequence as far as our intimate relation with the Lord is concerned. Our life in Christ is in the balance. Though He is truly merciful, He is not a liar.

So let us all pray that in everything we do, think or say, that it all may be pleasing unto God. We can even make this prayer before we write a difficult e-mail or have a tough conversation: “Lord, I ask that the words that I write/say may be pleasing unto Thee.” If we begin to think about pleasing the Lord first, our life will be clear and we will find real peace within, though it might cause a few other outward problems …Well, we should get used to the fact that we can’t always have it both ways!

Twirling Around the Lord

Our lives are not so much random acts of kindness but acts that are focused around something or other of what we hold important or necessary: our work, our family, our selves, or the Church–serving God and others. When we are able to overcome self-centeredness we can begin to manifest  love for the Lord and begin to follow Him. Throwing ourselves into God’s hands and living for Him and with Him isn’t easy, but it is essential to our lives.

The wonderful thing about being in Church … everything is focused on Christ. Our life and attention is twirling around Him as the central focus. We are worshiping Him. We are actually learning how to worship Him as an event and as a pattern for all our life. Liturgy means “the work of the people,” but as Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos says, it also means the right order of life. To love God and our neighbor is the right order of life. If we can take the Liturgy on the road, order our daily life around the Lord then we are living the Liturgy in the true sense. Consider that we are most fulfilled, most human and most alive when the Lord is the center, when our life is focused on Him and lived in relationship to Him. “I am crucified with Christ and yet I live,” says saint Paul, “but not I but Christ lives in me …”

The Church teaches us in so many ways how to accomplish this, how to live a life with Christ, focused on Him. It’s wonderful!