Sermon for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost (2015)

Sermon for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost (2015) - Holy Cross Monastery

“Life is a time for trading,” says St. Theophan the Recluse,[1] and this is the meaning of the parable which we have read in today’s Gospel. Christ is the landowner and Christians are His disciples to whom He has given talents which are to be given back to Him with interest when he returns from the far country. Then Christ will reward to each according to their labor.

Some have more talents and some have less according to the measure of the faith and purity of each person, as Blessed Theophylact writes.[2] But we all have something to trade whether it is only one talent or five. Note, however, that what is emphasized is not which talents one has or the amount of them because the servant who received the two talents and the servant who received five both traded and acquired more than what they started with, and were praised by their master who told them, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” They both pleased their master and were rewarded according to the interest they gained through the trading of their talents.

St. Theophan describes these talents as being a tongue, feet or hands.[3] St. John Chrysostom mentions these and also includes strength of body, mind and understanding[4] and St. Gregory the Great includes earthly possessions and learned skills.[5] Even if our talent be the simplest of these, it can be, and must be, used to gain more than what we started with.

What is the interest which Christ requires? “The showing of works transacted,” Blessed Theophylact says, “is the doing of good.”[6]

St. Theophan observes that, “What has not been given you will not be demanded of you,”[7] but writes, “At the Judgment you will not be asked why you did not gain ten talents if you only had one, and you will not even be asked why you did not gain only one talent on your one, but you will be told that you gained a talent, half a talent, or a tenth of its worth. And there will be a reward – not because you received the talents, but because you gained.”[8]

Encouraging the man who has only one talent, St. John says, “Let no man say, I have but one talent, and can do nothing; for thou canst even by one [talent] approve thyself. For thou art not poorer than that widow; and thou art not more uninstructed than Peter and John, who were both ‘unlearned and ignorant men’ [as the Apostle Luke tells us (Acts 4:13)]; but nevertheless, since they showed forth a zeal, and did all things for the common good, they attained to Heaven.”[9]

Notice that the Kingdom of Heaven is not obtained only by not sinning but also by the doing of good works. St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain says that by not doing the good which we ought to be doing we are committing a “sin of omission”, meaning “those good works, or words, or thoughts, which are capable of being done or thought by someone, but through negligence were not done, or said, or thought.”[10] He says that the slothful servant who had only one talent but did not increase it is an example of this. Another instance, he mentions, is when the Son of Man shall come in all his glory and shall separate the nations, some to His left and others to His right, saying, “For I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink” (St. Matt 25:42).

But this business of trading and increasing our talent is fraught with much turmoil and trouble as there are many obstacles in our way as exemplified in the life of the Holy Apostle Paul, as we see in today’s epistle. “Obstacles” they may appear to be, but more specifically, they are the means by which one obtains that kingdom, the situations in which we learn to trade and do business.

In today’s epistle, Paul enumerates the trials that he has suffered in order to preach the Gospel and encourages his readers so that they would not have received the grace of God in vain. He speaks of his patience amidst affliction, need and distress, in stripes, imprisonments, tumults and labors and then shows how even though the Devil and the world were seemingly victorious in actuality the life-giving Spirit was triumphing: “As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing all things”

But how are we to understand this? How are we to trade and increase our talents when we feel so beaten down by the Devil in so many ways, whether it be from our own families, or friends, or people who seek to do us harm, or our own infirmities. Many times we do not feel full of the vigor of life, or of great joy or that all things are truly ours.

St. John sheds light on this when he speaks of the reality of this business which should be obvious to us but maybe not to others who do not understand this way of life. He writes: “For if any one [who] knew nothing of the games were to see a boxer, having wounds upon him and wearing a crown; he would think him in pain on account of the wounds, not understanding the pleasure the crown would give him. And these therefore, because they know what we suffer but do not know for what we suffer them, naturally suspect that there is nought besides these; for they see indeed the wresting and the dangers, but not the prizes and the crowns and the subject of the contest.”[11]

We see this exemplified in a story from the Gerontikon in which a certain brother lived in the vicinity of a great Elder.

He used to enter the Elder’s cell and steal from it. The Elder saw this, but did not reprove him. He worked harder and said: ‘Perhaps the brother is in need.’ The Elder was himself in great distress, since he had a hard time earning his bread. When he was at the point of death, the brothers gathered around him; on seeing the one who had stolen from him, the Elder said to him, ‘Come close to me,’ and kissed his hands. ‘I thank these hands,’ he continued, ‘for it is through their assistance that I am going to the Kingdom of Heaven.’”[12]

A final example of this is seen by way of analogy in which an Elder explains how we are to understand these trials. He says,

He who wishes to be cured of his spiritual wounds must endure those things which the doctor gives him, whatever they may be. For neither does he who is physically sick take any pleasure in his flesh being cut, or in being cauterized, or in drinking purgatives; on the contrary, he feels revulsion whenever he recalls them. But because he is convinced that it is impossible for him to be delivered from his illness in any other way than by these remedies, he bravely endures them and thanks the doctor. He knows that by this brief spell of disgust he will be delivered from an illness of many years’ duration.

The cautery of Jesus Christ is he who slights or insults you, but delivers you from vainglory. The purgative used by Jesus is he who harms or insults you, but delivers you from greed. If, therefore, you avoid a beneficial tribulation, it is as if you were avoiding eternal life. Who else bestowed such great glory on St. Stephen as did those who stoned him to death? [13]

May we trade well brothers and sisters and not ease up. May we not fear the wiles of the devil or the many trials that come our way but always look forward to that day on which we will stand before Jesus Christ our God and Savior and may He be pleased with us and say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”

[1] St. Theophan the Recluse, Thoughts for Each Day of the Year. (Platina: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2010), 201.

[2] The Explanation by Blessed Theophylact of the Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew. (House Springs: Chrysostom Press, 1993), 216.

[3] Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, 202.

[4] St. John Chrysostom, Homily LXIII in “Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew”, ed. Philip Schaff in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999) 10:472ff.

[5] St. Gregory the Great, Forty Gospel Homilies. Trans. Dom David Hurst. (Kalamazoo:Cistecian Publications, 1990), 331.

[6] The Explanation by Blessed Theophylact, 218.

[7] Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, 202.

[8] Ibid, 201.

[9] “Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew”, 472ff.

[10] St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite, Exomologetarion: A Manual of Confession. (Republic of Greece: Uncut Mountain Press, 2006), 84.

[11] St. John Chrysostom, Homily XII in “Chrysostom: Homilies on Second Corinthians”, ed. Philip Schaff in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999) 12:339ff.

[12] The Evergetinos: A Complete Text. trans. Abp. Chrysostomos and Hmk. Patapios. (Etna: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 2008), 322.

[13] The Evergetinos, 323.

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