Sermon for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost (2017)

Sermon for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost (2017) - Holy Cross Monastery

This brief earthly life is even more unstable than the waters which Christ allowed Peter to walk upon. We walk, as it were, over a great abyss; and we often do not see the fact that we are so close to falling away at any moment—not just from physical life, but—from true life in God into the deep abyss of spiritual death.

Even more so, we often fail to see the constant activity of God’s ever-watchful and all-loving protection over our whole life, both physical and spiritual, and His readiness to come to our aid.

This passing life is as changing and unstable as a wavy sea of water. One moment we are joyful, the next moment we are upset; one moment we are praised, the next we are insulted; one moment we are laughing with one another, the next minute we are fighting; many infants are born each day, yet many people also die each day.

Today’s Epistle motivates us to pursue that world and life which shall not be shaken, saying: “Let every man take heed how he builds upon that which is laid. No other foundation can a man lay than that which is already laid, that is, Jesus Christ……Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for The Day shall declare it, because it shall be tried by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work.”

If we always kept in mind the hour of our passing from this life, and much more the Second Coming of Christ, as the apostles and all the saints did, we would not sin. All our thoughts would be fixed strongly upon the vision of faith which sees only Christ, Who He is, how He is, and who we should be in Him. If every attitude, intention, thought, word and action of ours were tried against this understanding, we would become more sober, pure and God-like.

If we always beheld that Reality of the Last Day, we would not go astray. And even more than this, if we strove always to “see Christ’s face”, to know His beauty, and to experience more and more His life, here and now, we would never turn our eyes and hearts to anything that is sinful or worthless, and we would not be tormented by the many trials and ups and downs of this fallen world.

How can that person, who imagines himself already standing before Christ over that great abyss of hell, ever give in to the pride or sorrow of this life?

On that fearful and much-expected Day, where will the towering buildings of so-called advanced civilization be? Where are the many boastings of modern man and his many technological devices to be found? Where are all the inventions, all the scientific knowledge of many things, and the so-called wonders of the world?

Where are the amusement parks, the television shows, the movie theatres? Where are the sarcastic jokes of comedians, the fleshly beauty of supermodels, the bodily strength of the athletes? Where is the laughter of the proud, the cheering of the stadiums, the shamelessness of movie-actors, and the achievements and false fame of those modern idols, the sports-stars and rock-stars?

Where are earthly riches? Where are human glory and praise? Where are fleshly lusts, rich and elegant foods which please the tongue? Where are bank accounts, fancy clothing, material adornments, college degrees, and all the vanity of earthly wisdom? Where is the false comfort of worldly life?

Where are the victories and defeats of war? Where are the governments, the borders of countries, the political ambitions, the amassed riches of every nation? Where are the things which this world calls life? Where are all those things that deceived us into thinking that they were more real and true than Christ?

Where are the weary bodies, the aching bones, and the labors of men? Where is sickness, where is sorrow, where is corruption? Where are affliction, temptation, sin and death?

All things on That Day shall be dissolved by fire, by the revelation of the Presence of the Consuming Fire Who is our Most-Holy God and Lord, Who is truly everywhere present and fills all things.

“Vanity of vanities”, cries out the wise Solomon, “all things are vanity…let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the all of man! For, God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil”.

And Christ Himself tells us: “Whosoever hears My sayings, and does them, I will liken him unto a wise man, who built his house upon a rock; and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock!”

The rock is faith in Christ manifested by the striving to keep His commandments, to be filled with His very life, grace and love, and the confession of His being the only Son of God and Savior. When Christ asked the apostles who they thought He was, Peter cried out: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” Christ responded, saying: “Upon this rock I will build my Church; and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it!”

St. Theophylact says regarding this that “the Church is each one of us who has become a house of God. For if we have been established on the rock of the confession of Christ, the gates of hades, which are our sins, will not prevail against us.”

Solomon tells us that all things without God are vain and empty. The only thing that matters is how we used the things of this life and with what inward disposition—whether we used the things of this life to glorify God or whether we used them to serve our selves. St. Seraphim says that we must become wise traders who trade small earthly things for the great and priceless treasures of Christ’s heavenly life and grace, the indwelling of His Holy Spirit.

We offer the labors of our body, and Christ perfects our soul. We practice the commandments, and Christ fills us with His life. We can purchase the kingdom of heaven by giving two pennies to a poor man, or by a single sigh or tear drop in behalf of the unenlightened and godless people of the world.

We offer little, but Christ gives much. We give small efforts, and Christ grants us great grace. Truly, as St. James says, “faith without works is dead…as a body without a spirit,” but on the other hand, so are works without faith; for St. Paul says “without faith it is impossible to please God; for he that comes to God must first believe that He Is, and that He is a Rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.”

It says in St. Mark’s account of today’s Gospel, that before Christ appeared to the apostles on the waters, “He saw them toiling in rowing; for the winds were contrary to them”. But it was not until “Christ went up unt

This is the essence of living faith in Christ: we strive to work together with Christ, and we offer as much as we can, often failing, sinning, and trying to repent and make amends for our sins; but it is not until Christ breathes His Holy Spirit into us that we are empowered to live according to His good pleasure and will, able to walk above the constant instability of this fallen world.

Faith is not simply a mental agreement that God exists. Living faith in Christ speaks to Christ as the psalmist does: “Thou, O Lord, art my Foundation, my Refuge, my Rock, my Redeemer, my God, my Strength, my Mercy, my Life, my All!” Faith is living and active, a constant dwelling in God’s grace, a constant giving of our whole self to Christ, clinging to Him alone.

True faith and trust in Christ is the understanding that all our efforts in this life are like a man who strives to swim in the middle of the ocean during a hurricane, vainly seeking for dry land; and that we constantly need our Heavenly Savior to raise us above the tumult of our passions and sins, fallen nature and the demons.

The hymn that we heard last night turns these realities into a prayer for us: “O Christ, Who in the beginning established the heavens in wisdom and founded the earth upon the waters, make me steadfast upon the rock of Thy commandments; for none is holy as Thee, O Thou Who lovest mankind”.

This hymn expresses our whole faith and life in Christ; none is holy except for God; yet He commands us: “Be ye holy, as I am holy.” Therefore, it is only by constant confession of Christ’s power, and by always begging Him to establish us in His life-giving commandments, that we can be filled with His own holiness.

Often we look away from Christ, and we focus on the boisterous winds and the crashing waves—that is, the great turmoil of the world, its political and national battles, our many passions and sins. Then, we begin to sink, for we have allowed ourselves to think that all these things are more powerful and real than Christ.

Yet, we can still cry out like Peter: “Lord, save me!” And He will quickly reach out His hand to us, gently rebuking our lack of faith; and then, when we become aware of our great weakness, and when Christ sees fit, He will establish us in His grace again, making the winds to cease. And, like the apostles, we will then be convinced of His power, confessing that He is the Son of God, and worship Him in spirit and truth. And like Thomas our doubt will vanish when we feel Christ’s life-giving action within our very souls and bodies.

Such is the way of our spiritual life: full of efforts, sins and falls, yet also filled with visitations of Christ’s grace, spiritual consolations, peace and victories. In this life we will never be free from the fear that at any moment we can fall away from God, as St. Isaac says, like a dry leaf from a tree.

We always have that great hymn of the Church to pray with: “Cleanse me, O Savior, for many are my transgressions; and lead me up from the abyss of evils, I pray, for to Thee have I cried, and Thou hast hearkened to me, O God of my salvation.”

St. John Climacus tells us that every dispassionate man was first passionate. Therefore, if we are passionate and sinful, then we can still hope to become pure and spotless. Yet, the saints, as they traveled towards God and ever stretched themselves out to attain the heightless heights of the stature of Christ, always saw themselves as sinners.

Fr. Seraphim Rose comforted someone who said that they felt condemned to hell, by saying: “If we see ourselves condemned here, we shall go away as free men there.” The commandments of Christ which are a firm rock, which we should seek first and foremost, are those light and easy burdens: blaming our selves, judging no one, and forgiving all men their sins, that we might also be forgiven our many sins.

St. Peter Damascene says: do we have many sins? Let us not despair, but let us refrain from judging others, and we ourselves shall not be judged. And even if we do judge, let us still not despair, for the all-loving Christ will purify us by afflictions and trials.

So it was with Peter, he set out with boldness to walk towards Christ over the waters, yet he started to doubt and began to sink. But, seeing his peril he cried out: “Lord, save me!” And Christ saved him. May we also always cry out to Christ and be saved; “for everyone who shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved!”

And as it was fulfilled in the apostles in today’s Gospel, so the psalm shall be fulfilled in us, which says: “They that go down to the sea in ships, doing their work in many waters, these have seen the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep. He spake, and a wind of tempest arose, and the waves thereof were lifted up…their soul was melted with evils. They were troubled, and reeled like one drunken, and all their wisdom was swallowed up. And they cried unto the Lord in their affliction, and out of their distresses He brought them. And He commanded the tempest, and it was calmed into a breeze, and the waves thereof fell silent. And they were glad, because they were quiet, and He guided them to the haven of His will. Let them give thanks unto the Lord for His mercies, and for His wondrous works for the sons of men. Let them exalt Him in the Church of the people, and in the seat of the elders let them praise Him…He helped the poor man out of his poverty…the upright shall see it and shall be glad, and all iniquity shall stop its mouth.”

+Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

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