Seeing Christ - Homily for Palm Sunday (2024)

Seeing Christ - Homily for Palm Sunday (2024) - Holy Cross Monastery

Nine weeks ago, we began the Triodion with the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee. And now, as we’ve finished the forty days and begin Holy Week, we again encounter the Publicans and Pharisees in the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem. Here we see the culmination of a life of humble repentance, for Matthew the former tax collector is found in the company of Christ’s followers and joins with them in praising Christ. The Pharisees, too, were present. And we see the terrible outcome of a life of self-righteousness. In St. Luke’s account, they are scandalized by the behavior of the people and refuse to join in their praise, even asking Jesus to rebuke His followers. Their long-awaited Messiah is right in front of them, and they cannot see him.  Much has been written about the sins of the Pharisees, but today I want to focus on one aspect of their hearts—being constantly scandalized. Being constantly scandalized can eradicate any benefits we may have received from all of our Lenten struggle and can blind us from seeing Christ when He is right in front of us.

The Pharisees were constantly scandalized at Christ and His followers. They were offended because their vainglory was injured. Here was a simple carpenter with a rabble of followers—publicans, harlots, simple fishermen.  Yet He taught everyone as “one with authority” and “the people heard Him gladly”. He hadn’t studied the Scriptures for years and years in the manner the Pharisees had. Why should He have the audience like He does? Why should people flock to Him?

They were offended because they were envious. Christ performed outstanding miracles before their eyes—He made the lame to walk, the deaf to hear, the blind to see. He healed the crippled and raised the dead. The Pharisees for all their zeal and all their knowledge, couldn’t do as Christ did. So they found fault with Christ. They found fault with Him for healing on the Sabbath, for exorcising demons, for allowing a sinner to anoint His feet. The found fault with his followers for eating with unwashed hands, for not fasting, for praising Christ in public.

Unfortunately for Americans, being offended at the actions of others and being scandalized about what doesn’t concern us is built into the fabric of our culture. Wherever one stands politically, its very easy to be outraged at the actions and beliefs of the other side. The news (and social media specifically) love stories of scandal. Political leaders falling from grace, shady back-door business deals made public, the uncovered truth finally revealed about some up until-now beloved general, or historical figure, or political leader. We love being offended. Why? Because it makes us feel superior to others. When the sins of others are exposed, the shock and rage we express allow us to mask over our own faults. We falsely label our self-righteousness as zeal for truth and justice. Perhaps most importantly, we like being offended because it doesn’t require us to change. The problem that was caused is someone else’s fault and we can remain self-satisfied demanding someone else do something. But just like the Pharisees, we will find that when we’re too busy demanding that other people be corrected or rebuked, we will be shut out from joining in the praise of Christ.

We’re not immune from this behavior in our churches or at this monastery. We’re not immune because there’s no escape from this mindset outside of repentance.

One of the ways we can be offended is when we see or hear things in the monastery or in our churches that don’t involve us. Maybe the parish council (that we’re not a part of) was radically altered and most of the people in charge yesterday are not today. Perhaps the choir is changing their style of chanting. Or there’s some recent project that’s looks like it will be really expensive, too expensive. Whatever it is, if it doesn’t involve us, it’s tempting to stop focusing on our own work and our own souls, and to start thinking about what’s going on over there. We apply our reasoning, thinking that we’re only observing the facts.  However, we’re ignoring the truth that our passions distort even what we see and hear. We start thinking what’s being done doesn’t make any sense. Or we think the person in charge doesn’t know what he’s doing, and he should either be replaced or someone should set him straight. Or we think what’s happening is wasting money or detrimental to the brotherhood or parish. These thoughts begin to weigh on us because we think they stem from genuine concern and love, or from a thirst for justice. And so we lose our peace over what’s going on or over the behavior of others. Meanwhile, Christ passes us by.

There’s an important story from the life of Elder Haralambos of Dionysiou, the disciple of St. Joseph the Hesychast. The brotherhood was building a balcony for the hut at their new location and Father Haralambos wanted to go get the wood for it. But Elder Joseph sent Father Ephraim (Elder Ephraim of blessed memory) to get it instead. When Father Haralambos found out that Father Ephraim spent 1,500 drachmas on thick pieces of wood when he could have gotten what they really needed (thin wood) for 300 drachmas, he was really bothered by it. After complaining to Elder Joseph, Elder Joseph told him to be quiet, what was bought was fine, and sent Father Haralambos away. Father Haralambos thought to himself:

“Fine! But next time we need money, then we’ll see who was right!” So we made the balcony with those unnecessarily thick beams…My thoughts started telling me, “See? Geronda didn’t send you. If he did, the balcony would have been elegant with thin beams for only 300 drachmas, but instead we paid 1500.”

Bothered, he confessed his thoughts to Elder Joseph and complained again that he would have gotten what they really needed and saved a lot of money and made the balcony look nicer. Geronda responded:

“You deluded fool! You think you’re the elder now and will give me orders? What does it matter to you how I spend our money? I’ll throw it in the sea if I want!...Didn’t God know any better to make you the elder and me your disciple?”

Father Haralambos asked for forgiveness and left. It turned out that a year later they ended up building a chapel on top the balcony.  Had they used the thin beams Father Haralambos wanted to use, they wouldn’t have been able to build the chapel. Such is the providence of God.

We can see that Father Haralambos was bothered by sincere and good things—getting the right materials, spending less money, and having a beautiful building. But he forgot that he wasn’t in charge, and that none of those things were any of his concern. He expected financial ruin and an ugly building to look at as a constant reminded of his elder’s lack of forethought. Instead, he got a beautiful church and an important lesson about the spiritual life.

It would be easy to dismiss this account by saying, “Well, that’s different, he had a saint for a spiritual father. My priest isn’t a saint. My spiritual father isn’t a staretz”. But such a dismissal betrays a secular worldview, a carnal mindset that it stems from. The spiritual life does not just apply to saints. It applies to everyone. It’s very easy for us to think that the spiritual life consists only in believing correct dogma and being content with traditional prayer rules and fasting practices. So we can go through our days responding to the circumstances and people we encounter with our fallen reactions.  If we keep policing others and are disturbed by events that don’t concern us, we will never find peace. While it can feel like apathy and indifference not to be bothered by what’s going on around us, we have to keep our eyes on our own souls.

As we enter upon Holy Week, let us strive not to be scandalized by the circumstances that come up or by our brother’s conduct. Let us learn to see Christ in all circumstances. It’s not uncommon for disasters to spring up this week, for illnesses to come about. If we’re called upon to do something extra, Christ is coming to us as a rewarder, bearing crowns. If our fathers lose their temper and are harsh, let us not be outraged by how we are treated. Instead, let us learn to see Christ, now coming to us through our father as a physician, excising the malignant tumor of our self-love and self-pity. If our brother is careless and messes up our work and we have to spend extra time fixing the problem he caused, again, let us not be offended. Here too, Christ comes giving us an opportunity to be forgiven our sins. If we cover our brother’s faults, Christ will cover ours. If we are merciful to our brother, Christ will be merciful to us.  Then like the children and the crowd of those present waving their palm branches, we will see Christ when He comes to us and we will finally be able to join His followers in worshipping Him.

Elder Aimilianos of blessed memory writes what it looks like to see Christ in everything. “In the same sense that the sun seems to absorb the light of all the stars when it rises in the morning, so now do I see all things in the light of Christ, who has risen in my heart like a spiritual sun. Everything I come across—my friends, enemies, praise, condemnation, hunger, satiety, pain, sickness, health…my success, my failure—all these things for me are Christ. I discover Him everywhere…as God He is everywhere, and thus, but means of His infinite light, I see Him in all things, in all people.” Amen.

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