Redeeming the Time
An Orthodox Christian
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Russian Orthodox Church
of St Nicholas
Dallas, Texas
Redeeming the Time
June 19/July 2, 2000
Vol. 04.09 - Second Sunday after Pentecost - All Saints of Russia

See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise,
redeeming the time, because the days are evil.















Blessed Event!

Brian and Russina Lee are pleased to announce the birth of their beautiful little Girl, Anastasia Catherine. Anastasia weighed in at a petite 4 pounds 14 ounces, 18 3/4 inches.

"And they straightway left their nets"

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In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today, on the Second Sunday after Pentecost, we celebrate the memory of all the saints of Russia who have enlightened that land and shown their light on top of the hill instead of under a bushel. What is it that makes a saint? We've talked about this last week. We read part of the same reading today as we read last week also.

When Jesus called His disciples, they left immediately, left their nets, and they didn't look back. They left with many weaknesses. We can see them. Their warts are shown in the scriptures: they argued with one another, they jousted with one another to see who would be the greatest, they had lack of faith, they even denied our Lord, and not just Peter, by the way; all of them were afraid, even St. John, who followed from a distance. They all had human frailties. But they did as the good farmer that our Lord speaks about in a parable: you put your hand to the plow.1 And no man who wants to plow a field looks back, because then the furrows will be not straight, and you will not get as much fruit from the ground.

This is the key, brothers and sisters. Have you left your nets? Our Lord called James and John, the sons of Zebedee, and straightway they left their nets. The "nets" are the "world", in this context. The spiritual, the inner meaning, of the nets is this: all the things which entangle us. Have you left your nets? Or do you still keep nets around? I'm not talking about whether or not you fall into sin. We are sinners. We should not be surprised when we sin. I'm not talking about if you have weaknesses, passions. I'm talking about your priorities. Have you left your nets? Do you understand? Do you live your life in accordance with the fact that Christianity must be a continual ascent, away from the earth, into heaven? A continual change, a continual changing of one's mind. Warfare till the last breath. This is what Christianity is. You must leave your nets.

If you set your face towards Jerusalem, as the Lord did2, meaning, if you don't let the world get in the way of what your life is for, then God will strengthen you and will help you. You'll have many problems. You might have many sins. In fact, you might sin wretchedly and continually, but God will help you if you have the right priorities, and if you beg Him to help you.

Christianity is not what we believe; it's how we act, it's what we become. It's not possible without belief, but belief is only the beginning, just like when the grain of mustard seed is put into the ground. That is only the beginning. That is only the start. Then the seedling starts to grow. Many things endanger the seedling, but eventually, with care, it becomes a great tree.3 This is what we must do. We must have the priority to grow, to change. This is Christianity. This is the essence.

Our Lord called His disciples; they straightway left their nets. They'd been waiting for the Messiah. At this point they didn't really understand. He was a charismatic man. There was something about Him. Well, of course! The God-man among us. Those with sensitive souls would see such a thing. They might not understand it, but they saw it and they desired to follow it. They gave up everything in order to follow it. Everything. And didn't look backwards. Now they still brought along their baggage, and their sins, and their passions, and their pride, and ... everything else. But their desire was to change.

And look what God has done, with twelve men! He didn't come to twelve kings, twelve princes, twelve great ones, twelve scholars, but twelve simple men, uneducated for the most part. Simple. Men of the sea, men of the earth. And look what happened. Because they desired to follow Christ, they left their nets. And anything that was imperfect in them would be, eventually, healed because of their desire.

It is so important to understand the purpose of the Christian life. We can talk about it, but to really understand it is to live it. Perfection. Self-amendment. Change according to the One Whom we say we love. Leaving behind those things that shackle us. As St. Paul says, "We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses."4 Let's leave behind sin which so easily entangles us. But the first step to leaving behind sin which entangles is to leave your nets.

The sin may still come with. We see that from the apostles. The sin may still come with. The weakness still comes with. But if God sees a man who wants to change, He will help him. Grace will descend upon him and will warm him. This is the key. You must desire to change. You must desire to become like Christ. You must desire to be all fire. And all these imperfections, they'll just be a memory some day. All the things that are wrong with us, they'll burn away, and all that will be left, if we live according to desire for Christ, will be the pearl5, all burnished and shining because of our efforts, because of God's grace which has descended upon us.

Don't lament so much out of proportion about your sins that you commit and your difficulties with passions; don't lament about those more than you lament about your attitude and your desire. A lack of desire, a lack of proper priorities, a lack of faith and belief in the resurrection is what really makes those sins which entangle you still hang around. They will be burned away by the grace of God, but you must leave them. You must struggle with all of your might to leave them.

Now after having been a priest for I think over five years now, I am well aware of the great grace of God and the great weakness of men. Unfortunately, I've learned it autobiographically, but also by observing my flock whom I love. But mostly by observing my own weakness and seeing how God takes an imperfect vessel and bestows grace upon it. Most of the grace is wasted, and is not made fruitful, like the water that flows into the ditch and into the sewer and is not retained in the orchard. But some of it is retained. And I've learned, and I wish you to know: God desires your heart, and not so much today that you don't sin but that you desire to not sin, and that you order your priorities according to what God has done, and the grace the God-man gives us. If you leave your nets, everything else will follow.

Certainly, God who has created us for a good work will complete it in the day of Christ Jesus.6 Of course He will. But He will complete it for those who endure to the end. Not for those who make a beginning, but for those who endure to the end.7 He will not leave those who struggle with their sins. And I tell you boldly; He will not leave those who fail when they struggle against their sins, who continue to sin. He will not leave them, if they struggle, if they desire.

This is the key. This is the pearl. This is the inner knowledge a Christian must possess. God will not abandon you, but you must not abandon Him. You must struggle to abandon all that is not of Him. Whether you are successful or not, in this life, in this world, in being free of every sin is not as important as if you are successful in ordering your priorities and your desires. Leave your nets.

There are many of them in the world today. Sometimes we think that some of these things, the vices and passions and difficulties, have been invented by our generation. They've been around a long time. But now we have a terrible affliction in our society: lukewarmness of belief. It affects us, makes us make excuses, and makes us to have false priorities, to arrange for our retirement, but not for the keeping of the church. To take care of this, or that, but to not say our prayers.

Don't be entangled by the world. The world offers you nothing. The world pushes you to the abyss, and then you fall off. Leave your nets. And then you'll be like the saints. We can share in something that they have obtained. We all, I tell you boldly -- every one of us, no matter how sinful, are capable of becoming as the saints. And that is an arrogant statement; that is the truth. We are made of the same stuff, and the same grace is shed upon us. But the reason why we are moribund in our sins, and why there is little fruit in our lives, is because we have not left behind our nets. We still have the wrong priorities. Then let us obey the apostle Paul, "seeing that we are compassed about by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside sin, which so easily encumbers us."8 Let's strive for the goal. Let's struggle. Let's desire. Let us leave our nets. God will not abandon us. God will help us.

This is glorious news. The saints, you know, are the resurrection and action. The saints are living examples of the resurrection, and even in our life we should experience living examples of the resurrection, if we are able to turn aside from the sins that once beset us, if we are able to make the right choice, instead of the wrong one that we've been making for so long. This is the resurrection at work in a man. And it is a glorious thing. It is a privilege, and an honor to be a creature of God, for He dwells within us. An amazing thing. Let us leave our nets, and let's truly experience what God desires for us. Amen.

"He went up into a mountain"

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In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This is the second Sunday after Pentecost already, and on this day, when the Russian church celebrates all the saints of Russia, one could also commemorate, and, indeed, we remember also, all the saints of Mt. Athos --an incredible panoply of saints, from all different walks of life, all different life situations, with the constant in their life that they desired Christ above all. So we have readings today from the Gospel that are very much related to one another. In fact, they're actually right next to one another; they're at the very beginning of the Gospel of Matthew.

As we think about the saints of Russia and the saints of Mt. Athos, we should come to a question in our life, in our mind: What is our goal in life? What is our purpose? Why are we here? Then I ask you, as you are asking yourself this question, another question: Do you want to be a saint? Every one should say, yes, indeed, Father; I want to be a saint. Because I tell you, if you don't become a saint, you won't be saved. If you don't become sanctified, if you don't desire Christ above all, how can you expect to be with the sanctified? Oh yes, there are men and women who were exemplary in their character, and we should not be prideful and arrogant and think that we can reach to their heights. Of course, the interesting irony is that if a person is humble they can reach that height. But that's another more technical, more spiritual issue than I want to get into today.

What is a saint? A saint is someone who desires Christ, who lives according to who He is, who ascends in knowledge and in action in the virtues, who loves the Law of God above all else. And today we see how saints are made. We see the path that they take, and we see the results of that path, if you listen carefully, in the reading, where St. Paul is speaking to the Hebrews, that famous passage about faith. How faith conquers, they quench the violence of fire, and all those other things. And the world was not worthy of them...because of faith. And of course this faith was action, was knowledge, and action. Not just some belief, but a whole-hearted desire, to live according to who God is.

So that is the path, and then you see the path also, in the beatitudes which the church considers so important that we sing them every day of the year. Every single day, we sing these beatitudes. We see the path. The path is effort, the path is having a certain mindset of mourning, of humility, of desire, and then action based upon that desire, giving alms, being merciful, the acts that a Christian should take, based upon who he is, because of who Christ is. So the keys to the kingdom are laid out before us today. Faith, effort, desire: that makes saints. And all of us should have that desire to be a saint.

Now this path is not for the squeamish, it's not for the lazy, it's not for the lukewarm, it's not for those who wish to make compromises, it's not for those who are distracted by the world, or proud or dissolute. All those people don't go up on the mountain. It's interesting, the beatitudes are often spoken of the virtues that are often spoken of by our Lord. But do you see the progression from these two readings which the Holy Spirit has joined together today for us? He called His Apostles from the boat, and they left straightway and followed him. And then immediately there after, right there after, he went up into a mountain, it said, and seeing the multitude he went up into the mountain.

Do you think the multitude followed him? No. Only very few followed him. First of all, there's not so much real estate at the top of the mountain; very few people can be there. Second of all, very few people are willing to make the effort to climb. Third of all, very few people look up; most people look down at the earth. To be in the mountain, one must toil, one must have desire, one must look upwards to God. One must be willing to be separate from the rabble, and from the crowd, and from the world, and even from those who call themselves Christian. And even within the church now, we're seeing people who want to be at the base of the mountain. You cannot be saved at the base of the mountain. You must ascend the mountain, because that is where Christ will teach.

He took His apostles, and immediately took them to a mountain. And He didn't tell them, I'm going to appoint you priests, and we're going to have the Holy Eucharist, and confession, and baptism, and all these other things that you see in the front of catechesis books. And He didn't say, You must believe in Me as God and Man, and all those other things that are so important, that are in the front of books. What did He get to immediately? Morality. Because He was the God Man telling them how they should live, how they should be. This is the essence of the Christian life. If you do not have the morality, your belief is of no consequence. In fact, it will cause your condemnation to be that much greater.

So we've gotten out of our boats, as the Apostles did, and we've followed Christ. And He has taken us to the mountain, and we should never get down. Never go back to the base of the mountain, ever again. We should stay on the summit, listening to our Lord, at His feet, about morality. About how we should think, how we should live, how we should be because of who he is. This is the Christian life.

It takes toil and effort to get up the mountain. And indeed, there is a lot of danger on the mountain. There are wild animals and beasts, there are rockslides, it's cold and windy, it's difficult. And also -- have you ever been on top of a mountain? It's lonely up there. It's lonely. You're very much alone, just with your thoughts. Of course, your thoughts can be quite difficult to deal with sometimes, when you're on top of a mountain, because there's nothing to dissuade them, there's nothing to stop them from coming. We don't want to have thoughts of who we are, and what we need to de. It's our nature, unfortunately, our fallen nature. But, God put into man a desire to look upwards, a desire to climb the mountain and to sit at His feet and to learn from Him. That is built into our character. It is integrally who we are. And any man who disavows that, he's living a lie. We are people who should be at the top of the mountain and listening to our God, telling us how we should live and how we should be.

Now, these beatitudes are quite profoundly beautiful. As poetry they have no equal. As dogma they have no equal. They are the essence of Christianity, because Christianity is action based upon knowledge. Without the action, there is no Christianity. All these things we will learn if we struggle. Now, one can get books out, one can even read the Fathers about meekness, about thirsting after righteousness, and about the nuance of meaning that Christ is giving in this extraordinary sermon -- the greatest sermon, I think, that was ever preached by our Lord, the most important sermon that was ever preached by our Lord. But the meaning is not easy to discern, because the only way to know is to live what He says, the only way to know what these things mean.

So, my brethren, you have a task in your life: to be like Christ, to know him, to have intimate knowledge of him. This is your task, this is your goal. Anything that dissuades you from this goal, cast away, throw into the fire, whether it be job, whether it be anything--using sensibility, now. Don't just quit your job tomorrow. I'm talking in a spiritual way with you now. If there's anything that keeps you from the kingdom, cast it away. And hone your priorities, every day. To desire to live according to who Christ is, and to read again what St. Paul says to the Hebrews, you should be filled, your heart should expand, it should be warm, and you should think, I want to be like this. God will help you if you have that desire, if you have that hunger and thirst. But you must cultivate it, over and over and over again.

I tell you one more thing. Do you know why we talk about the saints so much? We talk about the saints because they exemplify the reality of what God wants for us. And we use them as examples. Doesn't St. Paul say, seeing that we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses? How can we live in the dirt, wallow in the mud like pigs, when we see the examples of our fathers. This is why we read about saints, why we think about them, why we pray to them, and why we desire to be like them.

Brethren, God help you. Stay at the top of the mountain. This is your task. Listen to God, and act upon what he teaches you. Where is your mountain? Your mountain is in your desire, in prayer, in coming to the services with zeal, with desire to hear, with desire to know, with desire to be told, with desire to be filled and healed. It's in your fasting, it's in your separating yourself from everything that's worldly that would hold you down. That is your mountain, and that is my mountain. And we must stay on this mountain if we are to be saved. May God give us the strength. Amen.

Gleanings from the Fathers

What is blessedness?
"Blessedness is the totality and plenitude of everything that is good and that is desired as good, without a single deficiency, deprivation or impediment... The followers of Christ not only await blessedness, as something belonging to the future, but it is characteristic of their soul, as something present, insofar as Christ Himself is present in them."
Saint Gregory of Nyssa

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

The man poor in spirit sincerely acknowledges himself to be a spiritual pauper, having nothing of his own; whoever waits for everything from God's loving-kindness; whoever is convinced that he can neither think, nor desire anything good, if God will not give the good thought and the good desire, and that he cannot perform one truly good deed without the grace of Jesus Christ; whoever considers himself to be more sinful, worse, lower than everyone; whoever always reproaches himself and judges no one else; whoever acknowledges the garment of his soul to be defiled, dark, malodorous, worthless and does not cease to ask the Lord Jesus Christ to lighten the garment of his soul, to clothe him in the incorrupt clothing of righteousness; whoever unceasingly flees beneath the shelter of God's wings, not having safety anywhere in the world besides the Lord; whoever considers all his property to be God's gift and gives thanks for everything to the Bestower of every good thing and readily apportions his property to the those in need--this is he who is poor in spirit.
St John of Kronstadt

Why do the saints see themselves as sinners?
Who can understand this? How can a man standing close to God consider himself to be sinful, unworthy of God's care, the least of men? The answer we find in the life of the holy Abba Dorotheus:
"I remember once we had a conversation about humility, and one of the notable citizens of the city was amazed on hearing our words that the nearer one draws to God, the more he sees himself to be a sinner, and he said: How can this be? And not understanding, he wished to find out what these words mean? I said to him: O notable Citizen, tell me, how dost thou regard thyself in thine own city? He answered: I regard myself as great and as first in the city. I say to him: If thou shouldst go to Caesarea, how wouldst thou regard thyself there? He answered: As the least of the grandees there. And if, I say to him again, thou shouldst travel to Antioch, how wouldst thou regard thyself there? There, he answered, I would consider myself as one of the common people. And if, I say, thou shouldst go to Constantinople and approach the Emperor, how wouldst thou begin to regard thyself there? And he answered: Almost as nothing. Then I answered him: So it is also with the saints: the nearer they draw to God, the more they see themselves to be sinners."
Abba Doretheus

A Prayer for Humility

O greatly-merciful Master, grant us a humble spirit, that our souls would find repose in Thee.
O most holy Mother of the Lord, obtain for us, O Merciful One, a humble spirit.
O all ye Saints, ye live in the heavens and ye see the glory of the Lord, and your spirit rejoices, pray that we also would be with you.
My soul also yearns to see the Lord, and it longs for him in humility, as unworthy of this good.
O humility of Christ! I know thee, but I cannot attain thee.
Thy fruits are sweet, because they are not earthly.
O merciful Lord, by the Holy Spirit teach us Thy humility
Starets Siluan of Mount Athos

What is meekness?
"Meekness is an unchangeable state of mind, which remains the same in honor and dishonor. Meekness consists in praying calmly and sincerely for a neighbor when he causes many turmoils. Meekness is a rock overlooking the sea of anger, which breaks all the waves that dash against it, yet remains completely unmoved. Meekness is the buttress of patience, the door, or rather, the mother of love, and the foundation of discernment, for it is said: The Lord will teach the meek His ways (Psalm 24:9). Meekness prepares us for the forgiveness of sins; it is boldness in prayer; an abode of the Holy Spirit. But to whom shall I look? Even to him that is meek and quiet. (Isaiah 66:2). In the hearts of the meek the lord finds rest, but a turbulent soul is a seat of the devil."
Saint John Climacus

News from Russia

Church To Make Last Tsar A Saint

Friday, June 02, 2000 Front Page
By Andrei Zolotov Jr.
Staff Writer

Ending years of impassioned discussions that have at times threatened to split the Russian Orthodox Church, officials said this week that the church will canonize Tsar Nicholas II and his family in August.

The tsar and his family will be canonized at the Jubilee Council of
Bishops scheduled for the middle of August, said priest Maxim Maximov, secretary of the Synod's Commission on Canonization, in a telephone interview.

"The final decision will be made by the members of the council, but the commission sees no obstacles to canonization," Maximov said.

The tsar, his wife Alexandra, their four daughters -- Olga, Tatiana,
Marie and Anastasia -- and their son, Alexis, will be canonized Along with hundreds of new martyrs and confessors of Russia -- clergymen and laymen who were killed or died in jail during the Soviet persecution of religion -- in an unprecedented series of canonizations that will help to mark the celebration of 2,000 years since the birth of Christ.

The central event of the Jubilee Council of Bishops will be the consecration of the massive Christ the Savior Cathedral on the Aug. 19 Transfiguration Day celebration.

The tsar and his family have long been a thorny issue for the church, one that was given fresh intensity after the collapse of the Soviet Union brought religion back into the mainstream of society. While the Russian Orthodox Church has been unable to ignore popular veneration of the Romanovs, it also has been unwilling to give its blessing to the political monarchist and straightforward anti-Semitic forces within the church that have championed the Romanovs' sainthood as "royal martyrs."

After five years of deliberations and delays, the church found some
middle ground in February of 1997. At that time the Council of Bishops approved the report of the Commission on Canonization, headed by Metropolitan Yuvenaly. The report stated that, while Nicholas II does not deserve sainthood for the way he lived and ruled Russia, the humble Christian way in which the royal family faced imprisonment and death qualified them as strastoterptsy, or passion bearers.

That decision paved the way for the coming decision to canonize
Nicholas II as a passion bearer.

Passion bearer is a special category of Orthodox sainthood, applied
to those who, strictly speaking, were not martyrs, because martyrdom requires that the martyr made a choice between rejecting Christ and dying for him. Passion bearers are instead revered for the humble way in which they met an imminent death. Saints Boris and Gleb, Russia's first saints, were canonized as passion bearers in 1015 because they did not fight their cousins who conspired to kill them over the Kiev throne.

The canonization report described at length how the royal family
discouraged any possible plot to free them from captivity, how bitterly the tsar repented for his abdication, how they prayed for Russia and had no enmity toward their jailers.

In an interview with Nezavisimaya Gazeta-Religii newspaper this week, Archpriest Georgy Mitrofanov, a member of the canonization commission, said that the issue of canonization has been practically decided.

Meanwhile, the claims put forward that the royal family were victims of a "ritual murder" carried out by the Jews -- a widely held belief among anti-Semites within the church -- were rejected by the commission.

Countering criticism that Nicholas was to blame for the revolution
and the ensuing persecution of Christians, Mitrofanov said his hagiography, drafted by the commission, stressed that "it is his
death of a passion bearer and not the state and church policy which
gives ground for raising the issue [of sainthood]."

"Saints are not sinless," Mitrofanov was quoted as saying. "And the emperor's policy had many faults."

The veneration of Nicholas II has long been strongest among Russian Emigres. His canonization became a central policy issue for the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad -- a right-wing, staunchly anti-Soviet Emigre church group that broke away from the Moscow Patriarchate in 1927 after Metropolitan Sergei declared his loyalty to the Soviet government. In 1981, at a church council in New York, it canonized all the Romanovs as "royal martyrs," along with an assembly of New Martyrs of Russia.

When the Iron Curtain dissolved in the late 1980s, the Church Abroad made the canonization one of its conditions for reunification with the Moscow Patriarchate. Emigre publications started to circulate in Russia, attracting supporters in the nationalist wing of the Russian church. In 1992, the Russian Council of Bishops instructed the Commission on Canonization to start examining Nicholas II and his family.

The Romanovs' story offers much for the mystical Russian mindset. Nicholas II was born on the day of Job -- the Old Testament righteous man who bore great suffering but never renounced God.

Three centuries after the Romanov dynasty started in the Ipatyev Monastery in Kostroma as Russia emerged from the "time of troubles," Nicholas II's family was ruthlessly murdered in the basement of the Ipatyev House in Yekaterinburg as Russia plunged into turmoil again. The romantic love story of Nicholas and Alexandra, both devout Orthodox Christians, the agony of a family with a hemophiliac son and the tragedy of the revolution all combined to turn the lives of the tsar and his family into hagiography.

Excavations began this week in Yekaterinburg at the site of the Ipatyev house, where the royal family was shot by the Bolsheviks in July 1918. The house was demolished in the 1970s when former
President Boris Yeltsin was the city's Communist Party boss.

The goal of the excavations is to find the house's cellar, where the
execution took place. If it is found, the sanctuary of the future church, which is planned to be built on the site, will be placed right above it, news agencies reported.

The remains of two people found during the excavations were identified as dating back to the 18th century.

(c) copyright The Moscow Times 1997-2000

"Redeeming the Time" is an almost weekly Journal of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, Dallas Texas. Distribute this text if you wish, but only if attribution and all contact information are included. I would appreciate being contacted if any large-scale use of this text is desired. All unsigned or unattributed portions (c) 1999 Fr Seraphim Holland. All rights reserved

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1 Cf. (Luke 9:59-62) "And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. {60} Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. {61} And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house. {62} And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."

2 (Luke 9:51) "And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem,"
3 (Mat 13:31-32) "Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: {32} Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.". Also in Mark 4:31-32, Luke 13:18-19

4 (Heb 12:1) "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us..."
5 (Mat 13:45-46) "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: {46} Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it."

6 (Phil 1:6) "Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:"
7 (Mat 24:13) "But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved."

8 Heb 12:1

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Russian Orthodox Church
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Phone: 972 529-2754
Priest Seraphim Holland
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