The Sunday After Nativity

The Slaughter of the Innocents, and Free Will

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

Brothers and sisters, on this Sunday after Nativity we hear about the flight into Egypt and the reason for the flight into Egypt: Herod wanted to kill the young child Jesus, and after he could not find Jesus was angry, and killed, according to our tradition, at least 10,000 holy infants.

Now there are many events in the world that we cannot understand even in our own lives, minor events, large events that the entire world knows about, and historical events that we cannot understand such as this event. How does one make sense out of such carnage, out of such evil? We know intuitively, (because God has given us his image, made us in his image) that such murder of infants is unspeakably evil. But why would God allow such a thing to occur? He came into the world to save us. Couldn't he have saved those ten thousand infants? Why was it that they died?

Brothers and sisters, you can only apprehend the answer to this question, if you have faith.

Your faith is not something that you just follow blindly. It is where you follow with understanding. Now there are many things in this world we don't understand and yet we still derive benefit. Does any man understand at the fundamental level the principles of gravitational attraction or of the flow of electrons in electricity, or any of the physical laws? Do we understand these things in their essence? No. There are men and women who spend many hours trying to find the fundamental essence of these laws but they don't ever completely understand. Yet any child knows that if you throw a ball into the air it will fall to the ground.

But we cannot understand the principle that causes the ball to fall to the ground. We may call it by a name but we cannot understand its essence. Now, we can trust that when we throw the ball up into the air it will fall to the ground. That's because we know something of the law. Because we have seen it repeated over and over. Now, if we apply this type of reasoning, this type of philosophy, to events in the world that we don't understand, we may be able to live with better faith.

Now, there is a principle that the Lord obeys because He chooses to, and that is, our free will. We were made in the image of God, which means we are able to freely choose between good and evil. This is a great gift. This is the greatest of gifts. But great gifts have great responsibilities.

Because of free will men can choose good and evil freely. So that when a man chooses Christ it is not under compulsion but because of love. Now the Lord then helps our will and assists us in following Him. But never does He constrain us. Never does He force us. Instead He educates us, enlightens us, and allows us to choose at every moment of our life between good and evil.

Herod also had the gift of free will, as all men do. He chose to use this gift in an evil way and he slew over ten thousand holy infants. What a terrible scene it must have been. Most of us have children, or know children. All of us know children. Sweet babies. I just baptized a sweet baby yesterday. Sweet baby boys in Jerusalem were murdered right from their mother's arms, in all different bestial ways. Rachel weeping for her children. The reference is to Rachel from the Old Testament. She was buried there. Rachel weeping for her children and would not be comforted because they were no more.

The only way we can understand such an event is by understanding that God allows us to choose and that there is a law that He follows, of His own will. He follows His principle. He allows men to choose. Sometimes men make terrible choices and they are far from God and they end up in perdition. And then, sometimes, men make choices where they become holy. God, when He sees the smallest desire to become holy, He aids us. He buttresses us up with His grace, and allows us strength to make the next choice for good.

It is truly a wonderful gift that God gives us, the ability to choose. But this gift has consequences, which the Lord chooses to obey. Because if He were to give us a gift, but then, take it away, according to His fancy, then this would be capriciousness. The reason that there is evil in the world is because the Lord allows us to choose. And the reason He allows us to choose is because He made us in His image. And He made us in His image so that we could have perfect freedom, and indescribable happiness.

The Holy Trinity is three Persons, one undivided God. Three Persons perfectly in communication with one another, perfectly obeying one another's will, with perfect love for one another and with perfect freedom. So God, when He wanted to make man, made us able to have perfect freedom.

Now, we are weakened because of sin. So it is often very difficult for us to choose correctly, not because we're not allowed to by God, but because of our own blindness, and our own depravities, our own bad habits and because of the provocations of the evil one and of his henchmen, the demons. God assists us if we struggle.

Now, my experience, often times people are very, very confused about the events, just in their own life. Why could such a thing happen? Because God allows us to choose, and if He allows us to choose, He allows others as well. He wants us to come to Him free and unconstrained so that we, when we cry 'Abba, Father,' it will be completely from our choice and we would have joy in full. In obeying this principle, which He has created and chosen to obey, and, certainly He is reliable, and He will continue to obey His principle, there are evil things that occur.

Even we ourselves do evil things. Sometimes we're hurtful to people or slander people or hurt people in various other ways, some very terrible. God allows us to make these choices. He helps us if we desire to choose about good and about purity. And sometimes in His sovereign mercy, He arranges things so that when we do evil we have an opportunity to repent, to see that we are doing something wrong.

He did the same thing with Herod, just, Herod didn't listen. Herod was too ambitious, too paranoid, too full of evil, and he did not listen to the Lord. And because of this he killed many, many holy infants. Brothers and sisters, when Christ was born He knew that this would happen. He knew that He, as a divine infant would be at risk, and instead of choosing to fight evil with violence, He fled into Egypt.

This doesn't bode well for people who are proud. They think that you should stand and fight, or go out into the wilderness and conduct guerilla warfare or something. No, Christ chose to flee into Egypt. In another place He says resist not evil, so He didn't resist evil. That is how we should be. We should accept God's providence in everything we do and not resist.

Do you know what meekness is? The Fathers speak of meekness in the Philokalia quite a bit. Meekness is accepting God's will. Meekness is accepting God's will in your life, everything that happens, believing that God arranges and allows and that there is nothing that occurs that is not for your benefit. This is true meekness. It is a difficult virtue to obtain, because, the only way to obtain it, because of our blindness and hard heartedness, is to go through trials and to see that God does stay with us and helps us.

I'm in a very odd situation as a priest. I tell you about mercy. I tell you about happiness and I believe that is why I became a priest, because I wanted to talk about these things. I wanted to share these things with people. But the devil does not sleep. So as I speak of happiness, many times the devil robs me of happiness. I still believe I know that God wants us to be happy, that He wants us to be completely fulfilled, lacking nothing, with no sadness.

But, sadness comes into my life. Now, but I look at this sadness with faith, brothers and sisters, and I want you to, too. I know that it is provocation of the evil one. I know that it is a temptation to try to make me to lose courage, to give up. But where did God promise me when I was baptized that all things would always be to my liking, that even my feelings deep inside me would be those that I would wish? But He did promise that He would give peace and in the midst of sadness I feel would peace.

I've seen many things as a priest that has saddened me in ways that I cannot even express. And yet, I accept. Why? Because there is some understanding of this principle in my heart. This principle of God giving us free will. So I of my free will desire to tell you of God's mercy. And the devil tries to steal what He cannot have. He cannot have salvation. He cannot have happiness. He cannot have freedom from anger. He's always angry. So he tries to steal these things even though he cannot possess them; he tries to steal from all men, from you, and from me.

Whenever you want to make a good start, then things become difficult. You must understand this is not showing that your path is wrong. Indeed, it's showing that your path is correct if you have temptations. Don't be afraid of temptations, brothers and sisters. Don't be afraid of violence. Don't be afraid of evil. Be afraid of not becoming complete and at peace.

If you look at events in the world such as the slaying of these children, or, more recently, an event that the entire world mourned over, the attacks in New York and in Washington, D.C., the only way that you can rationalize these events is by believing that God truly is merciful and allows us to freely choose; He allows the good and the evil to choose. This is a difficult thing to understand. It's a very interesting thing in my own life when I felt God's mercy most distinctly, most vibrantly. It is in times of greatest temptation, greatest sadness, and sometimes, times of greatest falling that I have made a mistake or sinned and felt the consequences for myself and more often for others. Brothers and sisters, allow God to work in your life. Be meek.

Live the Christian life so that you will understand. The only way to understand God's purpose in your life is to trust Him. Now you trust gravity although you don't understand it. Trust God although you cannot understand Him, and yet He reveals Himself to you. This is what the Lord teaches us by His actions, which we read about today. Resist not evil. Accept it when evil provokes you to do something wrong. Believe in God. Hope in God. Then all things are clear. You'll understand. You won't be confused. May God help you. Amen.