The 19th Sunday after Pentecost

As ye would have that men should do to you,
do ye also to them likewise

In the name of the Father, and the son, and the Holy Spirit, amen. Today is the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, and also this day we remember the holy Hieromarytr Gregory, Enlightener of Armenia. [1]

Today's main readings continue the theme the Church has been talking about for the last few Sunday's, concerning the talents that are given us. We recall, from two Sunday's ago the parable about the talents. We know what a talent is -- the grace God gives us, the ability God gives us, the strength He gives us for the fulfillment of His holy law, and when we fulfill his Holy Law, the enlightenment He gives us. This is a cycle, a circle. As we fulfill more of God's law and as we value the commandments and do them, God enlightens us more, and more and more.

We read the following Sunday after the parable about the talents concerning the Caananite woman. She showed us great humility, and great faith. If you recall, her humility sprang from her faith, and our Lord commended her on her faith. We see that she used her talents most righteously and most correctly.

The next Sunday we heard about the miraculous catch of fish, and how the Apostle Peter and all the other Apostles were obedient to our Lord. This was even after they were tired, and had caught nothing throughout all the night (and the night is when you are able to catch the most fish, because in the heat of the day it is almost impossible to catch fish using the methods that they used back then). Yet they showed faith and obedience, even in the midst of their difficulties and trials, and their feelings, which were contrary to what the Lord was asking them to do. After the draught of fish, there occurred a greater miracle -- St. Peter saw himself. That's what all the miracles are for you know -- to bring us to a knowledge of ourselves and of Christ. A man who knows Christ will know himself, and a man who knows himself -- he will learn more of Christ, because he will be humble. God will enlighten the humble man, but He won't say anything to the proud man. He will let the proud man go on in his ignorance, not even knowing what he is missing.

This Sunday, we see another application of the talents which God has given us. I want to state again what I said a couple Sundays ago about the talents. They are not an ability that God gives us in order to perform music or some other such thing; they are the grace that He fills us with and he indwells us with. If we are full of love for God, He will give us more talents. He will fill some vessels much more full, because those worthy ones will enlarge themselves more for Him. The bigger vessels will be filled even more to capacity than the smaller ones.

In today's readings, in both the Epistle and the Gospel, we see much tribulation, and how we should act in the midst of it.. If you apply the talent given to you, then you will do as our Lord tells you. It's really very simple. Christianity is not at all "Rocket Science". We follow what our Lord tells us, and what He tells us in many cases is "common sense", although it is generally ignored in the world today. Common sense tells us that if you want people to do kindly to you, you do kindly to them, but beyond, that, supernaturally beyond that, is that you do good to people regardless of what they do to you. Do you see the revolution the Lord calls us to? Common sense is that you do good to people and expect them to do good in return. Every culture understands this, and there is even honor among thieves. Christianity is beyond this, way beyond. We do good to everyone, regardless of what they do to us. We do not have a choice in the matter, it is a requirement of us, because our Lord has told us to act in this way.

"As ye would have that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise." [2] Okay, that is what everybody does, so He says further, "For if you love them that love ye, what thank have ye?" [3]. The answer is, you have none . You will not have any reward if you only love those who love you. You must love the unlovely. You must love the ungrateful. You must love the evil, and the wicked, and the proud. He says: "For sinners also love those that love them. " That is just common. We are to live beyond this. "And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners even do the same. And if ye lend to them from whom you hope to receive, what thank have ye?" [4] Now wait a minute. Is He going too far here? He has just reached into our pocketbooks now, something we hold very dear! Lend to someone without expecting anything in return? To the world this sheer craziness, this is insanity. This, though, is the Christian way. He is not saying that if you lend money to someone, that you do not accept repayment, but He is saying that you should not expect it and require it of a man. In the days when the church was more flourishing in people's hearts, there was no usury. There was no lending of money to a brother with interest, Instead there was giving to people who had need, and not expecting anything in return.

He says, "Love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil." [5] He is kind to everyone. The rain falls on the evil and the good [6], you know. So we are to be like our Savior, we are to be like the Blessed Trinity, and we are to be kind to the evil and the good, without any respect for persons. This is the Christian way.

We must understand that there is a law, a fundamental law of human nature, which is built into our character. Man acts as he believes. It is very important to understand this law, because there is a very great heresy in our day, that a man can believe one way and act another, and a man's beliefs and his actions are not bound to one another. This idea is expressed in various ways, in various heresies, and it is terrible, perhaps the worse heresy ever to beset mankind -- that a man's works and his faith are not connected, completely connected. In fact, they are one and the same! If a man does not have faith, he will not act in a way that is pleasing to God, even if externally he appears to be pleasing to man. If a man knows Christ, and knows His sweet commandments, he will act in such a way that shows this. This is all over the pages of the scriptures, it is all over our prayers, it is in the very mind of the church, which is Christ's.

Take a look at how our Savior lived. Take a look at the works that He did. Look at the effort that He expended. We are to be the same. Christianity is labor, brothers and sisters. I don't know how such a heresy, that Christianity is not labor, has fallen upon so many, for such a long period of time. Christianity is labor, and yet, there is a paradox in our labor. Our Lord said "My yoke is easy, and My burden is light. " This is true! A yoke is easy upon the oxen when they do not strain against it, but they pull as they are told to do by their master. Then the yoke rides easily on their shoulders, and because it has been carefully sanded and fitted to their shoulders, it does not chafe them, and cause sores on them. If they strain against the yoke, it causes great sores on their shoulders, and then they don't want to pull at all, because it hurts. Their master must then give them the whip to make them do their work. We are not to be like oxen that are stubborn and stupid. We are to bear his yoke with dignity, and His yoke is truly easy, and we are just to follow what He says.

We have some instructions here, to listen to. Be kind to everyone. This is Christianity. Lend to people without expecting to receive. Love your enemies! We have no choice about the matter. This is how we are to act if we are to be Christians. If we do not do these things, and if we are tight with our money, or tight with the good works we do to others, then I tell you, we are not Christians. No matter how much we know, no matter how much we say, no matter how much we pray, no matter how much we do, we are not Christians if we do not do as our Lord commanded us.

We should imitate our Lord just as a child does [7]. I see a lot of imitation in the church. Look at the way the children imitate us. They imitate our good things and our bad things, you know. I see a lot of imitation nowadays in my son Daniel. He is just beginning to do things, reach out for objects, learning his impact upon his environment. He is slowly learning so much everyday, and does not have any idea what he will know soon. But we know , because we have seen it happen before. If we are good and fruitful, then our son will grow up with love for Christ, and will act as a Christian, and will be a light on a hill. So we should follow our Savior, just as our children follow us. It is just reaction.

The older I get, the more I realize how simple Christianity is! Our Lord touches us, our Lord gives us a great catch of fish, and we see that He is the Lord, just as the Apostle Peter did, and we are aware of ourselves and of Him, and we desire to change! This is not something we can put on paper, it is not something we can explain, but it comes within us, and lives within us, and makes us change. It is wonderful what happens to a man when Christ fills him. A man can never be filled too much with Christ, because Christ expands him. There is always capacity for Christ in a man, but only if we do those things that He enlightens us concerning - to be good to those who are our enemies, to lend to those whom we know will not give anything in return, and to not expect anything in return from them. This is Christianity - this is bare metal Christianity. This is not anything "pie in the sky" or theoretical or philosophical - this is the way we are to live.

Sometimes when I hear Holy Orthodoxy described, I hear people say "We believe in this, we believe in that, we believe in the sacraments of baptism, and of chrismation, and the Holy Eucharist, etc. And we have the seven Ecumenical councils, which codify the basics of our dogma and practices, etc." This is not the essence of what Holy Orthodoxy is! The essence of Orthodoxy is to follow Christ, to follow what He has revealed to us, and to change. We can see that there is much in us, if we look in our hearts, that is wrong, and is amiss. If you look in the mirror, you should see much that is sore, and much that needs help. Where can you obtain this help but from Christ? This is the essence of the Orthodox faith - to act in accordance with how He has enlightened us. And of course, He has enlightened us with so many things - the ecumenical councils, the dogmas of our faith, the holy priesthood, baptism confession - all these things are given to us, and they are all true, and belief in them and obedience to them is all required of us. However, if we do not act upon the strength that is given us, then they are useless to us. We would be like the man who buried the talent in the ground.

Someone recently commented that this man who said he was afraid when his Lord called him to task was afraid because we have this incorrect vision of God which is too filled with fear, and instead, we should love Him, as our Father. They missed the boat when they said something like that! The man feared God because he had not acted as God had given him the strength to act. That is why he was afraid. He was not afraid because he misunderstood who God was, he was afraid precisely because he did know who God was, and he knew that he had not done what God had commanded, and what is more, what God had given him the ability to do! That is why this man was afraid. That is why he was terrified. And, instead of confessing and begging forgiveness, which our Lord would have given, instead he made excuses concerning his sin. We are not to be like that, we should not make any excuses for our sins. We should understand that God has given us His grace and knowledge because He wants us to become perfected. He actually told us, didn't He? He said: "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." [8]. This is a tall order, but it is a requirement of Christianity.

Don't just believe about something. Don't just know about the sacraments. Don't just memorize the rudder. Instead of doing these things and thinking that you have hope in them, become like Him! Actually, in becoming like Christ, you will memorize your prayers, because they will be sweet to you, and no words will be more important than those words, and you will remember them. The Gospels will be sweet you, and will be familiar with them, and you will be able to open to any page, and immediately recognize the stories, and they will warm your soul.

In the other Gospel today, the Lord says to "Watch, therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come." [9] He says that if we knew when the good man of the house - and who can this be, except our Lord, at the judgment of all - then we would watch. [10] But we don't know, so we are to watch at all times. Then He asks a question that is really quite profound. "Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season?" [11] You see, our Lord gives us things, and requires action based upon what He gives us. When He says, Who then is the man, we should be like Samuel - Here am I, Lord. [12] We should not be like the man who buried the talent, who said, I buried this talent because I knew that "thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strowed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine." [13] We should be like the Saints, who saw what He had done for them reacted, and lived according to Who He was. This is what we are to do in the Christian life. It is very simple, very, very simple. And it is supernatural. It is the life that God has chosen for us, and it is a sweet life, because His commandments are sweet. Try to taste more of His commandments, to follow His commandments, and God will enlighten you more. And if you have sins, they will be forgiven you, and if you have passions and weaknesses, God will give you strength to overcome them. It will happen. It will take some time, but it will happen through the application of your efforts, joined to God's grace.

God help us all to be as the Lord said concerning the servant who follows His commandments. He says "Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods." [14]

God bless you.

[1] This homily was transcribed from one given On September 13, 1996 according to the church calendar, being the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, and the day appointed for the commemoration of Holy Hieromartyr Gregory, Enlightener of Armenia. There are some stylistic changes and minor corrections made and several footnotes have been added, but otherwise, it is essentially in a colloquial, "spoken" style. It is hoped that something in these words will help and edify the reader, but a sermon read from a page cannot enlighten a soul as much as attendance and reverent worship at the Vigil service, which prepares the soul for the Holy Liturgy, and the hearing of the scriptures and the preaching of them in the context of the Holy Divine Liturgy. In such circumstances the soul is enlightened much more than when words are read on a page.

[2] Luke 6:31

[3] Luke 6:32

[4] Luke 6:32

[5] Luke 5:36

[6] Cf. Matthew 5:45

[7] Cf. Matthew 18:4

[8] Matthew 5:48

[9] Matthew 24:42

[10] Matthew 24:43

[11] Matthew 24:35

[12] 1 Samuel 3:5

[13] 13 Cf. Matthew 25:24-25

[14] Matthew 24:46-47