Saturday, 24 November 2012

My first attempt at a sermon

I was asked to give a short sermon at this morning's Divine Liturgy - the first time I've ever attempted to write or deliver a sermon. The congregation was smaller than usual today, so only a tiny number of people were subjected to my poor delivery, the awkwardness of which is thankfully avoided in the written version below:

Saturday 24th of November, St. Clement of Rome

Philippians 3:20-21; 4:1-3
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have laboured side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

St. Luke 10:19-21
Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.

Today we celebrate the memory of our holy father St. Clement of Rome, who we heard mentioned by St. Paul in the Epistle reading: he has “laboured side by side with me in the Gospel with…the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” This inscription in the book of life is also the theme of today’s Gospel reading, where the Lord tells his disciples to “rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” To have your name written in the book of life means to have found salvation in Christ. That our names are written down is significant because it shows that our salvation is personal. We are called by name. As we are told in the Book of Revelation, “To him who overcomes,” God will give a “white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.” The word ‘personal’ implies a relationship. For a Christian, being ‘saved’ means entering into a personal relationship with Christ, and through Him, with all of those He has created. “If anyone says, ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar”. We cannot love Christ without also loving those He loves. Now, I am sure you have all heard this many times before. However, it is important to stress this first in order to understand the rest of the Gospel reading we just heard, which is one many people find difficult to get their heads round.

First, we hear Christ saying to His disciples that He has given them the authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and that nothing shall hurt them. In parts of America, entire churches are set up based on this verse, where part of the service involves people picking up real rattlesnakes and scorpions as a way of showing their faith. It goes without saying that this probably isn't quite what Christ had in mind. What He is talking about here is the power of the devil and the demons. When we are with Christ, nothing can hurt us. As St. Nikodemos says, you should not be afraid of the devil, he should be afraid of you! And yet the Lord tells them “do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” We should not trust in our own ability and strength, even when these are good things given to us by God, as this leads to pride. If we’re proud, we look inward, to ourselves. In order to be persons, to build relationships with God and our fellow man, we have to be humble and look outward to those around us. Like St. Paul, St. Clement and those with them, we have to “work side by side” in the Gospel. This is what Jesus means when He says that the Father has “hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes”. A child looks to its parents for everything - for food, for clothing, for shelter, for understanding – while the man who considers himself wise looks only to himself. If we want our names to be written into the book of life, and have God call us by name, we have to learn how to be humble, like babes.

As St. Clement says, “Let us be humble, brothers, laying aside all arrogance and conceit and foolishness and anger, and let us do what is written. For the Holy Spirit says: “Let not the wise man boast about his wisdom, nor the strong about his strength, nor the rich about his wealth; but let the one who boasts boast in the Lord, to seek him out and do justice and righteousness.” – 1 Clem 13

Friday, 16 November 2012

On exploitation of the workforce

by St.Nicodemos the Hagiorite

For foremen, sitting idle and doing no work at all, make acquisitions and gains from the toil and sweat of their apprentices and colleagues, whereas those poor and hapless folk who do work remain in deprivation. The proprietors of estates daily exhaust the unfortunate farmhands who work their fields and vineyards, exploiting them inhumanly with interminable and intolerable chores; they use their bodies as though they were irrational animals or, to put it better, insensate rocks; they regard them as bought servants and slaves and behave towards them with greater harshness than did Pharaoh towards the enslaved Hebrews in Egypt,[69] becoming new taskmasters and inhuman tyrants towards those poor folk. And the worst evil that they do to them is this, that after the farmers have threshed the crops and put the wine and the oil into the presses, the owners of the fields come along and, not content with receiving their share of the field and the vineyards, while leaving the rest to the farmers, in addition to this they take from their fruits and take also the interest of the money that they have lent to the farmhands; or else they give them a low price and themselves take all of the fruits. Hence, there remain neither a few crops on the threshing-floor nor a small amount of wine or oil on the presses for the poor labourers to take to their houses to nourish their wives and children. Instead, these hapless men toil for the entire year, working, contending wit the cold of the winter and the heat of the summer, sowing, reaping, threshing, digging, pruning, harvesting, and treading; much later on, the poor wretches return to their homes empty-handed, dejected, grief-stricken, and anguished. Oh, what bestial inhumanity this is! Oh, what greater injustice can there be than this_ How, then, are those unhappy men to govern their households? How are they and their wives to sustain themselves? How are they to console their children when they cry and clamor, groaning from hunger? God be gracious unto us!

For this reason the great Chrysostomos was right to call such proprietors of fields and vineyards more unjust than all other men and harsher than any barbarians, saying:
Who are they? Those who possess fields and reap the wealth that comes from the earth. And what could be more unjust than this? For if one were to examine how they treat their wretched and misearble labourers, he would see them to be more savage than barbarians. For upon those who are wasting away with hunger and toiling throughout their lives they both impose constant and intolerable payments, and lay on them laborious tasks, and they treat their bodies like asses or mules, or rather like stones.[70]
For this reason the same Chrysostomos was right to call the poor labourers who suffer the aforementioned evils more pitiable than all men, saying: "What could be more pitiable than this, when after having toiled throughout the winter, and being worn out from frost and rain and lack of sleep, they depart empty-handed, and even in debt?"[71] For this reason, with every justification, after all of this the same golden John exclaims with perplexity and astonishment that for these evils and injustices that landowners do to their labourers Heaven should shudder and the earth tremble: "Wherefore, it is meet to adduce the Prophet and to say, 'Be astonished, O Heaven, and shudder, O earth.'[72] To what great brutality has the human race been carried away!"[73] And in truth, Heaven ought to shudder and the earth tremble on account of this exceeding wickedness on the part of landowners; for they become murderers, shedding blood and disipating the lives of their poor farmhands. Indeed, they take from them the food that they were going to live on, as the wise Sirach declares:
The bread of the needy is the life of the poor: he that defraudeth him thereof is a man of blood. He that taketh away his neighbour's living slayeth him; and he that defraudeth the labourer of his hire is a blood-shedder. [74]
Again, he says:
My son, defraud not the poor man of his living....Make not an hungry soul sorrowful; neither provoke a man in his distress...Reject not the supplication of the afflicated; neither turn away thy face from a poor man. [75]

Hieromonk Patapios (ed. trans.), On Christian Morality by St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite, Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies: Belmont, MA 2012pp.242-3

[69] Exodus 1:8-14
[70] "Homily LXI on St. Matthew," §3, Patrologia Graeca, Vol. LVIII, col. 591.
[71] Ibid.
[72] Cf. Jeremiah 2:12
[73] "Homily LXI on St. Matthew," §3, Patrologia Graeca, Vol. LVIII, col. 592.
[74] Ecclesiasticus 34:21-22
[75] Ecclesiasticus 4:1-4

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Reccomendation: Journey to the Kingdom

An Insider's Look at the Liturgy and Beliefs of the Eastern Orthodox Church

I intend to write a detailed review of this book in the not so distant future. For the time being, I just wish to say that this is an excellent book, equally suitable for both inquirers into the Orthodox faith and those who are already members of the Orthodox Church. For more information, sample pages, and reviews, please see the entry.