Sunday, February 24, 2013

True Humility Leads To Perfect Prayer

Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee 2-24-2013
True Humility Leads To Perfect Prayer
By Fr Ted Toppses
In the Name of the Father,  and of the Son,  and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
We begin the season of the Triodion today in the Church.  This period is a time of transformation which affords us a chance for renewal, and revitalization of our life and faith in Christ.  This period culminates in the celebration of Pascha, the feast of all feasts.  Great lent is soon coming upon us, and the path of the restoration of our souls is  laid out before us.  Today’s Gospel of the Publican and the Pharisee expresses the deepest understanding of how we need to approach this spiritual Journey of the coming Great lent and in our entire life.  Namely we need to humble ourselves before God, so that our prayers may be heard by Him.  If we are proud, or arrogant and do not humble ourselves, God will reject our prideful prayers.

The devil lays out traps for us, and many times life is unfair.  The blessing and the Grace to live with Christ, in His Presence, is given to us when we humble ourselves and reach out to our Lord and God.  The goal of our lives needs to be that we live humbly with Christ always, living a Godly life.  The unfairness of this world can be overcome with the true goal of the presence of God in mind.

St. Anthony the Great said, 'I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world and I said groaning, "What can get through from such snares?" Then I heard a voice saying to me, "Humility."'

The Pharisee in the Gospel believed in his own importance and counted not the blessings that God had given him, but thanked God pridefully for his own superiority. The Publican beat his chest out of the realization of his own sinfulness could not even look up to God but having real humility prayed 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' and by Christ’s explanation the publican was exalted by God because he was justified in his humble prayer.

St. John of Kronstadt writes:
Remember that the one word of the publican, said from a fervent heart, justified him. God does not look at the multitude of words, but upon the disposition of the heart. The chief thing is lively faith and fervent repentance for sins.

Sergieff, Archpriest John Iliytch; St John of Kronstadt (2010-05-26). My Life in Christ, or Moments of Spiritual Serenity and Contemplation, of Reverent Feeling, of Earnest Self-Amendment, and of Peace in God

That quote was from St. John of Kronstadt’s work entitled My Life In Christ.

Christ further says in today’s Gospel Lesson, “for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Humility is a common theme and a necessary ingredient in the composition of real and effective faith. 

We may appreciate this lesson, and still ask how does a person become more humble?
Humility and pride are opposites and so the following must be observed when trying to be more humble:

1- We must, when praying, realize having the understanding in our hearts that we are coming before the Lord and Creator of All things,  The Lord is our God, the God who made heaven and earth.  The Lord humbles Himself to be with us, to interact with us.  This is His gift He gives to us, His undeserving children.  He loves us all and we must prostrate, bowing down our hearts always to Him.

2 – We must make every effort to not believe we are any more special than ANYONE else.  We are all special to God. We must see all others as special, God’s Children, Our Brothers, Our Sisters, Our Parents, Our Grandparents, Our Children we are all related in God, and we must love everyone unconditionally. 

3- When complimented we must deflect the compliment from ourselves by giving glory to God.  God who gave us the talents in the first place, God who helps us multiply them, God who enlightens us.  These are gifts from God.

4- With God we can do all things.  We must be confident only in God and the gifts he has given us.  We must become in our minds “God confident” not “self confident”.  Humbly we need to use the blessings and gifts God has given to us, and we can be confident in Christ without being prideful.

5- We must realize our sinfulness and let our hearts always dwell on God.  Realizing our sinfulness is not the same as feeling sorry for ourselves.  If we feel sorry for ourselves, this is called self pity, and is actually pride turned inward. The expression of true humility is to understand our sinfulness, but not to dwell on it.  We must put all effort and concentration on humbly being with God at all times, not focusing on our sinfulness but very humbly being aware of our unworthiness and focusing on God. We must never see ourselves as superior to our neighbor.

We must practice being humble to make it part of who we are.  We must always be on guard of being prideful and avoid false humility which is humility displayed for others, or for credit.
We must humble ourselves in prayer and be as the Publican in today’s Gospel and in turn our prayer is heard.  Our hearts are freed through our humble prayer to be with God, living true life and leaving the life of sin behind.

May the true humility of the Publican free our hearts and minds through our own humility as we offer our prayers to God.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

St Patrick and the Angel who Kept Him from Eating Meat During Lent

St Patrick and the Angel who Kept Him 
from Eating Meat During Lent
From the Life of St. Patrick by Bishop Jocelin (1823)


Of the Flesh-meat changed into Fishes.
But Patrick, having now become a monk, forgetting all things that were past, applied to the future, and, as if little accounting his former conversation, hastened to the height of perfection. For by incredible abstinence, by his lengthened fasts, and by the exercise of his other virtues, he afflicted himself, and continually bore in his heart and on his body the mortification of that cross which his habit displayed. But the most high Pastor, who intended to raise him to the head of the holy Church, that he might learn to think humbly of himself, to walk with the lowly, and to bear with the weak, permitting him to feel his own inferiority; so that the more deeply he was fixed on the foundation of true humility, the more firmly he might stand in the height of perfection. For a desire of eating meat came upon him, until, being ensnared and carried away by his desire, he obtained swine's flesh, and concealed it in a certain vessel, thinking rightly that he might thus satisfy his appetite privily, which should he openly do he would become to his brethren a stone of offence and a stumbling-block of reproach. And he had not long quitted the place when, lo! one stood before him having eyes before and eyes behind, whom when Patrick beheld, having his eyes so wonderfully, even so monstrously, placed, he marvelled who he was, and what meant his eyes fixed before and fixed behind, did earnestly ask; and he answered, I am the servant of God. With the eyes fixed in my forehead I behold the things that are open to view, and with the eyes that are fixed in the hinder part of my head I behold a monk hiding flesh-meat in a vessel, that he may satisfy his appetite privily. This he said, and immediately disappeared. But Patrick, striking his breast with many strokes, cast himself to the earth, and watered it with such a shower of tears as if he had been guilty of all crimes; and while he thus lay on the ground, mourning and weeping, the angel Victor, so often before mentioned, appeared to him in his wonted form, saying, Arise, let thine heart be comforted; for the Lord hath put away thine offence, and henceforward avoid backsliding. Then St. Patrick, rising from the earth, utterly renounced and abjured the eating of flesh-meat, even through the rest of his life; and he humbly besought the Lord that He would manifest unto him His pardon by some evident sign. Then the angel bade Patrick to bring forth the hidden meats, and put them into water; and he did as the angel bade; and the flesh-meats, being plunged into the water and taken thereout, immediately became fishes. This miracle did St. Patrick often relate to his disciples, that they might restrain the desire of their appetites. But many of the Irish, wrongfully understanding this miracle, are wont, on St. Patrick's Day, which always falls in the time of Lent, to plunge flesh-meats into water, when plunged in to take out, when taken out to dress, when dressed to eat, and call them fishes of St. Patrick. But hereby every religious man will learn to restrain his appetite, and not to eat meat at forbidden seasons, little regarding what ignorant and foolish men are wont to do.
By Bishop Jocelin  from The Life of Saint Patrick - Enhanced (Illustrated) 1823

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table.

Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table.

Sunday of the Canaanite Woman 2013

Sunday Sermon by Fr Ted Toppses

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…

Even more so than today, In the days of Christ to be called a dog by anyone would be considered a great insult.  So why would the Lord of Lords and King of Kings Jesus himself compare the Canaanite people with dogs, when a Canaanite woman approached the Lord to heal her daughter.  

To understand what happens in this story, and why the Lord did what he did unlocks a mystery of Faith.  The Lord even proclaimed "O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire." And her daughter was healed instantly.  The truth of faith in Christ is revealed in the most wonderful and mysterious of ways.

First we should understand the context.  Christ was teaching and preaching to the Jews. The Canaanite religion was, at the time of Christ, a polytheist pagan religion that adopted gods and religious influences from the Mesopotamian and Egyptian Religions.   These people were seen as the descendants of Cain in the Old Testament.  These are people who were of a very mixed up and adoptive religion.   Tyre and Sidon were a coastal area, which also included an important Egyptian port. 

Jesus’ choice to go to this coastal region, that had many Canaanites, was a direct effort to teach His Apostles the universal message of salvation through Him.  To the Jewish people the universal understanding of our Lord’s Salvation was not yet understood.  The Messiah for the Jewish people was for them specifically, and not for the benefit of other peoples.  The Christ was understood to save Jews and even subjugate or subdue other peoples and faiths.  The amazing truth we know now is, that He is leading all people to Himself and true salvation.  This truth was still a mystery to the Jews, and even likely not yet understood by some of those who followed Him closely.
So in this context Jesus wants to demonstrate that this woman is willing to put aside the falsehood of the Canaanite faith.   He is also revealing a key to faith.
Let us further examine today’s Gospel from Matthew 15:21-28,

At that time, Jesus went to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon."
But he did not answer her a word.   
Jesus’ first response to the woman’s request was not to reply, to be silent.  This response is a passive way of giving the woman a chance to persist.   
The Gospel continues…
And his disciples came and begged him, saying, "Send her away, for she is crying after us." He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
This is Christ’s second response.  This time He is appealing not only to the need for the woman to persist, but also he is beginning to change the view that the Messiah was not for the Gentiles.  He speaks seemingly to agree with the popular understanding.  Will the Canaanite woman take another step in faith to Christ?  The Answer, yes she does.
The Gospel continues….
But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me."
She came to Him and humbly kneeled before Him, she did not go away, and she persisted.  We too should humbly, and persistently come to Christ even when times of our lives seem full of darkness.  We must not embrace darkness; we absolutely need to come to Christ to see the light.
The Lord asks her to take another step, the Gospel continues…
And he answered, "It is not fair to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs."
Christ is the Bread of life given to those of faith who follow Him. He is asking the woman to give up the pagan religion she follows, and to follow Him.  He is asking her, and us, to embrace the faith in order to receive Christ in us.  He is showing that the True Faith in comparison to the pagan Canaanite religion is like comparing people and dogs.  Why should a person who does not practice the true faith, reap the benefits? Is this Canaanite woman willing to take the next step of the true faith? Is she willing to truly humble herself before the Lord and embrace the faith in Him?  She is!
The Gospel continues…
She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table." Then Jesus answered her, "O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire." And her daughter was healed instantly.

Christ laid out steps before her in order that He might receive her, and declare her faith great.  She persisted in her efforts despite being given what would normally be considered a lack of hope of being received. She demonstrated true faithful persistence, and came humbly to Christ.  She humbled herself before Christ and all pride was stripped away.  She allowed her sin to be removed confessing herself unworthy like a dog only desiring a crumb from the master’s table. 

When we lower ourselves God lifts us up.  When we humble ourselves God hears our prayer.  When we let Christ be the only master of our heart, we demonstrate the true faith. 

Her faith became great, when she persisted to be with Jesus and humble herself before Him.  Jesus helped her take the humble steps needed, and showed us that He came for all of us no matter what our background, no matter what our sin.  If we can humbly come to Christ, to be with Him despite all obstacles, He receives us and hears our prayers.

May we be declared by the Lord as having Great faith through humbly always following Him!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
15th Sunday of Matthew
By Fr Ted Toppses
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen
Love is an incredible thing.  When we experience love, we realize how profoundly wonderful life can be and how God’s Love for us changes everything.  We understand that God loves us more than we know how to love.  God loves us unconditionally. This love cannot be measured and we are truly blessed.  
We must strive to love like God does, unconditionally. 
We must by the Lord’s command ‘Love God and each other.’
Let us now review the first part of the Gospel lesson for today from St. Matthew
At that time, a lawyer asked him a question, to test him. "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets."
What is love? Let us consider Agape or pure love and it is most understood through 1st Corinthians 13
 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body to be burned, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.  For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.  And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
‘Agape’ in English is considered to be pure love.  There are three forms of ‘love’ in Greek and they are ‘Eros’ or impassioned love, ‘Philos’ or friendship, and ‘Agape’ or selfless pure love.
Christ’s words about the greatest commandment as recounted in today’s Gospel Lesson are "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment”
Christ describes the love needed to fulfill the greatest commandment as needing to be with all our heart, soul and mind. 
Our minds must be in a constant state of prayer, remembrance and watchfulness; putting our minds to worship God and refraining from sin.
Our soul is our being.  Our soul is what we are and not something that can be separated from us.  We are a soul living through a body, our body is also us. We are body and soul.
Our heart is the center of our being, the path to God in prayer, and the entrance to the kingdom of God within us. 
Loving God we need to approach Christ in a pure passionate, humble loving way. This is the first and greatest commandment and we must love our neighbor as ourselves.  This is not ‘wishy-washy’ love. This is not a mild feeling but a passionate and deep love we must have for God. 
Would we have a relationship with someone who did not want to be with us? 
Would we have a deep relationship with someone who wants to stay away from us? 
We must allow a love and passion for Christ to flood our hearts, souls and minds with the Divine light of Christ and with a sincere and powerful love that is passionate, humble and pure. Then we can truly begin to love God who already loves us, and share this love by loving our neighbor as ourselves.