Sunday, August 25, 2013

Keep Focus on Christ and Rise Above the Storms of this Life - 9th Sunday of Matthew 2013

by Fr Ted Toppses

9th Sunday of Matthew 2013

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

Let us review this morning’s Gospel reading from St. Matthew 14:22-34

At that time, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up into the hills by himself to pray.

Finding a quiet place to be alone with God is something we all would benefit greatly from.  The peacefulness and effectiveness of prayer at times by privately being with God and no one else was demonstrated by our Lord and Savior many times.  We must find a place of our own, not for every once in a great while, but for regular time together to be prayerfully intimate with God.  This quiet place does not replace the Church that Christ established but tremendously enhances the experience by seeking Christ in the church at home and the Church here that is the living Body of Christ.

The Gospel continues…

When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was many furlongs distant from the land, beaten by the waves; for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out for fear. But immediately he spoke to them, saying "Take heart, it is I; have no fear."

The presence of Christ does not invoke fear but calm.  Christ gives peace not agitation.  Christ gives eternal life, not death.

The Gospel continues…

And Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water." He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, "Lord, save me."
Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "O man of little faith, why did you doubt?"

Peter wanted to come to Jesus and when the storms of the world distracted his faith and he took his eyes off Christ he began to sink.  When we take our eyes or our focus off of Christ we too will begin to sink into the depths of this worldly life.  We too must reach out when this happens and call upon the Lord for help.  The Lord immediately reached out to keep Peter from drowning.  Christ is the only one who can help us to truly rise above the waters in this life that would drown us. We must remain focused on Christ in order to stay above the waves and must reach out to Him when we fall, Christ is there for us.

The Gospel Continues….

And when they entered the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God." And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret.

The world is like the sea deep and wide full of storms and winds and dangers.  If we go into the sea without even a boat it would be hard not to drown in the ups and downs of this earthly life.  The Boat could be looked at like the Church which keeps us afloat and together safe in this dangerous world.  Jesus who comes into the boat of our life calms the sea and the waves and instead of drowning in this world we are saved for eternal life.

Our focus must be on Christ at all times by prayer and a conscious effort to live constantly with Christ.  Our faith in Him will help us rise above the cares and troubles of this world and live forever with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Catholic Monk Helped by Elder Porphyrios

Once, when we were at New Skete, we were hosting a Catholic monk who had come to Mt. Athos to learn more about how the monks live, the ascetic life and the general polity of Mt. Athos. We told him about Elder Porphyrios and when he went to Athens he went to meet him. When Elder Porphyrios saw him, without asking him anything, he began to describe this monk’s monastery in Italy and their way of life there. He even described a neighboring convent. He saw all the monks and nuns there and mentioned each one of them in specific detail. The monk was literally dumbfounded because it was the first time in his life that he had met such a man. When he returned to Mt. Athos, he told us, “If someone had told me about these things; that he had seen and heard these things, I would never believe it. How is it possible for this person who lives in Greece to describe our monastery in Northern Italy in detail, to tell me all those details, to tell me about the monks, to tell me about the nuns, each one of them individually?” As this monk told us, when he asked Elder Porphyrios how he was able to see all these things, he answered him: “God’s grace reveals the mysteries to us, the Orthodox.”

Joannidis, Klitos . Elder Porphyrios Testimonies and Experiences . The Holy Convent of the Transfiguration of the Savior. Kindle Edition.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Christ Healing the Whole Person

6th Sunday of Matthew - Sunday Sermon 8-4-2013
by Fr Ted Toppses

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

Let us review today’s Gospel of Matthew 9:1-8

At that time, getting into a boat Jesus crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, they brought to him a paralytic, lying on his bed; and when Jesus saw their faith he said to the paralytic, "Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven." And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, "This man is blaspheming." But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, "Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say 'Rise and walk?' But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins" he then said to the paralytic -- "Rise, take up your bed and go home." And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

This Gospel Lesson opens our minds to begin to understand the question, “What is Sin?”

It is important to understand that the first sin occurred when human beings disobeyed God and took from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  This knowledge of how to be disobedient to God, shattered the innocence of mankind and created a destructive path of disease of soul and body where death could come instead of life. 

The English word “sin” in Greek is “Hamartia”.  Hamartia is rooted in the idea of missing the mark.  This is understood to be like an archer shooting at a target but falls short or misses his intended target.  The intended target of all Christians is to do the will of God, to seek God in all things, to live and behave in the excellent way that God gives us.  We sin by falling short or straying away from God in our thoughts, words or actions knowingly or even unknowingly.  We may know we have sinned and sometimes in our life we do things to harm others and do not realize what we have done.  Sometimes we stray from God unintentionally and we do not realize we are separating ourselves from the Lord.

Forgiveness of sin is the restoration of the soul towards God in everything.  In the sacrament of confession, God Blesses the person with freedom and forgiveness from their sin and empowers the person to live a Godly life again.  Forgiveness can happen through our private prayer, through the liturgy and other church services. 

The private service and sacrament of Confession is a powerful tool for forgiveness and gives the penitent person surety of forgiveness and guidance for true fulfillment of our lives by Living and uniting ourselves with Jesus Christ.

In the Gospel today Jesus saw the faith of the people who brought the paralytic to Him and said "Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven." And later when the people thought He was blaspheming Jesus says "Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say 'Rise and walk?' But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins" he then said to the paralytic -- "Rise, take up your bed and go home." And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

When we pray for each other we are doing what the people in today’s Gospel did, who brought the paralytic to Christ.  We are interceding in a way that is similar to the intercession of the saints or the Theotokos.  Our faith and prayers can help bring about restoration of another person to God.

Let us remember, St. Seraphim of Sarov who said, “save yourself, and a thousand around you will be saved as well.”

In this life we should ask ourselves…

Which is greater a disease of body or of soul?

What harms a person more bodily death or spiritual death?

Our life here is temporary and we all will taste physical death.  Spiritual death is when the soul goes to the place of damnation rather than being blessed by the presence of God in Heaven.

Understanding our concern for the whole person including spiritual life, we can begin to comprehend that Christ’s first mission was to free us from sin.  Illness and disease is a distortion of creation and part of the fallenness of this world.  Christ wants to restore the whole man, and first frees the man by forgiving his sins.  Christ also frees the body through physical healing as well. 

When the crowds saw the miracle they glorified God and were amazed.  The crowds may not have realized that the whole man was restored and blessed in today’s Gospel reading, through forgiveness of sins as well as physical healing.  Even though this man would later be subject to physical death, Christ freed him and gave him the path to truly live after this earthly life.

We should take from this Gospel at least these few things.
1st We should seek freedom from sin through forgiveness by Christ in order to truly live.
2nd We should always pray for one another and be committed to bringing each other to Christ.
3rd  We should understand that Christ desires that we would come together to Him in faith that we may be given God’s blessing, and grace to live Life Eternal in the Kingdom and Presence of God.