By Metropolitan Joseph
This article is adapted from a speech given by His Eminence to a Northern California Antiochian Orthodox Christian Women of North America retreat in November, 2002.
How do we attain the Kingdom of Heaven? Where is it to be found? It is very easy for us in the Western world to view this Kingdom as something that one attains as a final destination or ending of a journey. As Orthodox Christians, we believe that the Kingdom of Heaven is Christ Himself, not a physical place or location.
It is within Christ that the Kingdom is to be experienced. For this reason, we cannot think of the Kingdom as something we are either “in” or “out” of. Through baptism and a life of repentance, we participate in the Life of Christ, and thus we participate in the Kingdom. The Kingdom is a dynamic state, wherein we grow in perfection through God’s grace. Our journey is not to the Kingdom, our journey is in the Kingdom.
As long as we are struggling to be Christlike, we are assuredly tasting of the Fountain of Immortality. When the struggle ends and the growth ceases, the Kingdom disappears. It is nowhere to be found. The moment we think we have achieved something, that we have earned our place, then we have lost the Kingdom. Our struggles are meaningless without Christ, and vice versa: without struggles, we are meaningless, because we will lose Christ.
Contemplating the blessings of the Advent season, at times we ponder whether we have lost our blessings to the material world in which we live. Surrounded by ostentatious displays of wealth and unhealthy indulgences, we realize that they are slowly taking the place of more appropriate preparations for the celebration of Christmas. The very foundation of the Christmas Feast is the birth of an unassuming Child born quietly, humbly. The King of Glory was born of a mother who was turned away from every house, in a cave among the animals who could not speak.
Advent is the time of our preparation to meet the Lord of Lords. Certainly, we desire to offer our best gifts to the Christ Child, but they must be gifts of substance - the gifts of prayer, repentance, forgiveness and love.
by Leontius the Presbyter of Constantonople
Christ, our generous host, has set before us again today a banquet-table worthy of veneration: a table not simply to be honored by custom, but recognized as part of our familiarity with God; a table not marked by yearning for earthly delights, but sharing in those of heaven; a table not splendid with Solomon's delicacies, but crowned by God's laws; a table not made blessed by abundance of food, but made solemn by thoughts of God. For what could be richer than Solomon's table, spreading out day by day (as is told us in the Third Book of the Kingdoms) 'thirty kors of fine wheat flour, and sixty kors of ground barley meal, and ten tender, choice calves and twenty grazing cows and a hundred sheep – to say nothing of deer and gazelles and choice birds' [see III Kingdoms 11:1-13]. But such a lavish abundance of dishes brought Solomon no benefit, nor did it lead him towards perfect virtue. Just the opposite: by leading him to indulge himself beyond measure, it led him to go mad in the end. But the table of the Lord, richly laid before us again today – a table that is immaterial, infinite, incorruptible, immortal, uncircumscribed, beyond human reckoning – directs us not only towards earthly blessings, but towards heavenly ones as well! For it does not offer us 'thirty kors of wheat flour,' but lavishes on us the kingdom of heaven, as the yeast in 'three measures of barley' [Mt. 13:33]. Nor does it set out 'sixty kors of barley,' but the bread of heaven itself; I mean that the Lord Christ rewards believers here with the gift of Himself, day after day.
by St. John Cassian
A clear rule for self-control handed down by the Fathers is this: stop eating while still hungry and do not continue until you are satisfied.
When the Apostle said, 'Make no provision to fulfill the desires of the flesh' (Rom. 13:14), he was not forbidding us to provide for the needs of life; he was warning us against self-indulgence. Moreover, by itself abstinence from food does not contribute to perfect purity of soul unless the other virtues are active as well. Humility, for example, practiced through obedience in our work and through bodily hardship, is a great help.
If we avoid avarice not only by having no money, but also by not wanting to have any, this leads us towards purity of soul. Freedom from anger, from dejection, self-esteem and pride also contributes to purity of soul in general, while self control and fasting are especially important for bringing about that specific purity of soul which comes through restraint and moderation.
by St. John Chrysostom
Wherefore, if you desire to become equal to the apostles, there is nothing to hinder you. For to have arrived at this virtue only suffices for your not at all falling short of them. Let no one therefore wait for miracles. For though the evil spirit is grieved, when he is driven out of a body, yet much more so, when he sees a soul delivered from sin. For indeed this is his great power [cf. Acts 8:10]. This power caused Christ to die, that He might put an end to it. Yea, for this brought in death; by reason of this all things have been turned upside down. If then thou remove this, you have cut out the nerves of the devil, you have bruised his head, you have put an end to all his might, you have scattered his host, you have exhibited a sign greater than all signs.
Homily of H.B. Patriarch John X
In the Holy Liturgy celebrated at Balamand
On June 29, 2014
On the Feast of the Antiochian See
"O Antioch lift up your eyes and look around for your sons came like the pearls shining with the light of God from the West and the North from the sea and the East, glorifying Jesus Christ in you to the ages of ages."
With these words of our Saint John of Damascus, the son of Antioch, it is my pleasure to welcome you and say:
by St. Nikolai Velimirovich
"That by these you might be partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4).
Brethren, how can mortal man have a part in God's nature? How can eternity be a companion of time and glory with unglory, the incorruptible with the corruptible, the pure with the impure? They cannot without particular conditions and these conditions the Apostle Peter mentions: one condition on the part of God and the other on the part of men. As a condition on God's part, the apostle mentions: "According as His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain to life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3). As a condition on the part of man: "having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust" (2 Peter 1:4). God has fulfilled His condition and gave us His power. "Through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue" (2 Peter 1:3). Now it is man's turn to fulfill his condition, i.e., to know Christ the Lord is to escape from the bodily desires of this world.
From Abba Isidore
Isidore the Priest was a monk of Scetis and early companion of Macarius (the Great). He is mentioned by Cassian as one of the heads of the four communities in Scetis.
2. A brother asked him, 'Why are the demons so frightened of you?' The old man said to him, 'Because I have practiced asceticism the day I became a monk, and not allowed anger to reach my lips.'
3. He also said that for forty years he had been tempted to sin in thought but that he had never consented either to covetousness or to anger.
7. Abba Isidore said, 'One day I went to the market place to sell some small goods; when I saw anger approaching me, I left the things and fled.'
5. Someone said to blessed Arsenius, 'How is it that we, with all our education and our wide knowledge get nowhere, while these Egyptian peasants acquire so many virtues?' Abba Arsenius said to him, 'We indeed get nothing from our secular education, but these Egyptian peasants acquire the virtues by hard work.'
6. One day Abba Arsenius consulted an old Egyptian monk about his own thoughts. Someone noticed this and said to him, 'Abba Arsenius, how is it that you with such a good Latin and Greek education ask this peasant about your thoughts?' He replied, 'I have indeed been taught Latin and Greek, but I do not know even the alphabet of this peasant.'
Metropolitan Philip's translation has left us with uncertainty. Change is always difficult, especially in the Church. Here we have grown to rely on things continuing for the most part unchanging. Feeling a little uncertain and afraid is at the very least understandable, but it is not a sign of weakness or faithlessness. How often in the scriptures does God tell us to "Fear not!"?
Now, I've been told often that I see the world through rose-colored glasses. I don't know if this is always meant as a compliment. Nevertheless, I prefer to see the world as a gift from God, with amazing opportunities and possibilities. I see the world as the means by which we develop our relationships with God and each other. This world is a place to discover and delight in God and all that He creates for us. I believe that everyone in our lives can help us stretch and grow. That which is negative or challenging can help us identify areas that need attention and will profit us. I also believe that, given everyone's needs, wounds, personalities and uniqueness, the world is the best it can be. I believe that God has brought every one of us together so that together we can come to know Him and return His love. The Church is a mother who fosters and builds relationships that bring us to God. God created and gave to us our Church, which is a Divine and human organization that allows us to be grafted to Christ and each other. She allows us to enter into Christ's own praise of the Father and care for His people. This action is fueled by God's Spirit and guided by the Holy Trinity. This life allows us to delight in God and for God to delight in us. This life allows us to discover the uniqueness and beauty of everyone and everything that God created; even when that which is created may be temporarily in disorder or dirtied up.