Homily: The 22nd Sunday After Pentecost

Luke 8:26-39: At that time, Jesus and His disciples arrived at the country of the Gadarenes, which is over against Galilee. And when he went forth to land, there met him out of the city a certain man, which had devils long time, and ware no clothes, neither abode in any house, but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out, and fell down before him, and with a loud voice said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God most high? I beseech thee, torment me not. (For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For oftentimes it had caught him: and he was kept bound with chains and in fetters; and he brake the bands, and was driven of the devil into the wilderness.) And Jesus asked him, saying, What is thy name? And he said, Legion: because many devils were entered into him. And they besought him that he would not command them to go out into the deep. And there was there an herd of many swine feeding on the mountain: and they besought him that he would suffer them to enter into them. And he suffered them. Then went the devils out of the man, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the lake, and were choked. When they that fed them saw what was done, they fled, and went and told it in the city and in the country. Then they went out to see what was done; and came to Jesus, and found the man, out of whom the devils were departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid. They also which saw it told them by what means he that was possessed of the devils was healed. Then the whole multitude of the country of the Gadarenes round about besought him to depart from them; for they were taken with great fear: and he went up into the ship, and returned back again. Now the man out of whom the devils were departed besought him that he might be with him: but Jesus sent him away, saying, Return to thine own house, and shew how great things God hath done unto thee. And he went his way, and published throughout the whole city how great things Jesus had done unto him.  

 

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

In the Gospel for the twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost, we encounter the demoniac dwelling in the tombs, benighted and chained by the powers of darkness that controlled him, spiritually-dead and spiritually-decaying whilst still in the world – hardly alive in the miserable, possessed existence that he led, robbed of freedom, dignity, and personhood in his nakedness and enslavement.  

The tenth century monk, Blessed Notker the Stammerer, famously wrote “Media vita in morte sumus… In the midst of life, we are in death…,” and although this refers to us all in our common human mortality, in the case of the possessed man of the Gospel we see this truth in a very graphic and specific way, as he dwelt among the tombs as a possessed and living corpse.  

In many ways, his situation, through the demonic hold upon him, was only a concentration and magnification of the existence of all of the Gadarenes who rushed to the scene when they heard of the miracle of his deliverance and healing – not to rejoice, nor to celebrate and fall down at the feet of the Saviour and glorify Him, but rather to ensure His departure, as His mere presence threatened and challenged the way of life that they did not want changed, as they failed to even appreciate their own spiritual captivity.  

The demons who possessed the tomb-dwelling man recognised Christ, asking, “What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God most high? I beseech thee, torment me not”, yet the Gadarenes were insensate to the Saviour, despite the obvious wonder that He had wrought.   

They were in fearful awe seeing the former demoniac “sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind”, but as soon as they learned the details and the loss of their pigs they wanted the Miracle-Worker gone and far away from them, and like the demons their attitude was “what have we to do with you?” Awe changed to fear for themselves and their way of life as they beheld the challenging power of Jesus. 

Their profane attachments to the world, summed up in their reaction to the loss of their pigs (an unclean, impure, and forbidden animal in Jewish society) were more important to them than Christ’s power and message.

They wanted no participation in the miracle; no share in true freedom; no part in Christ’s promise; preferring their worldly attachments, uncleanness and impurity symbolised by the herd of swine – and all because they did not want to change, fearing all that Christ represented as He stood before them.  

How little the world has changed, as we look around and find ourselves surrounded by Gadarenes who do not wish to hear the voice of the Saviour in His Gospel and in His Church, and the challenges that His message brings to lifestyles, choices, attachments, ideologies, -isms and worldly passions that have become a way of life.  

Modern day Gadarenes believe themselves free, though they are as shackled and as much in bonds as the man dwelling in the tombs. They do not want change; they do not want challenge; they fear both. They are too attached to life as it is, even though it is like the pigswill that failed to fill the Prodigal Son, no matter how much he ate. 

Society lives out the maxim we read in the sayings of St Anthony the Great, “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us’.”   

There are those who see our Faith as a madness and tyranny that enslaves us, unlike them in the ‘sanity’ and ‘freedom’ of their living-death, passionate attachments and spiritual-slavery.  

But our challenge is to be a contrast to this, and to ALWAYS be like the healed and exorcised man, as “he went his way, and proclaimed throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done unto him.”  

The dangerous truth is that we so often vacillate between behaving as the healed man and the Gadarenes, with their attachment to the swine. We cannot have it both ways, 

He could so easily have slipped back into being no different to them despite his new found freedom. The release from the demonic power that possessed him was only a beginning and the starting point of his new-life in which he begged the Lord to receive him as a disciple, to live alongside Him and follow Him from place to place. But, such was the Lord’s will that the man’s discipleship was to be in his own country, proclaiming the great things that God had done for him.

The liberation of this man who had dwelt in the tombs can be seen as a token and foreshadowing of the resurrection, just as our exorcism, baptism and clothing in our baptismal robe are the beginning of our life in the Risen Saviour and the resurrection in the age to come. But, like the new beginning after the driving out of the man’s demons, the new birth of our baptism is no guarantee of continued and sustained new life in Christ unless we are willing to follow, obey and embrace the freedom we have been granted and the salvific promise made to us. 

We cannot vacillate between freedom and slavery, neither can we embrace and accept change that we like and which suits us, whilst rejecting the need for change, involving the rejection of things and behaviours to which we are attached and with which we are comfortable, despite their harmfulness and destructive power in our lives. 

No… we cannot swing between being like the healed man and the Gadarenes. We have a choice, between freedom and the swine-attachments, between liberated personhood in Christ or the dissolution of self, and loss of personhood in spiritual slavery.

When Jesus encountered the paralysed man at the Pool of Bethesda, He asked “Do you want to be made well?” 

It is not enough for each of us to simply answer “Yes”. We must be willing to do everything to preserve our freedom and growing wholeness in Christ, by following Him and rejecting all that can make us sick again, and possibly even worse than we were at the starting point of our first encounter with the Saviour. 

Having being led through the waters of baptism from slavery and the tyranny of the spiritual-pharaoh to the promised land and freedom of life in Christ, let us not look back and long for the fleshpots of Egypt. 

Serving the Lord with gladness, we must reject all that comes between us and life in Christ, even if we initially miss what is harmful, despite the fact that it may have brought gratification and pleasure in our past lives. What is harmful is so often like this. 

We cannot have freedom and slavery; we cannot cling to the swine, whilst being called to obedience and sacrifice. 

Our life has to be simple and spiritually focussed, not divided and contradicting itself. This can often seem like a challenge, but there is no other way for us to live in Christ as we long for the resurrection and the life of the age to come.

Let us rejoice in the spiritual freedom of our present life, even if it a struggle and challenge, going our way proclaiming the great things that God had done for us.

Amen. 

On the Dormition of the Mother of God

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

Dear brothers and sisters, greetings on this feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God.

On this Summer Pascha, we celebrate the falling-asleep and resurrection of the Theotokos as the firstborn of the children of Adam and Eve, truly risen in body and soul, and assumed into the glory of the Kingdom of Heaven.

As the Hodegetria, ‘she who shows the way’, the Virgin is glorified in the totality of the resurrection, going physically as well as spiritually before the faithful-departed of every generation into the radiant eternity of the Eighth Day, which shall have no end.

Despite the heavenly nature of this feast, we are sometimes so earth-bound as we look at the plashchanitsa and icon.

Though mindful of the Lord taking His Mother – body and soul – into heaven, and though rejoicing at the empty tomb in Gethsemane, we often fail to reflect on the celestial joy of the glorious reception of the Mother of God into heaven.

In his poetic homily for the feast, Mar Jacob of Serugh reminds us that it is not only the company of the apostles that gathers at the Dormition of the Mother of God, but also the whole throng of the angelic hosts, who rejoice at her translation from death to life.

“Ranks and companies, also choirs of the sons of light; a clamour of watchers and a multitude of burning flames.

Fiery seraphim with wings closely covered by flames, with legions and their heavenly divisions.

Mighty cherubim who were yoked beneath his throne are moved by wonder to give praise with their Hosannas.

Followers of Gabriel, a glowing fiery multitude, and variously transformed in their natures.

Followers of Michael full of movement in their dissent, feasting, rejoicing, making merry this day with their Alleluias.

Heaven and the air of glory were filled with celestial beings, who journeyed and came down to the place of earth.”

Mar Jacob then turns to the saints of the Old Testament – the patriarchs, prophets, judges, kings and righteous ones who are not only the forefathers of Christ, but also of the Mother of God, through whom the Saviour was clothed in the flesh of Adam in His Incarnation.

By the victory of the Cross, Christ harrowed hell and stripped it of the righteous held by the chains and shackles of death, but it was only in spirit that their exodus led them from death life, and from the depths of Hades to the heights of heaven.

As they behold the full realisation of the resurrection, which they still await, Mar Jacob paints a poetic picture of their rejoicing as they see their daughter according to the flesh enter Heaven in that very flesh that has been received from them as her forebears.

On this day Adam rejoices and Eve his wife, because their daughter rests in the place where they are gathered.

On this day the righteous Noah and Abraham rejoiced that their daughter has visited them in their dwelling-place.

On this day Jacob, the honourable old man, rejoices that the daughter who sprouted from his root has called him into life.

On this day the twelve just sons of the lame one rejoiced greatly and are glad in that she visited them.

On this day let also Judah rejoiced greatly, for behold the daughter who has given life, went forth from his loins.

On this day let Joseph rejoice in the great Moses, for one young maiden has called all mankind to life.

On this day let Aaron rejoice in Eliezar and all the tribes of the sons of Levi with their priesthood.

On this day let David the renowned forefather rejoice, because the daughter who was from him, has placed a glorious crown on his head.

On this day let Samuel rejoice with Jeremiah, because the daughter of Judah dropped dew on their bones.

Come Ezekiel, trained in prophetic revelation, if the thing that has occurred is described in your prophecy.

On this day let also Isaiah the prophet rejoice, because she whom he prophesied, behold she visits him in the place of the dead.

On this day all the prophets lifted their heads from their graves, because they saw the light which shone forth on them.

They saw that death is disquieted and flees from within them; and that the gates of heaven and the depths of the earth are opened again.”

Despite their greatness, these Old Testament saints only encountered God in veiled-appearances, types and shadows, with the Lord telling Moses, “Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.”

In the harrowing of hell they spiritually beheld the Lord, whose body rested in the sepulchre even as He descended in soul to liberate their souls from death. In his Ascension, they – abiding in heaven awaiting the physical resurrection – beheld Him in His glorified flesh.

In their earthly sojourn, they had prophetically looked forward through the centuries to the virgin-mother, the rod of the root of Jesse, who would bear Immanuel – God with us.

In the glory of the Dormition and Assumption they welcomed their daughter, whose childhood entrance into the Holy of Holies of the Temple foreshadowed this day, when she entered the eternal sanctuary on high, following her Son’s translation of glorified human-nature to the right hand of the Father in his Ascension.

Though the forefathers, like all of the departed other than the Theotokos, must await the fulness of the resurrection, they rejoiced with the bodiless powers of heaven as they witnessed her Assumption as the fulfilment of the promise that they await.

With the passing of the centuries, new generations of the faithful are added to the synaxis of angels and humans who celebrate the heavenly translation of the Mother of Life, who leads us from death to life, and our own aspiration to the glorious reality of the Dormition and Assumption demands that we look to the example of the Mother of God in our hope to follow her heavenward-journey.

Striving to embrace the simplicity, humility, purity and God-centred obedience of her life, and imitating her by bowing before the Lord’s will each day, we must constantly echo her words, “Be it unto me according to Thy word”, whilst obeying her command at the marriage of Cana, “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.”

Just as her selfless life always pointed to the Saviour, so that she reflected Him as the moon reflects the light of the sun, His teachings and life-in-Him must be the existential reality and narrative of our lives, reflected and realised in each thought, word and deed.

If we are prepared to follow her example, the Theotokos already shows us the way from death to life, and from all that is earthly, temporal and transitory to the eternal glory of heaven, where the saints rejoice – radiant in the resurrection of Christ for all eternity.

Striving to emulate the Mother of God, and to follow her, let us struggle to mount the heights of heaven, rejoicing in the words of Mar Jacob “that death is disquieted and flees… and that the gates of heaven and the depths of the earth are opened again.”

Amen.

On the Sunday of Zacchaeus

At that time, Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for today I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord: Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.

(Luke 19:1-10)

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

Dear brothers and sisters,

On the Sunday of Zacchaeus, we yearly encounter the spectacle of Zacchaeus the publican and Roman-collaborator – despised and shunned by Jewish society – clambering into the branches of a tree, from whose height the whole perspective of his life was transformed.

A man who knew that he had power and control over the lives of the people whom he squeezed and plundered for the sake of his own purse, as well as that of the Roman occupiers, threw image and propriety to the wind, simply to see over the heads of those – and indeed everything – that stood between him and his encounter with Christ.

St Ephrem saw the tree that Zacchaeus climbed as the opposite of the Tree of Knowledge, for whereas Adam was guilty through his actions at that tree, the tree for Zacchaeus became a sign abd token of his innocence.

“The first fig tree of Adam will be forgotten, because of the last fig tree of the chief tax collector, and “the name of the guilty Adam will be forgotten because of the innocent Zacchaeus.”

St Ephrem the Syrian: Commentary on Tatian’s Diatessaron

Like the children of Palm Sunday, the tax-collector climbed amongst the leaves and branches to see the approach of the Saviour, in a childlike spectacle, but whereas the Feast of Palms marks the Saviour’s entrance into the Holy City, the events of the Sunday Gospel mark the entrance of the Saviour into the life and house of Zacchaeus, where he is welcomed by a heart and home that were changed by the salvific encounter.

Furthermore, the tree becomes a reference for the tree of Cross, and Blessed Augustine of Hippo calls upon us in our humility to climb the Cross, as Zacchaeus in simple humility, climbed into the boughs of the ‘sycamore’.

This Gospel calls us to stop worrying about what the world, society, colleagues, neighbours… even family think of us, so that in seemingly divine-folly and abandon we may try to gain a viewpoint and perspective of the Lord – doing whatever it takes to draw near to the Saviour, leaving the crowd behind, and not worrying about what anyone else thinks in order to  encounter the Saviour, even to simply glimpse him for a moment.

As Zacchaeus forgets his own dignity and sacrifices his image to behave like a child rather than a wealthy Roman civil servant, willingly to make a laughable spectacle of himself, he puts aside the cares of the world, and by doing so receives the King of all, as we are called to do every time we chant the cherubic hymn.

To return to Blessed Augustine’s words on this Gospel:

“Zacchaeus climbed away from the crowd and saw Jesus without the crowd getting in his way. The crowd laughs at the lowly, to people walking the way of humility, who leave the wrongs they suffer in God’s hands and do not insist on getting back at their enemies.

The crowd laughs at the lowly and says, ‘You helpless, miserable clod, you cannot even stick up for yourself and get back what is your own.’ The crowd gets in the way and prevents Jesus from being seen. The crowd boasts and crows when it is able to get back what it owns. It blocks the sight of the one who said as he hung on the cross, ‘Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing…’

He ignored the crowd that was getting in his way. He instead climbed a sycamore tree, a tree of ‘silly fruit.’ As the apostle says, ‘We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block indeed to the Jews, [now notice the sycamore] but folly to the Gentiles.’

Finally, the wise people of this world laugh at us about the cross of Christ and say, ‘What sort of minds do you people have, who worship a crucified God?’ What sort of minds do we have? They are certainly not your kind of mind. ‘The wisdom of this world is folly with God.’

No, we do not have your kind of mind. You call our minds foolish. Say what you like, but for our part, let us climb the sycamore tree and see Jesus. The reason you cannot see Jesus is that you are ashamed to climb the sycamore tree.

Let Zacchaeus grasp the sycamore tree, and let the humble person climb the cross. That is little enough, merely to climb it. We must not be ashamed of the cross of Christ, but we must fix it on our foreheads, where the seat of shame is. Above where all our blushes show is the place we must firmly fix that for which we should never blush.

As for you, I rather think you make fun of the sycamore, and yet that is what has enabled me to see Jesus. You make fun of the sycamore, because you are just a person, but ‘the foolishness of God is wiser than men.”

Like Zacchaeus, let us become fools in the eyes of the world, to gaze upon the face of the All-Merciful Saviour, and to embrace His way and Holy Wisdom which is folly to the proud and worldly.

Like Zacchaeus, let us find the humility and abandon to become a spectacle, whatever the world may think and say.

Like Zacchaeus, let us open the doors of our home and heart to the Saviour, so that He may say to each of us, “Today, salvation has come into this house.”

Amen.

08/08/2021 – Homily for todays Gospel The healing of the blind men

Following todays Liturgy Father Mark reflects on the Gospel reading.

The blind men are asked – Do you believe that I can Heal you ?

A firm reminder that when our faith is challenged we should remember that Christ came with love to heal us all.

You are also able to watch it and all our past videos on our youtube channel. If you want to be alerted when new videos are uploaded click subscribe.

Video Homily on Sunday of All Saints of the British Isles

“Britain will become an Orthodox country again when its people rediscover their Saints”

Following todays Liturgy Father Mark talks on the rich history of the Saints of the British Isles. In Wales there are many clues and signs leading us to the lives of the Saints, how do we learn more and how do we incorporate Holiness into our lives.

You are also able to watch it and all our past videos on our youtube channel. If you want to be alerted when new videos are uploaded click subscribe.

 

Video Homily on Sunday of All Saints of the Russian Lands

“For you shall be Holy for I am Holy…” following todays Liturgy Father Mark spoke on the lives of All Saints who have shone forth from the Russian Lands.

From the Baptism of Rus to modern times Holy Rus has borne many Saints, examples to learn from and on how our lives can be lived on a path to holiness.

You are also able to watch it and all our past videos on our youtube channel. If you want to be alerted when new videos are uploaded click subscribe.