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Orthodox Spirituality

Sermons of Archpriest Anthony B. Gavalas


Fourth Sunday of St. Luke
14/27 October 2002

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

The Gospel of our Savior Jesus Christ, those precious, precious books that have been given to us by our Holy Fathers the Holy Evangelists, St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, and St. John, those first and primary Holy Fathers of the Church that have left for us as the most honorable and most precious inheritance the Gospels of Jesus Christ, are a mirror from which there reflects the will of God, His will for us, His teachings for us that we might be saved. The Holy Gospels of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ are also a measure. They are a standard against which we may measure ourselves to see if we measure up to that which our Savior expects from us. As you know not everyone is permitted to create a measure for himself. There is a Bureau of Standards as part of our Federal government, and that Bureau of Standards has various weights and measures that are the standard: the standard foot, the standard yard, the standard ounce, the standard pound. And it is against these that we must measure the measuring devices that we use in our daily life, in our buying, in our selling, in whatever other means that we need to use them for.

The Holy Church of God also has its standards, and that standard is to be found in the Holy Gospels, and in the writings of the Holy Epistles of the Holy Apostles. Our Savior gave that absolute standard speaking in His humility: Be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect. Bound by His humility our Savior did not say Be ye perfect as I am perfect, for in all things He spoke with humbleness, teaching us to also be humble.

But the Holy Apostle St. Paul is not bound by the humility of Christ, but only by his own. And so it is that he tells us that we must grow into the stature of Jesus Christ. We must grow into the stature of that Work of the Father through Whom all things were made. We must grow to be like Jesus Christ.

So today as we look into the reflection of the will of God in the Holy Scriptures, and as we measure ourselves by those standards that are to be found there, certainly we come up somewhat short.

For many of us there are those of us whose hearts are like that well traveled road. For we let anyone and anybody into our hearts. Everybody walks through our hearts. How in the world can the word of God grow within us when we have no peace, when we are constantly with comings and goings in our hearts with various people treading upon it so that it cannot grow? A Christian must be discriminating. Not in his kindness, not in his love, not in his almsgiving, but in who he lets into his heart. We cannot just let anyone into our hearts, because it is necessary for there to be quiet there.

How many of us have hearts that have grown hard, miostureless, like those other grounds upon which there fell the seed of the Word of God? Unfortunately hard hearted people are to be found in all ages. But unfortunately they are also to be found among older people. Especially those older people who when they were young said Now that I'm young I will live and enjoy my life. I will do those things that come naturally -- they say naturally; they're not natural at all. I will do those things that come naturally to the young. I will have a good time. And then when I grow old, then I'll find the opportunity to confess my sins; I will find the opportunity and the time to pray and fast; I will find the opportunity to mend my life so that I will die in the peace and grace of God. But right now I want to have a good time.

They forget the basic nature of man, and the nature of sin. For man's heart is made like every other part of him, from the dirt of the earth. Man's heart is made of mud; man's heart is made of clay. And sin, sin is fire. The sins in the heat of our passions, they bake the heart, even as clay is baked in a kiln. They bake the heart and they make it hard. And so it is that we have seen old people, people who indeed should be confessing, and praying, and preparing themselves. But when we go to them as they are dying in hospitals or in their homes, they gnash their teeth at the sight of the priest. They send him away, sometimes even cursing, because their hearts have grown hard. Their hearts have grown stony hard and cold, and can no longer respond to the word of God. And when such people who have themselves placed themselves in such a condition give up their souls in a few days, how can the mercy of God redeem such a soul? For of its own will it has chosen to be away from God.

And there are not a few among us who have very fertile ground for hearts. But all fertile ground as any gardener knows must be deeply cultivated to pull out all of those weeds, all of those wild plants that had their place there before, that have stricken deep roots. Because otherwise when we plant the relatively weak, the relatively tender plants that we want to grow, those weeds spring up again with them, and before you know it, they have choked those plants that we wanted to grow, and have taken over the garden.

It is so important for us to constantly be on the lookout in our garden, and through confession, through repentance, through fasting to weed out from our hearts those wild plants that had been there before, before we became Christians, before we began to understand the word and the will of God.

We have to be like a good gardener and check our garden every day. Because if we don't before you know it those weeds will have choked every good plant and will render the word of God dead in our hearts.

But rather my beloved brothers and sisters let us try, seeing how we are short, let us try to make of our hearts good and fertile and light soil into which when the word of God falls it immediately strikes roots and bears fruit, because this is the nature of the word of God, to give us this kind of increase in the garden of our hearts when it is prepared. Let us cultivate our gardens deeply, deeply with the spade, deeply with the plow of repentance. Let us not be merciful towards those weeds, but uproot them immediately, never allowing them to even see the light of day. And our hearts will become such a garden that our Lord Himself will walk in it even as He did in the Garden of Eden. Our hearts will become such a rich and verdant and pleasant place. I've seen such people. You have probably seen them also. People like this, who in their humility and in their love they show forth that they are Christians indeed, through the indiscriminate love that they have for everyone, through their openheartedness and their open-mindedness, through the love that they show to their fellow man, through their simplicity that is to such a point that they don't even realize when they have been hurt, when they have been insulted. But they see all people as good. They see everyone as angels. And this is not naivete, my beloved brothers and sisters, this is not being simpletons. This is being simple, and good, and loving. This is being in the measure of Jesus Christ.

My dear brothers and sisters, we have gazed into the Holy Scriptures today, which is a reflection of the will of God and the standard against which we must measure ourselves. Here in the Church are all of the tools that we need so that we might render our hard, infertile, weed ridden gardens into the good earth. In the Church there's the fellowship of other Christians; in the Church there is the word of God; in the Church there are the holy services; in the Church are the readings that we hear. The holy services, the Mysteries of the Church are all served here in the parish church. In the Church we have the opportunity to confess our sins; in the Church we have the opportunity to prepare and receive the Holy Communion of our Savior's Body and Blood.

Let us use those, all of these tools, all of these means, so that at the end of our life the garden which we have prepared through the grace of God will be a welcoming place for the Holy Trinity, through Whom we are saved by listening to and obeying His word. And to the holy Trinity, to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit be glory and honor unto the ages of ages. Amen.

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