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Orthodox Spirituality

Sermons of Archpriest Anthony B. Gavalas


Eighth Sunday of St. Matthew
28 July/10 August 2003

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

This morning at the end of the Doxology, there was a small service of the blessing of the five loaves in honor of today's Feast of St. Irene of Chrysovalantou. This is a tradition among Orthodox Christians whenever it is there is some occasion that they want to celebrate, whether it is a name's day, or thanksgiving for something, or petition for something, they bring five loaves of bread to church, along with a little wine and a little oil, and make this offering and ask the priest to bless it , and to commemorate the names of that family. And those loaves are blessed, and then they are distributed to the people as a token of the thanksgiving of that family. Having heard today's Gospel, you can see how that service is an echo of something that our Savior did in that long, long time ago when He was walking here upon the earth and preaching to the people of God.

But let's look for a moment because, there is another lesson to be learned from today's Gospel. Let us look at those 5,000 men, those 5,000 heads of families, who along with their wives and their children followed our Savior out of the city into a place that was a desert place. And there they listened to Him speak; they listened to His sermon. And what is strange about that, besides the number of people, is the fact that they came there with no food, no water, and as it appears not even things to sit down on. But they came, they ran out into the deserts to hear our Savior.

What is that motivated them to go and listen to Jesus Christ? What is it that motivated them to leave their daily routine, their jobs, their work, their household responsibilities, and to take their wives and their children out into a desert place? And we know that they went without food, without water, because as the evening drew on the Holy Apostles noticed this. And they asked our Savior Don't You think it's time to tell them to go ahead, to dismiss them, so that they can go into the villages round about, so that they can buy themselves food for their wives and their children. They must be hungry by now.

Without food, without water, the eagerness to hear Jesus Christ. That is what we see in these people. Eagerness. For eagerness is an essential part, is an essential element in our salvation. Without the eagerness of the 5,000, without the eagerness of the 7,000, without the eagerness of the Holy Apostles to leave their nets, and their father, and their boats, without the eagerness of Zaccheus to go and prepare a place for Jesus to come and dwell in his house and eat in his house, without this eagerness I daresay that we cannot be saved, this eagerness that grows and has its roots in knowing Jesus Christ.

For Jesus Christ Himself is such an attractive personality, He is Someone that is so magnetic in His personality that anyone who gets to know Him is eager to be close to Him, and to never do anything that will separate this person from Christ.

Eagerness, something that is I'm afraid in short supply among the Christians of today. For we do our morning and evening prayers perfunctorily, sometimes grudgingly, and sometimes not even at all, thinking that crossing ourselves carelessly, perhaps mumbling an Our Father before we begin the day or before we go to sleep is enough. It is enough if we don't know Jesus. It's more than enough. In our fasting, again, just enough so that our conscience doesn't bother us, with enough shortcuts so that it is a little a problem as possible, with enough substitutions so that we barely feel the fast. Again if we knew Jesus, and we knew that through fasting the passions that keep us from Him are held in check, our fasting would be much, much more according to the divinely set down rules of the Holy Church. Our almsgiving, again just enough so that our consciences don't bother us. And even now we excuse ourselves with all of the excuses that modern man can bring to keep from giving alms. But if we knew how much alms cleanse our souls from sin; if we knew how much alms give us the strength to fight our passions, especially those that have to do with greed and selfishness, we would be like the holy patriarch Abraham standing outside out tent looking for people with whom we could share whatever we have for the sake of the love of God. For it is said that if Abraham could find no one with whom he could share his meal, he would not eat on that day.

Eagerness, willingness. May I also speak about our attendance at Church which also leaves much to be desired?

How are we going to acquire this eagerness? How are we going to acquire this willingness in our Christian life? Where are we going to get to know Jesus so that we can be attracted to Him? Where are we going to get to know Him Who is supposed to be the chief desire of our hearts? He is to be found in several places.

He is first of all to be found in the life in Christ, in the life of the Church, in the life of the Holy Mysteries. That's where we will find Jesus. We will also find Him alive and preaching, so attractive, and so handsome, and so desirable to our souls in the Holy Scriptures. Do you read the Holy Scriptures? Is there a daily diet of reading of Holy Scriptures in our lives? The Holy Orthodox Church has Scripture readings every day, appointed every day. During Lent we have readings from the Old Testament during the week, and on Saturdays and Sundays from the New Testament. But for the rest of the year every day there's an Epistle and a Gospel, and sometimes more than one appointed by the Church calendar. And in it we see Jesus walking and preaching, we see Him whole and entire, because the Holy Scriptures are not simply literature, something else to add to the shelf of various works of literature in the world's philological collection. The Holy Scriptures themselves have the grace of God in them. The Holy Scriptures are full of the grace of God. And if you pick one up and open it prayerfully you cannot but be inspired and instructed and draw closer to Jesus Christ.

There's another thing that we need to look at with these 5,000 families. They took no thought, not only were they willing to go and sit with Christ and hear Him, but they took no thought for what they would eat and what they would drink. And yet they were given a meal that who of us would not trade the greatest and most expensive food in the world to have been able to sit and to have of that little bit of bread and that small portion of fish that was divided among those thousands and thousands of people? But we're afraid. We're afraid of everything; we're afraid of terrorists; we're afraid of the government; we're afraid of taxes. We are afraid of just about anything. As an example, a couple of years ago everybody remembers that whole incredible foolishness that was around the changing of the calendar to 2000. All sorts of rumors were around, that as the clock turns to midnight on the year 2000 the computers would completely shut down; the missiles from Russia and from China would take off to destroy the United States; bank balances would go to zero and we would lose all of our money; pumps would stop, there would be no water, there would be no deliveries of food. And you saw serious people stocking up with demijohns of water, stocking up with cans of food, dried foods, taking their money out of the bank, any number of things. And I'm sorry to say there were many Christians among them. Sure there was a certain uneasiness, because people had frightened everyone so. But there were some Christians who behaved no differently from the world.

What happened to Cast your care upon the Lord, and He will take care of you? What happened to all of those places in Holy Scripture where our Lord promises us that He will never forsake us? We have more people who know more about the antichrist than who know about Christ. They know more about the mythology that surrounds the antichrist and his coming, and when I say mythology I mean the kind of foolishness that people talk about and not what is in Scripture and what is enshrined in the revelation of God, but all of the other chaff. They know more about that than they know about the preaching of Jesus Christ and about His life.

My dear brothers and sisters, without willingness and eagerness, without trust in Christ we cannot be saved. Because all of these things are barometers of that which saves, and that is faith. If there is no faith, then there is no eagerness, and there is no trust. The extent to which we are eager to be with Christ is the extent to which we know Him and believe in Him. The extent to which we trust Him is the extent to which we believe in Him. Therefore the Holy Church calls us constantly, eternally to turn our minds in repentance towards Christ; to turn our minds towards the Holy Scriptures to learning of Him; to turn our minds towards trusting Him in His words and in His love and in His providence. Learn of Him in the Holy Scriptures; imitate Him to the best extent that we have in our power. For only in this way will we grow to be like Him, so He on that terrible day can present us before God the Father and say This is mine; this is my brother, and he has a right to a portion to that inheritance which has been promised to those who have waited for and have profited My coming.

To Christ Jesus our Lord, Who is trustworthy, Whose words and Whose promises can be trusted, and to His Father Whose Word He is, and to the Holy Spirit, Who has inspired the Church in the keeping of the Word of God, to the Holy Trinity Who has saved us be glory and honor unto the ages of ages. Amen.

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