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Orthodox Spirituality

Sermons of Archpriest Anthony B. Gavalas

Emptying Ourselves

Twelfth Sunday of St. Luke
25 August/7 September 2003

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

There came to our Savior a young man who was seeking to find out what he must do so that he might be saved. And our Savior, wishing to try and see just how far he had progressed in the spiritual life, in the life of the will of God, first told him to keep the Commandments. And He quoted some of the Commandments as an epitome of the Commandments. The young man protested and said But I've done all of that since I was a young man. What yet do I lack?

And then our Savior told him the fullness of the preaching, the fullness of what we must do to be saved. For we begin by keeping the Commandments, but in the end we must do what our Lord said to this young man: If you will be perfect, sell everything that you have, give the money to the poor and come and follow me. For this is what we must do in the final analysis in order to follow Christ. We must empty ourselves of everything, everything else, everything that is in our way, and follow Jesus Christ.

The holy apostle St. Paul cries to us, and says What can separate us from Jesus Christ? Neither height nor depth... nor any of the other impediments that we usually have to keep us from a certain destination. But here we must amplify and add to the words of the holy Apostle. Here we must add to them, that surely nothing can keep us from Jesus Christ, and we have seen this in the stories of the salvation of so many people who from such unlikely situations have become Christians, have indeed become saints. Only one thing can impede; one thing can hinder; one thing can get in our way, the greatest, the most insurmountable impediment of all, and that is ourselves.

For the Lord God, the Lord God of Sabaoth, the Holy Trinity, the Almighty and All-Holy Trinity can create the world, all of the creation that we see and which we do not see, in the twinkling of an eye He can create the world, the universe. One thing He cannot do: He cannot save us without our cooperation. It is possible for us in our puny human will to thwart the will of God.

Therefore it is very important for us, for those who wish to be saved, for those who come to the Savior like this young man today seeking salvation, to understand the things that our Savior asks of us, lest we too leave Him saddened because we cannot give these things, we cannot do these things, we cannot sacrifice.

My beloved brothers and sisters, our Lord has asked of us that we reject the world. And for a moment this may seem like a tremendous, tremendous request on His part. But look around you. Look at this world that we hold on to with such tenacity, look at this world that we hold on to with such a grip that it's nearly impossible for us to be separated from it. Is it really worth Heaven? Is it really worth eternal life? Is it really worth giving up Jesus Christ?

All of these things are very difficult to accept and to understand. For we live in this world, we live in this environment, we live in the place where we are, and yet we are required by God, if we would be perfect, if we will be saved, to give all of this up. He knows that it is not easy for us to give it up all at once. But if we start, if we make a beginning by giving up some time to prayer; if we start giving up some of our appetite for food; if we start giving up some of our self will for entertainment; if we start giving these things up up slowly, slowly. Once we have place our souls in this mode, in this mode of sacrifice for the sake of the Kingdom, then it becomes easier and easier and easier. And our God, seeing that this is what we want to do, will make it possible for us to do more and more. For when He sees that we are indeed co-building with Him, that we are working as well as our feeble hands can work, that we are giving our will, as feeble as it is, to Him in whatever small obediences and cutting off of our own will and our own desire and what we think should happen, whether it's to our spouse or to our children or to our boss or to whomever it is that gives us the opportunity to cut off our will, that our Lord will take our feeble efforts, and will magnify them exceedingly, and will through His grace make us perfect.

This is our prayer, this is our hope, this is the teaching of the Holy Orthodox Church. May God grant that we have the strength, that we have the will, and that we have the perseverance and the discretion finding those opportunities to separate ourselves from ourselves, from our will that we might be deemed worthy of that Kingdom which has been offered to us by Christ Jesus our Lord, Who together with His Father and the Holy Spirit is worshipped unto the ages of ages. Amen. Amen. Amen.

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