Saturday, July 21, 2018

Sermon: "to give an answer to him who asks"-

Plain Spiritual Admonition: From GOC parish priest: Fr. Photios Cooper in Portland, Oregon: From his parish bulletin: "Sermon for Apostles Peter and Paul"- about all of us being apostles, "to give an answer to him who asks"-

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Dan Everiss

<oregdan@hotmail.com>
Fri, Jul 20, 2018 at 1:09 PM

From: Fr. Photios Cooper <fr.photios.fpc@gmail.com>
Sent: Thursday, July 19, 2018 1:30 AM
Subject: Sermon for Apostles Peter and Paul

Dearest Friends and beloved of Christ,

May the Lord's grace be with you in abundance!

Here is the sermon from this last Sunday, which was for the Feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul, marking the end of the Apostle's Fast.

I pray you are all well, and that God's grace is assisting you in carrying your crosses.

I will try to send out the homilies like these to those who were not able to make it to the Sunday liturgy.

Keep us all in your prayers.

In Christ,

Fr. Photios
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The Sermon-

My friends, ~

We recently celebrated the Feasts of Sts.Peter and Paul, and also of all the Apostles and Disciples.

Our God, Who is so wondrous, started with but a few, and those few did so much. Like a small amount of yeast added to flour, the Church rose up from them.

My friends, it seems to me that Christ, when he told the Apostles to “go and make disciples of all nations, Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, He gave them -and us- a most difficult task. 

We hear all the time from good priests and bishops, about the three-part praxis/practice of Orthodox spiritual life: fasting, prayer and almsgiving. As a priest, I see many, including myself, struggle to accomplish all these, and in various degrees of success. When a pastor tells his sheep to practice their Orthodoxy that they believe in, he hears grumbles, but also assurances that they will try harder. As time goes on, the fruit of their tree is borne, visible to him and progress is made.

Let us go one further. When a pastor tells his flock that not only should they fast, pray and give alms, but that they should also evangelize and share their faith, he is met with either silence, or vocal disagreement. To share one’s faith it seems, is even more difficult than not eating turkey on western Christmas, or giving ten dollars instead of ten cents to a beggar. So they are either humbled into silence, or they are outraged that they should have to come out of their comfort zones and “do what the clergy were ordained for”.

Some, my friends, like Isaiah the Prophet, heard the word of the Lord asking them “Whom shall I send, and who will go unto this people?” and answered again like the Prophet saying, “Lo, here am I; send me.” The Prophets did so, the Apostles did so, and so have all the men and women you see in black robes. The Lord called them because the world needed them; it needed the spiritual healing that union with God brings. The world was backwards, backsliding and falling away. Is the world so very different from their times? Are we a more holy people? 

We who wear the black robes are not the only ones however, who are called to “go unto his people”. We are merely the tip of the spear, if you will. We are only the small part in the front of a greater mass that are all heading in the same direction. Every man, woman and child baptized into the faith of Christ is called to evangelize, to witness, to, as St. Peter says, “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.”

We are in a crazy world, and this world which is spinning so speedily out of control needs us. It needs our witness, our martyrdom. In this time of such great apostasy wherein even the “true” Orthodox are siding with sin, we must be vocal about the power of Christ to heal, about our love of the Faith, so that those who may have been lost might be found. We are sent out to be “fishers of men” and to bring in a catch. We must be strong where there is weakness!

Lest we shrug off what I have just said as unimportant or unnecessary, it must be remembered how vital evangelization is to the Christian life. We have been given a Talent -a huge some of money, if you will- in the Faith we have been baptized into. We have been told to go and grow this Talent, to give it back in an amount that is greater than it was when we received it. If we do not, we will be seen as unfit for the Kingdom and cast out as disobedient and evildoers. 

Evil doers? Yes. If we are not cultivating virtue, what then are we cultivating? What else is there of any true worth outside of virtue? If we are not tending to a whole garden, but only to one plant, how shall we live off it? Sharing the Faith is absolutely necessary for one to be called Christian. When we love something, do we not find it easy, even delightful to share it with other people? When we find someone with a common interest in what we love, aren’t we solidified in our commitment to it? How is this faith which we have thus far struggled so hard to keep any different?

This faith that we hold is not ours to keep buried and to return when we meet Christ at the Judgement. It is not a family thing, a social connection or place to meet people. It’s the pearl of great price and it should be shared with all because of its great power to transform. 

There’s a story many of you have likely heard. I may have a few details that are different from the original telling, but the point is the same.

There were two men who knew each other from childhood. One came from a Christian family, and the other from an atheist/agnostic family. The two men grew up and did everything together; they were the best of friends. They both lived nearly the same life, only one clung to his belief in God, while the other continued in unbelief. The faith was never a stumbling block nor topic of conversation. The believing man never pushed his faith upon his friend, and when it came up in conversation, it was quickly put to the side. Into old age they went, and as life goes, one of them -the atheist- came down with a terminal illness. Of course, their bond of friendship meant that the believer was right there at his beloved friend’s bedside as he began to pass away.

“My beloved friend, since you are dying, wouldn’t you like to make peace with your creator in order to save your soul? It is the most important thing you could ever do, and this it seems is God giving you the moment to do so.” the believer asked his dying friend. The answer he received was not one he was expecting. He replied:

“My dear friend, you know I love you in return, and in all these years we have known each other, your company and kindness has been a great source of warmth and comfort in my life.
But why, O why, would I want to believe in God? Why? I will not. For in all the many years we have been like brothers, your faith was not even so important to you that you would share it with me. If what you have in God is so very precious and important, why did you never share it with me? No, it is nothing.” And thus the man went to his death.

Our silence will be the death of many. If we say that people hate  Christians and their faith, we have no excuse. I tell you that there are not tens, nor hundreds of people in this country or in the world who hate our faith and our Church. No, there are thousands and millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the faith and the Church to be, because of us and our negligence. If they had heard of the faith and what it truly is, then it would be on their heads, and our conscience would be clear.

Is sharing our faith an easy thing? Of course not. I believe I  explained that a bit at the beginning. But holding any ideology as an absolute objective truth in this day and age will set people against you, no matter what. I mean, if you are breathing, you will get criticism.

An old Aesop’s fable tells it best.
The story is told of a grandfather and his grandson making their way into town with a donkey.

The young boy was riding while his grandfather walked along beside. One man muttered, “Look at that - that little boy is so self-centered in making his grandfather walk.” So they traded places.

Another shouted, “I can’t believe you are making that little boy walk - he is so young.” So they both mounted the donkey at the edge of town.

Someone else hurled another criticism, “I can’t believe your incredible disrespect and cruelty toward the donkey, in making him strain under the heavy weight of both of you.”

So they walked into town-carrying the donkey.

In sharing our faith, we will receive slander and argument. The faults of others will be attributed to you, and yes, you may well suffer. But this is the life that we are to live. “Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” We have to believe that. 

My friends, we become that which we love. If what we love is immoral, deplorable and base, then we become that. But if we love that which is good, virtuous and holy, then we become that as well. It is a well known axiom that if we don’t behave as we believe then we’ll end our days believing as we behave. If we do not take sides against evil, then even our silence is an acquiescence to it. It is a horrible truth that in our day, those who believe in an objective truth and Orthodoxy,  lack fire and conviction, while those who believe in secularism and militant Atheism are full of passionate conviction.

If we struggle and zealously strive for holiness, then Christ -Who is within us- will be so obvious and manifest to those around us that our normal daily lives will be bright fiery beacons of evangelization. At that point our witness will be our lives. Look at any Saint, holy person or elder; their life is so imbued with grace that there is no need for them to go out and preach the Gospel. Their holiness is obvious, and the people in need come to them!

We are light in the world. We must shine brightly! When the world comes to us in many ways and asks “Who is Christ? Are you a Christian?” We must with all zeal respond with “The Son of God, the Creator and Savior of the world! and By the grace of God, A Christian I am!” And this cannot be spoken out of rote memory, but out of sincere belief and heartfelt love for the merciful Lord Who wishes that all would be saved and come to the knowledge of the Truth.

We are few, and with the pressure of the world we are losing numbers. The people may or may not be standing in the church, lighting candles, and some of them have given up inside. They need good strong yeast to leaven and rise the bread of their hearts. They need a fire to light their candles. 

With God’s help may we shine that light of Christ to warm the bread, to light the candle. May we be the apostles we are called to be. Amen.
GOC-Orthodox priest, Fr. Photios Cooper in Portland, Oregon

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