By the grace and love of God, I find myself with you this evening, as I see a worshipping community gathered to praise God's Holy name and to give thanks to God for the many blessings He has bestowed upon us in this life.
It is indeed a wonderful thing to hear and see people come together, not only to give thanks to God, but also to see them live and chant and pray the Liturgy which is given to us.
We come as Orthodox Christians to the Liturgy for a variety of reasons. And as you may know, historically the liturgy developed in time from a variety of services, bringing together especially two elements - The Word (Holy Scripture) and the Eucharist.
And we as Christians - the people of God - are called to study and know His Word. Especially if we look at an example like this evening's Gospel lesson, Luke 6: 27-36. Because there are those of us in this life - baptized Orthodox Christians, who always ask ourselves 'what am I supposed to do as a Christian?' 'How should I live in this world of difficulty and trials?', 'How am I to respond to the calling that I have? And how do I answer the questions in life?'
This evening's Gospel gives us all of those answers. It is a gospel which makes no sense to the logic of the world. To the rational human individual in society, this Gospel is the extreme!
Because the Gospel tells us "Love those who hate you." In our society we don't know how to forgive - we look to get even. Or we say, "I forgive that person, but I won't forget."
True forgiveness means forgetting, and washing the slate clean. So, you see with our rational minds to do these things is almost impossible. And yet Christ demands it of each and every person - if we are to be worthy of this calling. And He demands that the inner person, the universe within us - the cosmos - change. It cannot be that same worldly state - like everything else. We are called to be transfigured and transformed. To alter our own ego and path, and to place our lives on the path of Jesus Christ.
How does this come about? - by breaking the ego - not doing what I want and what I desire but what God requires that I should do in this life, if I am truly to be one of His disciples. And to not just say that I am that and I live that, but we all have to struggle, and we must walk in the path He has given us.
And as St. John Chrysostom reminds us: "Certainly it is sinful to fall, but it is devilish to remain fallen."
No matter where our errors, our trials, our tribulations may lead us, we must always pick ourselves up and continue the journey.
Allow me, please, for a moment to share a story with you. It is a story about two monks. Two brothers who lived far out into the desert for years and years, and had not come into society and had not had any contact with people.
It happened one day that one of the monks said to his brother, "Brother, I will go into the city" (there were some errands to be done). And as he went along his way and entered the city, the monk came upon two people who were arguing - and he was amazed. He had never seen such an experience in his life. And he asked the people who were there what was taking place. And they said, "It's an argument." And he followed it with interest and curiosity. And he said to himself, "When I return to the monastery and to my brother, I must share this example of human existence with him." So he went back to the monastery and found his brother monk and said, "I saw the most amazing thing today in the city. I saw an argument."
And the second monk said, "What is this thing you call an argument?" And the first monk said, "I'll explain. Do you see this brick? I'll take this brick and put it between us. And I will say it is my brick, and you will say 'no it is my brick' and we will argue whose brick it really is."
So the first monk took the brick and put it between them and said, "Brother, this is my brick."
The second monk looked at him and said, "If you say so, brother."
Now we chuckle and laugh, but look at the truth and wisdom in that story. Who amongst us in the argument would say, "if you say so, it must be yours". The second monk had broken his own will and own desire. He was no longer bound by the things of this world. He had gone to another level, he had grown spiritually. That is what we are all called to do. To grow and to develop spiritually. So that the brick which we may pick up and place somewhere in life is not a brick which builds walls, it is the brick which builds bridges and brings people closer together and unites us and makes us the one body of Jesus Christ. And how do we learn this? From another lesson from the monastics:
There was a young monk who went to his spiritual father and said, "Give me a rule by which I should live." And the old man looked around and found a dead branch. And he dug a hole and planted it in the ground. And said to him, "You see this dry branch, water it faithfully everyday."
And the young monk walked several hours to the river to get water and walked back faithfully and watered the dry branch each and every day - faithfully as he'd been instructed. And after two years, miraculously the dry branch blossomed and brought forth fruit. The old man immediately gathered the fruit from the once dry branch and called all the brethren of the monastery to the church and said, "Come and eat from the fruits of obedience."
It we are obedient to the word of Christ, we are no longer dead branches in this world. But we also bear fruit, because God waters us with the Spirit of life. And through us He works miracles. Not miracles that we might hope to see - that we may raise the dead or make the blind have sight. But the simple miracles of life - of giving love to people who need it - of changing society and the course of our world. Look at our world and our world leaders, and where are they taking us, I ask you? The goals of the nations are to produce arms and to gather resources and wealth, and to claim land. And yet the goals of Christians are to love their enemies, to forgive those who have wronged us and to feed the poor and to reach out to those in need. Last night in conversation I gave the wonderful example of Mahatma Gandhi who, in his studies of the world's religions and philosophies, spoke so beautifully and kindly of Christianity. Praising it as perhaps the best of all religions of the world. But he was so sad he never found a Christian.
The values, the goals, the principals, the truths are not just theory, they are meant to be reality. And they are meant to be lived by each and everyone of us. So that as the we change the inner person we may also change the outer world. So we do as Christ says: To forgive those who hate us and to love those who persecute us and to lend to those in need without asking to receive in return. But to give freely because of the love God has instilled in our hearts.
I pray that through this Church, and the Holy Liturgy that was celebrated here tonight, we may all be transformed and changed to God's Holy People, separating ourselves from the ways of the world and bringing ourselves unto union with Christ. Amen.
This sermon was given to the parishioners of
Greek Orthodox Church of Saint George, Brisbane QLD during October, 1999