True Joy Is Found At The Cross

As the church calendar nears the celebration remembering the recovery of the most precious cross which once bore our Saviors body, we remind ourselves that the pagans were once again defeated in their effort to hide any memory of Christ. Even after burying the cross deep in the Earth the Roman Emperor Hadrian erected a Roman pagan temple to the goddess Venus and once finished, 300 years of pagan sacrifices were offered there.

 

The Empress St. Helen in 326 had the pagan temple destroyed as she bleached Jerusalem, the city of peace, of its pagan whores and the precious life-giving cross was recovered as well as the other two crosses of the thieves; that which brought life in abundance could no longer be hidden. St. Helen found a rare fragrant flower growing there which has been named “Vasiliko” or Basil which means “of the King”. Underneath this Basil the true Cross was found as well as the sign with inscription which read “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” and also the four nails which had once pierced our Lord’s body. To this day, we adorn the Holy Cross with fragrant Basil, a flower of royalty, reminding us of this event.

 

In her quest to find the site where our Lord was crucified she was unsuccessful but continued to search. St. Helen didn’t give up! And we are reminded in the Gospel reading about the Canaanite woman who would not give up either. Our Lord did not answer after her first plea but she did not give up. She continued to plea with more determination and refused to give up! Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, great is thy faith! Let it be to thee as thou wilt.” And her daughter was healed from that hour. [Mt. 15:28]

 

Determination and trust, don’t give up! For the Lord has given you a reason for joy. He has sacrificed His body, hung on a cross in great humiliation and incredible pain amongst the common crooks, so that you and I can one day experience great joy. And with great anticipation we long to hear our Good Sheppard say: “Welcome Home!” Don’t give up, hold on to Christ, He won’t let go! “For God did not send forth His Son into the world in order that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. [Jn. 3:17]

 

Whatever sins keep tempting you over and over again can be defeated at the foot of the Precious Cross. The One who sees and knows everything about you is here with you fighting for your salvation! You are not alone, you are loved! Not the kind of human love filled with insecurities and demands but a Divine Love that is perfect, an uninhibited love that defeats death by death, and a love so rich that it took the keys to Hades, shut and locked the door and freed its captives.

 

Joy has come to the world! “The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17 

Glory to Thee Oh Lord, Glory to Thee!!!

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller 9/23/2018

GOOD MEDICINE

I can still hear the words from my mother’s mouth “OPEN WIDE”. I was not sure what it was I was going to be receiving but I knew it wasn’t going to be candy, but then I also trusted that my mother wanted what was best for me. In her quest to keep me healthy, I on occasion had to swallow some distasteful medicine, and on occasion some fried liver and cold Brussels sprouts but that is another story! Mom didn’t want me to suffer and trusted the good doctor’s prescription and only needed my cooperation, open wide and swallow!

 

When it comes to suffering, sometimes I feel like a tall lightning rod rising up touching the sky in the midst of a violent electrical storm! Yes, at times my struggles seem to be more than I can possibly bear! But any good lightning rod is well grounded and able to take an enormous amount of violent attacks. And we Christians are to be well grounded anchoring our souls to the Lord of Creation cooperating with His efforts in our salvation. St. John of Kronstadt wrote: “God is always stronger than evil, and therefore always conquers. Everything is possible unto those who believe and trust. We must struggle and conquer.”

 

We pray in our evening prayers: “Help Orthodox Christians to struggle” and what we are really asking for is to be a taller lightning rod amidst our storms with a better connection to ground though our trust in our risen Lord, open wide! We in the Russian church hear the word “podvig” and it is difficult to fully define. But mostly podvig means a spiritual struggle or a battle between our earthly scarred sinful bodies and our salvation seeking souls.

 

Saint Theophan the Recluse defines our total Christian life as αγώνας (agonas) (struggle). He says that the spirit hates sin, while the flesh dwells in it. How is this battle within ourselves to be won? Through αγώνα (agonas-spiritual struggle) of bringing the soul into mastery over the body and according to Saint Theophan “all the Saints accept the only true path to virtue to be pain and hard work…lightness and ease are a sign of a false path. Anyone who is not struggling, not in an agona, is in spiritual delusion” (The Path to Salvation).

 

Sometimes we find the path to being a well grounded lightning rod as a bit distasteful. St. John of Kronstadt reminds us: “Do not fear the conflict, and do not flee from it: where there is no struggle, there is no virtue; where there are no temptations for faithfulness and love, it is uncertain whether there is really any faithfulness and love for the Lord. Our faith, trust, and love are proved and revealed in adversities, that is, in difficult and grievous outward and inward circumstances, during sickness, sorrow, and privations.”

So then we find that in order to stay spiritually healthy we are to open our hearts widely and trustingly swallow the good medicine that God has sent our way. Remembering the Gospel reading we heard this morning; “And Jesus said to him, “‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.’” [Mt. 22:37] Open wide!

Fr. Gabriel Weller 9-9-2018

LABOR DAY

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers and was established in 1887 by President Grover Cleveland. Labor Day is an annual national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

 

There is another “Labor Day” we Christians celebrate and it happens more frequently! We, the laborers for our Lord are given one day week as a day of rest. The commandment given to Moses says “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.”

 

The Sabbath day is an important day. The One, who formed us from the clay and breathed His breath of life into us, clearly knows what is beneficial for our health. This day needs to be a day of rest and a day that is holy or set apart for God. “Come to Me, all ye who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. [Mt. 11:28]

 

In the ancient Jewish and Orthodox liturgical times, the next day begins at sundown. For the Jews the day of rest is Saturday. For us Orthodox people the day of rest begins after Great Vespers Saturday evening and completes Sunday evening after the reception of the Lord’s Supper. It is a celebration of the resurrection of Christ. In Genesis we read: “Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.”

 

Without keeping this day holy you will eventually need me to come visit you in the hospital when you are overcome with worldly stress and are falling apart or you will build a wall separating yourself from God, placing many obstacles in the way of your salvation and keeping you from your church attendance. We must return to God weekly with penitence and humility and to be renewed by the blood of Christ! If we think we do not need this day of rest then we are placing ourselves above God! “But if thou art willing to enter into life, keep the commandments.” [Mt. 19:17]

 

“For we are God’s co-laborers; ye are God’s cultivation, ye are God’s building.” [1 Cor. 3:9] May you have a blessed labor day this weekend and a blessed restful Sabbath day each and every following week!

Fr. Gabriel Weller 9-2-18