Saint Maximus, Bishop of Turin in Italy – Two sermons on Zacchaeus.

Sermon 95. On Zacchaeus{1}.

1. It has been my frequent wish, beloved brethren, to preach on the parable from this section of the Gospel and to speak of the grace of the wealthy Zacchaeus in words of great eloquence and to be abundant in praise of him, since he was free-giving for his own salvation. For who would not praise a person who was able to give his own wealth to himself and to acquire everlasting dominion for himself by owning temporal property?{2} He gave his wealth, I say, to himself, because what we possess is another’s if we do not use it properly for salvation{3}; for whatever seems to be mine will not be mine when I depart from the world if it is kept from being useful to me in the world.

It has been my wish, then, to preach on Zacchaeus’ wealth and grace – that of a rich person, clearly, and of one for ever rich, because he merited to be richer to Christ than to the world, and he was wealthier in the possession of faith than in temporal goods. Zacchaeus must be praised, then, because although the rich are excluded from the glory of the heavenly kingdom (as the Lord says: It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 19.24)), he hastened to enter into the kingdom of heaven by means of those very riches and to pass through that strait and narrow needle’s eye with the twisted mass of his body. What is a ruinous hindrance to others was profitable to his salvation.

17.02.2024Read more

Saint Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica – Homily on the meeting of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ including the subject of chastity and its evil opposite.

1. Before Christ we all shared the same ancestral curse and condemnation poured out on all of us from our single forefather, as if it had sprung from the root of the human race and was the common lot of our nature. Each person’s individual action attracted either reproof or praise from God, but no one could do anything about the shared curse and condemnation, or the evil inheritance that had been passed down to him and through him would pass to his descendants.

2. But Christ came, setting human nature free and changing the common curse into a shared blessing. He took upon Himself our guilty nature from the most pure Virgin and united it, new and unmixed with the old seed, to His divine person. He rendered it guiltless and righteous, so that all His spiritual descendants would remain outside the ancestral curse and condemnation. How so? He shares His grace with each one of us as a person, and each receives forgiveness of his sins from Him. For He did not receive from us a human person, but assumed our human nature and renewed it by uniting it with His own person. His wish was to save us all completely and for our sake He bowed the heavens and came down. When by His deeds, words and sufferings He had pointed out all the ways of salvation, He went up to heaven again, drawing after Him those who trusted in Him. His aim was to grant perfect redemption not just to the nature which He had assumed from us in inseparable union, but to each one of those who believed in Him. This He has done and continues to do, reconciling each of us through Himself to the Father, bringing each one back to obedience and thoroughly healing our disobedience.

15.02.2024Read more

Saint Maximus, Bishop of Turin in Italy – Sermon given after Epiphany.

Sermon 65. Given after Epiphany{1}.

1. I believe that my preaching on the holy day of Epiphany reached all of you, brethren, especially you catechumens. In it we spoke to those who assert that water was changed into wine then{2} and also to the many who testily that the Lord was baptized in the Jordan on that day{3}. Although it is believed by different people that only one of these took place, nonetheless I hold that both took place and that one is a sign of the other, for both took place. For when the Lord was baptized He instituted the mystery of washing and also, by contact with the Divinity{4}, changed the human race – brackish water, as it were – into an eternal substance. Likewise, when He turned the jars full of spring water into wine He did both things: He presented something far better to the wedding feast and also showed that, by the washing, the bodies of human beings are to be filled with the substance of the Holy Spirit. The Lord declared this in clearer fashion elsewhere when He said that new wine was to be stored in new skins{5}, for in the newness of the skins the purity of the washing is signified, and in the wine the grace of the Holy Spirit.

2. Therefore it behooved you catechumens to have listened to this quite closely. There is greater need that your understanding, which is now as chilly as water because of ignorance of the Trinity, should become as warm as wine with a knowledge of the mystery, and that the brackish and weak liquid of your souls may be decanted into a precious and strong grace. Thus, instead of wine we may taste what is good and be redolent of what is sweet, and hence we can say, in the words of the Apostle: For we are the good odor of Christ to God (2 Cor. 2.15). For a catechumen is like water, cold and pale, before he is baptized, but a believer is strong and red like wine. A catechumen, I say, is like water, having no taste or smell, valueless, useless, unpleasant to drink, and unable to keep{6}. For just as water spoils and smells when it is kept a long time and has deteriorated within itself, so also a catechumen becomes worthless and goes to ruin when he remains a catechumen a long time, for he deteriorates within himself{7}. As the Lord says: Unless one is born again from water and the Holy Spirit he will not enter into the kingdom of heaven (John 3.5). The one who does not enter into the kingdom, however, necessarily remains in hell. But rightly is the faithful compared to wine, for just as every part of the whole creation goes to ruin as it gets older and only wine improves with age, so, while all are perishing of old age from throughout the human race, only the Christian improves with age. And just as wine acquires a pleasant savor and a sweet odor as its bitterness diminishes from one day to the next, so also the Christian takes upon himself the wisdom{8} of the Divinity and the agreeable aroma of the Trinity as the bitterness of his sins diminishes with the passing of time.

21.01.2024Read more

Saint Maximus, Bishop of Turin in Italy – Sermon on Epiphany.

Sermon 64: On Epiphany{1}.

1. There are very many who, on this holy day of Epiphany, commemorate the marvelous deeds enacted by the Lord at the time when, upon having been importuned at a wedding feast, He changed the substance of water into the appearance of wine and, by His blessing, turned spring water to a better use{2}. The servants who had drawn water from the wells discovered wine in the jugs and, by a profitable loss, what they had filled them with disappeared and they found what had not been there. With this marvelous sign the power of His divinity was made manifest for the first time.

Some, however, refer on this holy day to His having been baptized by John in the Jordan{3}. In the grace of His washing, God the Father was present in voice, and the Holy Spirit came down. Nor is it remarkable if the mystery of the Trinity was not absent at the Lord’s washing, since the sacrament of the Trinity{4} makes our washing complete. For the Lord had to demonstrate first in Himself what He would afterwards demand of the human race, since He accomplished everything not for His own sake but for our salvation. Or did He wish to be baptized on his own account even when He had no sin? As the prophet says: He did no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth (Isa. 53. 9). But [He was baptized]{5} for our sake – we who, subject to punishment because of our many crimes and sins, needed to be cleansed in Christ’s baptism. And therefore the Lord came to the washing not so that He Himself might be purified by the waters but so that the streams of waters might purify us, for He went down into the waters, thereby destroying the sins of all believers. But it was necessary that He who bore the sins of all should destroy the sins of all, as the Evangelist says: This is the lamb of God, this is the one who takes away the sins of the world (John 1.29). In a wonderful way, then, one man goes down into the waters and the salvation of all is restored.

19.01.2024Read more

St. Amphilochios of Iconium – Homily on the Circumcision of Christ and Basil the Great.

Saint Amphilochius, Speech on the Eight-Day Circumcision of Our Lord Jesus Christ, with a panegyric, in a few words, for Basil the Great.

The Law is a Shadow

The great Paul declared that the written "Law possesses a shadow of future good things, not the very image itself" (Heb 10:1). For it is just so with painters who have set their sights on the original form and the living shape: first, using black pigment they carefully outline the form of their subject in shadows on the canvas. Then, artfully mixing up different colors, and casting them in shadow and light, they clearly display the original shape through imitation of its form.

So too the Law of the Spirit, just as in living forms and pure objects, envisions the good things prepared in heaven for those who are worthy: now the shadows and types of these things, through Moses and the Old [Testament], were faintly sketched out beforehand. But through Christ and the New [Testament], the teachings of piety and truth, indeed cast to such an extent in very florid and bright colors, have been set before the eyes of those who see the brighter form of celestial and unseen good things. Just as when the form has been arranged in colors, and has received its proper beauty, the shadow which was laid down is hidden and passes away: so now while good things have been hidden in heaven, when later they are revealed, the same image of the things, passing away, will cease to be.

As it is written, “Then the prophecies will pass away, then forms of knowledge will cease: for we know only partially, and we prophesy only partially. But when completion has come, then what is partial will pass away” (1 Cor 13:8-10). So therefore the old things have gone away, while all the new things have come to be; and the shadows and the types have passed away, while the images of things themselves have suddenly become visible through the grace of the Spirit and the apostolic wisdom of God, let us disregard the rest of the legal types, and the shadows: let us have regard instead for the finely etched form of the things itself.

14.01.2024Read more

Saint Maximus, Bishop of Turin in Italy – Sermon given before the Birthday of the Lord.

Sermon 61A. Given before the Birthday of the Lord{1}.

1. Even if I should be silent, brethren, the season warns us that the birthday of the Lord Christ is very near, since the extreme conclusion of the cycle of days has anticipated my preaching. For by this very brevity the world tells us that something is about to happen by which it will be restored to a better state, and with increasing longing it wishes for the brilliance of the shining sun to cast light on its darkness. While it dreads to have its course come to an end because of the shortness of the hours, it shows by a kind of hope that its year is to be formed anew. This longing on the pan of creation (Cf. Rom. 8.19), then, also persuades us to long that the new sun{2}, the risen Christ, may cast light upon the darkness of our sins, and that by the power of His birth the sun of justice (Cf. Mal. 4.2) may scatter the protracted gloom of sin in us; and it persuades us not to let the course of our life come to a close with shocking abruptness but to let it be extended thanks to His power. Therefore, since we know the birthday of the Lord because the world points to it, let us also do what the world is accustomed to do; that is to say, just as on that day the world extends the period of its light, so let us also prolong our righteousness. And just as the brightness of that day is common to poor and rich, so let our generosity also be common to travelers and needy folk. And just as the world has then thrown off the gloom of its nights, so let us also cut off the darkness of our avarice. And, as is the case in the winter season, just as seeds are sustained in the ground when the frost is broken up by the sun’s warmth, so let the sluggish seed of righteousness in our hearts grow strong when our hardness is broken up by the Savior’s radiance.

09.01.2024Read more

Saint Maximus, Bishop of Turin in Italy – Sermon on the Birthday of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sermon 62. On the Birthday of Our Lord Jesus Christ{1}.

1. Well it is that people frequently call this day of the Lord’s birth “the new sun” and assert it with such force that even the Jews and pagans agree to the name{2}. This should willingly be accepted by us, since with the rising of the Savior there is salvation not only for the human race, but even the brilliance of the sun itself is renewed, as the Apostle says: that He should restore all things through Him, whether in the heavens or on the earth (Eph. 1.10). For if the sun is darkened when Christ suffers (Cf. Matt. 27.45), it must necessarily shine more brightly than usual when He is born. And if it poured forth darkness upon the Jews who dealt Him death, why should it not show its brilliance to Mary who brought Him into life? And why should we not believe that when Christ was born a more resplendent sun should come to pay Him homage, since a brighter star went before the Magi as a sign?{3}. And if a star performed a service out of season during the day, why should we not believe that the sun also subtracted a little from the night hours by a speedier appearance?

I think, then, that for these reasons the night waned while the hastening sun, out of homage due the Lord’s birth, produced light for the world before the night had finished its accustomed course. Indeed, I do not even say that this was a night – wherein shepherds keep watch, angels rejoice (Cf. Luke 2.8-20), and the stars attend – or that it had any element of darkness. Nor ought we to be surprised that at the birth of Christ all things were made new (Cf. Rev. 21.5), since the fact that a virgin bore a child was itself a new thing. But, if this birth was out of the ordinary, the homage that was offered was also out of the ordinary. At the birth of the Lord, then, shepherds keep watch, angels rejoice, the sun shows reverence, and a star is in attendance. And the angels and the shepherds speak their joy in their own tongues and in words, but the elements, since they have no voice, bear witness to these joys of theirs by their ministry. The sun, consequently, contrary to custom, shone early in the morning on this festival. Nor is this surprising, for if at the prayer of Joshua, the son of Nun, it stood fixed throughout the day (Cf. Jos. 10.12-13), why, at the birth of Jesus Christ, should it not advance hastily in the night?

08.01.2024Read more

Saint Leo the Great – Sermon XXVI. On the Feast of the Nativity, VI.

I. Christmas morning is the most appropriate time for thoughts on the Nativity.

On all days and at all times, dearly beloved, does the birth of our Lord and Saviour from the Virgin-mother occur to the thoughts of the faithful, who meditate on divine things, that the mind may be aroused to the acknowledgment of its Maker, and whether it be occupied in the groans of supplication, or in the shouting of praise, or in the offering of sacrifice, may employ its spiritual insight on nothing more frequently and more trustingly than on the fact that God the Son of God, begotten of the co-eternal Father, was also born by a human birth. But this Nativity which is to be adored in heaven and on earth is suggested to us by no day more than this when, with the early light still shedding its rays on nature{1}, there is borne in upon our senses the brightness of this wondrous mystery. For the angel Gabriel’s converse with the astonished Mary and her conception by the Holy Ghost as wondrously promised as believed, seem to recur not only to the memory but to the very eyes. For to-day the Maker of the world was born of a Virgin’s womb, and He, who made all natures, became Son of her, whom He created. To-day the Word of God appeared clothed in flesh, and That which had never been visible to human eyes began to be tangible to our hands as well. Today the shepherds learnt from angels’ voices that the Saviour was born in the substance of our flesh and soul; and to-day the form of the Gospel message was pre-arranged by the leaders of the Lord’s flocks{2}, so that we too may say with the army of the heavenly host: “Glory in the highest to God, and on earth peace to men of good will.”

07.01.2024Read more

Saint Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky) of New York, The New Confessor – Sermon on the Entry of the Mother of God into the Temple.

The Holy Church now celebrates one of her great feasts -- a radiant and joyous event in the life of the Church. This is the entry into the temple of the Most-Blessed Virgin Mary, when her holy and righteous parents brought her into the holy temple when -Vie was still quite a three-year-old little Maid, in order to dedicate Her there to God according to the promise that they had given. Many, of course, know in what the essence of this feast consists. 

I will point out some details, which are perhaps not known to all: First, when they brought Her into the temple, there also went with her maidens, little girls, with candles, accompanying Her with the chanting of Psalms, so that there went through the streets of Jerusalem a ceremonial procession, to which doubtless also other people joined. Finally, when they came to the temple of God, the Chief Priest, Zacharias, himself went out to meet them, knowing about the promise of the righteous parents. But here all were struck by the fact that -- while he was still at the top of the steps of the temple, and the steps were many, and they were tall -- the holy and pure Child, without any support, all on her own, climbed up all the steps. And then, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, the chief priest Zacharias did that which at [any] other time he never would have done: he brought the maiden Mary into the Holy of Holies. Now one must bear in mind that a person could not approach the Holy of Holies. Even the priests could not enter therein. And only one day a year, on the so-called day of atonement, did the chief priest enter with sacrificial blood, as though offering sacrifice on behalf of the whole people. But this was not the day of atonement; on this day the Chief Priest could not go into the Holy of Holies, but, illumined by the Holy Spirit, he went in -- and he brought therein the Maiden Mary, and She, as tradition says, remaining in the temple continually, stayed in the Holy of Holies and there an Angel brought Her food and conversed with Her. Therefore the holy fathers said that when the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Her -- an already nearly grown young woman -- in Nazareth with the word of the annunciation, not the very appearance of an angel frightened or disturbed her. She was used to converting with angels -- otherwise it was an unusual greeting with which the heavenly Messenger addressed her. 

04.12.2023Read more

Saint Archbishop John (Maximovitch) – Sermon on the Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross of the Lord.

In the Prophet Ezekiel (9:6), it is said that when the Angel of the Lord was sent to punish and destroy the sinning people, it was told him not to strike those on whom the "mark" had been made. In the original text this mark is called "tau," the Hebrew letter corresponding to the letter "T," which is how in ancient times the cross was made, which then was an instrument of punishment.

So, even then, it was foretold the power of the Cross, which preserves those who venerate it. Likewise, by many other events in the Old Testament the power of the Cross was indicated. Moses, who held his arms raised in the form of a cross during the battle, gave victory to the Israelites over the Amalekites. He also, dividing the Red Sea by a blow of his rod and by a transverse blow uniting the waters again, saved Israel from Pharaoh, who drowned in the water, while Israel crossed over on the dry bottom (Exodus, ch. 14, 17).

Through the laying on of his hands in the form of a cross on his grandsons, Jacob gave a blessing to his descendents, foretelling at the same time their future until the coming of the "expectation of the nations" (Genesis, ch. 48).

27.09.2023Read more