Sermon for Thomas Sunday

April 26, 2009

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

Хритос Васкрсе! Ваистину Васкрсе!

Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ today is Thomas Sunday. In today’s Gospel we heard of Thomas’ lack of belief or faith in the risen Lord Jesus Christ. The Gospel describes how our Lord came to His apostles, when the apostle Thomas was missing, saying to them “peace be unto you.” After giving them peace he breathes on them giving them the Holy Spirit and the ability to forgive and retain sins. When the other apostles report that they had seen the Lord to Thomas, he refuses to believe their recounting of the Lord’s visit. He states that he will not believe until he touches the wounds of Christ. Eight days later, Jesus again appears to the apostles, this time Thomas is present, greeting them again with “peace be unto you.” Jesus has Thomas touch His wounds to bring Thomas to faith. The Gospel then concludes with the Lord saying blessed are those that have not seen the Lord yet believe in Him.

The first thing that we encounter in this Gospel is Christ’s greeting to his disciples. That greeting is “peace be unto you.” This is a common greeting in the East. The Jews often say Shalom or peace be to you when they greet a person. This greeting is often said out of habit and politeness in much the same manner we use our festal greetings out of habit and politeness. We must ask ourselves do these greetings really hold the power for us of what they are saying. Do we really mean “Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!” when we utter these phases?

When our Lord greets his disciples with the word peace He states to them what He brings to them. Our Lord brings peace to our lives through His Love for us. He brings this peace to us as it says in the Psalms “The LORD will give strength unto his people; the LORD will bless his people with peace.” (Psalms 29:11) The strength and peace that He gives to His people is victory over one’s self. As we are reminded in the hymns of Pascha that Christ is the new Adam. Christ as the new Adam is able to bridle the self will of His human nature and follow His Father’s will for Him. In doing this He restores mankind back to the state that God had intended for man. Christ through His resurrection restored man to harmony with creation because man’s will is now in harmony with God’s will.

When we surrender our will to God by allowing Him to be in charge of our lives we experience the peace of the resurrection that Christ gave to his disciples in today’s Gospel. We are reminded of this gift of peace in the Gospel of Saint John “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world gives, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27)

Through this granting of peace our Lord reminds us and His disciples not to be afraid to proclaim the mystery and joy of the cross which is the Resurrection. As the Blessed Theophylact says “the cross has brought peace: now I send you to proclaim it.” In order to give them the strength to remain at peace and proclaim the Resurrection, our Lord gives the disciples some of the gifts of the Holy Spirit by breathing on them. They, as do we, need the strength of the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Risen Christ because as it says in the Gospel of Saint John “the time comes, that whosoever kills you will think that he does God service.” (John 16:2) Thus, we are reminded that not everyone is willing to accept this message of peace. There are those that would rather believe that God is at war with His creation.

Another particular gift that He gives to His disciples that is mentioned in the Gospel is the power to forgive sins. We often wonder why we must come to the Church and confess our sins to the priest. We are told often by the society around us that all we need to do is to confess our sins to God in private. We are often told that the Holy Mystery of Confession is an innovation of men and not scriptural. As we can see from today’s Gospel nothing could be further from the truth. It is through the forgiveness of sins that man is restored to peace and harmony with God. It is through this action that we are taken out of conflict with God and restored to our intended created nature.

The Gospel now turns our attention to belief and faith through Thomas. Thomas is not only brought to belief but, he is brought to faith.

What is the difference between belief and faith? Belief is something that is a mental concept. It is an idea. While faith is the living experience of belief; through faith we know that our belief is true. Faith requires action to transform belief into a living experience so that we may know that our belief is true.

Thomas takes this action by touching the wounds of the Lord. The result of this action is that Thomas is transformed from unbelief to belief and finally faith. Saint Gregory Dialogist tells us about this transformation when he says “When the doubting disciple touched the wounds in his Master’s body, He cured the wounds of our unbelief. Thomas’ unbelief was of more advantage to our faith than the faith of the believing disciples, because when he was led back to faith by touching Jesus, our minds were relieved of all doubt and made firm in faith.” Once all doubt is removed, then the action of faith will restore us to harmony with God and we will be granted peace.

So my dear brothers and sisters in Christ my prayer for you is that you have the peace of the Risen Lord Jesus Christ that you may have a living experience of faith in Him.

Amen.

Хритос Васкрсе! Ваистину Васкрсе!

Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!

Delivered by Fr. Milan Medakovic at Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Church, Youngstown Ohio on Thomas Sunday 2009.


Sermon for Great and Holy Friday

April 18, 2009

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ today we find ourselves gathered together in front of Christ’s tomb. We see the image of His dead body in the tomb that suffered tremendous injustice at the hands of those who were just a few days ago were shouting out Hosanna in highest blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord. As we look at Him we should open our hearts to see how we betray Him each and every day through our sins.

In a way the sins that we commit are crimes against the Master. They are crimes that inflict the wounds of separation from God and His Christ. In a way we are all criminals.

Saint Nikolaj Velimirovic describes that the crimes that we commit against the Savior are likened to the seven different types of criminals that surrounded our Lord at His Passion. Each of us in some way is like one of these types of criminals if we examine our lives closely.

The first to attack Christ is the “father of lies” Satan himself. Satan is the chief of all the criminals. He burns with hatred for the Creator of All. His attack on Christ is through the hands of those who are blind to Christ as the Light of the World. When we inflict wounds upon Christ’s Holy Church out of hatred for Christ or the Church then we become one with Satan. We become a criminal like him rejoicing over the injuries the Church endures at our hands.

The second type of criminals are the leaders and elders of the Jewish people. They are those that have political, religious and intellectual power over the people. They fear the Lord out of jealousy. They fear Him because He is one that is wiser, mightier and better than they are. They fear that as a result of the Lord ruling this world through His law they will lose their positions of authority, honor and wealth. When we place things above the Lord we become like them. Through this type of sin we convict the Lord to death through subtle smiles, the wink of the eye or handshakes that say we know what the right thing to do is but, we are going to follow our own way.

The third type of criminal is the shameful apostle Judas. He is like those of us that are sorrowful for our sins but, unrepentant. Judas was sorrowful over betraying the Master and returned the thirty pieces of silver. However he was not repentant He failed to ask for forgiveness. There are many of us that are sorrowful for are sins but, fail to ask for forgiveness. People that are in this state of mind believe that God could never forgive them of their sin. Rather than embracing the compassionate Lord and receiving forgiveness they prefer to hold onto their sins and come to a bad end like Judas.

Pilate is the fourth type of criminal. His crime is that of indifference. He finds no fault in Jesus but convicts Him of a crime anyway because of the crowd. He is indifferent to what is true and just. We see this when he asks Christ “What is truth?” If we are indifferent about our faith then we become like Pilate by seeking the approval of men over doing what is true and just.

Barabbas represents the fifth type of criminal. He represents the one that has another suffer for his wrongs. Barabbas was a murder convicted of his crimes. When the Jews are given the choice between the innocent Christ and Barabbas, they choose Barabbas. When we allow another to suffer the consequences of our actions we are likened unto Barabbas. Through allowing another to suffer in our place we persecute Christ in a spiritual sense.

The sixth and seventh criminals that surround Christ are the two thieves that are crucified with Him. The thief on His left hand represents the sixth type of criminal, those of us that have no remorse for our sins. He dies railing against God. He fails to accept responsibility for his actions. How many of us spend our time blaming God or others for our sorrows when in fact we caused them ourselves.

The seventh and final type of criminal is the good thief that was crucified on the right hand of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ. He represents true repentance or the changing of the mind through his actions. First he is sorry for his actions. Next he accepts the consequences of his deeds, as he said in the Gospel that he was receiving the just rewards for his deeds to the other thief that was railing against Christ. He then asks for forgiveness when he asks the Lord to remember him in His Kingdom. It is by having a humble and contrite heart that our Lord forgives him. The thief knows that he is not deserving of God’s mercy but receives it anyway, when the Lord says to him today you will be with Me in paradise.

Through the actions of this last type of criminal we are assured that if we follow the path of the cross we will receive salvation. This criminal discovers that his greatest strength comes out of his humiliation on the cross. Out of this humiliation the good thief receives a type of the resurrection. He is restored to his rightful place in God’s kingdom. Christ makes this possible for the thief, and all men, to reenter paradise through the example of the humility of His Holy Cross. All men need to do is be humble enough to ask for forgiveness.

We must constantly remember that without a cross; without the struggle and pain of our sins, without the asking for forgiveness, there is no resurrection; there is no restoration from this fallen world back to paradise for us.

So my dear brothers and sisters in Christ my prayer for you is that you be like the good thief and recognize that all the pain that you endure in this life is the self inflicted just rewards of your sin and that you repent of your sin and humbly ask for forgiveness so that you may enter into paradise with our Savior.

Amen

Delivered by Fr. Milan Medakovic at Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Church, Youngstown Ohio on Great and Holy Friday 2009.


Sermon Palm Sunday

April 13, 2009

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,

Sretan Praznik! Joyous Feast Day!

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ today is the Great Feast of the Entrance of Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ into Jerusalem, commonly referred to as Palm Sunday.

Today we stand at the start of the Great and Holy Week. The Church reminds us of this at the Vespers service for Palm Sunday. “Let us hasten O believers, moving from one divine festival to another; from palms and branches to the fulfillment of the august and saving sufferings of Christ. Let us watch Him, bearing His sufferings voluntarily for our sake; and let us sing unto Him with worthy praise, crying, O Fountain of mercy, O Heaven of Salvation, O Lord, glory to You.”

The celebration of the Holy Week begins with the rising of Lazarus from the dead, celebrated yesterday, and culminates with our Lord’s passion and resurrection. We are reminded of this with the Troparion of the feast. “By raising Lazarus from the dead before Your passion O Christ our God, You didst confirm the universal resurrection. Like the children with the palms of victory, we cry aloud to You, O Vanquisher of Death: Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord.”

In today’s Gospel we hear of the anointing of Jesus by Mary, Lazarus’ sister, with the myrrh of spikenard while He is at dinner. Then we hear of our Lord’s triumphant entrance into Jerusalem.

Blessed Theophylact describes this dinner as the preparation of our Lord as the Lamb of God. We are reminded of the preparation for the Passover and the Exodus from Egypt that God directed that a lamb be prepared for the slaughter; “In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb.” (Exodus 12:3) This preparation of our Lord occurs through the anointing by Mary.

In this Gospel we are once again reminded of the relationship of Mary and Martha. Mary is the one that focuses her attention on the Lord. While Martha is the one who busies herself with serving. We should be reminded of what our Lord says of Mary and Martha in the Gospel of Saint Luke by the actions of Mary in this Gospel; “And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)

In this case instead of sitting at Jesus’ feet Mary takes a vial of expensive oil, myrrh of spikenard, and anoints the Lord. This is done to signify Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One of God. Oil was used to by the Jews to anoint priests and kings. The Psalms remind us of this ritual with the following “It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments.” (Psalm 133:2). Thus this ritual performed by Mary reminds us that Jesus is the High Priest and King.

Judas immediately states that this oil should have been sold and given to the poor. The Gospel makes it clear that he says this not out of concern for the poor but that he was a thief. Through these words he makes it clear that his intention was to steal the money that could have come from the sale of this oil. Through these words Judas also reveals that he is willing to betray Jesus for money. This should remind us of what the apostle Paul says to Timothy “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” (1Timothy 6:10)

We hear in the Gospel that many people had come to believe in Jesus as the Christ because of His rising of Lazarus from the dead. We also hear how the chief priests seek to kill Lazarus because he was the cause of this belief in Jesus. Lazarus was persecuted by the Jews so much that he eventually fled Cyprus. He would eventually be appointed as the Archbishop of Cyprus. He reposed again in 63 AD with a peaceful death.

Our Lord then enters into Jerusalem boldly upon the colt of an ass. Saint Nikolaj Velimirovic states that there is a reason that Christ rides upon the foal of an ass and not a she-ass. It is because the she-ass represents the Jewish people with their hard hearts and minds that are unwilling to be lead by Christ’s love for mankind. The foal is young and represents the pagan peoples that are open willing and thirsting for God’s love. As you can see we all have a choice to make. We can choose to lead by God’s love to righteousness or we can reject God and follow the path of destruction.

As Jesus enters the people cry out Hosanna in Highest blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord. The word Hosanna is a Jewish word that means O Lord, save now. Only God has the power to save. Thus, the people are confirming Jesus as God as He enters into Jerusalem. These words also confirm that Jesus is the one that comes in the name of God the Father. As it says in the Gospel of Saint John “I am come in my Father’s name.” (John 5:43)

These people are overjoyed as our Lord enters Jerusalem because they know that God is going to do something great to deliver His people. They do not know what it is but, as they see the events unfold they realize that Jesus has not come to establish an earthly kingdom as they were hoping. He is not doing His will or theirs but the will of the Father. Thus, they become disillusioned and in a few short days the same people are shouting crucify Him, crucify Him. How many of us do the same thing when things are not going our way in the Church, many just turn our backs on His Church and walk away. If we are particularly bitter about something we work very hard against the Church.

So my dear brothers and sisters my prayer for you that you may continually shout out Hosanna in the highest blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord; so that you may know Him as your Savior.

Amen

Delivered by Fr. Milan Medakovic at Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Church, Youngstown Ohio on Palm Sunday 2009.


“Vision of Heaven and Hell” Part 7-Final

April 11, 2009

Continuing with the final part Dushan Jovanovich’s “Vision of Heaven and Hell’ part 7

When this vision ended, I woke up soaked with sweat and was so tired I could not move. The watch beside me showed 6 pm. Still under the strong influence of this vision, joy and fear alternately passed through me. I thanked God for permitting me to see all this. Lying so helplessly and thinking about all I saw in the last six hours, my hand suddenly moved toward my face and I crossed myself. The fatigue nailing me to the bed suddenly disappeared and I rose full of joy. After freshening my appearance I went to the monastery Zica to get the books my angel told me to buy.

Except for one handsome monk, there was nobody in the monastery. I found out later that he was father Gerasim. After I kissed icons and lighted candles, I approached the book shelf and asked father Gerasim to give me the first four in the row. In addition to these, I bought two more books which I liked, “Orthodox Missionsary” and “Saint Sava’s Bell” which had the face of Most Holy Mother of Christ with Jesus Christ on the cover. I was about to leave when the monk asked me most politely from where I came. Fearing that I might reveal my recent experience, I answered him rather rudely, “That is not your business!” I turned away and left the church. The books I bought on the advice of my angel were:
1. Orthodox Book of Prayers

2. Life of the Lord Jesus Christ

3. Reading Book on Apologetics—Conversion on Faith

4. Small Canonic:
Akafist to the Most Holy Mother of Christ
Canonic to the Angel Protector
Canonic of Remorse

After my return to the health spas, I examined the books and read completely the prayer book and the small canonic that evening.

The following day was a big holiday—St. Peter’s Day. I went to monastery Zica for my first prayer, following eagerly all the ceremonies of the Holy Liturgy. The singing of nuns aroused memories of the sweet singing of angels in heaven’s churches. My soul filled with the sweetest spiritual joy. I thanked the Lord for bringing this change into my sinful life. I thanked him while before my eyes appeared my past life at various moments, troubled, sinful, and terribly empty. There was no light and there were no moments of consolation. These memories caused me deep sadness. I could not endure when the church started to vibrate from the solemn and glorious song “Ize cherubs,” which announced the most sublime moment of the Holy Liturgy. I felt as if something burst inside my chest. I clenched my heart, but my eyes, the last barrier, could not hold anymore. My tears broke through and I felt as if an angel was washing my besmirched soul. The tears dropped into my open wounds and my soul sang: Glory to Thee, Oh Lord, Glory to Thee! My spiritual balance was established in that moment and I left the church serene, light, and spiritually satisfied.

The remainder of my stay in the health spas was competely devoted to my spiritual transformation. My old habits, like walking, listening to drinking songs, and other tendencies were left on the deserted street to wait in vain for my return. I spent my time in prayer, reading books, and thinking of all that happened to me. After returning home, I abandoned reading coffee cups, stopped telling dirty jokes and participating in shallow conversations. I was kind and I smiled, but I preferred to be alone vividly remembering my experience. I could not get the words of apostle Peter out of my head, who told me to use the remaining years of my life for my salvation. I was very careful in the following three months not to tell what had happened to me. I could not sleep during the night and spent much time reading, praying and crying. I fasted rigorously, and asked my wife to prepare lean meals for me on Wednesdays and Fridays, but she and our son could eat whatever they wanted.

It was very strange that my wife never asked me about my regular fasting which began upon my return from the health spas. The first time she asked was two days before three months were to elapse—during the time when I could not tell about my vision. While eating lunch my wife asked, “What happened to you? In the last three months you’ve become an entirely different person. I cannot recognize you anymore. We have been married eighteen years, and you never fasted once in all that time, let alone on Wednesday and Friday of every week. You don’t read coffee cups anymore. You’ve lost your former sense of humor. You don’t gather the women from our neighborhood to tell them funny stories. What stopped me from asking you about all this, and forced me to prepare your food separately?” Well, God’s might did not allow my wife to ask me anything until the three months were almost over. I told her to be patient for two more days, and then I would tell her everything.

Two days later I gathered my wife, her sister, and my son to hear my story. I told them everything as it happened. They crossed themselves in amaze¬ment; they believed all I said. Without asking their opinion, I told them, “From today I want you to stop cursing. I advise you to pray to God and to go to church. We will celebrate our Slava, Saint Paraskeva, regularly. I also advise you to fast and to take communion, and not to object to my fasting on Wednesday, Friday, and on all other fast days. I also do not want to be disturbed when I pray to the Lord at home.”

My wife and my son promised to stop cursing, to believe in God, to cross themselves before and after meals and before going to bed, and to celebrate Krsna Slava. They did not agree to fast every fast day, to go to church, or to pray in the morning and in the evening. My wife said she would take communion once a year, and that both she and our son would fast on Good Friday, Holy Cross Day, and on the feast of the Decapitation of Saint John the Baptist. I did not attempt to force them to be more devoted to saving their souls, if they did not feel like doing it voluntarily.

Several days later I went to monastery Zica to confess and take communion. Before I decided upon Zica, I thought very long about where I should go. Finally the thought prevailed that it would be best if I went to where all of these things had happened.

When I arrived at the monastery, I asked a nun to tell Bishop Vasilije that I would like to confess and take communion and that I felt the need to do that before him. I told her briefly what had happened to me and that because of my experience I wanted to see the bishop. I soon received permission to do so. When I entered his room, he stood waiting for me. I bowed and said, “God help us!” He answered, “God help us, my son!” Then I kissed the cross in his hand, then his hand, and said, “Reverend, bless me.” “God bless you, my son!” answered the bishop.

He noticed that I was nervous, so with a soft voice he offered me a chair. He asked from where I came, and I told him that I was born in Zakuta, but that I had lived in Kragujevac for a long time. He smiled and said, “You were born in my diocese.” The bishop was further interested to know whether I had a family and where I worked. Then he asked me to tell him patiently and calmly everything that had happened to me. I told him all from beginning to end. While I talked, he watched me attentively and listened carefully. Here and there he crossed himself in amazement and thanked the Lord for his mercy and divine gift, saying “God have mercy! and “My Lord, Your might, power, and mercy are great.”

When he heard everything, he told me that my soul most likely left my body during my vision and that during that time I was dead.

“Are you spiritually ready to confess?” asked the bishop. When I gave a positive answer, he told me to kiss the cross and the icon and then to kneel. The bishop then covered my head with the epitrachelion and said, “Dushan, my son, confess now all of your sins. Do not conceal anything. I will listen and then I will say a prayer for forgiveness. After that you will receive Holy Communion—the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ—and the Lord will forgive you your sins. Speak freely about all your acts of sins, words and thoughts in your entire life. Do not fear that I will tell anyone about your sins. Only the Lord and I will know. We who take confession must keep the secret.”

These.words relaxed me completely, and I told him slowly about all my sins. During the confession I cried, sobbed, and prayed to the Lord and the Mother of Jesus Christ to forgive me, since I cursed both of them. After I told him all the sins I could remember, Bishop Vasilije read the prayers for a long time above my head and asked me several times whether I had remorse for my sins. Crying, I answered him that I repented from the bot¬tom of my heart and my soul, and I promised to stay away from sins. When he finished the prayer, he removed the epitrachelion from my head. I again kissed the cross and the icon. Immediately thereafter, the bishop anointed me and started to read the prayer before Communion.

When I took Holy Communion I felt indescribable pleasure and relief. The feeling experienced after the first real and sincere confessions is impos¬sible to describe. Joy, happiness, satisfaction, and lightness filled and delighted my soul. I felt born again. When I told the bishop how I felt, he said, “Dushan, my son, that is the sign that the Lord has forgiven all your sins. You have been blessed. What you saw and heard is great, and I hope that from now on that you will not sin again.”

I received much useful advice from the bishop. He told me to think about death more often, since one who thinks of death will sin less. He also told me that I should not fear a brief earthly life, because this life is short in com¬parison with eternity. I might live to be a hundred years old, but I should always pray as if I might die tomorrow.

I am very happy that the Lord’s mercy put me back on the road of faith. I thank the Lord from the bottom of my heart and from the whole of my soul for all rewards, reprimands and punishments which he gives me through His Holy Providence.

I pray to the Lord that all who become acquainted with my spiritual restoration may believe in it. I hope it reveals to them, as it did to me, the right road of salvation for their souls.

Have blessing and peace from our Lord Jesus Christ! Amen.