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This Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Great Lent, we reflect upon the teachings of St. John Climacus or St. John of the Ladder. In his famous work known as The Ladder of Divine Ascent, St. John writes how our life can be perfected in a union with Christ. He illustrates 30 steps that are necessary to reach Jesus and the Kingdom of God. Through these steps, we make changes in our lives that help us to become Christ-like, to experience Orthodox Christian perfection which is to live just as Jesus did.
At work or school, everyone discusses the newest and latest self-help books… identifying ways in which you can grow rich, put your kids through college, make thousands of dollars working at home. However, one of the only books that identifies our daily struggle and work for our salvation is the Ladder of Divine Ascent. The common theme we have heard throughout Lent this year is that we will be judged by our works. As we pass the mid point of Great Lent, let us refocus our Stewardship efforts on our Time, Talents and Treasures. Pray and consider how we can make a difference and let’s remember St. John’s guidance that we “live just as Jesus did” and exercise all of the gifts that God has provided to us.
O holy Father John, with rivers of tears you have made the barren desert bloom, and with heartfelt sighings of repentance you have made your labors bear fruit a hundredfold. O Saint, pray to Christ our God for the Salvation of our souls. Amen.
Today is the third Sunday of Great Lent and the Orthodox Church commemorates the Precious and Life-Giving Cross of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Divine Liturgy includes a special veneration of the Cross, which prepares the faithful for the commemoration of the Crucifixion during Holy Week. Let’s reflect for a moment on the Crucifixion and its meaning. Jesus Christ died for our sins which was done because “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” John 3:16. God’s love for us – our opportunity for eternal life – our Salvation and the hope of living in God’s kingdom are all because Jesus died on the Cross. As we venerate the Cross this Sunday, let us especially think about the meaning of the Cross and ask …how much do we love God? …how much do we love our Church which represents Christ? …how much do we love God for all that he provides for us? Do we love him enough to sacrifice of our Time, Talents and Treasures?
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15: 4-7).
Our Lord’s words in this parable illustrate the reward of coming back to God—eternal joy! And yet, oftentimes we look at our world around us and fall into the distraction of forgetting our own sinfulness. Oftentimes we begin to imagine ourselves as immune to the harm of our sinful endeavors—that we can control our sinful ways—and give ourselves over to the delusions of grandeur that this way of thinking inspires. We want to believe that we experience no ill effects from our sin…
The Prodigal Son of the Gospel wanted to believe this same thing. This is why he joins himself to a citizen of the land of sin—that far country from God—and works to feed swine. This is why he begins to suffer want and hunger. But it wasn’t until he truly was hungry from fasting that he was able to come to himself—that he came to his senses. It wasn’t until he was forced to eat nothing (as no one would give him anything) that he woke up to his surroundings and the consequences of his sinful living.
This “waking up” is an awareness that his sinfulness had truly separated himself from his Father. He fully realized this distance he created with his sinful life, when he cries, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired servants” (Luke 15: 18-19).
We too, my dear brothers and sisters, must wake up to the consequence of our sin. This is why it is so important to care for and prepare ourselves for the Holy Mystery of Repentance. We can confess all of the examples and lists of sins that we have in our lives; but if we have not this awareness of our sins’ consequence and are sorrowful for it—the list means nothing. We must realize that when we sin, we separate ourselves from God—create a distance between us and Him. We must take the time to pray and fast, so that we might be prepared to truly repent—to be sorrowful
And when we do, the reward is awe-inspiring! The reward is partaking of the forgiveness offered by Jesus Christ. The reward is erasing the chasm—that distance—created by our very sin! We have only to revisit the parable of the Prodigal to see the result:of our sinfulness and turn from it. This is the necessary step in the road back to God—this is truly taking care of this wonderful and beautiful gift of Repentance.
“And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.” (Luke 15: 20-24).
The Father welcomes the lost son back to him—not as a slave as the prodigal expected—but as his son! Imagine the overflowing joy of the prodigal—to be welcomed back into the family! Imagine the irresistible joy of the Father—to think He had lost a son and to have found him again! The same is true for every sinner who returns to God in this wonderful gift of Repentance!
May we be inspired to pray and fast, to examine our lives, to come to our senses and repent, so that we too may participate in the Joy of Our Lord, together with His Father, Who is without beginning, and His All-Holy and Life-creating Spirit from this day forth and forevermore!
When you have emptied your heart of earthly love, you will drink in love Divine; and thenceforth, charity begins to inhabit you, from which nothing evil can proceed.
The Gospel reading about the Publican and the Pharisee focuses on humility. In reflecting on these verses, we are asked to consider which person do we typically act like? Are we humble in our actions with family, at work, with fellow parishioners?
In Father Alexander Schmemann’s book entitled Great Lent-Journey to Pascha – he says “Humility – be it individual or corporate, ethnic or national – is viewed as a sign of weakness, as something unbecoming of real man. Even our Churches – are they not imbued with the same spirit of the Pharisee? Do we not want our every contribution. every good deed, all that we do for the Church to be acknowledged, praised and publicized?”
God asks us to consider our Stewardship through prayer and focus on how we will be judged as stewards of what He provides. This should be done with humility, between the Steward and God.
1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Let’s take an example: A beggar comes up to you; it is God who brought him. What should you do? You must help him. God has brought the beggar, of course, desiring you to act towards this beggar in a manner pleasing to Him, and He watches to see what you will actually do …If you do what is pleasing to God, you will be taking a step toward the ultimate goal, the inheritance of Heaven.
Stewardship, and how we use our Time, Talents and Treasures, is one of the positive steps that we can take for our personal Salvation!