Sermon delivered by His Eminence Metropolitan Demetrius on the 18th Sunday after Pentecost, October 11/24, 2021, at Saint John of San Francisco Orthodox Monastery, Cobleskill, NY
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today, we heard concerning the sower in the gospel passage. We should understand the sower to be our savior Himself, and the seed is the word of God.
And the apostles asked our savior, "Why is it that you speak in parables?" and our Savior said, concerning those who are not able to see, that "Having eyes they see not, having ears they hear not."
He wants us to dig a little deeper in order to understand the meaning of these parables.
God does not want His people to be shallow people. He wants His people to be deep. He wants His people to search the scriptures.
He wants His people to understand that in the scriptures you will find life.
And so the sower sows the seed, but some fell by the wayside, some fell on the rocks, some fell on the thorns, and some fell on good ground.
The ones that fell by the wayside are referring to the people who hear the word of God but the devil comes right away and takes it out of their ears.
This is a remarkable thing; I've witnessed this happening sometimes.
In other words, speaking to somebody, saying something very basic, and the person not being able to comprehend.
A person who has cognitive skills, a person who has the ability to comprehend, who has enough of a mind to hear and to learn.
And then there are those seeds which fell on the rocks
And they started to grow a little bit, but then it withered away because there was not enough moisture.
This refers to the people who hear and accept, but in the time of temptation they fall away. It's too much to bear. They don't have the remembrance of death.
In other words, they are living here in a carnal manner, in a worldly manner, in an unrepentant manner, so they are not able to have the eyes to see, nor the ears to hear, to comprehend the severity of the situation.
They think that they're being realistic because they believe in only those things which they see with their physical eyes, not having the ability to see with their spiritual eyes.
Then, there are those seeds which fell among the thorns.
And those seeds also were able to grow a little bit but then the affairs of life, the world, takes away the word.
People get distracted with the world and they forget about God.
Unfortunately, there's a large group of people that fall into this category as well.
A lot of times, those are the people that forget God, but then God sometimes sends them some type of a tribulation, some type of temptation, some type of a sickness, and all of a sudden they remember God.
And then there are those seeds which fall on good ground, that with a good and honest heart.
Our Savior says concerning them that they are able to hear the word and grow.
It's important for us to have a good and honest heart to be able to accept these words.
In fact, this parable is fulfilled in our very ears at this very moment
And every time we hear the Gospel, and every time we are listening to the word of God, and every time we are praying, and every time we are in church, the seed is being planted.
So we must receive this seed. We must work together. We must have synergy with God.
Whereas St Macarius of Egypt specifically, tells us that there must also be rain which gives the seed the ability to grow, and there must also be the sun.
And so in the midst of all this, we work together with the word of God.
We must till the ground, He sends forth the rain, and so on and so forth.
We have to take these things seriously.
Today, we celebrate the commemoration of the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, and we've heard now a lot concerning the spiritual life - but we must also understand the prerequisites and the importance.
The most important thing for us to actually embark upon the spiritual life is orthodoxy of faith, or rather, more specifically, the Church, and even more specifically, the Body of Christ.
You, we, must be members of that body.
Nowadays, people, when they have conversations with their friends, say, "Oh well, you know, I believe this" or "I believe that"; some type of a strange dogma or doctrine which has nothing to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Oftentimes you'll hear, "Well, I believe you must be a good person." Well obviously, we're supposed to be good people. We're not supposed to be evil people. But sometimes, not always, but sometimes, those are people who just don't want to go deeper into the teachings of Jesus Christ.
We as Orthodox Christians, believe things not just because we want to believe one thing or another. We don't control the facts.
Remember we said that a deluded person always controls the facts - He likes to believe whatever he wants to believe.
We have been given a treasure - the faith. And we received it from none other than God Himself, and that's why the Orthodox Christians are so sensitive about preserving that which has been handed down to us, and no one else.
Can you find such a continuation from the time of the coming of our savior Jesus Christ to our very own day? Nowhere else can you find, from a historical point of view alone, besides the spiritual point of view, the continuation of the church of Jesus Christ. The church which gave us the Gospels, the Bible, the New Testament.
Do you see how strange it is for other religions to say, "I believe only that which is written in the new testament, in the Bible", without realizing who gave them the Bible, or who gave us the New Testament
In the first centuries, there were apocryphal books, like the gospel of Peter, the gospel of Thomas
These were not accepted by the church Fathers
And a church council came together and gave us the New Testament, being under the direct illumination of the Holy Spirit, they gave us those books which we have today.
Those same Fathers; the same Fathers who honor the mother of God, who honor the saints of the church, who worshipped in an orthodox manner, who had icons.
And today, in the epistle we heard also, that we should avoid those contentious people who like to bring about a new fight.
They want to bring about some type of a new doctrine, trying to prove that they have some type of an insight which the Fathers which preceded them did not have, as if they have some special gift or discernment; something akin to an ecumenical council.
Sometimes people get together and they think that they've got all the answers.
We don't believe that.
So as we said, we're sensitive about preserving this orthodox faith because if we don't, we'll have a number of people who'd be coming and saying, "Well I believe this and I believe that", basing their beliefs upon some type of a delusion, trying to control the facts.
A person who doesn't want to fast will say, "I don't believe you need to fast." A person who doesn't want to do prostrations will say, "I don't believe you need to do prostrations." A person who doesn't want to bow and humble himself before the images of the church will say, "I don't believe that you need icons."
An icon of Jesus Christ is also an expression of His incarnation.
And the Fathers will go as far as saying, "Denying the icons is like denying the incarnation" because God is indepictable in essence.
But you see that all of us, as human beings, have senses - five senses. And those senses when we are out in the world can get damaged spiritually. They can get darkened. But when we walk into church we see that all of our senses are illumined; they can be enlightened.
Our eyes, when we look at the icons, our ears, when we hear the hymns of the church, our sense of smell when we smell the incense, and finally, we "taste and see that the Lord is good" as we hear in the Psalms. Finally, we taste, we partake of Jesus Christ Himself in the greatest gift of Holy Communion.
Everything else directs us towards that point. All these prayers, all these teachings, all the purification of the senses directs us to one point - to become one with Jesus Christ. To become one with the Holy Spirit. To become one with God the Father. To have God dwelling in us.
So when we come to participate in the Holy Eucharist, we must be prepared because that participation is commensurate to our spiritual state. Where are we spiritually? Have we prepared ourselves?
Read carefully the prayers of preparation for the Holy Communion. You'll see that the Fathers consider that the preparation is actually repentance. All the other things are means. Some people think that a certain amount of fasting will prepare you, and there's a delusion in that because the fasting in and of itself is not going to make you ready; it's going to help prepare you to get to the point. It's not the end; it's a means towards an end.
Confession as well. All these things are important. But essentially God says, "My Son give me thy heart." That's what our Lord wants from us.
"My Son gave me thy heart." He wants to take our heart and He wants to renew it, and He wants to make it His. He wants to refashion it to the ancient beauty, to the ancient image. And He wants us to see God in us. He wants to see the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.
So let us keep these things in mind my beloved Orthodox Christians and let us thank God that He deemed us worthy to be inheritors of this great legacy of this greatest gift ever: to be members of the body of Jesus Christ. And no one can take that away from us and we shouldn't take it away from ourselves either by believing whatever we want to believe especially in the time of temptation.
We cannot control the facts. The facts are what they are. As I said many times, both here in the sermons and also in the synaxis among the Fathers - these words will be verified by God Himself because these are the words which come from, these are, the teachings of the Fathers. These are not teachings of any person or individual person but of the Fathers of our savior Himself.
These words can be verified when we live the life of repentance. We will see how our senses open; how our spiritual senses become illumined. We will see how, by doing those things which have been appointed for us to do by the Holy Fathers, we receive light, we receive grace, we receive illumination, we receive the ability to comprehend more.
Our ears are opened so that the seed which has been planted in us takes root and it grows. And we will behold the growth and we will wonder how did it grow. And we will understand that there are enemies that try to take everything away from us; everything that is good, away from us.
Let us protect ourselves by signing ourselves the sign of the cross, by calling upon our savior Jesus Christ, especially by participating in the Holy Eucharist. Let us prepare ourselves to participate in the Holy Eucharist and let us understand that nothing is like this gift which God has given to us; that He has given to us His only begotten Son, who shed His blood for the sake of mankind; was obedient unto death even the death of the cross. And it behooves us also to follow His example and to be obedient. And in this obedience we will find great grace. We will find Him.
Turning towards the Holy Sanctuary, the Holy Altar looking at these icons, let us open our hearts to the words of scriptures. Let us be receptive to the sower who sows the seed. Let us not be foolish people. Let us not be like the rocks, let us not be like the wayside, let us not permit the thorns to choke up that word which the Lord has planted in us. Let it grow. And it can grow by cooperating with Him who provides all things necessary for our salvation.
May our savior Jesus Christ then grant unto us that we receive the seed of faith, the seed of the word of God, the word of God Himself. That He enter into our ears and through our ears that He penetrate into our hearts, and that we discover Him and know Him, and learn to live for Him, and learn that all those delights which we see in this world are passing, fleeting, and will not remain. "Moth and rust doth corrupt" it; those things which are in the age to come will remain unto eternity. Those things may the Lord prepare for us so that we also even as we worship Him here, and even as we hear His word here, and even as we are receptive to His seed here, may be deemed worthy to be members of His heavenly kingdom since the church is both terrestrial and celestial, may we also worship Him there with one mind, one heart, together with the angelic hosts and the saints of God.
And let us all cry out from the depths of our hearts, together with the thief, "Remember me oh, Lord, in thy kingdom." Amen.