Beginning the lenten journey.

Homily 489 – 37th APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
March 6, 2022
Epistle: (112) Romans 13:11-14:4 and (331) Hebrews 12:1-10 (Holy 40 Martyrs)
Gospel: (17) Matthew 6:14-21 and (80) Matthew 20:1-16 (Holy 40 Martyrs)
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

I beg your forgiveness this morning. I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to offer a homily to you, my brothers and sisters, in the midst of what is happening in our world.

People are dying. Some physically – from war, from disease, from hunger. And all of us are dying in reality – from separation from God, our Creator and source of all life.

We are in conflict with one another – nations, churches, friends, family. In my lifetime I cannot think of a less peaceful time. Of a less hopeful time.

I’m learning that living without hope, or even with little hope, is that without hope, life gets sucked out of living. Living turns into existing.

We crave many things in life. Some are evil and damaging. Power, admiration, status, wealth – just a few of the damaging things we crave.

But also things that are blessed and holy – the aspects of life illuminated in the Beatitudes, for instance. Peace, mercy, purity, righteousness, meekness.

And in our time, in our situation, mourning.

People ask me frequently, which side is correct? Which side is right?

I’m sure someone else came up with this first, so I don’t claim it as original, but my advice is to look at the outcome – that outcome will identify the source.

If people are more disunited, more divided, than before, then rest assured it is the work of diablos – the divider, the evil one.

If, on the other hand, people are more united, closer together, even becoming One, as the prayer of our Lord asks us to be, then we can be certain that it is of God.

In God, there is no better, nor worse. No one is better than another – no one is worse than another. We are all equal before God. A monastic is not better than a married person. A priest is not better than a layperson. A bishop is not better than a priest.

We are a Church of hierarchy, but the hierarchy is not one of superiority, but rather one of proximity. What does that even mean? Let me explain.

Let’s use the example of the angels. The chief commander of the heavenly hosts is Michael, Archangel. We hear this in several hymns. Yet, in the hierarchy of angelic beings, also called the bodiless hosts, Michael isn’t at the pinnacle.

At the pinnacle are the seraphim, who constantly encircle the throne of God, and the cherubim that go round about singing praise to God Almighty. They are joined by what are called thrones to complete the first rank of the angelic beings. The second – Dominions, Virtues, powers. The third – principalities, archangels, angels.

And Michael, the chief commander of the heavenly hosts, exists in that realm of Archangels, in the third rank.

Those ranks are determined not by value, nor by authority, but by proximity to God, and by their function.

The same concept is active in our world. At the monastery of St. Tikhon’s, where I was in seminary, there was an order or rank to everything. When multiple clergy serve with a bishop, there is an order and rank. However, it is proximity, not authority.

Many monastics, unordained and – quote – “simple” monks or nuns, achieve the greatest level of holiness. Laypeople also. Yet, they are not offered first place in line, so to speak.

The order is about proximity of our role. The best part is that we know exactly where we fit – and, best of all, we are the only ones who fit there. That space is ours to fulfill.

So what does all this have to do with hope, or with Lent, which begins tonight?

I’d like to offer two things that we need to do this lent, to achieve our mutual goal of dying to self and living for Christ.

First and foremost, our world needs to be smaller. The world is too big for us to influence – but our families and neighborhoods and communities are not too big at all.

When I say our world needs to be smaller I’m referring to the attention we pay to it. And honestly, it has very little to do with geography.

Many of us here have friends and family and relationships with people in conflict areas – that needs to be part of our world, and we pay attention to it. It also means that we look to the people we interact with daily and weekly, the people in our immediate geography that we are asked to care for by Christ.

And, if we cannot take any tangible steps to help in a situation, we pray and move on. We should do what we can. Always. Sometimes that is limited to prayers.

Don’t think that prayers are of little use, though. My friend and brother priest, Fr. Stephen Mathewes, has gone somewhat viral with his comments about the value of prayer.

He reminds us that as concerned as we get about situations happening elsewhere – how significantly and deeply they affect us – so too can our prayers have a positive effect elsewhere on others.

The other dimension to this is that we need to be able to trust that God will deliver us from madness, and war, and division. We do what we can where we can – but we must have faith that God handles everything we cannot.

To think that we, individually and even corporately, are the only ones who can effect positive change in a situation is the height of arrogance and pride and – dare I say it – hubris.

So, we begin great lent with the service of forgiveness, and begin our season of repentance with our contrition. May God show his Love and Mercy for us, and on the whole world, delivering us safely into the Kingdom which is in our midst.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.