Sermon from Sunday March 20, 2022
Second Sunday of Great Lent; St Gregory Palamas
By Fr Nicholas Karipoff
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
On this day, the second Sunday of Great Lent, the Holy Church celebrates the memory of the great Hierarch of the 14th century, St Gregory Palamas, archbishop of Thessalonika. He was a great theologian and he summed up the traditional teaching from many centuries of ascetic strugglers of the Holy Church who taught about the nature of God’s grace. In the 14th century a controversy arose. Western Christianity developed the idea that the grace of God is a gift separate from God Himself, whereas the traditional Eastern understanding has always been the grace of God is God Himself. The energies of God are God Himself. This difference in understanding is important because it changes the nature of spiritual life. In Western thought grace is separate from God, and is a gift, like a ‘battery’ given to you to energise you and your moral life! But the other view emphasises the Church’s faith in the reality of the incarnation – that God is with us – ever since Christ became incarnate and set up His Church, He is with us. God is with us. God lives in the Church. God does these things through us. The Church – we – are His presence in the world. It’s not just a God Club, a club of nice people who try to be ‘good’ to each other! It’s much more than that. I have an illustration.
I’d like to share a story told to me by my younger sister, Abbess Anna who spent many years in the Holy Land and got to know many clergy and interesting people from around the world.
The story is about a priest’s wife, a matushka, in the town of Vyshgorod, Ukraine. Vyshgorod is a very old town dating back to the nineth century, and was a favourite place of St Olga. A few days ago, the woman was sleeping at home at night when she suddenly woke up because she felt somebody touching her. She woke up in a huge shock. There were two men standing by her bed. They made it known to her that were the first martyrs of Kyiv and Rus, Boris and Gleb. They were the first Kievan saints canonized. Boris and Gleb were the youngest sons of Vladimir, the baptiser of Rus, who were slaughtered by their oldest half-brother Sviatopolk so that they would not rival him for the throne. Boris and Gleb’s mother, Anna, was a Christian, and the sister of the Byzantine emperor. They each foresaw their deaths, but accepted their fates, rather than causing tension and war with their half-brother and his people.
Once Matushka had calmed down, the martyrs said to her, Why is no one praying to us? Why have Ukrainians and Orthodox people elsewhere not turned to these saints to ask for help? This is something we really need to think about. It shows the spiritual state of the world, not just in Ukraine. Boris and Gleb are passion bearers. They preferred to sacrifice themselves rather than fight their brother’s warriors. This is an illustration of God’s grace making people into actual Christ-like figures, because like Christ, they preferred to shed their own blood rather than to shed other people’s blood.
The lesson here is about the nature of love, that there is so little love in the world today. There is so much animosity, so much hatred, and we hear about it from the Lord Himself, that because of the lawlessness, because of the transgressions, because of the sinfulness of mankind, love will disappear. This is the most awful part of the spiritual state of the world today. And these two saints remind us that we should pray and connect with them and contemplate the nature of Christian life. Forget about God Club! Forget about becoming a ‘better person’! We are the Church of Christ; our job is to be Christ’s presence in the world.
I’ve been asking people to take upon themselves a little effort of prayer and to say a kathisma of psalms every day for Ukraine. Please add in your prayers and address these saints, Boris and Gleb, and think about their sacrifice, their act of love. Without the grace of God, without God Himself coming into the life of each one of us, and energising us in a personal way, we will not survive these temptations that have filled the world. No sooner had Covid subsided a little than we became faced with a much bigger temptation, the war in Ukraine. It is a further test of our faith and one that really shows up how little love there is in the world.
On this day when the Church celebrates the memory of St Gregory of Palamas, we are reminded what our Christian life is about. Like St Seraphim said, Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, the grace of God, so that we can manifest Christ. Only Christ-like love defeats death which is present in hatred and all other sins. This cold breath of death is everywhere in the world. The only way to resist it, to win, is with Christ because Christ is the winner. As Christ says, In the world you’ll have tribulations and sorrows, but be of good cheer for I have defeated the world, I have overcome the world.
Prayers to Saints Boris and Gleb
Troparion (Tone 2)
Righteous passion-bearers and true fulfillers of the Gospel of Christ,
Chaste Boris and guileless Gleb,
You did not resist the attacks of your brother, the enemy,
When he killed your bodies but could not touch your souls.
Therefore, let the evil lover of power mourn
While you rejoice with the angels standing before the Holy Trinity.
Pray that those who honour your memory may be pleasing to God,
And that all Orthodox Christians may be saved.
Kontakion (Tone 3)
Today your most glorious memory shines forth,
Noble participants in the passion of Christ, holy Boris and Gleb,
For you call us together to sing praises to Christ our God!
Praying to Him before your sacred images,
We receive the gift of healing by your prayers,
For you are indeed divine healers.
Sermon from Sunday March 13, 2022
Third Sunday of Great Lent.
The Sunday of Orthodoxy
By Fr Nicholas Karipoff
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
Today’s feast, the Sunday of Orthodoxy, in concrete historical terms, celebrates the restoration of the veneration of icons in the year 842AD in Constantinople. The theology of the icon is about the reality of the Word becoming visible and tangible, becoming flesh. It is the love of God incarnate and crucified. Orthodoxy, let us say Christianity as God’s love, has triumphed not only in the year 842 but on countless occasions throughout the two-thousand-year history of the Church.
I’ll give you two outstanding examples. Firstly, the victory of the Church over the Roman Empire in the early 300s. Secondly the victory of the Church over the atheistic Soviet regime in the celebration of the Millenium of the Baptism of Eastern Slavs in 1988.
We are living in times when people might easily say, all you need is love! But they don’t know what love is. There is too much narcissism in our society, because there has been too much good life for too long. But recently our faith and our love here in Australia has faced many challenges; the terrible bushfires of 2019 /20, Covid which reached our shores in 2020 and is still here, the recent devastating floods in NSW and Queensland which have been almost ignored, and finally the devastation and suffering of the war in Ukraine.
I’d like to add a note here that ROCOR, our Church in the diaspora, is connected historically and culturally to Ukraine. The First hierarch that led the Church when it was established in 1920 in the harbour of Constantinople was Anthony, the Metropolitan of Kiev and Galicia, and a number of bishops with him were from the south, including Ukraine. In the period after World War II, some bishops from the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church joined ROCOR. The late Metropolitan Laurus who was the predecessor of our current metropolitan, was a Carpathian Ukrainian. And our current leader, Metropolitan Ilarion, is a Canadian Ukrainian. Our Church and liturgical culture is influenced by Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville which is a branch of the Pochaev Lavra in Ukraine. So even the way we do services here in this parish comes from the tradition of Pochaev. I’m saying all this to emphasise our connection.
What should our appropriate response be to all these challenges I’ve just mentioned, including this last and terrible challenge of the suffering and devastation of war? We are The Church. We are supposed to understand that there is a spiritual reality beneath every thought, every word, and every action. With God, spirituality is constructive. But spirituality can be destructive as well. Human beings, even in their hate and aggression, project a spirituality because we are spiritual beings, but what’s projected then is a destructive spirit. Christ teaches that these spirits of hate, aggression and destruction can only be expelled through prayer and fasting.
We are now in the best time of the Church year for prayer and fasting - Great Lent. As I’ve said many times before, that we should take upon ourselves a podvig, a labour of prayer and fasting for the purpose of overcoming the hate and suffering in the world and especially in Ukraine today. We have successfully done this a year ago when parishioners read a kathsima per day. We had forty parishioners who collectively read the entire Psalter through twice each day, and the parishioners found great help from it. I can guarantee it will help not only us, but further afield, because humanity is interconnected. Yes, hate divides and fragments humanity, but the Church is present in the world to bring the unity and love – the crucified love of God – into the world. That’s what we need to do. We need to inject this love, to give God some space in this world. Where there is hate, there is no room for God. But when we start to fast and pray, the grace of God can come and heal things that are unimaginably difficult to heal. And yet, nothing is impossible for God.
The Church – that is us – as Christ’s love is being challenged to triumph again over hate and death in the world. And that means it has to triumph within ourselves, this crucified love of Christ. Listen to what the Lord Jesus Christ tells his disciples and us at his Mystical Supper; in the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.
Sermon from Sunday March 6, 2022, Forgiveness Sunday
Matthew 6:1-13 The Sermon on the Mount
by Fr Nicholas Karipoff
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Today is Forgiveness Sunday. Today the church remembers how Adam and Eve were expelled from paradise, because they did not seek forgiveness from God. The Gospel reading that we just heard is from the Sermon on the Mount and in this passage we hear about three things. First of all, the need to forgive our neighbour as a condition of forgiveness from God to us, which of course reverberates even in the Lord’s Prayer. Secondly it talks about the true spiritual life, which doesn’t need to parade itself. Thirdly, the Lord talks about our heart and where our treasure is. The spirit of forgiveness shows up who is a real follower of Christ. We have it, or we don’t have it. We’re Christ’s or we’re not Christ’s. The Lord’s last words and deeds from His cross were about forgiveness; his prayer to the Father, Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing, and his forgiveness of the repentant bandit, the Good Thief. Surely these words and deeds are a testament to what is really important for Christ. When a person does not have the spirit of forgiveness, their heart has chosen another treasure, a treasure other than God. And that treasure, of course, can be summed up as their ego and pride. They are deluded and they may even think that they are serving God and praying to God, but in fact they are serving themselves and even in their prayer they address their ego. They parade their virtues, and the result is that they create a hell for themselves. As Dostoevsky wrote, Hell is the inability to love. Let me illustrate this with a passage written in the last few days by a young parishioner of ours.
I feel terror and grief every day, as the news gets worse, and levels of hatred and fear escalate. While the immediate loss of life and the destruction of ways of living occupy my thoughts, I worry about the future. The burning lava of aggressive speech is gaining traction through media and public discourse. At a point where the pandemic should have brought us closer together and more appreciative of the preciousness of the time with our loved ones, and the importance of international cooperation and support, ties have been severed. I feel like it is now the time to come together and pray for peace to end all corrosive conflicts globally. I feel it is also time to examine the hatred and aggression in ourselves towards our fellow human brothers and sisters. Are we starting a war in our daily lives with angry thoughts, burning words or actions, that seek to destroy? More than ever, I feel we need to extend compassion, patience, and kindness, each being a candle of peace in our surrounds.
That’s a touching and beautiful little passage from a young parishioner.
In entering Great Lent, we must commit ourselves to a merciless honesty about our inner life. What is our real treasure? It’s a big question. Are we serving God or ourselves in a multi-faceted way? Do we have the spirit of forgiveness? Are we going to become real followers of Christ? Today’s theme of forgiveness translates into transformation of life. The Gospel calls this repentance, and that’s what the next seven weeks is about as we prepare to greet the Risen Lord.
Prayer for Ukraine
Lord Jesus Christ our God, look down with Thy merciful eye upon the sorrow and greatly painful cry of Thy children, abiding in the Ukrainian land.
Deliver Thy people from strife, make to cease the spilling of blood, and turn back the misfortunes set against them. Lead unto sanctuary those bereft of shelter, feed the hungry, comfort those who weep, and unite the divided.
Leave not Thine own flock, who abide in sorrows on account of their kinsmen, to diminish, but rather, as Thou art benevolent, give speedy reconciliation. Soften the hearts of the unmerciful and convert them to the knowledge of Thee.
Grant peace to Thy Church and to Her children, that with one heart and one mouth we may glorify Thee, our Lord and Saviour, unto the ages of ages.
Metropolitan Onuphry of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine
“Defending the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine, we appeal to the President of Russia and ask him to immediately stop the fratricidal war. The Ukrainian and Russian peoples came out of the Dnieper baptismal font, and the war between these peoples is a repetition of the sin of Cain, who out of envy killed his own brother. Such a war is not justified either by God or by people.”
‘This is not right’: Melbourne’s Russians decry Putin’s invasion , The Age, 25 February 2022
"Like many people of Russian descent living in Australia, Nicholas Karipoff, Archpriest of the Russian Orthodox Church in Melbourne, believes President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine is both unexpected and deeply upsetting.
“We pray for the suffering land of Ukraine in our church,” he told The Age. “They are people who are very close to us. We have Ukrainian families in our church.” "
The Parish Council of Protection Cathedral would like to publicly express the following:
1. Our dismay at the war in Ukraine.
2. Our acknowledgement of the anguish caused to our Ukrainian brothers and sisters, both there and here in Australia.
3. Our wish that our churches locally, nationally and internationally will do all they can to urge the end of hostilities.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9)"
Sermon from February 27, 2022
Sunday of the Last Judgment
Matt 25:31 - 46
By Fr Nicholas Karipoff
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Today’s reading about the Last Judgment that we just heard is all about love. Our life here on earth is given to us to choose the love of Christ, of God and to love our neighbour as ourselves. This is the choice that God wants us to make. Back in 2020 I spoke of coronavirus as a crisis, and I remind you that the word crisis originally meant judgment. That crisis – or judgment - began to show whether we have love for Christ and our neighbour. We have sinned by being impatient with other people, and with their opinions about the virus and everything that went along with it. There is nothing more painful for parents to endure than to see their children feuding. This applies to spiritual relationships even more, and there is no greater sadness and pain for the pastor than to see people in church begin to feud with each other.
Right now, we have an even greater test of our love. Another crisis and judgment. I’m talking about Ukraine. Firstly, as I’ve said many times before, our problem is that we have had it too good for too long and we’ve become insensitive. Our hearts have a sort-of layer of fat that makes them insensitive. Right this minute our Orthodox brothers and sisters in Ukraine are hiding in underground shelters and in metro stations because of the street fighting. One of our Ukrainian parishioners sent me a clip about a building that was hit by a rocket. Glory be to God it was evacuated so there were no casualties in that building. Think of the young soldiers, both Russians and Ukrainians, the young conscripts. They don’t want to fight or kill other people. They don’t want to stand in the front line to be shot at. It’s awful. And these are largely Orthodox people, how sad this is for the Church. We Christians can talk about geo-politics and national interests in abstract, alienated terms, but here we have Christians who are really hurting. We have been praying for the suffering land of Ukraine since 2014.
Challenges are allowed by God to make us grow in love, to make us become more mature in spirit. I’ll give you a quote from Fr Seraphim Rose: In the time ahead (he died in 1982) the devil will be using every chance to get true Orthodox Christians upset at each other over matters big and small. We must firmly try not to take the bait.
It is not our job, and in fact it’s impossible, to figure out really what is happening in the murky waters of big politics, because it’s all so convoluted and contradictory. It is time to remember that traditionally the allegiance of all the Eastern Slavs was to Christ first, and then to the tribe and nation. This is evident from the form of address they used for each other around the 16th and 17th centuries; they used to address each other as “Christians”, not “Russians” or “Ukrainians” or “Byelorussians”. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being patriotic. But some things are more important. When I began my pastoral work in the church at Collingwood in 1981, I started saying things which may have been somewhat jarring to some people; I told the parish, this church is not a Russian club! In the decades since then, our Church life has developed and moved away from that. It might be understandable for migrants in the early decades of their life in a new country to stick together with their compatriots, but now we, one would hope, are more mature, able to build a Church life together with people from many different backgrounds.
To return to today’s Gospel about the Last Judgment, it is a reminder that each one of us will have to give an account of what we did with the gift of love we were given. Did we turn that gift, that energy, towards God, to Christ and to our neighbour? Did we love our neighbour as ourselves, did we feel our neighbour’s pain? Or did we turn the gift of love inward and become egocentric, greedy, and selfish. Instead of being God’s obedient flock, did we become the selfish goats, like in the reading?
Brothers and Sisters, I call upon all of you to pray for the quickest possible cessation of these hostilities and bloodshed. It is damaging not only on the level of respect and friendship between the nations, but even more so, it is damaging on the spiritual level, to Church life. All Orthodox Christians need to pray for the peaceful resolution of this awful tragedy.