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.