`Sunday December 19 - St Nicholas of Myra
Luke 17:12 – 19 The Ten Cleansed Lepers
Sermon by Fr Nicholas Karipoff
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Everybody is happy to receive the gifts of God. But not many people acknowledge Him and reciprocate His giving by giving Him the sacrifice of praise. This is illustrated by today’s story of the ten lepers who were healed, and only one of them came back to thank God. Does God require our thanks and praise? No! He doesn’t need it; he doesn’t need anything at all from us. We need it! A relationship can only be established and work when it’s two-way, not when it’s all one-way… give, give, give. St Paul reports to us the words of Christ, in the Book of Acts (which are not recorded in the Gospels – as John writes there are many words from Christ that aren’t recorded in the Gospels), that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
Today’s humanity only wants to receive. It walks away from God like the nine lepers in the story. Are we sometimes with them too? Or are we with the one who came back to thank the Lord? When we walk away, the gifts cannot last. We can walk away with a gift, but the gift won’t last. Then we feel fear, anxiety and we get depressed. St Paul teaches that Christians have to be in the state of joy constantly. How is that possible? There are so many difficult things in life. The answer is given to us when we reverse the order of that saying: rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and thank God for everything. If we reverse it, we see that we must begin with thanksgiving, then learn to be connected to God through constant prayer. Now to be connected to God that way doesn’t mean we necessarily have to be saying many prayers, but our spirit must be connected with Him. We have to remember about Him. That’s the beginning. That ensures a state of happiness, of spiritual joy. This lifestyle is illustrated by one of the most glowing images of sanctity - today’s saint, St Nicholas. And of course, it’s illustrated in the lives of all the saints. Let’s learn to be like the Samaritan leper in today’s Gospel story, who came back to thank God. Let’s establish a proper relationship with God by reciprocating the many gifts that we receive from Him with the gift of thanks and of acknowledgement, the gift of thanks and praise.
For instance, how thankful we should be to come to church in an almost-normal situation, something we haven’t seen for such a long time, when everybody who wants to come to church can come. I think some of our people, especially some of our elderly parishioners, don’t know about this and that might be why they’re not here. But the thing is, we have to be careful not to rest on our laurels. We’ve received this gift, now God looks to see what we do with it. We can come to church as many times as we like, and as many of us as we like. Are we going to come? I fear that unfortunately the lockdowns have made us complacent about staying home or thinking we can’t make it to church. Well, now you can! This gift has to be used properly. We also have to keep thanking God and connecting with Him, so that this gift lasts. Otherwise, we’ve walked away with the gift and it will disappear. We must not let this happen. Because when we walk away, we will again experience that fear and anxiety which Christians should never feel. It’s a symptom of disconnectedness from God. When we’re connected, when we live the life of thanksgiving and prayer, the joy of Christ will always be with us. This is the real joy of life. Life is the greatest gift of God. Life is meant to be enjoyed, but in a proper way, not in a hedonistic, materialistic, carnal way. When our whole being, beginning with our spirit, rejoices, then it’s normal and valid to have the other joys and the other consolations which even monastics talk about. We can have them, but first let’s earn the joys of life, the greatest gift of God.
Sunday December 12
Luke 13:10 – 17. A Woman Healed on the Sabbath
Sermon by Fr Nicholas Karipoff
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
In today’s story, we hear about a woman who was severely bent over. Her back was bent so much that she couldn’t look up at all. In that sense, she was like an animal. No animal is able to stand upright, to stand vertically. The Holy Fathers say that human beings are different to animals, because human beings do stand straight. With our whole posture we point to heaven, to our spiritual homeland. We are called to work in this direction, towards heaven. After the Lord had healed the woman, the ruler of the synagogue challenged him because He had healed her on the sabbath. The Lord answered that the woman had need of healing on the sabbath, to set her free from this severe infliction caused by the devil.
There has been constant warfare since the day when our forefathers stretched their hand to the forbidden fruit, to the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. They were tempted, and they accepted those sweet temptations. The Lord rejected these same temptations in the desert when He came to restore the damage that had been done by our forefathers, who accepted food as being something primary to their life. By doing this they also accepted all the passions associated with the aesthetic side; as I mentioned recently, in the culture of imperial Rome, this was referred to as bread and circuses. Food and entertainment. The third temptation of Christ in the desert is about the worship of the devil. Adam and Eve did not formally bow down to him, like he had said to Jesus in the desert: Fall down and worship me and I’ll give you power over the kingdoms that belong to me. But they did believe the devil more than they believed God. They believed the liar who said I’m going to give you the secret of how to become like gods.
History has seen periods and fluctuations where humanity has become more and more enslaved spiritually through its falling, through sin, as well as periods when people rose from this. There are a number of examples of enslavement in the twentieth century because of ideologies. I’m talking about the communist ideology and to a lesser extent - but it’s also an awful beast - the Nazi fascist ideology. Ideology mimics religion. Ideologies appear when religion and faith are lost. Some sort of an ideology attempts to replace this vacuum in the human soul. I remember my father, a long time ago, referring to Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin as the gospels of communism because they were treated and presented as such, as the good news to humanity. These ideologies were built around humanism. Humanism is something that goes back to the world of antiquity and was overcome by Christianity but then resurfaced in the Renaissance, around the fifteenth century and has been growing since then. In the late 1980s and early 1990s there was a fall of communist ideology, and the fall of communist socialist regimes in Eastern Europe first, and then in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and the republics of the former Soviet Union.
But for many decades another ideology has been growing which goes further than humanism. In the last ten to fifteen years especially, a number of thinkers, intellectuals and philosophers have been worried about the appearance of this new ideology which can be broadly termed trans-humanism. Trans-humanism is changing the human being into something that is not human anymore, using science and technology to alter the physical and mental state of human beings. Humanity will no longer be able to go through cycles of falls and rises and overcome ideology, just like it did in the past, including during the twentieth century. If human beings become more like animals they will not be able to rise, to look up to Heaven. Human beings will be like this poor woman in the story, whose whole posture spoke of domination and enslavement by the devil.
That is a great danger for humanity of the future; and maybe not so distant future, because the technology is already here. Look at what happened during the 1940s with the Manhattan Project, the development of the nuclear weapon. Some of the physicists that were working on this project warned the American government not to go ahead with it, not to test the bomb. They said, look, we don’t know how the chain reaction works. What if the chain reaction transfers from these atoms of uranium and plutonium into the atoms that make up the air, and the chain reaction begins to spread through the whole atmosphere? These were serious physicists. Serious scientists were warning humanity in the same way very serious thinkers today are warning society of trans-humanism because the ideology is already there. There’s such a total loss of desire for God and such a belief in the power of humanity and the power of science that the danger is already here.
I’m not just saying this to scare you. There are enough scary things around. At the moment people are terrified of the virus and this fear is not disappearing. There’s something spiritually wrong about that fear. It’s a great challenge to the church to stand up to these fears, and to the spiritual transformation of humanity to make it into an animal-kind of breed.
We need to pray, and our prayer must come not from hysterical fear, but from a peaceful state of the soul, a humble and loving state of the soul where we love everybody, and we do not enter into ideological fights with other people, especially in the church. This is happening in the world; families are being divided in the secular world. But it must not happen in the church because the church is the only chance of the world to stop these destructive processes developing further and further until there is no way back. We know that God is not going to allow this and eventually He will intervene, of course, to stop this destructive process. But it’s better that we take the spiritual iniative. We need to do it, because we’re called upon by our Saviour Jesus Christ to be His co-workers. We are like the gardeners on this earth, we have been entrusted with this earth to create a paradise. We’ve lost the original paradise; we’ve lost the Garden of Eden. But Christ has enabled us to return to it, and the return is through the church, the return is through the Life of Christ. This is our calling.