Sermon for the feast of the falling asleep of St. Anna
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
Let us take a moment to ask ourselves, ‘where does the future of our Church lie?’ Let us ask ourselves ‘when we are dead and buried, what will the future of Orthodoxy be?’; and ‘who will bury us when we depart this life for the next?’ The simple answer to these questions lies in the children of our community. They are the future of Orthodoxy. Ultimately, they will be the ones to continue the work of Christ on this earth, to continue the work of the Holy Apostles, to uphold the torch of Orthodoxy in this land, to uphold our heritage. For this to take place, what then, is required of us, and what role do we play in preserving our Church’s future?
Our role is to nurture and provide. God, the author of life, compels us to not only nurture and provide our Church’s future with the material necessities of this world, but we are also compelled to provide that which is eternal. It is our role as responsible Christians to ensure the spiritual wellbeing of our youth, to ensure their spiritual education. To do otherwise is to bring about the downfall of Orthodoxy, in this Church, in this community, and in the world.
One prime example of a person, who accomplished the ultimate spiritual nurturing of a child, is Saint Anna, the mother of the most holy Theotokos, the grandmother of the Saviour of the world. Today we celebrate the dormition, the falling asleep of the earthly grandmother of our Lord Jesus Christ. This woman was the vessel of the vessel that made possible our salvation, that made possible our entry into the kingdom of heaven. Today we honour a woman who knew her priorities were in raising her daughter to love God and keep his commandments, today we honour a provider who modelled herself on the ultimate provider of all, our Heavenly Father.
The life of Saint Anna and her husband Saint Joachim was recorded by St. James the adelphotheos (”brother of the Lord”) in a book not included in the Holy Scriptures called the Protoevangelion of James (Iakovos). According to this account, Saints Anna and Joachim lived a life of constant prayer, humility and moderation, but they could not conceive children. For a couple to be childless in those days meant that people thought you were cursed by God, and therefore considered worthless. Greatly troubled by this, and fearing that they would die childless, they still persevered in their constant prayer and fasting. Finally God provided them with a miracle and Saint Anna gave birth to a girl at the advanced age of 58.
Seeing this as an act of God and the answer to their prayers, Saints Anna and Joachim made a promise to dedicate the young girl named Mary solely to God. As the young girl grew, Saint Anna took it upon herself the task of instructing her in the basic principles of faith. When the Panagia was 4 years old, both Saints Joachim and Anna entrusted her to the care of Anna’s brother in law Zacharias (who was the high priest and father of Saint John the Baptist). So the Panagia lived out her childhood within the confines of the Temple in Jerusalem until she was 11 years old when her parents departed this life for the next. Saint Anna was 69 when she reposed in the Lord.
While it may seem sad that Saint Anna should leave her daughter as an orphan, she in fact was participating in God’s great plan. Having educated Mary herself, and having let her grow up in the temple, Saint Anna was preparing the way for the coming of the Messiah. Ultimately, without knowing it she prepared the way for our salvation.
Never underestimate the strange and mysterious ways that God works; the ways in which God makes things ‘fall into place’.
Saint Anna in the Orthodox Church is known not only as the patron Saint of women who can’t bear children, but she is also the patron Saint of children’s religious education. And what better patron of religious education than a woman who knew her priorities, who knew her duty was to the spiritual growth of her child, and who provided spiritual food for the girl who was to be the greatest woman that ever lived, who was to become the Mother of our God.
In today’s gospel reading, we hear of the miracle that Christ performed with the feeding of the multitudes. We hear of the insensitivity of the Apostles who wished to send the crowds away to buy their own food. But our Lord knew His priorities. As Christ is God, it is only natural for Him to provide physical provisions for His creation, as well as the provision of spiritual food. Therefore He performed this miracle and multiplied the food out of compassion for His creation.
To use a contemporary contrast for this reading, we can equate the attitude of the Apostles in this instance, who wished to send away the crowds to get their own food, to indifferent parents who take no responsibility when it comes to the spiritual well being of their children, who leave a child’s religious education solely in the hands of the Church. What an absolute tragedy it is when certain parents discourage their children from showing an interest in things ‘religious’. Certain parents even go out of their way to discourage a child when he has an inclination toward the priesthood, or when a girl shows an interest in monasticism, and see their child as some sort of religious fanatic. Five hundred years ago, it would have been seen as a great blessing on a family if their children were this way inclined, but unfortunately this modern secular world has clouded our vision. Today all things religious are assigned to Sunday morning only and the religious education of children are assigned only to the Sunday school.
Christ provides material and spiritual necessities in this life, but it is up to us to work with Him in synergy. Saint Anna is a perfect model of the parent who provided the necessities of life for her child -both material and spiritual- in total cooperation with God, in total synergy. Saint Anna is the perfect model of a parent who encouraged her child. Let us use her as a model for the parent who raises a child to become the perfect Christian. Don’t discourage your children. Encourage. Provide. Work with God, not against him; for the sake of our children, for the sake of our Church, and for the sake of its future and our children’s future.
Rev. Nicholas Brown
Assistant Parish Priest of The Dormition Of Our Lady – Mt. Gravatt (Q.L.D)
Sermon for Palm Sunday
Throughout the entire history of the known world, men have conquered other men. Rulers have conquered cities. Emperors have conquered entire nations. At times, Kings have strived to conquer the entire world. But there remains one uncharted territory that has eluded men of power all throughout history. This unconquered territory is the human heart, and its sole conqueror is Christ the king.
Today we celebrate together one of the great feasts of the Church calendar- the feast of Palm Sunday. Today we gather together to celebrate Christ’s entry into the city of Jerusalem. Today we celebrate Christ as the king who enters our own personal Jerusalem- our hearts. Today’s feast day is a momentary feast of joy and celebration, because tonight we begin the final leg of our journey towards Pascha. Our mood changes from one of joy this morning to one of solemnity, almost of sorrow this evening as we lead up to the great sacrifice that Christ performed for us on the cross.
The feast of Palm Sunday has been celebrated in our Church since the earliest days of Christianity, but the use of Palms in connection with religious celebrations goes all the way back to Old Testament times. Oddly enough Palm trees did not grow around the city of Jerusalem, and people would often buy imported Palms for religious celebrations, in particular The Feast of Tabernacles celebrated at the temple in Jerusalem. The Palm branch was used as a visual tool proclaiming the sovereignty of God as the true king of the Israelites.
With the expectation of the Messiah, and the events of Christ’s ministry on earth, word travelled quickly around Judea that Jesus was the one whom the prophets had spoken about and whom everyone was expecting. Yesterday Christ performed a miracle by raising Lazarus from the dead, the miracle that foreshadowed his glorious resurrection next Sunday. Now everyone is convinced that this is the Messiah-king who will save the Israelites. And Christ fulfils the prophecy of Zachariah, entering Jerusalem on a donkey. All of Israel is preparing to go to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover, and Christ enters also as the salvific king who will save Israel not from the tyranny of the Roman Empire, but from the curse of death through His own death and resurrection.
For Orthodox Christians around the world, we celebrate these events as they happened not only in the past, but as they also happen today. We celebrate Christ as the king who enters our hearts, our own personal Jerusalem. But is Christ able to enter? Is there room in our hearts for Christ to rule as king? Often the doors of our hearts are locked. Often Christ is unable to enter because there is already another king of the heart – ourselves. And how do we solve this problem of trying to let Christ in? How do we instil within ourselves the one thing that is missing- God?
The answer is to surrender. Surrender to the will of God. Surrender your life to the one who gave you life. We are constantly bound and held captive by the temporal things of this life. We are prisoners of our own selves, of this world, of our careers, of money, of the politicians who rule over us, we are even slaves to our own passions. The only way to find peace, to find true happiness, to experience true love is to surrender yourself to God, to make Him your king, to live in total communion with Him. And the way in which we turn our hearts from the kingdom of the self into the kingdom of God is through constant daily prayer, reflection, and meditation, frequent Holy Communion, frequent Confession, reading and understanding the Scriptures. So many people complain that they can’t find time to come to Church, they can’t find time to pray and read the Scriptures, they can’t find time to fast, or go to Confession and Holy Communion. The reason they don’t have time is that they are slaves to their own selves, to their own will. If we don’t have time for God, then why on earth should God have any time for us? But God always has time for us. He is constantly knocking at the door to our hearts, to our lives and asking to come in. Some of the Church Fathers go so far as to liken God to a crazed lover who constantly seeks to be with the one that He loves- us, and who would do absolutely anything to be with the people that He loves.
Today, as we receive our Palm branches at the end of the Divine Liturgy, let us take them to our homes and place them somewhere where we can always see them. Let the Palms remind us that Christ is the king of our families, that Christ is the king of our hearts, that Christ is the only true answer to happiness and meaning in our lives. And if we do proclaim Christ as our king, let us try and make time for Him in our daily life, let us be reminded that He is the one with whom we will be spending eternity. Let us be reminded that our careers, our education, our finances, our homes, all of the basic material needs in our lives are only temporary. Let us prioritise and place Christ the king as the primary concern in our lives. It is only when we have done this that we will find true peace and happiness in such a confused and complex world. Amen
Rev. Nicholas Brown
Assistant Parish Priest of The Dormition Of Our Lady – Mt. Gravatt (Q.L.D)
Sunday of All Saints
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
Let me pose a question. What are we doing here tonight/today? Now let’s think… did I come to Church because I want to worship God… did I come to Church to have Holy Communion… did I come to Church because it’s a good place for a social gathering… did I come to Church because it’s tradition? To answer the question of what we are here for, let me first state that the whole idea of ‘Church’ is not this building that we gather. While it may be ‘a’ church, it’s not the Church. What makes up the Church is you and I, and what makes up the Church, the Body of Christ, are the millions of Orthodox Christians worldwide who gather in unity to worship the One True God.
So why do we do it? Well let’s look at the meaning of the word Church. In Greek the term for Church, when translated into English means to call out, to call out to the faithful to gather together, and to call out to the heavens and to ask for God’s mercy. Ultimately the Christian life is a calling for each and every one of us, a calling to attain what we call theosis, to attain intimacy with God, to participate in his energies. What this means ultimately is that we are called to become saints! That’s right, you and I are called to join those invisibly present with us here now, whose images we see on the walls of our Church building. Many of you are thinking now ‘how could I possibly become like Saint Nicholas or Saint George or even the greatest Saint of our Church who is the Theotokos, the Virgin Mary?’ It’s not as hard as we think. After all these people were mere body and soul just as you and I are, but they chose to dedicate their everything, body and soul to God (the sole purpose of our existence).
On the Sunday of all Saints (commemorated on 5 and 6 June), we remember those that have gone before us, who have fulfilled God’s plan for humanity here on earth, who took up that call from God to join Him, and the many who suffered greatly and died for their faith. It is on these days that we not only commemorate those saints who are well known to us, but we also commemorate those who’s names we don’t know. As is known, every single day of the year with exception to the major feast days of Christ and the Theotokos, is celebrated with the memory of a myriad of saints, with the calculation of the day being the day on which they passed over into eternal life. However, it should also be remembered that each and every person, who attains the Kingdom of Heaven, through the grace of God, is essentially a saint! Even departed loved ones have the possibility of attaining sainthood. While we don’t specifically assign the term of ‘saint’ to them, we still pray and hope that one day them, and those of us alive on this earth, will be together. For, those whom we do honour as official Saints, have been recognized at this level because we are certain that because what they had done on earth and their Christian has verify their entry into the heavenly kingdom (by the grace of God).
Today is also the day on which many who don’t actually have a known patron saint who’s name they share in our church will celebrate their name-day. On the topic of who would make a candidate for a Saint in our church, we can see from the icons on our church walls that our Saints came from all different walks of life. We have Saints who were doctors, soldiers, bishops, monks, priests, nuns, kings, queens, married couples, whole families who were killed for their faith, and we even have repentant prostitutes as saints of our church. Could you imagine for a moment the girls that solicit themselves in the most degrading manner actually becoming Saints of our church? Also, age is no barrier, and this is something that is relevant to the youth of our Church. Many of the Saints, and especially many of the martyrs, were teenagers and young children. For example, the Apostle and Evangelist Saint John the Theologian, the same one who wrote the Gospel bearing his name and the book of revelation, was only a youth of around 14 years old when he was chosen by Christ to become one of the 12 disciples. Even the Mother of God was a mere teenager, according to the tradition of the time, when she gave birth to Jesus. Furthermore, Saint Markella, was only a child when her pagan father martyred her for her faith because he wanted to use her for incestuous relations. Ultimately, through the great sufferings and tortures that the martyrs endured they were able to attain a special position in God’s kingdom, a special position in our Church, which is God’s kingdom on earth, and a special position in our hearts; the place where we need to make manifest the Kingdom of God.
Having said all of this, what are the terms and conditions for attaining sainthood. We have just noted that you don’t need to be young or old, you don’t need to be a bishop or a nun, and you certainly don’t need to walk through life trying to display actions of false piety and pretending that you wear a shinny halo around your head! Christ tells us in today’s gospel how we are to become saints. This is how:
1. We must confess Christ before all people. This means that we don’t hide our faith as if it’s something to be embarrassed about. Don’t wonder what people might think if you go to Church every week. Don’t fell ashamed to make the sign of the Cross in public. Furthermore, don’t disregard the practice of praying or reading the Bible as if it’s something that either only priests or religious fanatics do. We have Orthodox Christians 2000 years of tradition, and God who loves us very much. It’s not something to hide, it is something that should make us happy and proud, and it is something that we should wish the whole world was a part of.
2. We need to place Christ and to love Christ before anyone else that we love. We need to love Christ more than our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, wives, and husbands! This is often a sore point with many Christians and it is quite a hard condition to fulfil. However, what we need to do is to focus our attention on Christ and to focus our love toward Christ. After this is done, love for one’s family members follows naturally.
3. The final point of taking up ones Cross and following Christ is interconnected with the second above. The message of Christ often creates sharp conflicts and divisions within families due to people’s unbelief and total disregard for the Creator. To carry one’s Cross to the end, the true Saint must be prepared, if absolutely necessary, to sacrifice even family relationships. The true Saint must also be prepared to endure the hardships that this world brings.
So there are three key points: confessing Christ, loving Christ above everyone else, and taking up one’s cross and following Christ.
Finally, an elderly pious monk known as the elder Paisius, who has since gone to his rest, upon visiting Australia in 1977 when he came out from Mount Athos in Greece made the following comment, “Many problems exist here in Australia, because this land has not as yet brought forth a saint”. He also said, “I believe though, that even Australia, in the future, will bring forth Saints, from within so many faithful who fight the good fight here, and then things will change…” Wise words from a man who himself may one day be canonised. Who knows? Maybe one day an icon of yourself may adorn our church walls!
Rev. Nicholas Brown
Assistant Parish Priest of The Dormition Of Our Lady – Mt. Gravatt (Q.L.D).
Sermon for the Sunday of Saint Thomas
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Christ is risen!
This greeting, which we use so frequently in the 40 days following Pascha every year, seems to many of us to become merely a greeting and nothing more. It becomes ‘something you do’ as a Paschal (Easter) tradition, something akin to the greeting of ‘Merry Christmas’ around the feast of the Nativity. However, let us look for a moment at what the real meaning behind this salutation is. To begin with, the whole concept of Pascha and the Resurrection of Christ is one of the most central and fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith. The great Apostle Saint Paul, in his first epistle to the Corinthians, states, “If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain … if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins”. In other words, if there is no Resurrection of Christ, then Christianity is the biggest lie ever told, and we, and all those that have gone before us, have to be the most gullible fools that ever walked the earth. If we choose to term ourselves as Christians, and discard or even ignore the Resurrection of Christ as some kind of myth or fairytale, then we really need to opt for a completely different religion and way of life. That is how important the event of Christ’s resurrection is to our faith and us.
Acknowledging and confessing Jesus as the Christ or the Messiah is also equated with the Resurrection and the fundamental belief of Christianity. It was man who was the first to die, but it was the God-man, the Theanthropos who died in order to raise up fallen man, and who Himself resurrected after His necessary death on a cross. So the first part of the Paschal greeting ‘Christ’ is in itself an expression of faith, of us confessing Jesus as the Christ, the Saviour, the Messiah. The second part ‘is risen’ is a confession of Christ in the here and now.
Throughout the hymns and prayers of the Orthodox Church, we always use the term ‘today’, and various other words to denote an event as happening now. For example at the end of the doxology, before the liturgy commences, we chant ‘today salvation has come to the world’, as if everything was happening right here and now; so too with the Resurrection of Christ. We don’t commemorate the Resurrection of Christ as something that happened nearly two thousand years ago, we celebrate the Resurrection as a timeless event that happens for us now. In fact, we celebrate Christ’s Resurrection every single Sunday in the Church calendar. This is why the hymn of the small entrance, when the priest proceeds through the church holding the gospels up high, is based solely on the Resurrection, and on Sunday the book of Gospels always has the icon of the Resurrection instead of the crucifixion facing upwards. This is why we call this Sunday of St. Thomas Antipascha. This is not translated as anti-Easter, but it is the first instead of Easter- instead of the great celebration that we experienced last Sunday, that we continue to celebrate every Sunday of the year until the great celebration of the Anastasis, the Resurrection greets us again next year.
Therefore, we say Christ is risen, replied by Truly He is risen, as if His Resurrection is an immanent event in our lives. We don’t say Christ rose, or Christ has risen, as if it is a distant concept to us, but we confess the Christ who is present with us here and now.
The truth of Christ’s Resurrection is becoming more and more the topic if debate among various groups of Roman Catholics, Protestants, and other Christian sects, while within the secular world the idea of Jesus rising from grave is totally disregarded as some type of myth created by the church to give a more God-like credibility to Christ. Many non-Orthodox Christians (and I use the term non-Orthodox with both upper and lower case ‘O’) are claiming forthright that Jesus never actually physically rose from the dead. They also claim that all those testimonies recorded in the New Testament of the 500 that saw Jesus after the Resurrection, as well as the 12 Disciples and the myrrhbearing women, were just ways of saying that Jesus was living on in their hearts. This is the same sort of thing you say when a loved one goes to their rest. In fact there are so many theories around from scholars who claim themselves as credible authorities that would make your head spin. Theories ranging from a conspiracy by Joseph of Arimathea to take down the body of Christ off the Cross before he had died, to the wrongful death suit where Simon of Cyrene who helped Jesus to carry his cross was accidentally crucified instead of Jesus, and has Jesus popping up 3 days later to witnesses. Moreover, who could forget the theory that all of those who saw Christ after the Resurrection had actually ingested hallucinogenic mushrooms and only thought they saw Christ who was dead and buried?
Thank God, and I say this with all of my heart, that the Orthodox Church is the last remaining bastion of the fullness of the Christian faith. This includes without any doubts, faith in the actual Resurrection of Christ, and the last remaining bastion of Christian faith where absurd theories are not thrown around as if to make a mockery of this most exceptional event in the life of Christ, and indeed in our lives. Sure enough each and every one of us at some stage in our life will be like Saint Thomas in today’s Gospel, where we will question certain things sometimes to the point of doubting. To question things about your belief is a sign of a healthy attitude toward your faith, because obviously you are not doing what so many in the Church seem to do; that is, to take their faith for granted. It actually shows that you are showing an interest in something that is an important part of you. However, don’t go out of your way seeking or justifying with signs and proofs. That is the whole experience of faith, to seek and to know within your heart that your faith is the ultimate truth, and don’t ever forget it. Let’s take the example of Saint Thomas who didn’t need to put his finger into Christ’s side, but confessed openly that Jesus is his Lord and God. Then when we have done this, we will know that it is you and I that Christ was talking about when He said, “Blessed are those have not seen and yet have believed”.
Rev. Nicholas Brown
Assistant Parish Priest of The Dormition Of Our Lady – Mt. Gravatt (Q.L.D)
Sermon for the Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Many a time we have heard the Scriptural passage that says, ‘Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends’. We can view this passage in a new light: Greater love has no one more than God who became man, Who laid down His life for His creation, and Who left behind a symbol of hope as a result of this sacrifice (the Holy Cross). Today we commemorate the middle of the season of Lent with the celebration known as ‘the veneration of the Cross’. It is on this day that we have reached a mountain of hope after travelling along the long hard road of Lent. It is this mountain of hope that offers us strength to carry on until the feast of feasts finally arrives. It is this mountain of hope upon which we can climb up and see the coming of Pascha in the distance. This mountain of hope is the Cross.
Today we venerate the Cross of Christ to not only remind ourselves of the coming of His crucifixion and Resurrection, but to gather strength from it and to thank Jesus Christ for what He did for us on the wood of the Cross. Let’s ponder on the symbol of the Cross for a moment. What a profound paradox this symbol is. An instrument that was used to kill people on becomes the instrument of salvation. It was through this instrument that Christ died, but it was also because of this instrument that Christ was able to defeat death, to rise on that first Pascha, and to open for us the gates of paradise.
On the topic of crucifixion it is a well-known fact amongst historical and medical circles that Roman crucifixion was the most cruel and painful form of execution. If you were caught on charges ranging from theft to insurrection and were crucified for it, you would be fortunate if you were dead within a few hours. This was the case with Jesus, and the two thieves who likely died by asphyxiation considering the type of crucifixion that they underwent. Sometimes the unfortunate ones hung on a cross for up to a week before death finally came. Not only would these victims starve and become exhausted but they would also attract a variety of animals and insects from the area that would slowly pick at the victims. Yet, our God was willing to undergo this cruel and humiliating form of execution for our sakes. Holy tradition relates to us that many of our Saints died by crucifixion. For example, St. Andrew the First Called was crucified on a cross that resembled the letter X, and St. Peter was crucified upside down because he did not consider himself worthy to be crucified in the same manner as his master.
The instrument of death that becomes the symbol of life is everywhere. It is around our necks, on top of the church, behind the altar, on top of the iconostasis, on the priest’s vestments, in our homes, in our cars, on flags and coats of arms. Its even on the koliva and above grave sites as a reminder to us that because of the death on the Cross, the dearly departed can now enjoy everlasting life.
Jesus tells us that if we wish to go after Him we too must take up our cross and follow. This means that we must suffer with Him in truth and love, that we’ve got to live through the trials and tribulations that this world brings to us, and that we must endure the rejection of this world. We are rejected for being Christians, for living a Christian life, for standing before the world and saying “I believe in Jesus and follow his teachings”. This means that we must put into practice the life that Christ Himself lived, the life that Christ Himself is, the life which is given to us in Christ’s name in the Church. Then will we gain the life that awaits us.
This is why we venerate the Cross of Christ, which tells us of God’s coming to us and of our return to Him, both accomplished by the way of the Cross. This is what we venerate and contemplate in the middle of great lent, the wisdom and the power of God as Christ crucified on the Cross. This symbol tells us the truth about life. It tells us of the truth and love of God for the world, and it tells us what we must do to be alive for eternal life in God’s kingdom.
Furthermore, Jesus chose this symbol so that he could outstretch his arms and embrace the whole of humanity with his love even in pain and death. If you can see the image of Christ crucified standing behind the altar you will notice that Christ is not withering in pain with a look of despair on His face as you see so often in Western religious art. However, He has a look of peace and serenity on His face exactly because he is embracing us with His love. He is triumphing over death through His death. He is saying to us ‘I did this because I love you and I want you to be with me for eternity’. There is no greater love than this.
As we witness the procession with the Cross on this day and we go forth to venerate it let’s think to ourselves ‘thank you Jesus for dying on this symbol for our sakes. Thank you Jesus for leaving us this symbol of hope. Thank you Jesus for opening the gates of paradise for us with the Holy Cross’.
Rev. Nicholas Brown
Assistant Parish Priest of The Dormition Of Our Lady – Mt. Gravatt (Q.L.D)