Sunday Of Orthodoxy– The Triumph of Orthodoxy

First Sunday Of Great Lent
Can any Good thing come out of Nazareth?
Come and See!
In the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today, brothers and sisters, is the first Sunday of the Great Lent, the Sunday of Orthodoxy. The Church wants to tell us some things. Indeed we should come to Church always with the expectation that God will teach us something, whether it be something we learn with our mind and consciously understand, or something that penetrates the soul, and helps us in an unseen way.
A most important statement for a Christian to understand in this particular gospel reading, even after He has lived the Christian life for some quite some time is:
"Come and see".
Is not Great Lent always a period of time when, with all the fasting and the longer services and the time of the year being more intense, there more temptations?
Don't we sometimes have doubts?
Don’t we have difficulty?
I don't know a person who does not have them, and as a priest I can say this with sincerity, because I know so many of you so well … we all have doubts, we all have difficulties, we all have temptations.
The Lord says "Come and See". The Church says “Come and see”. What is She telling us to “come and see?”
The question which preceded this instruction (and more than this - also a promise, a pledge, and a rallying cry) by Nathaniel to Philip was:
"Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?"
Now this can be understood in a historical sense in that Nazareth was city of no account and unimportant; a backwater. Could anything good come out of Nazareth?
But the spiritual meaning of the text, is that Nathaniel asks, "Can anything good come out of my Nazareth? Out of my Heart? Can I be changed? Can I be made whole?"
This is the question that He asks for us, because we ask it of ourselves.
Now I am talking only to Christians here, to those who have at least begun to believe, begun to lead the Christian life, or desire to follow the Christian life. Those who do not desire to follow it, to whom Christian morality, Christian Commandments, the Incarnation of Christ are unimportant things -- I am not speaking to those people. Such a person must be converted first, have something of a small spark of repentance in their heart. I am speaking to the Christian, the one who desires to know Christ, and has difficulties in life and doubts because of those difficulties.
This is a perfect time to speak of it because it is after the first week of Lent, which is often, in my experience as a pastor, very difficult for people, and a time when many temptations occur. The devil knows that if we do not make a good beginning, we will not make a good end. This is true in anything we do. We must struggle to make a strong start so that when we lag at the end so that as St. John Chrysostom says, "you will have momentum built up to carry you through those difficult times."
The Church is saying come and see.. Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Can I be changed? Can I really stop doing these things that I despise about myself? Can I really believe fully, in every way with every ounce of my being? Can I really become purified?
Yes indeed, you can. And why can we, and how can we? The Church tells us this, too. By faith we can have good come out of Nazareth.
Now this faith is explained to us. Examples have been given to us, very strident examples. Examples that make us feel enflamed with enthusiasm. We heard of the Saints of old (and this was even before the Promise, which we Christians enjoy!) stopping the mouth of lions, being sawn asunder, and wandering about in sheep skins and goat skins, being destitute and afflicted. These were great heroes the Apostle Paul talks about, who conquered by faith.
The world did not think that they conquered. It thought they were defeated. But we understand what victory is. Victory is in the heart. Victory is when a man overcomes his own self with the help of God and becomes purified and becomes fire.
But also, besides those examples of ways of living and thinking, when St Paul speaks to us when He writes to the Hebrews, the Lord also is showing us something about faith in His Gospel that we must not forget.
There is nothing accidental in this story of Nathaniel meeting Christ.
First He was under the fig tree; Phillip comes to him and says to him that we have found the Messiah. Nathaniel says, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" How can this be?
Remember the spiritual meaning … can anything good come out of me? Can I really be changed? Can I really appropriate Christ? I have so many weaknesses, every day I fall. I cannot seem to defeat this enemy. I seem to have circumstances that consistently cause me to fall. I continue to have difficulties, to have doubts, to be frightened. All these things are my Nazareth.
So Nathaniel comes with Phillip because Phillip says, "Come and see". Then He meets the Lord. And the Lord says: "Whence thou knowest me?" Nathaniel says to the Lord. "Verily when thou wast under the fig tree I saw thee."
There is deep meaning here in these words, brothers and sisters. The Lord knows us. He understands us. He knows our deepest inner desires, He knows our motivations, and He knows our weaknesses. He knows how to help us. He knows our desires before we know them.
This is quite important for a Christian to remember. Moment by moment, truly we feel so often that we are alone. I only discovered after I was an adult that every teenager had the same doubts about themselves as I had. That I wasn’t good looking enough, my hair looked weird, being nervous with girls, all those things that every teenager goes through. The reason I mention this is because as priest I know that all of us go through doubts, go through uneasiness in our faith, even if our uncertainty is only about ourselves. The hours and the evening prayer of St. John speak about it:
deliver me from faintheartedness.
We have great faintheartedness. All of us suffer from this malady, this affliction of not being able to believe fully in the Resurrection. And we somehow believe that we are alone in our struggle. I previously thought this until I became a priest and saw that I am not alone. We tend to believe that our weaknesses are not applicable to the promise in some way. We say: yes if we had enough faith, yes if we did better in this or that, we believe that God can change us ... But we don’t believe that we will be changed, because we feel alone.
I am convinced of this and that is why I speak on this kind of subject so often. I am convinced that our lack of faith is what holds us back from truly appropriating the love that God wants to shower upon us, wants us to feel - and actually He has already greatly blessed us - He wants us to feel it. He wants us to feel the warmth, to feel the embrace, but we are not capable until we are able to believe fully.
Now of course, if we are to believe, we must act. The Christian life is acting according to the Commandments as well as believing them and we must take them all seriously and lament if we do not follow them in their exactitude. We must also believe not such that we have to think it but so that it is part of our being.
We must believe that Jesus Christ knows all of our circumstances, all of our struggles, all of our deepest desires, even those we can not express or are afraid to say out loud. Does not the scripture tell us that ”For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin”? (Heb 4:15)
He knows them all because He is God and also a man, and saw Nathaniel under the fig tree and He sees all of us. He sees our Nazareth. He knows how to defeat it. He knows that good will come out of it because He has placed his image in us and He desires to burnish that image, to polish it, to remove all the dross and mud from it so that it gleams and shines. And He will do this if only we allow Him to, if only we believe that He can do it.
Not for someone else, such as, for instance, the Saints or even those Christians we know and admire, but for ourselves we must believe this. Certainly we believe in the Resurrection, we believe in miracles, we believe that all these things that the Saints have done are true and holy and righteous, but we can’t see ourselves doing them.
If it’s for humility sake that we say that we are not worthy of such things, that is good. None are worthy, but all can be made capable. I am convinced that it is not humility that makes us believe that we cannot do righteous things; that we cannot change. It is weakness of faith.
Brothers and sisters, the Lord says to us today, "Come and see."
This is why you should struggle through the Great Lent, even if you are wondering, "Why am I fasting?” The purpose of fasting is to open the heart to God so that God will enlighten us and help us with things. Perhaps your thoughts also say “I am in a worse mood now than I was before! I am snapping more at my children, or at my wife, or at my coworkers. I am having more difficulty with thoughts than I had before. Or I still have trouble with this sin or that sin. What use is it to deprive myself of eating? What use is it to struggle till the end? I’ll just be tired on Pascha and I won’t feel the Lord. Not as much as I want to."
These are our doubts. Some of you express openly doubts about yourself. Others of you have not been able to express it openly, but I am convinced that we all have these kinds of doubts to a greater or lesser degree. That is why the Church is telling us today, as we have embarked now upon the first week of the Great Fast, "Come and see."
Come and see that good things can come out of Nazareth. We can be completely changed. Everything that applies to the Saints applies to us, absolutely and positively. Jesus Christ came for us, for every man, He wants everyone to have fullness, completeness, regardless of how weak we are, regardless of what happens to us, He wants us to be completely changed. And we can be.
Indeed, as Christians, we must believe this, if we are to truly call ourselves Christians, we must truly believe that we can be changed.
Now the only way to be changed is through great effort. It takes great effort, make no mistake about it. The way to perdition is very wide, and very easy, and it is downhill. And the way to paradise is truly a narrow road and a difficult road. But it is not difficult because of our Lord; His burden is easy and His yoke is light. It’s difficult because of our own faithlessness and our weakness and because of our own predilection toward sin that beguiles us. And we play mind games with ourselves and find ourselves in snare after snare after snare.
Truly you must struggle if you are to be a Christian. Great Lent is a struggle; other fasting periods are a struggle. They are only an example of the Christian life. They are not in totality the struggle of the Christian life. If fasting is your greatest struggle, then indeed you have not struggled enough. Fasting should be an aide to you in the real struggle that God wants you to have. Perhaps for some that is a frightening thought, because fasting is so difficult. Even attending church services may be difficult. But indeed God wants to bring you beyond this struggle of fasting and services and prayer, and fill you with himself completely.
He wants to make you all fire.
And it will indeed happen, regardless of what kind of man or woman you are, if you have faith that you can be changed. And if you must struggle with that faith, and not give up even though you fall, and continue to struggle to live righteously, even if, for the moment, you are not righteous.
In our age what has happened is that sins have been re-codified, they have been renamed, reassigned. Things we understand to be sin, the world calls virtue, and these are. Many things, not just sexual sins that are obviously happening in the world today and being called virtuous, but all manner of other things. Why does the world, and even us, since the Psalmist has us beseeching the Lord each Vespers that we not "make excuse with excuses in sins", speak about sin so?
Because people struggle against these sins and they can’t make it, they can’t hack it. Instead of accepting this reality that they are weak and they need a Savior and they can be changed if only they believe the words "Come and see", and acknowledging (and more than this: embracing!) the struggle that comes with it, the sweat and the tears and the blood that comes with it, they redefine what a sin is.
We see these examples in secular life, but also we have these examples in our own life when we excuse ourselves from our sins. For the Christian excuses himself mostly because he cannot bear that he calls himself a Christian, but does not act as one. I say, Christian, admit boldly to the Lord, that I am a Christian but I don’t act as one. Or I desire to act as one. Be willing to say it, be willing to say it out loud. Be willing to admit that you fall short continually but have great hope that He can, and not just can but will, change you if you live by faith.
Look at the examples of many of the saints. They had many falls in their lives. And yet, they are righteous. How can this be? Because they were willing to come and see. They were willing to take the trip.
Now Nathaniel only walked a few paces to see Jesus. But this trip is indicative of our life.
The Lord says I will show you greater things than these. Not just that I know you are under a fig tree; not just that I know all your thoughts. I knew you yet while you were in the womb. Not just those things; Greater things than these will I show you. I will show you that you can be completely changed, completely made whole. Have no fear, have no sadness, have no doubts, have no sins, have no shame. Have no pain. I will show you greater things than just that I know you. I will show you that I will change you, this is what the Lord says to Nathaniel. And this is what the Lord is saying to us.
We appropriate this change by believing the words of the Lord. By understanding their meaning. He knows us and He will change us. Good will come out of Nazareth, come out of the heart because of our faith. Brothers and sisters -- beg the Lord for faith, beg Him for faith, because this is the key. Faith is just not belief. Faith envelops the whole man and makes him fire, and makes him able to change. This is what faith is. Faith permeates our life. We must appropriate the Lord’s promise with all the struggles and difficulties that the Christian life entails. Because of the promise the Church asks us:
“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, {2} Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:1-2)
He has begun our journey with our baptism. He was with us then, He’s with us now, and He will finish the course for us. You must have faith that He who began a good work in you will complete it in Christ Jesus.
Certainly a good thing will come out of Nazareth.
May God grant you faith. Amen.

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