This homily was given at a mission Vespers service in St. Francisville, LA, on Janury 8, 2009

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

This evening I just wanted to say a few words about what it means to be a Christian. The purpose of the Christian life, what we’re supposed to be doing as Christians, is following Christ. In the Orthodox Liturgy, at one point we sing a hymn with words—“now lay aside all earthly cares.” At that point in the service we’re specifically preparing for Holy Communion, but in all aspects of our lives as Christians our focus is to be Christ, following Christ, doing His will.

Our lives are constantly filled with choices – every thing we do is the result of a series of choices that lead eventually to some action being taken, some decision being made. To be here this evening you had to choose this Vespers service over other things. You had to give up the opportunity to do something else right now, in order to choose to be here right now. We all made the choice to come to this place to pray and to sing and to worship God. Some of things we gave up to be here were good things. For instance, dinner with our kids and family may have been postponed or done differently. Some of things we gave up to be here were potentially not so good things. We’re always tempted to spend our time in wasteful or even sinful ways, but tonight you are here. And some of things we gave up to be here were neutral things. Here’s where I fall; I’m a huge college football fan, and to be here, I am missing the BCS Championship Game!

The point really is that if we’re going to choose the best that this life has to offer us, to be fulfilled and truly joyful human beings, then our choice must be for Christ. And in following Christ we will daily, constantly, be called on to make decisions to abandon other pursuits in order to the things of our God. Christian life is not just giving up bad and sinful things, it’s giving up everything for the sake of Christ. Remember these words of Christ from the Gospel of St. Matthew, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 10:37-39). Christ is to be first in all things!

In the Orthodox Church we celebrated Theophany on Tuesday (January 6). This feast remembers the baptism of our Lord in the River Jordan at the hand of St. John the Forerunner. The beginning of Christ’s earthly ministry – His revelation (epiphany at both baptism and nativity). When Christ came to the earth, the whole of creation was re-made, re-formed. And we have choice – to willingly participate in this recreation of the world, to be a part of what God wants the human race and the world to be. Or we can choose to do nothing, or to stand against God.

After Theophany we have a tradition of blessing our houses. We bless water at the service of Christ’s baptism, and then we carry this water into our homes and the priest comes and blesses our house. We set aside water to be used only for God. It’s not magic water, it’s water that’s only use is in the original intent of water. All things are made to glorify God, in our fallen-ness we tend to misuse everything. So then we bring this holy water (holy = set apart) and we set aside our homes for God. Our houses are to be places where the will of God is accomplished. The blessing isn’t magical – we still have to daily choose to give our hearts and our lives and our possessions to God. Our actions go out to meet the blessings of God.

In the life of the Christian, everything is put in second place to Christ. He is all, all in all. Everything of the world is forsaken (left, walked away from) for Christ. And our reward, in return, we don’t get massive earthly blessings (yeah, some people are rich, and some are healthy, and whatever). “He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). What God longs to give us is not earthly riches, but life eternal. God longs to share His glory and His wonder and His holiness with us. In exchange for our choice to abadon worldliness for the sake of Christ, we receive life in and with our God.

We’ll end with a wonderful quote from Fr. Zacharias’ (The Hidden Man of the Heart):
“we accomplish the exchange of our limited and temporal life for the unlimited and infinite life of God. We offer to God [what little we are], but in that … we place all our faith, love, humility, expectation of Him, all our life. And we say to God, ‘Thine own of thine own, we offer unto Thee in all and for all.’ We offer to God all our life, having prepared ourselves to come and stand before Him and do this act. And God does the same: He accepts man’s offering and He puts His life – the Holy Spirit – in [him]… God accepts our gifts and fills them with His life, and He renders them back to us.”

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!