Posts tagged ‘salvation’

“…there is no room for despair.”

“…we are not without hope of salvation, nor is it at all the right time for us to despair. All our life is a season of repentance, for God ‘desires not the death of the sinner’, as it is written, ‘but that the wicked turn from his way and live’ (cf. Ez. 33:11 LXX). For, if there were no hope of turning back, why would death not have followed immediately on disobedience, and why would we not be deprived of life as soon as we sin? For where there is hope of turning back, there is no room for despair.”

~St. Gregory Palamas (The Homilies Vol. 2, Homily Twenty-Two para. 6; St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press pg. 3)

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"Garment of Salvation" – Vespers (6th Sunday after Pentecost)

Isaiah 61:10-62:5 (Vespers, 2nd reading)
10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, My soul shall be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the earth brings forth its bud, As the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth, So the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.
1 For Zion’s sake I will not hold My peace, And for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, Until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, And her salvation as a lamp that burns.
2 The Gentiles shall see your righteousness, And all kings your glory. You shall be called by a new name, Which the mouth of the Lord will name.
3 You shall also be a crown of glory In the hand of the Lord, And a royal diadem In the hand of your God.
4 You shall no longer be termed Forsaken, Nor shall your land any more be termed Desolate; But you shall be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; For the Lord delights in you, And your land shall be married.
5 For as a young man marries a virgin, So shall your sons marry you; And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, So shall your God rejoice over you.
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!

In our second Old Testament reading tonight, we hear this beautiful first verse [read]. This is one of the prayers that a priest prays as he’s vesting himself to serve the Holy Liturgy. Specifically, it is the prayer said when putting on the sticharion – the white robe that goes underneath all of the other vestments. This garment represents the baptismal robe – so that is why in this prayer we say that God clothes us with the garment of salvation, covering me with righteousness and adorning me as a bride with jewels. As the priest presents Christ to the people in the Holy Liturgy, he also reminds them of their own lives in Christ, and of their own “working out your salvation in fear and trembling before the Lord.” The first step in our Christian life is our Holy Baptism – this is when our sins are washed away and we are clothed in Christ. And as Fr. Hopko so beautifully says, the remainder of our life in Christ is living out this baptismal garment; Confession is where we make an account for how we’ve worn that precious garment; our lives are the constant working toward living wholly in Christ at all times and in all places. We can take from the reading from Isaiah what some of those fruits of life in Christ might look like: the buds of righteousness, the brilliant radiance of salvation, the crown of the glory of the Lord, being the bride of God, rejoiced over by our God. The life that we’re called to live in Christ is not characterized in the Scriptures as a dark and muddled life of struggle and failure and suffering, but rather a bright and joyful life, lived in the loving presence of our God, wedded to Him and seeking to please Him all the days of our life. Our ascetic struggles are certainly necessary for the conforming of our lives to Christ, but it’s in this bright and radiant joy that we live out those struggles. As Isaiah reminds us, always rejoicing in our God, clothed with the garments of salvation, vested with the vesture of righteousness.

May our Christ grant us the robe of salvation, and may we always live in the joy and the glory of the presence of our God.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Author Matthew Jackson

Confess Him with your mouth, and believe Him with your heart

Me preaching this homily at St. Luke’s Orthodox Church in Anniston, AL

[Preached at St. Luke Orthodox Church in Anniston, AL]
Romans 10:1-10; Matthew 8:28-9:1
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 morning, in our reading from St. Paul’s Epistle the Christian community in Rome, the Apostle very simply speaks to us about those things which are required for our salvation. These words of St. Paul are often mis-interpreted, and we see all varieties of mis-interpretation in Christian groups surrounding us today. In the Orthodox Church we don’t simply look to the words of the Scriptures and then understand them in whatever way we choose – our understanding of St. Paul’s words is influenced by the way they’ve been understood by Christians for the last 2000 years. We don’t stand as individual islands of interpretation, because that quickly leads to schism (as seen by the thousands of various groups claiming Christianity) and absurdity. We also understand the words of the Scriptures (and the writings of the Father’s) within the larger context of the witness of the Church – in other words, we can’t simply take this morning’s reading and allow it to stand on its own – it stands within the context of all of St. Paul’s writings, and all of the writings of the Scriptures and the Fathers.
So, I thought this morning that we could quickly step through our Epistle reading, and remind ourselves of what St. Paul says is necessary for our salvation in this particular reading, and see these words in the larger context as well. The larger part of the Epistle reading has St. Paul reminding the people about their (and our) relationship to the law. This conversation leaves people baffled – Paul insists repeatedly in his Epistles that we are set free from the curse of the law in Christ, yet he also reminds us that we are called to follow in the commandments of Christ. When St. Paul speaks of “the law,” he is, of course, speaking of the Old Testament law. These laws covered all sorts of things that the people could and couldn’t do. And so eventually, the people’s focus settled not on trying to please God, but on simply attempting to follow the outward constructs of the law. As St. Paul says in the Epistle, they were trying to obtain righteousness on their own.
This is the fall of Adam all over again – trying to be like God, trying to be good and righteous and holy, but doing it on our terms and by our own strength. This is why St. Paul refers to the law as a curse – the law set forth the things that needed to be accomplished in the sight of God, and no one could do it. The law condemned the people because they were unable to keep the law. God knew that the people would fail, and so before the time of our Lord, sacrifices were offered  by the priests to cover the sins of the people. The people were not actually made righteous by the sacrifices, but their sins were covered over in the sight of God.

St. Paul reminds us this morning that our relationship with God as Christians is not this Old Covenant curse. We are not struggle to keep the laws of the Old Testament. We are not responsible in our works to attain to the righteousness of Christ. No longer are external works and sacrifices necessary for our righteousness, rather now we are made whole by our relationship with Christ. St. Paul writes, “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.” God is no longer exterior to man – He has become man in the person of Jesus Christ, and our humanity is united to the Godhead in Christ for all of eternity. Now God no longer dwells in a temple made of human hands, rather now He dwells in the temple of our hearts.

And so at the end of our Epistle, St. Paul writes, “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (vv 9-10) These verses have become a great source of confusion for many, leading them to assume that the way we live is irrelevant to our salvation, and that we simply need to confess one time that we believe and we will be saved. But this is not at all what St. Paul says, and certainly not when we take this verse in the context of all of the writings of St. Paul. St. Paul joins confessing Christ with our mouth to believing Him in our heart. We are being called to confess with our mouth the Lord Jesus Christ – and this confession is to be a continual confession of our reliance on nothing in this life other than the mercy and grace of God. And if our confession is Christ, and if this confession is true – is from the belief in our heart, then our lives will reflect Christ.

If we confess Him, and we mean it, then that confession will be evident in our lives. Remembering that our Lord said “if you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). There’s no dichotomy in the Orthodox Church between faith and works – if our faith is real, then the works of God come as a part of that – that is why the various New Testament Epistles can say both “without faith you will not be saved” and that “without works you will not be saved.” Faith and works come as a package deal.

And so how will our lives look if we are properly confessing Christ with our mouth and properly believing Him with our hearts? There’s a very nice line in this morning’s Gospel to express it (nice line, but also very difficult): “What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” (Matthew 8:29) Following the commandments of Christ means that we torment sin in our flesh, we becomes slaves of Christ and of the Gospel (as St. Paul teaches in other places). Living in Christ, truly confessing Him and truly believing Him, means that we leave no place for sin in our lives – all we have to rely on in every time and in every place is our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

May we all confess Him with our mouths and believe Him with our hearts, and may our lives daily reflect the image of Christ within us.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Author Matthew Jackson

The Arian Heresy – Fathers of the 1st Ecumenical Council

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!

Today we remember the Father’s of the 1st Ecumenical Council. Homilies can have many different approaches or focuses, and this morning I’d like us to spend some time learning about the 1st Council. If the Church feels that it’s important for us to commemorate these Father’s on the 7th Sunday after Pascha every year, then it’s also important for us to know about what they did.
The 1st Ecumenical Council was convened by the Emperor St Constantine in the city of Nicea in 325 AD. It was called for a very specific purpose – to discuss certain beliefs that were gaining in popularity among the Christian laity and even the clergy. These beliefs we know today as Arianism – the beliefs were held and taught by the Alexandrian priest Arias. In fact, the heresy of Arias became so wide spread at one point that a majority of our bishops identified themselves as Arians. It was an incredible danger to the Church. The Arian controversy was tearing apart the Church, and therefore having a great impact on the Empire, hence Constantine’s decision to convene the Council. As I’ve already mentioned, during the Council, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the teachings of Arias were condemned as heresy, and Arias as a heretic (heresiarch). So what were these teachings which were powerful enough to have such an effect on the Church, and for the 1st Council to be called to deal with it?
Arianism was, and is (there are still people who hold to these beliefs today) a belief regarding the inner life of the Holy Trinity. This belief was explained by Arias himself in a letter – “But we say and believe and have taught, and do teach, that the Son is not unbegotten, nor in any way part of the unbegotten; and that he does not derive his subsistence from any matter; but that by his own will and counsel he has subsisted before time and before ages as perfect God, only begotten and unchangeable, and that before he was begotten, or created, or purposed, or established, he was not.” This long phrase is often simplified to the phrase – “There was a time when He was not.” Arians believed that only God the Father was unbegotten and existing for all of eternity, but that the Word, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, had been created by the Father at some point before the creation of the world. The Word was still considered and called divine, but He was less in His divinity than the Father. The fullness of the Divinity was not present in the Word. They also taught (though it’s talked about less) that then the Father and the Son created the Holy Spirit. So they would say that there is one God, the Father, and while the Son and Spirit were considered divine, they were lesser divinities than the Father.
The implications of this belief on the Incarnation are obvious – the created Word was incarnate as Jesus, who was a created man. So for the Arians, God did not become man, but rather the Word, who was Himself a creature, became man. The Father’s immediately saw that this teaching undermined man’s salvation. If God did not become man, then there is ultimately no salvation for man. Our salvation is ensured because God took human flesh, joined our nature eternally to the fullness of the Godhead. The teachings of the Arians, though they failed to initially see it, undermined man’s salvation. Any perversion of the fullness of the truth about Christ, about God, puts at risk a proper understanding not only of God, but also of humanity, and our salvation.
In response to the Arian heresy, not only did the Father’s formulate Orthodox Christology at the 1st Council, but they also composed the Nicene Creed, in which we confess: “…one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages; Light of Light, true God of true God; begotten, not made, of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made.” The Father’s were very careful not to try and explain the inner workings of the Holy Trinity (many heresies have started with that attempt). We preserve the Biblical language – only-begotten – we don’t attempt to explain it, it is a great mystery. As the Fathers say, what can we understand about a Son begotten of a Father with no mother, a Son equal in age and sharing in everything of His Father. It surpasses human logic. But it’s vitally important that we know and confess that the Word is co-eternal and equal with the Father and the Spirit.
The Faith was once and for all delivered to the Saints, as St Jude says in his epistle. And our duty as Christians is to preserve this Faith, to live this Faith, to share – to witness to – this Faith, and to pass it on to the next generation unchanged.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Matthew Jackson

Man’s Bodily Salvation – the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord

 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 we begin our celebration of the Great Feast of the Ascension our Lord – our commemoration of His return in body to His proper place, seated at the right hand of God the Father. This is a tremendously important Feast, and one that often doesn’t get the attention and the teaching and the reverence that it deserves. There are, of course, many different ways that we could approach the Feast this evening, but I’d like us to do so from a particular perspective:  what is the importance of the Ascension of the Lord for our complete and eternal salvation?
This requires a few reminders, things to have at the forefront of our minds: God the Word, creator of the universe, took flesh from the Virgin Mary, and became man. He became fully and completely man – Jesus of Nazareth, in every way like us, with the exception of sin. He lived a normal life on this earth, the life of a 1st century Jew in Palestine. When He had reached His 33rd year, in the midst of His miraculous earthly ministry, He gave Himself over to be crucified for our salvation. He gave Himself into the hands of sinners, showing us in the most dramatic way possible the extent of God’s love for His creation. He died a terrible death in His fully and completely human body, subjecting Himself to that most unnatural and terrible of human fates, death. Three days later, as part of this series of events that define all of human history (history before is defined by Christ, and history since is defined by Him), He rose from the grave. And when the women and the Apostles and the Jewish authorities visited His tomb, He was not there, His very body was gone.
His resurrection is not some great spiritual event; Christ rose bodily from the tomb and once again walked the earth. He now had a glorified body, a body like we were destined to have before we became weighed down with sin and death. Christ could eat with the Apostles, and walk through the door. He could be touched by Thomas, and appear or disappear at will. His body was glorified in His resurrection, but it was still the human body of Jesus.
And today we celebrate the Ascension of Christ into the heavens, His return (in a sense) to be seated at the right hand of the Father. He doesn’t ascend as a spirit or an angel – He ascends as the Incarnate Logos of God. The physical body of Christ, risen from the grave, ascends into the clouds in glory. Seated at the right Hand of the Father is a body made of flesh and blood, a body like yours and mine, the body of the Word of God, Jesus the Christ. 
The Father’s tell us that this is why man can be deified not only in soul but also in body – our created flesh is joined to Godhead in Christ for all of eternity. Our bodies will be resurrected unto salvation after the Second Coming of our Lord – soul and body reunited, spending eternity with the Holy Trinity. This is the relationship potential that we have with God! Body and soul, united to the Creator. This is why the places holy people live feel holy – true physical transformation. This is why we have holy relics – the grace of God fills and transforms the bodies of His beloved.
This is the love of God for us .
It should baffle our minds; it is beyond all human comprehension. And it should inspire in us daily the desire to give ourselves completely to Him – like wet clay in the hands of a potter. There is nothing else that matters in this life – there is Christ, and nothing comes before Him. May we all give Him that place in our lives each day.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Matthew Jackson