SERMON GIVEN BY HIS GRACE BISHOP DEMETRI AT THE COLLEGE CONFERENCE
Plant It! Grow It! Be It!
(In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit)
I. Intro: Parable Of the Sower:
In the Parable of the Sower, as recorded in the 13th chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew, we are given an understanding of what it means to grow in Christ – to become like Christ. There we encounter God as One Who is planting seeds of holiness in the hearts of people:
· Some of the seed falls on hard hearts, in which the seed cannot even take root. It is quickly, and with very little effort, devoured by the evil one. This heart refused to even recognize the things of God.
· Other of the seed falls upon rocky hearts, in which there is not much depth for the roots to grow. Thus, this person receives the seed of God with joy. However, when hard times come he forgets God, and walks away from Him.
· Some of the seed is received by thorny hearts: this means a heart which is too concerned with the things of the world and its deception; the result being that the things of God – although received and having initially taken root — are quickly choked out of the heart.
· Finally, some of the seed falls upon a heart which is good – which is well prepared, and is continuously nurtured in the laws of heaven. This heart is fruitful, multiplying the blessings of God throughout the entire world.
What are we to understand from this Parable? Simply this, while it is God Who sows the seed of holiness in our lives, we must still take action for this seed to mature and become fruitful in our life!
To be fruitful means to be good and grace filled examples of God’s holiness to the world. When others look to us, do they see a reflection of heaven, or a reflection of the world? Indeed, if we would call ourselves Christians we must realize that we are required to always strive to be holy, as God is holy! This is quite a challenge, but it is very much do-able through the Holy Spirit!
II. Planting: Preparing our soul to take within it the Word of God!
a. We must first identify the type of heart we have:
If we want our hearts to be in the “good and fruitful” category, then we must take action. But, what action must we take? Or, phrased another way: How can we tell if our hearts are wholesomely receptive to the Word of God? Again, we can look to the parable for basic answers to find what type of heart we have.
1. Hard Hearts:
For instance, how can we tell if we have hard hearts? Simply in this manner:
* If we hear the Word of God – which is very much in our Orthodox Divine services – and it does not stir within us a sense of being answerable to God, then we have hard hearts.
* If we hear the Word of God and do not feel it applies to us, then we have hard hearts.
* If, when we hear the words of the Holy Gospel and of the hymns, or the lessons of the Fathers, and do not feel an inner stirring, we must be concerned that we have hearts which are not receptive to God.
2. Rocky Hearts:
What about the Rocky heart? How can we tell if we fit into this category? Have you ever heard the use of the word shallow? For instance, have you ever heard someone say that another person was shallow? Most often application of this descriptive word means that the person who is being described thinks only about themselves, without regard to the needs of those around them. Everything is seen in terms of themselves. They deserve the world’s attention; they are the most talented; they think the world is made for them alone; they think they are the only holy or righteous ones in the Church.
The person with the rocky heart has an “I” disease – and I do not mean the “eye” with which we see our physical surroundings! I am talking about the “I; me, mine” syndrome. Most often this type of heart is made evident with the following words:
* I deserve the best!
* I am a better chanter that he/she is, why was he/she picked?
* I can’t understand why people don’t realize how wonderful I am!
* I, I, I; me, me, me; mine, mine, mine; and so on!
This person is so concerned about themselves; they think that everything that happens in the world is either for them or against them. If God is blessings them, it is because they are God’s favorite; if things are going bad it is because God has turned His back on them – so they turn their backs on God and go their own way.
3. The Thorny Heart!
What about the thorny heart? In its simplest terms, the thorny heart is the heart which is too busy for God. In this day and age it is quite easy to have a thorny heart. We have every intention of engaging in holy things, yet we just never quite make it because of our busy schedules.
For instance, there are more activities for young people today than ever in the history of the world. Not only is there school, but there are numerous school functions: including, but not limited to — Various Sporting events; choir; band; orchestra; plays, clubs and many other things; not to mention movies, concerts, computers, television, stereos, E-mail, chat groups, cell phones, etcetera. The list is almost endless.
These things, among others, chock out the things of God in our lives. Case in point: when you come home at night, are you so exhausted that you fall into bed without praying to God? When you wake up in the morning are you in such a hurry that you again put your prayers on hold, saying to yourself that you will begin the next day? When it is time to go to Church services, does any little thing give you a reason to put off Church in order to get something else accomplished.
For many of us this is our life — day in, and day out. We must stop and seriously ask ourselves this question: Are we really so busy doing things of worldly significance that we never have time to accomplish anything of eternal value — i.e., the salvation of our souls? If so, then our ailment is that of the thorny heart.
III. Growing: Keeping our soul fit to Mature in the Faith
a. How do we prepare our hearts to be Good?
What are we to do if we find ourselves with any of these three ailments? The answer is simple:
· The ground of our heart must be tilled:
· it must be broken up;
· the rocks removed;
· the root of the thorns pulled up and burned.
Only then will Faith have a chance to take root and grow strong and vibrant. But, how do we prepare the soil of our hearts for such planting and growth?
Prayer is life — life is prayer. This paraphrased saying of the Fathers brings us to focus on the true way to holiness and developing Christ-like faithful hearts — Prayer! If prayer is life, then surely we should want it! For this means that if we do not have prayer, we do not have true life!
i. What is Prayer?
Thus, we must first answer the question, “What is prayer?” If prayer is the answer to our heart condition, we must come to know what this healing anointment is before we can apply it.
Yes, it is true that we “say prayers” in the Orthodox Church on a regular basis. Every Divine Service is full of prayer. But, if we are not careful we will soon find out that our “saying prayers” is not the same as truly “praying!”
“Prayer,” says Evagrius of Pontus “is an ascent of the mind to God.” St. Gregory Palamas tells us that “Prayer…uplifts and unites human beings with God.” On this same note, St. Theophan the Recluse teaches us that “Prayer is the raising of the mind and heart to God in praise and thanksgiving…” Lastly, St. John Climacus tells us that “Prayer by nature is a dialog and union of man with God.”
a) Prayer is Relationship:
From these Spiritual Fathers we can see that first of all, Prayer is Relationship – a relationship between God and man. We must raise our minds and hearts up to God; and in return God reaches down to us. Relationship is a joining of heart and mind; relationship is closeness; relationship is love!
b) Prayer is communication:
If we really love God, we will want to converse with Him. Isn’t this true of all good relationships? If we want to enter into a true and wholesome relationship with someone, then we must communicate with them from our hearts. This means to be “real” with the other person: letting them know who we really are. And, for communication to be good, it must be lovingly honest and true.
ii Prayer requires that we are truthful so that we come to know ourselves:
When we really pray, it means that we must be very honest with ourselves and with God. Too often, in today’s world, we wear invisible masks; trying to hide who we are; acting like someone we are not.
Yet, when it comes to our relationship with God, He already knows who we are – better than we know ourselves! Accordingly, when we approach God in prayer, God not only reveals Himself to us, but we come to know who we really are as well. Hopefully we realize that we cannot hide anything from God! He knows all; He sees all; He is all we need! Thus, prayer becomes for us a path whereby we are able to tap into the source of life, love and truth! Our prayer, then, becomes a gauge of our life in Christ!
Indeed, as Saint Theophan reminds us: “Prayer is the test of everything…the source of everything…the driving force of everything…the director of everything.” To pray is to wait upon God — not only to speak and make request — but it is a time to listen as well.
By prayer you can find reconciliation with God and your fellowman; Prayer is the work of angels; revelations and visions occur during prayer; It is the spring of virtues; It is food for the soul; Prayer is the source of life in Christ!
Let me ask you this question: Is everything right in your life? If not, then the problem lies in your prayer life – for if our prayer is right, everything is right! This does not mean that we do not have problems; rather, it means that if we are people of prayer, then even our problems become a way of salvation; a means of achieving wisdom; a path which draws us closer to God and our neighbor.
IV. Living in Growth: Being Christ’s Vineyard
My dear Spiritual Children; the path to salvation; the path of Faith and Righteousness is only difficult because we permit ourselves to be pulled in every direction. The reason we have hard, rocky or thorny hearts is because in one way other another we have moved from the source of our life!
God loves you! He says to you this very day: “Come unto me, all who are weary and weighed-down with life’s issues and worries, and I will give rest to your soul!”
How do we come? With hearts humbled, seeking the face of God; this can only be found in prayer which is honest, contrite, and, more often than not, filled with tears. God calls to you this day. Will you answer His call? Will you allow your heart to become good and wholesome soil for the things of God to grow healthy and pure? Will you become Christ’s holy vineyard?
I look out among you, and see many things: hearts filled with grief; those filled with a sense of loss; minds which tremble with the thought of the future; those who wear masks, hiding from others as well as themselves; those who only know how to live for themselves; souls which wander aimlessly, having no sense of spiritual direction.
Yet, I also see those whose lives are just beginning to shine with the light of Christ; whose eyes reflect God’s love and peace; whose hearts are hungry and thirsty for a relationship with God. Into which category would you place yourself?
My beloved ones; prayer is the ladder leading up to God; prayer is the plow which can make the soil of your heart ready for the things of God; prayer is also that which waters and feeds the seed so that it may grow and become fruitful. There is nothing more powerful than prayer in our daily lives.
No matter which category you fit into, know that you can change your life for the better this very moment; you can begin upon the path that will make your life more holy; you can become like the Saints who shine with the light of divinity. If only, right now, you begin to let prayer with God flood your heart and mind – leading you to the kingdom of God:
Whose Holy Name is blessed, always, now and forever. AMEN.