Homily: St John Climacus – The Ladder (Mark 9:17-31)
In the Name of the Father, …
As a child, Sunday was one of the few times that my parents, my brother and I all spent ‘quality time’ together. We didn’t watch as much TV in those days instead we would play board games. We always had great fun – just so long as my Dad won!!!
One of the first games I remember was this… (VISUAL AID) SNAKES & LADDERS. I’m sure most, if not all of us, have played Snakes & Ladders and I’m sure you remember how it goes; You roll the dice and move your counter along the board. Land on a square containing the foot of a Ladder and up you travel moving closer to the last square. But, land on the head of a snake and down you go! Descending back down closer to where you started.
It was a quiet a few years later when I began to think that life, was a little like Snakes and Ladders. Life has its ups and downs, it’s snakes and its ladders and I’m sure that we have all encountered those we considered to be ‘Snakes in the grass’ , those we felt to be treacherous and have knocked us back. And those who, like ladders, have raised us up!
But it was many years later that I began to see that the spiritual life is also like ‘Snakes and Ladders’ - although the spiritual life is NO GAME!
We can journey through the spiritual life making steady progress. Then suddenly, there are those rare and precious moments when seem to surge upwards – much like moving up a ladder in the game!
However, more often we find ourselves being brought down to earth! Usually through our own doing; because we have been flirting with snakes! And it is when we are at the tip of the snake’s tail that we become aware of our sinful nature.
Of course, it’s all there in the Holy Scriptures; The enemy is portrayed as a serpent, the tower of Babel, a Ladder to reach Heaven; Then there is the ladder in Jacob’s dream, with angels ascending and descending. It seems that there has always been a desire for a ladder. A way up and out; A link from earth to heaven.
Today, the fourth Sunday of Great Lent, we remember St John Climacus. St John was born 579 AD, and died 649 AD. Whilst living the hermitic life in the Sinai Desert St John provided us with a Ladder; ‘The Ladder of Divine Ascent`
This is a book, which is traditionally read during Lent and has become one of the most influential and important works used by the church to guide the faithful to a God centred life. The aim of St Johns ‘Ladder’ is to guide us to a life completely and wholly devoted to God.
Please take some time, to take a good look, at the icon on the central analoy today.
We see St John beautifully presented writing his treatise and being guided and instructed by angelic beings. And we see a Ladder on which the faithful are ascending to our Lord. Look carefully to the right of the Ladder, Again, we see angelic beings helping the faithful to climb the ladder.
However, look to the left of the ladder and we see the forces of the enemy trying, and in some cases, succeeding to pull the faithful off the ladder. And look what happens to those who fall from the ladder; We can see them being devoured by a serpent, a snake, the enemy himself.
Notice where the greatest concentration of angelic and demonic beings is to be found!
At the bottom of the ladder. Think for a moment why that might be
Now, what about our Gospel reading today? Does this have anything to do with Snakes and Ladders? Well, I think it does.
In Mark 9:17-31 we read how the father of an ill son, who had a dumb spirit, came and beseeched Jesus to help him. Jesus, who has just joined His disciples, responds to the father’s plea and heals the demon possessed boy.
“Come out of him and enter no more into him” Jesus commands and the spirit cries out, convulses the boy and leaves him”. An exorcism – We are dealing here with snakes!
But if we look at the verses preceding our reading we see that Jesus has joined his disciples having descended a mountain. Not just a mountain, but the mountain of the Holy Transfiguration. Where the eternal and the temporal meet – The top of the Ladder!
The whole purpose of our life is to find union with God. On Monday evenings, at our ‘Enrichment of faith’ meetings we have been looking at our ‘10 Principles for Orthodox living’; 10 rungs, of yet another ladder, that will help us to move closer to God. As Christians we have made the decision to put ourselves on a spiritual ladder. Once on the ladder we have a further decision to make;
Which direction do we want to travel? Do we want to climb and ascend the ladder; and in doing so move closer to God? Or, do we want to descend the ladder; and move away from God? It is a choice that we must make, we cannot stand still on the ladder! If we try to stand still we will block the way for others and become easy targets for the enemy!
So, as we journey together toward Pascha let us support and help one-another; and ascend together toward our union with God!
Holy Father John, prayer to God for us. Amen
Journeying Together To Pascha
Sunday January 28th
Theme: Publican & Pharisee
Epistle: 2 Timothy 3: 10-15
Gospel: Luke 18: 10-14
How to Participate?
Trust in God, not yourself!
Ask for his help before beginning any Task.
Fr David’s sermon for The Sunday of the Ancestors of Christ, 17th December, 2017
Today’s Gospel surely reveals insensitivity, or perhaps insensibility, when three men make excuses to avoid an important and life changing invitation to the rich man’s feast. And there were more than three, because so many places were unfilled. Of the three, one had bought a piece of of land, another a yoke of oxen and the third, perhaps with a more reasonable excuse than the others, had married a wife. All three and others missed out because of their lack of sensibility ( lack of capacity to feel, understand and be sensitive to the situation).
Our Philip Gorski has written a paper entitled, ‘Comfortably Numb’, with the sub-title, The Demon of Insensibility, as understood by various important Fathers of the Church. Alongside this I suggest, complacency, which the Abba Dorotheus describes as the mother of all failings. With complacency, we take things for granted and may even become indifferent. The Fathers tell us that we should often remember death in our thoughts. This may sound morbid to the modern era but it is part of the reality of life; there comes a time when each one of us passes from earthly life to the life beyond. We must not be complacent, believing that the God of Love who has done so much to reveal Himself to us and help us should therefore be taken for granted. St Paul says, ‘Work out your salvation with fear and trembling’. When we pass into the next life, it will be awesome and fearful. We shall come into the presence of God, how will we react? Will we be able to recognize and respond to the Glory of God, presented to us, or will it seem, as Metropolitan Kallstos points out, like a burning fire. Will we be sufficiently prepared to see Glory and enter into the promised life of Heaven, or will we only see a consuming fire. The Gospel story, inviting us to the banquet, is most apt at this time of year as we prepare of the Feast of the Nativity. So many around are indifferent as they revel in self indulgence, they are not sharing with us the Feast of the Nativity. Whether they know it or not, they are celebrating again the pagan festival of Saturnalia, the Roman midwinter feast of misrule. In Roman times this lasted for several days, now, for some, this misrule last the year round; self indulgence prevails, complacency abounds, God is not recognized and if He is not recognized in earthly life, how will He ever be recognized in the life beyond?
For us the path is clear, we honour the child in the manger in Bethlehem. We honour him not only as the Messiah foretold by the Ancestors of Christ, but we have the additional blessing of knowing that he is no other than God Himself, come to be with us, to restore us, to enable us to become what we were always designed to be. He is Our Savior. We cannot afford to be ‘Comfortably Numb’ in the face of such a great blessing. We cannot be complacent, and in any way fall into the life trap of the world around. Rather we kneel with devotion at the crib of the newborn King, even Christ our King and our God.
The Entry Into The Temple Of The Most Holy Mother Of God
At a remote monastery deep in the woods, the monks followed a rigid vow of silence. This vow could only be broken once a year at Christmas, by one monk, and the monk who spoke was permitted to speak just one sentence.
One Christmas, Brother John had his turn to speak and said, "I love the delightful mashed potatoes we have every year with the Christmas roast!" Then he sat down. Silence ensued for 365 days.
The next Christmas, Brother Michael got his turn, and said, "I think the mashed potatoes are lumpy and I truly despise them!" Once again, silence ensued for 365 days.
The following Christmas, Brother Paul rose and said, "I am fed up with this constant bickering!"
I hope the significance of this joke will become apparent shortly!
Last night we celebrated the vigil for “The Entry Into The Temple Of The Most Holy Mother Of God” here at St Aidan’s Church. We began with vespers and we listened to three Old Testament Readings. The first was a reading from Exodus Chapter 40; we Listened to God’s instructions to Moses for building and arranging of the Temple & tabernacle. The second reading was from the 1st Book of Kings. Here we were given a description of the dedication of the Temple. The third of our readings was from, the prophet Ezekiel speaking of the door of the sanctuary closed to all men and by which God alone enters.
Today, along with the Epistle, we have heard two Gospel Reading, one for Today (Luke 12: 16-21) [Our Lord’s warning against greed & anxiety]. The other for Tuesday, when we commemorate the Entry into the temple of the Most Holy Mother of God (Luke 10:38-42,11:27-2) [Mary & Martha]
There is no account for this event in the gospel of either Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. If we want to read about the entry of the Mother of God in to the temple, we must look beyond the we Bible and turn to the Gospel of James, also known as the “Protoevangelium of James”, this is an apocryphal Gospel probably written about AD 145. The Gospel of James expands backward in time the infancy narratives contained in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. It presents a narrative concerning the birth and upbringing of Mary herself. It is the oldest source, outside the New Testament, to assert the virginity of the Mother of God not only prior to, but during and after the birth of Jesus. Let us listen to what is written about the entry of the Mother of God into the temple.
So, why these readings? Are these reading connected? What are they telling us?
Remember, first we have God’s instructions to Moses for building and arranging of the Temple & tabernacle; a temple of stone. This is followed by the description the dedication of the temple - built of stone. This was then followed by a prophecy that speaks of the door of the sanctuary, of the temple built of stone, being closed to all men, A Door by which God alone enters. That all seems logical and simple enough doesn’t it?
The bible, like Holy icons, must always be understood on multiple levels. Although the OT readings all refer to a temple built with traditional materials, it would be wrong of us to simply see these three passages as referring to a stone built temple. These three passages should be seen as having their object, not only as the Jerusalem Temple, but also in the child Mary. The one who enters the stone temple as she prepares to become the living temple. The all pure child, she who will bear the God -Man in her womb, is led into the house of the Lord. Listen to the words for the Kontakion of the Feast;
“The all-pure Temple of the Saviour, the precious Bridal Chamber and Virgin, the sacred treasure of the Glory of God, is led today into the house of the Lord, and with her she brings the grace of the divine spirit. Of her God’s angels sing in praise: `She is indeed the heavenly Tabernacle’.
On the Central analoy today we have two icons. We have the icon of the Feast together with, what is known as, the “Icon of the sign”. This icon of the Mother of our Lord shows her standing in prayer. Her arms are raised, a posture known as “Orans”. Christ is shown enclosed in a circle in her womb. This name `Icon of the Sign’ is a reference to the words recorded in the prophecy of Isaiah;
Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign:
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son,
And shall call His name Immanuel
The Living temple contains the living God-man.
We are now five weeks away from Christmas, the season of Advent in the Western Church. Advent is a time of waiting, a time of pregnancy; the seed of the kingdom of God has been sown. it will germinate at Christmas, sprout at Theophany, grow through Lent, blossom at Pascha, and fruit at Pentecost. And through everything the Living temple continues her life of service; Her vocation being fulfilled through holy stillness, an inner silence in the depth of the heart. It is a silence that allows her to wait and to respond to God with great love.
In the second of our Gospel readings today we heard how Mary, the sister of Lazarus, follows the example of the Ever-virgin Mary. She waits! She sits at the feet of her Lord waiting in faith and obedience; attentive to His words.
There is a common, but erroneous understanding, that Mary’s sister, Martha, is rebuked for her busyness. She is not! The rebuke she receives is not for her ‘serving’ but for her complaining and for being distracted, worried and troubled. Martha’s attitude is in direct contrast to the attitude of her sister; Complaining not silent, worried and troubled not attentive. There is no inner stillness.
As we begin to prepare for Christmas we need to choose how we will prepare and for what it will be that we are preparing for. The assault as already begun, switch on your TV or Radio and you will soon be told what it is you need to eat at Christmas, what to drink, what you will need to wear, what to watch and listen to, what gifts your friends and family would love you buy for them, etc, etc, etc.
As a child I would write a letter to Santa. For many that tradition has been replaced by the `Argos Catalogue’ and a highlighter pen!
We have a choice to make! We can, like Martha, allow ourselves to be troubled and worried, we can allow ourselves to be distracted.
Or, like the rich man in today’s Gospel reading we can work to accumulate goods and wealth; we can eat, drink and be merry!
Alternatively, we can choose to quiet the clamouring anxieties and desires of the season. Like Mary, we can choose the better part. We can choose to sit at our Lords feet and await. Like the Living temple we can prepare ourselves for our Lords coming. We can strive to attain an attitude of prayer and holy stillness, an inner silence in the depth of the heart which will allow us, like her, to respond to God with great love.
The choice is ours –
Which kingdom shall we choose?
The Kingdom of God
The Kingdom of Goods?
Through the Prayers of all our Holy Fathers… Amen
New Website launched....Finally we have this new website for the parish. Please have a good look at the site and give feedback any comments to Deacon Julian or Dominic Pote. Many thanks to Will Hoggarth (Anthony) for helping set us us on this new platform. Notice that we now have a blog where we can all share important notices, articles or anything of interest. Comments can be left and if anyone wants to contibute something or share something on the blog, please get in touch.