In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit….AMEN.
Your Grace Bishop Nicholas, Reverend brother clergy, Brothers and Sisters in Christ….Christ Has Ascended!
The theme of our conference this year is Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
This is really a powerful verse. A verse full of hope. This is a verse that can bring us great joy in the midst of our struggles. It can be our fuel when we think that we have nothing left in our tank. When we hear this verse, we are corrected from ourfaulty ways of thinking and we begin to see reality in a truthful way. It is not I who do this or that activity. It is not I who succeed by my own talents and strengths and abilities. All of these attributes that we carry are meaningless and worthless if they do not invite the Lord Jesus Christ to work through us. Indeed, the Lord says exactly that in the gospel according to St. John chapter 15 “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
This is all that matters in life, to abide in Christ and to have Christ our Lord abiding in us. When we hear the words of St. Paul that, we “can do all things through Christ” we should desire what is most important. We should desire the greatest things that can be accomplished through Our Lord Jesus Christ working in us. Instead of aiming for the bare minimum, we should reach for the stars.
St. Theophan the Recluse writes “The chief end of our life is to live in communion with God. To this end the Son of God became incarnate, in order to return us to this divine communion, which was lost by the fall into sin. Through Jesus Christ, the Son of God, we enter into communion with the Father and thus attain our purpose.” What is it that you and I can do through Christ? What is most important for us to do in Christ? It is to have communion with the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Do you know what it means to have communion with the Holy Trinity? It means that you live according to the purpose for which you were created. In short, you become a saint.
Do we desire to become saints? Do we desire to live a life of unbroken communion with the Lord? If so, we are forced to ask “How can I do this?” and we hear the words of the Lord “with man, this is impossible.” After all, we are reminded that we are of the flesh of Adam, who fell into sin and invited corruption and death upon the whole family of the human race. And no schemes devised since the time of the fall until now, have been able to reverse the inevitability of this death. It was inescapable. Yet the Lord does not conclude saying “with man, this is impossible”….He continues saying “but with God, all things are possible.” It is God, through His Son, that has opened for us the gates of paradise and given usthe chance to do the impossible with Christ, to be resurrected, to be saved, to live again in glory with the saints. Ihope that this inspires us and even excites us!
In fact, we can say that the theme of the conference, this verse Philippians 4:13 is not simply encouragement but a promise and a road map. St. Paul is correcting our short-sighted, narrow-minded, faithless and self-centered approach. Stop looking in the mirror and start looking to Christ. You may have heard this saying “Don’t tell God how big your problems are, tell your problems how big your God is.” There are many obstacles to our goal of communion with God. We deal with our passions. We deal with distractions. We go to battle against the demonic forces. Yet in every moment of the day and at all times, find a way to turn to Christ. There is no other way forward because Our Lord Jesus Christ is the roadmap, He is the guide, He is our security detail, He is our food or provision along the journey and He is also our destination, our goal.
But “How can we do this?” We lean on the life of the Church. After all, it is the Apostle Paul who tells us that the Church is not just an organization, not just a group of believers. The Church is the very body of Christ. It is the healing hands of Christ through the sacraments. It is the voice of Christ, proclaiming His teachings in the gospels. It is the presence of Christ through her clergy. It is the very life giving, flesh and blood of Christ through the Eucharist. It is even a taste of the kingdom of Christ through the rich liturgical life and our fellowship with the saints. In short, when we cling to the life of the Church, we are abiding in Christ and we are strengthened through Him.
St. Mark the Ascetic tell us to “Think nothing and do nothing without a purpose directed to God. For to journey without direction is wasted effort.” May our efforts not be wasted. May they be blessed and transformed and multiplied through our Lord and savior Jesus Christ who strengthens us. To Him be the glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit AMEN.