Sermon to the children.
Children, we’re about to enter into the holy season of lent. This afternoon, we’ll have vespers, and at vespers, we’ll all ask each other for forgiveness, and we’ll all give each other forgiveness, and then we’ll begin the Great Fast. When we use the word fast, then it sounds like all we’re going to do for forty-six days is suffer. But it’s not like suffering. See, the word that’s used in most Orthodox languages, at least around the Slavs and the Romanians, is the word “post.” It comes from the word “postinia” which means “the desert.” We’re going into a desert. When Jesus was baptized, when the voice of the Father spoke from Heaven, the Spirit descended upon Him in the Jordan, and the voice cried out, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased,” then Jesus went out into the desert, and for forty days he prayed and fasted. The devil tried to test him there, didn’t he? He tested him with three things, and I’m going to talk to you first about those three things, then I’m going to talk to you about the prayer that we always say during Lent. It’s a prayer that many people here don’t know. Why? Because we never do it on Saturday or Sunday, and they’re only here on Sunday. Maybe sometimes on Saturday night.
But the devil tested Jesus first by saying, “If you are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread.” In other words he tempted Jesus to satisfy His own hunger. And Jesus said, “Man does not live on bread alone.” Okay? Also, later on by the way, after Jesus had fed the Jewish people with bread and fish by the seaside, he multiplied five loaves and two fish and he fed five-thousand, they came to him and they said, “We’ll make you king if you give us free bread.” And what did Jesus do? He said, “I am the true bread that came down from Heaven. My flesh is truly food, my blood is truly drink. Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you.” Do you know what the Jews did? They got grossed out, and left right away. All that was left was the twelve. The whole five thousand said, “How could this man give us his flesh to eat?” We know how He does it, don’t we? He gives us bread and wine in which His living body is – not dead flesh, not Jesus-meat – but Jesus’ life. And so, He was tempted by the devil to turn stone into bread.
The second thing, according to Matthew, that He was tempted with, was He was tempted to jump off the top of the temple. What does the mean? It means the devil wanted Him to do some stupid stuporific act, some kind of show off thing, some kind of big miracle, and everybody would say, “Oh, He must be the Messiah. He jumped off the top of the temple and angels caught Him in their hands.” And Jesus said, “You shall not test the Lord your God.”
And the third test he gave Him was this: He took Jesus to a mountain and he showed Him all the kingdoms of the earth. And the devil didn’t lie to Him when he said, “These all belong to me.” Because the devil got the world. How did he get it? Who did God give it to in the beginning? Who did God give His world to? … The two people whose icon’s up there? … To Adam and to Eve. And what did Adam and Eve do? They sold the world to the devil. They sold it for an apple, and they were ashamed to go and tell God they were sorry, so they just said, “Okay, we’ll take care of ourselves now, God.” And when God found them, the man blame God; he said, “The woman you gave me made me eat!” The woman blamed the serpent, “The serpent who you made, by the way God – silly fool – made me eat.” So what happened is the man made war against the woman; the woman made war against nature; and they both made war against God. So the whole world became a mixed up stupid mess. Because of Adam and Eve’s sin. But the devil got possession of it. He said, “I will give you all these kingdoms. No cross, no nails, no whip, no crown of thorns, no humiliation. Everybody will worship you. You just be my messiah. You be the devil’s messiah.” Jesus said, “Thou shall worship the Lord thy God, and serve Him only.”
And so for forty days, and then for the six days of Holy Week, we go into post, into the desert. But we don’t go into the desert sad. Adam and Eve are saints, they are saints of the Church. Why? Because after they finally saw what they had done, after their robes of light had been turned into fleshly bodies, and they saw the ugliness of them; after they had seen that they’d lost paradise, and that the man had to eat his bread by the sweat of his brow and that the woman had pain in childbirth, and that they would return to the dust from which they were taken, they wept outside of Eden. They wept at the gate as the seraphim with the flaming sword that you can see on the icon was turning all ways to guard the door. And God said to them, he said, “The seed of the woman will crush the head of the serpent.” Now that’s a funny thing to say. The adults will understand when I say the word seed is semen, it means literally the sperm of the woman. We know that women don’t have seed. The seed comes from the father, doesn’t it? But He says, “The seed of the woman” because Mary was to give birth without a human father, right? “… will crush the head of the serpent,” and He also said that He would trample the gates of hell, and break down the bars of iron, and that the flaming sword would withdraw from paradise, and the people would return to Eden. So Adam and Eve went down to their graves hoping, rejoicing. That skull that you see down at the bottom of that cross over there – did you ever notice the skull? That skull represents Seth, who was Adam’s son, who took three seeds from the tree of life and put them on the tongue of his father when he buried him. And from those seeds grew the pine, and the cedar, and the Cyprus from which the cross of Jesus was made.
So, we’re going into the desert, but we want to be back in Eden, and so what are we doing right now? We’re eating like Adam and Eve in the garden. Now they didn’t have to eat bad stuff, they got to eat every plant that came up from the earth, they got to eat every fruit that grew on the trees, right? And those are the things we’re given for food during the post – good food, sweet food. In the old days when your grandparents were around, all they had around was some cabbage and potatoes, and some dried fruit because they couldn’t fly stuff in from all over the world. But you can have all kinds of fresh fruit and vegetables, healthy things, okay? We had a cardiologist here once named Darya, she was the choir director, and you know what she told me they found? If a person follows the Orthodox fast for forty days during lent, all of the plaque goes out of their veins.
So now I’m going to talk to you about a feast of fasting; being happy during lent. It’s a time to be quiet, not to think about food, not to always be nagging at your mother, not always thinking about candy and ice cream and what’s for dessert. It’s a time to think about God. About Adam and Eve who lived in the garden, and who were thrown out of the garden by their own selfishness.
And here’s the prayer that we say everyday during Lent except on Saturday and Sunday. It has three parts, like everything in Orthodoxy, it’s three. Why is everything three? Because of what? (Child answers, “because of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”). The Father, Son and Holy Spirit! Three persons! One undivided Trinity. The holy, consubstantial, life creating trinity, one essence and undivided. And so this prayer has three parts:
“On Lord and Master of life.” The word Lord is the word “kurios,” it’s the word that took the place in the Old Testament of the name of God. So “Oh God, Master of my life, take from me three things.”
“Sloth.” Now you can remember what sloth is because you know those animals that move really slowly in the trees? Sloth is laziness: not doing my work at school, not doing my homework, not doing my chores, lying around, being a couch potato. Sloth.
“Despair.” Despair is feeling down in the dumps. Now let me tell you, you can feel despair when you’re a kid. Father Joe was not a very good speller in school. I used to teach spelling – I could spell the words when I gave the kids a spelling test, but when I wrote them out, I’m the kind of guy who would spell “pharmacy” with an “F.” And every Wednesday I’d have a trial test and I’d miss the words, and I would go home and I’d be in despair. I’d say every Thursday night, “Oh God, maybe the world will end tomorrow and I won’t have to take that spelling test.” That’s what happens when we give up trying. But let me tell you: God doesn’t judge the outcome of your actions. He only judges what you’re trying to do and how hard you’re trying. And God wants you to have good intentions. Despair is giving up. There are demons that attack you at night. They say, “Tomorrow you’ve got a test you didn’t study for. Tomorrow that girl who’s mean to you is going to be at school. Tomorrow something bad is going to happen.” But then there’s the noonday demon. And that’s when in the middle of the day, for no reason at all, the devil whispers in your ear, “Life is just a bunch of trouble.” That’s because he knows that you now belong to God and he wants to make you not trust God.
Sloth, despair – there’s actually four parts –
“Lust of Power.” Lust of power means wanting to control other people. Now, at school, some of us want to be bossy. But there’s other ways of controlling people. For example, you know that your mother doesn’t have a lot of patience about some things. So she says, “Get ready. It’s time to go to soccer practice.” And you continue watching TV. “Come on get your soccer clothes on.” … “We’re gonna be late!” Now that’s power, isn’t it? You get to torture your mother; you get to get her upset. But it says in the bible, “He who troubles his own house will have the wind for his inheritance.” So what you want to do is to bring peace at home. If your sister gives you trouble, forgive her, love her, and be nice to her. If your brother picks on you, be good to him. Lust of power is want of control. We want who to be in control? Us or… who should be in control?... You’re right… Yes! God! So you want the power, but the power belongs to God.
And “Idle talk.” Now idle talk is not talk about idols. I remember once, my son right there, when he was little, he and I used to read the Psalms every night. And I read, “The idols of the pagans are vain things. Eyes they have that see not. Tongues they have that speak not. Ears they have that talk not, and no breath comes from their nostrils.” And I took him too a Chinese restaurant, and he stood up and said, “There are a lot of idols here!” And he preached a sermon to the Chinese. He said, “Idols have eyes, but they do not see! Idols have ears, but do not hear. Idols have mouths, but they don’t talk.” I don’t know what the Chinese thought, but I was very proud of him. But in this case, “idle talk” is not talk about idols. “Idle” in this case means stupid gossip. It’s just talking about people. Did you ever have a friend, and another friend, and you and the other friend talk about the friend and say bad things about her? … No!? But has it happened to you? Did they get together and say bad things about you? [An anecdotal joke here that was overwhelmed by baby chatter]. Anyway, idle words are things you say that have no meaning. They’re just chitter-chatter to be chittering and chattering.
So we want God to take away laziness, giving up hope, wanting to be in control, and speaking stupid words. And then we say, “But grant unto me the spirit of chastity” – that means purity, not thinking about dirty things – “humility.” The humility comes from the word humus. Does anyone know humus is? It’s a kind of soil. It says remember that we’re taken from the earth, right? Meekness, that’s humility is.
“… chastity, humility, patience.” That means waiting for things to happen when they’re supposed to and not trying to make them happen. Patience is waiting on God. Patience is not nagging your parents. Patience is not wanting to open your birthday presents on Wednesday when your birthday’s on Saturday. I saw a bumper sticker that said, “Lord, give me patience and give it to me right now.” Yeah! Patience.
“… chastity, humility, patience, and love.” Love is the most important part of that. Love is a divine attribute. Love is what God is. Love is wanting the best for everyone, even your enemies. You may not want your enemy to win the millionaire, neither do a lot of people. But you want him not to go to hell too, don’t you? So love means praying for your enemies.
“… chastity, humility, patience, and love give unto me.” Then we have the third paragraph: “Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions…” In other words, to know what’s wrong with you so you can learn to tell God your transgressions in confession. “… to see my own transgressions.” Do you talk to your priest at confession? Not really. There’s a Jesus icon right there so you can talk to Him, right? The priest just listens to help you out in case you think something’s wrong that’s not, or you think something’s right that’s not, or to ask you some questions.
“Help me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother” - or sister – “For blessed art thou unto ages of ages.” Now, I don’t know if they’ve got that prayer for you in Sunday school, but if they don’t, I’ve got it on my desk and they can copy it for you, and I’d like you when you’re not here at a weekday service, to say that prayer at least once a day. Alright? And hope you all have a great Lent, and at Pascha it will be wonderful, and grandpa will shoot rockets over the church and we’ll have roast lamb, and we’ll sing “Christ is risen,” and we will be very happy because we will have gone through the desert and we will have come to the Promised Land.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, glory to Jesus Christ!