You know Bishop Tikhon of San Francisco, our last bishop, used to refrain from ever praising anyone because he’d say, “If I praise them, I take away their reward.” I was always annoyed by this because I always thought that people need to be encouraged, and they need to be strengthened in their good works by having it pointed out to them that they were doing things that were pleasing to God. But I understand what he meant, and that is that if the praise becomes the thing that one is working for, if the recognition becomes what one labors for, then that is the reward one receives and there is no other reward. If it is serving God that motivates, then if men praise us we will be a little bit embarrassed, but we will not turn our praise into the pay for the good works we’re doing.
What we’re being told today in the epistle reading is that everyone of us has been given by God special tools for the ministry of the body of Christ for building it up, and these tools vary as we get older. I stand sometimes, or sit around, feeling pity for myself because I used to be able to do all kinds of things: climb up ladders and carry squares of roofing on my back, and get down on my hands and knees and dig in the ground, and now my knees don’t bend and my back won’t carry those shingles anymore, and I feel as though somehow or the other I’m failing. But what it is is God is telling me, “That was your job then. There’s another job now.”
What I want to point out to you without turning you into self-worshipping pagans, is how you ought to really glorify God for the work he has done here recently. There’s a myth of Holy Transfiguration Cathedral. The myth may have come because I always pointed out our good points, and the myth is that somehow or the other, like a deus ex machine, like a divinity out of a machine, Fr. Joe appeared here and things God better. Well that wasn’t the whole story. The first picnic that we had here I enjoyed. I got to meet a whole lot of people. By the third picnic I was praying that it would start to rain about four o’clock so that I could get out of there. It was just a big coffee hour, done outside, and just before it was time to clean up, everybody would get in their cars and go home. And so, it ended up with the Cahenzli kids, and my kids, and a couple other of the children, carrying tables and carrying chairs for an hour and a half after we got through, and I would say to myself, “Why couldn’t we have just done this in the hall and saved all this work?”
As time went on, it was not always clear that everyone here who worked for the church was doing it for God. People would do something wonderful, and meritorious, something that really built up the church or that helped strengthen the community, and then they’d turn around and say to me, “Why doesn’t anyone else do anything?” As soon as they said that, they took away from themselves their reward because they were judging themselves to somehow be righteous because of what they should have been doing out of love. But just recently, and I don’t want to put the idea in your hear or open it up to the devil for you to then boast about it because then you’ll become arrogant and it will become your sin. Just recently our people have become joyful in their service. They have stopped complaining for the most part, and when they do complain, they get over it very fast. Last night I had people come to me. They said, “We sold everything in our booth. Can we go out tonight and buy more food and cook some more?” Can you imagine that? What would have happened ten years ago? People would have said, “Hup. Sold all my stuff. Won’t see me tomorrow.” But people received joy from what they were doing. They received joy because they could see that that the labors they were undertaking were redounding to good. We can now understand how our transformation, which has taken decades, has transformed the community around us. How this is now a low crime area. How the people surrounding us have gone from being poverty to being middle class people – not that we kicked out the poor people and brought in better earners, but that the whole community life has been regenerated in a real way. We understand those things.
Of course, all it takes is for someone to come over from ** and tag something and then we’re all back to where we started right. We’re all pessimistic again. But now we’ve got people down in Globeville who have learned from our church. There’s a guy that drives around, marks on a sheet of paper whenever he sees graffiti, goes home an gets the paint and covers it up. It’s not worth it for these gang bangers to come into our neighborhood any longer and to mark our walls because it’s not going to last until sundown, and if it does it will be gone by the next day.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we have given joy to the people around us. We have given them encouragement. We have taught them that laws can be enforced, that codes can be carried out, that the requirements of statutes do not just apply to lighter skinned people living in Cherry Creek. We’ve also taught them that they can approach power, political power, and request with dignity and intelligence what it should be their right to have, and get it. That the answer to everything is not to form a group of guerilla soldiers and go out and fight a revolution. That the answer is to use their human dignity to access the wheels of power, and to gain for themselves what they should always have had.
And our community here, it’s such a wonderful thing to have people come to me from a half dozen parishes, people who were here yesterday, clergy and laity, saying, “When we have an event, we work and work and work. We forget about church. We just work on the festival, and then we all go in there and we get as much money out of people as we can, and we’re all tired and we’re all angry when we’re through. But your people, they said, they have a good time while they’re doing it. They enjoy it. And you don’t gouge people when you offer them something for sale. You give them value. Why can’t we do this?” Well, they can. But we’re not going to lecture them and tell them that. We’re going to let them see how we do it and let them copy that.
What I’m saying to you today, on this Sunday of the Fathers of the First Six Councils, is that if the Holy Spirit dwells in us… but not just as individuals. We’re not a bunch of protestants who take our Lord Jesus, our personal savior, and our little deposit of Holy Spirit and go off in our little corner and boast about our salvation. We are a body, a community. And the Spirit dwells in us, as a people, the same way He dwells in us as individuals. If we allow our preaching to be a cause of our being caught up in ecstasy about our rhetorical skills, if we allow our good works to be a cause for us to be arrogant and proud, if we allow our charity be something where we go around and judge ourselves better than others, we make a lie of all this. But as long as we are laboring for the building up of the body, whether it’s our family which is a microcosm of the church, our parish which is our home away from home, the whole Church in America, or the universal Orthodox church as we contribute to it through IOCC and OCMC, and other charities, when we build up the church on any basis where two or three or two million or three million are gathered and laboring in the name of Christ, then we become a spirit filled community. And when the Holy Spirit is in us, and working in us, unless we turn our eyes back to that ____ that once had enthroned itself in our hearts, as long as we keep our eyes on the author and finisher of our faith, we can accomplish miracles beyond the imagination of those who even have seen the marvelous things that the Lord has done in our sight.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, glory to Jesus Christ!