Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Edited transcription of a sermon delivered extemporaneously by Rev. Fr. John-Brian Paprock on November 26, 2008 after Thanksgiving Prayers at Holy Transfiguration Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin
One of the scriptures appointed for Thanksgiving is Psalm 118. It’s an important Psalm for us to keep in mind about Thanksgiving and gratitude to God.

It begins, “O, give thanks to the Lord, for he is gracious, because his mercy endures forever.”

One of the things that we know about God just from that verse is that God is gracious. That means He is full of grace and that He has grace to give. We give thanks to Him for that, and for His mercy that is forever.. Why do we give thanks to Him? His mercy endures forever. In other words, we cannot do enough to earn His mercy. It’s going to continue. We give thanks to God all the time for His mercy.

Then the Psalmist writes, “Let Israel now confess that he is gracious and that his mercy endures forever. Let the house of Aaron now confess that his mercy endureth forever. Yea, let them now fear that the Lord confess that his mercy endures forever.” Everybody should be confessing this. “Confessing,” in this context, means to speak it out loud. Confession is supposed to be spoken out loud. So when you confess something, you’re speaking it out loud. It’s important that we do this once in a while. The psalm continues.

“I called upon the Lord in trouble and the Lord heard me.” So part of what we can be grateful for is that when we’re in trouble, we call upon God and He hears us.

“The Lord is on my side, I will not fear what man does to me. The Lord taketh my part with them that help me, therefore shall I see my desire upon my enemies.” In other words, we don’t have to worry about taking care of those people who are against us. God will take care of them.

“It is better to trust in the Lord than put any confidence in human kind.” This is an important thing for us to understand about being grateful at our Thanksgiving - that even when somebody gives us something or if we get something from somebody, it is actually because of God’s mercy that it’s available. Because without God’s mercy, with each of us after each other’s stuff, after each other’s belongings, each other’s prestige, each other’s pride, in other words, without God, without a better way of life, without a loving kindness that God gives to us inside our hearts, we cannot get that which is good from anywhere else. We will be fighting all the time. We will be at war. We will be at each other’s throats. We will want to have more. I want what you have. You want what I have. Then people start taking it. So it is obvious that any goodness that comes to us is part of God’s mercy. It has to be part of God’s mercy as it does not seem flow from us without divine intervention. So we’re grateful for everything that someone else gives us. Our proper response when somebody gives something to us is, “To God be thanks,” and “Oh, and thank you, too.” The primary source of all good is God.

And this Psalm goes further about this idea. It talks about enemies and how they attack, and then it says: “The Lord is my strength, and my song, and has become my salvation.” My strength is everything that I can do, every endurance that I endure, everything I’m able to do beyond what I think I’m capable of doing – that’s strength.

And what is “my song?” When do you sing? When can you sing? When you’re happy or when you’re trying to be elevated or when you’re emotional? So the Lord will become your strength and song, which is to say your voice in a way that communicates more than just the words or thoughts, but also emotions and even spiritual concerns. That is what our song is. “And has become my salvation,” that is become the way of my saving; in other words (salve being ointment), a way to heal me. The Lord has become a way that I endure, persevere; the way that I’m able to communicate spiritually beyond just thinking and emotions and also become the way that I heal.

“The voice of joy and help is in the dwellings of the righteous, the right hand of the Lord brings mighty things to pass.” So God does great things and the right hand of God has preeminence, which means that He is before anything that’s eminent. In other words, He’s on top of the principalities, He’s on top of the government, He’s on top – His arm can move greater than all of those together - the governments, economies, soft markets, jobs and all those things - so we rely on this greater force. “The right hand of God bringeth mighty things to pass.”

Then the Psalmist says this, “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.” So part of the reason we’re alive is to say, “This is the Lord’s doing.” The good stuff that’s happening is because of God. Without that good stuff, we would all just be miserable and suffering at each other’s expense. So we live to declare the works of God everywhere.

If we feel that we’ve had a hard time, we say, like the Psalmist, “The Lord has chastened and corrected me, but he has not given me over to death.” He’s given me a second chance. He’s given me another opportunity and for that I’m grateful. So regardless of whatever mistake I’ve made, I wake up and say, “Okay, now I can do something else. I’m grateful for that.”

“Open to me the gates of righteousness that I may go into them.” I say to God, like the Psalmist, “Show me the way that I may go into those gates.” I give thanks to the Lord for this way of living that’s outside of bitterness and vengeance of enemies; not only the enemies outside of us, but the enemies inside of us. Not just those that we can identify, but those that are invisible. There are lots of things that attack us: random thoughts, or ideas, or people, or ideas about things, or people we never met before, people who vandalize or do other things. There are lots of ways that enemies are around and about and we know that the Lord has become our salvation.

The Psalm continues, “I will thank thee; for thou hast heard me, and art become my salvation. The same stone which the builders rejected has become the corner.” The rejected becomes the cornerstone, the foundation. So this is an opportunity, this redemption being offered by rejection.

“This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.” In other words, we are witnesses to it and we exclaim, “Wow! Look at that!” He took the very thing that I wouldn’t probably used for anything, that was useless, and made the very foundation of the temple, made the foundation of our temple, the foundation of everything that we will build upon. So whatever hardship we’re going through, regardless of what enemies are after us, that time of hardship is also something to be grateful, because that very thing becomes the foundation for a glorious temple for the glory of God. “And it’s marvelous in our eyes. This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Remember, in Genesis, the very first thing God creates is day and night, the cycle of a day. We participate in the cycle of the day, and in the present moment, in other words, today. Today is the Lord’s Day. We are grateful for it, we rejoice in it, because it is God’s doing, it is God that is in charge. God created us, God put the cycles in motion, God’s in charge and we have nothing but deep gratitude for that because we know that whatever we do, whatever anyone else does, are not going to endure if they not of God, of good. Those things that are not part of God’s original creation will pass as the temporary always do.

And so we have this opportunity to live in God’s day even though we are here in this world and separated, even though we have plenty of things to regret, plenty of things to be afraid of and plenty of things to correct. We can still live in today – God’s day is today. “This is the day the Lord has made and we will rejoice and be glad in it. Help me now, O Lord.” Not only do we recognize that, but we add, “Help me.” Obviously, David, the psalm writer, understands our human nature. We get notions of God, but we need God to help us to be participants in what is His. So he writes, “Help me, God.”

And “Send us now prosperity.” Don’t be afraid of that we may have to endure, we may have to suffer, because there’s also prosperity, and we ask him for that.

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” and then he tells us “we wished you providence in that the house of the Lord.”

Now toward the end of the Psalm, “God is the Lord who hath showed us light, bind the sacrifice with cords, yea, the horns of the altar.” That means that we bring something of what we think is ours to give back to God. Part of what we’re grateful for, part of how we show our gratitude as we say, “This all belongs to you, God! It’s so wonderful that you let me have it for now. But, you know, the best part of it belongs to you. Here it is. And in gratitude I give it.” Even to this day, we do this in the Orthodox churches. People don’t bring animals to be sacrificed anymore. They bring anything that’s the best of whatever they have, and give it to the church, to God.

In other words, the idea that whatever we had that is good is already of God. This is why it should be used for God’s work. This is very much like how Christ directs us: if we have something and our brethren have need of it, we should be sharing. The same thing is true with our gratitude to God.

And finally the Psalm says, “Thou art my God, and I will thank thee.” In other words, we made God ours. God is already the God over everything. But we have to decide that He is our God.

Then, “O give thanks to the Lord; for He is gracious, and His mercy endures forever.” We’re back at the beginning. When we pay attention to all these things in our lives, we’ll see God working in all these things. And even if we are astray, even if we’re pummeled by enemies, even if we’re having disease or illness or sickness or problems with our minds or problems with our thinking or problems with our workload or our concentration or whatever kinds of problems that we may have in this world, it is by being grateful to God in His graciousness, knowing that His mercy endures longer than we will ever have to endure anything beyond our capacity to endure. In other words, His blessing is upon us if we participate and make this the Lord’s day. It is the Lord’s day. Everyday is the Lord’s day. When the sun comes up and when it sets and when there’s nighttime that cycle that God created the very first day of Creation, separating the dark from the light. Genesis called that the first day. We can participate in that day every day and it is the Lord’s and we are glad in it. So, we have a lot to be thankful for in our Thanksgiving Day.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Angelic Perceptions

"Behold a ladder was set upon the earth and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold angels of God were ascending and descending upon it." Genesis 28:12

"Then [the angel who talked with me] said to me, This is the word of the Lord.. saying, Not by power nor by might, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts." Zechariah 4:6

"The angel answered and said to her, The Holy Spirit will come and the power of the Highest will rest upon you" Luke 1:35

This sermon examines our perceptions and our co-existence with angels. The scripture readings are from the Malankara lectionary.

This sermon given on Sunday, November 22, 2009 by Fr John Brian Paprock at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

To Be Equal to the Apostles

To Be Equal to the Apostles

"Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ to those who... have been made equal with us..." 2 Peter 1:1

"...That by these you might be partakers of divine nature..." 2 Peter 1:4

"...When you do these things, you shall never fall." 2 Peter 1:10

On this first Sunday of Advent 2009, this sermon begins by examining an aspect of the annunciation to Zachariah and Elizabeth and their reactions In Luke chapter1 - then draws this in context to 2 Peter chapter 1. The scripture readings are from the Malankara lectionary.

This sermon given on Sunday, November 15, 2009 by Fr John Brian Paprock
at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin.


Monday, November 09, 2009

God Space

"Seek the Lord; and when you find Him, call upon Him while He is near," Isaiah 55:6

"How much more will the blood of Christ... purify our conscience from dead works so that we may serve the living God?" Hebrews 9:14

"o you stubborn and insincere in heart and hearing, you always resist the Holy Spirit..." Acts 7:51

"Jesus said to them, Is it not written in the law, 'I said, you are gods?' " John 10:34

On this Dedication Day of 2009, the sermon deals with a primary and fundamental problem of giving God space and time in every part of our lives, utilizing the scripture readings from the Malankara lectionary: John 10:22-38; Hebrews 9:1-14; Acts 7:44-53; Isaiah 55:1-13.

This sermon given on Sunday, November 8, 2009 by Fr John Brian Paprock
at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin.


Thursday, November 05, 2009

What distinguishes us from the secular world around us?

What distinguishes us from the secular world around us?
Sermon for Dedication Sunday ~ delivered November 10, 2002

Rev. Fr. John-Brian Paprock ~ Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission

Gospel - John 10:22-38;
Epistle - Hebrews 9:1-14

"What distinguishes the Orthodox position from that of the secular world around us?" asks OCA priest Fr. John Breck in a very interesting article, "Cultural Wars and Orthodox Christianity," written this month (November 2002) and I quote:

".it is [our] ascetic/spiritual/liturgical quest for holiness. God is holy, meaning "set apart," manifesting from His very being qualities, attributes or virtues such as goodness, justice, righteousness, beauty, love. It is by virtue of the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit, whom we receive at baptism and through the sacramental life of the Church, that the divine attributes can actually become our own. These attributes are forms of power: they radiate from God as "divine energies," communicated by the Spirit with the purpose of leading each of us along the pathway of holiness that comes to its fulfillment in the Kingdom of God, in a true and eternal participation in God's very life (referred to by Holy Tradition as theosis or "deification").

"Orthodox values and Christian Tradition in general are threatened, more severely than ever, by the secularizing mentality of contemporary American society and Western culture in general. These pressures stem from a mentality that exalts hedonistic values of consumerism, pleasure, self-fulfillment and autonomy, while it denigrates traditional Christian values of self-sacrifice, ascetic struggle and worship of God.

"Each of us is called to live in the "real world" around us, however great its pressures and however distorted its perspectives. We are called to be witnesses to God's presence and purpose at home, at the office, in the shopping mall or in the hospital. It is there, in the little things and inconspicuous places of everyday life, that we live out our primary vocation to pray for the world, to live and die for the world's salvation.

"We are called to be holy. This does not mean that we isolate ourselves from the ambient culture, making ourselves "separate" in some physical or psychological sense. It means that we seek holiness in the midst of an unholy world, in the hope that through our faithfulness to God and our witness to Him who alone is holy, we might touch the lives of others aroundus and help restore the world to the One who is both its Creator and its Lord."

[end quote]

As Christ says in the Gospel today verses 34-36 "Is it not so written in the law, "I said you are gods?" he called them gods because the word of God was with them." It is in our adoption as children of God that we are enabled, by the grace and mercy of God, to work toward the illumination of theosis.

We are at the Sunday of Dedication as today's gospel begins, "Then came the feast of dedication at Jerusalem." The Greek interlinear says "the feast of renewals" - So even as we are dedicating ourselves anew to the work of Eastern Christianity today - we are also renewing ourselves in the life of Christ. This is also the feast that has come to be known as Hanukkah, which is Hebrew for "dedication" and is used in the Old Testament to refer to the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem. This and today's epistle remind us that Jesus Christ maintained honor of festivals that integrate the past; of tradition and culture - yet, through the new covenant and revelation of the crucifixion, offering insight through the light of the cross that make all things new and present. Where is forever? When is eternity?

The gospel is not just known in the past, but also in the present. Just before the gospel the priest says "these things just came to pass" as though it was a moment ago. Gospel Verse 38 - "If I am doing them [the works of my Father], even though you do not believe in me, believe in the works; so that you may know [Greek adds "and continue to know"] and believe that my Father is with me and I am with my Father."

As adopted children of God the Father through Holy Orthodoxy let us dedicate and renew ourselves and our lives to Christ our God, who is mystically the whole Church, holding us in His hands so that none of us is lost.

As sheep, let us commit to following our shepherd who will tend to us even if one of us is lost.

As followers of Jesus Christ, the Prince of peace, we dedicate our efforts to peace in ourselves, in our families, in our communities, in our world.

As followers of He whose love is without boundaries, we dedicate ourselves to loving others, whether they are friend or foe - stranger or neighbor.

We dedicate ourselves to our personal improvement and spiritual development, so that we may become better servants of our Lord.

We dedicate ourselves to good and holy work wherever we encounter it, as Mother Teresa of India has said, by "doing even small things with great love."

Today, we dedicate also this chapel and all the fruits of our labor in this ministry to God to whom all glory is due. As our great Thirumeni, Paulos Mar Gregorios (of blessed memory) said - "Without Divine Aid, our human efforts can bear no significant fruit." So we bow our heads and pray:

Christ God, this is Thy ministry and we are Thy servants. We ask for Divine Aid. Bless this space with Thy presence; with the presence of Thy holy angels and of all the saints. We ask for an increase of all good things so that we may continue to be instruments of constructive good. We ask for a removal all curses and stumbling blocks so that our human flaws and weaknesses, as well as our enemies and naysayers, are not impediments to fulfilling of Thy divine will. This we ask according to Thy infinite mercy and loving-kindness; together with the Father and the Holy Living Spirit now and forever. Amen.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Removing Masks

Removing Masks

On the day after Halloween in America, the masks and costumes are removed, this sermon uses the secular and popular as metaphor for a deeply Christian message.

"Lay aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisies and envies and evil accusations." 1 Peter 2:1

"Far be it from you, my Lord, that this should happen to you. But Jesus turned and said to Peter, Get behind me, Satan... for you are not thinking of the things of God, but of men." Matthew 16:22-23

The sermon uses the scripture readings from the Malankara lectionary.

This sermon given on Sunday, November 1, 2009 by Fr John Brian Paprock at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin.