The heart is deep

The audio of this Thanksgiving homily can be found on
the site of St. Nicholas Russian
Orthodox Church in McKinney, TX.

Photo: http://journeytoorthodoxy.com/2014/07/why-would-a-protestant-convert-to-eastern-orthodox-christianity/
Photo: http://journeytoorthodoxy.com/2014/07/why-would-a-protestant-convert-to-eastern-orthodox-christianity/

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy
Spirit. Amen.

Today we are celebrating the Eucharist,
thanksgiving, on the American holiday of Thanksgiving. We
have a custom at our Thanksgiving dinner of saying three
things we are thankful for. The first thing I thought
about was that we should recognize that many of our
brethren are being tortured, harried, chased;
they’re naked, cold, hungry, they’re orphans,
widows, and widowers because of this outburst of evil,
especially in the Middle East. We should always remember
our brothers who are hurting. We’re not cold,
we’re not hungry, and no one is chasing us. Perhaps
someone calls us a name once in a while. If you pay
attention, you’ll see that in every service we twice
pray for the persecuted and suffering, and we should
especially remember them on this day.

There’s a verse from the Psalter that has always
made a deep impression on me, which says that our hearts
are deep—deep enough to contain God. Not deep
because we made them deep but because He
made them deep, and our hearts are made to be filled with
God. That’s what I’m most thankful
for—that my heart is deep and your heart is deep.
There are hearts that won’t be filled, that focus on
shallow things, and that’s truly sad, but God made
us so that we could know Him intimately. We have no part
with Him at all: we’re mortal, temporal, full of
sin, devious, capricious, weak-minded,
weak-willed—none of the things that God is, and yet
He will call us sons and daughters, and that is what
I’m most thankful for. Every day I more distinctly
feel my own weakness, my own differentness from
God, and yet God is calling me to be with Him, and to in
some way be the same as Him. Scripture says ye are
gods
—we’re called to create, to minister
to, to give compassion and love—all the things that
God does, and this is what I’m thankful for.

I’m getting to be an old man. I think differently
than I used to—there’s a little more focus.
I’m glad for all the good and all that bad that
happens, because I just want to be useful to God, because
of what He’s done for me. I’m most thankful
that, despite being nothing like Him, He is calling me to
Himself, in a somewhat slow and torturous process, but one
that I’m very grateful for.

The Scripture for St. John
Chrysostom
today,[1] who said “glory to God for all
things” as he was dying in some cold, mountainous
region in Turkey, sick, feverish, coughing, and
probably unable to walk, is that for a hierarch, which
is about a shepherd. There are two things in this
reading that have always struck me. It talks about the
sheep going in an out and finding
pasture—it’s about freedom—the
freedom of the soul to be perfectly good. You and I are
not free like that yet. We can try to be good, but some
bad always ends up happening, or even when we try to do
good it’s a struggle. But this perfect freedom of
going in and out and finding pasture is the image of
salvation, and I’m very glad for that. There are
times in my life that I feel perfectly free to do
something good, and when that happens there’s a
feeling of light in me. I’m not a holy man,
I’m a sinful man, and so these feelings of light
are short-lived, but they’re a harbinger of
things to come. I’m thankful that someday
I’ll be totally free. I think that’s why I
became a priest—I was captivated by this idea of
personal freedom. I just wanted to tell other people
about it. I didn’t realize this at the time, but
now I can’t imagine anything else.

Photo: http://www.crisismagazine.com/2015/an-intellectual-challenge-to-the-spiritual-friends
Photo: http://www.crisismagazine.com/2015/an-intellectual-challenge-to-the-spiritual-friends

There have been great losses in my priesthood, but
I’m glad for those too. I’m not always
emotionally glad for them, but a shepherd lays
down his life for the sheep, which means he doesn’t
care for his own personal well-being, and of course our
Lord is a Shepherd. If we are to become like Him, we must
also do that. When we humble ourselves when we help
someone out, when we sacrifice of ourselves for others
then we become a little bit like the Shepherd, and
thankful that He accepts our puny ministrations. I’m
speaking now not as a priest but just as a human being, a
Christian, offering my puny ministrations, trying to be
like a little shepherd. I’m thankful for that very
much.

In this reading there is freedom, and also suffering, just
as in life, and those who are truly free will suffer.
Those who are not free will also suffer but they
won’t understand why they’re
suffering. We’re Christians, and we should know why
we suffer. The heart is deep, the heart is like God, and
the heart contains God. The heart contains the
uncontainable. Even the pain that we feel about the evil
in the world, about the difficulty of people’s
circumstances, their sin, their anger, is because our
heart contains God. That pain that you feel means
you’re alive. It’ll mess you up sometimes, but
don’t be afraid of it—that’s part of
having a deep heart. I’m most thankful that my heart
and your heart are deep, to be filled with God. If I could
get the junk out of it then I could be completely filled
with God, and that process is occurring little by little,
that someday we might be completely free. I long for that
day. Someday we’ll be free, to never be bad, to
never have any thoughts that tear at us and hurt us, to
never have regrets.

We had a big discussion about regrets at the prison
yesterday. One man said that in Heaven there won’t
be punishments, but we’ll be aware of what we missed
because of the way we lived. Heaven has many mansions and
some will be closer to God than others and we’ll be
aware of that. I believe the great ones, like St. John
Chrysostom, will be very close to the throne of God.
Sinful ones like me will be able to see God and
we’ll be happy. But since we eternally grow closer
to God, we have a long time to come to know God. I
don’t believe at all that there will be regret in
the next world, of any kind, and I’m happy about
that, because regret is one of the hardest things to deal
with in life, in my opinion.

I hope that when you’re thinking about what
you’re thankful for on this day it’s not
different than any other day, because despite the fact
that you are just a pitiful weak creature, God has called
you to be a son and a daughter, and that you have a deep
heart and that God is going to fill that heart with
Himself. You will become all light, all fire, and all
good. We should thank God for that every day. May God
bless you and help you in all things.

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