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Fr. John Townsend’s Homily at Holy Apostles, January 30 2011

This church is in every way a church of God.  Today we celebrate a wonderful saint of our Church, St. Anthony the Great, who, as a teenage boy, heard the gospel of the rich young man who came to Christ and said, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And having discoursed with the Lord, the Lord finally told him, “Sell everything that you have, and give it to the poor, and come and follow Me.”  And we know that the rich young man did not follow him.  But St. Anthony, hearing these words, was actually touched in the depths of his soul, and decided that he would go out and do what the rich young man did not do.  He would follow Him.
 
He went out into the desert.  Remember that his parents died, left a fortune to him and his sister, and he sold all of his part, provided for his sister, and went out into the desert, to begin a life that lasted, in monastic struggle, ascetic struggle, for about 80 years.  He went out with absolutely nothing.  He went with nothing.  And yet, God provided everything.  Into the desert; into the barren desert, where, apparently there is no food.  There is no sustenance.  And yet, God provided for him in every single way.  And I believe he lived to 108 or 107.  My mind is not sharp anymore; I can’t remember figures, numbers, so well, but he lived over 100 years.  And the last years of his life, he was nourished on plants.  And everyone said that he had a wonderful, healthy, radiant face, a beautiful face.  So he was cared for in every way.
 
And he essentially became an earthly angel.  The body did not matter anymore to him.  I remember one icon of him with a scroll that said, one of his quotes that he gave, though he didn’t read and write, still he knew the scriptures – he knew – he had such glorious direct communion with God, and he said, “I no longer fear Him, but I love Him.”  He came to that point where he was filled, filled to overflowing with the love of God.  So God provided everything for him.  He had everything.  He had everything right there.  God provided him with His mysteries, as often as he needed them; provided him with everything, even though he was not a priest of the Church; provided him with everything.
 
And in one sense, we find ourselves in the same situation here, in this place.  And we’ve come to the point where God has blessed in every way this community and has called it really, I think as He did St. Anthony, to sell everything, to give up everything, and come and follow Him.  You might say, “Well, we’ve tried to do that before.”  But God keeps calling us, over and over again, to do His will, as we need it, for our salvation.
 
And so, once again, He has brought you to the point where He has given you, everything, really.  You have everything here - a wonderful church, a beautiful fellowship, a loving fellowship.  God has provided you with a shepherd who is willing to sacrifice his life for his sheep, and gives his life to teach and to care for, to feed them with the Holy Mysteries, to teach them the words of life.  He has provided you with people who are using their talents to sing His praises, and beautiful, beautiful ways to read in such a way that everyone can understand.  It’s only when I come here, that I can understand the services, not even in my own church, which is all English also, the same as here.  But I can’t understand the services because they’re not always read properly.  That’s my fault, for not training them.  Everything is read so clearly here.  I can hear every word and understand every word that the choir sings; and I would say, maybe a third of what my choir sings, although they do very well, I’m not criticizing them, and I’m very grateful for what they do.  And, in other churches, it goes down to sometimes a tenth, or lower.  But here, I can understand everything.
 
And it’s so beautiful to hear the words of life; to let them sink into the soul, just as they did into the soul of St. Anthony the Great.
 
I see a love that’s here among the people, a fellowship; caring for each other, supporting each other.  This is the sort of thing that just simply we have to recommit ourselves to over and over again.  Because the devil will always come and try to stir up things; will always try to stir up suspicion – to look at one another, to see the faults, rather than the beauty, the glory, the image of God, the love, the care that each one has for others.
 
In a sense when things are not going so well, and I’ve heard rumors that some people think things aren’t going too well at least in the financial area, that we begin to think, “Well, why, why?  What can we do?  How can we solve this?  Who can we blame?  What’s to blame?  Who’s to blame for this kind of thing?”
 
And yet, God, I think in this case, is testing us again.  Not that He necessarily causes the financial difficulties.  But, when they come, we are in a test, again.  God is there.  We are in a contest, to see [God sees] how it is that we are going to react.  Are we going to blame each other?  Are we going to try to think of ways to solve it in some, maybe, way that’s not so faithful?
 
Or, are we going to throw ourselves on the mercy of God, and know that He is the head of this parish.  He is the priest here.  He is the teacher here.  He is the healer.  He is the Saviour.  He is the Lord.  He is everything, and all of us are His servants; all of us are His servants.  And it’s so important for us to put ourselves on His mercy, and to depend completely, absolutely completely on His mercy and His love, and to know that He will help us.
 
Of course, we have to do our part.  Each one has to do his part.  To do it to the very best of his ability, but do it knowing that God will take our meager efforts and will multiply them hundreds and hundreds of times.  To do His will and to bring salvation to each one of us, because that’s why we’re here.  And to help each other with that salvation.  And to proclaim that salvation to others outside, and to bring them in, and help them, and lift them up so that they also, can go, we can all go together, with a great multitude into the kingdom of God.  This is where we’re going.  This is our purpose in this life.
 
So, we have everything here.  We have everything, just like St. Anthony.  Just as He gives to each one of His servants.  We have every single thing that we need.  We are lacking in nothing.  We have a whole church.  Our purpose now is to be faithful; to be faithful in each thing that we have here;  to be faithful in everything.  To be faithful in our love for each other.  Well first, faithful in our love for God, in our acknowledging Him to be the Lord, the source of our life.  And also, to have faith in each other, to support each other, not to blame the others in any way.  But for each one to look into himself and say, “What can I do?  How can I sacrifice more for all of them, for God and for all of my brothers and sisters, who in some ways, in many ways, are closer to me than my own blood relatives, in many cases who are not in the Faith, in the Church of Christ.”
 
So it is that we are able to sacrifice and give ourselves for each other, as well.  How important it is to support each other.  How important it is to support the shepherd of this parish.  Because he is given a burden.  He is given a burden that is impossible for man even to think about or conceive.  He is given a burden of the salvation of the souls of everybody here.  And it’s as if he is carrying a huge cross up a steep hill.  And as he gets older, as I get older, that cross is heavy, and it’s hard, very hard to pull up that hill.  So we depend totally, we shepherds, unworthy though we are in every way, yet still trying to do something, to follow the will of God for the salvation of the faithful, depend on you to come and take the base of that cross, and carry it with us up the hill - to take it up the hill.
 
To be faithful in everything here.  To continue with the traditional worship.  Not conforming the services to the desires of this world, but keeping them for the needs of this world: the salvation, so that they’re there, so that they are in tact, so that every word, every example, every saint is lifted up.  Every wonder of God that He has given for our salvation is proclaimed.  Because when we start cutting, when we start leaving out stichera and saying, “Oh, the people don’t want to hear all that,” we’re leaving out what – the Resurrection, maybe.  We’re leaving out the example of St. Anthony the Great.  We’re leaving out other glories that we need and examples that we need to see in order to be lifted up for our own salvation.  So we have the services that are intact.
 
We must care for each other and always honor each other as those who are in the image of God and those who are essential for my salvation also, who are my support.  We must also honor, as we heard in the Epistle today, read beautifully by Christopher, that we must honor the shepherd and help him; just as Moses had his arms stretched out for the victory, the Israelites, the people of God, over Amalek, and he couldn’t hold them there himself.  He could not hold them there himself.  And they would fall down and they would start losing the battle again.  And then he would lift them up again and finally, he had those on either side holding up his arms, so that the battle was won.  And that is essential here also. 
 
It’s essential that you realize: thank God for what He has given.  Because you have everything here.  There’s nothing lacking, nothing at all.  The church that was given you, a couple of miles away, it’s a wonderful gift of God.  It’s a promise for the future.  But it’s not something that’s essential.  It’s a gift.  It’s something beautiful.  It’s something in addition, so to speak; the superabundance of grace.  And that’s not where we need to keep our attention right now.
 
The attention needs to be right here, because this is the place of God.  The place that God has given you and these are the people He has given you.  This is the shepherd He has given you.  And to maintain - not just to maintain - not just to be faithful with what you have, but to grow, to continue to grow, and to maintain.  So the support that you have is support for here.  I’ve heard some rumors that somehow there’s a fund that you have, a building fund, that perhaps is needed now for a building fund, for what a building fund is meant to be used for.
 
And here, I really, in a sense, I’m daring, to stop preaching and start meddling.  But I’m going to dare to do it because I’ve been part of this mission from the beginning, and I love it and consider myself a part of it too.  So I’m going to say that that money is meant to be used for whatever is needed in this parish to build.  And it would not be going against the intention of the fund itself and what is given in it to be a building fund to build this church.  We don’t need necessarily right now to build a building.  That’s something that may or may not, God may or may not will.  I think He does because He’s given you a place and He’s provided, He’s not just teasing us by putting something in front of us, and then taking it away.  And I think He will give it.
 
But right now, the important thing is to support what you have here; to use those funds however they are necessary to be used to support here.  Certainly not to take away from the support that you have given, the meager support that you give for the priest at this point.  That would be not faithful.  That would be not a faithful thing to do, for this parish.  It’s got to be faithful in order to be able to receive the next miracle that God has for you. 
 
There’s no way this parish can save enough money in the next 100 years to have the three million dollars that you need for the kind of church and place that you want.  And you want it for good purposes, for the salvation of many, for your own and for the salvation of many.  But there’s no way if you gave, if everybody even gave a tenth that you would be able to save enough in the next 100 years to have three million dollars to pay for that.  So God is going to have to give a miracle to do that.  You have to wait on God for that.  But in the meantime be faithful.  Be faithful to Him and be open to Him, because this is the only way that we are going to deserve here, to have such a miracle.
 
So, as you meet next week, I’ve heard that, again, I’m just meddling, to some extent, but not really meddling, as you meet next week, come in oneness of mind.  Come ready to support each other, to honor each other in every way, and to work together to look what more sacrifice you can give.  And I’m not asking people to give more than they are able to.  But whatever sacrifice they are able to, so as to support what you have here, what you have right now.
 
And then God will give you what it is that He wants you to have, when He wants you to have it; to have that wonderful complex there, that will be, also, for His glory.  Amen.
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