Tonight’s Gospel is perhaps one of the strongest and
most accusing Gospels in Holy Week. We hear that Christ
really gets into it with the Pharisees and the scribes,
the so-called leaders of the faith at his time. He is
really harsh with them. He is really critical. We never
hear Christ speak like this in the Gospels. This is the
only place where he calls them “serpents” and “vipers”,
and he says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees,
hypocrites” (Matthew 23). Many times we hear this,
and we read all these kind of “woes”. It is kind
of like he’s cursing them. Many times we read this part
of the Gospel, and we identify it with ourselves. We’ve
heard the common explanation that not only is Christ
speaking to the Pharisees, to the leaders, but he is
also speaking to us. We should take heed and warning of
hypocrisy, of not practicing what we preach.
tonight I also want to speak a little bit about the
literal meaning of the Gospel. We know that Christ is
not only speaking to the people, but he is specifically
directing his words to the priests, to the leaders. This
is why I always tell my brother priests that all of us,
the priests in the Orthodox Church, should really listen
very carefully to tonight’s Gospel. We’re human beings
too, and many times we fall into the hypocrisies that
Christ mentions in tonight’s Gospel.
spoke two days ago about self-delusion. We spoke about
how we are sinners and how we have difficulty following
the path of Christ and following his word. We are
sinful, and we delude ourselves into believing our own
version of Christ, our own version of spirituality. And,
you know what? Priests do it too. I would say that the
danger is much greater for priests, because priests are
placed in a position of power, in a position of
authority, in a position of leadership where they are
given a flock, a local church. Many times they forget
that they are servants of that church, and they begin to
feel that they are little gods in themselves. They make
up their own rules as they go. They do things that are
convenient to themselves. They make sure they don’t
offend their congregations. They make sure they don’t
say anything that might make them unpopular.
hear all these criticisms tonight in the Gospel. We hear
how the Pharisees of the time did all these things on
the exterior. They liked to make big prostrations and
large prayers in front of people, so that they looked
holy. Yet on the inside, they are not truly spiritual
people. We have to be very careful of that as priests.
I say this tonight? Many times the lay people, the
people who are not part of the clergy, want things a
certain way. If the priest does not do it that way,
usually they will criticize. But we have to remember
that, if he is a good priest, a good leader, a good
bishop, a good Sunday school teacher, a good parish
president, all these people who are in leadership
positions, they will do what is best for their people,
whether the people understand it or not, whether the
people accept that truth or not.
the same way as raising our children. Many times our
children want to do something, and we know as their
parents that it is not correct for them to do it. We
tell them “no”. Our children get angry with us, and
sometimes they act out. Many times they don’t understand
why we’re doing it. And yet the parent knows that, if he
or she does not set down some guidelines and teach the
child what is right, the child will be spoiled.
is the great danger within the Church today, especially
for the leaders of the Church—that balance between being
loved by their congregation, being loved by their
people, having a true family, and preaching the truth.
As we see and will see during the Gospel readings of
Holy Week, Christ was not treated with respect because
he taught the truth. He was actually treated with the
opposite. He was mocked and ridiculed. They wanted to
stone him. They drove him out of the synagogues, and in
the end they crucified him. Why? Because he spoke the
problem is that we don’t want to hear the truth. So
sometimes, in the same way, if a priest tries to teach
something that is correct but people don’t want to hear
it, they call him a bad priest, or they will call him a
bad chanter, or they will call him a bad Sunday school
teacher, or they will call him a bad president. But the
issue is not in the person who is teaching it, the issue
is with us. We must try and have discretion and
understand if what is being told to us is truly correct.
Or are we just self-deluded?
the examples—and I said it in Greek—is something that
happens in North America. I’m not afraid to say it,
because we’re all a family here. We should discuss the
good and the bad in the Church. One of the examples is
the so-called Express Communion that we have,
not here in St. Demetrius, but in many churches across
Canada, especially in the big cities—the communion for
the working people. Some of you may have heard it. It
may have been done in the past here.
priest will offer Holy Communion before Divine
Liturgy on Holy Saturday morning for people who do not
have time to come to church, who work all the time, and
they just want to come in quickly for five minutes, take
Holy Communion and leave, because they don’t plan on
coming to the Resurrection anyway.
is something that has been created here in North
America. Nowhere in any Orthodox country will you see
this. You will not see it in Greece. You will not see it
in Russia. You will not see it in the Ukraine, in Serbia
or anywhere—only in North America. It is something that
is wrong. I know I will get criticized by some
other people by saying this, but it is blatantly wrong.
Why? Because we’re not supposed to give Holy Communion
outside of the context of Liturgy.
cannot just come into the church and take Communion as
if it’s something that we drive up to at McDonald’s and
Burger King, and take it without preparation, without
prayer, without fasting. And yet we do it. Why do the
priests do it? Why do the archdioceses allow it? Because
the people complain, and we don’t want them to complain,
we don’t want to be unpopular.
is one of the examples that I’m talking about. This is
one of the examples where we are feeding the spiritual
laziness of our people. Instead of teaching them the
truth, which is difficult, instead of preaching Christ,
preaching the true order of the Church, the reasons for
fasting, the reasons for spiritual preparation, the
reason for going to Liturgy and being on time, instead
of doing that, which is very, very hard, we don’t do
that. We just give the people what they want.
is what the Pharisees were doing too. But if we do that,
we become hypocrites. We are selling out to the Gospel.
We are pandering to the people. Why? Because we want to
be popular. We don’t want to hear the constant
grumblings and complaints. If Christ did that, where
would we be today? They complained to Christ every day
for the things that he taught; and yet he stayed the
course. We too, as priests and all leaders within the
Church, have to stay the course.
have to teach what is true. This is why I always ask my
parishioners here to learn your faith well, to research
your faith. Why? Because priests are people too and make
mistakes. There is nothing wrong, when you hear
something in church and it doesn’t seem right or it
seems a little off, to go and research it. There’s
nothing wrong with going back to scripture, going back
to the fathers of the Church, going back to the saints,
and researching it and checking if what they hear is
correct or not.
There’s nothing wrong with questioning your priest—with
love and respect of course—there is nothing wrong with
it. If we say that we are one family, we should love
each other and respect each other as a family. The
priest is not a king. The priest is a human being. Sure,
he’s in a leadership position, but we all too have a
responsibility as Orthodox Christians.
is why I have told many of you individually, but I
always say to the Church as well, that we all have to
become theologians, we all have to learn our faith in
depth, so that we do not deviate from the path, so that
there are checks and balances in the system, so that we
do not necessarily just follow the ideas of one person.
But we truly follow the true tradition, the truth that
is taught through scripture and through Christ. Amen.