|Three things which must be done in Secret|
Gospel Reading for this Sermon:
Mark 6“Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
2 “Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,
4 so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
7 “And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words.
8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9 Pray then like this:
Our Father who art in heaven,
14 For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you;
15 but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
16 “And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,
18 that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Sermon from October 31, 2016
Dear lovers of God and lovers of the holy scriptures, I welcome you. Among the three things that must be done in secret — the first is giving alms, the second is prayer, and the third is fasting. The order of these acts is not accidental — the order is very important. First you must cover yourself in benevolence, and then you may pray.
Alms-giving(benevolence/mercy) in Greek is έλεος (eleos) and has the same roots as oil έλαια (elaia). This is because when you are merciful and benevolent it is as though you have covered yourself in oil. The origin of this comparison stems from the ancient Greek wrestlers who would enter their fighting grounds covered in oil so that they could be slippery while sparring. Therefore, the mercy embodied by the slippery oil, does not allow your enemy to completely choke you. Your enemy may be stronger than you — he might have already been able to lift you above his head or crush you — but you are slippery and you are anointed with mercy. Mercy is above all else in importance, but it is not enough. As Jesus says in Matthew 19:21 ‘If you would be perfect…’ In order to be perfect we must move forwards with Christ’s commandments.
So what is next? Next is prayer. Prayer is great labor — it is a labor that is not comparable to any other. Prayer is more difficult than the digging of wells or trenches; prayer is more difficult than the unloading of heavy goods, prayer is more difficult than the solving of mathematical problems. If people put their heart into prayer, we would not need or have so much tragedy in this world, because tragedies are sent precisely to press on our hearts and direct them upwards toward God. As Saint John Climacus said, ‘when placed under pressure, water rises upward and when given sorrow, a heart rises upward and begins to pray to God.’ In other words, prayer in itself is a great good. Take prayer and put it next to any good and you will see that they are even. And the Lord tells us that we must also do this in secret.
However, there is a bit of nuance here. There are prayers meant for the public, joint prayers designed for multiple people gathered together. The normative prayer that the Lord gives us, ‘Our Father’ begins precisely with the word ‘Our’ and not ‘My’. If one prays in secret, then it is ‘My Father’, but if one prays with others, then it is ‘Our Father’. Therefore, the most important Christian prayer directs us to a public liturgy — to the gathering of the faithful, the kind of gathering about which the Lord says, ‘ For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.’ However, this also means that a person needs to find the motivation, time, and place for solitary, private, and personal prayers which are wholly unknown to others. And it is precisely this secret that the Lord will shine light upon and for which we will receive our reward.
I would like to offer you some places where you can pray to God in secret, so that you may receive His reward. For example, nature — in its many forms. In its wild form, nature always predisposes a person to prayer. It may be in a forest, in the spring, winter, fall, or summer — it makes no difference. Any time of year, the forest predisposes man to prayer because the forest is a temple. The mountains and banks of rivers, streams, and seas, and even the parks — every time you go for a stroll, take your prayer book with you or keep certain prayers in your head, Psalm 50, 90, 1, 3, 150 and read, and pray, and sing these prayers to God.
Finally, the cemetery — a forgotten place which no one wants to encounter. We don’t want to visit it until life forces us to — but we must visit it before life forces us to, and not only for the graves of loved ones. When you are uncontrollably happy or in the midst of hysterical laughter — go to a cemetery. When you are inconsolably upset or depressed — go to a cemetery. Here is a place, an open book between the World and Heaven from which the bodies will one day rise. Take your Psalter and pray there.
And if you keep prayers in your head, then you can pray privately anywhere — in transit, in line, or before surgery as the doctors are preparing for their work, or prior to giving birth — not only gasping from the pain but also praying to God. Therefore, one can pray anywhere, anytime, and in secret. For these prayers, no one will thank us, no one will compliment us. These are not the kind of prayer where we stand with our hands raised and cry out in the middle of a busy street, ‘Glory to God’. No, we pray because we cannot avoid prayer — there is an inherent need in man’s heart to communicate with God. And by praying in secret, according to the gospel, we will obtain something from the Lord: a light which shines upon our secret and makes it known to God.
Therefore, pray dear brothers and sisters. There is a great deal lacking in our world — some will say it lacks money, others will say it is time, others will say it is endurance, and they may all be right. But truly, the greatest thing lacking in our world is prayer. Pray dear Christians before it is too late — pray and you will see how important, how beautiful it is; and how many tragedies the Lord spares when our prayers to him are without limit.