An interesting thing about the way Fr. John teaches is that I don’t think I’ve ever heard him give a sermon, talk, or anything else on ethics. Lots on theology, parables, and saints – ethics, no. He does do a version of Basic Gospel Stuff – in a way. It involves an hour and a half every Saturday afternoon for much of the year, and a lot of Greek words written on a white board. He assumes a certain familiarity with the standard American presentation of the Gospel, and uses that to explain what he is and is not saying. For good or ill, if you don’t know what you ought to do or not do you probably won’t find out from a Holy Trinity homily.
This week’s homily, for instance, could have been titled reasons to love Luke the Evangelist. The summary goes something like this: Luke’s a doctor, painter, apostle, and writer! Many believe he was among the 70 Apostles; perhaps the man at the end of his gospel who met Christ walking down the road with that other fellow (Cleophas?)! He painted the first icon of Mary! And just look at his gospel! It’s so good! There are really good things in there that are in no other gospel! Like the parable of the prodigal son – we could learn everything necessary about the Fall, God, Man, heaven, hell, and unrighteous judgment from that one parable alone; the parable of the prodigal son – we’re all that man, beat up by the passions, and Christ is the outcast who brings us into the Church, and pours in wine and oil; the story of Zaccheus; the words of Mary at the Annunciation – Luke must have interviewed her later in life, and like a good doctor been kind and loving listening to her reveal her part of the story; meeting Christ after the Resurrection, when he opened his followers’ eyes to the meaning of the prophecies! How impoverished we would be had Luke not listened to and followed after Christ! Main point to remember: Luke is a really cool saint! I found it quite sweet and amusing.
I’m convinced that nine times out of ten if the homily were to be given a “practical application,” it would amount to “Rejoice!” The Incarnation is fantastic: rejoice! It’s possible to know everything, including death, as means of communion with God: rejoice! God’s planting in your soul, and there shall soon be a harvest; perhaps there is even now: rejoice! Christ is a hypostatic union between Godhood and Humanity, and in him the two are indissolubly, eternally linked: rejoice! We can be engodened: rejoice! The Theotokos is fantastic: rejoice! It would be easy for this to be really cheesy, and yet it isn’t – somehow it seems to work.