March 26, 2023

First Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Great Lent (St. Luke of Simferopol)

From Your Words You Will Be Condemned

By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered on April 15, 1945 - 4th Sunday of Great Lent)

Today we celebrate the memory of our venerable father John of the Ladder. Saint John belonged to a very noble family and received a high education for that time, but he despised everything and in his youth he went to Mount Sinai, and lived for forty-five years in the wilderness, at the foot of this mountain.

The Church honors his memory, because he wrote a book of great significance for the entire Christian world, which is called The Ladder. In this book, Saint John expounded the doctrine of all Christian virtues and the means of ascending their steps to perfection. Much could be said about this holy book, but today we will talk about what extremely strongly hinders us on the path to salvation - about the word.

The holy Apostle James speaks about our language, about our word: “See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell” (James 3:5-6). Fire destroys our property, fire instills great confusion and fear in our hearts; and behold, the holy apostle James compares our unbridled tongue to a fire. Our whole life becomes anxious and painful, for the very evil and impious tongue is kindled from hell.

“For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:7-10). Our mouths, which touch the holy Chalice, perceiving the immortal and life-giving Body and Blood of Christ, should not be so defiled. Along with good words, with words of love, words of damnation condemned by God should not flow out of our mouths.

“Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers,” urges Saint Paul (Eph. 4:29). The holy apostle James testifies: “If anyone thinks that he is pious, and does not bridle his tongue, he deceives his heart, and his piety is empty” (James 1:26).

There are many among us who consider themselves pious, but do not bridle the tongue; there are many who, returning from the temple of God, where they listened to the words of Christ and even partake of the Blood and Body of Christ, spew out evil and unkind words to their neighbors.

And how many of us are those whose mouths are not protected by anything, but constantly, incessantly talk, chattering and chattering from morning to night. And, of course, in this chatter there is an infinite number of empty, idle, evil words. But the Lord Jesus Christ Himself told us: “I tell you that for every idle word that people say, they will give an answer on the Day of Judgment: for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:36-37).

Truly pious people are always deeply concentrated, stay in self-awareness, look into their hearts. Chatty lips not only talk endlessly, but spew out "the poison of asps" (Ps. 139:3) - poisonous words of condemnation, slander and gossip, disgusting curses. And the Lord Jesus Christ strictly forbade any, even the least rude, swear word: “If anyone says to his brother 'raka' (i.e., an empty person), he is subject to the judgment of the Sanhedrin, and whoever says 'fool', he is subject to fiery hell" (Mt. 5:22). You see what an unconditional demand for the purity of our language the Lord Jesus Christ makes to us.

Unfortunately, there are many slanderous people among Christians, many who slander their neighbors. And Sthe holy apostle Paul, speaking of those who do not inherit the kingdom of heaven, about thieves, adulterers, idolaters, puts blasphemers on a par with them: "Blasphemers will not inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 6:10).

Even if we carefully and strictly refrain from the most disgusting curses, from the most rotten words, from condemning our neighbors, from slander and gossip, then we are all guilty of idle talk. We talk empty talk always, everywhere and all places. And here is what the holy apostle Paul says to Timothy: “O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge." "Shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness” (I Tim. 6:20 and II Tim. 2:16), that is, he forbids him even to be present at any idle talk.

And what is the "contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge", from which Saint Paul commanded Timothy to leave? These are the disputes that are so willingly carried on about all sacred subjects by people who consider themselves "authorities" in these matters, consider themselves highly educated, who, in fact, are completely empty in spiritual terms.

Idle talk and vain talk deeply devastate the soul. We seriously harm ourselves not only when we ourselves utter rotten and empty words, but also when we listen to such words coming from other people's lips. There are many who like to listen to gossip, slander and curse against their neighbors; they are just as guilty before God as those whom they listen to.

Refraining from evil words, idle talk, vain talk and accustoming oneself to silence is a difficult task. Many ascetics have worked hard all their lives to curb their tongue, strictly watched it, protected it in every possible way, but often it, like a fish out of their hands, slipped out of their power, for the tongue is slippery and extremely mobile. Many refused to speak at all and became silent. And the Venerable Abba Agathon, in order to conquer his tongue, to protect it, to wean it from chatting idly, carried a pebble under his tongue for three years. You see the importance attached to the word by the saints, and we need to take their example.

Often when reading proverbs, the following words are heard: “By the blessing of the righteous, the city rises, but by the mouth of the wicked it is destroyed” (Prov. 11:11). What does it mean? How can it be? This is not an exaggeration, but a profound truth. The power of the human word is enormous. It is able to leave a deep, indelible mark on the hearts, it creates or destroys, depending on what it is filled with - love and goodness or, on the contrary, enmity and evil.

If the blessing of the righteous spreads over the city, if their holy words penetrate into the hearts of people, then the city rises, has spiritual well-being, and, consequently, material well-being also grows and increases. If, however, the mouths of the wicked defile the hearts of those around them, like foul fumes that infect the air, then the whole spiritual life of the people is spoiled. Such a city can literally fall into disrepair.

Our responsibility for every rotten word is terrible and great, because with these unclean words we poison not only ourselves, but also the hearts and minds of our neighbors.

At each Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts you hear the holy song: “Let my prayer rise....” With deep compunction, you listen to the words: “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.” But for many, the matter is limited only to this emotion, they leave the temple, and it gradually goes out of them; they forget that it is necessary not only to ask God to “set a guard over my mouth,” but also to try all their lives to curb the ungodly tongue, in which may the Lord our God Jesus Christ help us all. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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