One priest preached the truth. The Leadership wanted him silenced. His sermon was deleted from the internet. Erased from his website. Thankfully, before that happened, someone downloaded a copy and saved it.
"The last thing America needs are weak-kneed Orthodox, mealy-mouth confessors, who don’t know what they believe, and don’t have conviction to maintain what our fathers gave us. That’s the last thing our nation needs . . . "
EDITOR'S NOTE: For 2000 years, Christians have encountered many deadly plagues and epidemics. Unbelievers were so impressed by how Christians responded to those plagues, that many of them converted to the Faith. In many cases, this is how the Church grew.
Sadly, many Christians today are cowards who fear death, reacting to the Coronavirus no differently than unbelievers. They tremble at the plague more than they believe in the Resurrection. They fear the raven more than they trust the dove.
Fr. Josiah Trenham, considered by many to be one of the best preachers alive today, delivered a powerful sermon, clearly explaining how faithful Christian Saints have responded to epidemics throughout history. He explained why we have nothing to fear, and why a proper response to plagues can serve as a catalyst, helping to convert numerous people to the Christian Faith.
But it's not a story that the Leadership wanted told. So they covered it up. Deleted it. Buried it. At this time, it cannot be found online anywhere.
Thankfully, one of our faithful readers had already saved a copy of Fr. Josiah's sermon, and they provided us with a copy. Fr. Josiah has told the truth, and the truth needs to be told, so we are providing you with a copy of his amazing sermon, right here.
You may enjoy the homily in its entirety, or you may jump directly to the part of the sermon where Fr. Josiah says we should never close the churches, and we should never stop taking Holy Communion (10:10 on the audio file).
You may also be interested in reviewing the section of Fr. Josiah's sermon, where he explains how the Orthodox Church's reaction to plague, historically, has been a major factor for our triumph, for the victory of the Gospel in the world (13:04 on the audio file).
There is also a wonderful part of the sermon where Fr. Josiah discusses how Orthodox Saints have consistently responded during plagues and epidemics (16:01 on the audio file).
Here is a complete audio recording of Fr. Josiah's stunning sermon:
The Coronavirus and the Triumph of Orthodoxy
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Blessed First Sunday of Lent to all of you, brothers and sisters. Glorious celebration of the Triumph of Orthodoxy!
I suspect if you engaged, as most of you have, you had your usual first week of Lent. I suspect it was hellacious as usual. I remember my very first Lent, Bishop Basil telling me, “Abouna,” he said, “Be ready on the first day of Lent. The doors of Hell will be thrown open and the demons will come out in force.” And that has been my experience, and yours, no doubt. Every Lent, they know that Lent is their end. The more we embrace Lent, the more they lose power in our lives. Their influence dwindles, dwindles.
I received a call from his eminence Metropolitan Joseph this week on Friday, and I asked him, I said, “Sayidna, how are you?” He said, “Fighting demons all week long.”
Fighting demons, this is our life. This is the value of Lent. They have been defeated, and they’re losing what little they have left, in our lives and in the world. I encourage you not to be bothered by them.
Yesterday, after a very long and exceedingly difficult week, I grabbed two of my sons. I said, “Let’s go wash the cars,” in the afternoon, before I had to get back for meetings and catechism and everything else that happens on wonderful Saturdays of Lent. So we went down and we were at the carwash and we were washing, and we got done. We got the two cars cleaned up. I was feeling really good. — "Presbytera’s gonna be happy!" — We were getting to the vacuuming, and we just finished the vacuuming. Garrett’s scrubbing the mats, Luke’s polishing the windows . . .
And then all of a sudden, I hear a noise. I look up, and there is this bizarre flock of black birds. I have never seen anything like this in my life. Weird. They weren’t crows. They were bigger than crows. All black, about a hundred of them right above our cars circling, pooping all over our cars!
Literally, I looked — my windshield, my hood, the roof of my car. I just stepped back, and all I could think of was that scene in Lord of the Rings, where Legolas looks in the distance and he says — I think they’re called, my son-in-law says they’re called Crebain or something. — "Crebain! Those birds are Crebain from Dunland! They’re spy birds sent out to spy us out." I thought to myself, we were visited on Saturday by the Crebain from Dunland. Kyrie Eleison. Nonetheless, we shall continue to move forward, nonetheless.
What a day this is. I’m titling my homily, brothers and sisters, The Coronavirus and the Triumph of Orthodoxy. You know as well as I do that our culture — as it seems, many countries throughout the entire world — are gripped right now by a deep concern about the Coronavirus. Lots of panic, in our country at least, lots of overreaction, and for sure, very thick fear. COVID-19 has our attention.
I sent out, on my pastoral email to you all, two different statements this week — two letters. One from our dear friend, his grace, Bishop Irenei, who will be visiting us two weeks from this weekend to give a wonderful retreat here, and who wrote a superb counsel to his diocese there in London and Southwest Europe about the virus. And then the very next day His Eminence, Metropolitan Joseph, our father in God, sent out a statement to all the priests, and I found nothing in there that couldn’t easily have been sent to you, so I forwarded His Eminence’s statement on to you as well. Both of the statements were beautiful, essentially saying the same thing. Two basic things: 1. Use common sense — Use common sense, precautions, attend to your hygiene. 2. Go on loving God, and living your Orthodox life.
It’s good, I think, to reinforce the subject of basic hygiene, Coronavirus or no. I appreciate the opportunity to have it addressed. When we come to church we should come to church clean. You should wash, brothers and sisters, before you come to church. You’re presenting yourself before the Lord God. You should come clean. You should come washed. Your clothes shouldn’t be dirty. We don’t wear dirty clothes to church. Your hair should be combed, or tied, or whatever you do. Your face should be washed. This is basic respect for the Lord and His house, especially when you’re going to interact so intimately with the priests, with the chalice, with each other.
We should be taking good care of ourselves. If we’re sick, we should be careful. If we’re really sick, we should stay home. If you’re just a little sick, and you’re fine, but you think you might be contagious, cover yourself, wear a mask. Don’t kiss people if you’re sick.
This is the place that cures sickness. I’m not saying if you’re sick, don’t come here. If you’re really sick, and you’re super contagious, we’ll come to you! For sure! We’re not afraid of that. We’re not afraid of any illness or any sickness. The church exists to heal us. But we’re going to kiss each other. That’s what we do here. We should have ourselves well cleaned for that.
If you cough, in general, cover your mouth. It’s very basic courtesy. Cover your mouth. Wash your hands. And especially, parents, keep your children clean!
I can’t tell you how difficult it is, as a priest, when we serve holy Communion, to serve holy Communion to children with snot running out of their nose. It happens every single Sunday. It’s a disrespect. I’m not saying it’s some sort of plague, or like all the parents do it. But I’m asking you to pay closer attention to making sure that when you come and your children come, that you pull their hair back. Make sure that their hair’s combed when they come to the chalice. Do you know what it’s like to serve Communion to children with their hair falling in front of their face? And I have to be there, pushing their hair aside and putting it behind their ears just so I can serve them Communion. That’s your job. Be a good parent. If you’re going to bring your child to Communion, make sure that their hair is back, that it’s not hanging in their face. If they have a runny nose, it’s okay, it’s not the end of the world. Take a Kleenex before you approach the chalice, and clean their nose, so that they’re clean. Nothing’s on their lips when they come to Communion. This is respectful living.
The second portion of the counsel from our fathers, is to go on living the Christian life.
The idea that we would in any way abandon that which gives us resurrection life, such as reception of holy Communion, gathering together in sacred life-giving koinonia, or venerating icons. The idea that we would stop doing any of those things is absolutely ludicrous. Absolutely ludicrous. Am I clear? Those things not only do not convey death; they are the solution to death! They are the healing of disease. The idea that "if we all just retract to our houses, and shut the doors, and don’t kiss anybody, we’re gonna be okay," is guaranteed death! This [church] is the place of life. There is nothing to fear here. Nothing at all.
There is no life without the Eucharist, and if you have a thought, at all — "Oh my gosh, someone who was sick went up and took the Eucharist off the same spoon! I shouldn’t go." — Banish the thought from your mind! It is a thought of unbelief sent from the devils. If you can’t banish it, by no means approach Communion then or ever, because you are unworthy! You do not believe in the life-giving Eucharist if that is a thought that you actually embrace. Banish it from your thoughts, brothers and sisters. Save your souls by participating in the food of Heaven. Death-conquering, deified, human Body and Blood of Jesus Christ — that’s what you’ve come to receive.
No [faithful] priest would forbid anyone who has the Coronavirus from receiving Holy Communion, and no priest would ever himself not consume what remains after he has served Holy Communion to a person with Coronavirus, without a thought at all. No priest in the history of the church has ever died from serving Communion to someone who was sick. No priest has ever contracted any sickness or disease through the life-giving chalice. It is impossible.
With these holy things that God has given us, to give us Heaven on Earth, nothing can touch us and we’re perfectly safe in God’s will. Panic, brothers and sisters, panic, is not our way. We have lived through numerous epidemics, and numerous plagues, for thousands of years. This is not new. We know how to trust in God in times of the outbreak of disease.
In fact, our reaction to plague has been a major historical factor in the triumph of the church in the world. Let me repeat that, because that is a very important thing for us to think of today. The Church’s reaction to plague, historically, has been a major factor for our triumph, for the victory of the Gospel in the world. How? How did a tiny and obscure messianic movement in Judea, the edge of the Roman Empire, dislodge classical paganism and become the dominant faith of Western Civilization? How did a hundred and twenty people in the upper room win one half of the Roman Empire in three centuries, experiencing a 43% (on average) growth rate every decade for three hundred years?
Now, there are many astonishing answers to that question, brothers and sisters. But one of them, right at the heart of our radical growth, is our response to epidemics — our response to plagues. We have a lot of history about this, and a lot of Saints have commented on it.
For instance, the great plague of A. D. 165. This is during the imperial rule of Marcus Aurelius. 1/4th to 1/3rd of the population of the empire died from the first recorded outbreak in the West of what most think was smallpox. In fact, the emperor himself died of it in 180 in Vienna. Only about 85 years later, in 251, another major epidemic hit the empire. This time most people think it was measles. In a very influential work by a scholar named Hans Zinsser that is entitled Rats, Lice, and History, the scholar pointed out these words — he said,
“Again and again, the forward march of Roman power and world organization was interrupted by the only force against which political genius and military valor was utterly helpless — epidemic disease. And when it came, as though carried by storm clouds, all other things gave way, and men crouched in terror.”
Our Holy Fathers who lived during those two plagues I just mentioned, wrote a lot about plague, and our reaction to plague. Men like St. Cyprian of Carthage and St. Dionysios of Alexandria, as well as the famed church historian Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea. They in fact argued that these plagues were major contributors to the propagation of the Gospel and success of the church in the world.
St. Dionysios, in one of his Easter letters, his pastoral letters, he wrote this, quote: “Out of the blue came this disease, a thing more frightful than any disaster whatsoever” - unquote. Something like two-thirds of his city died.
And the contemporary church historian, Rodney Stark, in his work, The Rise of Christianity, he said this about epidemics:
“Epidemics swamped the explanatory and comforting capacities of paganism and Hellenic philosophies. Pagan religion — false religion — simply could not address plague. It had no solution for disease. Christians had far higher rates of survival of disease than pagans.”
Why? Why did so many Christians survive plagues when pagans didn’t? Our thriving through and after plague appeared to the pagans to be a sheer miracle. Plague brought confrontation with death, and confrontation with death always shakes the world. It always shakes nonbelievers who can’t think about death, because they have no solution for death.
Pagan theology, the worship of the gods, was no help to them at all. "Did a god send this misery?" they asked. "Are they involved at all? Do they care at all? Why have the pagan priests all fled the city?" — Which is what they did, universally. — "Why have the highest civil authorities and the wealthiest families left all the cities, and gone to their summer estates?"
Natural law explained nothing. But we believers — during these epidemics — we had a very clear message, a very strong word for the pagan world. We sat next to the pagans and the believers who were dying, and we said, "Look, they look exactly the same, but these two people have completely different destinies." This is what we said.
Christians facing death did not grieve like pagans did. And this, according to St. Cyprian, deeply impacted pagans who were surrounded by death. When they saw how Christians were at peace, and were not afraid of death, they were gripped by interest, because they did not share that opinion of death.
St. Athanasius the Great, of Alexandria, said, “It’s our ability to look death in the face and smile, that provides an opening for the Gospel.”
St. Dionysios of Alexandria wrote about the heroic nursing efforts of local Christians universally. Many Christians who died, died because they were walking into the plague. They insisted on being near the dying, and to nurse them unto the end. These are his words, quote, St. Dionysios: “Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another.”
They hardly retreated from one another because of sickness, brothers and sisters. This idea that somehow we shouldn’t gather, or we shouldn’t kiss; dream on. Dream on. More than ever, more than ever, we should!
“Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty; never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger.” Heedless of danger, the saint says!
“They took charge of the sick, attending to their every need, and ministering to them in Christ, and with them, departed this life serenely happy. For they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors, and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead. The nurses saved their patients and voluntarily — in happiness — died themselves."
"The best of our brothers lost their lives in this manner,” St. Dionysios says. “A number of priests and deacons and laymen winning high commendation, so that death in this form — the result of great piety and strong faith — seems in every way the equal of martyrdom.”
Wow. The full impact of this way of life, brothers and sisters, fell upon the unbelievers and brought them to the Gospel. This is what St. Dionysious says, quote:
“The heathen behaved in the very opposite way. At the first onset of the disease they pushed the sufferers away, and they fled to their dearest hiding places. They threw their diseased into the roads before they were dead. They treated unburied corpses like dirt, hoping to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease, but do what they might, they found it difficult to escape.”
During the plague in the second century - (that was a commentary on the third century plague) - During the plague in the second century, the time of Marcus Aurelius, the most famous physician in the entire Roman empire — the famous Galen — was so afraid that he fled and hid in the countryside.
Paganism — and we could translate that to secularism today, the dominant religious force in our own culture — Paganism as a religion has no solution for plague, no answer to death. They had no exultation of love for gods, and no concept of God’s love for people. Often, it was just the opposite. Pagan religion was a game of appeasement. "What did I need to do so that I don’t fall out with the gods?"
It was a strange sight for pagans to see Christians who said that their way to love God was to love one another. It was an ethic they had never seen. They were so attracted to it. When they met people who lived Matthew 25, where our Saviour says, “In as much as you did it to the least of these my brethren, you did it to me”, when those who are sick you visit them, when they’re in prison go to them, when they’re naked, you clothe them — When believers embraced that way of life, it won the hearts of unbelievers, especially in the time when death showed its awful face in contagion and disease.
The famous ecclesiastical writer Tertullian says, quote:
“It is our care of the helpless, our practice of loving-kindness to the needy, that brands us in the eyes of our opponents.”
This is what they thought of us, and this is what we showed. And what was the result? The result was a radical mortality difference. Due to Christian nursing, there was something like a difference between an average 30% mortality ratio among the pagans, to about — it’s estimated — a 10% mortality rate among Christians. Not only did we nurse each other, and not abandon people to their diseases, but we also developed immunities that the pagans never could develop, because they wouldn’t allow themselves to be near people who were sick.
That worked a huge shift in demography, as well as conversions, and even the pagans that survived, were much more positively disposed to us because we had helped them. And they were also shaken to their core about their pagan beliefs. All of this created a stew that was just right, for massive conversion to the Christian faith. All in God’s providence, bringing many to taste of eternal life.
This is our attitude, brothers and sisters. We have nothing to fear. The only thing we have to fear is unbelief, and we should be very afraid of that. That could undo us. That could cause our treasure to slip right through our fingers.
Today is the Triumph of Orthodoxy. Today is the Sunday on which we rejoice in the truth, like no other Sunday. Every single Sunday, we celebrate the victory of the church over death, and over sin, and disease. This day, on the first weekend of Great Lent, we particularly celebrate our triumph over that which is the greatest of all plagues — heresy.
The most dangerous of all diseases is the virus of heresy. It’s worse than any smallpox, worse than any measles, and certainly, worse than the Coronavirus. Those of you who have been in our Bible study on Wednesday night at the St. John Chrysostom Catechetical School, know that we’ve been going through the epistles of Peter, and it just so happens that we ended on Wednesday, providentially, with Peter explaining that all the saving works of Jesus were prophesied by the prophets, and that these men who foretold Jesus’ coming and his victory for us, did not speak by any of their own human impulse. Prophecy is not a matter of one’s will, but moved by the Holy Spirit, they spoke from God.
And then having said that, in the beginning of Chapter 2 — which we will study soon, coming up — he says, after affirming true prophecy, he says,
“But know this: false prophets also arose among the people then, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.”
Peter is simply repeating Jesus’ words at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, when he warned us to beware of false teachers, or Paul’s words where he says the same thing Peter does:
“From your own midst will wolves arise, teaching horrible things.”
Brothers and sisters, the real virus, the real concern that we as believers must have — if we are heeding the Lord and the apostles — what we should really beware of, is not this or that disease which has nothing to do whatsoever with our souls. We should beware of heresy, of false teaching, because it’s destructive.
You know, every time I come in the church for the liturgy, I always venerate the icons of Saints Peter and Paul, on either side of the Lord’s icon in the narthex. You know what I ask St. Paul every Sunday, right? I think I’ve told you lots of times. I tell you, because I'd like you to ask him too. More converts. 50 catechumens. Minimum, 50 catechumens. I am unworthy. I am unworthy. I don’t think we’ve ever gotten above 40, 41, so I need your help with that.
But do you know what I ask St. Peter? I kiss St. Paul’s feet; I ask him that. But I don’t think I’ve ever told you what I ask St. Peter. The same thing, every Sunday, for all these years. I kiss his feet. — This is the one who confessed, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This is the one who Jesus calls the rock of the Church (his confession of faith). — I kiss his feet, and I beg him,
"Holy Apostle Peter, please, keep me and the entire flock free from heresy. Keep us free from heresy. Don’t let us be destroyed by that which is the most dangerous, the most destructive of all."
Some years ago, quite a few now, I did a class, a Wednesday night class on heresy. It was called The Doctrines of Demons. Some of you might’ve been there. It was a long time ago. We surveyed heresies throughout church history, and I got the title from St. Paul. That’s what he calls heresy — the "doctrines of demons". I summed up what the Church Fathers say about heresy in general, in four simple statements, and I want to repeat them to you now, on this Sunday of Orthodoxy, so that you can renew your vigilance against heresy:
- The Orthodox Catholic Faith of the Christians was once and for all delivered to the saints. It is revealed and it is pure.
- Heresy is a parasitical innovation, an alteration of the true faith, and is always incoherent and deficient. It is reductionistic, which is expressed in its being named often after its own founders. Montanism, Marcianism, Arianism, Nestorianism, etc.
- Heresy is almost always a deliberate deviation from the apostolic norm, due to sin. It’s not just a sin of the mind and of the confession, it usually arises by an immorality that is wanting to be justified. Common motivations are a love of the new, discontent, pride — just think of the heresy of papal infallibility, and what you think is behind that! How could that monstrosity have arisen, except fueled by incredible, episcopal arrogance? — Common motivations are a love of the new, discontent, pride, indiscrete curiosity, trying to define the indefinable, love of power, and greed for ecclesiastical office.
- Lastly, heresy develops under the providence of God, and is the fulfillment of New Testament prophecies. Christians ought not be surprised by the appearance of heresies, and should accomplish God’s work in opposing them. This work includes loving the heretic, and making efforts at his recovery, as well as the acknowledgement of, and a fixation to, those teachers of the Church who are approved by God.
Paul says this to the Corinthians, he says,
“It is necessary that heresies and schisms arise among you, so that those who are approved may become self-evident.”
When heresies arise, it shakes the church up, and we find out who’s who. Who do we really want to listen to? Who should we affix ourselves to? Who can really maintain the Faith? St. Paul says this is a benefit of God’s providence.
Heresy is so terrible, dear ones, because, it separates us from Jesus, who is the living Truth. Truth saves. Heresy does not save. It’s the worst form of violence because it doesn’t just lead to earthly destruction; it leads to destruction in eternity. We Orthodox believers do not build our lives upon opinion. We do not confess possibilities. That’s not our Faith. We are not free to choose what portions of holy Orthodoxy we like, and then to reject the portions of the Church that we don’t. No. We confess the Faith that upholds the universe, and it upholds us, and we anathematize its opposite.
On this Sunday of Orthodoxy, we are continuing to live our holy tradition. Ever since the restoration of the holy icons against the terrible heresy of iconoclasm, that we celebrate today, and have been celebrating on this Sunday since 843. Ever since that time, we read a proclamation at the end of the service, and we do it outside, as we will today, because the truth is not just for us — it is for the world.
We read a proclamation about the value of truth and the danger of heresy. We confess what our fathers confessed, and we reject what our fathers rejected. What they approve, we approve. What they oppose, we oppose. We have received the truth from them, and we are resolved to pass it on to our children, and to those who make themselves children of the Church. This is the very heart of holy tradition. This is what holy tradition is. We sing many years to those who fought for the truth at great personal cost. And our upholding the truth publicly, brothers and sisters, is exactly what the world needs from us to be saved.
The last thing America needs are weak-kneed Orthodox, mealy-mouth confessors, who don’t know what they believe, and don’t have conviction to maintain what our fathers gave us. That’s the last thing our nation needs. There’s plenty of that.
The Synodicon read by the Church publicly on this day says this, it always begins with these words,
“A yearly thanksgiving is due to God, on account of that day when we recovered the Church of God with the demonstration of the dogmas of religion, and the overthrowing of the blasphemies of wickedness and heresy.”
That’s how we’ll begin, and we’ll make our confession soon, at the end of this liturgy.
And so I encourage you, dear ones, on this Sunday of Orthodoxy, be thankful. Be not afraid of anything from the earth. Entrust your whole selves and each other into the hands of Christ our God, and boldly hold fast the truth, so that you with me can be numbered amongst the faithful, and inherit a kingdom which is more glorious than we’re capable of speaking about. I want you to trample down every fear, and every heresy under your feet, and shine, and shine, on this glorious day. Blessed feast!
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