Homily for Rich Man and Lazarus

Seminarian Sermon at St. Tikhon’s Seminary

Fresco of Lazarus and the Rich Man at the Rila Monastery. Fresco of Lazarus and the Rich Man at the Rila Monastery.

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today we hear Christ's parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, a lesson introducing us to the Church's teaching on life after death while calling us to repentance, calling us to Confession. This reading comes right on the heels of Soul Saturday where we call to remembrance all who have died from the beginning of the ages—with the first man, Adam—to this very moment.

The rich man, so called because of his material wealth, his materialistic, scientific worldview, of course did not have such faith and simplicity of heart. He was very poor, spiritually speaking, while Lazarus—writhing on the dirt road—towered over him in virtue.

Lazarus endured suffering without accusing anyone, without rationalizing anything at all. In fact, if we recall, Lazarus actually says nothing at all in Christ's parable. He remains completely silent. He is a good example of hesychasm, of stillness in the face of both suffering and of exaltation.

The rich man, however, boils inside his thoughts, revealing a vast network of anxieties and concerns he had previously closed up. His spiritual state is such that he does not confess with an open heart, but rather makes excuses.

So Christ presents us today with two men, one rich with worldly thoughts and another the testament to the hesychastic, ascetic life. We can choose which of these men we want to be.

On one hand, we may be very wealthy in terms of knowledge, in terms of how well read and learned we are, engaging our intellect with mindless chatter instead of softly listening in the silence of our heart.

At one time or another, we are this rich man. We become so absorbed in fantasy worlds, in endless computer games, movies, Youtube videos, while most conversations —with ourselves and others—become a reflection of earthly trends, as opposed to heavenly insight. Like the rich man, we may put off confronting death to such an extent it only seems like a wall that we rather not climb over.

But Lazarus, by silently accepting his cross, is raised by this Cross up and over this wall, and so beholds God's Mysteries.

Our generation, writes Elder Zacharias, of Essex, has learned to trust its own intellect, in its own judgement, and this hinders our training for the moment of death—the moment when all our powers will forsake us. Even our wonderful mind, in which we have put all our trust, will abandon us. Will anything be able to help us face the hour of our death without fear?


St. John Chrysostom says, “Repentance opens the heavens for man, takes him to Paradise, overcomes the devil. Have you sinned?” he asks. “Do not despair! If you sin every day, then offer repentance every day! When there are rotten parts in old houses, we replace the parts with new ones, and we do not stop caring for the houses.”1

In other words, all of us dirty our hands. But no one says: “I'm not going wash my hands anymore, because I'll just get them dirty later. This would be absurd!

So why is it we put off Confession?

St. John writes, If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8). If we confess our sins, we empty our riches, and when we divest ourselves of all pretense, we see in fact underneath the illusion of wealth is a confused, or numb broken heart. This glimpse is a window to repentance, to the fiery furnace in which we must dance, thanking and praising God, and in our discomfort, see Christ standing in our midst.

We stand in a hospital whenever we enter the sanctuary, the church, the monastery, do we not?

Surrounded by doctors—priests—rushing past us every moment both visibly and invisibly. These physicians, working on behalf of the Physician, Christ, assist in sewing our wounds closed, in healing our sins, shortening the distance between our heart and the heart of Abraham.

Through Confession, the sick man is carried through the gate and healed. In Confession, what is dead is given new life. By confession, we cleanse a stained cup and receive His chalice.

So bandaging our heart with the Name of Jesus Christ while crucifying ourselves with Him, we will stand in the presence of our Lord even in this life. And then, when it comes time to die, like Lazarus we will already have died, and instead, experience our Christ's resurrection.

To Him be all glory, honor and worship, in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

1St John Chrysostom, Works, Vol. 2, Book 3, quoted in The Forgotten Medicine, 34.
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