Benjamin Peck: The Gift of “No”

Benjamin T. Peck

Benjamin T. Peck

Benjamin Peck is the son of Fr. John Peck, contributer to the AOI Observer and editor of Preachers Institute and Journey to Orthodoxy. Fr. John is the priest at St. George Greek Orthodox Church of Prescott, Arizona. Ben participated in a conference called the Festival of Young Preachers where he gave the sermon below. It’s good, very good in fact. Both son and father should be proud.

Source: Preachers Institute | Sermon by Benjamin T. Peck given at the 2011 Festival of Young Preachers

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Glory to Jesus Christ!

For He is the one who has given us a gift that cannot be matched by anyone on this Earth, or anything in Heaven. Through His death and resurrection, Christ has given us the power to say the word “no”.

We have all been called here today to speak on behalf of our Lord and Savior, about His commandments to us. Speaking specifically of the 10 Commandments. But what we must ask ourselves today is “why?” Why did God choose these specific ten things to ask of us? Why are these things singled out more than any other laws? We do not ask because we feel the need to second guess our Lord, or doubt His laws. Far from it in fact. But instead it is to understand the Law of the land, for we all know that to understand is to have knowledge and to have knowledge is to have power. And to truly preach the Gospel, we must have that knowledge. We must know the rhyme to His divine reason in order to achieve the one thing we are to have passion for; to be like Jesus Christ and be free of the world, free of the passions, and just free in general.

Our sins are like a maelstrom; one sin, one fault sends us into that maelstrom without a raft, and the longer we stay in that storm the harder it is to get out. It’s like trying to swim in a hurricane, which no one here has done because if you had swam in a hurricane you would probably be dead.

We know that to tell one lie begets a second, which begets a third and a fourth to cover the first lies. Eventually we are caught in that storm of sin because we’d rather lie to a friend’s face than merely tell them the truth. But lying isn’t so bad right? It can help a friend feel better because of a little white lie, it can get you out of trouble with you parents. I believe I can safely say that we’ve all been in the position where our parents discovered our lie, came to us and said “if you had told us the truth first, your punishment would not have been as severe as it is now.” God, is that parent. He is our Father coming to us saying “why did you not tell me first? Because now I have to punish you not only for the first offense, but for the lie as well.”

And brethren, this doesn’t just apply to lying. Even if you have remained abstinent to this day we all know that sex is supposed to feel really good. Sometimes so good it becomes addicting. Some of us, myself included, probably know someone who is addicted to their lust, and that lust burns the wings of the angels to dust. These people fall under a guise of “personal freedom”, but they are not free. Rather they are slaves to their passions! Slaves! And right now they are the kind of slaves that have been tricked by their masters into thinking “it’s not so bad, being a slave.”

When Jesus said “if a man slaps you, turn your cheek so he may slap the other side,” He was not telling us to let the world walk all over us in attitudes of pacifism. He was not telling us not to defend our family and friends if they are in harms way. The modern context of what He said that day is “if a stranger replies to you with ‘your mom’ don’t punch him in the face for it!” God doesn’t want us to rise, or rather lower, ourselves to petty anger because to do so is to not only become slaves to our passion, but now we are slaves to the passion of the one who insulted us. Which is harder to do? To meet the insults of the stranger, or to simply walk away? We know the it is the latter, because it is easier to succumb to our passions.

St. Isaac the Syrian wrote “Death to the World!” Not because we as Christians are called to homicidal tendencies about the world, but because the world is a representation of our passions. The world is a thorn in our side that we must continually try and yank from our flesh. So when we say “Death to the World” we are saying death to passion, death to sin! So that one day we may say death to death itself, for we shall live forever. As we live, our sins and passions are like diamonds; they sparkle, they’re pretty. They feel nice when we’re surrounded by them. But one day those diamonds will lose all of their luster, and they will split the sky in half! Imagine that, one lie, capable of tearing the sky apart.

Yes, it’s hard. It’s hard to resist those diamonds, but we know it can be done. Because it has been done time and time again before us. The Saints and Martyrs of Christianity were men and women and CHILDREN who were tortured, cut, burned and mercilessly executed all for believing in Christ. They died because they said “yes” to God, and “no” to the world. These were sometimes children who were no older than 16 years old, who had such incredible strength in Christ, that they went through the most gruesome torture imaginable.

So now, I ask that you compare the pain of telling the truth, compare your sexual attention your irritation with those who insult you, to the pain suffered by the Saints. Compare your passions to the torture suffered at the hands of those who were so faithful, they said “Kill me, because I will never renounce Christ.” Suddenly saying “no” isn’t that hard, is it?

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His Saints ~ Psalm 116:15.

This does not mean that God is a childish masochist who enjoys watching us suffer and die. It means that God looks upon us always, and when He sees us die for Him; when we take that bullet for Christ, He knows that we have made ourselves free of the world and of our passions. He sees us saying “yes” to him and “no” to the world. He sees that dying on the cross was not in vain.

And why did He choose to die? For the One who created everything, every tiny detail of our universe, it would have been so easy to just snap His fingers and make everything right again. Make it possible for us to enter the gates of Heaven once more. Instead He chose to become flesh and blood, be tortured, spat on and humiliated, and then ultimately killed in the most brutal way the Romans could conjure. The crosses we bear on our necks, at one time, were symbols of pain, torture and hopelessness. And Christ has made this now an avatar of hope, freedom and love. He has made this our key to the iron shackles that we bear as our sins. When He died for our sins, He created a key to relieve us from our bondage.

We have all seen and heard the story of A Christmas Carol, and we know the scene where Jacob Marley comes to Scrooge and says “these are my passions in life! My lust, my greed, my anger and my lack of love. Now they are iron chains that I must bear for all eternity, and I have no escape.” Brethren, we are like Scrooge. We are still alive, and are chains are still invisible to us. We still have the chance, the choice to escape those chains. Christ gave us the key, now all we have to do is use it.

The only thing we have to do is use the key that Christ has put in our hands and said “this is my gift to you!” And we will sit on thrones in Heaven next to God, Christ, the saints and even the angels.

In all you do, remember the end of your life and you shall never sin ~ Sirach 7:36.

That is our parted Red Sea to freedom. Our Savior has already made the wet land dry and made the path clear, now all we have to do is step onto it.


  1. Countless Christians have fallen victim to the atheist communist regimes. They have been crushed to pieces, physically and emotionally.

    The “free” world went through a process of psychological destruction. Tens of millions have been negatively impacted by materialism and by the sexual revolution: children are being “torn apart” by shared care, destined to be drawn into a “social black hole” of drug abuse and promiscuity.

    Hundreds of millions of victims … it seems that mankind is going through a perpetuating cycle of physical and emotional destruction.
    The new generation of saints and martyrs “shine in the darkness” like the rays of sunshine:

    Confessors of Christ from the Gulag: Valeriu Gafencu Taken from the book: “The Saint of the Prisons”

    There is nothing under the sun that can survive without God. You cannot accept Christ. I cannot accept spiritual death.

    We live in a world of confusion, of loose morals, of sin. It’s considered shameful to be a believer and old-fashioned to be moral. The baptized man, in order to be saved, has to live all his life in the Holy Spirit, but we haven’t succeeded in doing this. We have believed, we have prayed, we have kept the faith, we have suffered, but in order to be united with Christ, one must purify oneself inwardly through confession and renew oneself through Holy Communion. Therefore unite yourself to Christ conscientiously and with great steadfastness, making yourself a bearer of His holiness, His power, His love, His light, His immortality. You must oppose sin mercilessly. Then you will be reborn. There is no path of compromise.’

    “Another time he said to us, ‘The teaching of Christ is so wonderful, so consummate, that if we understand it, we have the most powerful argument possible for the existence of God. When I had this revelation, I wept from pain and from happiness! Those who believe in Him must bear witness to this truth even if it means being martyred. Wasn’t the Son of God killed as an enemy of His people?’

  2. Congratulations Benjamin on a wonderful example of great preaching.

    As the son of a priest I can only say of the following:

    Fr. John you have much to be proud of in your son.

    Ben you have much to be proud of in your Dad.

    Keep it up!

  3. I hope my reluctance to praise will not be viewed as failure to support these great initiatives. I’ve read that the elders and starets were always reluctant to praise their spiritual children in any way because they may became proud.

    So if you want to boast, take pride in the things that make you weak, for when you are weak, you are strong – in Him. Be afraid of the praise and acceptance of others, for they are the fertilizer for the self-important and grandiose thoughts that are yours by nature anyway, which spring up in the shallow ground of your carnal mind. Carry about the Death of the Lord so you may have the Life of the Lord. Be ready to suffer with Him, that you may reign with Him.

    I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world, and I said groaning, “What can get through from such snares?” Then I heard a voice saying to me, “Humility.” (St. Anthony the Great)

    “If but ten among us lead a holy life, we shall kindle a fire which shall light up the entire city.” — St. John Chrysostom

    Abba Isidore said, ‘If you fast regularly, do not be inflated with pride, but if you think highly of yourself because of it, then you had better eat meat. It is better for a man to eat meat than to be inflated with pride and glorify himself.” (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, p. 106)

  4. American Housewife :

    Eliot, are you this young man’s spiritual Father?
    Being supportive of a young person, who is trying to strengthen his apologetic skills is not the same as inflating his ego. Telling a young man that he has done a good job and encouraging him is not going to put him on a path to vanity.

    • Did it come out this way? I am certainly not his spiritual father. I often feel confused and lost myself …

      I am only saying that we should not tempt this young man to seek praise; let him receive his reward from his Father in heaven. Good deeds are not done to be honored by others because “Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full”. Isn’t that an interesting and challenging perspective in America’s “instant-gratification” culture? I guess I going to get in trouble once more …

      • Come on Eliot, you go to far. Us giving him praise is not the same as his seeking praise. He did not post this piece. Fr. Hans did. You are turning this into something that it is not. Perhaps less reading of the sayings of some elder this or elder that, and a reflection on Scripture is in order:

        “Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things…” (1 Corin. 11:2)

        “[F]or the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.” 1 Peter 2:14-15)

        “Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth”. (Proverbs 27:2)

        We praised him. He did not praise himself.

        Eliot: You said “I often feel confused and lost myself.” I can undersatand that. But you can’t go on exploring the sayings of elders, starets, etc. without the guidance of a spiritual father. Your statement about confusion implies you grapple with this on your own. Your statement about getting into trouble once more seems to relate to a prior exchange which we made and which I though I made in jest about the rapidity of you posts.

        Eliot: we do not travel on the path of The Way alone. Remember that.

        • Nick: I have to say that I am impressed to see people so young being on the ‘right path’. I’ve been searching and wandering in the wrong places for some 30 years till I found what is truly important. Maybe I went too far, but I would still say that this is a good and healthy thing to discuss. It would be a bit boring to read here only praises. Generally speaking, pride is a very subtle thing that can so easily creep into our lives. “Pride,” for example, may take the form of “humility” or the pride of holiness. So, one needs to be aware of it and watchful his/her entire life.

          Thank you very much for your analysis of my comment. I do not really understand why can’t I go on “exploring the sayings of elders, starets, etc. without the guidance of a spiritual father”. In fact, I am not really exploring the sayings of the elders now. I’ve been reading over the past years and now I bring here what I believe it is important. Currently I am following some “pieces of advice”. I am trying to be there to “lend a hand” when necessary. I feel lonely when surrounded by people mostly interested in “worldly” things. When this is the case, I would rather be alone. Again, thank you!

  5. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Easy guys. Eliot said: I hope my reluctance to praise will not be viewed as failure to support these great initiatives..

  6. Still wondering what the heck that first comment was about.

    • It was a comment on what Benjamin Peck wrote: “our sins and passions are like diamonds”.

      It’s hard to resist those diamonds, but we know it can be done. Because it has been done time and time again before us. The Saints and Martyrs of Christianity were men and women and CHILDREN who were tortured, cut, burned and mercilessly executed all for believing in Christ. They died because they said “yes” to God, and “no” to the world. These were sometimes children who were no older than 16 years old, who had such incredible strength in Christ, that they went through the most gruesome torture imaginable.

      I am marveling at the faith of those people; they didn’t loose their faith even thought they suffered many years of incarceration and torture. Communism brought torture, crucifixion and martyrdom upon entire nations.
      In the free world, the Western world, people freely and willingly gave up their faith. When freedom is used to indulge our sinful nature, the illusion of freedom is all there is. In the end, most are left with only big smiles hanging over their faces to hide their emotional distress caused by broken lives, broken homes and broken ambitions.
      He who has eyes to see the state of the world begins to understand why there are people who chose to “leave the world, leading a life of prayer and solitude, for the sake of the world”.


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