Monday, August 29, 2016

State Law vs Religious Law

Our final “Ask Father” sermon for the season answers the question, “What is our Church view on the state law and our religious law?” During election season the balance between Church and State is often brought into the highlight. It can be a bit confusing navigating between the issues to determine if we as Orthodox Christians are obligated to follow the State or follow the Church. A brief study of the words of Saint Paul (Romans 13.1-7) helps us see the governing authorities have an obligation as well, to defend goodness. There might reason to ignore certain laws, but that does not eliminate the consequences. The end has a bonus question, so watch until the end!


Saturday, August 27, 2016

Is there ANYTHING to be Thankful for?

Life can be tough. In fact, it WILL be tough as God said to our ancestors in the Garden:
To the woman He said: "I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you." Then to Adam He said, "Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat of it': "Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, And you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return." (Genesis 3.16-19)
With a guarantee from God Himself of struggle and pain, it can be difficult to find something for which we are thankful. Day after day we go to work (not surprisingly called ‘the grindstone’) and we are faced with unrealistic challenges from management, self-serving competitiveness in our coworkers, and we all know at least one of the ‘can’t follow the rules’ type of customers who take their bad day out on us. Everywhere we turn, life continues to throw us a curve ball, so we ask ourselves, “Is there ANYTHING to be thankful for in this life?”

Tomorrow is Sunday, and the Church celebrates the Divine Liturgy, during which time we are invited to receive the Holy Eucharist (Holy Thanksgiving) and live in communion with God. Divine Liturgy is the ultimate expression of thanks we offer to God as Orthodox Christians. But when we can’t find something for which we are thankful, Divine Liturgy can become a thankless experience. And nobody enjoys a thankless experience. No wonder so many people are bored during the Divine Services of our Church. To help you be thankful tomorrow I have offered this VERY limited list of things for which you might be thankful. During the Divine Liturgy we give thanks for blessings seen and unseen, so I will list a few ideas (just to start you off) in both categories.

Seen Blessings
  • New Job you’ve been waiting for
  • Good health report
  • Healed from a sickness or disease
  • A family member or friend was ‘saved’ from a tragedy
  • A long-term argument/feud with a family member or friend was healed
  • The birth of a new child in your family
  • The engagement or marriage of a family member or friend
  • You got engaged or married
  • You discovered you’re pregnant and you and your husband are happy
Unseen blessings (these can be difficult to find)

  • You survived another week in a dead end job – at least you still have a job
  • You don't have a job - at least there is still food in your pantry 
  • You have a job interview next week 
  • You received a poor health report, but the prognosis is good
  • You survived another week of chemotherapy
  • You were delayed leaving the house on errands – when you passed that dangerous intersection you realize you would have been ‘that car’ if you left on time
  • Your home burned down – your entire family is safe and staying with friends
  • You discovered you’re pregnant and you’re not married – your decide the give birth and your boyfriend is willing and able to help with raising the child 
In a world so preoccupied with physical and emotional comfort it can be really difficult to be thankful for struggle, but struggle reminds us that we are sinful and in need of repentance. What I pray you understand more than anything else with today’s post is that we should be thankful for the chance to repent before it is too late. No matter what the struggle, at least we are still alive and can repent from our sins, even though our sins may not have caused the exact suffering we endure. Every day God allows us to live is a day He allows us to repent, and THAT day is worth giving thanks for during the Divine Liturgy.

Maybe this list can give you an idea about how you can be thankful to God. So find the closest Orthodox Church and make plans from now to be in Church Sunday morning. You can give thanks to God in person for the blessings seen AND unseen in your life.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Separation of Church and State

It’s election season! You can’t turn on the radio or the internet without being bombarded by political commercials or arguments. There is no secret that many of the issues that plague our society are based on morality, and that morality often pits Church against State in the courtroom and congress hall. This week’s “Ask Father” sermon addresses the questions, “What is our Church view on the state law and our religious law?” This question is especially poignant considering the recent legal battles about sexuality and the public square.

Some believe that as Christians we are obligated to obey the State, no matter what law is passed. This is based upon the misunderstanding of the Scriptures. Saint Paul commanded, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.” (Romans 13.1-2) But you can’t stop with this verse. Here is the entire passage:

“Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.” (Romans 13.1-7)

Read from a distance, the entire passage speaks about fighting evil, not blind obedience to authorities. The key to understanding our role as Orthodox Christians as members of society is two-fold. First we must live in a respectful manner, always committed to treating others with the Love of Christ. This is what it means when Saint Paul says, “Do what is good.” It is NEVER evil to love your neighbor. It is ALWAYS good to treat each other with respect even if we have differing opinions. Secondly, not that it less important, but equally important, as citizens of the United States we are obliged to participate in the civic process of determining laws and public morals that help to create a stable and good society.

There will be times when the State Law and the Church (or religious) Law are in conflict, such as with the recent debates on sexuality. When such issues arise, it is our duty as followers of Jesus Christ and members of His Holy Orthodox Church to be the voice of Christ in a Changing World. This in fact was the theme of our most recent Archdiocese Clergy-Laity Congress. But being the voice of Christ does not mean forcing others into compliance. Each human being has been given the freedom to choose a life devoted to God or against Him. How can we be the voice of Christ?

We speak the truth in love, and allow each person to freely choose to obey Him or deny Him. But this NEVER means that we as Orthodox Christians have the obligation to follow a State Law that violates the Law of God. But neither does it mean we are free from the political consequences and social pressure to endorse the evil that some may convince the State is instead good. We must never forget that we too have the freedom given to us by God to follow Him or deny Him, and no State can take away THAT freedom.