Monday, February 23, 2015

Come into the Common Place of Our Heart

On the threshold of Great Lent, the Church calls us to the high calling of forgiveness, but many of us do not fully understand that forgiveness isn’t something we do to others; it is something we experience with others. When we invite others to share the common space of our heart, we share a divine experience following the example of Christ. We cannot fully experience Great Lent without first allowing others into our heart. It is this shared experience that draws us closer to God and each other. It is the common experience we call Orthodox Christianity.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Forgiveness isn’t an Action; Forgiveness is an Experience

The Gospel lesson for the final Sunday of the Triodion, known as Forgiveness Sunday, begins with the words, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6.14-15) With these words, the Church crosses the threshold of Great Lent urging us to experience the freedom that is forgiveness.

When we normally think of forgiveness, we think of an action that WE do for others. We normally think of forgiveness as a “one-way” street from one mind to another. But a “one-way” street leaves no chance for returning to our heart for the healing that is only possible with genuine forgiveness. It isn’t accidental that the Greek word which has been translated as forgiveness, “συγχωρώ” means, “to come in together into our heart,” and requires a relationship between two people. By necessity it is an experience made possible when two people agree to enter into a common place of the heart.

In the moment we decide to allow others to join us in our heart, is the moment that we truly live as Christ, Who welcomes us not only into His heart, but into His Divine eternal embrace. When God chose to forgive us, He invited us “to come in to His Being” and experience the most intimate reality of His love, because forgiveness isn’t an action. Forgiveness is an experience.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Courting Jesus

Each year for 48 days every Orthodox Christian experiences Great Lent and Holy Week, but most do not know what it is, let alone how to make the most of it. For many Orthodox Christians, Great Lent and Holy Week is nothing more than several weeks of longer (and more) Church services and a special diet. In fact, for most Orthodox Christians, other than Divine Liturgy being longer on Sundays and the Priest constantly droning on and on about Great Lent in his sermons and the announcements after Church, we would hardly ever notice a difference between Great Lent and the rest of the year. But I am convinced that much of this would change if we had a better understanding of what Great Lent and Holy Week actually was all about, so I wanted to take a few moments to answer this very important question, “What is Great Lent and Holy Week”?

Historically, Great Lent and Holy Week developed in the early centuries of the Church for two main purposes; a few days to prepare for the celebration of Holy and Great Pascha with intense prayer and fasting, and 40 days to prepare for baptism with intense prayer, fasting, and learning. Eventually the two merged together to form a longer period of 48 days we now know as Great Lent and Holy Week. But almost everyone in the Church is already baptized, so why does the Church continue this practice of such a long period of intense fasting and prayer? What are WE preparing for?

The answer rests in the prayers of the services for this period. In the ancient Church, Christians believed that Christ would return immediately, so the few days before Pascha, is a period to prepare to welcome Him back, and therefore prepare for the final judgment and paradise. You will notice in the hymns especially during Holy Week, this idea of being vigilant waiting for the return of Christ is written throughout the services. So Great Lent and Holy Week is a period during which time we prepare ourselves to greet Christ and be forever in paradise with Him.

I might compare it to a courting relationship. We spend several weeks getting to know more about Jesus Christ by praying, fasting, and helping the poor (all things He commanded us to do in life), so that when He returns for us, we will be ready for our marriage to Him. We will know Him, and we will be comfortable in His presence. Can you imagine marrying a person you have never met? Even in past centuries when arranged marriages were common, a bride and groom would spend time courting, to learn about each other.

So this year, during our Great Lent and Holy Week experience, I invite you to spend time “courting Jesus” and getting to know more about Him. You can learn “everything there is to know” about Jesus in His Church – reading His Word, fasting, serving others, attending Church services – otherwise spending time with Him, lest we forget that He has promised to be present in the Church for us to encounter Him.

You may have already been baptized, but do you know everything there is to know about Jesus? Are you prepared to spend all eternity married to Him? Great Lent and Holy Week are for you to get to know Jesus; don’t waste another opportunity!