Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Honor of Baptizing

I was again honored today to celebrate a baptism in which another human soul was forever united to God. As Orthodox we believe quite literally that upon baptism we are not only outwardly affected, but inwardly as well. We believe that we die with Christ and are born new with Him in His Resurrection. probably already knew that.

Today I wanted to share what a honor I consider it to be as a Priest to be the celebrant during any baptism, but today was a bit more special for me. The boy was 9 ½ years old. He wasn’t sick. He wasn’t a pagan. He wasn’t neglected. He was born into a loving Christian family. The reason he was not yet baptized is because his family has been on a journey. For more years than he has been alive, his mother who is a recent convert to Orthodoxy, was searching. Many years ago, through friends, she was introduced to the mystery of Orthodoxy, but it wasn’t until early last year that she deeply in her heart understood what the Orthodox Church was......”what she had been searching for all along.”

Sometimes God allows us to search and long for Him before He fully reveals Himself to us. He allowed the Jews to wander for forty years in the desert. He allowed the gentiles to revel in their various pagan religions for centuries before He revealed Himself to them.  He continues to allow millions of human beings to live in spiritual darkness. Why?

Of course we don’t know why God does everything He does. We are after all His creation. If we understood everything He did we would be God. But sometimes He allows the darkness because we are not ready for His Truth. Remember Moses had to be shielded from His glory for his own safety. Sometimes, which is why I feel so honored when I am allowed to celebrate a baptism, He allows the darkness because some of us choose the darkness. Some of us actually prefer the darkness, and He never forces anyone to accept Him or follow Him.

That is why before the baptism takes place, the candidate must first reject the devil, and then embrace Jesus Christ as Lord and as King. Then through the act of free will we are united to God in Baptism. We are forever joined into union with the Holy Trinity. And being a part of that awesome reality can be really humbling sometimes, especially when it occurs in the life of family in the midst of a great journey. That was the case today. Not every member of this particular family is Orthodox, but they are all believers in Christ. Maybe someday, by God’s grace, they too will choose to follow the Orthodox Way of Life. And maybe, that day, I will again be honored to welcome into God’s Church, freely.

Friday, August 29, 2014

End of Summer; End of Self

September 1st is the first day of the New Ecclesiastical Year, and with it a sense of newness. A new calendar, a new series of Gospel lessons, a new cycle of Feast of Christ and the Theotokos, but most of all it brings us a sense of reflection on the end, not of summer but of our time on earth.

The Gospel lessons at the end of summer are filled with reference to the end of time, the kingdom of heaven, and eternal life. “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” (Matthew 19.16) This all-too-often question initiates a conversation with Jesus during which some people are filled with joy, while others “went away very sorrowful” (Matthew 19.22). What could cause such a drastic difference in the reaction to Jesus message?

The common denominator EVERY time someone departs Jesus sorrowful is, SELFISHNESS. It was because King Herod was selfish for power that he murdered thousands of innocent infants after he heard of Jesus’ birth. It was because the Scribes and Pharisees were selfish for the power of Rome that they betrayed their own Savior to be crucified. And it was because the rich man “had great possessions” that went away sorrowful at the words of Jesus.

Selfishness ALWAYS gets in the way of our relationships, between us and God, and among our fellow human beings. It was to help us defeat selfishness that God first established the commandments. So when Jesus answered, “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments,” (Matthew 19.17) He wasn’t suggesting that merely keeping a set of rules would get anyone into heaven. It was THROUGH following the commandments that selfishness is defeated. THEN, once we have defeated selfishness, we can enter into eternal life free to love God above all others.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Dogs are dogs; People are people

I have noticed a disturbing trend lately to characterize the behavior of different animals in human terms. I’ve been wanting to write this blog for some time now, but haven’t had the time to actually sit down and write it. I will begin with a quick disclaimer. I grew up as a dog owner. I loved my dog. I cried many tears when we put him to sleep after his long illness. It makes me sick when people mistreat animals by beating, starving, etc. So this blog IS NOT about condoning the mistreatment of animals. I limit my comments in terms of how our society is trending toward the humanizing of animals, and what I believe is a dangerour spiritual trend.

Here are some examples of the trend I’ve notice recently:

I’ve been hearing terms such as pet parents and pet caretakers for several years, but (and it might be a false impression) it seems like an increasing coverage of stories in which animals are characterized with human emotions. Crying elephants, hugging and jealous dogs, it’s beginning to appear that animals are equal to humans. And that is the point of this post. Animals, which for the purpose of this blog will refer to NON-HUMAN animals, though they may appear to express human emotions, are nonetheless not human. So, why the strong urge to “see” human characteristics in animals?

Here are a few examples of what I believe expresses at least a portion of the reason.

So why is this issue important for us as Orthodox Christians? If you have been a reader of my blog for any length of time, I believe “just about everything” is connected to our spiritual journey. According to an article “Why do we anthropomorphize?”  which cites the Association for Psychological Science, the author suggests,
“Various motivations may also influence anthropomorphism. For example, lacking social connections with other people might motivate lonely individuals to seek out connections from nonhuman items. Anthropomorphism helps us to simplify and make more sense of complicated entities.”
However, I have a different opinion. I often have a different opinion when it comes to interpreting “motivations” for various behaviors. For me, at least part of the reason for this behavior is evidenced in the fact that you seldom read the evidence of the opposite as positive news. When was the last time you read a scientific article which praises the “animal characteristic” found in humans? Allow me to be more specific. When was the last time you found a scientific survey which studied “Why do men fight to defend their territory” as a benefit to our understanding life?

It seems to me like there is an overwhelming desire to reflect only certain human characteristics in animals rather than animal characteristics in humans in order to establish a “more welcoming” atmosphere for such behaviors in humans. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the presence of homosexuality in animals far exceeds other articles. First, we are obsessed with sex. The second reason might have to do with what the article referred to as “lonely individuals to seek out connections” since homosexuals often find themselves as outcasts of society.

It seems to me that our fallen humanity’s desire for self pleasure is so strong, that we will not cease until we establish enough evidence that such desires are “just part of our animal heritage” rather than behaviors that should be frowned upon. I believe this is also related to why we choose only SOME characteristics.

I think there is another reason for this tendency. The more humans can create the impression that we are no different from the rest of the animals, the less we have to be responsible to God’s desire for us in our life. THAT is why I think this is important enough to blog at length on this. Anything that lends a false impression that we are exempt from God’s desire, takes us away from Him and is directly linked to the devil’s temptation that first lured Eve to ignore her obligation to God. This is our ancient fallen human struggle. As Saint Paul said,
For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. (Romans 7.15-21)
That is not to say there is no example of humans and animal, even wild animals, coexisting peacefully.

In both of these examples, it was the divine character of the saint which brought out the human peacefulness in the animal. This is quite different than that current trend. So if you wish to truly witness animals acting human compassion and love, then as Saint Seraphim said, “Acquire inner peace and a thousand around will be saved.” AND.....even the bears will sit peacefully with you. In the meantime, dogs are still dogs and people are still people.