Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Someone is Praying for You

Few sermons or Sunday School lessons stand out in my mind after more than three decades. We all have similar stories. One or two, maybe three if we’re lucky, memories of a lesson we learned from an important mentor in our life. For me, one of the single most profound moments in my life, fresh in my memory as if it took place yesterday, was one Sunday in eighth grade Sunday School. Thirty-four years later, and I still remember that day.

We were asked a basic question. “If you were ever in a airplane that was about to crash, what would go through your mind?” Answers were as you would expect from a classroom full of eighth graders. Then the words of deep spiritual wisdom, maybe even holiness, came from the mouth of our teacher.
“If you are ever in a situation like this, I want you to always remember, someone in the world is praying for you. In every Greek Orthodox [I know she would say Orthodox Christian today] Church, someone is praying for you. Some monk, some nun, some priest...in every Divine Liturgy the Church is always praying for the entire world. In every time zone, in every country, there is at least one Church praying you at this very moment. Don’t ever forget that!”
And I never have. The knowledge that someone is praying for me, no matter what time it is, has comforted me in times of struggle, and guided in times of confusion. And lately has helped me in my ministry as an Orthodox Christian Priest, offer the same words of wisdom and comfort to those I encounter along the way of life.

I have now shared these words with you, and I pray you too will never forget! Someone is praying for you right now!

Monday, February 8, 2016

When was the last time you chose the Church OVER something else?

The Lord asks that we love Him more than anyone or anything else. When asked if we love the Lord this way, we often stand firm in our conviction that we love the Lord and have placed Him first in all things in our life. But do we really love Him more than anything or anyone? As I have been focusing on the importance of the life of the Church in recent weeks as a means for us to grow closer to God, I wanted to take a very brief moment to ask the question...
When was the last time you chose the Church OVER something else?
We live in a world filled with distractions and competing priorities, yet each Sunday morning the Church calls us to worship. We may not hear the actual bell tower any longer but the Church calls us nonetheless. Do we answer the call, and put everything aside for a few hours to join our brothers and sisters in Communion with God? OR....do we find other things that we rationalize are important for us to accomplish Sunday morning. We can go to Church next week, we comfort ourselves. But what have we actually accomplished? We have placed something or someone above God.

You may not agree with me on this, but I can with surprising accuracy predict families that will eventually fall away from the Church by their attendance and the level to which they are committed to the Orthodox Way of Life. When our children are raised in a family that chooses a sports game, business accounting, or even just a bit of laziness over attending the Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning, we should not be surprised when our children choose to leave the Church.  When our children are raised in families which do not even attempt to maintain the fast, we should not be surprised when our children ignore the moral teachings of the Church. In fact every time our family ignores, or worse defies, the teachings and way of life of the Church, we are teaching our children that NONE of the Church is important.

If you really desire to place God first in your life, the ONLY way to put this into practice is to place the Church as your highest priority. Make a commitment that unless a life or death emergency or serious illness keeps you from Church, you and your family will be IN CHURCH, ON TIME, EVERY SUNDAY. It won’t be as easy as it sounds, since you likely have spent many years rationalizing away your absence from Church on Sunday. But when you actually begin to choose church OVER something or someone, THEN you will experience what it means to love God above all other things.

Give it a try. Starting this week, make a commitment that you will be in Church EVERY SUNDAY, ON TIME, NO MATTER WHAT, and experience the joy of a true loving relationship with Christ. Then when you are faced with choosing to be or do something else on Sunday, ask yourself, “Is this more important than God?” Your answer will always reveal what you love more.

Don’t Bury the Church

In the Parable of the Talents, we learn that God has given
each member of the Church resources according to our ability. He has given us
the Church with the expectation that we each would make full use of the
Church’s way of life so we could grow closer to Him. The Divine Liturgy,
blessing services, Holy Confession and the other Sacraments, prayer, Holy
Scriptures, and more are each meant to help us increase in our relationship
with our Lord. Unfortunately, most of us choose not to use the resources the
Church has. We depend simply upon our ‘membership’ in the Church as if having
been given the resources is enough. Most of us choose to bury the Church rather
than increase. Most of us become the wicked lazy servant who was cast into the
outer darkness, rather than the good and faithful servant invited into heaven.
But that can all change today.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

What Happens when the Church Joins the State

Over the centuries the Church has both enjoyed and suffered eras of close and sometimes total unity with the State. In cases where the State has departed from the ancient and Holy Tradition of the Church, and therefore turning its back on God, the relationship between Church and State suffers. Even in cases such as the United States in which there is not official relationship between Church and State, tensions increase when the State departs from the Way of Christ and the teachings of the Church. We can see this clearly in our current days as the legal battles against Planned Parenthood and so-called gay marriage, which are the most visible, play out in the media and courtrooms of America.

There are other tensions that evolve from Church-State partnerships, both ancient and contemporary, that serve to remind us that our Kingdom is not of this world. Today is the Feast of Saint Photios, the Patriarch of Constantinople, who himself was the center of political controversy; having been elected Patriarch after the Emperor had deposed his predecessor. Long story short, tensions increased between Rome and Constantinople, both politically and spiritually as a result. The truth of the Church was victorious, but not without a cost; there is always a cost. The Photian Schism played a role in what eventually separates Rome from the East.

There are some other more recent Church-State relations that have been a source of tension. Greece right now is undergoing a great deal of political pressure from the European Union to change a centuries old tradition of Mount Athos, by trying to force Greece to allow women to visit the Holy Mountain. Greece thus far has held its head high and refused, thankfully, but at what political cost? The President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, invoking his Orthodox Christian faith has very publicly stepped forward in the defense of Syrian Christians and others in the Middle East, using the military force of Russia in defense of the Church. Russia too is under serious pressure by Europeans and others to alter laws, such as homosexuality prohibitions, claiming the Church shouldn’t have such “power” over the State. Many have already forgotten how Serbian President Slobodan Milosovic attempted to use the Church in his war against his own citizens. In that case, thankfully the Church spoke against his efforts.

So whether the Church-State relationship is officially sanctioned as in Greece and Russia, or the tacit relationship as in America where the Church merely speaks her mind amidst the many voice clamoring for attention, the result is the same. So long as the State remains loyal to the truth of Christ, Church-State relations are peaceful and at times even thriving. However when the State departs from the truth of Christ, we can AND SHOULD expect tensions to increase in Church-State relations. The question isn’t whether or not for the Church will stand true to Christ. That should be expected. What remains is her willingness to stand publicly against the policies of the State and risk political ramifications, such as did Photios the Great. As the pendulum continues to swing away from the Way of Christ, we can only pray the Church remains faithful to the end. Our salvation depends upon it.