Saturday, March 29, 2008

Who is so great a God as our God who alone does wonder?

“Who is so great a God as our God who alone does wonders?” This is the Great Prokimenon sung on days such as Pentecost. It is also sung at the opening of a new Church which is where I was this evening. We (Metropolitan METHODIOS of Boston and over thirty area clergy) celebrated the Opening of the Doors of the Saint Catherine Greek Orthodox Church in Braintree, Massachusetts. I was taken tonight during the door opening celebration by the solemn placing of all the liturgical appointments on the Holy Altar Table with prayers and psalms reflecting the functional reality of the table both in Jewish usage and our Orthodox Christian usage. We were in a brand new temple declaring, “Who is so Great a God....” as if to say, “go ahead just try to find another half as great, we dare you.” I was also reading again this evening in Acts 19.34, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians,” which reflects the reaction of the Ephesians when they were confronted with losing their source of income from statue miniatures of the Goddess Diana. The Ephesians were in a panic to convince others that the God Paul was preaching was not nearly as superior to Diana. They were wrong of course, and thank God, they later came to their senses. As I reflect upon the many practical realities of our various traditions, I experienced an ancient tradition tonight and I am left with the Great Prokimenon.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Good, the Bad, the Negative or just "That which needs to be better?"

I have been reflecting upon the Great Fast recently and our spiritual journey as Orthodox Christians. I have to admit here that I am a person who tends to dwell upon those things that need, from my perspective at least, to be improved both in my life and “of course” the world around me. To most this comes across as being negative. “Why don’t you ever talk about the good things you see?” I am often asked. “Why are you so negative?” These are good questions, and I think the Gospel during the Great Fast has something to offer in our answer.

In the Gospel of Luke we have two examples of the character trait of someone who will be saved contrasted by the character trait we are encouraged to avoid. When the Rich Man asks, “what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18.18-27) after patting himself on the back the rich man is told, “You still lack on thing….” Christ does acknowledge the good things the rich man has done in his life, but while affirming him encourages him to strive for the next level and, “sell all he has and distribute to the poor,” at which point the rich man leaves very sad “for he was very rich.” Our second example is the Publican and the Pharisee (Luke 18.10-14). It was not the self-aggrandizing of the Publican that led to salvation but the acknowledgement of sin and the cry for mercy. It was the sinner who “went to his house justified rather than the other, for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

You may wonder what this has to do with my tendency to draw attention to those things that need improvement. Don’t these examples instruct me to mind my own business and not worry about what I see around me? Yes and no. We are called to personally focus upon our selves, but the constant prayer of the Divine Liturgy is to “commit ourselves and one another and our whole life unto Christ our God.” We are called as the Body of Christ to be each other’s keeper (see my blog by this title) and as members of the Body of Christ we must constantly hold each other to a higher standard while always affirming to good. I believe this is evident in the Scriptures and the legacy of the Saints. Countless Saints have been known for referring to themselves as dogs and worthless sinners. This doesn’t sound life self-aggrandizing to me.

To this end, I pray that we are all able to affirm the good while never losing focus on those things that need to be improved lest we too become like the Pharisee or the Rich Man.

Have a blessed Fast.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

On the Annunciation of the Theotokos

Today we celebrate one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the Church right "smack dab" in the middle of the Great Fast. The Feast is so great that Fish and Oil are allowed today, and as we break the fast I begin to ponder about the Church in America. For Greek Orthodox Christians, today is a double Feast - Greek Independance Day is an occasion throughout America and the world for celebrations, parades and special speeches. As Greeks many of us, I am Greek by birth, in our American Orthodox environment are slightly shunned by our brother and sister Orthodox Christians because we seem to place such a great emphasis on the celebration of Greek Independance Day. This is where I ponder....

It is our obligation, vocation really, as Orthodox Christians to bring all of creation back to the Lord for salvation and to participate in the saving ministry of Christ in ALL OF CREATION and that means society. When faced with defeating the Ottoman Empire, the Greeks called upon their Faith in Christ and the protection of His Mother to keep them safe as they defended freedom so they could worship Christ without persecution. For Greeks, no matter if you try to say otherwise, there is just no separating the two. And that is not a bad thing in my mind. If we are going to sanctify all of creation, doesn't that mean making the Faith relevant in EVERY aspect of our daily lives including the civic realm? Can the civic realm somehow not be worthy of salvation? Society may not accept the call of the Lord, but that does not mean we don't keep calling.

So my point is this.......Let us find ways to incorporate the Faith into the everyday lives of our American brethren. Why not celebrate Cinco de Mayo for our Mexican Orthodox families, or don't they deserve to have the Faith in their everyday lives too? Orthodox Christianity has always been incorporated into a culture for the salvation of the culture. Let today's celebration of March 25th - The Annuncation of the Theotokos AND Greek Independance Day - be a source of joy for all people that Orthodox Christianty can and will be a part of their daily lives if they accept the call.

Long Live Freedom!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

There's Something Missing When Church is for Sundays Only

Each Sunday evening during the Great Fast, a special and uniquely lenten service is celebrated normally referred to as Vespers of Contrition. Vespers are started like a "normal" Saturday night Great Vespers but then after the entrance the curtain is closed, the cloths and veils are changed back to purple and the lights extinguished. It is quit moving to watch. When we witness this change from the Resurrection of Sunday to the contrition of the Lenten Weekday, we more fully can appreciate what Sunday is all about - The Glorious Resurrection of Christ. In our American Orthodoxy, when church is a thing just for Sunday and for "High Holy Days" we are missing the whole picture. During the Great Fast it is a bit more obvious with the colors changing, but throughout the entire year there continues to be something missing. I suppose for me, its is the Cross without which the Resurrection has no meaning (and vice versa) in our struggle to keep things in perspective.

Are We Our Friend's Keeper?

I was reviewing the Gospel Lesson for today, (Mark 2.2-12 - see below for full text) about the Paralytic. What wonderful friends he had. Christ heals him because of THEIR faith, which was enough to tear open the roof where Christ was teaching and present their friend to Him for healing. Would we ever consider doing that for one of our friends? How many times have we let our friends down in the face of a challenge much smaller than we read in the Gospel? Let us pray that we can find the fortitude to help our friends find their salvation. Sometimes that might mean inviting them to Church. Other times it might mean gently pointing out their struggles in life. Either way, we should remember that, at least based upon the Gospel.....

We ARE our brother's keeper.

NKJ Mark 2:1 And again He entered Capernaum after some days, and it was heard that He was in the house.
2 Immediately many gathered together, so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door. And He preached the word to them.
3 Then they came to Him, bringing a paralytic who was carried by four men.
4 And when they could not come near Him because of the crowd, they uncovered the roof where He was. So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying.
5 When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven you."
6 And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts,
7 "Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?"
8 But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, "Why do you reason about these things in your hearts?
9 "Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Arise, take up your bed and walk'?
10 "But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins" -- He said to the paralytic,
11 "I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house."
12 Immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, "We never saw anything like this!"

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Food For Thought During Great Lent

Since we are fasting now, I was pondering some thoughts that I wanted to "get out" though they are in their "raw" form and not well conveyed. Forgive my casual style, but maybe my simple thoughts can be of value to others who have embarked upon this year's Great Fast in preparation for Holy and Great Pascha and keeping in mind that the 40 day fast has its origins in the catechumenate period leading up to baptism at Pascha....

I have been reading Acts lately (the reasons don't really matter here) quite a bit and came to an interesting realization this evening. We read the expression, "Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" (Acts 10.47) More than once the Apostles are taken by surprise that the Holy Spirit has chosen to descend upon those the Apostles did not anticipate, namely non-Jews. Who are we as Orthodox Christians to presume to "know" who God will save or welcome into His Church?

We have a great challenge in the 21st Century which I believe Acts can lend a helping hand if read in connection with Romans. In the two books we see very clearly the ministry of Paul and his arguments of what should and should not be required of Christians. KEEP IN MIND, I do not suggest casting out all the Orthodox Christian Holy Traditions, but we MUST keep in perspective the first Christians didn't worship, didn't fast, didn't live as we Orthodox Christians do today, and yet they were still Orthodox Christian. The key for me to understanding the Church, then and now "ideally", is centered on the Eucharist. If we are not centering our lives on that, we are missing the boat. We must be able, and willing, to honor the Holy Traditions as they have been handing down to us without losing their proper perspective and context. This is most definatley the case with the Holy Canons of the Church, and I wonder......just how much more.

Have a blessed Fast....