Sunday, April 27, 2008

Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!

There is nothing else worth saying today......

Saturday, April 26, 2008

“Arise, Oh God and judge the Earth!”

“Arise, Oh God and judge the Earth!” These are the words the Priest and People declare for Holy and Great Saturday, but do we really mean them? Don’t most of us really want to say, arise God but don’t judge me because I can’t stand to know what you might do to me if you did? Well, that wouldn’t make too nice of a hymn on this day when we are joyous in anticipation of the Resurrection of God. The hymn we do sing tells the true story. The hymn continues, “For you shall take all nations in your inheritance.” God will take us as an inheritance and we will live for ever with Him in Paradise. Holy Week has been filled with references to sinners and their repentance, first with the harlot and yesterday with the thief on the cross. Are we ready to allow the stories to be about our sin and our repentance? God loves us and tonight we will show the whole world just much.....Have a blessed Resurrection.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Joyful Sorrow

Joyful sorrow is the best way to describe Holy and Great Friday. In the morning we commemorated the Royal Hours of Christ on the Cross and in the afternoon we buried God in a tomb. YES we buried God! This is why we are both sorrowful and joyful. We have sorrow that God had to die for our salvation. We are joyful because in reality He didn’t HAVE to die but did so willingly. He died so that we might have life and have it abundantly. We have ultimate joy and hope in the Resurrected God who has conquered all death and all suffering for all time. Thank you God for our life. If you know of someone who is suffering this year, bring them this message of hope in the Resurrected Lord.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Lord Have Mercy on Me a Sinner

Having heard the 12 Gospels tonight on the Passion of Our Lord, I am left with only these few words......Lord have Mercy on Me a Sinner.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” As Americans we know this as the words of Lady Liberty as she calls to the world’s immigrants representing the hope that is America. These words may better describe the Church of Christ especially during Holy Week. Christ offers hope for all those who are afflicted either with physical ailments or emotional ones. There is no limit to the love and compassion that awaits us in the bosom of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is the message that runs throughout the service of Healing Oil, known also as the Sacrament of Holy Unction, celebrated in many places during Great and Holy Wednesday. The hymns and readings are full of references to mercy and compassion for the sick and the suffering. The problem is that most of us are suffering and don’t even realize it. 21st Century life is a daily burden which takes its toll on our hope for the future. If you sit and take a moment to ponder......I’m sure you will realize just how much hope you could use right about now. Come to the Church and experience the Hope that IS Christ. What a beautiful way to celebrate during Holy Week than with a service dedicated to the healing of soul and body. Let Christ take your burden.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sin or Repentance, Condemnation or Salvation - The Choice is Ours

“When the woman who was a sinner was offering the myrrh, then the disciple was making terms with the lawless men; she rejoiced in emptying out that which was all-precious; he hastened to sell Him, Who was above all price; she recognized the Master, he severed himself from the Master; she was set free, and Judas became a slave of the enemy. Fearful is the rashness! Great is the penitence! This do Thou, O Savior, grant to me; O Thou Who didst suffer for us, save us.” From the Praises of Matins for Holy Wednesday – sung Tuesday night in anticipation.

These words say it all for me while we wait for the Bridegroom Christ. The Church places these two opposite images of life in front of us as we dwell upon the coming Kingdom of God. Will we be let in our will be kept out? We choose every day, some days every hour, between following the path of Judas which is the path of sin and condemnation leading away from Christ or the path of the woman which is the path of repentance and salvation. The choice is obvious and the choice is ours to make.

Grant this Master.

Monday, April 21, 2008

There is forgiveness in love

Tonight we gather to hear the final urgings of Christ before His voluntary Passion. Christ reminds us of the greatest commandment, the commandment of love. In Liturgy tomorrow morning, we will hear Christ reveal that our condemnation comes from our lack of love and that all good works and all good laws come from love. We must love my dear brothers and sisters in Christ. As we gather this week in Church with our focus on the coming Passion of Christ, let us remember His commandment for us. Part of love is asking for forgiveness. Let’s make it a goal to call those we have been arguing with, or at least one person, and seek their forgiveness. Forget about who is right and who is wrong – leave that to God. Just call and say, “I know I have hurt you, please forgive me,” and leave it at that. God will take care of the rest. You will be surprised how much flows just from that and you will have a clear conscience when you approach the chalice this weekend. Take my word for, that phone call will feel really good.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

We must bear fruit......or else...

Tonight’s Gospel tells us of a fig tree which did not bear fruit. Christ condemned it for its unfruitfulness. We are told by our Lord that if we have faith we too can do such acts and more. BUT, we will be held accountable to be fruitful just as the fig tree was when our Lord calls us. This week, as we prepare to celebrate our Lord’s Passion and Resurrection we must take seriously the challenge of bearing fruit with the gifts God has bestowed upon us.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Have Hope, Our Life Depends Upon It!

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ: As a child and still today, it never ceases to amaze me how time flies. It seems like just yesterday that we were dancing at the Apokreatiko Glendi. It seems like just yesterday that we gathered in this Church to seek forgiveness as we prepared to begin Great Lent. And it was just yesterday that all the fasting, all the extra services, all the preparation ended….or did it?

Today is the Saturday of Lazarus and we celebrate the final miracle of Our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ before His glorious Passion. Today is a day of celebration along with tomorrow that provides us not only a brief relief from our strict fasting, but also directs our attention forward to next week and the dimly lit Church as we gather each night anticipating the Betrayal, Judgment, Crucifixion, Death, Burial and finally one week from tonight we will gather to celebrate the Glorious Resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the next several days, we will come here each morning and each evening with one focus – to anticipate Pascha!

Before I get ahead of myself, though, allow me to spend a few moments celebrating this wonderful miracle we celebrate today. In the Gospel of John we see Christ with His Disciples when news comes to Him that His friend Lazarus is ill. We would expect Him to go to Lazarus, as I’m sure the disciples expected, and heal him. What do we find instead? Jesus delays, and Lazarus dies. How often do we send news to Him that we are ill or need His help? Does He delay? It seems so, but we should take courage, or at least comfort, in the story of Lazarus in today’s Gospel. We are told Martha and Mary “sent to him saying, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’” (John 11.3) and yet He still delayed. How can there be comfort in this? Aren’t we taught Jesus loves us? Aren’t we taught God will not abandon us? How could we possibly take comfort in this?

My Brothers and Sisters, we can take comfort knowing that God knew Lazarus would return. He knew that the sorrow Martha and Mary felt was only temporary. We should also look to Martha and Mary as examples of how we should respond to God in those moments when we feel as though He is not paying enough attention to us. John reveals that Martha and Mary don’t ‘serve Jesus a helping’ of guilt, but honestly express to Him their lack of faith. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11.21) are the words Martha uses. See how much she trusts Jesus to be honest with Him? This should be our response! God doesn’t expect us to always understand why He chooses to do what He does but He does want us to have hope in Him.

It is hope that is the central theme I wish to share with you this morning. As we celebrate the Saturday of Lazarus we should have hope in the mission of Christ – to save each and every one of us. He will not stop doing anything in His power until He has saved us. We have just spent seven weeks fasting and praying, and I hope a little almsgiving too, in an effort to place our relationship with Him above our relationship with the world. It is our relationship with Him that will get us through those tough moments. Imagine how Lazarus’ sisters must have felt knowing that Jesus didn’t even come to help their brother. Their pain must have been deep but ultimately it was their relationship with Him that was comfort for their pain.

For now, though, we cannot see their pain, because we see Lazarus being raised from the dead. We cannot see their pain, because we are already anticipating Palm Sunday tomorrow when we will all wave our palms and declare “Hosanna in the highest!” We cannot see their pain, because the Church has provided us a brief time to celebrate the Feast before embarking upon the next seven days.

The next seven days, we will see pain all right and some of it might even be our own. We will kneel, we will fast, and we will strain to see our Holy Week Books in the darkness of the Church. As we sang last night at Vespers, “Grant us also to behold the Holy Week of Thy Passion.” This is the main purpose of today. The Saturday of Lazarus is about Christ, it is not about Martha or Mary or Lazarus or even about us but not in a negative way. We don’t look at the next seven days grunting and bearing our teeth without looking ahead to next Saturday night!

Next Saturday night is the Feast of Feasts – Pascha! We will never be able to bear the pain of the next seven days without keeping our focus on Pascha, just as Martha and Mary could not have possibly dealt with their sorrow without knowing that anything was possible when Jesus was involved. Remember when we were young how often we thought we would never get through a project in college or we would never be able to learn how to ride a bike? What got us through then? The same thing will get us through not only the next seven days, but any of our pain – keeping our focus.

We must keep our focus on God if we are going to survive even the most mundane tasks in our lives. Look again to the Gospel and see what it says about Mary: “It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair.” (John 11.2) Do you remember the scene? Jesus was visiting and Mary was kneeling at His feet. Does this look like a woman who didn’t have the right focus? It should come as no surprise then that she was able to remain focused upon God and went running to Him when He arrived. She did not sit and dwell upon her grief because she knew His power.

We too know His Power, especially now that we have witnessed the miracle ourselves. Will it be possible then to spend the next seven days focused upon God rather than complaining about the long hours we are in Church or how much our knees hurt? My brothers and sisters in Christ, this is the purpose of today’s Feast. The Church places this Feast, yes a rest from fasting, but more than that! Here today so we can be comforted by the Power of God in all things. If God could raise Lazarus from the dead, could He not also help us?

Could God not also help us in our need at work, at school, or at home among our families? We must have hope my dear brothers and sisters! We must have hope that no matter what our problems, no matter how much we think God may have forgotten us, no matter how much we think He is ignoring us…..He will help us just as He helped Lazarus. We must have hope that Jesus Christ, who raised Lazarus from the dead after four days, the same Jesus that tomorrow we will declare the King of Glory, we must have hope that He will save us. Our life depends upon it.

Kalo Pascha!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Pick Me Lord - On Today's Gospel

Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt
The Reading is from Mark 10:32-45
At that time, Jesus taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles; and they will mock him, and spit upon him, and scourge him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise." And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him, and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." And he said to them, "What do you want me to do for you?" And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" And they said to him, "We are able." And Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared." And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant of James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, "You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

I remember gym class when I was a child. Most children dreaded any team activity day and I was no exception. Without fail on these days, our gym teacher would assign two team captains to pick teams for the activity that day. We all wanted so much to be picked first we would do almost anything to get his attention, normally shouting out to the captain, “PICK ME, PICK ME!” Most of us were never picked first and we learned to deal with that. If we couldn’t be first, we thought, at least we wouldn’t be last, since this was the ultimate public humiliation. I can still feel the nerves...waiting and waiting....hearing other names called.....hoping I wouldn’t be picked last.

We live in a society where rank matters. Baseball teams are ranked, stock portfolios are ranked, and even our elementary schools are ranked. The nightly news, daily newspapers, and web blogs are filled with pages and pages of rankings. First is always better, which is what makes this week’s Gospel lesson so difficult to wrap our fingers around. Our society is consumed with the idea of being first, but our Lord says to his disciples, and to us, “Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.” (Mark 10.43-44)

Today is the last Sunday of Great Lent and we are now looking ahead at next Sunday and beyond that to the Tomb of Christ when we will all sing, Christ is Risen! Our reading begins this morning from this same perspective with Jesus prophesizing about his coming passion, death, and resurrection. The disciples had seen many miracles performed by Christ and by now they should have recognized Jesus at the very least as a great prophet. God was giving them the inside scoop, as they would say in the media today, about what was going to happen.

This action should have been seen by the disciples as an honor as “He took them aside to tell them the things that would happen to Him.” (Mark 10.32) Instead of accepting this honor, what did they do? James and John took HIM aside and practically demanded to be seated on His left hand and on His right hand which were places of supreme honor. It was as if they didn’t even hear the prophecy they were so consumed with being first and just as I waited in gym class while other names were being called, the remaining disciples heard the demand of James and John. Saint Mark tells us, “And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John.” (Mark 10.41)

I wonder what our response would be if we were the other ten. We will have a chance in the next couple of weeks to find out. Next Sunday, Holy Friday, and Holy Saturday night for the Resurrection, our Church will be completely filled with people, some of whom may have to sit in the other room. What will those of us who have been here every week during Great Lent and throughout the rest of the year respond? This year, since Pascha is so much later than Western Easter, we are bound to have a large number of visitors as well. How will we respond to them?

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ let us take to heart the message of this morning’s Gospel. Our Lord expects us to place other’s needs ahead of our own while at the same time allowing ourselves to become their servants. When we have so many visitors in the next couple of weeks, we will have the perfect opportunity to put this into action. We will have the perfect opportunity to place others needs ahead of our own. When we see visitors or our fellow parishioners who may not have been here for many months, let us welcome them not as someone who is sitting in our seat but as someone who has chosen to come and receive the blessing of Christ.

It is the blessing of Christ that brings us together each and every Sunday as Orthodox Christians. It was the honor of being in the presence of Jesus that drove James and John to demand higher honors than the other ten disciples. We must not allow the honor Christ bestows upon us every week with His presence to blind us as it blinded James and John. But we should also not be like the other ten who were angered with the mere thought of someone else having the honor of the presence of God.

It was this same honor that drew Mary of Egypt to the Church that day when she was stopped from entering and it was her humility and her repentance that eventually brought her closer to God and earned her a rank with the Saints. This is the example the Church places in front of us this final Sunday before Holy Week – repentance and humility.

Mary was waiting outside the Church as others entered freely. I imagine her frustration could have been somewhat like the ten disciples who saw James and John seeking higher honor. Maybe her pride was hurt. Maybe she thought, “Why shouldn’t I be able to enter the Church like these others.” It was by realizing her need for humility that finally allowed her to see past her pride and to enter the Church. She was forced to realize that it was her sinfulness that kept her from entering the Church just as it was pride that caused James and John to dare to demand supreme honor next to Christ.

Just as it is pride that caused me to want to be picked first every day in gym class, it is humility that helps me realize that in fact there are other much better athletes in gym than myself. It is humility that allows me to see that in life we are not always first, either in the team rankings of gym class or in the stock market. Actually most of us are never first and that is just fine. As Mary of Egypt helps us to realize, it isn’t being first that matters, it is all about being humble.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, it is not too late to realize our need for humility before we celebrate Pascha in two weeks. Let us heed the call of our Lord and place the needs of others ahead of our own needs. Let us live as our Lord Himself lived, “not to be served but to serve,” (Mark 10.45) and when we celebrate His passion, death and glorious resurrection, let us remember that He died that we may live. And let us not be wonder whether we will be called last or first, just so long as Christ calls us to His Kingdom.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A new earth or just an old heresey?

I see the Devil is working hard through Oprah these days. I just watched (most of) the first chapter of the online webcast with her and Ekhart Tolle featuring his new book, “A New Earth, Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.” WOW, I can’t begin to describe how dangerous the ideas being espoused are. In general they say we have to be awakened to OUR, not a, consciousness and begin to disregard what the voices are saying to us in our head IF those voices are telling us that we should be in church. This is a very simple outline, but I plan to read the book now and reflect upon it here. I referenced it in a sermon a few months ago about self-help, but I no idea just how bad it was. Tolle says that God was created by man in his mental image. DANGER DANGER DANGER.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Whose prayer is it anyway?

I heard a comment today that made me think about the Orthodox Church in America. Someone said, “The Church does services every day for those who wish to partake of them. For those who do, we are there.” Is this really the attitude of our churches in America? Should it be? On the surface is sounds good but I fear that it caters too much to the shopping mentality of our American lifestyle. It also suggests that the worship is something we partake of as if we are mere consumers rather than participants. It reminds me of a priest who said once that he was upset about a parish not coming “on time” for liturgy. He was a new priest and the former priest had not been celebrating a complete Orthros as he was now doing so Divine Liturgy was starting later than they were accustomed to so they were coming late since he was starting late. Both of these issues reflect, I believe, the misconception that the services of the church are something to be viewed like a good theater production. Rather, the services of the Church are the work of the people and must reflect their availability and desires. It does no good to just do the services and those who want to partake may do so. Who are we priests doing the services for.....ourselves? NONSENSE! We merely lead the people in their prayers to God. It is no benefit for us to be alone in the church performing like some movie theater where the movie begins whether or not people have purchased tickets. If we are alone, we are prayer our personal prayer for the people, but that is not corporate worship. One has to wonder.....if there are no people to say “Amen” whose prayer it? We are both clergy AND laity.

Have a blessed Fast.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!

There are three types of mountains in the world. The first is the mountain that is simple to climb. We decide to climb and having put on our hiking boots, we overcome the challenge of the climb and with relative ease we find ourselves at the top. The second type of mountain can only be climbed after thorough preparation and planning. A team is necessary for success. Mountains like these are the types of climbs we hear about in the Himalayas. The third type of mountain is the one we always look at and never even try to climb. This mountain, no matter how skilled we are and no matter how many people are willing to help us, will never be overcome by us.

Life’s challenges are the same way. There are those small everyday challenges we routinely overcome and those we can overcome only after systematic preparation and the commitment of other individuals assisting us. The challenge we never attempt to overcome is the burden that day after day, week after week, continues to weigh us down in our spiritual struggle.

Such struggles are a reality in life as we read in today’s Gospel lesson. (Mark 9.17-31 see below) A father brought his son to Christ for healing after having failed all other options in helping his son get better. Even the Disciples were unable to heal the son. When Christ encountered the father, he responded by challenging the father’s level of commitment, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes,” and the father responded, “I believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 19,23-24)

It is clear by today’s reading that the challenges in life can be overcome with the belief and aide of Christ. Now that we have completed four weeks of the Great Fast and our bodies have become weakened by fasting and added ascesis, let us remember that our belief in Christ will make it possible to overcome the challenges of the remainder of the Fast and whatever life has in store for us.

And remember......those challenges we choose to not ever try to overcome are the ones that become burdens in our lives.

Gospel Reading: Mark 9:17-31 NKJ

17 Then one of the crowd answered and said, "Teacher, I brought You my son, who has a mute spirit.
18 "And wherever it seizes him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, and becomes rigid. So I spoke to Your disciples, that they should cast it out, but they could not."
19 He answered him and said, "O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him to Me."
20 Then they brought him to Him. And when he saw Him, immediately the spirit convulsed him, and he fell on the ground and wallowed, foaming at the mouth.
21 So He asked his father, "How long has this been happening to him?" And he said, "From childhood.
22 "And often he has thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us."
23 Jesus said to him, "If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes."
24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!"
25 When Jesus saw that the people came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, "Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!"
26 Then the spirit cried out, convulsed him greatly, and came out of him. And he became as one dead, so that many said, "He is dead."
27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.
28 And when He had come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, "Why could we not cast it out?"
29 So He said to them, "This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting."
30 Then they departed from there and passed through Galilee, and He did not want anyone to know it.
31 For He taught His disciples and said to them, "The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And after He is killed, He will rise the third day."