Sunday, December 27, 2009

"And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt" (Matthew 2.14)

This morning we are reminded that not everyone was or is glad that God became a human being. As soon as Herod discovered that the King of the Jews was born he sought to destroy Him. This meant that Joseph was forced to take Mary the Mother of God and Christ to Egypt for protection. I see many similarities between this and our societal reaction to Christmas. Already people were removing the decorations from their homes yesterday. It was almost as if people didn’t want to be seen celebrating Christmas. I shouldn’t be surprised because only “religious people” celebrate Christmas after Christmas day. Society has been telling us to celebrate since August. Most people are too tired to celebrate Christmas with anything more than a big dinner followed by 5 minutes of maniac unwrapping of gifts that only minutes later are either already broken or forgotten by the children that were so anxious to receive them.

The Church on the other hand celebrates Christmas for almost two weeks. There really is something as the Twelve Days of Christmas but the FIRST day is Christmas day not the last. If we find ourselves too tired to celebrate Christmas chances are we spent too much time celebrating before Christmas and not enough time preparing. As Orthodox Christians we were asked to increase our fasting, our almsgiving and our Church attendance as preparation for the Feast of Christmas. If we chose to celebrate for a month then we find ourselves no different than this morning’s Gospel because chances are we weren’t in Church this morning.
Many people were not in Church today, the Sunday after Christmas. For many people they might say to themselves, “I had enough Church last week to last me for six months. I’ll go to Church again for Easter.” Heaven forbid! We wouldn’t want to be in Church on Friday morning AND Sunday morning JUST TWO DAYS later…. This is one of two Sundays every year I get a bit depressed because it seems, like the presents scatters around the house forgotten, people have scattered Jesus around unwanted and not needed. And so Joseph took the child and His mother and fled to Egypt….where have we sent Him?

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Reason to Celebrate

I have to say I really do enjoy living in the south. This year as I have been wandering the mall over the past few weeks I’ve noticed something. People are smiling and laughing as they pack the parking lots and squeeze into savings stores. One thing is clear; people this year are out shopping not to help the economy but to share the joy of Christmas with their family and friends. Every day I am blessed to hear “Merry Christmas” in almost every store I visit. People down here don’t mind using the name of Jesus and they haven’t forgotten that it is Christmas after all. In spite of all the depressing news about the economy, sexual affairs of our elected leaders, and a daily dose of prescriptions to cure our health care woes, the joy of Christmas is shining wherever you look.
Christmas truly is a joyous time of year. For weeks now many of us have been attending parties with friends and coworkers in between our trips to the shopping mall. And it all comes together in the great celebration of the Divine Liturgy. And it is no surprise because this is exactly what we heard just a few minutes ago from Saint Matthew’s Gospel. The Magi, bearing their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, asked “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East and have come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2.2) Ever since the very first Christmas people have been bringing gifts and worshiping God in celebration of His birth.

Have you ever wondered why Christmas is such an important celebration? It’s really quite simple. When God created humanity He didn’t finish the job. As Orthodox Christians we believe that humanity was created in the image of God according to His likeness. In other words, we were a “work in progress” waiting for completion by God. This completion begins with the incarnation of Jesus – His birth. In order for God to unite our humanity with His divinity He had to become “like us in all things” (Hebrews 2.17) to join our nature to His. In fact, the Church teaches that we are blessed to become partakers of the divine nature of God as a result of this gift. The only way God could be human in every way was to be conceived, born, grow up, and eventually die. Then and only then in His Resurrection could our nature enjoy unity with God.

Unity with God, or being in communion with God, is what life is all about. Communion with God is at the very center of our theology and has been the kernel of Christian doctrine from the very first days of the Church and we achieve communion by being baptized, chrismated and receiving Holy Communion. Jesus said, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in My, and I in him.” (John 6.56) We are joined to Christ in our Baptism and maintain that unity in Holy Communion.

There is no greater gift than being united to God but even that is not the entire story of Christmas. The Gospel tells us that after Jesus was born the Magi came with their gifts. They came to worship the King of Kings and usher in a new era when all people were welcomed, not just the Jews. In the celebration of Christmas we not only honor the birth of God, but give thanks that God has welcomed us into His House. Prior to the birth of Jesus Christ, only Jews were welcomed in the House of God. But thanks be to God that since He has come and Himself welcomed others, we too are invited to “become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1.4) and enjoy fellowship with God.

The Kontakion of Christmas says:

“Today the Virgin gives birth to Him who is above all being,
And the earth offers a cave to Him whom no man can approach.
Angels with shepherds give glory,
And Magi journey with a star.
For unto us is born a young Child,
The pre-eternal God.”
Today we celebrate the birth of God my dear brothers and sisters and we have been welcomed into His House for all eternity. Today we celebrate with the Magi and bow down and worship Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Today God has saved us from the turmoil and oppression of a world that hates God. Today God has saved us from our sinful desires and granted us the blessing to become partakers of His divine nature. And that….is a reason to celebrate!
Christ is Born; Glorify Him!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christ is Born; Glorify Him!

We will greet each other this evening in celebration of one of the most joyous events in human history. The same God that created the universe, in His ultimate love for us, became a mortal human. This is quite extraordinary in its own right; however that is not where the joy of the evening ends. In fact that is just the beginning of the joy that Christmas brings to our hearts. In becoming a mortal human on Christmas, God has united our human nature to His divinity. In this unity, as a gift from God, we are blessed to “be partakers of the divine nature,” (2 Peter 1:4) living in communion with God. As Orthodox Christians we continue in the Tradition of the Holy Apostles who gathered weekly to share in this loving realty and to receive the Eucharist as a means of maintaining our unity with God. Jesus Christ promises to us, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” (John 6.56) This is the joy of Christmas – unity with God!
Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Our Worship is a Heavenly Worship

New Testament Challenge, Day 39 – Revelation 1-11

Since it is the Holy Tradition of the Church to not preach publicly or read liturgically directly from Revelation, I will not be blogging directly about Revelation and what it may or may not be warning us. It is sufficient (see my blog from November 18th) to live as if the Lord will return at any moment.

Rather than wax and wane over the prophecies found in this book, I would like to direct attention to the very clear expression of heavenly worship found herein. Saint John witnessed incense, hymns, solemn processions, bowing, prostrating, singing, proclaiming the world of God; these all are integral aspects to our Holy Orthodox Tradition and worship. Even the glory with which the Throne and Altar of God is decorated and adorned has been expressed in our Churches through to the present day.

The other day someone “challenged” me in regard to the decorations of the Church for Christmas. It was suggested that fewer flowers in exchange for feeding the poor was a “better” example to offer as Christians. Indeed each year during the holidays Orthodox Christians are challenged to spend less money IN the Church and more money doing the work OF the Church. My response to this is the same as Christ when Mary Magdalene spent an entire year’s wage on a single flask of oil and poured it on His feet. “Let her alone. For the poor you have with you always.” (Ref John 12.1-11) The Gospel continues to call into question the intention of Judas in his challenge of the anointing. Likewise, based upon my personal experience, those who challenge the decorating of churches rather than feeding the poor are also lacking in their willingness to serve the poor. Ultimately we must accomplish both daily – honor God in His House and by caring for His children. It isn’t an “either, or” but a “both, and” situation.

In an environment when “American Christianity” limits our relationship with God to a “mental exercise” rather than being in communion with God, we should stand up boldly and willingly worship God is all His Glory according to the Holy Tradition of the Church.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

“And now, little children, abide in Him.” (1 John 2.28)

New Testament Challenge, Day 38 – 1 John – 3 John

And how do we abide but through the Eucharist. Jesus Christ said, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” (John 6.56) We cannot live unless we are in communion with Jesus Christ “who came by water and blood. (1 John 5.6) We know the water to be our Baptism and Blood to be the Eucharist. “And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth.” (1 John 5.6)

And how wonderful that we read these final words as preparation to receive Christ as a new-born baby in just a few days! If God has not taken on flesh and become one of us, then we could never have been able to abide in Him through Baptism and the Eucharist.

I can’t say it any simpler than that!

Monday, December 21, 2009

“Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks.” (1 Peter 3.15)

New Testament Challenge, Day 37 – 1 and 2 Peter
Saint Peters reminds of the hope that is in Christ. “Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.” (1 Peter 3.15) How often do we encounter people who ask, “Why are so happy?” or “Why are you always calm and so easy going?” I don’t expect that most people are actually genuine in their questioning. If they were, they would know our hope, joy, and peace comes from our relationship with Christ. But when we encounter people whom we may have never met who inquire, this opens the way for us to confess Christ. “You want to know why I’m so happy? I have Christ in my life? That’s how.” When we confess Christ’s peace in our lives then the Holy Spirit can nurture the seed of faith in others who witness the peace in our lives.

There is another benefit thought to our response especially for those who may be genuine. We may suspect we are asked the question because our peace makes other’s lack of peace look bad to others. If only those who were angry could convince others who are peaceful to show a little anger their life would be vindicated. We see this too in certain life styles that are sinful. If someone can show the normality of the behavior they feel legitimized. In these cases our ability to defend our hope and joy and peace as coming from our relationship with Jesus Christ may serve to convict them in their sinful behavior. We do this not to condemn them but to hopefully plant the seed of faith in others so that the Holy Spirit may nurture that seed and harvest their good fruit.

In the ancient Church thousands came to know Jesus Christ because they witness the effect a relationship with Him left upon His believers. If we have a desire to evangelize, which we should since it was a commandment of Christ Himself, then our best evangelism is a life of peace, hope, love and joy coming from our communion with God.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Genealogy of Jesus Christ Reveals our Orthodox Christian Heritage

The value of being a witness was very important in the ancient Church. We can see this value in the Gospel Reading for the Sunday before Christmas wherein we read the genealogy of Christ. Saint Matthew begins his Gospel with this account of Jesus’ earthly heritage to confirm His humanity and lineage according to Jewish tradition. When the ancient Church was establishing the method of selection leaders the value of witness was confirmed. “Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.” (Acts 1.21-22) The Holy Apostles taught us that a living witness was critical in proclaiming the Gospel of Christ. Once selected new leaders were ordained with the “Laying on of hands,” (Acts 6.6) to confirm this connection as a living witness.

The Church has stood for two thousand years as a living witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and our leaders have been elected and confirmed following this same ancient practice of physical continuity established by the Holy Apostles. Just as the genealogy of Jesus Christ was taught to affirm the reality of who Jesus Christ is, similarly the genealogy of the Church is taught to affirm the reality of what the Church is – the living Body of Christ which came into the world for the salvation of the world. The genealogy of the Church is nothing other than Apostolic Succession and our unique heritage as Greek Orthodox Christians can be traced through Saint Andrew the First-Called Apostle. Our current Patriarch, His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinopole is the 270th successor to the Holy Apostle Andrew.

From Abraham to Christ and from Saint Andrew to Patriarch Bartholomew, our heritage has continued for more than two thousand years as a “light for the revelation of the Gentiles and glory of Your people Israel.” (Luke 2.32)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

“Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren.” (Hebrews 2.17)

New Testament Challenge, Day 35 – Hebrews 1-10

As Christmas approaches and our shopping days are rapidly disappearing we should pause to reflect upon why Christmas is so important. We know without much thought that it is the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God Himself, but in terms of our salvation it is much more than that. As Saint Paul writes above, in all things God had to be made like us – why?

The mission of Jesus Christ is to unite humanity to divinity for all eternity. In order to accomplish this, since we humans are of the created order, God becomes created without ceasing to become divine in order that in Him, both natures are united. If God had simply appeared rather than being conceived in a womb and born as a baby He would not have been human. Likewise, if He had not been crucified He would not have died, since He was without sin, and therefore He would not have been human. Our salvation rests in His uniting humanity to divinity in Himself.

This is the importance of Christmas. Without the birth of God, we cannot be saved. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping, try not to forget this reality. Thank you God, for consenting to be born as a baby for our salvation.

Friday, December 18, 2009

“Those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works.” (Titus 3.8)

New Testament Challenge, Day 34 – Titus and Philemon

We cannot avoid the issue of good works when reading the Pauline letters of the New Testament. During this challenge, in fact, we have read almost these same words every day causing (at least is should cause us) to reflect upon our response to Saint Paul’s challenge. Are we indeed maintaining good works?

Of course each of us must answer the question for ourselves but the extreme cases of poverty juxtapositioned with extreme wealth in our world suggests that most of us fail to heed the warning of Saint Paul. Most of us are more concerned with our own struggle than showing the love of Christ by helping others in their struggle. Most of us occupy our time with schemes to catapult our own situation into the upper echelons of power and wealth not only at the exclusion of others but at their expense as well. This may sound cynical, and tonight it probably is, but take a moment and read your local and national news and make an honest assessment of our society and then ask yourself....

“Am I maintaining good works for God’s glory?”

And then...


Thursday, December 17, 2009

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine.” (2 Timothy 4.3)

New Testament Challenge, Day 33 – 1 and 2 Timothy

The time has come my dear brothers and sisters. The Episcopal Church of America has recently elected their second openly gay bishop citing discrimination and oppression as the reason homosexuals haven’t taken their rightful position in the Church. (see article below for details) I will not endeavor to debate the Episcopal Church of America here, but rather will simply point out that when truth becomes false and false becomes truth then God has been rejected.

God is the truth and light. Jesus Christ says, “I am the light of the world.” (John 8.12) and “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14.6) When a church begins to proclaim teachings that are against the teachings of Christ, they are not teaching Christ. Of course this practice is not unique to the Episcopal Church but is rampant throughout the world because the world is of “their father the devil” (see John 8.44) There is no other interpretation for this.

Stand fast to the teaching of Christ who became incarnate for our salvation. Put Christ back into Christmas and never cease proclaiming the Gospel of Christ. “Be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4.5)

Pressure Mounts After Episcopal Church Elects Second Gay Bishop - Local News | News Articles | National News | US News -

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

“But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good.” (2 Thessalonians 3.13)

New Testament Challenge, Day 32 – 1 and 2 Thessalonians
It is so easy this time of year to get be full of compassion and charity. The holiday season is when most charitable giving is done but as they say, “people are hungry and homeless all year.” Being a Christian is not about a mental exercise nor is it simply a belief system. I like to remind people that even the devil BELIEVES that Jesus Christ is God. Saying we believe is not enough, we must show our faith in Christ by allowing His teachings and commandments to live within us.

But the commandment of our Lord to love each other and take care of each other doesn’t negate the importance of working hard for our food etc. “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3.10) In our current economic struggle as Christians, we should be willing to use discernment in our charitable giving. Each of us has limited resources with which to do good. Our limited resources can’t become an excuse to keep everything for our own needs and this too goes against the teachings of Christ and His Church. If someone approaches you for assistance, don’t just hand over whatever cash you may have in your pocket. Showing compassion means being involved. Help someone find work by going through the newspaper with them. This only takes a few moments, but when resources are limited, it might be the best help they get that day.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

“Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” (Colossians 3.2)

New Testament Challenge, Day 31 – Philippians and Colossians
Nothing sounds better today than these words. This is exactly why we are participating in this New Testament Challenge to read the entire New Testament by Christmas, not simply for knowledge but for preparation and inspiration to celebrate the Holy Nativity of God. Saint Paul doesn’t let up on us today. In both Philippians and Colossians he reminds us that our life must be focused upon the heavenly things rather than the earthly. How can we do this?

The Church offers us three tools that “train our members” on heavenly living: Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving, all of which we should do as a discipline in preparation for Christmas. When we set aside time each day for prayer, like we have been to read the New Testament, we are saying with our actions that we are concerned about our spiritual health. We are saying that spending time speaking with God is more important than catching the most recent episode of Survivor. (Which is easy for me since I don’t like Survivor – but consider any of your favorite TV shows)

When we make a decision to fast we are showing God that what we eat is not as important as what we believe about the coming of Christ. Our bodies are flesh and will waste away underground someday but our soul will live forever to be later reunited with our new heavenly bodies. Besides, as I like to say, if I can’t say “no” to a juicy hamburger, then how will I be able to say “no” to other temptation. Fasting is truly a spiritual discipline.

When we give alms (charity) we are reminding ourselves that our wealth and comfort is not our driving force but showing love for others as children of God. When we give to others we cannot possibly be selfish. That doesn’t mean that giving to charity out of guilt and a desire to earn our salvation will be of any benefit. Salvation is a gift from God and cannot be earned. In fact, guilt giving is of no joy to either the giver or the receiver let alone to God.

We are in the home stretch of the challenge and our preparation for Christmas. I pray that we are able to remain focused since I fully expect the devil to try harder and harder to distract us away from the things above so we can dwell on the things on earth.

Monday, December 14, 2009

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.” (Ephesians 2.10)

New Testament Challenge, Day 30 – Galatians and Ephesians
Today’s reading is full of charges by Saint Paul to live a new life in Christ filled with love, unity, integrity and good works for others. While Saint Paul affirms we are saved by Faith in Christ, he does not suggest that we are no longer obligated to works of good. While these works, in themselves do not save us, they are an expression of our living faith in Christ. “That you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4.22-23)

Saint Paul urges us to “be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.” (Ephesians 5.1-2) But these words cannot be understood to suggest that the death of Christ on the cross was to fulfill the Law, as if God could only forgive our sins if something was sacrificed to appease an angry and vengeful God. If Christ’s crucifixion and death was the fulfill the Law then our hope and faith is in the Law and not in Christ.

To those who keep the Law (which would be implied if Christ’s death was required to keep the Law fulfilled) Paul says, “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.” (Galatians 5.4-6) If we can only be saved by Christ fulfilling required acts of the Law then our faith is in the Law rather than in Christ.

It is faith that Jesus Christ united us to Himself in our Baptism and Chrismation (of Water and of Spirit) that we are saved. In other words, just because Jesus said we are saved if we believe then we are saved. And this faith brings freedom or as Saint Paul says, liberty. “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Galatians 5.13-14)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Banquet is Ready and the Table is Set; God is Waiting

I remember the first Church conference I coordinated in 1994. We were charged with organizing the annual YAL Snow Conference for the Diocese of Denver and we eagerly got to work on our tasks. We located a ski area, a hotel, transportation, guest speakers, and sponsors to underwrite some of the costs and we began to publicize the event throughout the United States. I think we distributed more than 3,000 postcards and brochures and “everyone was talking” about the conference in Vail, Colorado. We were sure that Vail would draw the largest attendance ever. And so we waited for registration forms to flood the registration committee…the flood never came. When all was said and done only 45 people attended that conference and that included members of the planning committee. We had worked for eight months planning and organizing but when it came to the attendance, it seemed, nobody came.

If you have ever had a similar experience then you know too well the pain and disappointment that comes when after hours of planning and inviting, your banquet or party or conference (it can be anything) isn’t well attended. And if you’re like me it can be a pretty depressing event. This is very similar to this morning’s Gospel. A man was throwing a great banquet and when the banquet was ready he sent his servant “to say to those who were invited, ‘Come, for all things are now ready.’ But they all with one accord began to make excuses.” (Luke 14.17-18) It wasn’t as if they didn’t know the banquet was about to happen because they each received an invitation. And quite frankly, the excuses they offered betrayed their original intentions.

If they had intended to attend the banquet would they have purchased land that required working or oxen that required training or even planned their own wedding? It is clear from their excuses that they never did intend to attend the banquet feast. Intentions matter. Our intentions matter. They are what God considers in our hearts as true and the lack of intention angers Him. “Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.” (Luke 14.21)

Just like this morning’s Gospel God has invited many people into His House, into His Church, for a great feast, The Eucharist, a greater feast than any other. The banquet is ready and the table is set. Today God has commanded us to go out and tell everyone who has been invited the banquet is ready. The Master is waiting. He wants us to drop everything and come and enjoy the feast. He is waiting for a response.

Next week is Christmas and the Church has scheduled Divine Liturgy for Christmas Eve. Tell everyone you know, the banquet is ready and the table is set. God is waiting. Look around this Church and see the empty pews and think of this morning’s Gospel. Now we are the servants of God, and He has commanded us to go out and fill His Church. Invitations have gone out. Preparations are complete and there is no registration form to fill out. Go out to the Greeks, the Lebanese, the Arabs, the Russians, the Romanians, the Indians, the Mexicans, the Chinese, the Filipinos, the Yankees, the rebels, rednecks, black, white, rich, “poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind. Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that God’s may be filled.” (Luke 14.22-23)

And people will make excuses, just like in this morning’s Gospel and that is ok. It’s not our problem if someone else chooses not to come when we have invited them, as long as we have invited them. Jesus doesn’t say that the servants are wicked because those who were invited chose to reject the invitation. Instead He says, “For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.” (Luke 14.24) If people make excuses they are the ones who will miss out, not those who come.

Listen again to what Jesus says to the servants after they had gone out and called all the other people to the banquet. “And the servant said, ‘Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.’ Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways.’” (Luke 14.22) Just because we have invited people once, we cannot rest until God’s house is filled. God sent His servants out again and again until every seat was filled, and we must continue to go out every week and invite people and let them know that God is here waiting to greet them when they arrive. And if they reject the invitation and offer an excuse, that is ok too. Our job never changes, go out and invite.

The final charge of God before He ascended into Heaven was, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28.19-20) This is called the Great Commission and it wasn’t only meant for the Apostles. God gave this commandment to each of us and He didn’t say go out only to the Greeks or only to our families. God has commanded that we go out to all the nations and that means everyone.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, God has charged us today. The banquet is ready and the table is set. All the preparations are complete. God is waiting. Go out and start inviting. There are 40,000 people in our city who are not in Church this morning but they want to be. They just don’t know which Church to attend. Let them know they have been invited here.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

“No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man.” (1 Corinthians 10.13)

New Testament Challenge, Day 28 – 1 Corinthians 10-16
As we struggle every day to read our challenge chapters (it takes me about 30 minutes just to read) this verse came as great comfort. I’m not alone in my struggle nor are my temptations unique to me. Of course that can be a blow to my ego if I want to play the role as martyr (I mean here the pejorative sense) because “nobody suffers like me,” or I can take comfort and seek advice from others like my Spiritual Father or Christian friends/brothers and sisters in the Lord because I know that I am not the only one being tempted.

I know this too from hearing confessions. When I was a young man going to confession I always thought I was alone in the temptations I fought. It wasn’t until I grew older and began to confide in other Christians that we all face the same temptation. And we all have the same salvation from temptation, Jesus Christ our Lord. Now as a confessor I can offer peace and comfort to those who struggle with temptation so they too know they are not alone. Of course this is normally only well received by those who are spiritually prepared to hear of common Christian struggle.

“God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able.” (1 Corinthians 10.13) This may be the most comforting words any Christian can hear. These words bring courage and patience in an otherwise frantic attempt to avoid temptation. If we wish to say no then we will be strong enough to carry through. Nothing can force us to act against our will. Of course we are weak and the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness (see New Testament Challenge Day 25).

Friday, December 11, 2009

“Your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2.5)

New Testament Challenge, Day 27 – 1 Corinthians 1-9

This passage says it all. The wisdom of men, what we might also call secular wisdom, urges us to continue to strive for more wealth at the exclusion of our personal relationships. Then when the economy crashes and we seek counsel and comfort in those who are close to us because we have lost all our wealth, where will they be? If they were true friends they would embrace us and try to offer us the hope that is in Christ. If they were secular in their own mindset they may turn away from us since we are now of no value to them as a means for their own building of wealth. When we place our hope in anything other than God, we will be let down.

With the recent health care debate in Congress, after thirty years of teaching that life was an accidental evolution rather than an intentional act of God, or that life is only valuable when one can thrive on one’s own, or that life is a matter of a mother’s convenience, is it any surprise that the State of Florida has suggested the removal of the elderly from life support to make room for younger (read here more potential wealth building) patients with the flu to give them a fighting chance? If we place our faith in this wisdom, we will surely be killing ourselves.

The only true wisdom comes from God and in that must rest our faith, “because the foolishness of God is wiser than men.” (1 Corinthians 1.25)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

“Resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.” (Romans 14.13)

New Testament Challenge, Day 26 – Romans 9-16

For Saint Paul there is a required response, or at least the response should be expected considering the great gift that God has granted us, once we are baptized and enter the Household of God. For Saint Paul life must change after receiving the gift of life from Christ otherwise the gift is without value. This is our “reasonable service” to God, (Romans 12.1) that we should live no longer bound by the world but set free from sin by God.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12.2) But how many of us, especially during this season of Christmas shopping can truly say that we live a life free from the bondage of sin as Saint Paul urges us? For sure our society, at least en masse, has chosen to embrace the worldly drive for greater and greater wealth at the expense of our personal relationships not to say the loss of our communion with God. Can we admit to anything less than this reality when we choose to skip Church on Sunday for a good football game or to catch up on lost sleep because the Christmas party the night before was “a blast”?

Our actions will reveal our belief and if we believe in Christ, then we must strive to make our actions reflect that faith. And when we fall because we are weak, we must take heart because the Holy Spirit “also helps in our weakness.” (Romans 8.26)

Don’t forget Saint Paul’s underlying message: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.” (Romans 1.16)

Be strong!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

“For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought.” (Romans 8.26)

New Testament Challenge, Day 25 – Romans 1-8

I am always looking for information to share with people who acknowledge this reality in their lives either mentally or out of experience. To that end, I found a great resource by Father Hans Jacabse of St Peter Orthodox Mission in Fort Myers and Naples, Florida. I found this through another resource, The Preacher’s Institute which is dedicated to Orthodox Christian Preaching. I hope you enjoy it.

10 Steps to a Better Prayer Life, by Father Hans Jacabse

1. Designate A Prayer Space: Whether it is in the corner of your desk or a little stand in your room, it is important to have a place where you can put your Bible, Icons, etc. Dedicate the use of that space for God alone.

2. Acquire A Time: Incorporate prayer in your routine and set time aside to center your thoughts to God.

3. Acquire A Library: Start with a Bible, then get a small Orthodox Prayer Book, after that start collecting books. Here are some suggestions: ‘Living the Liturgy’ (Fr. Stanley Harakas), ‘The Way of a Pilgrim’ (Monk of the Eastern Church), ‘For the Life of the World’ (Fr. Alexander Schmemann), ‘Beginning to Pray’ (Metropolitan Anthony Bloom), ‘Bread for Life’ (Fr. Theodore Stylianopoulos), ‘The Orthodox Way’ (Bishop Kallistos Ware), ‘Way of the Aesetic (Tito Collander).

4. Assemble An Altar: In your prayer center gather icons (Christ, Theotokos, Guardian Angel and patron saint), service books, incense, votive light, a cross, a prayer rope, etc. Incorporate your five senses in prayer.

5. Pray: Speak from your heart. Learn prayers of the Church. Try the Jesus Prayer or the Lord’s Prayer. Also incorporate your own prayers and thoughts.

6. Acquire A Spiritual Guide: This is a very important step. One should build a relationship with either a member of the clergy, monk or nun, who will become your spiritual guide. He/she will help guide and pace you to a balanced prayer life. The Sacrament of Confession can be arranged through your priest.

7. Fasting and Almsgiving: Fasting adds a dimension to your prayer life. Your fasting practice should be regulated to avoid physical and spiritual harm. As for alms, give where you see a need and trust that the Lord will provide.

8. Build On What You Already Have: If you already have a routine, build on it. If, for example, you pray before you go to sleep, it will be easier to read a chapter from the Bible before your bedtime prayers, than to set up some time during the day to read.

9. Sanctify All That You Do. You may have set aside a time and space for a prayer routine, but that doesn’t mean you should separate your life into sacred and secular. Privately thank God for what you have at all times, and make Him aware of your every concern. Dedicate everything you do to Him.

10. Remember the power of the Life-giving Cross, The sign of the Cross is a reminder of Christ in our lives. Blessing oneself with the cross by holding the first two fingers of the right hand and thumb together represents the Holy Trinity. The last two fingers held to the palm represent the two natures of Christ – God and man. Orthodox Christians cross themselves from the head to the breast and from shoulder to shoulder, right to left. This unique and all embracing symbol shows that the cross is the inspiration, power and indeed the very content of our lives.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

“And some were persuaded” (Acts 28.24)

New Testament Challenge, Day 24 – Acts 23-28

Our reading today completes the Acts of the Apostles, sometimes known as the Gospel of Saint Luke, Part 2, following his own introduction. The completion of Acts reminds us that some will choose to follow Christ and others will not. This is not a point of logic since our knowledge of God is not based upon logic but revelation by the Holy Spirit.

The other day I took note of a statement made by someone that our salvation is based upon knowing God. This is true, but I don’t believe its truth is what was meant by the statement. In today’s terms we consider knowledge what we posses and can therefore act upon within our logic. What we know is what we read and choose to accept as fact. For example, we choose to accept as fact that George Washington was the first president of the United States. We believe this to be true because we read it in a history book and therefore we believe we know who the first president was. But, since we were not present at his inauguration nor at any function where he was presented as president, we take only of faith that in fact George Washington was the first president. This is knowledge as we have come to understand it in terms of science and history which carry the weight of empirical evidence.

Knowledge of God however isn’t based upon logic but revelation by God Himself to our hearts. The only way to know God is to be in communion with Him. Knowledge of God is an intimate connection and experience of His energies to the extent that He has allowed us to participate. To this end we know that Saint Paul had a physical encounter with the Lord on the road to Damascus and was called directly by Jesus Christ Himself as the Apostle to the Gentiles. (See Acts 9.15) When we share such an intimate relationship with God, Holy Communion – the unity of humanity and Divinity – we are emboldened by our Faith just as Paul was to defend Christ and preach His Gospel.

“Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.” (Acts 28.31) This proves to me that Paul knew Jesus Christ.

We know Him too or at least we have an opportunity to know Him. As part of our New Testament Challenge to read the entire New Testament as preparation for Christmas we are having a daily encounter with His Word. On Sundays we are invited to partake of the Holy and Precious Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to be in holy communion with the divinity of God in a real, yet mystical, way. We know God too….the question is, do we confess Him and preach about His kingdom?

Monday, December 7, 2009

“We will hear you again on this matter.” (Acts 17.32)

New Testament Challenge, Day 23 – Acts 17-22

With today’s reading we see Paul’s conflict with the Jews escalate until he resolves to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. This by many has been seen as Paul’s failure to convince the Jews, but with what Paul reveals to us in Romans regarding the Jews’ hearts being hardened by God (see Romans 9) we can be assured that it wasn’t the failure of Paul but the will of God that He preach to the Gentiles. And I am thankful that he did. We read today of the multitude of Greeks that came to the Lord by Paul’s early preaching, “and many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized.” (Acts 18.8) This I believe to be evidence that if someone is truly seeking the Lord, they will find Him because it is the Holy Spirit that opens our hearts to Jesus Christ.

Nonetheless, whether people are seeking Him or not, we must share our experience of Him with others. God cannot be known, for He is unknowable. He can only be experienced as He has revealed Himself to us. For some this happens immediately but for others it is a process as it was for the Greeks. We should take note though that Paul taught each person from their own level. To the Greeks he began, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious.” (Acts 17.22) This should inspire us to not presume a beginning point other than where each individual person is in their journey toward Theosis (unity with God). We must not pressure others to accept Christ since freedom to either accept Him or deny Him was granted by Him. We can only love and share our joy in the Lord with others.

This does not mean that we should sit idle and “let them come to us,” if they are looking for Jesus. The Gospels are filled with examples of healing miracles and other parables of salvation where because of the willingness of others to proclaim the greatness of God, others were able to find Him. We must do no less, if we are to be true followers of Jesus Christ.

In yesterdays’ Gospel, (Luke 13.10-17) the woman who was healed stood up and praised God for her healing. If we love the Lord then let us stand up and praise Him for all to see. Then, when others are seeking Him they will know where to look.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

“And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.” (Acts 7.58)

New Testament Challenge, Day 21 – Acts 7-10

As we continue our theme of being witnesses we are reminded that it can be either holy or evil that we are witnesses. The holiness comes when we respond for the glory of God while evil comes when we are complacent to the evil done by others. Saul (Paul) was a witness to the stoning of St. Stephen and while he did not actually participate in the stoning he shares in the guilt of the act by standing idle while others kill. How many times do we find ourselves “minding our own business” when others are sinning around us? If we choose to sit idle then it can be said of us just as it was said of Saul, “Now Saul was consenting to his death.” (Acts 8.1)

On the contrary, a holy example of witness is also expressed in today’s reading. Saul responded to his calling by the Lord with bold teaching and preaching in the synagogues, but the Church was afraid of him because of his reputation as a persecutor of the Church. “But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 9.27) Here holy witness gets involved for the glory of God and defends Paul to the others. If it weren’t for Barnabas’ bearing witness of Saul, the Church may not have embraced him. “So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out.” (Acts 9.28)

We have a free choice every day to either be witnesses by sitting idle to others’ sinful acts or using our witness for the glory of God and lifting up those who believe in Christ and have repented for their sinful behavior. We have a free choice to allow God to use our witness for the Gospel of Christ as He used Peter’s witness to Cornelius (Acts 10) when He sends others to us to hear the word of God.

Which will you choose?

Friday, December 4, 2009

“And we are His witnesses.” (Acts 5.32)

New Testament Challenge, Day 20 – Acts 1-6 (Half Way There...)
I suppose it is appropriate that we are half way through our challenge and have just now finished the Gospels. First we hear the Good News and then we respond to the Good News with new life as is told to us the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles. So many Christians are of the opinion that only the Bible is worthy of our obedience because it “was given to us,” as if it was handed already bound and proofread with gold-bond pages.

Today I had a conversation about the ancient Church that was stemmed by a comment someone offered to me in a store as a response to my question, “Where do you go to Church on Sundays?” I should state that I didn’t initiate the conversation, but while visiting a parishioner’s business, I was asked by a customer, “So where are you?”

Me: “I’m the Priest at the Orthodox Christian Church on Cashua. Where are you on Sundays?”

Customer: “Nowhere specific. I pray from house to house like the Apostles did.”

Me: “Really? You know the Apostles didn’t go from house to house quite like you think. They went to The Temple every day and only worship in member’s homes because they had to. Did you know that?

Customer: “Where does it say that? It’s not in the Bible.”

Me: “You know there’s more than the Bible right? I mean, only since you said you do things like the Apostles did, I should tell you they worshiped in the Temple and had the Eucharist and other liturgical worship. They even told us how to pray and fast, even what words to use for celebrating the Eucharist. Did you know that?”........

The conversation continued in a polite back-and-forth of scripture quotes and challenges to respond etc. It was very civil. I suggested he read the Didache and “Thirsting for God in a Land of Shallow Wells” which I recommend for everyone to read.

I mention this story because as we read Acts and challenge ourselves to live the Faith established by Christ and His Apostles we cannot forget the words above, “And we are His witnesses,” and trust that as Christ promised; the Holy Spirit has led the Church into all truth. (John 16.13) Either the Holy Spirit guided the Church into all truth or not. If not, then Christ lied, which of course is nonsense.

Remember from yesterday’s challenge reading, “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word.” (John 17.20) It isn’t only the Apostles that stand as witnesses to Christ’s saving work. It is the Church, of which we are members today, that stands as His witness to the world.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

“That they all may be one.” (John 17.20)

New Testament Challenge, Day 19 – John 17-21
As we finish the Gospel of John, and therefore the four Gospels, it comes as both a pleasant reminder and a stern critique that God has a desire for unity in His Church. In the “High Priestly Prayer” of Chapter 17 Christ, in the fashion of the high priestly prayer of the Jewish sacrifice, offers prayers for up to the Father for the Church: “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You have sent Me.” (John 17.20-21) It is a strong possibility that the reason so many people do not believe in Jesus Christ as the Incarnate Word of God is because of the division of the Church of Christ. Some suggest there are over 25,000 denominations of Christianity in the world, each proclaiming themselves as the possessor of the truth. We know this cannot be possible, since truth is truth. Therefore SOMEONE must be correct…

For those searching for Christ and an authentic relationship with Him, they are scandalized when they witness division in the Church. Unfortunately too many people mask this division with so-called differences in interpretation, but truth is truth. This is why the ancient Church worked so diligently to maintain unity. This is one reason the Great Council of Orthodoxy has not yet been called. Some fear that if the Council is called before the issues are resolved, schism would result rather than resolution. Unity is to be preserved! (For information on the Great Council of Orthodoxy see:

So much for the stern critique…

There is also a pleasant reminder in this same call for unity, namely that we are united to God in His Divinity, “as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us.” This means that by God’s grace we mere human beings are granted the ability to be united with the divinity of God in the same fashion as Jesus Christ. In our Baptism and Chrismation we become members of the Body of Christ, and therefore mystically partake of the divine grace of God. There can be no other reading of this passage and that should be joy to our hearts. (2 Peter 1.4)

And that… Good News!

Tomorrow we begin the Acts of the Apostles and begin to see concretely how the ancient Church lived in response to the Gospel of Christ.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

“Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16.33)

New Testament Challenge, Day 18 – John 11-16
We completed today’s reading with these words of comfort spoken by Jesus Christ. Today’s readings are sandwiched between these words of encouragement and Christ’s words to His disciples, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps.” (John 11.11) We must make special note of this hope that Christ bestows to us today. Death is only sleep and God has conquered the world. Can there be any other good news than that!?

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is more than just a story about God coming to the Earth, living for a few years, and returning back to His throne. The Gospel is about the hope that God bestows to all who believe in Him that He has conquered death and that we can live with Him forever in eternity. This life, which is full of turmoil, pain, suffering, lying, burglary, sexual assault, child abuse, domestic violence – you name something bad and evil and this world offers it on a silver platter in attempt to get us to partake – has come to an end in the ministry of Christ. In our baptism we have been united to God and set free from this world.

And that….is Good News!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

“Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” (John 8.11)

New Testament Challenge, Day 17 – John 6-10

This passage brings to mind a conversation I had the other day about sinful living. We were discussing same-gender marriage when I was challenged (I don’t support same-gender marriage) with the point that Jesus ate with sinners so why couldn’t I love them too. This argument is nearly always used in support of immoral living. We often hear, “Jesus didn’t condemn, why are you?” and to this blanket statement I would agree; we shouldn’t condemn. “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3.17)

The key to understanding condemnation in regard to sinful living is made more clear in today’s reading. Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (John 6.63) When we hold on to the flesh (or fleshly living) we profit nothing. We must attach ourselves to God and to God alone! Then we will have life.

We attach ourselves to God in our Baptism whereby the grace of God we are made dead to sin and alive to life in the Spirit. We are joined to Christ in our Baptism and commune with Him and therefore with God. “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me.” (John 6.54,57)

That returns us to the claim that we should allow sinful living because Christ didn’t condemn, but this logic doesn’t consider the second half of Christ’s statement, “and sin no more.” Clearly life in Christ is supposed be life-changing. We are supposed to be transfigured (thus the name of this blog) by a new life in Christ. We have been forgiven and now we must live a new life in Christ and sin no more.

Monday, November 30, 2009

“Behold the Lamb of God.” John 1.36

New Testament Challenge, Day 16, John 1-5

Today’s reading brings back many good, yet tedious, memories of seminary at Holy Cross. As a method of learning New Testament Greek we had to memorize the first fifteen verses of the Gospel of John. I can still stay them in my sleep...I always think of my first year at seminary when I read the first chapters of John.

It is another blessing that these passages find their way to our lips on the day we celebrate the Feast of Saint Andrew the First-called Apostle. In the Divine Liturgy this morning we read the account of the calling of the Apostles in John 1.35-51 where we see the calling of Andrew. It’s always a blessing to see a connection in scripture to our daily lives.

Since we are in the Advent Lent, I wish to focus upon the ministry of John the Baptist today which is made obvious in the reading at this morning’s Divine Liturgy. “And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.” (John 1.36-37) This, taken with “He must increase, but I must decrease,” (John 3.30) reveals to us the ministry of John the Baptist – to point others to Christ.

Andrew and Peter recognized Christ because John had prepared them to see Him. We should use John the Baptist as a role model in our lives as well. We should each “be John the Baptist” and direct people’s attention to Jesus Christ. Everything we do should be directed at revealing Jesus Christ to others. And when we received credit for a task well done, we should not accept the credit but give credit to God as John the Baptist said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven.” (John 3.27)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Let Go…and Follow Christ

Imagine you were inside a round room with a rope tied to a pole in the middle. The walls of the room are made of broken glass and would cut you to death if you touched them. As you walked into the room you picked up the rope and pulled it and immediately the room began to spin. As you pulled on the rope the cylinder began to spin faster and faster. Now you began to panic because it grew harder and harder to hold on to the rope and you were afraid you might fall against the broken glass. You notice a door under the pole where the rope is tied which says, “Safe Exit” so you try to pull yourself closer to the door, but the more you pull the faster you spin. The only way to safety is through that door in the middle but you begin to lose hope that you will ever be able to get there. The more you pull the faster you spin. Then the door in the middle opens and a man enters the room and calls out to you, “Let go of the rope, walk toward me, and you will live.” So you let go of the rope.

Doesn’t this sound terrifying? But how different do you think this imaginary room is from this morning’s Gospel? “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Luke 18.22) These are the words Jesus Christ speaks to a rich man who says he wants eternal life. For this rich man, his wealth was like the rope in our imaginary room. He was holding on tight but the all he could think of was the danger if he let go. What would he eat? Where would he sleep? What would he wear to keep himself warm? These are the questions I know I would ask if I was told to sell everything I had. Just like the death that loomed in our imaginary room, without his wealth the rich man was sure he would die. So, “When he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.” (Luke 18.23)

Right about now some of you are thinking, “Why is he talking about money again? Is that all he talks about? I am tired of hearing about money all the time.” I know you are thinking this because I have been told that you are thinking this. And I’m not surprised because Jesus Christ talks about money more than almost any other topic in scripture. More than 25% of his parables were about money and since I continue to preach about the Gospel that we read each Sunday, I’m bound to talk about money 25% of the time too, so don’t get discouraged, its only the Gospel.

There is one thing I have not told you about the imaginary room yet. What you can’t see is the rope is tied to a switch that controls the motor spinning the room. As long as the rope is pulled tight, the switch remains on, but once the rope is loose again, the room will stop spinning instantly and you will be able to walk easily to the center “Safe Exit” just as the man told you. Of course, it takes faith and trust in the man to let go of the rope, just like it takes faith and trust to let go of our riches and follow Christ to heaven.

Life has a lot of challenges; that’s for sure. In today’s economy, many of us wonder every day if we will have a job tomorrow or if our restaurants will stay open another month. We have mortgage payments, tuition payments, gas and electric payments, groceries, insurance; our lives seem to be surrounded by bits of broken glass like the imaginary room that threaten to cuts us to bits if we make one wrong move. God knows much more than I do how people are suffering. But He also knows how to save us.

The Gospel doesn’t say that it is impossible to get to heaven if we’re rich, just easier if we’re not. “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.” (Luke 18.24-25) “Various interpretations have been suggested for the impossible image of a camel going through the eye of a needle: e.g., that the word was not camel but rope; or that the eye of the needle was a city gate through which the camel might barely squeeze it if were first unloaded of all its baggage, symbolizing wealth.” (Orthodox Study Bible notes on Matthew 19.23-26, page 1306)

The real issue for us this morning isn’t whether or not it is a sin to be rich. This morning’s Gospel doesn’t address the morality of being rich, but simply the fervor with which we hold on to our wealth rather than following Jesus Christ. Remember that the rich man approached Jesus and asked how to get to heaven. “You know the commandments: Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and your mother.’ And he said, ‘All these things I have kept from my youth. Jesus said, ‘You still lack one thing.’” (Luke 18.19-22) Following Christ takes a serious commitment and willingness to let go of our worldly possessions and give our entire life to Him.

God knows how difficult this is, which is why selling everything wasn’t the first answer He gave but the last. When we have done everything else there is to do, THEN Jesus might ask us to sell everything and give it to the poor, and of course some people do this very thing. They are called monks and nuns, and they have sold everything to follow Jesus Christ and dedicate their entire life to God. It is a special calling to become a monk or nun, and most of us haven’t been called to that level of sacrifice.

We have been called to be willing to trust that God will take care of us. We have been called to believe that God became man so that we could become one with God. It wasn’t the wealth that condemned the rich man, but his unwillingness to go the extra mile for Christ. Remember the conversation between Jesus and the Apostle Peter? “’Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ … ‘Tend My sheep.’ ... ‘Feed My sheep.’” (John 21.15-19) Peter had to go the extra mile.

We just finished celebrating Thanksgiving where we ate and ate until we couldn’t eat any more and then we ate some more. Christmas is just around the corner and some of us have already been shopping. The newspapers this weekend were stuffed (so much I thought I received three papers in my box Friday morning) with thousands of coupons trying to convince us to spend spend spend until we can’t spend any more and then spend just a little bit more. We won’t be happy until our arms and our trunks and our closets are full of news toys and gadgets, or so we are told by society.
And just when our legs are aching from all the shopping and our closets are full remember the words of this morning’s Gospel: “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” (Luke 18.24) and then…let go of the rope. It’s never too late to let go. This year, consider how you can stay focused upon Christ during Christmas.
Read the bible every day. Participate in the New Testament Challenge.

Fast and pray every day. Call your spiritual father for guidelines.

Help at least one other person every day. It doesn’t have to be major, just help.

Come to at least one extra Church service every week – besides Sunday.

If we do these few things, our room will stop spinning and we will be able to see clearly the door to heaven.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

“If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.” (Luke 17.3)

New Testament Challenge, Day 14 – Luke 17-21
I’m going to get off my high-horse about the after Thanksgiving shopping, although much can be said from today’s challenge chapters. Instead, I’m going to write about forgiveness because I believe with Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas approaching, it would do us some good to do some forgiving. The passage above from Luke is quite clear that we should forgive. Christ is challenged in other places in scripture for an answer of how many times to forgive and He states, “not seven times, but seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18.22 – NT Challenge Day 3) Often, though, the issue of earnestness in the one seeking forgiveness is questioned especially when we have forgiven up to sixty-nine times seven and we “only” have seven times left. (A bit of humor goes a far distance when dealing with forgiveness.)

But in today’s reading we see an answer even to the issue of earnestness. “And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, “I repent,” you shall forgive him.” (Luke 17.4) The implication of this passage cannot be avoided. So long as someone asks to be forgiven we are obligated to forgive. The earnestness of the “sinner” is for God to address. Our refusal to forgive others is only a self-condemnation as we recite the Lord’s Prayer… “and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” We can only be forgiven if we forgive and I’m not about to take the chance that my sins will not be forgiven when I am faced with an account of my life in front of the Judgment Seat of Christ.

If reading this blog has become a regular part of your day or if this is the first time here, I welcome you. You will see very quickly that I believe we each have a responsibility to put our faith into action and live as if we truly love the Lord. Forgiveness is but a part of this reality.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Black Friday...

New Testament Challenge, Day 13 – Luke 12-16

“Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” (Luke 12.15)

I can think of few other passages than this to describe the danger of today’s battle over American consumerism. Today is called “Black Friday” because for many years it was the day many stores’ sales guaranteed the year to be “in the black”. We all know the frenzy each year as shoppers wake up at 3:00am to be first in line to buy the “much needed” new Wii game. Today is bound to be characterized by mobs and stampedes as parents take advantage of “today only” sales meant to drum up business.

But is this really the reason we should call today Black Friday? Our society has turned a day of thanks to God into a weekend of shopping to save the economy and to get the best deal on a toy that is over-priced and under-needed. It is a day we focus upon getting more stuff rather than realizing our needs. Maybe Black Friday describes the darkness of the devil’s control over our lives.

Do not forget the words of Christ, “Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds?” (Luke 12.24) Let’s not forget that we spent yesterday giving thanks to God for the blessings He has given us.

Let’s not forget, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12.34) If you don’t want your heart focused upon the things of this world, don’t put your treasure with the things of this world.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Don’t Just Thank God...Show Him Your Thanks

New Testament Challenge, Day 12 – Luke 8-11

Happy Thanksgiving. Since today is a day, the only official day in America set aside for thanking God, I am sharing some thoughts on giving thanks that are inspired by today’s reading.

“Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’” (Luke 9.33) One way we show God we are thankful for the blessings He has given us is to build churches. This practice seems to have fallen away in our contemporary American setting. But consider other “Orthodox” countries where there are millions of Orthodox Christians and you will witness the very tradition. Every street corner, practically speaking, has a church or a chapel in honor of a saint. Many of these have been built in honor and thanks for blessings received. In our contemporary American experience, this could take the form of donations to our local Church of Holy Icons or other items used in the worship of God. Many priests, at least I know I do, have a list of things needed for the Altar or Church. At bare minimum we should make a contribution to the building fund or ministries funds of our local church. This practice is Holy and should be reinvigorated in our American Church.

“He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.” (Luke 11.23) It is not enough to mind our own business when it comes to having faith. Just because we are not working against Christ doesn’t mean we are working for Him. This passage in Luke suggests that we must be actively working to further the Gospel of Christ to show Him that we are on His side.
“No one, when he has lit a lamp, covers it with a vessel or puts it under a bed, but sets it on a lampstand, that those who enter may see the light. Therefore take heed how you hear. For whoever has, to him more will be given; and whoever does not have, even what he seems to have will be taken away from him.” (Luke 8.16,18) Here we see our duty to take the light of Christ that we received at our Baptism and not just let it shine for others, but actively make it visible for others to receive the Light. In other words, we sin when we keep our blessings a secret not so that we can be praised but so that people can glorify God.

Here are three examples in today’s readings that inspired me today to commit to an active expression of thanks to God and not simply saying thank you. Praise God for all things.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

“Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6.37)

New Testament Challenge, Day 11 – Luke 4-7

Nothing speaks as clearly as Christ’s warning about how we are to treat others. In Saint Luke’s rendition of the Beatitudes, we are told to love our enemies and be merciful. If we use the logic of Luke 6.37 we can see that Christ is telling us if we love we will be loved and we will have no enemies. In other words, “Love not, and you shall not be loved. Forgive not, and you will not be forgiven.”

In our current political atmosphere of “Party Politics” we are bombarded day after day with hatred for other’s views and opinions. Naturally, this is the nature of politics. We began today’s reading (Luke 4) with Christ being tempted by the devil; “Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, ‘All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish.’” (Luke 4.5-6) The Holy Scriptures are clear in their understanding; the devil has control over the powers of the Earth. But we have been called to a different life.

Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Luke 5.32) The world, being controlled by the devil is administered by sinners, with whom we each share the burden of culpability. In Christ, though, we are challenged to move beyond our fallen world. It is no longer good enough to love those who love us, “for even sinners do the same.” (Luke 6.33) We must love all people.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

“Behold the servant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to you word.” (Luke 1.38)

New Testament Challenge, Day 10 – Luke 1-3

With these words the Mother of God (Theotokos) and ever-virgin Mary declared her obedience to God’s will. As a little girl she risked being called an adulteress and constant ridicule from society in her willingness to obey God. She is a model of courage for us in today’s fallen world. It would have been much easier, speaking from a human perspective, to ignore God’s will for her. God doesn’t force anyone to do anything against their will, so we can rest comfortably knowing that the ever-virgin Mary willingly gave up her possibility for the easy life and chose to accept God into her life. She must have known that this would be a challenge for her, as I’m sure we know it will be a challenge for us to obey God’s will for us in our daily lives.

We live in a society built upon freedom, but that freedom is more often than not used for choosing actions that are against the will of God. We have the freedom of will, and in the United States the legal freedom, to pursue wealth until we have more money than we could possibly ever need while ignoring the needs of others around us. But this is not the will of God. “Well done good servant. You have been faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.” (Luke 19.17) God blesses us when we use our freedom to choose His will to “do good” to others.

In our preparations for Christmas, and while we are about the celebrate the great feast, albeit not on the Church calendar, of Thanksgiving, take a moment and reflect upon God’s will for you in this life. Then meet with your spiritual Father, or find one if you don’t already have one, and discuss God’s calling for you in life. Then take courage! Allow the courage of the ever-virgin Mary and Mother of God to be an inspiration to you to act upon that calling. Then pray that it will be said of you, like it was said of Zacharias and Elizabeth, “And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” (Luke 1.6)

Monday, November 23, 2009

“So Pilate, wanting to gratify the crowd, released Barabbas to them.” (Mark 15.15)

New Testament Challenge, Day 9 – Mark 13-16

I have found this mentality to be very prevalent in today’s society, not just in the Church but in all society circles. We are much more concerned with being liked by the crowd of what in many cases is made up of complete strangers than we are in the truth. This is often the case with politics and religion. This may be why our society has a “friendly agreement” to not discuss religion or politics with people at work. It is easier to avoid the conflict and maintain the façade of being liked than to risk loosing good business deals. Our politicians are more likely to answer our questions with statements the think we want to hear than what they actually believe or plan to do in office. Then when someone in society does “stick to his guns” and stand firm in his beliefs he is denounced as being stubborn and unenlightened and unwilling to compromise.

We can no longer compromise on the truth – God became man to unite humanity to divinity – and we must being to proclaim it from the mountain tops. Sometimes that might mean not being liked. Sometimes it might mean, especially for those of us who are clergy or members of parish councils, the people might leave the Church because they don’t want to live according to the teachings of Christ and His Church. Maybe the time has come to revisit some of the Holy Canons that assisted the Church in helping people realize the gravity of their life decisions.

Consider the recent public dispute between Rhode Island Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin and Rep. Patrick Kennedy over the question of abortion “rights” and whether Kennedy has the “right” to receive Holy Communion in the Roman Catholic Church. One citizen actually said, "If they believe they're a true Catholic, who's to say that they're not?" (See Associated Press Story, “Kennedy Dispute Reveals Conflict Among Catholics") Former New York Governor Mario Cuomo said it best, “"If you're required (by the church) to make everybody follow your Catholic role, then nobody would vote for Catholics because it's clear that when you get the authority, you're going to be guided by your faith."

But isn’t that the point? Aren’t we called by the Lord to live our faith? “Faith with out works is dead.” (James 2.20) The time has come for us to live our faith and worry less about being liked by the crowd. Our salvation depends upon it.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Welcome Home, There are no Strangers Here but the Devil

I remember one time, a few years ago when we were living in Boston, we took a day trip to a zoo in Providence, Rhode Island. After a really enjoyable time at the zoo we were preparing for the long drive back to Boston, about two hours. We were in the parking lot waiting for a family to cross in front of us when the mother stopped and stared at our car. “Who is this complete stranger staring at us?” I asked Presbytera. I’m not shy by nature so I rolled down my window and said hello. “Are you from Colorado?” they asked? (At the time we still had Colorado license plates on the car) After a short conversation we both realized our “old” homes were just a few blocks away from each other. We had practically been neighbors in Colorado, but now both of us were living on the East Coast as strangers to each other until that moment. We exchanged a few niceties about what we thought of our new home and went our separate ways, no longer strangers. It always feels good to connect with someone from home especially when we are traveling or living in a strange place.

This morning we welcome members of our family whom we haven’t seen in a while back home and we welcome some new faces of friends whom we look forward to meeting and building relationships with. In a society that is constantly on the go we find ourselves always in motion from one appointment to another, from one job to another, from one client to another; we never take the time to sit back and look at each other for who we are. If that family hadn’t been crossing the street in Rhode Island, and if I hadn’t been driving at that moment, neither of us would have realized that we had neighbors so close. We may have just continued to travel as strangers to each other.

But Saint Paul writes, “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” (Ephesians 2.19) Jesus Christ says, “But I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” (John 15.15) By this we can be assured that in this Church there are no strangers nor foreigners, but friends and family.

We may not be strangers, but there is something strange about us, not within us or between us, but between us the world around us. We know that Strangers are often hated and suffer in foreign lands, but sometimes we do not understand where our foreign land is. The world itself is our foreign land. Christ said, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15.19) This can be the only explanation why this life is full of suffering.

Saint John Chrysostom said, “For foreigners, whatever they suffer, endure it, as not being in their own country.” (Homily XXIV on Hebrews XI, Chapters 1,4) This suggests that where we suffer is a strange place but our home is a place of peace. Saint Paul reminds us of this when he says we are “called to be saints” (Romans 1.7). We cannot forget the word “saint” (άγιος) means “not of the world” and that Jesus Christ chose us out of the world so this Church is different than the rest of the world.

This Church has been consecrated to God and belongs to God. This is God’s house, not just a place where we come to exchange baklava recipes, but a place where gather as the “household of God” to worship Him and give thanks to Him for saving us. It is a place, the place, where we come to be joined to Christ in Holy Communion and be made holy by His grace. Just as we enter our own houses for comfort and peace, this Church stands as a place of peace and comfort. As we heard in this morning’s Epistle reading, “For now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace.” (Ephesians 2.13-14)

I began with the story about our trip to the zoo because I feel it describes our Church today. Many of us come each Sunday and sit for a little more than an hour not even realizing that the other people sitting next to us are not strangers but members of our own family. As Saint Paul said, “we are fellow citizens of the household of God.” Would any of us if we were traveling to another state or country ignore a Florentine sitting right next to us? I’m sure the answer is no because we would find comfort speaking with someone from home, just like I did at the zoo, knowing someone from home was so close.

Well, we are in a foreign country and I’m not talking about being Greek. I’m talking about being Christian in a world that does not have God as its father. To the elite of society Jesus said, “You are of your father, the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do.” (John 8.44) What else could explain a society (and I’m speaking not of just the United States, but of humanity in general) that takes pleasure in the suffering of others or at the very least demands the right to kill innocent children. For over thirty years our government has been promoting the right to kill innocent children and soon senior citizens in Florida may be at risk of being removed from life support to make room for flu patients. But we are called to be different.

We have been made citizens of the household of God which has “been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.” (Ephesians 2.20) Our peace is in Christ, “who has made both one, and has broken down the wall of separation.” (Ephesians 2.14) We no longer have to worry about being Greek or Russian or Indian or American. We are all fellow citizens in the household of God. We have been given the peace of God to worship according to the tradition of the Apostles.

Today we opened our doors and invited our friends to return home. This Church is for everyone and I am thankful to God that you have chosen to be with us this morning. Whether you are returning this morning after being away for a long time or if you are here this morning looking for a place to worship God; welcome home.

Take a moment and look around. Stare at each other if you have to like the woman in the parking lot stared at me. Stare at each other until you realize, “Hey, don’t I know you? Aren’t we both children of God? Don’t we both have something in common?” We do have something in common; Jesus Christ became a man for both of us, so both of us could worship Him in this Church. It’s good to be home isn’t it?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Only God can change hearts

“For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened.” (Mark 6.52)

New Testament Challenge, Day 7 – Mark 5-8

In today’s reading Saint Mark continues to reveal the power of God present in many healing and miracles like the feeding of the five thousand (not including women and children making actual number more like fifteen thousand most likely). Over and over again the people were confused and did not fully understand who Jesus Christ was even though they should have known because the miracles He performed were themselves fulfillment of prophecy. This is most obvious to me when Saint Mark writes, “And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.’” (Mark 7.37)

I am always amazed at how people can see the work of God and still be in doubt that God has accomplished something especially when natural logic cannot possibly explain what took place. What else can explain tumors disappearing from an MRI with no treatments or drug therapy? I have personally witnessed, on more than one occasion, the hand of God working for good.

Even the Apostles were slow to fully understand even after Christ had performed so many miracles and sent them out two by two, “and gave them power over unclean spirits.” (Mark 6.7) Christ said, “How is it you do not understand?” (Mark 8.21) But there is always hope...

Finally the Apostles understood when confronted by Christ. “But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered and said to Him, ‘You are the Christ.’” (Mark 8.29) Here Saint Mark ends today’s readings with the Apostles finally understanding who Christ is and Christ guiding them to the next level in understanding His true save humanity.

Christ comes to us first in our physical needs and our limited understanding. He never forces us to accept Him, but when we do He invites us into a deeper understanding of who He is. Jesus Christ is the incarnate Word of God. He took on flesh so that we, being human, could be united to Him as God. The key to understanding God is to open our hearts to Him and invite Him into our lives.

If only we could be more like Christ in our actions with others. In general we try to force others to agree with us. When are we going to learn? .....Only God can change hearts.

Friday, November 20, 2009

“Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” (Mark 4.41)

New Testament Challenge, Day 6 – Mark 1-4

Once Mark has introduced Jesus Christ, immediately we begin to hear of the many healing miracles and exorcisms He performed while on Earth. Even His disciples were amazed at what they were witnessing every day. Saint Mark’s emphasis on these events is no accident, we can be sure of that. He wishes to reveal to us that God’s power is present in Christ and that He has the power to save us from whatever ails us…even death.

We are living in times of great turmoil for many people. With our economy continuing to struggle out of recession many of our brothers and sisters are without food, clothing, shelter, health care, or hope. The United States Government continues to present itself as the hope of the people: health care reform; mortgage relief; stricter guidelines on corporate executives who have taken advantage of our weakness. Both political parties are obsessed with either gaining or maintaining power and daily offer “hope to America” that their particular agenda will save us from whatever ails us…but we know better.

The Jewish leaders were just as power hungry as today’s politicians. Saint Mark tells us of their reaction to the hope that was given by Jesus Christ to the people to ease their suffering: “Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him” (Mark 3.6) They could not rest having the people hope in someone other than the “establishment” personified in the Pharisees and the Scribes.

Only God has the power to save us. Our hope can only rest upon the Triune God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - to rescue us from death and corruption. During this time of Advent, we should be focusing more attention on receiving the Creator of the Universe at Christmas and less on whether our stock portfolios are stronger than last year or whether government can provide better health care than the private sector. After all, God came as a human being not an agency, and it is only as human beings that we can help each other ease our suffering.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

“And Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28.20)

With these words we finished the Gospel According to Saint Matthew. We are now on day 5 of our 40 Day New Testament Challenge and the reading is becoming harder to fit in. For instance, all this week I was able to read first thing in the morning and then offer a few humble words to this blog. Today, however, the clock found a way to escape me earlier and I was just now (3:00pm) getting a chance to read for the day. It wasn’t that the reading itself was hard, but today I encountered other obstacles that tempted me to put the reading aside for later reading, but I know I will not be awake enough to read the final chapters of the Gospel when I finally get home after two meeting tonight. So I placed my work aside for the moment and got reading….and I’m glad I did.

These comforting words by Christ (quoted in the title of today's blog) were given as He spoke to His disciples after the Resurrection to remind them that He would never abandon His Church. The Apostles believed this deeply that Christ and the Holy Spirit were directly connected to the experience of the Church and they believed fervently that Christ was going to return to claim His bride, the Church, for all eternity within their lifetime. Therefore the Church began a vigil waiting for Christ to return but as time passed it seemed like the bridegroom had been delayed.

We began today’s reading with the story of the “ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.” (Matthew 25.1-5) But when the bridegroom finally did come only the wise were prepared to greet Him since the others had to go and purchase more oil. Christ says, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” (Matthew 5.13)

We should use this Advent period much like a corporation uses a working lunch. While we are waiting for Christ to return, let’s prepare ourselves to go out and meet Him. It may be tonight, and we should want to be ready for Him. If only the five foolish virgins realized they needed more oil and went out right away and bought some more oil…..they could have been back in time.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.” (Matthew 24.36)

Since I went to see 2012 yesterday, I figured this was a good quote to begin the day. It also happens to be included in today’s reading for the New Testament Challenge from the Preacher’s Institute. I have been approached by young and old alike in regard to the so-called 2012 Mayan “prophesy”. I say so-called simply because in light of Matthew 24.36 we cannot possibly know when the end of the world will take place….but just that it will.

Our task as Christians in the 21st Century is to live like the end can be today. I firmly believe the ancient Christians were “more fervent” than we are today because they truly believed Christ would return in their lifetime. “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” (Matthew 24.34) I also firmly believe most Christians have either lost hope in the return of Christ or at least have settled within themselves that Christ isn’t going to return in our lifetime. Whether He will or not is beyond my scope. I’m not the Father.

“Behold the Bridegroom comes in the middle of the night. And blessed is he whom He finds watching” (from the Bridegroom Matins of Holy Week – taken from Matthew 24.46). The time has come for us to regain our fervor for Christ and live each moment as if He will return the next.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

“Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” (Matthew 15.11)

The passage is often quoted in discussion regarding fasting, normally by those who wish to not fast. This passage though is not about fasting; it is about ritual washing of hands. If we read the passage in context we understood the Jews believed that eating food with unclean hands would cause the entire person to be made unclean. This is also a common misunderstanding in regard to fasting as many believe the Church teaches us to fast because food is somehow bad and unclean. While this may have been the Jewish understanding, it is not the teaching of the Church. We fast simply as a spiritual discipline to show our commitment to God that our spiritual life is more important than our physical life. In a manner of speaking, in our fasting, we die so that we may live. (see Matthew 16.24-26)

Take the opportunity to prepare for the Christmas Feast during the holy season of fasting. It is not only a discipline, it is also the Holy Tradition of the Church.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Life Has Roots

As part of my Advent discipline this year I have accepted to participate in a New Testmanet Challenge. By Christmas we will all read the entire New Testament. Yesterday's reading was Matthew Chapters 1-7. Knowing that have also committed to blog every day during Advent as part of the 40 Days of Blogging, I was immediately drawn to the opening Chapter of Matthew in which we read the geneology of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ had a history of generations and generations of holy and dedicate God-fearing people and so do we...the Church.

The Orthodox Christian Church is not simply the oldest Christian Church in the world from an academic point of view. To view her as only historically old would negate the reality of her holiness. There are plenty of other ancient faiths that continue to exist in the world, some of which may even have broken away from Christianity, that do not share a history of holiness and dedication to God. What makes the Orthodox Church the True Church of Christ is her committment to the teachings and traditions of Christ and His Saints.

The Saints are examples of faithful Orthodox Christians who refused to alter their Christian lifestyle simply because society declared Christianity illegal. They refused to halt their worship of God simply because others insisted they worship other "lesser gods". Sometimes they even gave their life for Jesus Christ. These holy men and women we call Saints were committed to maintaining the Holy Traditions of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church established by Jesus Christ and His Apostles over 2000 years ago.

So just as the Gospel of Matthew lists the geneologies of the holy ancestors of Jesus Christ, our Orthodox Church history lists the geneologies of our holy ancstors - the Saints - in the daily Synaxarion (lists of saints) read each day in the Matins of the Church. For the Jews the geneology of Christ was accepted as evidence of His being the Messiah. For us the genology of the Saints should be used as evidence that the Orthodox Church of today is the same continuous Church of Christ established over 2000 years ago.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Who is Our Good Samaritan?

I was out shopping the other day and realized that the Christmas shopping season is upon us. In fact some stores had Christmas displays next to Halloween displays. Gone are the days when the day after Thanksgiving had the distinct honor of officially opening the Christmas shopping season. So there I was in a store, I don’t really remember what I was looking for…I don’t shop much…but I remember not being able to find what I needed. I walked around the store for ten minutes; I’m sure looking totally lost. Actually, I was trying to look lost. Being a man I don’t normally ask for help so if I look lost enough eventually a sales clerk will, I hope, ask me if I need any help. But no help came. I could see sales clerks walking around and some even looked in my direction but not a single clerk came to my aid. Maybe next time I’ll just lie down in the aisle to get some attention. Maybe if I look hurt and about to die a clerk might come and ask if I need help.

Actually that sounds a little like our Gospel lesson this morning. “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.” (Luke 10.30) Well I wouldn’t go that far just to get the attention of a sales clerk but you can imagine that this man, we don’t even know his name, just then was hoping that lying half dead would get some attention and that maybe someone would help him.

This parable is told by Christ in response to a question from a lawyer who wanted to know how to inherit eternal life. He says, “’Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?’ So he answered and said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.’ And He said to him, ‘You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.’” (Luke 10.25-28)

Today we are going to imagine that we are both the lawyer and the man left half dead. In reality both the lawyer and the man left half dead could just as easily have been the same person. Both were wanting to be saved. Both were hoping to get attention and both were ignored by their friends. Listen again to what happens to the man left half dead. “Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side.” (Luke 10.31-32) The lawyer was depending upon his friend, his knowledge of the law, to save him but just like the man left half dead, the lawyer was left alone. The law was not enough to save him because he didn’t understand it. Saint Luke writes, “But he, [the lawyer] wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (Luke 10.29) And the answer for the lawyer and the man left half dead is the same.

Maybe there have been times when we placed our hope in someone or something that let us down? Sometimes it seems that everything lets us down: our car, our bank, a friend, even our government has let us down before and chances are all these things will let us down again, maybe even our family. Sometimes we feel like the man left half dead, just lying there waiting for help; our friends and family just ignoring us when we need them most. Sometimes we are even ignored by our own Church. Don’t forget that even the priest in this morning’s Gospel saw the man and walked away.

But there is hope! “But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion.” (Luke 10.33)The Samaritan was despised by the Jews and, yet, he still saved the man left half dead. Sometimes we get help from the person we least expect. The only question is: “Who is our Good Samaritan?” Who will come save us?

Christ asked the Lawyer, “So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?’ And he said, ‘He who showed mercy on him.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” (Luke 10.36-37)

When Christ speaks in parables many times He speaks about Himself. If we consider the story from this point of view, then we see Christ is the Good Samaritan. When every other person (family, friend, coworker, church member) walks away, Christ is the one that comes and saves us. Christ is our Good Samaritan because it is Christ who shows mercy to us.

Saint Ambrose said, “When he sees half dead whom none could cure before, he became a neighbor by acceptance of our common feeling and kin by the gift of mercy.” (Ambrose, Exposition of the Gospel of Luke 7.74) In other words, when we feel the most vulnerable, when we feel like there is no other place to go for help, He is there for us. I continue to see lives changed when people place their hope in Christ’s mercy. It is not a coincidence that we say “Lord have mercy” thirty-six times in the Divine Liturgy. There is no doubt that we need mercy and that God has it…and plenty of it…and He is willing to give to anyone who needs it.

The Samaritan was hated by the Jews but he still helped the man left half dead. Of course, we may not hate God. We did come to Church this morning after all but do we show Him that we love Him? We are asked to love God with all our heart, our mind, our soul and our strength AND our neighbor as ourselves. This was the essence of what Christ was teaching the lawyer and what He is teaching us this morning. If we love Him then we will love our neighbors and have mercy on them even if they hate us, even if they don’t look like us, even if they are lazy and don’t work as hard as we do.

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and there are thousands of people who are struggling. Are we going to be like the clergy and the Levite and ignore them? We cannot. We must not. If we want to have eternal life we must have mercy on them and help them. We have to be willing to roll up our sleeves, get a little dirty, and help when we see a need.

We don’t have to just imagine ourselves as the lawyer and the man because in fact we are both. The Lord has asked to us to show mercy to others in need if we love Him, and He promises to come help us if we need Him. “Then Jesus said to him, [and He is saying to us] ‘Go and do likewise.’”

So this week when we leave this Church let’s keep our eyes open. When we see someone – it could be a person in a wheelchair crossing the street; it could be someone needing food or a job; it could be anyone we meet – let’s stop and help. But If you are struggling with a problem that seems to never end; if you feel everyone else has ignored you…don’t give up…Christ has come for you too! He is right here.