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.