Friday, April 30, 2010

"In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality." (Acts 10.34)

During the Paschal Season (the fifty days between Easter and Pentecost) the Orthodox Christian Church reads daily from the Book of Acts. In Acts we get a glimpse of life in the ancient Church and witness how the Holy Apostles guided the first Christians into a relationship with Jesus Christ and each other. We see two things, among a host of others, from the very beginning of the Christian Church: daily Worship and Fellowship. (Acts 2.46) This is one reason we have worship services in the church almost every day and why I so much look forward to a cup of coffee with others.

We also see in Acts that thousands were entering the Church based upon the witness of the daily life of the Apostles and first Christians. (Acts 2.47)But it became painfully clear that some already in the Church had no desire to allow new members especially Gentiles to enter the Church. To address this, Saint Peter, a leader among the Apostles, said, “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.” (Acts 10.34) But it wasn’t until Saint Paul’s missionary efforts that the Church truly spread to every nation of the Gentiles.

Our contemporary society is just the opposite. Our governmental system, our charitable system, even our social system, shows partiality. Every day we make decisions based upon whether the result is in our best interest or how we can best advance. We even socialize only with those members of society who will help us get ahead. Online communities such as Facebook and Myspace are saturated with people making “connections” or “networking” for a better position or social status. The most dangerous showing of partiality is in connection with our nation’s foreign policy. As a nation, we befriend and unfriend other nations at the whim of the current resident in the White House just for political gain. And what is the cost of rampant partiality?

Rampant crime, poverty, bigotry, sexism, and many other vices all feed on our selfish pride as human beings. When we cannot look past a weakness in our fellow human beings just because it will hold us back or keep our progress back, our partiality will cripple us. It should be no surprise that our economic system is collapsing around us because unfettered selfishness cannot continue indefinitely. The solution, contrary to what the United States Congress wants us to believe, is not more governmental involvement, but a relationship with Jesus Christ and each other. When the government inserts itself and takes from one to give to another, it too shows partiality, playing the role of a god, altering the players but not the game. And the pendulum continues to swing back and forth.

Everyone is equal in the eyes of God who shows no partiality. What a refreshing breeze it would be if we lived the same way. Let’s begin with fellowship. Next time you see me enjoying a cup of coffee, join me…I’m not partial. Only then can we begin to know each other.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Go Tell It on the Mountain…

Most of you probably began to sing the famous Christmas song that begins with these words. This song is famous during Christmas, not only because of its lyrics but for its message during a season filled with joy and praise. Christmas was months ago……why bring up a Christmas song?

In the Gospel of Saint John (John 4.5-42) we read the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, known in the Orthodox Church as Saint Photini. Her joy after encountering Jesus Christ could not be contained. She dropped everything and ran to town and proclaimed, “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” (John 4.29) Because of her joy and public witness of Christ, many from her town believed in Him.

But not all believed solely based upon the public confession of Saint Photini so the people went to encounter Jesus Christ themselves. “So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. And many more believed because of His own word.” (John 4.40)

By our witness people will believe in Jesus Christ and by our witness others will come to the Church to encounter Jesus Christ themselves and believe in Him. Either way….if we don’t share our witness with others they may never know that Christ is Risen from the dead so that we may live forever with Him. So Go…..tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere. It doesn’t matter where we tell it, just tell it!

Christ is Risen!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Clothes Make the Man...if he allows them to

“Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.” (Acts 1.9)

The events of the Ascension of Christ, described in Acts and celebrated this year on May 13th, bring to completion the unification of human nature with the Divine Godhead of the Holy Trinity. In His incarnation Jesus Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity, took on human flesh and united it to Himself. In His Ascension our human nature is forever united to Divinity. Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos writes, “So the value of the Ascension is in the fact that the human flesh which was deified by its union with the divine nature of the Word, is seated on the kingly throne, at the right hand of God the Father.”

In today’s society we are fond of blaming many sinful and hurtful behaviors on human nature. “It’s human nature…” begins many defense arguments. But as Christians we are united to Jesus Christ in our Baptism and therefore we have a NEW nature. We are a new creation clothed with Christ Himself. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galations 3.27) This quotation from Saints Paul’s Epistle is sung at every baptism in the Orthodox Church and it reflects the reality that we have died to the world and are born anew in Christ. In the sense of our Baptism, clothing really does make the man.

Indeed the clothing we wear every day effects our behavior doesn’t it? We dress for the occasion. I’ve never seen a farmer plow his fields wearing a tuxedo nor have I seen a judge rule in a case wearing a swimsuit. So how can we continue to live a life of sin clothed with God? After our baptism we were clothed in white to signify the purity of our new nature, but as we live in the world we soil the inner garments of our soul every time we sin.

When Christ ascended to His Throne, He took our new nature with Him and forever united us to divinity. The next time we think about our behavior, either in public or in private, we should think about what it will do to our new white clothes. If we want to keep ourselves clean and pure, and we think about our new white clothes we are wearing, maybe we can avoid the sinful behaviors that will leave behind the residue of sin.

Christ ascended the Throne of God and now we “may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” (2 Peter 1.4) We have been clothed in Christ; let our clothing make us who we really should be.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

“When the Jews saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they wondered; and they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4.13)

The affect of living in Communion with Jesus Christ is both a wonder to the world and strength to the faithful. In today’s reading from Acts we see the boldness with which the ancient Church proclaimed the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the power of God. We also see the ineffectiveness of the world to silence the Gospel of Christ. What are we doing in 2010 to live this reality of being in communion with God? As the Holy Apostles declared, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you [the world] rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4.19-20) The Church has witnessed the power of God and now we must declare it the world.

Christ is Risen! Go and proclaim it to the entire world!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Peace Be With You

Peace is a desire for all humanity. Governments desire it and their armies keep it. But what sort of peace is Christ speaking of when He says in this morning’s Gospel, “Peace be with you.”? The peace that armies keep isn’t peace at all. Military peace, if anything, is a sustained cease fire. Consider the border between Israel and Egypt? The two nations are “at peace” with each other, but each has tanks and armies facing the other to “keep the peace” by any means necessary. Surely this isn’t the peace the Christ offers to us, is it?

The peace that comes from Christ is an inner quiet and stillness that is only made possible by having a relationship with God since it is a gift from God. The Gospel of John tells us, “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them: ‘Peace be with you.’” (John 20.19) It is as if Jesus is telling His disciples (and us) “Don’t worry about the world that is fighting against you, because I have defeated death. You have nothing to worry about even if they threaten you, you will live forever.”

During every Divine Liturgy the Priest turns toward the faithful, blessing the faithful, and says, “Peace be with you.” This is a constant reminder that God grants us His peace so that we can receive that stillness we need in our hearts so we can endure the struggle and suffering in the world. There is only “catch”… if the peace of God is going to dwell in our hearts, we must be willing to receive it. Not the peace of the world do we accept but the peace of God. As Saint Seraphim of Sarov said, “Acquire inner peace and thousands around you will find salvation.”

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

How Can We Keep the "Fire" of Pascha from Going Out?

Holy Week and Pascha services in the Orthodox Church are rich with Holy Tradition and symbolism. They are long and yet inspiring….and they are many. All in all there were sixteen services between Palm Sunday and Holy and Great Pascha. And on top of all that…..the Church asked us to fast strictly (or at least as strictly as possible) with less sleep and more prayers. In spite of all this, come 3 o’clock Sunday morning we were on a spiritual high holding our lit candles and singing Christ is Risen. How can we maintain this spiritual high in our lives without burning out?

That is not as strange a question as it may sound. Many Orthodox Christians after Holy and Great Pascha “crash” for at least a couple of days attempting to recover from the exhaustion of Holy Week. Most don’t even realize that Church services continue for an entire week, called “Bright Week”, when the Matins of the Resurrection and Divine Liturgy are to be celebrated. Even for those who are aware of the services, most Churches, if they do offer services, are lucky to welcome the Chanter a few retired citizens.

So I would like to offer a few simple suggestions to help keep the “fire” of Pascha burning brightly weeks after the celebration in the Church is complete:

1. Start every day in prayer singing the “Christ is Risen!”

2. Light your Pascha candle while saying your prayers

3. Read scripture daily (you can locate the readings of the day on many websites such as In fact Orthodox Christians read the entire New Testament (not including Revelation) each year beginning with Pascha.

4. Smile when you greet others on the “street” and wish them “Christ is Risen.” You’ll be surprised the responses you get.

Most importantly remember that it was the sense of prayer and holiness that made Holy Week so special so if you desire to keep the “spiritual high” you should keep up with the readings and services of the Church. What was special during Holy Week will still be special.

Christ is Risen!