Friday, July 23, 2010

There is no Need to Panic; Just Keep Focused on God

In the Gospel we read of doubt and fear in the Apostles of Jesus Christ. In a raging storm at sea in the middle of the night, Jesus approached their small boat. The Apostles were so consumed by fear during the storm they believed they were going to die so when they saw Jesus walking on water toward them they thought He was a ghost. “And they cried out for fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.’” (Matthew 14.26-27)

Peter responded with a hint of doubt, “’Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’ So He said, ‘Come.’ And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus.” (Matthew 14.28-29) Peter’s willingness to have faith, even in the midst of doubt and fear, was blessed by God and Peter was able to walk on water so long as he kept his focus upon God. “But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’” (Matthew 14.30)

Fear and doubt have a way of consuming our lives especially in difficult economic times. With the worst economy since the Great Depression and the constant threat of job loss and unemployment, it is easy to be overwhelmed by fear and panic. We begin to sink into debt hoping that our situation will turn around but the waves of life keep crashing against us and we begin to lose hope. Like Peter we try to remain focused on God but the storm keeps distracting us until we feel like there is nothing left…

Just then we remember…Jesus is there for us. We only need to see Him and ask for help. “And immediately Jesus will stretch out His hand and catch us.” (Matthew 14.31) Don’t panic, just keep focused on God.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Learn the Language of God or Risk Being a Foreigner in Heaven

Thursday of the Ninth Week after Pentecost

6 But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching? 7 Even things without life, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played? 8 For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare himself for battle? 9 So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world, and none of them is without significance. 11 Therefore, if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to him who speaks, and he who speaks will be a foreigner to me. 12 Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel. 13 Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. 15 What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding. 16 Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say "Amen" at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? 17 For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified. 18 I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; 19 yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue. (1 Corinthians 14.6-19)

We often read this passage from Saint Paul and think of “the language issue” in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America or the tradition of speaking “in tongues” in Pentecostalism. But have you ever considered this from the perspective of the “language of God?” God doesn’t speak in languages of the world, despite what ethnic loyalists believe or those who subscribe the “Three Holy Languages” of Greek, Hebrew and Latin, unless of course you’re Russian and you believe in “Four Holy Languages.” etc etc etc.

The Language of God is LOVE and if we cannot learn and speak the language of LOVE we, “will be speaking into the air and we shall be foreigners to God who speaks and He will be a foreigner to us.” (cit 1 Corinthians 14.9,11) We need only to remember Saint Paul’s famous passage in 1 Corinthians 13, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become a sounding brass or a clanging cymbal….” Saint John the Theologian and Evangelist said, “If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (1 John 4.20)

When we finish our journey on Earth and are face to face with God and He is speaking to us, will we understand Him or will we be foreigners in Heaven? The choice is ours to make.

Embrace Christ and Be Transfigured! Live a new life in Christ.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Danger of Pride and “Going It Alone”

Tuesday of the Ninth Week after Pentecost (1 Corinthians 12.12-26)

12 For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body -- whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free -- and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. 14 For in fact the body is not one member but many. 15 If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body," is it therefore not of the body? 16 And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body," is it therefore not of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? 18 But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. 19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be? 20 But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." 22 No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. 23 And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, 24 but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, 25 that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

These words of Saint Paul cause me to dwell upon those who decide they have no need for the Church, or as many say it, “I believe in God but not organized religion!” For many who profess this belief the root cause rests in some disagreement over theology of moral behavior or theological teaching that the Church “holds over its membership” or at least that is how it is often characterized. But I wonder what Saint Paul, arguably one of, if not the, greatest missionaries of Christian history, would have said as a response to this claim.

In my personal ministry experience, I often encounter this mentality when people differ over biblical interpretation with the Orthodox Church on many of the ancient Holy Traditions of the Church such as anointing with Holy Oil called the Mystery (Sacrament) of Holy Unction. The practice of Holy Unction has its roots in the ancient Church, specifically mentioned in James 5.13-15, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” The reference to elders is in reference to Presbyters, or Priests, and is a clear liturgical reference from Saint James and not a suggestion to call simply upon the “old people” of the community. Living in the “Bible Belt” I often hear comments such as laying on of hands by elders and other believers, also based upon this citation in Saint James, but to claim this as the ancient practice is just not being honest with Church history.

But I’m not debating the accuracy of anointing today. Maybe that will be for another day. I’m thinking of the logic behind the mentality that if I disagree with what the Church teaches then I have the right to maintain my own teaching with as much validity as the Church’s teaching. And this clearly isn’t in keeping with Saint Paul.

14 For in fact the body is not one member but many. 15 If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body," is it therefore not of the body? 16 And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body," is it therefore not of the body? 1 Corinthians 12.14-16

We only have to consider the actions of Saint Paul directly to understand how he would view this mentality. When Saint Paul was at odds with the teachings of the Church he and those with him were sent to Jerusalem to plead their case to the Apostles and Elders (Presbyters/Priests) there. Acts 15 describes this historical gathering of the early Church, which has served and continues to serve as the model of Church Councils to this very day. Saint Paul was bound by the decision of the Church and from then on taught accordingly. If he, Paul the great missionary, had to abide by the teachings of the Church why wouldn’t we have to do the same in 2010?

So when we find ourselves at odds with the teachings and Holy Traditions of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church – The Orthodox Christian Church – we can either follow the model of the ancient Church and Saint Paul or we can “go it alone”…. It’s clear what Saint Paul would have done.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Reason for Living

“For of what use is existence to the creature if it cannot know its Maker? How could men be reasonable beings if they had no knowledge of the Word and Reason of the Father, through Whom they had received their being? They would be no better than the beasts, had they no knowledge save of earthly things; and why should God have made them at all, if He had not intended them to know Him?” Saint Athanasios the Great

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

"No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man." 1 Corinthians 10.13

Reading for Wednesday of the Eighth Week after Pentecost
1 Corinthians 10.12-22
12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. 14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to wise men; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? 17 For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread. 18 Observe Israel after the flesh: Are not those who eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? 19 What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything? 20 Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord's table and of the table of demons. 22 Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He?

What great inspiration and hope from St Paul! Every day we are tempted and so often we not only forget that God is watching out for us, we try to tackle the temptation on our own. This is impossible! Our ability is only manifested in our communion with God, a reality brought vividly by St. Paul in his reference to the Eucharist in verse 16. God has to power to hold us up and bring us to glory no matter what our temptation and struggle is BUT we must unite with Him in the Eucharist. Otherwise we are just simple men trying to get along. “With men this is impossible but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19.26)

Embrace Jesus Christ and begin a new life today!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" 1 Corinthians 10.12

1 Corinthians 10.5-12 (reading for today, Tuesday of the Eighth Week after Pentecost)

5 But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. 6 Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. 7 And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, "The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play." 8 Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; 9 nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; 10 nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11 Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.

Here Saint Paul is speaking to us about the past behavior of Israel as a teaching and warning to us in the Church. As we read this in 2010 we can further read it as confirmation that not all who profess Christ live a Christian life which was of utmost importance for Saint Paul and the ancient Church. We make choices every day whether or not to heed the warnings in Scripture, but it is never too late to begin anew…

Embrace Christ in your life and find an Orthodox Christian Church in which to pray and be united to Christ. Find a local Orthodox Christian Church in which you can begin a new life dedicated to Jesus Christ and communion with Him. If you haven’t been to church in “a while” make the effort to attend the next available service. It may be a morning Orthros or Matins (morning service) or Sunday Divine Liturgy. The longer you wait the longer it will take to begin to heal from the pain and suffering that the worldly life, such as sexual immorality etc, inflicts upon each of us.

Life in Christ is freedom from death and sin.

For an Orthodox Christian Church near you click on the link to the right…

Friday, July 9, 2010

Stages in the Development of Passions

I don’t normally do this, but this chapter was so good I wanted to share it in its entirety….

Stages in the Development of Passions

Letter 57 in The Spiritual Life and How to be Attuned to It, by Saint Theophan the Recluse

That the passionate shows itself within us in not an inescapable misfortune. It signifies that we are impure, but it does not make us guilty. Our guilt begins from the point when we favorably incline ourselves toward a passion that has been observed; that is, we do not rush to acknowledge the enemy and do not arm ourselves against it with anger. On the contrary, we accept it and begin liking it, delighting in the impulse in which it appeared. This already shows that we have no objection to being familiar with the passionate, and, subsequently, enemies of God. “Because the carnal mind – [the passionate] – is enmity against God.” (Romans 8.7)

Where assent begins, there also begins guilt, which increases by measure of its involvement in the passionate. I will describe for you how all of this happens. Our usual state is this: The thoughts wander about every which way; the emotions and desires, although they go back and forth, are without definite direction. This is how it is most of the time. Sometimes entire days pass like this. These thoughts are for the most part vain, being attached to routine everyday affairs and tasks at hand. Among these empty thoughts or daydreams about nothing often erupt. Both empty and vain thoughts throng, for the most part, on the surface of the soul. You have been told more than once how to subdue and regulate this disarray of thoughts that impeded remembrance of God and Godly things.

But look here, some object with a certain peculiar form has come among the others and demands attention. Note this point specifically: It has come and demands attention. Never let it pass without attention. Conduct an interrogation at once: Who is this, where is it from and what does it want? You yourself will find the answers to these immediately, after a mere glance at this object that has presented itself. Let us suppose that it is a person who has offended you at some time. It is obvious that by engaging your attention with this person and the association you have with him, someone desires to create within you indignation, anger and even the desire for revenge. This is what will happen if you do not adopt the necessary measures. What measures should you adopt so as to drive away this idea? It wants to bring you to a bad state. Consequently, it is your enemy. You will treat it, then, in a hostile manner, that is, not with respect, but in the way which we spoke about last time, namely, with scornful rejection.

If you do this, you will completely thwart the enemy’s ruse or trap. If, however, you focus your attention on the person who has come to your imagination, then this idea, though ordinary and isolated at first, will become surrounded by a number of other thoughts and images that will paint a very vivid picture in your imagination as to how that person offended you, with all the details of the incident. Along with this, the previous feeling of offense, indignation and anger will arise in the heart. The passionate object or thought about it engendered the passionate feeling. The passionate became more entrenched. If you come to your senses and acknowledge that it is bad to allow yourself to be roused by passion, then, of course, you will see the enemy in this and treat it with hostility, after having expelled the wicked feeling from your heart and driven the very object that engendered it from your thoughts. The confusion will pass and peace of mind will be restored.

If you do not do this, however, then other passionate feelings will gather around the one that has already arisen and exacerbate it. These feelings will begin rationalizing to you, “How dare he do that? Who does he think he is, someone important? I am no worse than he is. It is impossible to ignore this. I do not know how I let it slip by me. If I were to allow everyone to treat me like that, I could not live. I will certainly have to prove to him that he cannot act like that and get away with it.” Your desire for revenge, whether that vengeance is great or small, it is all the same, is at the ready. The passionate become even more deeply entrenched within. This is already the third stage. If you come to senses at this point, you can drive off the desire. For the desire does not yet signify resolution. It arrived one moment, and it can leave the next. If you take proper action, it will be for the better; if you do not, then your torment will continue further.

Observe how the thought engendered the feeling, and the thought with the feeling engendered the desire. The mind is filled with passion. All this, however, is still mental impurity and sinfulness. It is still a long way to the act. Between the desire and the act there is always the resolution to act, and premeditation as to how to carry it out. How the resolution takes shape is not always apparent. It is already within the desire in a weak form; it then grows along with premeditation of the act, that is, with the selection of the means and establishment of methods and circumstances. When everything has been premeditated, the resolution is complete. Then the act has already been accomplished within. The sin has already been committed in front of God and the conscience; the commandments have been disregarded, the conscience violated. Sometimes a lot of time passes between the desire and the resolution with the premeditation of the act. The fear of God takes hold, the commandments are remembered and the conscience is not silent. But all of their saving suggestions are rebuffed by disregard. That is why there is already transgression and sin in the resolution. The thought, feeling and desire, although they have already occupied the entire soul, seemingly take place on the surface of the soul. There is still no strong inclination toward sin, only an urge. Strong inclination begins from the point when the soul begins deliberating whether it should satisfy the passion and how it do so. Here the soul has already set out on the path of sin.

While the resolution is forming, freedom is checked, the soul feels as if it were absolutely obligated to do what it intended. But there is no such obligation. It is a sort of inner self-delusion that is taking place. What has been decided may remain unfulfilled because of some obstacle that is suddenly encountered. Perhaps it is abandoned because the person himself has second thoughts about carrying it out, because of some consideration or because of the conscience and fear of God, if they should happen to rise up in full force.

At last, everything has been arranged and the deed done. You got your revenge as planned. The passion has been satisfied, the sin finally committed. What more could be added to the resolution that developed at first? Seemingly nothing, for here the premeditated plan has only been carried out. That is how it seems; but, in the essence of the act, the wrongdoing increases up to the last step. First. Up to this point, the fear of God and the conscience were merely dismissed and disregarded, now they are violated. Up to now, the situation has been like a mother who is trying to persuade her son not to do something wrong, and he brushes her aside or runs away from her. Now the son answers his mother’s pleas by hitting her or slapping her in the face. Second. Now inner activity has been introduced into the course of outward events and is bound to be accompanied by the consequences, which are also outward and worldly. You will not cross it out of the circle of events by a stroke of the pen or verbal denial. It will remain there forever and will always be attached to the person who did it, forcing him to taste its fruits. Third. The Divine grace deserts him, and the person leaves the realm of God and enters the realm of the enemy of God. He drops down, is burdened and feels himself crushed under a kind of weight. The parable about the unclean spirit returning with seven more is fulfilled in him. [Matthew 12.43-45] Gloom, uneasiness, burden – this is the reward of any satisfied passion. Amazing! Until the passion is satisfied by the act, the person expects Paradise from its satisfaction: For you shall be God. [Genesis 3.5] As soon as the passion is satisfied, however, the delusion falls from his eyes, the phantom dissipates, and there is left only emptiness, anguish, upset and burden; the person sees that he is impertinent. He took revenge on his enemy; he expected to be rejoicing, but things have turned out quite differently.

You see what the path is of tormenting yourself with some passion and falling into sin on account of it. Now we shall turn to you. What is possible in you from all that has been said? If your resolution to work for the Lord is sincere; if, having made this decision, you follow the advice given to remember God at all times with fear and reverence; if you watch after yourself strictly; then any inclination within you toward the satisfaction of passionate desire, and all that follows it, will be impossible. However, thoughts, feelings and desires are possible. These are objects of your inner struggle.

Passionate thought, feeling and desire sometimes pass through the soul in a single instant before we know what has happened. In this case they do not make us guilty, if as soon as we recover our senses at the appearance of what is by now desire, we banish them through hostile anger toward them. Our guilt in the intention, feeling and desire is dependent on our procrastination; that is, after observing them we have failed to drive them away, and we dwell on them instead. Drive away the thought, and there will be no feeling or sympathy. Drive away the feeling and with intention, and there will be no desire. Drive away the desire, and there will be no danger or inclination toward the passionate. If, after observing a passionate intention, you dwell on it with attention voluntarily, you are guilty. Why did you occupy yourself with something that you know is God’s enemy and yours? If, however, your attention is involuntarily attracted to the intention, you are not guilty, as long as you immediately turn your attention away from it and drive it out. If, as a result of your willful attention toward a passionate intention, a passionate feeling is engendered, then your guilt is increased a little. But if after detecting the birth of a passionate feeling, you continue to be occupied with the passionate intention, and, consequently, voluntarily provoke the feeling, then your guilt increase to twice what it was previously. If, after detecting a passionate feeling, you rouse yourself and drive it out along with the intention, then you would be guilty only in the fact that you voluntarily occupied yourself with a passionate thought; you are not guilty of the feeling, because such feelings are created through the action of the thoughts. If through the actions of the passionate thought and feeling that have been voluntarily allowed, there is born within you the desire for a passionate action (for example, revenge), then your guilt is increased a little, because desire is created involuntarily from thought and feeling. Your previous guilt remains; why were you occupied with the passionate object, and when a passionate feeling was born from this, why did you allow the feeling to persist and the thought that gave rise to it? Therefore, your guilt is twofold. But if after detecting the passionate desire, you allow it to linger inside you, and do not immediately arm yourself against it, then your guilt increases by one more step; it will be threefold.

I will not go further, because I suppose this is sufficient to warn you.

You see for yourself that if you immediately drive away the passionate thought, then you put and end to the entire struggle. There will be neither feeling, and even more, there will be no desire. Make the decision to act in this way. Why would you draw on yourself the unnecessary labor of struggle, and sometimes even danger, when you have already decided not to allow the passionate being ungodly? If the feeling begins to stir involuntarily along with the thought, immediately chase out the feeling with the thought. If desire involuntarily clings to them, immediately chase out the desire along with them. The moment you discover a passionate impulse within yourself, chase it out. Make this your rule: Do not voluntarily praise either passionate thought, feeling or desire, and immediately chase them away with complete hatred as soon as you detect them. You will always be innocent before God and before your own conscience. There will be within you the impurity of the passions, but also innocence. You will carry out the act of purification (cleansing), laboring diligently at the purifying of your soul.

May the Lord bless you!

The preceding was taken in its entirety from “The Spiritual Life and How to be Attuned to It” by Saint Theophan the Recule, as translated by Alexandra Dockham. St. Herman of Alaska Press. 1995.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

"For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them." Matthew 18:20

Truly the Lord has been with the Greek Orthodox Church these past few days as the Holy Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has been gathered for the 40th Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress and Philoptochos (Friends of the Poor) Conference. We have concluded this great event with a fantastic banquet with not only delicious food but God-inspired presentations throughout the week on the life of the Church and the mission to carry the Gospel of Our Lord to all nations.

The theme for this year’s Congress was, “Gather My people to My home, Come and See” based upon John 1.46 and numerous presentations and seminars were offered to inspire our faithful to spread the Good News of Christ’s saving mission to humanity.

It has been a truly inspiring four days gathered as the Body of Christ for worship, fellowship, education and inspiration as our Church looks to the future of our Church. For those who are regular visitors to this blog you know how strongly I feel about sharing Orthodox Christianity as the ancient Christian Faith with everyone but not just for the sake of knowledge. As the Lord says, "If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.” (John 15:22) It would truly be a sin to hear the Good News of Christ and not respond.

“Come and see” my dear brothers and sisters. Come and see that the Lord is Good. Come and visit an Orthodox Christian Church near you! Follow the link to the right and search for an Orthodox Church near you and GO AND SEE for yourself!

God bless you!