Saturday, December 31, 2011

On the 7th Day of Christmas we anticipate Theophany

During the Royal Hours of Christmas we sang:
Today is born of a Virgin, he who holds creation in the hollow of his hand (three times).
As a mortal he is wrapped in swaddling rags, he who in his being cannot be handled.
God lies in a manger, who of old established the heavens in the beginning.
He is nourished with milk from the breast, he who rained Manna on the People in the desert.
He summons Magi, the Bridegroom of the Church.
He accepts their gifts, the Son of the Virgin.
We worship your birth, O Christ (three times).
Show us also your divine Epiphany.

This hymn was sung in the same style as “Today is hung upon a tree” from Holy and Great Thursday evening during the Lord’s Crucifixion.

The Nativity of Christ LEADS to something. It leads to the Lord’s revealing (thus the term Epiphany or Theophany) His Divine Trinity to us on the Feast of Theophany also known as His baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist. Today the Church begins liturgically to look forward to that event. Today is the Saturday before Theophany and the readings are established to direct our attention toward God’s revelation of Himself.

Everything the Lord has done since the Fall of Humanity (and is still doing) until now has been leading us toward Him to reconcile us to Himself. The same must be true for our daily spiritual walk. Everything we do must in some direct way have the purpose of leading us closer to God. From our daily prayers to our daily chores, our entire life must be centered upon Christ.

There can be no room in a Christian’s life for tomorrow. Our Church hymns are always in the present. “Today is born…”, “Today is hung upon a tree…”, today…today…today… Don’t put  off to tomorrow what the Lord desires for you today, a true relationship with Him. Find a Church and begin your journey today to a closer relationship with our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Christ is born; Glorify Him! Christ is come from Heaven; Encounter Him!

Friday, December 30, 2011

On the Sixth Day of Christmas I began to look forward

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve and we all turn our attention ahead to a new year while glancing back at the past year with mixed emotions. In my case 2011 is the year I lost my mother but it is also the year in which my (Christ’s really as I am just a servant) ministry has begun to flourish with attendance at Church services (all services) and Bible studies on the rise. I will remember 2011 as a year of sorrow and joy as our parish buried two founding members while making plans to celebrate our golden anniversary (50 years of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ). A year of mixed emotions is really a year of total experience. Life cannot exist as joy without sorrow. In Orthodoxy we call this “joyful-sorrow” and it signifies our spiritual journey of struggle hand-in-hand with victory. The Christian life IS a life of joyful-sorrow.
So while we look ahead to the next year we MUST, if we are dedicated Christians, look forward to moving closer to God. In his letter to the Hebrews Saint Paul writes, “here is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.” (Hebrews 7.19) Our Lord came to earth on Christmas (this is only the 6th day of Christmas after all) so that we could be drawn closer to Him through physical communion with Him. This closeness is accomplished in the Eucharist (Holy Communion) which is encountered in the Divine Liturgy.

I invite you to look forward to 2012 with a new dedication to growing closer to God in the Eucharist and the Orthodox Church. You may be reading this blog wondering if you would be “happy” attending an Orthodox Church or you may be reading this blog as a faithful Orthodox Christian wondering how you can grow closer to God. For both I invite you to embrace the spiritual struggle that IS Orthodox Christianity. Read Holy Scripture every day. Fast every Wednesday and Friday, and the other fasting days of the Church. Bring a tithe (10%) of your income to the Church to express your thanks to God and give alms to charities that uphold the Christian love. Above all be in Church as often as you are able.

Christ is born; Glorify Him!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

On the fifth day of Christmas and the world rejoices

Well the world, most of it anyway, has already forgotten about Christmas. That is, all except for the nightly news which continues to report on the Christmas SHOPPING season, as if that is what really matters. It’s no wonder so many people accuse me of being “down on society” all the time. I don’t think I’m down at all. I believe I’m just willing to call it like I see it.
Most people don’t really want to hear the truth about their actions or desires. Let’s face it. The Gospel is full of stories where Jesus was just calling it like He saw it, but the Pharisees and the society elite didn’t want to admit their reality. They would do just about anything to cover up how they really believed and lived. Has anything really changed in our society today?

Just tune in to for a few brief moments to the weekly talk shows on cable or radio and you hear a constant buzz of excuses and redirecting comments away from reality. When a man is accused of having an affair, he is declared incapable of being president – EVEN THOUGH the reality of sexual chastity and marital faithfulness continues to dwindle in our nation. How is it people think their own lack of sexual morality make them qualified for what they do every day but not someone else’s lack of sexual morality. That is really just one example.

There are others where greed is the governing moral. After all, isn’t our nation’s class struggle nothing more than just greed? The poor want something they don’t have and the rich want more of what they do have. Before you jump down to the comment button hear me out on this one….An objective evaluation of poverty I believe reveals a subjective practice. What is too rich for one is not rich enough for another. What is poor for one is wealthy for another. Wealth is a matter of perspective for sure, but Saint Paul and the early Church Fathers spoke about being content with the blessings our Lord gives us. If we are poor (and I must admit I am not but I don’t think that excludes me from speaking a spiritual truth) with cable TV and cell phones, are we really poor? I don’t mean to suggest that people don’t suffer. I see them with my own eyes, but there are many more whose suffering is brought upon by poor decisions and an overall lack of disciple. BUT THE WEALTHY ARE NO BETTER! There are millions (quite literally) who have been blessed by God beyond what they need and are still demanding more. They are not satisfied with what they have. Most people rarely are I suppose.

Anyway, since today is the fifth day of Christmas (the day of FIVE GOLDEN RINGS) I suppose it’s appropriate that I made mention of greed. “They” say money makes the world go around, but I learned something different in geology. “They” say that hard work pays off, but I have learned that many hard working servants never get ahead. Christmas isn’t about money; it’s about life – life in Christ.

Christ came down from heaven and put on flesh for our salvation so He could unite us to Him. When the times comes for us to join Him, will we bring our wallets or our hearts?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

On the fourth day of Christmas and I’m feeling a bit reflective

I was blessed to attend a funeral yesterday of a young 22 year old man, the son of a local clergyman associate of mine, who died tragically a few days before Christmas and I have become a bit reflective about my own blessings. During the funeral the presiding priest kept stating, “This is why Jesus had to die…” I’m not sure I agree with that since not only were we celebrating Christmas, but the Orthodox Church has a different view on the death of Christ. He didn’t die so much because of “my personal sin” as much as He desired to be totally human and all humans must die. For Orthodox Christians the death of Christ is an act of pastoral love, not recovering some penalty of sin. Although “the wages of sin is death,” (Romans 6.23) when we dwell upon the cruel verdict of an angry God who demands death in exchange for sin, we lose sight of His absolute love.
That love is what has helped me this year. This year has been a very challenging year for me personally with my mother succumbing to cancer in April. It was our first Christmas without her and the busyness of a full house of cousins helped me. I am very blessed to have such a dedicated and loving family. My mother will be missed, as I’m sure the young man whose funeral I attended will be missed. It is because of Christmas that I am assured we will see each other again. That is reason enough to glorify God.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

On the third day of Christmas I feel like I ate three French hens

In addition to Church services and opening presents, for many people Christmas is also a time to eat…and eat….and eat. I think that may have been the reason for the three French hens. After all the turkey and stuffing and potatoes and pie and (at least in every Greek home) spanakopita and feta cheese, I’m looking forward to a quick workout this morning to burn some of those extra Christmas calories. It sort of makes me wonder….if we keep eating and eating just because it’s Christmas, why don’t we have a desire to keep going to Church?
Did you know that last week there were Church services for three days leading up to Christmas like a “mini” Holy Week? Did you know that next week there will be Church services leading up the Feast of Theophany (Epiphany) like a “mini” Holy Week? The number of Church services associated with a Feast is a direct response to the importance of the Feast.

So here we are in the midst of the Twelve Days  of Christmas (ending on the Feast of Holy Theophany) when the Church celebrates the coming of the Lord into His creation for our Salvation. Let’s start acting like it…

Monday, December 26, 2011

On the second day of Christmas my friends were all burned out but I’m just getting started!

So many people day returned to work. Some even have undecorated their homes already. What a shame that our society has devolved to such a level as to turn Christmas into a month long party leading up to the feast. It can so much more than that if we want it. So this year why not take your life back and spend the next few days reading the Christmas story in the Holy Scriptures and contemplate what parents of the Holy Innocents (martyred infants by Herod) experienced during their first Christmas.
Some in the world react to the news of Jesus Christ with violence; some react with praise and prayer; some react with a nonchalant attitude of self indulgence. Which are you this year?

Christ is Born; Glorify Him! Christ is come from Heaven; Encounter Him!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christ is born; Glorify Him! Christ is come from Heaven; Encounter Him!

These simple words bring our minds to what really matters today, Christmas Day. Our preparation is complete. Our fasting is over. Our gifts are wrapped and have been opened. Our homes are filled with family and friends. Our children are suffering from “new toy overload”. Our stomachs are full. Our hearts are warm. Christmas has arrived and our joy is fulfilled because Christ is born!
Tomorrow will be another day…another day of work…another day of chores…another day to praise the Lord. What, praise the Lord you say? The reality is that many will wake tomorrow morning to most of these while forgetting to give praise to God, who’s birth we just began to celebrate. Many will forget that the past several weeks have been about preparing for Christmas and now is the time for celebration.

In the Orthodox Church we celebrate Christmas for twelve days not just one day. We begin our celebration with Christmas, not end it. Why not make this year the year you make a change and spend the rest of your days praising God rather than worrying about where our next toy. Take this year’s Christmas as a chance to reorient your life toward Jesus Christ and Encounter Him! Begin a relationship with Him. Get to know Him. Read His Word. Attend Divine Liturgy in an Orthodox Church regularly. Live a new life in communion with the Creator of the Universe.

Christ is born; Glorify Him! Christ is come from Heaven; Encounter Him!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The End

New Testament Challenge – Day 40
Revelation 12-21

As a society we seem to be obsessed with The End. Countless “prophesies” have come and gone and the Earth is still spinning and humans are still struggling to live day-to-day. What our annual New Testament Challenge can offer us is to ultimately understand that in the end, “There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21.4)

Christmas is a celebration of beginnings. It is a celebration of new revelation – specifically the new revelation of Jesus Christ as God-Man. But being a beginning simply means there will be an end and we must be loyal to the very end in our devotion of God.

If all things are going to pass away, and we rest our hope and intrinsic value in our things which will pass away, where will we find hope and peace in the end? Peace is only found in God who came for our salvation, taking flesh from a virgin, living as mere mortal, was crucified, died and was buried, and rose again on the third day. If we suffer, we should be comforted knowing that God also suffered. If we hunger, we should be comforted that God hungered. God became like us in every way except for sin so that He could reunite Himself to us but not everyone believes.

“He came to His own and His own did not receive Him.” (John 1.11)

Do you believe? If you believe or if you have questions about Jesus Christ and the Feast of Christmas or any other doctrine or celebration of the Christian Church, contact us at Be Transfigured! and by the grace of God the Church will help. Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Visions of Heaven

New Testament Challenge – Day 39
Revelation 1-11

As you know if you are a regular reading of this blog, I don’t make it a practice to write about or preach about the Book of Revelation. I do this because the Church has removed it from public reading due to its deep allegory and imagery. Since it is a book about the end why would I be so bold as to preach about the end prophecy? Jesus says, “but of that day no one knows, not even the angels of heaven.” (Matthew 24.36) So each year on these two days of the New Testament Challenge I choose rather to write about how we have been blessed with a glimpse into heaven through Revelation.

After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, "Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this." Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads. And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices. Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal. And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle. The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!" Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: "You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created." – Revelation 4.1-11

The worship of God is not something to be taken lightly, nor is it something that can be invented or tampered with. The angels, “do not rest day or night” in heaven to praise God and at every opportunity the residents of heaven (that will be us some day) fall down and worship God. This is the basis of Orthodox Christian worship which I fear has been totally lost by most Christians. The other day I heard one person say they “just didn’t get much spiritually out of Orthodox worship” so they attended another Church.

What does it mean to get something spiritual out of worship? Where in John’s vision do we hear of the participants receiving anything for their worship of God? Worship is something we GIVE to God, not something we receive. If we are thirsting for something spiritual “inside” during our worship then we must evaluate our hearts rather than the worship of the Church.

During Orthodox Christian worship, we are blessed and made Holy by God by virtue of being in communion with Him. If we don’t live in communion with Him, then we feel as outcasts in the Kingdom. The same will be our experience in Heaven, where worship of God is constant.

Make this Christmas the moment when you realign your life with God and begin preparing to spend eternity with Him in Heaven. We will all be there. The only difference is….will we want to be there?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines – Hebrews 13.9

New Testament Challenge – Day 38
Titus, Philemon, Hebrews

In today’s selection, among the numerous teachings of faithfulness and hope, Saint Paul reminds us that we must remain loyal to the true doctrine of Jesus Christ.
To the Hebrews he wrote, “Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them.” (Hebrews 12.9)

To Titus he wrote, “But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine.” (Titus 2.1)

It was clear 2000 years ago, and it remains clear by virtue of the thousands of different Christian doctrines in the world today, that there will be people who attempt to lead believers astray from the truth of Jesus Christ. The Church has taken this role quite seriously since the beginning as Saint Paul also said, “We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.” (Hebrews 13.10) Here he is speaking of Holy Communion which the Church, by commandment of the Holy Apostles did not share with nonbelievers.

With the myriad expressions of so-called Christmas traditions that do not make the slightest mention of attending Church, I suppose we the world hasn’t changed all the much. There are Churches which teach that Jesus was not always the Incarnate Word of God from the womb of Mary. There are Churches which teach Holy Baptism grants no grace. There are Churches who declare Orthodox Christianity just another pagan religion.

As your Christmas celebration this year, consider what your Church teaches about the Nativity in the flesh of Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ. Is it in keeping with the ancient Apostolic teaching? If it is not, consider the words of Saint Paul.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Love one another - John 15.12

New Testament Challenge – Day 37
John 15-21

With Christmas just a few days away most Christians are frantically going about looking for that last shopping deal or for that last minute gift for that last minute guest who decided at the last minute to come for Christmas. The last few days before Christmas are any BUT peaceful for so many these days so I thought I would offer a few words to remind us really why we’re going through all this trouble.

First allow me to say that banquets and gift-giving isn’t sinful this time of year. The truth is that everything we share our love with each other good things takes place. It’s no surprise that age-old feuds have been healed during Christmas supper for this very reason. We have learned, most of us, to put our disagreements aside for Christmas and enjoy our celebrations. That’s good.

But we also know that putting on a good face JUST for the sake of Christmas has its risks as well. When we don’t really forgive someone then we begin to associate Christmas with a holiday of burden rather than love. We get along with our enemies not because we want to, but because we HAVE to. And that’s not so good. Jesus said:

“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends.” John 15.9-13

God’s desire is for us to live in unity and love until He returns. Christmas is about His love expressed in His willingness to leave His Throne for 33 years and live as a mere mortal man. He did this NOT because the Law required a sacrifice but so that He could reconcile us to Himself. Without Christmas there would be no Pascha, and without Pascha there would be no Resurrection. Without the Resurrection there would be possibility for us to be reunited to God. Isn’t that worth forgiving someone, not just for a day, but for good?

This Christmas give the gift of love and forgive those who have offended and hurt you or your family. Call them up today and apologize for your part in the situation because we all know every disagreement has two parties. No excuses, just apologies. That would a be much better use of the next couple of days than frantically shopping for the last minute sale.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Neither do I condemn you – John 8.11

ew Testament Challenge – Day 36
John 8-14

How often we get wrapped up into our own superiority that we seem to forget that we sin just as much as the next guy. Of course we say that, but in the context of today’s readings would we mean it? In the reading of the woman caught in adultery Christ challenge those who desire to stone the woman, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” (John 8.7)

Here is where the Orthodox Christian understanding of sin is helpful. ALL SIN IS THE SAME in the sense that all sins separate us from God. Whether we lie, cheat, steal, murder, lust…etc, we sin. If Jesus had said, “Let him who has never lie to protect his reputation, throw a stone at her first,” then maybe some would have stayed to throw stone. As it was, “those who hear it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last.” (John 8.9)

In these last few days before Christmas, maybe a “gift” could be “walking away” from judgment of others. After all…..are WE without sin?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Come and See

New Testament Challenge – Day 35
John 1-7

The immediate reaction of the first disciples of Jesus was to run to their friends and family with the words, “Come and see.” Andrew went and found his brother Simon Peter. Philip when and found Nathaniel. The Samaritan woman went and found the whole city. This year at Christmas who will we call and invite to “Come and see” Jesus Christ? It is the most natural reaction when we find a good thing to invite our closest family and friends to join us in the great discovery.

And still there are tens of thousands of lost people who have never been personally invited to meet Jesus Christ. Why not make this Christmas the one that matters for them. It would be the greatest gift you could give them, to introduce them to the Lord.

Just a thought…

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Where we have been must guide where we are going

On the Sunday before Christmas the Orthodox Church reads the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew’s account of Christ’s ancestry. Ever since the fall of humanity in the Garden, God has been working out His plan for salvation, played in the ancestry listed in the Gospel of Matthew. For the ancient Christian Church it was crucial to understand their Old Testament origins before they could properly understand Christ’s mission. This is why Christ spent so much of His ministry re-setting the foundation of the Old Testament Law. He said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5.17.6)

In fulfilling the Law, the Law did not somehow expire. As Saint Paul reminds us, “Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.” (Romans 3.31) Saint Paul, guided by his understanding of the Mosaic Law and of Christ, helps us to understand the Law was meant to guide our life into a Godly life. The same thing is true when it comes to Church Law (known as the Holy and Sacred Canons) handed down throughout the centuries.

The Holy and Sacred Canons are not an end unto themselves, but a way of life meant to lead us to living Christ-like lives. If we can better understand where these Holy and Sacred Canons come from, we can then, and only then, understand where we are heading in the future. About the Old Testament Christ said, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.” (Luke 16.31)

We have the Holy Apostles and Fathers of the Church, the Saints, to guide us along a way of life in Christ. If we do not hear them, we are bound to the same ignorance of God as the ancient Jews. The Holy Apostles and Fathers urge us to a life of prayer, fasting, almsgiving, weekly Holy Communion and the other sacraments of the Church to help us live Christian lives.

If we do not hear the Holy Apostles and Fathers of the Church, neither will we turn our lives toward God and prepare for His Glorious Birth.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Did you lack anything? Luke 22.35

New Testament Challenge – Day 33
Luke 22-14

Just before His Holy Passion, Christ reminded His disciples of the many times that He had protected them and provided for their sustenance. “’When I sent you without money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything? So they said, ‘Nothing.’” (Luke 22.35) These words of reminder should have served to comfort the disciples once the Lord had been arrested.

Instead of being comforted, they were distressed because they still didn’t fully understand Christ’s mission. Consider how they spoke to Him on the road to Emmaus? “But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel.” (Luke 24.21) Then He opened their understanding of the Scriptures about Him. But it was only in the Eucharist that they finally recognized Him.

We have the blessing to live today with the knowledge of the resurrection and to live in communion with Him through the Eucharist. We have no excuse for our doubt and yet many of us still doubt. Did you ever wonder why?

With all the scientific knowledge we enjoy today, we are a people that depend upon witness and evidence. The Holy Scriptures are written by those who witnessed these events. The Holy Scriptures, witnesses, the Holy Apostles and the early Church, wrote of the many time that God had provided for their protection. It seems to me that we just to remind ourselves every now and again that God has already, in our own individual lives, proven He has our best interest at hand and that He is protecting us and guiding us. It really is that simple.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Once and for all delivered to the saints – Jude 3

New Testament Challenge – Day 32
1,2&3 John and Jude

I found it interesting that Christopher Hitchen, a world renown atheist, died yesterday. Specifically there were two things that interested me. First was how much attention he received with long stories and biographies written about him. The second, was that like every year, atheism conveniently lifts its head around Christmas.

But in today’s readings we hear very strong language about those who would deny the coming in the flesh of the Incarnate Word of God – Jesus Christ.

For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ. (Jude 4)

For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. (2 John 7)

In both these ascertains we are warned not to embrace or walk with these deceivers for fear that if we do, we are living a lie. “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God.” (2 John 9) If we understand these warnings we will also understand that these deceivers are within the Church itself. Saint John says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be manifest, that none of them were of us.” (1 John 2.19)

Every time we try to grow closer to God, the devil (the chief deceiver) grows ever more frustrated and sends us tempters to distract us from loving and following God. DO NOT BE FRIGHTENED, “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God.” (1 John 3.1)

Take the bull by the horns this Christmas and fellowship WITH GOD rather than with the world. Find a Church and make plans to attend services for Christmas. It is the only appropriate manner to celebrate Christmas. A Christmas filled only with gifts and not Church attendance is nothing more than a day of material selfish gratification. That would be the sort of day Christopher Hitchen would celebrate, not a Christian.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men. Colossians 3.23

New Testament Challenge – Day 31
Philippians and Colossians

First I must make a note that yesterday’s readings ended with Luke 20, but our challenge does not list the remainder of the Gospel of Luke. I will blog on these chapters Saturday. You’ll have to come back. I want to remain focused on the chapters of the New Testament Challenge.

Today Saint Paul (along with Timothy) are in a state of rejoice and thankfulness because they know God is going to bless them for their loyalty.

I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them god willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. - Colossians 1.24-27

We should reconsider why we do what we for the Church and for God. Are we serving God or man? I think it’s interesting that God asks us to serve one another while commanding us that we must serve the Lord rather than man. The fact is, that when we serve God we are serving others. BUT just because we are serving others, doesn’t mean we are serving God. We could be serving our own agenda setting in motion a time when the ones we serve will treat us with partiality.

There are likely to be many chances for us to serve God in our service to our fellow human being. I remember a discussion once where I was reminded there were three types of people who serve: one who serves to win rewards from God; one who serves to avoid being punished by God; and one who serves just because he loves God and see God in others.

What drives you to serve? Make your Christmas preparations meaningful and serve the Lord rather than the economy this year……it is after what God expects.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Orthodox Missions in New Zealand Needs Your Help Today!

For those of you who enjoy reading this blog on a regular basis and for those who have just discovered this blog, please take a moment and make a contribution to the Patitsas Missions Effort in New Zealand. Father Paul Patitsas, Presbytera Kathryn and their children have been in New Zealand for just over a year preaching the Gospel and serving the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of New Zealand.
I am requesting assistance on their behalf (via the link to the right) so their ministry and the Gospel of Christ can continue to expand in New Zealand and the island nations of Somoa, Tonga, and Fiji. You may visit the secure PayPal link to the right and make a contribution TODAY to support this blessed ministry. Your donation will appear on you PayPal Account as a donation to the Transfiguration of Our Savior Greek Orthodox Church in Florence, South Carolina (my parish). We will forward all funds (less PayPal fees) directly to the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of New Zealand.

Thank you and God bless you.

We have done what was our duty to do – Luke 17.10

New Testament Challenge – Day 30
Luke 17-20

First allow me to congratulate all my fellow bloggers who have been participating in the 30/40 Days Blogging Challenge sponsored by Today is day 30 so some will be leaving the Challenge. I will attempt to stick with it until Christmas. After Christmas I’ll probably take a break and return to a few times per week.

I mention this because today’s reading began with a description of a Christian leader and servant. More specifically as expressed in today’s blog title which is found in Luke 17.10, a Christian leader is humble and recognizes that thanks and glory are not deserving to those who accomplish nothing more than their given duty.

Our Lord asks, “Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you were commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’” (Luke 17.9-10) In today’s society which has been promulgating excessive thanks for nominal tasks, this message comes painfully to many.

I have heard many times, “Father, you have to thank people more often. Otherwise, they won’t step up and work again.”

How does that sit as compared to Christ’s words in today’s Gospel? There is a conflict actually because we have a need to thank others for helping and blessing us, as we must thank the Lord, while at the same time those who have helped us must reject the thanks by reminding us that “we’re just doing what God wants us to do – nothing special.”

In this light, allow me to thank the for offering us this challenge and YOU for reading my blog. Neither was expected of you. You have not been commanded by God to read my blog and for this I am thankful. I have been blessed with this blog not because of the platform it offers, but for the ability to “work out my thoughts” on the Holy Scriptures each day while preparing for the Sunday sermon. I only pray it has been helpful and blessed by God. After all, preaching is our duty so if we accomplish it, whether from the pulpit or on the blogosphere, we have only done what was our duty to do.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Everyone who asks receives

New Testament Challenge – Day 29
Luke 8-16

Christmas is just around the corner and by now millions of children have finished their Christmas wish lists – whether to Santa, Saint Nicholas or just mom and dad. The next 12 days will be filled with great expectations and a bit of fear (especially for those who misbehaved a bit this year) waiting to see what gifts are under the Christmas Tree this year. The hope of a “good Christmas” resounds around every turn. Even the news is reporting whether this has been “a good Christmas” or not – in terms of shopping of course.

But with all this talk about gifts and the constant struggle to maintain the “true meaning of Christmas” we often forget what gifts are best. Wii games, new laptops, and any number of techno-gadgets tops the list of most children. What does our Lord have to say about gifts?

So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him! – Luke 11.9-13

In the next few days while you’re out shopping this year remember just how much God loves you. With all the fuss about the economy and GDP and interest rates, take a moment and walk inside a Church (maybe even taking a break during your shopping) to light a candle, venerate the Holy Icons (if you’re in an Orthodox Church) and listen for the voice of God. He loves you more than you know how to love.

Plan to be in Church for Christmas to celebrate His glorious birth! “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11.28)

Monday, December 12, 2011

How can this be?

New Testament Challenge – Day 28
Luke 1-7

As I mentioned a few weeks ago I am reading a book titled, “The Language of God” by Dr. Francis Collins. The book discusses the relationship between science and faith. Dr. Collins points out in his book that what we KNOW as science today was considered miracles in centuries past. That came to my mind today while reading the stories of the conception of Saint John the Baptist and Christ. In both cases, utilizing today’s technology conception would be possible.

Of course I’m not speaking as if these conceptions were not the work of God. Clearly I believe them to be His actions in the salvation of humanity. What I am speaking about is how we take certain for granted today simply for the evidence science offers. But this evidence can never replace the faith we have in Jesus Christ.

What disturbs me lately is the trend of how science has created a lack of faith in people because, according to Dr. Collins with whom I might agree, when you limit faith in God to nothing the unknown, when the unknown becomes known there is “no place” for God. But there is…

We just have to be willing to consider that God has a plan for us. His plan is to spend eternity with us. We’re all going to be with Him, but some will reject Him. “So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city.” (Luke 4.28-29) They rejected Him simply because He accomplished and said things that didn’t fit their narrow perspective. When we experience things we either didn’t know before, such as scientific evidence, or don’t understand due to our ignorance, all we need to do is allow for God’s work.

In terms of the book I’m reading Dr. Collins points out that DNA, rather than being contrary to God, is the Language of God. Similarly the creation of life in a barren Elizabeth or Virgin Mary, is part of God’s plan to save us rather than confuse us.

Consider taking a moment to read a bit of this book as part of your Christmas preparation. It’s been uplifting for me rather than a challenge to my faith. How can this be?

God made it that way; that’s how.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

God Expects Nothing Short of a Full Church

In the Gospel we hear the Parable of the Great Feast (Luke 14.16-24) in which Christ calls us to fill His Church. The reality of poor church attendance is not a new phenomenon in the Church. For decades our national Church has struggled with the trend where half-full Churches have become the norm rather than the exception. In fact, just as in this parable, we have heard year’s worth of excuses from our brothers and sisters as to why they are not in Church. Excuses have ranged from language difficulties to lack of sleep and from work requirements to personal disagreements with fellow members. And we have politely listened to our brothers and sisters with pain and frustration.
We have pain in our hearts because despite our best efforts, many have chosen to stray away from the Church. We have frustration because despite our best attempts to address various concerns over the years, it seems some are just not ready to attend the Church of Christ on Sunday or any other day.

But we should not be surprised or frustrated because our Lord in this parable taught us to expect such difficulties as He said, “But they all with one accord began to make excuses.” (Luke 14.18) After multiple attempts to call those who had been invited the Lord’s servants were ordered, “Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind…that My house may be filled.” (Luke 14.21-23)

Notice the Lord does not tell His servants to force, guilt, and drag or by other means carry people into the Church who do not desire to be present at the banquet. For those who do not desire to be present in God’s Church, we are called by Christ to allow them freely and without guilt to go their way.

Nonetheless, Christ desires that His Church is filled with those who desire to attend – whether born in the Church or not, whether of Greek ancestry or not, whether wealthy or poor – He desires and commands that we must fill His Church.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

I do not know you – Luke 13.25

Since we are allowed a day of rest from our New Testament Challenge, and yet we are still asked to read the Holy Scriptures daily, so I will offer a few words on today’s reading according to the Orthodox lectionary. Today the Church prescribes Luke 13.19-29 where the Lord offers several descriptions of what Heaven will be like.
The kingdom of God is like….a mustard seed or leaven in today’s readings. Both are very small but produce great effects. A mustard seed becomes a huge tree and the smallest leaven is enough to make great loaves of bread rise in the oven. The Lord also says, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you , will seek to enter and will not be able.” (Luke 13.24) Whether it is a small seed or a small gate, both produce great things.

What great reinforcement in these current times. All we need is just enough faith to place our hope in the Lord and then struggle to live a life worthy of His love. Just as the mustard seeds struggles to break through the soil before it can reach great heights (where even the birds build their nests), we too have to struggle to break through the struggles of life before we can soar freely with God.

As long as we are bound to worldly life, we cannot reach God. This is what He means when He says, “I do not know you, where you are from.” (Luke 13.25) Take this opportunity of preparation for Christmas and break free from the cares of this life and seek after God and His kingdom.

As we sing in the Divine Liturgy, “Let us lay aside all the cares of this life so that we may receive the King of all escorted by angelic hosts. Alleluia.”

Friday, December 9, 2011

“Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” (Romans 9.20)

New Testament Challenge – Day 25
Romans 9-16

I cannot begin to tell how many times I hear people suggest market studies and member questionnaires etc in order to determine what types of ministries and programs a Church should offer. On the surface this sounds harmless enough, especially in our American democratic society. But taken to its logical conclusion, this philosophy of “give them what they want” is akin to allowing clay to dictate to the potter.

This was the gist of Saint Paul’s words in today’s readings. He is challenging us to consider that we are clay in the hands of God. The section is short so I’ll post is here:

But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, "Why have you made me like this?" Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? – Romans 9.20-24

Saint Paul was addressing the friction between the Jewish and Gentile member of the Church. So what if God chose to allow the Gentiles into His Church? It IS His Church after all. Saint Paul continues quoting the Prophet Hosea

As He says also in Hosea: "I will call them My people, who were not My people, And her beloved, who was not beloved. And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, 'You are not My people,' There they shall be called sons of the living God. – Hosea 2.23

Saint Paul is speaking to us today as well. So what if God has chosen to allow “those other people” into His Church? WE are the ones who are expected to be shaped by God not the other way around. If we don’t like what God has called for in His Church, then it isn’t the Church that must change, it is US. The danger is in our refusal to accept this paradigm. We may find ourselves outside the gates of the Church and therefore outside the gates of Heaven. Our only hope is in the Lord of mercy. “He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.” (Romans 9.18)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Called to be Saints

New Testament Challenge – Day 24
Romans 1-8

We are all called to be Saints according to today’s reading from Romans. I thought I would spend a few moments attempting to figure out what that really means because I often hear, “I’m not a saint Father…” normally just before someone justifies their unchristian behavior. But I would suggest that person has the incorrect understanding of what it means to “be” a saint.

I begin with the words “saint” also called holy since the word in Greek is the same – αγιος agios – which epistemologically is α –γι or not – earthly. Therefore the term saint means nothing more than “one who is dedicated to something other than the earth, or in this case God. So in fact we ARE all called to be saints in that we are called to live dedicated to God rather than the earth.

Saint Paul offers wonderful insight into the battle which we find ourselves engaged between doing what God desires (and we too should desire) and what the flesh desires.

For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. (Romans 7.15-23)

This imagery definitely speaks to the violence and suffering and pain that we experience when we try to do what God desires for us to do. But is also explains what it means when we hear that Christians must suffer.

It isn’t as thought God MAKES us suffer. Rather we are at war between internally trying to do the will of God while trying to subdue our flesh.

And this is what I means to be called to be a saint.

What about “Saints”? Those with the capital “S” have been identified by the Church as worthy examples of those who have fought the good fight and are now resting with God. We are called to be them too….but that comes later….much later.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Let all that you do be done with love.

New Testament Challenge – Day 23
1 Corinthians 11 – 2 Corinthians

I say a great deal in this blog about living the Christian life. Nothing says it quite as clearly as 1 Corinthians 13. This year, as you prepare for Christmas, make THIS your goal.

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

“I say this as a concession, not as a commandment.” 1 Corinthians 7.6

New Testament Challenge – Day 22
1 Corinthians 1-11

Saint Paul had a great deal of compassion for the Church as is clear in these words from today’s readings. Today’s readings are a blessing for our Christmas journey because they remind us that while we may have come to Christ in a broken condition – we are all broken – that doesn’t mean we should expect to remain in that broken condition.

While he was very compassionate Saint Paul was also very strict using words such as, “deliver such a one to Satan,” and “put away from yourselves the evil person.” (1 Corinthians 5.5,13) Saint Paul had very little tolerance for those who refused to even try to live the Christian life which he expressed when he made a distinction between believers and non-believers.

I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner – not even to eat with such a person.

If we are going to take our Christianity seriously it is time we start to live it and stop taking advantage of the concession we received when we were still broken – either as children or adults. This Christmas Fasting (Advent) is a perfect opportunity for us to move forward in our faith journey and grow even closer to Jesus Christ. It is a time for increased prayer, increased fasting, increased charity, and Holy Communion and Holy Confession. Call your local priest today and schedule an appointment to get back on track with your journey toward Christ. And prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ in the Flesh a new creation.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Fulfill Your Ministry

New Testament Challenge – Day 21                                                           
1 & 2 Timothy

We are now passed the half-way point of the New Testament Challenge and we are reminded by Saint Paul via Saint Timothy to remain diligent in our work as ministers. The 40-day blogging challenge, in which I am also participating, is meant to encourage preachers to use 21st Century technology as a means to prepare for our Sunday sermons. Whether this exercise is bearing fruit in my sermons you would have to ask our parishioners…

Saint Paul felt much pressure from those who had abandoned him during his ministry. He names several in today’s readings so I will not name them here since you should also be reading the assigned readings for the Challenge. BUT I do want to point out that Saint Paul was comforted by the persecution he endured preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He says, “But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4.5)

Saint Paul also says, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy 3.12) This should not be an excuse for not working for Jesus Christ simply because we will be persecuted. Is the servant greater than his Master? (John 13.16) We are all called to a particular ministry in Christ’s Holy Church.

In this season of preparing for Christmas, maybe a good start would be to fulfill the ministry that He has given to us. If you don’t know what ministry the Lord is calling you to accomplish, call your Priest and sit and chat about your ministry. In prayer and Confession the Holy Spirit will guide into serving Him this Christmas.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The tools of the Church are offered to us; it’s up to us to use them!

When I was young growing up in Colorado, our family spent many hours in the outdoors skiing, hiking, camping, and just about anything we could enjoy in the mountains. As a boy all I was responsible for during these excursions was myself. I didn’t have to carry anything but myself. I didn’t have to watch anything but myself. And I have to be honest it was pretty fun….until I got older.
When I was a young adult working as a youth director, still enjoying the outdoors, I helped to establish the Boy Scout program at the Church and returned to the outdoors at least once a month hiking, camping, skiing, horseback riding. This time however I had to carry my own supplies. I learned very quickly that a well designed backpack was crucial. Without it I would find myself bent half over with more than fifty pounds on my back. In a few short yards I was tired and definitely not having fun.

Our spiritual life can often be the same as hiking in the mountains. If we don’t have the proper tools, or worse don’t use the tools we have, we find ourselves bent over under the weight of our daily struggles. In the Gospel of Luke we hear of a woman who suffered just like this for eighteen years, “and could in no way raise herself up. But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, ‘Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.’ And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.” (Luke 13.11-13)

Sometimes we can feel bent over like this woman unable to “get out from under the pressures of life,” whether those pressures are financial or emotional or physical. Christ is calling us today to come to Him and His Church so we can use the tools He has given to us so we can properly carry the burdens of life. But just like a proper backpack when we are hiking, we have to be willing to use the tools the Church has to offer – prayer, fasting, almsgiving (charity), Holy Communion, Holy Confession, house blessings, Bible study. The tools of the Church are offered to us; it’s up to us to use them!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

I'm Not Fooled

Driving around town this morning, listening to Christmas carols playing on the radio; it occurred to me that I AM NOT FOOLED one bit. Nope, you can’t fool me! Just because you sing or play or even like to listen to Christmas carols doesn’t mean you have “put Christ back in Christmas” this year.
Saint Paul urges Christians to a dedicate life where certain behaviors are forbidden.

With recent episodes of Glee which glorify teen sexuality and various public movements to remove all Christian influence from society, how can anyone be fooled to believe that Christmas is anything more than a reason for retailers to make their annual profits?

This is exactly why I insist on saying “Merry Christmas” and “God bless you” when I am around town this time of year. There is no “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings” coming from my lips. And for those Jews I meet, “Happy Chanukah” is more appropriate. Any don’t get me started on “Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremonies” that are becoming more popular.

Can’t people just be honest? If you don’t really believe in Christ, just admit it and see your products. UNLESS you are afraid you wouldn’t see enough to remain open for business. If that’s your concern, I would worry too much. From what I’ve seen the past few years, most Christians have long since stopped discerning where they do business. A good deal is a good deal….

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 2, 2011

“Do not grow weary in doing good.” – 2 Thessalonians 3.13

New Testament Challenge – Day 18
1 & 2 Thessalonians

In a world of hunger and oppression it is hard to imagine running out of opportunities to do good in the world. I’m not quite sure that Saint Paul had this particular reality in mind when he urged the Thessalonians to continue in their good works. He also says, “And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him.” (2 Thessalonians 3.14)
The ancient Church believed strongly that they would not taste death before Christ returned. They only had to endure the pressure and persecution until those days arrived. But in time they must have realized that Christ wasn’t coming THAT quickly.

In today’s readings Saint Paul goes to great pains to convince us that, though it might not seem like Christ is about to return at any moment, it is worth the wait.

Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace, comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work.

Just look around any Church today and you will find those who, thinking they are superior to others, will urge us to stop our good works because “those lazy people just need to find a job” or other ignorant challenges to Christ’s teachings. This should come as no surprise though, since Christ told us to expect this sort of behavior. (see Matthew 10)

It seems to me that Saint Paul understood the sort of pressure friends and family can put on someone who truly desires to deny themselves and follow Jesus. This explains many of our Church conflicts throughout the centuries. We must not grow weary! Make this Christmas season count and take time to really live the Christian life.

Christmas isn’t about shopping malls and banquets; it’s about receiving Christ!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Adoption as Sons

New Testament Challenge – Day 17
Galatians and Ephesians

In both books for today’s readings Saint Paul makes an impassioned plea to recall the gift of adoption into the Church of the Gentiles. We know historically and through Holy Scriptures that the Jewish believers resented the Gentile believers and Saint Paul makes repeated reference to this fact in today’s readings.

What struck me today is the insistence by Saint Paul to remind the Gentiles of their rightful place in the Church along with their responsibility as members of the Body of Christ. We should take from this both comfort and challenge for our spiritual journey in Christ.

Whether we were born in the Church or came to the Church as converts (and here I am speaking within the Orthodox Church) we have rights and responsibilities to live as full members of the Church. Saint Paul’s not-so-gentle reminder that our either membership is by the grace of God, “lest anyone should boast,” (Ephesians 2.9) expresses this with biting truth.

Since we are all members of the Church by God’s grace, by default we have no special privilege over those other members of the Church with which we disagree – whether our grandparents established the parish or not!

That addresses our rights; now for our responsibilities…

You really must read today’s readings to get a greater appreciation for our responsibilities in the Church, but clearly stated, “For the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Galatians 5.14)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

“So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits.” (James 1.11)

New Testament Challenge – Day 16
Epistle of James, 1 & 2 Peter

I was discussing the economy yesterday and commented that I believe, as do other so-called experts, that our economy is undergoing a substantial change in America. I believe the “American Dream” is over and that our new way of life eventually will return to a new normal of working for today and being satisfied with the basics. There are already millions of Americans living this way, referred to as “paycheck to paycheck” by commentators. But what is so wrong with working paycheck to paycheck?

In today’s reading we hear St James urging on to wisdom in the face of trials and tribulations.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits. (James 1.5-11)

I chose to blog about this today because, in addition to my conversation yesterday, the daily news in overflowing with stories on the economy and whether this “Black Friday” was better than last year and what that reveals for the state of the economy, etc. etc. etc. Wherever you turn, you cannot escape talk of our economic affairs. And I really think it’s too bad because it pushes an emphasis away from the basics in favor of wealth. Some will be wealthy and some will be poor, but we must begin to embrace, not just acknowledge, that money isn’t everything. As the old saying goes, “You can’t take it with you.” So, why the preoccupation with wealth?

The more we focus on the world and all it has to offer in terms of wealth and boasting etc, the less we focus upon God. Only one can be at the root of this…the devil

“Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself and enemy of God..” (James 4.4)

I long for the time when coffee talk turns to the questions of theology and God rather than the suffering economy. At least then we will be focused upon God.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

In the evening

New Testament Challenge – Day 15
Mark 12-16

I am currently at my desk in the afternoon preparing, among other things than this blog, to celebrate the Holy and Divine Mystery of the Eucharist this evening in memory of Saint Andrew the First-Called Apostle. It occurred to me that, as many parishes are beginning to celebrate evening Liturgies, and that while our Faith and Holy Tradition are VERY ancient, some dating beyond the Holy Apostles such as 40 infant blessings, we have not always celebrated the Eucharist as we do today in 2011.

Saint Mark write, “In the evening He came with the twelve,” (Mark 14.17) when introducing the Eucharist, or Last Supper of Jesus. Indeed the Eucharist was celebrated as an evening celebration early on in the Church and only later became a morning event, first on Sunday.

So as we begin to see more and more evening Liturgies in America, let’s not think we are inventing something new. The ancient Church understood the need to tend the fields and animals and business of the day and expressed that need in the evening worship of the Church.


Having said that, we must always strive especially when we are able, to attend services more frequently in our Churches. It is one ministry that I believe we have forgotten in our American context – the Hours or Prayer. Worship was a constant thing in the ancient Church. The Eucharist was not the only community worship that existed. The Hours of Prayer, as confirmed in Acts 3, were maintained by the Apostolic Church.

We are 1/3 of the way through our Christmas Fast. Why not take a moment and evaluate your Church participation. Do you go to Church “almost” every Sunday? Could you attend Divine Liturgy more often than you already do? Does your local Orthodox Church offer opportunities to come and worship as a family during the week – and do you attend?

Christmas is more than just about giving gifts you purchased on sale during “Black Friday” or “Cyber Monday.” Christmas is about welcoming the Lord God into your life. Don’t you think the time has come to prepare for Church with, at least, as much planning as your trip to the mall?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Maybe it’s time we all became lords of our time and dedicate it to God.

New Testament Challenge – Day 14
Mark 1-11

It really struck me today how different the Gospel accounts can actually be. Having finished Matthew last week, and teaching Matthew in our weekly Bible study, Mark caught me as being very different as we read the first half of it today. I already knew of the difference but when one is expected to write or teach about something, one uses deeper observation – I suppose…

In today’s readings we hear healing after healing after healing and miracle after miracle – 10 identified healings not including references to, “And as many as touched Him were made well,” and at four other miracles of nature such as walking on water, calming the storms and feeding thousands of people with a few loaves of bread. St Mark clearly wants us to understand and embrace the awesome power of God.

Sprinkled among the healings and other miracles, like salt in a stew, we hear the deeper teachings of Christ.

I think for me this is what struck me today because it seems more “life-like” than the other Gospels. What I mean to say is that while we Orthodox Christians don’t bother ourselves theologically speaking with the exact chronology of the events in the Gospel, we do teach the deeper benefit of the information in the Gospel. In other words, the fact that the “Cleansing of the Temple” occurs early in the Gospel of John and later in Mark does not mean there were two events. It merely accounts for the emphasis each is placing in the presentation of the material.

For me Mark seems more “life-like” in the sense of OUR life today. We spend our lives going from one thing to another in our busy lives and don’t always have time to sit and read and learn. Many of us have to receive our spiritual nourishment, like salt in a stew, sprinkled throughout the day. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t learn to slow down and spend time with God. If you have been reading my blog for a while you know how I feel about the worldly distractions and our lack of desire to place time with God as a priority. I AM suggesting that God reaches us where we are – busy or not – and hopes for some sort of connection. The real question is, “what then?” What is our reaction to being touched by God? Do we then just remain buried by the distraction of secular life or do we take control of our life and dedicate it for God.

Maybe this is the lesson of the healing our Lord desires for us, me anyway, to receive from today’s reading. Resting on the Sabbath was to give time for people to slow down and spend time with God. It wasn’t designed to be Lord over man where even healing one’s brother was considered sinful. “The Sabbath is made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2.27-28)

Maybe it’s time we all became lords of our time and dedicate it to God.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

We All Know What to Do

There are many times we find ourselves in a situation when we know the correct thing to do but are too afraid to do it. This is very common when we are children, but every now and then even as adults we find this to be true. And this is even more the case when it comes to our journey toward salvation or as we call it, “Theosis”. If we were asked to list the ten things every Orthodox Christian needed to do to be saved, each one of us could list ten. But there is a difference between knowing and doing the correct thing.

In the Gospel we hear a very rich man ask Jesus, “’Good teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ So Jesus said to him, ‘You know the commandments.’” (Luke 18.18-20) This rich man, like us in many ways, knows exactly what he has to do to have eternal life and, in fact, does them all. So why does the rich man go away sad? This rich man was not able to part with his riches and totally follow Jesus Christ.

The same can be true for us if we can’t break ourselves free from the slavery of wealth. Remember those ten things you listed? Did the list include, follow Jesus Christ without hesitation and without fear? It should have because that is really the only thing we must do have be saved. We must be willing, no matter the cost, to following Jesus in every part of our life including our work, school, our family relationships, our financial decisions, what we eat, when we sleep, what we watch on TV…. There is nothing that is outside of our relationship with Jesus Christ.

When Jesus told the rich man to sell everything he had, He was telling the man to break free from the world and follow God. But he was unable because, although he never murdered anyone, nor did he steal anything, nor did he commit adultery, he was too addicted to his way of life to follow Jesus.

We know what to do…now let’s do it!