Thursday, March 24, 2011

It is not Possible to Avoid Suffering as a Christian

In the Gospel, our Lord invites us each to become His followers with a challenge; “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8.34-35) These words have been a point of confusion for some and salvation to others. How is it possible to lose our life save it at the same time?

The answer lies within the mystery of the Holy Cross, since in fact we are each invited to take up our cross and follow Him, the Savior of all humanity. The Cross of Christ, a tool of death for the Romans, brought life to Christ, and all human beings joined to Him in baptism, in the Resurrection. Christ suffered through the Cross in order that life would prevail for His people, and we are invited to participate in the same reality.

As Christians we must embrace and accept suffering as a necessary part of life, not because Christ desires us to suffer, but because when we choose to deny the world and embrace God, the world fights against us with temptation and suffering. As Saint Paul teaches us, “We also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5.3-5)

Embrace suffering my dear brothers and sisters this Lenten Season for your salvation!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Freedom is a Gift from God

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” These famous words from the Declaration of Independence set in motion a national consciousness committed to defend and promulgate the ideal of freedom here and abroad that has endured for over two hundred years. This freedom though comes with responsibility. And as with any gift we receive, we are obliged to respond with gratitude to the one who gives.

Whether some choose to acknowledge it or not, it is God that ultimately is the grantor of the freedom that we hold so dear in our nation and His gift of freedom comes with the expectation that it is used for the glory of God and not our own glory. As Saint Paul writes, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful.” (1 Corinthians 6.12) It appears that Saint Paul was keenly aware that there would be times when we might freely choose something that would cause us harm. It goes without saying that I have the freedom to climb to the highest building and throw myself off the roof, but who would dare suggest this action would be helpful?

This week the Greek Orthodox Church in Florence is celebrating “A Week of Freedom” in conjunction with Greek Independence Day on March 25th. The Greeks, desiring their freedom from the Ottoman Empire in 1821, following the example so gallantly displayed by our American founders, and calling upon the grace of God, declared themselves free to worship and live apart from the oppression of the Ottomans. The Greeks never forgot that it was God that desired all human beings to be free. It was for this reason that they chose March 25th, the Feast of the Annunciation, to begin their battle for freedom. It was after all, the glorious announcement by the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that the Son of God would be born of her for the salvation of all humanity to live “free from sin.” (Romans 6)

So what should our response be to God for this freedom from sin? All He asks is that we love each other. “Love is the fulfillment of the Law.” (Romans 13.10) How can we continue to allow our fellow human beings to suffer with hunger and homelessness if we love them? How can we continue to allow our fellow human beings to suffer the wrath of alcohol and drug addiction if we love them? How can we continue to ignore the needs of others when we have been so richly blessed by God? How can we continue to watch innocent babies slaughtered at the hands of doctors sworn by an oath to “do no harm?” We cannot!

I invite you to join our efforts this week and honor freedom! There are steps we can take TODAY that will show our love for our fellow human beings. First we must pray for each other that our hearts be opened to God’s call for a relationship with Him. Second we must live every moment as if we love Him. “If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar.” (1 John 4.20) Finally, we must take the time in our personal lives to help others, either by volunteering at local charities or by supporting those efforts to the best of our ability.

These are simple things we can do ourselves, whether or not the masses join our efforts. Not everyone will join us, but then again…with God all things are possible.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Don’t Let the Roadblocks of Life Keep You from Christ

Now that spring is upon us we have already noticed increased road construction. One thing about road construction: it always includes roadblocks that make it difficult to travel where and when we desire. The same can be said about our spiritual travels during Great Lent. Great Lent is a time when the Church has called us to a journey of increased prayer, increased fasting and increased works of charity, and the world, under the influence of the devil, continues to place road blocks in our path. Such was the case with this Sunday's Gospel.

Saint Mark tells us of a group of friends carrying a paralytic. When they arrived to see Jesus, a huge crowd had gathered, “so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door.” (Mark 2.2) These friends were hoping for a miracle from Christ but couldn’t even get close enough to see Him from a distance. They could have just given up and returned home, but their friend would still be paralyzed, so “they uncovered the roof where He [Jesus] was. So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying.” (Mark 2.4)

These few friends didn’t allow the roadblock to keep them from approaching Christ. They took action and found a way; some would even say they ‘made’ a way, to get through to Jesus Christ for the sake of their friend. “When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven you.’” (Mark 2.5)

There will always be roadblocks on our journey to God. But if we really want to be with Him, we won’t turn back. We will find a way to be with Him even it means climbing the roof. After all, isn’t heaven worth it?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Take Great Lent One Day at a Time

Like any journey, our Lenten Journey must be taken one day at a time. Take time TODAY for your journey focusing not on whether you can reach the end without failing but focusing rather on offering God your best today. Read Scripture, pray, fast, and do something for others.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Fasting Guidelines for Weekday Liturgies

Now that Great Lent is upon us and the Church offers the Presanctified Liturgy each Wednesday evening, the question of fasting and Holy Communion again raises to the surface. On Sunday we know (provided we are healthy and no other prohibitions from our doctor regarding fasting) that we should refrain from all food and drink until after we receive Holy Communion on Sunday mornings. But what if we are planning on receiving Holy Communion on Wednesday night, when should be fast?

For those adults who are physically able, we are asked to fast just as we would on Sunday morning all day from the time we awake until after we receive Holy Communion. It is acceptable to drink simple beverages such as coffee or tea or preferably water (not milk, milkshakes, beer etc) until about noon and then complete fast until Holy Communion. I must remind you that fasting is not meant to make you ill, but to be an offering to God and discipline of our bodies. If you become light headed or need some food, by all means have a small snack especially if you are in a situation where you must remain alert such as driving or other physical labor. If you must eat during the day, a light breakfast and light lunch should be sufficient followed by a complete fast following lunch until Holy Communion.

For those children who already fast on Sunday morning, they should be asked to follow as much of the fast as they are able. As parents this will require discernment in how are children are behaving and feeling. Again it is not meant to make our children ill, however many times our children can fast more than we realize and it should be encouraged as an offering to God and spiritual discipline. For children who do not yet fast, a small snack should be offered around 4pm.

For everyone who is receiving Holy Communion, or Holy Unction or any other Mystery (Sacrament) of the Church, the Church teaches us to fast in preparation and we should do this to the best of our abilities. Great Lent is a perfect time to exercise our free will and to offer our “bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God.” Romans 12.11)

As will all spiritual disciplines, we should speak with our Spiritual Father for guidance and suggestions.