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!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Making an Offering Unto the Lord

Since this is Thanksgiving weekend I thought I would say a few words about offerings from the perspective of the Old Testament as found in Leviticus. You might wonder, “Why is a Christian priest referencing Leviticus?” I believe that we receive great insight into the way in which we offer our gifts to God by studying His required offerings.
First we have to rethink the use of the word sacrifice because for most of us it conjures up images of volcanoes and virgins and angry Gods. But a cursory look in Leviticus and we see the word sacrifice used in association with things such as bread and oil. “If he should offer it for a thanksgiving, he shall offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving loaves of fine flour mixed with oil, and unleavened cakes smeared with oil, and fine flour kneaded with oil.” (Leviticus 7.12) Clearly the word sacrifice is used in terms of offerings to God.

And being an offering to God these sacrifices come with strict instructions not because God demands intricate functions but so that we humans can learn to honor something above ourselves. If we consider the sacrificial system of the Old Testament in this way we better understand why they were commanded by God.

Our offerings are for OUR benefit rather than for the benefit of God. When we submit ourselves to the commands of God, especially from within the system of making offerings, we acknowledge that there is something beyond us that requires our attention and devotion. This system of sacrifices was supposed to lead Israel to live Godly lives. Instead the system devolved into a list of rules and regulations that, by following the rules without hesitation and without error had become in itself salvation.

This old idea, retrained by our Lord at his coming, is something to be thankful for this weekend. As humans we take special care in the customary giving of gifts for Christmas and birthday etc. so why wouldn’t we expect a similar procedure when we give our gifts to the Lord? Think of the Eucharist as insight. We use gold and silver cups instead of cheap ceramic cups to hold the precious Body and Blood of Christ.

Just some words to think about when we offer our thanks to God this weekend. It’s not about fulfilling some legal obligation or rule, but about honoring and thanking God with gifts and devotion for the many blessings He has given us.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Happy Shopping

New Testament Challenge – Day 10

Acts 16-28

Thousands of shoppers awoke before the sun today to begin their annual shopping extravaganza for Christmas. They (and maybe some of you) will go from store to store parking lot to parking lot in search of the perfect present at the perfect “Black Friday” price. Along the way you will be greeted by store managers and fellow shoppers some of whom will be past the threshold of exhaustion. They may even have very little patience for even the simplest of questions or shortest of cash register lines. How will you react under this pressure?

Today’s readings reflect the journey of Saint Paul form town to town, synagogue to synagogue, crowd to crowd in search of the open mind and eager seeker of the truth, so he could declare to them the Risen Lord and Messiah Jesus Christ. Today’s readings also reflect how along the way he encountered fellow journeyers and leaders some of whom had very little patience for the message he was sharing. Kind sounds like Black Friday shopping doesn’t it?

Over the next few weeks you will have an opportunity, as did Saint Paul, to encounter many crowd and many merchants who may be seeking the truth. The only problem is they may also be past the point of exhaustion with little patience, so the way you treat them and talk to them will be the difference between loving them and loving yourself.

This year remember the journey of Saint Paul during his ministry and make an effort to speak lovingly to other shoppers and merchants and be a living icon of Jesus Christ. You never know whom you may meet in the parking lot. Maybe you’ll be in the just the right place at just the right time to share the Good News of hope for a better tomorrow and belief in Jesus Christ.

Happy Shopping!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

What I’m thankful for…

My Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ
Having my mother for nearly 42 years

Still having my father

My beautiful wife

My loving son

My supportive brother

Having known all four of my grandparents

My health

My education and life experiences which have helped to shape who I have become

Supportive friends

Allowing me to be a one of His Priests

Allowing me to serve a blessed Greek Orthodox Church Parish

Allowing me to have this blog AND someone to read it

This are a few of the things for which I am thankful for this Thanksgiving. Please feel free to share (using the comments) something you may be thankful for this year.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give glory to God – Acts 12.23

New Testament Challenge – Day 9
Acts 5-15

As our reading reflected yesterday, we see again today the true origins of our blessings. When King Herod was being honored and praised by the people who said, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” (Acts 12.22) By not honoring God, Herod fell over dead.

In another reading today we heard about how the early Christians sold their possessions and gave the entire value to the early Church. “But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. And he kept back a part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” (Acts 5.1-2) After being publicly made aware of this lie, he died with his wife.

The point I wish to make today, as we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow, is that we cannot hide the truth from God. We cannot trick God. We only make ourselves fools and we suffer worse than physical death. Our soul is wounded every time we lie to God.

As you prepare for Thanksgiving tomorrow, take a moment and ask God for forgiveness as he says, “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5.23-24)

Happy Thanksgiving

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

By the name of Jesus Christ

New Testament Challenge – Day 8

Acts 1-4

The other day I was enjoying a cup of coffee with a clergyman of another denomination. We were discussing a book I’m now reading titled, “The Language of God” by Francis Collins.

You may have heard of it a couple year’s back because it rocked the science world. Dr Collins, head of the genome project, wrote this book to express his faith in God after having spent many years as an atheist. He outlines beautifully (so far-I’m not finished with book yet) how his scientific mind and work reveals the language of God rather than being an alternative to Him.

Anyway I was discussing science and faith with this priest because of this book when we go to subject of end-of-life issues such as cancer and the like. If you are new to my blog you probably don’t know that I lost my mother this year to cancer, so this topic is close to my heart. This priest friend of mine was sharing a conversation he had with a skilled surgeon who said, “I can’t save them all, but I do save some.” (or something like it) To this my priest friend reminded the good doctor, “YOU don’t save any. You only delay the inevitable. That’s where I step in and help them prepare to meet God.”

We live in a society that is addicted to worldly-life. You may think it sounds funny put in those terms, but if you think about it, we often act just like addicts whenever someone suggests that we don’t need so much of the “stuff” the world thinks is so important. “It’s a free world! If I want three cars in my garage, who are you to tell me it’s wrong?” and the like.

But when it comes to end-of-life issues, things change. We begin to panic that if we are going to die. At this point, maybe I should remind you……YOU’RE GOING TO DIE…at least until you are raised again by God at the Second Coming. But nonetheless when people are inflicted with an incurable disease, the very thought of “giving in” and embracing the end is characterized as giving up. We seem to forget that God is in charge and even doctors can’t cure everything, and if we remember my priest friend’s reminder, doctors can’t “cure” anything but only delay the inevitable.

So, why this topic today as part of our New Testament Challenge and 40 Days Blogging Challenge? Simple! In today’s reading from Acts we see a healing performed by the Peter the Apostle in the presence of a crowd. When he is questioned, interrogated really, he says,

Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole.

While we don’t experience miracle healings every day, at least we can give God the credit for the good work we accomplish lest we forget… “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” (James 1.17)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Repent! And Read Today!

New Testament Challenge – Day 7

Matthew 25-28

By now I pray you have caught up over the weekend with the reading if you got behind last week. I know that taking on a challenge such as the New Testament Challenge can be harder than it looks. But once you set aside an hour or so each day, not so much when you consider how much time we waste every day in front of our computer screens or the TV, that your reading will inspire you, as I mentioned the other day, to a deeper commitment to Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ. After all, that IS why we are doing the exercise.

Today I wanted to offer you some comfort if, in fact as I suspect, you have already grown weary in your daily readings. In today’s readings we see even the Apostles were weak at times…

Then Jesus said to them, “ all of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written, ‘I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’” (Matthew 26.31)

Saint Peter denied evening knowing who Jesus was and all the disciples scattered from the Cross when Christ was crucified. They we were weak and had the privilege of knowing Jesus Christ “first hand” so to say as they walked and talked and ate with Him every day.

So if you’re feeling a bit guilty for not getting all the reading last week, that’s ok. Repent! And read today! (yes…pun intended) J

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Giving Thanks

New Testament Challenge – Day 6

Since there are no readings for today in the New Testament Challenge, I will instead offer a few thoughts about the parable in today’s lectionary – The Parable of the Rich Fool found in Luke 12.16-21. By the way I’ve decided to do this also as part of the 40Days Blogging challenge sponsored by offered each year during Advent. I have chosen to combine both the New Testament Challenge and the 40Days Blogging challenge, so I pray you enjoy the next 34 days as much I pray I will enjoy (I’ve enjoyed it the past two years anyway) blogging…

I really think it is pretty cool that just a few days before Thanksgiving we hear the challenge to USE the gifts God has given us to glorify Him and help others and not horde those gifts for ourselves. Once we acknowledge that all our gifts are in actuality from God then and only then are we able to thank Him.

But HOW will we thank God for the blessing that He has given us this year? We pray in the Divine Liturgy, “For every good and perfect gift is from above, coming from You the Father of lights. To You we give glory, thanksgiving, and worship, to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages.” The first part of thanking God for His gifts is to acknowledge that the gifts are from Him to begin with and not from our own doing.

In the Gospel of Luke we hear the Parable of the Rich Fool who was so selfish and greedy that he could not see the blessings of his own wealth and he attempted to keep them all for himself. St Paul teaches us a better perspective about our wealth and blessings: “It is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2.8-10)

So my brothers and sisters in Christ, this year take a moment and thank God for your blessings by using what He has given you to His glory. Support the ministry of the Church with proper Christian Stewardship. Help the poor. Reach out to the lonely. But most importantly keep going to Church every Sunday prepared to receive Holy Communion and express your gratitude to Him.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

This is where the rubber hits the road…

New Testament Challenge – Day 5
Luke 9.57-62

Since today was scheduled as a make-up day for reading, which by the grace of God I don’t need, I decided to write a few thoughts on the designated reading according to the Lectionary for today. It isn’t that long, so I will include it:

Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, "Lord, I will follow You wherever You go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." Then He said to another, "Follow Me." But he said, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God." And another also said, "Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house." But Jesus said to him, "No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."

As we said yesterday in regard to following Jesus, He desires us to make a commitment to Him. This commitment is not meant to be just half-way as described in today’s reading. If we cannot ultimately place Him and following His will before ANYTHING in our daily lives, then we are not worthy of calling ourselves Christians.

In our contemporary American life I believe this has wounded the Church. We have somehow agreed that Church is for Sundays and maybe an occasional funeral during the week. Oh sure, we’ll come to the Church for Festival meetings or committee meetings, but for Church????? A cursory review of Church websites reveals the dismal picture – WHERE IS TIME SPENT WITH GOD?

In the ancient Church this commitment was taken so deeply, as we read in Acts, “So they continued daily with one accord in the temple.” (Acts 2.46)

I encourage you, since you’re still reading at this point, to grab the bull by the horns and take back your life for Christ and rededicate it to Him above all else. You have already taken the first step by accepting the New Testament Challenge. Now go another step this week and choose to find time at Church. Light a candle and venerate the Holy Icons and (if your nearby Orthodox Church is blessed to have relics) venerate the Holy Relics of the Saints. Make the decision to attend, as a family, one additional Church service every week until Christmas. If your parish doesn’t offer any weekday or Saturday services, then stop by the Church during your lunch hour and ask to go in the Church for a few moments and sit and pray. Your life will be blessed for it….

Friday, November 18, 2011

And great multitudes followed Him – Matthew 19.2

New Testament Challenge – Day 4
Matthew 19-24

Hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ brought great and profound commitment from the earliest believers. Both in Chapter 8 following the Sermon on the Mount, and again here in chapter 19, we crowds of faithful coming to Jesus after he preached.

Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these sayings, that He departed from Galilee and came to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them there. Matthew 19.1-2

So for today’s blog I only offer this challenge…After hearing the Gospel of Jesus, what is YOUR reaction?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Then He spoke many things to them in parables – Matthew 13.3

New Testament Challenge – Day 3
Matthew 13-18

For many centuries people have questioned why Jesus spoke in parables and stories. In fact many ask me why I always include some sort of story in my sermons and teachings. Of course I’m not suggesting that I am equal to Jesus but I do know that people associate better with stories. A truth told in the context of a story somehow sounds less threatening than if were directed at us personally. Of course that does not guarantee that listeners of our stories won’t feel like they have been isolated in the story but, at least in terms of my sermons, is a mere coincidence and not be intention. The same cannot be said of the Lord.

“He answered and said to them, ‘Behold it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.’” (Matthew 13.11) Here our Lord seems to be suggesting that only some have been welcomed “in” so to speak, but that is NOT what is being conveyed here.

“He who sows the good seed in the Son of Man. The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares [weeds] are the sons of the wicked one. The enemy who sowed them is the devil.” (Matthew 13.37-39) Here Christ, in explaining one parable, explains that some who are standing by and listening are not interested in hearing the truth because they are loyal to the devil. The same can be true in our Churches.

My brothers and sisters we have been given the great gift of hearing the Word of God sometimes even in parables. It is up to us whether or not we have “ears to hear” the truth and be convinced to follow Jesus. Consider that next time you hear the parables of Christ.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master - Matthew 10.25

New Testament Challenge – Day 2

Matthew 8-12

Since today is also the Feast of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist Matthew, we will honor his faith and commitment to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Matthew 9.9-13

As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, "Follow Me." So he arose and followed Him. Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, "Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" When Jesus heard that, He said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.' For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.

As we continue on our journey of preparation for the Feast of Christmas we are reminded today of the His purpose – to unite all people to Himself. What does this mean? In seeking out sinners Jesus is seeking those who have turned away – namely ALL HUMANITY since all have fallen short of the glory of God. (See Romans 3.23) And that means US – you and me!

But when He receives us and we in turn receive other sinners, what is the response of those in the Church? If they respond as the Pharisees did, their fruit will reveal them, “for a tree is known by its fruit.” (Matthew 12.33)

One last thought in honor of sinners and tax collectors…Our Lord give us courage when He says, (Matthew 10.24-33)

A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household! Therefore do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.

Have courage my brothers and sisters in Christ because we are all sinners in need of the Great Physician – Christ who’s birth we will celebrate in only 39 days!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Morever, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites - Matthew 6.16

New Testament Challenge – Day 1

Matthew 1-7

I can’t believe it has been a year since we have undertaken this discipline. Of course I pray we are reading the Bible EVERY day, but I always look forward to our annual New Testament Challenge. If you’re not familiar with the New Testament Challenge you can read about it at:

I will attempt, by God’s grace and His Will, to blog each day during the Challenge referring directly to some passage in the assigned reading for the day.

Today’s passage, appropriately enough is taken from Matthew 6.16-18.

“Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”

Since today is also the beginning of the Nativity Fast, I thought it would be appropriate to begin here…

Fasting in the Church should not be seen, as it too often is, as a mere rule that must be obeyed by Christians. In fact many Christians refuse to fast, or at the very least don’t fast because they don’t see the benefit to fasting. Some even suggest that fasting is not required, or possibly even forbidden, because it is mistakenly lumped into the “Law” and therefore somehow done away with by the Cross of Christ.

First from the perspective of the Law, we must understand that fasting is not about being Kosher as was the Mosaic Law. Rather it is a spiritual discipline, which Christ and the ancient Church endorse, that has a great benefit to assist us in defeating the demons that distract us on our Christian journey. Take for example when faced with severe demon possession, the Apostles asked why they couldn’t cast out the demon (see Matthew 17.14-21) and Christ responded, “However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” This clearly indicates that Jesus believed there was a spiritual benefit to fasting.

Now from the perspective of today’s reading, we see that Jesus presumes that we will be fasting when He says, “Moreover, WHEN YOU FAST, do not be like the hypocrites.” (Matthew 6.16 – emphasis added) There is no room for confusion. Christ expects that His followers will be fasting.

And herein rests the fruit of fasting. When we fast, whether it is the weekly fast as commanded by the Holy Apostles in the Didache, or the Nativity Fast, we grow spiritually as we train our bodies physically and psychologically that there is something greater than ourselves, worthy of our obedience. In these modern days of hustle and bustle before Christmas most are too burned out on the holidays after weeks and weeks of parties and shopping to truly celebrate the birth of God.

As I hear recently, “If you want to put Christ back into Christmas, start by fasting the Nativity Fast.” At least then, when you arrive at Christmas Day you will actually be anticipating something great.

Have a blessed Nativity Fast and I pray you will enjoy the 2011 New Testament Challenge as part of your spiritual journey.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Verb: A word indicating action or state

When a lawyer asked Jesus, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10.25) he already knew the correct answer as he quoted the Old Testament Law: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” To this Jesus commanded the lawyer to “Do this and you will live.” (Luke 10.28) Nothing speaks more clearly than action. Jesus tells the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10.25-37) to help us see the difference between knowing the Law and actually doing it. He expects us to DO the Law and we will live.

When the lawyer asks, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10.29) he unknowingly was asking HOW to live out the law. We know this because Jesus answers the question by asking, “So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves? And he [the lawyer] said, ‘He who showed mercy on him.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10.33-37)

Christian: A word indicating action or state

If we desire to live eternally with God in heaven, then we will not just know how Christ wants us to live, but we will actually do it. We must receive the words of Jesus deeply into our hearts, “Go and do likewise,” and become a people of action rather than remaining passive merely believing in Jesus. We must become a people who are known more for our mercy on others and not like the priest and Levite who “passed by on the other side,” when someone is in need – no matter who or what the need.

Christianity must become a verb!

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Healing Touch of God

“Who touched Me?” (Luke 8.45) With these resounding words Jesus shined a bright light upon the humble faith of a woman who had been suffering for twelve years. This woman, like so many of us, suffered for years with no relief from the world. She had nowhere else to turn but to approach God. Her suffering was so great that she didn’t even consider herself worthy enough to see Him fact-to-face so she, “came from behind and touched the border of His garment. And immediately her flow of blood stopped.” (Luke 8.44)

And that is where this woman’s life was changed forever. Once she approached Christ with faith and hope, His healing touch not only cured of her physical illness but gave her finally what she was seeking, peace. “Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you well. Go in peace.” (Luke 8.48)

What we wouldn’t give for a little of God’s peace in the hectic and dangerous world! We can have this same peace….we just have to come to God.

When our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into Heaven, He left His Church and her holy mysteries (sacraments) as a way for us to come into real physical contact with Him, just as this woman. Holy Icons, Holy Water, Holy Oil, Relics of Holy Saints, these are all physical things that God has blessed and through them we too can be blessed…if we approach with faith. Remember it was the hem of His garment that she touched, not His hand.

When God came and lived among us on Earth He sanctified all of creation so that we could be saved and live in total communion with Him. This is why the Church continues to use elements from within creation, such as water and oil, to offer the blessings of God. Once God has touched something…it remains Holy. And you must NEVER forget…..God has touched you too in your Holy Baptism and Holy Chrismation.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Preparation for Holy Confession

Preparation for Holy Confession
I often encounter questions about Holy Confession, so I am offering this information to assist our faithful in the understanding and preparation of Holy Confession. It is taken from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. If you have any questions, or would like to schedule Holy confession, please contact your Spiritual Father directly.

The gift of God's forgiveness is received through private prayer, corporate worship, the disciplines of prayer and fasting, penitential services and above all through the sacrament of Holy Confession.

The value of Holy Confession is twofold. First, through this sacramental act of the ordained priest and the Christian believer we have the assurance of divine forgiveness, according to the words of Christ (Jn 20:23). Secondly, Holy Confession provides the opportunity to talk about one's deep concerns, to receive counsel and to be encouraged toward spiritual growth, all of which are universally recognized as extremely beneficial to personal life.

Holy Confession is appropriate whenever an Orthodox Christian feels the need for it. It is also a part of our total spiritual preparation during the fast periods leading up to the great feasts of Easter, Christmas, the Falling Asleep of the Theotokos and the Feast of Twelve Apostles. However, Holy Confession is especially necessary:

  1. when a serious sin has been committed;
  2. when a habitual sin has overwhelmed a Christian, or
  3. when a Christian has stopped growing spiritually and needs a reexamination of priorities.

We confess our sins to God and the power of forgiveness is God's. However, the gift of God's forgiveness, although assured, is not magical. It does not automatically spare us from spiritual struggle - the continual vigilance against evil and the unceasing warfare against sin. Holy Confession will bear fruits in the Spirit only when the believer hates evil, utterly rejects sin and patiently cultivates positive habits of the life in Christ. "So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to Christ Jesus. Do not yield your members to sin as instruments of wicked ness, but yield yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life" (Rm 6:11, 13)

How can one prepare for Holy Confession? Preparation for Holy Confession is a prayerful examination of feelings, thoughts, words, acts, attitudes, habits, values, priorities, goals, direction and way of life. This prayerful self-examination includes not only the personal religious life, but also family relationships, social activities, job conduct, business dealings, political commitments and even recreational pursuits, because our entire existence should be lived in under the light of the Holy Spirit is not to condemn ourselves, but to affirm our true selves in Christ who has given us access to God's mercy and forgiveness and who has taught us to live for God's glory.

Pray and think and your confession over several days. Ask God to help you perceive your sins and to make a thorough confession of them. Sometime before the sacrament of Holy Confession, offer selected prayers from the following Confessional Prayers, Psalm 51 or the following prayer of repentance:

Prayer of Repentance

O Lord my God, I confess that I have sinned against You in thought, word and deed.

I have also omitted to do what Your holy law requires of me.

But now with repentance and contrition I turn again to Your love and mercy.

I entreat You to forgive me all my transgression and to cleanse me from all my sins.

Lord, fill my heart with the light of Your truth. Strengthen my will by Your grace.

Teach me both to desire and to do only what pleases You. Amen.

Now, without justification or self-pity, make a prayerful examinations of your conscience regarding all things. As a help, reflect on your life in the light of the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. Take pencil and paper and specify your sins so that, at the time of the sacrament, you will be able to make a thorough confession from the list, without confusion or lapse of memory.

The Ten Commandments

I am the Lord your God, and you shall have no other gods before me.

Has God been the source, center and hope of my life? Have I put myself, others or things before God? Have I failed to trust in God's existence, love and mercy? Have I failed to pray to God, to worship Him and to thank Him for His blessings? Have I tried to serve God and keep His commandments faithfully? Have I murmured or complained against God in adversity? Have I praised and glorified God through my words and deeds?

You shall not make for yourself a graven image in order to worship it.

Have I valued anyone or anything above God? Have I given to anyone or anything the love, honor and worship that belongs to God alone? Have I made and idol of any person, idea, occupation, or thing?

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

Have I blasphemed God's holy name in any way? Have I sworn a false oath? Have I broken any solemn vow or promise? Have I entered into an agreement, promise or contract against God's law? Have I cursed or used foul language?

Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.

Have I worshiped regularly on Sundays and major feast days and have I helped others to do the same? Have I worked unnecessarily on Sundays or major feast days or caused others to do so? Have I spent the Lord's Day in a wholesome and edifying ways?

Honor your father and mother

Have I loved and respected my parent s as I should? Have I neglected them or failed to help them? Have I disobeyed them, deceived them or caused them pain by my words or deeds? Have I treated all my family members with patience and love?

Thou shall not kill.

Have I caused the harm, injury or death of anyone? Have I wished my own or anyone's harm or death? Have I been cruel to animals or destroyed any life unnecessarily?

You shall not commit adultery.

Have I committed any immoral acts alone or with others? Have I caused others to commit immoral acts? Have I committed immoral acts in my heart?

You shall not steal.

Have I taken anything that was not mine from anyone or from anywhere? Have I cheated anyone? Have I caused others to steal or cheat? Have I tried to find the owners of lost things I have found? Have I damaged or destroyed anything that belonged to another? Have I defrauded anyone of rightful wages? Have I paid my debts? Have I given to the poor and to philanthropic causes in proportion to my means?

You shall not bear false witness.

Have I given false testimony against anyone? Have I spoken evil, told lies or spread rumors about anyone? Have I disclosed to anyone the sins and faults of another? Have I made careless statements or done anything else to harm the name and reputation of another? Have I engaged in idle gossip?

You shall not covet.

Have I looked with envy jealousy or hatred toward the possession talents or achievements of others? Have I desired the downfall or loss of others out of evil intent that I might benefit? Have I grieved that God has bestowed greater blessings on others than on me?

The Beatitudes

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Have I truly recognized my complete dependence on God? Have I been proud arrogant and self-righteous in my ways? Have I been selfish, possessive and self-seeking? Have I sought after status power and wealth?

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Have I endured difficulties and afflictions with faith and patience? Have I felt sadness for the sufferings of the poor, the hungry, and addicted; the sick, the lonely and the sinful of the world? Have I truly been sorrowful for my sins and faults?

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Have I tried to serve or rather to dominate others at home, school, work, office, Church and elsewhere? Have I nursed against anyone? Have I been resentful, bitter, unforgiving or insulting and abusive to others? Have I loved my enemies?

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Have I truly yearned for God's will to be done in all things? Have I worked for justice in my family, society and the world in ways with in my reach? Have I tried to cultivate a righteous life through prayer, fasting, worship, receiving Holy Communion and deeds of love toward others?

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Have I shown compassion and help toward the poor, hungry, lonely and needy around me? Have I tried to understand and forgive others? Have I been indifferent judgmental or legalistic?

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Have I loved goodness, purity and holiness? Have I succumbed to evil motives and intentions? Have I given way to impure thoughts, words or deeds? Have I been guilty of bias and prejudice? Have I been hypocritical, pretentious or self-indulgent to sinful passions?

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Do I have God's peace in my heart? Have I been unfairly angry, aggressive or impatient? Have I worked for peace at home, work, Church and in society? Have I been irritable, polemical, or divisive?

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Have I complained when persecuted for God's sake? Have I prayed for my persecutors? Have I failed to defend anyone in the truth for fear of humiliation or persecution? Have I had the courage to stand up for what is right despite criticism, ridicule or persecution?

Blessed are you when they revile you and persecute you on my account; rejoice and be clad, for your reward is great in heaven

Is the joy of Christ in my heart even in trying moments? Have I been pessimistic despondent or despairing? Have I truly delighted in the promise of God's treasures in heaven?

Prayers to Christ

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, Shepherd and Lamb, You offered Your life on the cross to take away the sins of the world. You granted forgiveness to Peter and to the harlot who turned to You in tears. You forgave the debts of the two debtors and also said, "him who comes to me I will not cast out." Lord, receive me, a sinner, and hear my prayer of repentance (Confess to the Lord your specific sins.) I acknowledge my sins and transgressions, voluntary and involuntary, known and unknown. I firmly resolve, with the help of Your grace, to turn away from my sins and to amend my life according to Your teachings. Help me to walk in the way of the righteous and to offer praise to Your glorious name forever. Amen

Sweet, Jesus, my Lord and Master, through Your holy passion You have healed my evil passions, and through Your sacred wounds You have cured my sinful wounds. Grant me, compunction. Purify my body with the fragrance of Your life-giving Body, and casting out the bitterness with which the adversary has fed me. Lift up my earth bound mind to You and take me out of the pit of perdition. I have no sincere repentance, I have no true compunction, I have no consoling tears to lead me as a child of God to my spiritual in heritance. My mind has been darkened through worldly passions. I cannot look up to You in grieving remorse. I cannot warm myself with tears of love for You. But, Lord Jesus Christ, the treasury of blessings, grant me through repentance and a diligent heart to seek You. Grant me Your grace and renew in me the form of Your image. I have forsaken You; but, Lord, do not forsake me. Come out to seek me; lead me to Your pasture; number me among the sheep of Your chosen flock and nourish me with the food of Your sacred mysteries, through the intercession of Your all-pure Mother and of all the Saints. Amen.

Prayer of St. John Chrysostom

Lord, deprive me not of Your heavenly and eternal blessings.

Lord, deliver me from everlasting torments.

Lord, if I have sinned in word or deed, in mind or spirit, forgive me.

Lord, deliver me from all distress, ignorance, forgetfulness, laziness and stony hardness of heart.

Lord, deliver me from all temptations and spiritual abandonment.

Lord, enlighten my heart which has been darkened by evil desire.

Lord, being human, I sin; but You, being God, have mercy on me.

Lord, take heed of the weakness of my soul, and help me with Your grace that Your holy name may be glorified in me.

Lord Jesus Christ, inscribe the name of Your servant in the book of life, granting me a blessed end.

Lord my God, I have done nothing good; yet by Your compassion help me to make a new beginning.

Lord, refresh my heart with the dew of Your grace.

Lord, God of heaven and earth, remember me, who am sinful, wretched, evil and impure, in Your kingdom, according to Your steadfast love.

Lord, receive me in repentance and do not forsake me.

Lord, put me not to the test.

Lord, grant me good thoughts.

Lord, grant me tears of repentance, remembrance of death and contrition.

Lord, grant me sincere confession of my thought.

Lord, grant me humility, deliverance from my own will and obedience.

Lord, grant me patience, forbearance and meekness.

Lord, implant in me Your holy fear, the source of all blessings.

Lord, enable me to love You with all my soul, my mind and my heart; and my neighbor as myself.

Lord, protect me from evil people and demons, from impure passions and all unseemly things.

Lord, as you commanded; Lord, as You know all things; Lord as You desire I desire Your goodness; let Your will be done in me.

Lord, let Your will, not mine, be done through the intercessions of the all-holy Theotokos and of all the Saints, for You are blessed forever. Amen.

The Prayer of Manasseh

This prayer is a classic prayer of repentance attributed by tradition to Manasseh, a wicked king of Judah (2 Chr 33:11-13), who pleaded God's forgiveness for his many sins.

Lord almighty, God of our fathers, of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and of their righteous posterity,

You have made heaven and earth with all their adornment.

You have bound the sea with Your word of command.

You have confined the abyss and sealed it with Your fearful and glorious name.

All things shudder and tremble before Your power.

The magnificence of Your glory cannot be endured.

The wrath of Your threat against sinners cannot be resisted.

Yet immeasurable and unsearchable is Your promised mercy.

For You are the Lord Most High, compassionate, long-suffering and merciful, turning away from the evils of people.

You, Lord according to the abundance of Your goodness, have promised repentance and forgiveness to those who have sinned against You;

And in the multitude of Your loving kindness You have appointed repentance for sinners unto salvation.

Surely, Lord, God of the heavenly powers, You have not appointed repentance for the righteous, for Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, who did not sin against You;

But You have appointed repentance for me a sinner.

For the sins I have committed are more in number than the sands of the sea.

My transgressions are multiplied, Lord, they are multiplied!

I am unworthy to look up and see the height of heaven because of the multitude of my iniquities.

I am weighed down with many evil bonds and cannot lift up my head because of my sins.

I have no relief because I have provoked Your wrath and have done evil before You, not doing Your will, nor keeping Your commandments, but setting up abominations and multiplying offenses.

And now I bend the knee of my heart beseeching Your goodness.

I have sinned, Lord, I have sinned and I know my transgressions.

Do not be angry with me forever or store up evils for me; and do not condemn me to the depths of Hades.

For You, Lord, are the God of those who repent, and to me You will show Your goodness.

Unworthy as I am, You will save me in Your great mercy and I will praise You continually all the days of my life.

For all the powers of heaven sing Your praises and Yours is the glory forever. Amen.

Source: "My Orthodox Prayer Book" from the Department of Religious Education