Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Does it Really Matter Where I Go to Church?

In our contemporary American society, with thousands of Christian Churches on every street corner, I often hear the comment, “It doesn’t matter where you go to Church as long as you go to Church.” I have heard this from many of our own parishioners so I thought it was a good time to address the question since Great Lent is again upon us and we are called to a higher level of commitment to the Church and attending Church services.
First allow me to address the most obvious error in this question. If it didn’t matter where we went to Church there wouldn’t be thousands of Churches in the first place. The fact that so many different expressions of faith in Jesus Christ exist, each declaring their own version of the truth of Christ, should cause us at the very least to question why so many versions of the truth exists – or more importantly how so many versions of the truth could exist. Truth is truth and it simply isn’t possible that everyone is correct.

This is the first truth proclaimed by the Orthodox Church on the Sunday of Orthodoxy. We believe that we are the historical Church, established by the Holy Apostles of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We know the Holy Apostles were guided in all truth by the Holy Spirit (see John 16.13). We follow a way of life taught by Christ and passed to us by the Holy Apostles. Our faith that the Holy Apostles established the Church in truth is a matter of faith in Christ’s guarantee. The Holy Apostles established the Church and spoke very strongly about remaining united to that Church.

Second allow me to comment on the general theology found in other Christian Churches. During the Divine Liturgy we recite the Nicene Creed, a doctrine of what we believe about Jesus Christ. When we enter into any other Church that does not share this same doctrine we have found ourselves in a Church that preaches a different theology than the Orthodox Church. Listen to the hymns and carefully read the prayers offered. Do the prayers express a different understanding of who God is? Do the prayers begin or end “in the name of Jesus” or, as our Holy Orthodox Tradition since the beginning, “in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit?” We must remember the importance of HOW we understand Jesus since it is Jesus who saves us from death.

Third and most important is our ability to receive Holy Communion. WE CANNOT RECEIVE Holy Communion in any other Church but an Orthodox Church for the reasons I have just stated. If we cannot receive Holy Communion then, as Jesus says in the Gospel, we have no life in us. “"Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6.53)

On Sunday, March 4th we will celebrate the Sunday of Orthodoxy with these words:

X  This is the faith of the Apostles!

X  This is the faith of the Fathers!

X  This is the faith of the Orthodox!

X  This is the faith which has established the Universe!

This is why it DOES MATTER where we go to Church. I pray I see you in Church during Great Lent as we prepare to celebrate the Glorious Resurrection of Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Loving Father

As the old saying goes, “If you love someone, let them go. If they return to you, they are forever.” Nothing has been more true, especially in light of the Gospel and the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The younger son (of two brothers) demanded his early share of his father’s inheritance then went away and wasted the money on sinful living. All the while the father waited for his son to return. “He arose and came to his father. When he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.” (Luke 15.20)
The image of the father standing at the door morning and night waiting for the first glimpse of his son’s return is very powerful. This is the same love and devotion God has for us when we turn away from Him. He loves us enough to let us go, and then He waits for us to choose to return. When we do return to Him, He welcomes us with His warm embrace and love restoring us to our original status as His children. “The father said to his servant, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat it and be merry, for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and now is found.” (Luke 15.22-24)

This love of The Father is waiting for us to “come to ourselves” as the young prodigal son had done.  It is never too late for us to return to God in repentance for the life we have chosen to live away from Him. We may not even realize, as of now, that we are living a life away from Him, just as the prodigal son was enjoying his life. It was in the face of suffering that he realized where he was. It would be a shame for us to wait for such suffering to occur in our life. We should return now before we suffer any more.

God is standing at the gates waiting for us to turn and begin our journey toward Him. Let’s not waste another day.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

To Whom is the Lord Speaking in His Gospel?

The Gospel is read aloud at every Divine Liturgy and many other services in the Church but rarely do we find the need to question to whom the Lord is speaking. But I think it is interesting that on the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, the Church excludes an important verse from the public reading. It remains in scripture of course, but for those who do not read the Holy Scriptures privately, this important verse may never be heard.
It was the sinful Publican (tax collector) who wept in shame of his sins that the Lord blessed that day in the Temple when He said, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18.14) Who is “the other” man but each one of us when we praise ourselves or elevate our own standing ahead of others no matter who the others may be.

The Pharisee lived an otherwise righteous life of prayer, fasting, and tithing, and followed the Letter of the Law. But he did so without love in his heart for his neighbor. He said, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.” (Luke 18.11) Unfortunately he was blind to the PURPOSE of the Law which was meant to shape his life more in the image of God by loving others.

What is the missing verse? You’ll  have to look that one up yourself… Luke 18.9.