Friday, November 30, 2012

What do property rights have to do with God?

Property rights are at the very foundation of our nation. Wars have been fought over who has them and who has the right take them away. In our American society we acknowledge two types of property rights: real (land) and personal (stuff we own) and there is a very intricate system of laws protecting our property rights as United States Citizens. With the looming fiscal cliff, we are frightened, at least we are supposed to be, by the possibility of our home or our retirement program losing value. But our society has it all wrong….

 

The reality is that God owns everything. We are only stewards of the gifts He has given us. If you doubt this reality, drive by any cemetery; you will not see any banks, real estate agencies, electronics stores etc. We can’t take anything with us that does not truly belong to us. The only thing that has been given to us, the only thing that is genuinely ours, is our eternal soul…the rest we leave behind.

 

Please consider this truth of life this Christmas season and find time to reconnect with God in Church. As for the coming fiscal cliff…..human beings have lived many centuries without housing markets and stock portfolios or pension plans, but WE ALL NEED OUR SOULS.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Simple Multiple Choice Life


You are sitting by the side of the road selling boiled peanuts when suddenly Jesus Christ comes walking by surrounded by a crowd of followers. Do you…

A.      Keep selling your boiled peanuts as if nothing special is happening?

B.      Stop selling your boiled peanuts and sit perfectly still so you don’t disturb Him?

C.      Try to sell boiled peanuts to the crowd?

D.      Drop your boiled peanuts, cry out “Lord, Have mercy?” and then follow Him wherever He goes?

 

Sometimes life is just a simple multiple choice question.

 

We may not be selling boiled peanuts on the side of the road, but Jesus Christ IS approaching. With Christmas just around the corner, we will be continuously reminded by radio, television, the internet and our friends that Christmas needs our attention. Will we…

A.      Keep shopping at all hours spending more money than we can afford?

B.      Stop shopping and spend a quiet evening at home alone watching television?

C.      Try to get our friends to go out shopping with us?

D.      Forget about all the shopping, come to Church and rededicate our lives to follow Jesus Christ?

 

Sometimes life is just a simple multiple choice question.

What do YOU say?

If your neighbor says he’s always right, he’s arrogant….
If your neighbor says it always has to be his way, he’s selfish….
If your neighbor says you should do everything he says, he’s a dictator….

BUT….

If God says He’s always right, HE is….
If God says it should always be His way, He knows better than we do…
If God says we should do everything He says, we should…

What do YOU say?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

How Should We Prepare for Christmas?

The arrival of December and the passing of Thanksgiving traditionally usher in the “official” Christmas Season with decorations, Christmas carols and holiday shopping, all supposedly in preparation to celebrate the birth of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, too often these days, we expend so much energy in our decorations and shopping that we forget the holiday is about our eternal salvation rather than Black-Friday or Cyber-Monday. In fact, for most Christians today, the only preparation for Christmas is just that, decorations and shopping and maybe a little cooking. And to make things worse, with the numerous holiday parties that crowd our calendar beginning sometimes even before Thanksgiving, most of us are too exhausted to truly celebrate Christmas when the day finally arrives.

 

This is NOT the Orthodox way to prepare for Christmas. We prepare for so many events in our lives; anniversaries, birthdays, namedays, weddings, baptisms, graduations, it would seem appropriate that we prepare for Christmas with greater importance than these other celebrations. The proper way to prepare for Christmas is with prayer and fasting. Beginning with November 15th and lasting until the Divine Liturgy for Christmas, we are invited by the Church to fast AT LEAST from meat, in preparation to receive the gift of Christmas.

 

As Orthodox Christians, we should delay the celebration of Christmas until we have completed the Divine Liturgy for Christmas, after we have fasted and reflected upon our spiritual readiness for Christ in our hearts. We go to exhausting steps to ensure our homes are prepared to receive our dinner guests, but we forget to prepare our hearts to receive Christ. We clean our silver and china for our holiday meal, but we neglect to clean our hearts for the Divine Meal which is Holy Communion.

 

I urge you this year to reorient your life into a proper focus for the Christmas Season. I invite you to embrace the fast of the Church as a time to reflect and cleanse your souls and hearts to receive the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ on December 25th. I encourage you to plan to fully engage in the worship and divine services of the Church for Christmas this year.

 

And then we will celebrate with family, friends, and our brothers and sisters in Christ. We will feast for two entire weeks until Epiphany in January in honor of the birth of our Lord, God, Savior Jesus Christ. But first…..WE PREPARE!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

We are Our Worst Enemies

You’ve heard it said before that we can be our own worst enemies, and nothing can be truer when it comes to our relationship with Jesus Christ and our journey to heaven. Jesus was met by a certain rich man (Luke 18.18-27) asking, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Unfortunately for this man, and too often for us as well, he allowed self-righteousness and self-pity to stop him on his journey to eternal life. Our need to continuously place our ego and self-will ahead of the will of God will ultimately draw us away from God full. Thankfully the Church offers a variety of tools such as fasting to assist us in keeping our ego and self-righteousness in check so we can see more clearly the love, mercy and grace of God.

 




 
iTunes Audio Subscribe https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/be-transfigured!/id483295178?mt=2


 

This Week’s Sermon also airs DAILY AT 12NOON Eastern on Transfiguration Radio at http://myocn.com/players/florence.sc/ or our mobile player at http://myocn.com/players/florence.sc/m/

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Consider Supporting Orthodox Charities with Your Online Shopping

Most of my readers know that Presvytera has an online business at www.vscardbox.com selling Orthodox Christian greeting cards. She has just released a new line of Christmas Cards WITH ICONS. 10% of all sales benefit Orthodox Christian Charities.

Here are the new Christmas Cards...

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

How Shall We Give Thanks to God?

It’s a typical question around Thanksgiving. “How should we thank God?” God who needs nothing has given us everything as we pray in the Divine Liturgy, “You have brought all things out of nothing into being.” How can we possibly give thanks to God, presuming of course, that we want to give thanks to Him in the first place?

Our ancient Holy Tradition has given us a clear understanding of how we should give thanks to God. We thank Him by making an offering to Him in worship. Cain & Abel, Noah after the Flood, Abraham after He rescued Lot and again after He promised life; these are all ancient examples of how, long before God established the Law with Moses, human beings expressed their gratitude to God. In fact the Thanksgiving Offering, which for us Christians is the Eucharist, is considered a communal experience between the he who offers and He who receives. It was believed in the ancient times that when offering a burnt offering to God on the Altar, God received the “burnt parts” while sharing the “cooked parts” with the person making the offering. This is why we say in the Divine Liturgy, “For You, Christ our God, are the Offerer and the Offered, the One who receives and is distributed.”

In the ancient world offerings were of many sorts; wine, oil, bread, wheat, animals, incense, and even money. These each represented an offering equal to our labor. For instance, Cain “brought a sacrifice to the Lord from the fruits of the ground,” (Genesis 4.3) representing the fruit of his labor. His brother Abel did the same, but from his flock of sheep. What represents the fruit of our labor? For most of us today, our money represents the fruits of our labor, but offering money is also nothing new. When Abraham wanted to thank God for saving his nephew Lot, he, “gave him a tithe of all.” (Genesis 14.20)

As Greek Orthodox Christians and especially as Americans, we have much to give thanks to God. We begin by coming to worship, most especially the Sunday Divine Liturgy ON TIME, and participating fully in the service by preparing for and receiving Holy Communion. Then we make our offering to God, which should represent not only our labor but the level of our thanks. The more we have to be thankful for, the more we should thank God. And when the offering is from our heart, as it was from Abel, the Lord will respect it. (Genesis 4.4)

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Fiscal Cliff is Nothing to Fear

NO MORE TWINKIES! That was this week’s top selling “bad news” among business closings and economic downsizing. The coming “Fiscal Cliff” seems to be all consuming these days and most Americans watch the daily news with fear and anxiety for an unknown economic future. But as Christians we do not need to fear the economic future, cliff or no cliff. So long as we keep our hearts focused upon Jesus Christ, we will safely pass over the fiscal cliff and enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

 




 



 

This Week’s Sermon also airs DAILY AT 12NOON Eastern on Transfiguration Radio at http://myocn.com/players/florence.sc/ or our mobile player at http://myocn.com/players/florence.sc/m/

Thursday, November 15, 2012

So, What's the Big Deal about Fasting Anyway?

Today is the first day of the Nativity Fast so I thought I would share some thoughts about fasting in general and why the Orthodox Church considers the discipline beneficial. We are being asked by the Church to fast from AT LEAST MEAT until we celebrate the Nativity of Christ on December 25th. It HAS to be more than just about the food right?

Right! First, we must acknowledge that it is in fact a spiritual discipline and not a diet. The fast is not merely abstaining from meat as much as it is being conscious of our spiritual season. I think more than ever our society has lost sight of the 40 days leading up to Christmas. It has become barely more than an extended shopping season when stores “make it or break it” in their profit margins for the year. When we, as Orthodox Christians, FAST by altering our daily diet, we are making a conscious effort to remain focused upon the spiritual season in which we find ourselves. The same holds true for the weekly fast on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year. The very fact that we have to be AWARE what day of the week it is JUST SO THAT we can fast helps us maintain our focus upon the Lord.

Second, we must come to the understanding that our ancient human fallen condition is selfish by default. Ever since Adam and Eve struggle with their will vs. the Will of God in the Garden, human beings have been engaged in a war between our flesh and our soul. St Paul characterizes this well when he says, “For the good that I will to do, I do not do; and the evil I will not to do, that I practice.” (Romans 7.19) When we fast in general, but especially when we ALLOW the Church to guide our fasting, we are forcibly placing our will as below the Will of the Church, the Body of Christ. For example, when I tell my body, “There will be no meat for you for the next forty days because I’m offering our time to God EVEN though big juicy beef hamburgers are your favorite food,” we are taking control over our flesh in favor of our relationship with the Lord. It sometimes helps to consider fasting as “self-control training” and “giving up my will for God’s Will” rather than self-denial.  This is also why I don’t advise the “what shall I give up for Lent,” custom popular these days because when WE choose how WE shall fast, then it remains all about OUR will rather than God’s. It might seem trivial, but trust me on this one…..our will is VERY strong which probably explains the whole, “Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven,” thing. Fasting helps us focus on God’s Will rather than our own.

Finally, when we fast, we are making an offering of our selves directly to God as Saint Paul says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is you reasonable service.” (Romans 12.1) If we are seeking to unite our bodies with the Lord’s in Holy Communion, which we SHOULD seek, then the least we could do as a beginning is to make an offering to Him of our own flesh, not on the Cross as He did, but in fasting. It is important to remember that “sacrifice” in this context doesn’t mean “slaughter” but “sanctify.” Too often we envision sacrifice as killing rather than the actual “to make holy” which is true meaning in Latin of the word.

So this year for the Nativity Fast (also known as Advent) I invite you to embrace the Fast of the Orthodox Church and make an offering of yourself to God while training your will to be less focused upon your own desires by remaining conscious of the season ahead. Then Christmas will be a glorious celebration.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Good Teacher Requires a Dedicated Student

A teacher is only as good as the student is willing to learn. Not student can learn without a dedicated relationship with a good teacher. Jesus often plays the role as our Good Teacher offering us guidance for our journey to heaven. Our role is to be dedicated students willing to put into action the knowledge that God brings to us. What does the Teacher offer? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus then commands “Go and do likewise.”

 






 

This Week’s Sermon also airs DAILY AT 12NOON Eastern on Transfiguration Radio at http://myocn.com/players/florence.sc/ or our mobile player at http://myocn.com/players/florence.sc/m/

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Go and do likewise…

We’ve all been there before. We all remember in school how our teacher would help us remember that we already knew the answer to a question. With the wise guidance of our teacher, we all know how to search our minds and our hearts to find the right answer for a variety of questions. But no question is as important as, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10.25)

 

The Gospel tells us a story of a certain lawyer who wanted to test Jesus by asking a question for which he already knew the answer. Jesus responded to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” (Luke 10.26) After the lawyer precisely quoted from the Law, Jesus said, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.” Yet, the lawyer wasn’t satisfied with his attempt to challenge Christ as he pressed on “wanting to justify himself.” (Luke 10.28)

 

We all know how God wants us to live. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all you strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10.27) But are we satisfied or do we want to press Jesus further? The lawyer didn’t really desire to have eternal life. Why else would he press further once the Lord approved of his answer? The Gospel says, “wanting to justify himself,” because his heart was not pure.

 

It wasn’t enough for the lawyer to know the answer; he need to justify his own actions. The same is true for us. We already know how God wants us to live. The real question is, “Are we living how He desires or are we seeking to justify our own actions that fall short of God’s will in our lives?” God knows the condition of our heart, and when He says, “Go and do likewise,” He means it. The rest is up to us.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Tales from L.A. - "It Really Hurts"

I don't normally do this, but I thought this article by Fr John Bakas in Los Angeles was SO good that I asked his permission to repost it here. This article was published in the Orthodox Observer of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Here is the full text of the article...


TALES FROM L.A.

 

 

“It Really Hurts”

By Fr. John S. Bakas

 

 

From time to time, I get an email or letter that breaks my heart. I’m sure every one of our priests have had their hearts broken in similar fashion. It really hurts.

 

A few weeks ago, I received an email which read as follows: “My name is Dorothea. I was wondering if you may be able to give me some advice regarding my upcoming wedding ceremony.  My finance Paul and I are getting married early next year.  He was baptized Russian Orthodox and I, Greek Orthodox.  However, we are having a secular ceremony as we consider ourselves Agnostic, while relating to and living by Yogic and Buddhist philosophy. However, I have a deep desire to incorporate some of my Greek heritage into our wedding ceremony. My wish is to honor this part of my Greek culture and bring some of the tradition and ritual to the ceremony. Of course, I understand this is a very tricky thing to do, as the beautiful Greek rituals signify a sacrament that doesn’t quite fit our personal feelings and beliefs.”

 

I thought a great deal about this email and re-read it several times to get its full impact. I told Dorothea that it would be improper to make up your own spirituality as you please. It is syncretism at its worst. My words didn’t really matter to her. She was polite but very unbending. We rightly send Orthodox missionaries around the world, attempting to evangelize non-Christians in Africa, Southeast Asia, building churches and bringing the Orthodox Faith to them, yet right here in our own back yard we are losing so many of our own.  Just look around in any of our parishes and you will find the lost, the prodigals, the disconnected who have gone off as scripture says “to a far off land” far from Christ and His Church.

 

I’m afraid so many of us are conflicted about the role and purpose of our Orthodox Faith when it comes down to the parish level. Ask any three people what the role of the church is and you will probably get three different answers. I wonder if Dorothea and fiancĂ© Paul in their spiritually formative years were truly exposed to our real faith, the faith of the Bible, the Fathers and the deep Christ centered worship services of our Holy Tradition. I wonder if their spiritual quest was drowned out by cultural and ethnic pressures and priorities. I wonder if they saw their priest as a true spiritual father, leading them on the road of salvation or a religious “country club” director dressed in black and wearing a cross directing traffic in the diverse expectations and demands of parishioners. Was their sacramental and prayer life more important than the social, athletic and cultural activities that often overwhelm the attention of our focus to our Triune God?  Have we lost the balance?  Do we offer programs just to keep our people involved to show numbers or do we encourage activities as “ministries” of the church leading people to Christ through social, athletic and cultural programs.

 

I suspect that the overwhelming majority of our people have never read the Archdiocesan Uniform Parish Regulations.  In the Mission statement for each parish in the Archdiocese the following is made abundantly clear. “The diakonia (ministry) of the Parish will include proclaiming and teaching the Gospel in accordance with the Orthodox Faith; sanctifying the faithful through God’s grace in worship, the Divine Liturgy and the other sacraments; enhancing its parishioners’ spiritual life; and adding to the numbers of the faithful by receiving persons into the Church through instruction, baptism and/or chrismation.  In addition, the Parish shall establish educational and philanthropic activities to foster the aims and mission of the Parish and to edify its parishioners in the Faith and ethos of the Church.”

 

Many well-meaning parishioners and even some parish councils do not fully understand the role of the priest.  Their clichĂ©d role is not just “hatch” (baptism) “match” (weddings) “patch” (counsel) and “dispatch” (funerals). The U.P.R.s clearly states the fundamental role of the priest at the parish level.

“The Priest by virtue of his canonical ordination and assignment heads and administers the parish and exercise on its behalf the priestly duties, which consist in shepherding the Parish entrusted to his care, directing its orderly life, preserving its unity and keeping it faithful to its divine purpose.  He shall sanctify his parishioners through the administration of the sacraments and the performance of all other prescribed services of worship.  He shall also proclaim the Gospel and impart knowledge of the doctrines, traditions, canons and disciplines of the Church.  Further, he shall guide the growth and progress of the Parish in the Christian life through the performance of his pastoral duties.”

 

It seems so many have different expectations of the Church and Her clergy. What are yours? Are they in accordance with scripture and our Holy Tradition as taught unadulterated since Pentecost? Do we understand the Apostolic succession of the priesthood going back all the way to the High Priest, our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ who established the priesthood?

 

Our Lord’s final command to His priests, His Apostles, was the Great Commission. “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you and lo I am with you always even to the end of the age.” MT.28:16-20

 

I wish someone would have shared the Gospel (Good News) with Dorothea and Paul in their formative years. Perhaps, there would now be an Orthodox priest performing their upcoming wedding. Even though it really hurts,  it’s still not too late. The prodigal son came to his senses and returned to his Father’s house. I pray for the return one day of Dorothea and Paul and so many countless other prodigals to their Heavenly Father’s house, our Orthodox Church.

 

 

Fr. Bakas is Dean of Saint Sophia Cathedral, Los Angeles and a faculty member of Loyola Marymount University, School of Theology.

 

Election Day, Christian Morals, and Political Compromise

In a free society it is understood that we live under a set of “agreed-to rules” and common morals that guide our daily interaction. These rules and morals are established, in our American context, through the election process wherein each citizen is granted an equal voice through the ballot box. The American political system, while many will agree has become corrupt and tainted, has been carefully crafted to protect against oppression and favor freedom. Our electoral system, especially our Presidential electoral system, was crafted to not only grant each citizen an equal voice, but to equalize political power across several sectors. We know this as checks and balances. The Electoral College for example allows for each State to determine, within certain guidelines, how that particular State will cast its electoral votes for President and Vice President. For example, the State of California, based upon population, has been granted 55 electoral votes out of a total 538 in the entire nation. So in California, after all the polling stations have closed and have reported their vote totals, the “winner takes all” system is used and the States casts its 55 electoral votes for a single candidate. There are I believe 2 States and currently split their electoral college votes, but most use the “winner takes all” method.

 

Why do I go through this? Because after watching and reading so many posts in the recent weeks about this election and how divided our nation is politically, I think it is important to outline what I believe “Political Compromise” really means….

 

Whether we are using our voice to vote for President of the United States or whether building codes should be rewritten, after the votes are tallied, we agree to live by a “majority rules” method of government. That means, as in the case of California, if the majority votes for President Obama, which it is suggested they will today, then those who cast their vote for Governor Romney, agree to allow the entire State to cast its 55 electoral votes for President Obama. That is political compromise.

 

Political compromise doesn’t mean compromising your values and convictions and changing your vote. Political compromise means, maintaining your values and convictions, WHILE allowing the majority to rule. And if your values and convictions are not in the majority, then there are built-in systems to change the policies through future elections.

 

How does this affect our morals? Morals are a system of beliefs and behaviors SHARED by a common group. For Greek Orthodox Christians, our morals are established by God and His Church. For others in America, their morals are guided by other sources. So as Greek Orthodox Christians living in America, we live by two sets of morals, our Greek Orthodox Christian morals and American morals PROVIDED that the American morals don’t conflict. As Greek Orthodox Christians, we embrace political compromise and allow the majority to govern, but that does NOT mean that we change our values and convictions, merely that we allow others their freedom to live their lives, sometimes even choosing to depart from God’s Church.

 

So when you enter the voting booth today, remember your Orthodox Christian values and convictions and cast your vote. But remember, even when your vote is not in the majority, you never have to compromise your values, just which values become law. That is true freedom which God intended. If we find ourselves as Orthodox Christians in the legal minority, which wouldn’t be the first time in history, that only means we remain a minority, not that have to stop living as Orthodox Christians – loving God with all our heart, mind, body and soul and our neighbor as ourselves.

 

Have a blessed election day.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Which Side are You On?

Throughout life we are faced with a deep chasm in our heart between the pleasures of life and a life dedicated to God. The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16.19-31) expresses what will happen if we spend too much time digging a canyon so deep we refuse to cross over to be with God. Fortunately for us, God has given us a chance to wash clear the chasm in our heart and cross to the other side in time to spend eternity blessed by God rather than remaining in torment. The choice is ours to make, but it must be now…before we die.

 

This week’s sermon (November 4, 2012) will air DAILY at 12NOON on Transfiguration Radio or you may download it directly following the links below. We also invite you to subscribe to our VIDEO or AUDIO Podcast via iTunes also using the links below.

 




 

Tune in to Transfiguration Radio at - http://myocn.com/players/florence.sc/m/

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Line in the Sand


It is an old expression, “To draw a line in the sand,” which means to set a limit across which you refuse to cross or which you refuse to allow others (or even dare others) to cross. And it is something most of us do every day…normally regretting the outcome. When we draw a line in the sand we tell those around us that we are not willing to listen or negotiate our position. It is a statement of barriers rather than bridges, and it tends to limit progress rather than extend it, which is why most of us regret drawing them to begin with.

But there can be a good line to draw when it comes to living the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact the line has been draw for us by Jesus Christ and His Church. “And besides all this, between you and us there is great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.” (Luke 16.26) This is the line between heaven and hell; a line between loving God and hating Him.

About this gulf, Saint Gregory of Nyssa says, “This, in my opinion, is the gulf, which is not an earthly abyss, that the judgment between the two opposite choices of life creates. Once one has chosen the pleasure of this life and has not remedied this bad choice by a change of heart, he produces for himself a place of empty hereafter. He digs this unavoidable necessity for himself like some deep and trackless pit.” He has “drawn a line in the sand” across which he cannot pass, even he wanted to, after death.

My brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ has drawn a line in the sand and He expects us to choose sides…NOW before we die. Do you choose the pleasure of this life and an eternity of torment, or a life of service to others and the comfort of heaven? You must choose and you must choose soon before it’s too late.