Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What do You Hope for in 2015?

With the New Year just hours away, millions of people are filled with hope for the coming year. Social networks are streaming with best wishes for the New Year, but what do YOU hope for in 2015? Do you hope for good health? Do you hope for financial prosperity? Are you hoping for that new job or house? Hope is a basic emotion of our human existence, but unfortunately it is often misguided. It isn’t so much WHAT we hope for this is misguided, but WHY we hope.

We hope for good health, SO THAT we can have time for repentance of our many sins and glorify God.
We hope for prosperity, SO THAT we can do the work of Christ and His Church and glorify God.
We hope for a new job, SO THAT we can support our family with basic needs and glorify God.


If our hope is not focused on giving glory to God and preparing our soul for eternity with Him, then our hope is misguided. So what do YOU hope for in 2015?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Rejecting Christmas

In the days following Christmas, many people wait in long lines to exchange the gifts they received for Christmas. Many exchange their gifts merely because they wanted something different, rejecting the original gift. Just as Herod rejected the original gift of Christmas by killing 14,000 innocent children, many times WE reject Christmas by killing our neighbors with harsh words and thoughts. Has Christmas changed the way you live, or have you rejected Christmas?

A King Born to be Buried

From the moment Jesus Christ was born, the world was preparing for His burial. Herod the King tried to kill the new born King, while the Magi came to worship Him. We have two options when we greet Christ; we can choose the path of Herod and reject God, or join the Magi and worship Him. When we choose the path of the Magi, we will join Him in death as the world will reject our way of life. There is no avoiding death. It was the entire reason for His birth. He was born to be buried.


A Savior has been Born so that We may be Rescued

Many people approach Christmas exhausted from the weeks of holiday parties and shopping, but they miss the joy of birth of their Savior. Jesus Christ has been born so that He might rescue us from the hectic and painful life, and bring us to something better, life with Him in Heaven.  If only we can follow the example of the shepherds who left their work to go and meet the Lord, we too could join our voices with the angels and sing, “Glory to God in the Highest!”

Monday, December 22, 2014

Vote for your favorite!

We want to hear from you! As 2014 is coming to an end, we want to give YOU the opportunity to let us know which video on Be Transfigured was your favorite this year? The only rule is your favorite MUST have been produced THIS year...any sermon, Bible study, or special event is eligible. For a complete list of Be Transfigured videos, goto www.YouTube.com/user/FatherAthanasios

Use the comment section below to post the link to your favorite Be Transfigured video from 2014. Voting ends at 11:59pm on December 31st.

Excuses....Excuses....Excuses

We have all heard them, and we have all used them. Excuses are a convenient way for us to “get out of” doing something we don’t want to do, or going somewhere we don’t want to go. But when God invites you to join Him, it’s time to put the excuses aside and join Him. Don’t be left behind when the ship sails, just because you have an excuse. Otherwise, you will hear the Lord say, “None of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.” Don’t watch the ship sail away on the horizon. Put your excuses aside and live the life Christ has for you in His Church.

What is Righteousness?

Just days before Christmas, the Church invites us to consider the righteousness of Abraham and Joseph the betrothed of Mary. These two holy ancestors of God lived their life dedicated and loyal to the promise of God, despite the reality they never set their eyes on God’s promise. The Birth of God ushers in the beginning of God’s fulfillment for an end to death and beginning of a new eternal life in Christ. Though Abraham and Joseph never witnessed the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom, we too may not witness the fullness of the Kingdom, but we are called to be righteous. God will fulfill His promise, and our willingness to embrace the righteousness of Abraham and Joseph, will prepare us to receive the fullness of God’s eternal comfort and love. Do YOU what it takes to be righteous this Christmas?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Words Matter

With the recent public outcry and racial tensions in America lately over a few (in my opinion) overly publicized legal cases, I have decided to say a few words on the subject, because words matter. Language is a very important element in any society as it defines how members of said society “agree to interact” along personal, social and business transactions. In fact, within the history of the Church, many deep theological arguments were waged over nuances in language. Some arguments, such as the “nature” or “natures” of Christ, resulted in centuries-long schisms with the Christian Church. I use this simply for the sake of example since this post is NOT about theology, but sociology.

In the recent racial outcry expressed in numerous protests and riots throughout America, it has become obvious to me that we are experiencing a language barrier that is so great, only the grace of God and genuine Christian love will ever guide us through the muddy rivers of racial tensions in America. One such barrier I have noticed is the term, “white privilege” currently being bantered about. Reactions to a post by a close friend of mine have been violent and plain old ugly. Using the tensions surrounding Ferguson and New York City as a framework, the author attempted to point out how many of our Churches experience a “tone” that might not be welcoming to members outside our “natural” circle of members.

The author’s points about our Churches are quite accurate, even as I have experienced them in 21 years of lay and ordained ministry. Many of our Churches are NOT welcoming, and anyone suggesting otherwise is just not making an honest assessment. But that alone shouldn’t be enough to create such violent reactions. I figured there had to be more to the picture, so I did a little reading on the term “white privilege” and realized we indeed had a language issue.

“White privilege” is what I would call a politically “hot” term, in that it is used in most cases to express a level of guilt and shame against white members of the ruling class. What the term attempts to convey is the reality that predominately white society has functioned, many times subconsciously , to favor white people and some might consider “white culture” if there really is such a thing in 2014. To deny this reality of any society, whether it is white America or Asian China, would simply be dishonest at best and ignorant at worst. I will state here that I am NOT referring to intentional favoritism and policies though that is undeniably part of our history as well. That would be for another blog post especially since the term “white privilege” also makes that distinction.

As Orthodox Christians I believe a better word to convey the same reality might be, “humility” since it is neither politically “hot” nor racially descriptive. From an Orthodox Christian point of view, humility is objectively acknowledging our current reality, and accepting that God desires more for us and from us. It is also a term that looks inward rather than outward, and calls EACH of us to repentance no matter what our starting point is. Humility, used from this point of view would convey the realty that our American society, being predominately white has certain subconscious realities that give white members of our society an advantage. But that is only our starting point. It also conveys that white members of our society, if they are acting with Christian love, would not desire for non-white members of our society to be overlooked, and therefore reach out to non-white neighbors etc to bridge the gap.

But humility doesn’t stop there, because it also conveys to non-white members of our society that many of these subconscious advantages are neither intentional nor historically reversible. We cannot rewrite history but we should study it and learn from it. If we learn anything from history, it might be that racial tensions are painful. To simply allow the pendulum to “swing the other way” to give non-white members of our society their fair share of advantage, is only to expect the pendulum to eventually return, leaving pain in its wake in perpetuity. Just as white members of society, if they are acting with Christian love, would reach out to non-white members, similarly non-white members of our society, if they are acting with Christian love, also would not want to cause pain and suffering.

The point of Christian humility is that as Christians each of us understands our sinfulness and we each desire to repent and grow closer to God where “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galations 3.28)


If we really want to make improvements in American race relations, a good starting point would be to stop using terms that “in themselves” enrage either side. It also means that both sides, desiring to be on the same side, must acknowledge the reality of the every side. We live in a the greatest society on the face of the Earth, which depends wholly on ever member of society acknowledging the value of the other, no matter which race, economic class, or gender he or she may  be. That is nothing more than humility.

I must also admit that one of the most difficult virtues of Christian love is to allow for free will. God doesn’t take away our free will at any time, even allowing us to deny and hate Him. Neither can we, nor should we even try to, take away anyone else free will. That means, some will choose hate and racism. Humility allows for that too, since our love for God and each other acknowledges that some will reject love, and there really is nothing we can do to change it, but love them. If we see it in ourselves, we have been given the chance to repent.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What Christmas IS and ISN'T About

Christmas isn’t about gathering family together, although many families do gather at Christmas...
Christmas isn’t about giving and receiving gifts, although many give and receive gifts at Christmas...
Christmas isn’t about decorating, although many decorate with lights and ribbons at Christmas...
Christmas isn’t about enjoying a banquet, although many will enjoy a great banquet at Christmas...

Christmas IS about celebrating, IN CHURCH, with Divine Liturgy, the coming in the flesh of the eternal Word of God for our salvation. As Orthodox Christians we PREPARE for the celebration with prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and Holy Confession. As Orthodox Christians we honor God’s Nativity by living a holy life, free from the passions of wealth-building and power-grabbing.

What about those “others things” we do during Christmas?

We gather as family at Christmas to worship God IN CHURCH. We give and receive gifts at Christmas to remember the Magi’s offering to God. We decorate our homes at Christmas to welcome the King into our lives. We enjoy a banquet to celebrate our new life in Christ.


Have a blessed Christmas

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Ritual...we all have one!

Henry David Thoreau lived in the woods to discover what he already knew to be true, human beings live through ritual. Whether it is driving the exact same route through town to Church every Sunday, or flipping light switches is a particular order when we open our business on Monday morning, each of us has a ritual we follow.  Most of us have several rituals that are unique to certain events in our life such as work rituals, family rituals, vacation rituals, and it seems EVERYONE has morning rituals. Have you ever thought about your morning ritual?

I’m sure you have some sort of morning ritual, but does it include morning prayers? One common mistake I have noticed in many “morning rituals” is the lack of a dedicated Morning Prayer component. Many people desire to pray in the morning, something taught through the centuries as being central of a Christian life, but they can’t find the time to squeeze it in to their morning ritual, simply because it isn’t PART of their morning ritual.

In the Didache (Teaching of the Holy Apostles to the Nations) we were taught:
Neither pray as the hypocrites; but as the Lord commanded in His Gospel, thus pray: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, as in heaven, so on earth. Give us today our daily (needful) bread, and forgive us our debt as we also forgive our debtors. And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one; for Yours is the power and the glory for ever. Thrice in the day thus pray.
This basic ritual of prayer, what we Orthodox Christians call a “Prayer Rule”, might be just the thing you need to successfully include morning prayers into your morning ritual.

As we are quickly approaching the Feast of Christmas, and as we have been invited by the Church to increase our daily prayer to God, this is the perfect opportunity for you to rethink your morning ritual to include morning prayers. Give your spiritual father a call and ask him to establish a “Prayer Rule” for you to include in your DAILY morning ritual.


Then....go home and, following the advice of your spiritual father, begin following your new morning ritual. It will take a few weeks for the new ritual to take root in your life, but once established it will feel as if you’ve always “done it that way” and you’ll be living a new life in Christ.

Friday, December 12, 2014

RSVP....please?

During the holiday season, our mailboxes fill with special invitations from our friends and family to attend dinners and holiday celebrations. As soon as we receive the invitation, we look at our calendar to determine whether or not we can attend, that is, ‘IF’ we ‘WANT’ to attend the celebration at all. Our reaction to an invitation, once opened is what ‘ACTUALLY’ determines whether or not we will ever show up in the first place.

Some possible considerations when we receive a special invitation include:
  • Do we enjoy spending time with the host/hostess?
  • Would we rather be doing something else that evening?
  • Have we already been invited to attend a different celebration that evening?
  • ‘IF’ we have already received a different invitation, which host/hostess do we prefer?
  • Have we already said ‘YES’ to a different invitation and now we wish we had not?
  • Do we simply want to ‘keep our options open’ for that evening for a better offer?

There are many other possible considerations, but I think you get the idea.

Well...YOU HAVE BEEN INVITED to a special, the most special, celebration...

God has sent you a personal invitation to join Him at the table, not only for Christmas, but for every day for the rest of time. Will you respond to Him?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Your Sins are Forgiven

It goes without saying that the trials of life can weigh a person down. As every day passes, the weight of each small sin and mistake, takes its toll on our backs as we feel our burdens heavy upon our shoulders. Bent over under all the pressure, we just can’t seem to find the strength to look up at God and sing His praise. We may even be ashamed by some of our decisions in life, and we can’t lift ourselves up without God’s healing touch. We all enjoy hearing the words, “Your sins are forgiven,” from our Lord, and we all desire even more the healing touch of our Lord’s hand. Thankfully He has given us His Church and the Holy Sacraments through which we can feel His touch, and through the hands of our Father Confessor, we can not only feel God’s Grace, we can hear the words, “Your sins are forgiven,” and we can finally lift our eyes to God and give Him praise and thanks.

Friday, December 5, 2014

You Can’t Get There by Yourself

We live in a society that prides itself on independence. The very fabric of our great Nation is woven by the threads of self-government and self-accomplishments. Awards are given for “Man of the Year”, not “Group of the Year.” But we all know there are just some times we need help. There are just some things we can’t do by ourselves.

In the Gospel of Luke we hear, “There was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up.” (Luke 13.11)) It wasn’t until Jesus reached out His hand, touched her, and said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity,” (Luke 13.12) that she was able to stand straight and praise God.

So many times, we are weighed down by the burdens of life so much that it is all we can do to ‘get through the day’ let alone raise ourselves up and look upward toward Heaven. When we spend our time bent over staring at the ground, even the joy of birds singing can pass us by. We know we need help, but we either can’t admit it, or we don’t know how to get help. Thankfully for us, God STILL reaches His hand to us, through His Church, and touches us and looses us from our infirmity. Jesus Christ has given us His Church to help raise us up and praise God.


Turning to the Church Jesus said, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20.23) The Church has reached out her hand to us through the Mystery of Holy Confession so that we can hear the words, “Your sins are forgiven,” and we will be loosed from our infirmity and we can be raised up to praise God. But we can’t get there by ourselves; we need the Church.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Come and See....There is Good News on the Horizon

When the Apostle Andrew saw Jesus Christ for the first time, he couldn’t help but run to his brother Simon Peter and tell him the Good News. “We have seen the Messiah!” The Apostles joyfully spread the Good News of Jesus Christ throughout the world, even though their personal lives were filled with pain and suffering. Each of the Apostles, with the exception of Saint John the Theologian was martyred for sharing the Good News. Sometimes we wonder....is the news really good? Just like the lives of the Holy Apostles, our lives are filled with pain and suffering, and we might wonder why Saint Paul told us to imitate him. The truth is that God has saved us from this pain and suffering and promised a NEW life with Him in Heaven. We haven’t been saved for this world; we have been saved from this world. All our pain and suffering is temporary. There’s Good News on the horizon; Come and See!


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Role of a Disciple of Christ

Moments after Saint Andrew, the First-called Apostle, encountered Jesus Christ, he ran home and told his brother the Good News. “We have found the Messiah!” (John 1.41) The news traveled throughout the city as Simon Peter told Philip, who told Nathanael. Good News is hard to keep quiet.

When Jesus Christ sent His Disciples out share the Good News (Gospel – Ευαγγέλιον), He gave a simple commandment. “Go therefore and make disciple of all the nations.” (Matthew 28.19) Saint Andrew traveled to a small port-town called Byzantium, which would later become the center of the longest lived empire in world history. While there, Saint Andrew obeyed the commandment of Jesus Christ and shared the Good News about the Savior with the city, and made disciples of Christ. And what did they do? They traveled throughout the known region and shared the Good News they had received with others, because as we know Good News is hard to keep quiet.


Just over two hundred years ago, Russian Orthodox Missionaries arrived on what would become “American soil” and shared the same Good News with the Native Peoples of Alaska. Around the same time, Greek Orthodox faithful arrived on the East coast in Florida and later in New Orleans to continue the history of making disciples of all the nations. Today there are more than 500,000 Orthodox Christians living as disciples of Jesus Christ. Now it’s our turn to share the Good News, and bring Orthodoxy to every corner of this great American Nation. It’s the role of every disciple.

Trust Leads to Peace

In the Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12.16-21) we witness the result of a life void of peace. Rather than trusting that God would provide for his family, the rich farmer panicked, tore down his already filled barns and was about to build new larger barns when God called him. When we are unable to trust in God’s willingness or abilities to provide for the needs of our family, we run the risk of living in fear rather than peace. God has given us numerous reasons to trust Him, even offering us the chance to test our trust in Him. This week’s episode offers a chance to learn to trust God, and experience for yourself, that trust leads to peace.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

When Politics Becomes Spiritual

There is a temptation in American politics to separate our spiritual lives from our political lives. It is growing ever popular to hear self-proclaimed devout Christian politicians championing policies theoretically in opposition to their personal spiritual beliefs. There is no limit, politically speaking, to this trend as it exists “on both sides of the aisle” of Washington, D.C. But have you ever wondered what would happen if politics DID become spiritual?

Realistically speaking it is impossible for our spiritual journey NOT to interfere with our politics, but political hypocrisy may not be as rampant as some may think. Every human struggles with the same fallen reality, and the temptation to please the self rather than God and others. It is why Jesus Christ commanded us to deny ourselves if we desired to follow Him. Until we can stop the focus on ourselves, we cannot begin to focus upon Him. The “self” is where ALL POLITICS is spiritual.

Politicians are nothing more than a skilled sales force, and the product they are selling, is power and control. Everyone seems to want it, and will do anything to get it. So, when a politician offers it, the votes just come rolling in. Who could blame a sales force for altering the sales pitch if product isn’t moving off the shelves? And who would blame a manufacturer for making changes to a product to keep it “fresh” in front of the consumer. Shoe styles change, so why shouldn’t political styles. Sales is sales.

Over the years certain products “go out of fashion” and are ultimately removed from the marketplace. When was the last time you saw a LeCar driving down your street? The consumer is in total control over what product remain popular. The more the consumer wants to buy, the more items are made. They call it supply and demand in business school. THAT’s where you and I come in...

You are I are the consumers of politics. If the sales force is successful in moving product, it is because we are the ones buying it. Consider the last the political movement that you purchased. Was it not in some way a bit of control and power over something or someone? And this is why politics is spiritual...

Since we continue to struggle with our fallen condition, and serving our selfish desires, what we “buy” in politics is integral to our spiritual journey. If we seek power and control, we will purchase more of it from the “sales force” offering more of it on the ballot. Every candidate is selling it, so what brand we purchase makes little difference to the sales force. Of course, every sales pitch comes with incentives. Power and control with a bit of “cash back” thrown in, and the shelves empty - the trifecta of politics.


As Orthodox Christians currently in the Nativity Fast, and with Thanksgiving just a few days away, we should take more seriously our spiritual struggle of selfish desire. This is the perfect opportunity, through increased prayer and fasting and serving to poor, to work to defeat our selfishness rather than sell it to the nearest politician. Something to think about during the Fast.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Greed is Spiritual Cancer

In the parable of the Rich Fool, Jesus teaches us the deadly result of a greedy heart. Faced with full barns and a banner crop, the Rich Fool panics because he has no place to store his growing wealth. “I will do this,” he says, “I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods.” (Luke 12.18) Unfortunately for the Rich Fool, that was the night he would die and face judgment for the condition of his heart.

Greed is a cancer that eats away at our heart, one dollar at a time. Each of us has been blessed with material gifts from God. Each of us is faced with considering how we will make use of the wealth that God has given us. Will we panic and attempt to store our wealth for tomorrow thinking we will enjoy comfort for years to come? This was the mistake of the Rich Fool when he said, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.” (Luke 12.19) Will we be grateful for the blessings that God has given to us and use them for His glory helping and serving others?
 
Greed is a cancer that turns the heart inward toward darkness rather than upward toward the Light of God. Once our heart has been affected by this cancer, it begins to spread to every other part of our body. A greedy heart fills our minds with hate for our fellow human beings. A greedy heart recognizes only cold, hard cash rather than the warmth of fellowship. A greedy heart sends the cancerous poison of selfishness to our minds, hands, feet, and eventually our very soul dies in darkness.


“So is he who lays up treasures for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12.21) Lucky for us...we still have time to be thankful. Something to consider this year for Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Being Convicted by the Gospel

The Gospel of Christ is a comfort to sinners but can convict the righteous. The invitation of Christ for all sinners to join Him at the Table, is a comfort to when acknowledge our sinfulness, but it is should also convict us to repentance. Christ has given us His Church as therapy to draw closer to Jesus Christ, yet many who claim to believe, do not embrace the way of life in the Church. If you truly desire to draw closer to God, then be comforted that He has welcomed you to His Table, but be convicted and embrace the way of life He has given to you for repentance. Draw near to God.


Monday, November 17, 2014

Starting the Fast with a Miracle

This past Saturday was the first day of the Advent Fast, a preparation for Christmas. As Orthodox Christians, we prepare for Christmas by fasting rather than shopping and parties. But that is not what I want to blog about today. Rather, I want to share a miracle I, along with HUNDREDS of other Orthodox Christians witnessed this past weekend in Charlotte, NC.

A holy Icon of the Mother of God was brought from Taylor, PA. to Charlotte, NC. for people to venerate. This particular icon has been exuding myrrh for three years, and has been directly attributed to numerous miracle healings. I heard about this Holy Icon this past summer and was thrilled to hear it would be so close to my home. I encouraged everyone I knew to travel to Charlotte to witness for themselves the blessed event. The Church was filled with faithful (and I’m sure some skeptics) from throughout the region.

While in the Cathedral, the Priest who brought the Holy Icon share many stories of the healings attributed to this Holy Icon. My eyes, and the eyes of hundreds in attendance, witnessed myrrh miraculously dripping from the Holy Icon in the hands of faithful in attendance. The strong sweet fragrance from the myrrh filled the Church. I couldn’t help but think of the story in the Gospel of the anointing of Jesus’ feet by the sinful woman.

I was blessed to able to assist in anointing the faithful in attendance. I am thankful to God and His All-Holy Mother for allowing me to witness this blessed event at the beginning of my Advent journey. I assure you that this Advent will be different for me, thanks to God’s grace.


I invite you to make a pilgrimage to venerate this Holy Icon in Taylor, PA. which resides in the Church of St George. The service of Paraklesis  and anointing is offered each Wednesday at 6pm.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Don’t Miss the Point of the Orthodox Way of Life

The Feast of Saint Matthew the Apostle and Evangelist celebrated this coming Sunday offers an important perspective of the life of the Church. When Jesus called Matthew, who was a tax collector and sinner, to be one of His Disciples, it opened to door for all sinners to enter the Church. “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.” (Matthew 9.10) But the religious elite were not happy with such riffraff sharing the same table with them.

Seeing their cold hearts, Jesus said, “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.” (Matthew 9.12-13) The very purpose of the Jewish Law of sacrifices and prayers and daily offerings were so that the people of God might grow more loving and more merciful. In the case of the religious elite, the opposite had occurred. They had grown cold to those who were not as “holy” as they were.

Jesus was quoting the Prophet Hosea in His response to the elite. The Prophet was speaking about those who were quite “religious” but their inner hearts were cold. The full quote says, “I desire mercy rather than sacrifice, and the knowledge of God rather than whole-burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6.7) If the Law of Moses was meant to purify their hearts, they had forgotten the purpose of the sacrifices and offerings in the first place. This is why Jesus said, “Go and learn what this means.”


The Orthodox way of life is meant to draw us closer to God and purify our hearts. If we look at the Orthodox way of life as nothing more than a list of chores we must check off before we die, we will have missed the entire point. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Not Every Healing is a Miracle

I’ve been giving a great deal of attention to suffering lately in my sermons and blog posts. I have also referenced miracles within the context of suffering and healing. It occurred to me today, that many of us use the terms “healed” and “miracle” interchangeably. Just because we have been healed from an illness, doesn’t mean we have experienced a miracle.

Webster’s Dictionary defines “miracle” as
  1. A wonder or wonderful thing.
  2. An event or effect contrary to the established constitution and course of things, or a deviation from the known laws of nature; a supernatural event, or one transcending the ordinary laws by which the universe is governed.
I like that the dictionary implies, or least I infer, that there is a difference between a wonder and an event that deviates from the known laws of nature. Sometimes, we just don’t understand it, but that doesn’t make it a miracle in the “God-sense” of the word. I have heard others suggest that miracles DO conform to the natural laws – God’s laws. I like this vantage point.

So that brings me to the point I want to make today. With the countless advances in medicine, including pharmacology and technology, human beings are being healed by many ailments that just twenty-five years ago, would have required a “miracle” by God. And yet, today the blind can see, the lame can walk, the deaf can hear. Are these miracles or a testimony to modern medicine?

That doesn’t mean I believe God has no hand in healing. I believe He does. It is His Holy Spirit that whispers into the hearts of researchers who discover the newest cure. It is His Holy Spirit that opens the eyes of the observer to see the chemical reaction take place. It is His Angels who guide the hands of the surgeon during organ transplants. But I would not call these healings, miracles.

An oncologist once said to a priest-friend of mine, “We are lucky to save 1 out of every 10 cancer patients we see.” He was quite proud of his accomplishments against such a horrible disease. My friend responded, “I have news for you. You haven’t saved ANY. They all still died, didn’t they?”

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in miracles, and wanting a miracles, and feeling upset when we didn’t get a miracle, that we easily forget we are going to die and THEN God will accomplish the REAL miracle...He will raise us from the dead to live eternally with Him in Heaven. In the meantime, let’s be thankful for the healing He does allow so that we have time to repent. Since we will all die, we should remember the healing we do receive is granted to us as a gift so that we can repent.

Priestly prayer for the sick in the hospital

O Lord Almighty, the Healer of our souls and bodies, You who put down and raise up, Who chastise and heal also; do You now, in Your great mercy, visit our brother(sister) who is sick. Stretch forth Your hand that is full of healing and health, and get him(her) up from the bed of pain, and cure him(her) of this illness. Put away from him(her) the spirit of disease and of every malady, pain and fever to which he(she) is bound; and if he(she) has sins and transgressions, grant to him(her) remission and forgiveness, in that You love mankind; yes Lord my God, pity Your creation, through the compassions of Your Only begotten Son, together with Your All-Holy, Good and Life-Giving Spirit, with Whom You are blessed, both now and ever, and to the ages of ages.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Suffering

Why does God allow suffering? Everyone knows firsthand that people suffer, but do they have to suffer to be “good” Christians? What’s so wrong with trying to avoid suffering? Why not strive for a life without suffering? While everyone experiences suffering, nobody enjoys it, but God blesses it especially when we endure it patiently with faith and prayer. With the story of the healing of the woman with the flow of blood and the raising of Jairus’ daughter as our “backdrop”, this week’s episode of Be Transfigured will look at suffering and why God allows it and but rarely allows miracles.


Friday, November 7, 2014

God Isn't in Control of Everything

I was having a conversation the other day with someone who asked, “Why does God allow bad things to happen?” The person who asked, believes in God, but wondered herself why, if as she said, “God is in control of everything,” why He allowed sickness and death for young people. Death and sickness is on our “collective” minds lately with the recent suicide of a young woman who was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer. My response to her might surprise you...God ISN’T in control of everything!

WHAT!? Consider the story of Jairus’ daughter and the women with the flow of blood, both of whom were healed by Jesus Christ. (read Luke 8.40-56) Both women suffered, one for twelve years, the other only twelve years of age. Both were allowed by God to suffer, one even unto death; one the daughter of a powerful leader of the synagogue, the other an unknown woman. Both healed privately by God, but showed publicly to large crowds. Both received a miracle from God while thousands of others continue in their suffering, eventually losing their battles with illness. Why did God heal these two women, while leaving so many others (down through the ages) to suffer?


The answer is that God has given up His “control over everything” by allowing us to enjoy free will. The reality of life, so painfully experienced by so many, and why I was asked this question just the other day, is that God allows many more to suffer than healing them through some sort of miracle. That makes EVERY miracle special; otherwise we would not consider it a miracle. What we can learn about the purpose of miracles is in what happens after the miracle has been made public. The crowd witnesses the power of God, and they are given the opportunity to believe in Him. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Avoiding the Torment of Hell

Nobody can deny that we will all eventually die, so it should be no surprise that Our Lord has provided many opportunities for us to better understand what we should expect. One example of how we learn about our eternal future is through parables. In the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus found in the Gospel of Luke 16.19-31, Christ helps us to see that the condition of our heart will have a direct impact on how we will experience eternity with Him. If we want to avoid the torment of hell described for the rich man, we must learn to see others with love and compassion, but time is clicking. We have only until we die to change our hearts. We must take full advantage of every opportunity for our hearts to learn to love others by serving the poor with love and compassion. If we continue with a cold and selfish heart, our eternal future will be consumed with torment.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Serving the Poor Helps YOU, not the Poor

In the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16.19-31) the un-named rich man was in the torment of Hell because he refused to serve the sick and poor man named Lazarus. Many times we think that it is the poor that benefit from our charity, but according to Gospel, this is not the case. When we feed the hungry their stomach might be filled, but it is our soul that fills with the love of God and enjoys unity with Him. As an alternative, when we refuse to help the poor, while their stomach might remain empty, their soul is filled with the comfort and love of God. It is our soul that remains empty of God’s compassion.

When we serve others, we are expressing our love for God and our soul is rewarded with comfort and welcomed by God. If that is the case, we could also say that serving the poor is actually ministering to OUR soul and is therefore “just as” if not more important the every other parish ministry. Each ministry our Church offers, from HOPE/JOY/GOYA to Sunday School & Greek School; from Parish Council & Philoptochos to Church dinners at which WE eat & serving the poor at which the POOR eat; each of these ministries has the same effect. Our soul grows closer to Jesus Christ, our Lord God and Savior.


The next time you are presented with the opportunity to serve the poor, remember you are preparing your future. Will you serve the poor and experience the comfort and welcome of God, or will you serve yourself and experience torment and loneliness in Heaven? Just don’t forget this one urgent point....the “great chasm” the rests between comfort and torment is created by the choices you make today.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

God Wants You to be a Martyr

In a day when our world is frantically searching wealth and honor, Christians are daily called to choose between worldly priorities and a Godly life. Your willingness to live the faith of Christ through the choices of your life reflects the importance of God in your life, and will be a witness of your faith to those around you. You are a living martyr when you allow others to see your commitment to Christ in your choices, and your martyrdom will draw others to Christ in the same way martyrs drew believers to Christ. Are you willing, or even wanting, to allow your choices to be a martyr for Christ?

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Difference Between Can't and Won't

"It don’t think that means what you think it means." There is a BIG difference between 'I can’t' and 'I won’t' that it makes me believe this quote from one of my favorite movies is appropriate. Here are some examples...

What you say: “I can’t come to Church.”
What you mean: “I won’t come to Church because I have no intention making Church a priority. I’m just going to tell you I can’t come and hope you won’t ask for details.”

What you say: “I can’t read the Bible every day.”
What you mean: “I won’t even try to read the Bible today. I have too many other important things like posting on Facebook and watching American Idol.

What you say: “I can’t tithe to the Church.”
What you mean: “I won’t give up anything I am currently buying just to give more money to the Church. It’s my money, and I can do with it what I want.”

What you say: “I can’t chair that Church event.”
What you mean: “I won’t chair that event, but I don’ have the courage to tell you why.”

What you say: “I can’t fast.”
What you mean: “I won’t let the Church tell me what to eat. It isn’t what goes IN your mouth but what comes OUT that matters.”


The list goes on, but this last one is the point. When you refuse to be honest by telling someone you can’t do something, when you could but you won’t, what is coming OUT of your mouth is not the truth. And you know what not telling the truth is...

Friday, October 24, 2014

Be Transfigured IN SERBIAN!

My recent sermon "It isn't about doing more, it's about being more" was recently translated into Serbian by a loyal fan. I offer it here for anyone interested! The video in English can be viewed here...



Није у питању "радити више" већ "бити више"

Поздрав! Добродошли у још једну епизоду серијала "Преобразите се", којим вас позивамо на нови живот у Христу. Зовем се отац Атанасије Харос и ја свештеник сам у храму Преображења нашег Спаситеља Грчке Православне Цркве (Florence, South Carolina). Знате, наши животи понекад делују претешко, да више не можемо ништа. И баш тада Црква нас позива и каже: "Уради још мало." Може бити разочаравајуће, зар не? Или бар много исцрпљујуће, то сигурно знамо. Али када се препустимо Господу и кажемо: "Без обзира, на Твоју реч учинићу то што тражиш од нас" тада примамо благослов. Одмах се враћам.

Не знам јесте ли већ схватили или не али сваке седмице у билтен додам нешто што наговештава о чему ће бити проповед. Не знам јесте ли то већ приметили. И сваке седмице треба да смислим наслов који би одговарао проповеди. Некакву фразу која повезује Јеванђеље са поруком, како бисмо нешто упамтили и били покренути да живимо хришћански. И као што видите, у билтену стоји "Само још мало", тако сам написао. Мислио сам да напишем:"О! Не могу више да поднесем!" (^_^) То сам хтео да ставим јер је то лик какав су имали апостоли у јутрошњем Јеванђељу. И знам да многи од нас, заједно самном, кад чујемо како Црква тражи од нас да учинимо још мало кажу: "Још!? Не могу више да поднесем и имам толико обавеза сваког дана. Оче, молим те, не терај ме да чиним више!" Али то стварно нисам могао ставити као наслов јер би било лоше. Нећемо да се жалимо на црквени живот, зар не? Црква је ту да нам да покретачку поруку а не да се жалимо. Али ту слику утучености сам хтео да уочимо у прочитаном Јеванђељу. Само да се подсетимо приче. Знам да смо је управо чули али замислите ове околности. Ови рибари су управо завршили ноћни посао и као у сваком занимању они су се пажљиво трудили на свом послу целе ноћи али нису уловили ништа, то касније сазнајемо из приче. Они су ту, јутро је и скупљају своје мреже, ушивају их на местима где су у току ноћи оштећене, сав тај рад који је важан рибарима. А када се окрену Исус им каже: "Хајде, имамо још посла!" Чак су рекли: "Господе, трудили смо се читаве ноћи и не уловисмо ништа." Мора да су били утучени. И баш у том тренутку Исус им каже: "Хајде, има још посла." Али Симон Петар одговара: "Без обзира Господе, на твоју реч бацићу мрежу."
Зато желим да овог јутра задржимо пажњу на тој дивној вери Симона Петра: "Господе, исцрпљен сам. Господе, уморан сам. Господе, све сам то учинио и не улових ништа. Ипак, на Твоју реч отићи ћу корак даље."

Видите хришћански живот браћо и сестре... Мислим да се ми понекад збунимо. Јер нам се Црква увек обраћа говорећи да треба постити Црква нам каже да треба читати Свето Писмо, да идемо на ову службу, ону службу, и још једну службу па још једну а онда треба да идемо и на веронауку, па да се бринемо о сиромашнима. Црква нам увек даје нове задатке, док ми само желимо да одговоримо као Петар:"Нисам ли већ учинио довољно?" Бог зна колико смо ми заузети. Он зна како смо уморни. А веровали или не то и Црква зна. Зато бих с надом покушао да вам данас објасним зашто Црква хоће од нас да у својим животима учинимо мало више.
Црква не смишља те ствари, те праксе, на грчком их зовемо "ἄσκησις", аскезе у множини... Ове делатности, вежбе за наш живот, Црква не даје то само да би нас провела кроз гомилу бесмислица... У Хришћанство није у томе да радимо више ствари већ у томе да будемо више од оног што смо сад. Хришћанство није у схватању
да смо на неком нивоу и да је то све што можемо. Хришћанство нам поручује да као свети Петар прихватимо Слово Божје: "Господе, на Твоју реч тежићу да будем више него што сам сад. Не обавезно да урадим више већ да БУДЕМ више."

А сад је питање: "Бити више ШТА?" Бити више као Христос. Хришћански живот није у "радити" већ у "бити". Тако све од ових делатности, све ове вежбе које нам Црква даје имају за циљ да више БУДЕМО налик Исусу Христу. Тако, моја браћо и сестре, Хришћански живот испробаван већ две хиљаде година успостављен самим Господом, објашњен Његовим светим ученицима и апостолима имамо да бисмо постали сличнији Богу.

У нашој Цркви почиње нови период. Улазимо у недеље светог Луке. Читаћемо Јеванђеље по Луки до Божића. Па ако се сећате претходних неколико недеља порука је била о Крсту, порука да се одрекнемо себе, порука да се уклонимо од земаљског и тражимо небеско. По чему је јутрошње Јеванђеље мање од тог? Исус нас зове
да у тренутку кад смо најисцрпљенији да дамо још само мало. И зато нас називају хришћанима. Не будимо задовољни оним где смо данас већ да све више узрастамо и постајемо као Исус Христо све док смо живи. Зато нам Црква даје пост. Не желимо ми тек тако да постимо већ постимо да бисмо научили како да живимо по Божјој вољи. Зато вас ове недеље позивам на пост. Ако до сада нисте постили покушајте, можда вам се свиди. Као што кажу... Покушај имајући довољно самоконтроле. Кад се пробудиш средом и петком реци: "Данас ћу да постим јер желим да будем сличнији Исусу Христу." И сам Христос нас је учио да постимо.
Ове недеље узмите своје Библије. Ако не знате где су овог поподнева идите кући и претражите полицу са књигама. Обришите прашину са корица...

Знам како је то! Не заборавите да ја нисам увек био овде. Пронађите своје Библије и после мале претраге дозволите да вам Божја Реч говори. И у том вашем тренутку пуном умора имајте храбрости, сетите се шта смо рекли о моћи Крста, смогните снаге да кажете Богу: "Без обзира на све, на Твоју реч...", док својим ушима примате Његову Реч. Припремите се да примите Свето Причешће јер је дар Евхаристије, моја браћо и сестре то што нас чини целином, употпуњава нас. Нисмо у потпуности људска бића ако нисмо у заједници са Богом. И то је тако важно да ћу поновити. Нисмо у потпуности људска бића ако не живимо у заједници са Богом. Припремите се да примите Свето Причешће. Сваке недеље дозвољавајте Божјим речима да вам улази у уши кад читате Библију. И дозволите живом Божјем Слову да уђе у ваша уста и ваш стомак кад примите драгоцено Тело и Крв нашег Господа Бога и Спаситеља Исуса Христа и постаћемо више налик Њему. Потражите сиромашне. У данашњем свету нећете морати да идете далеко. Донесите храну гладнима, одећу нагима. Имамо разна места на која носимо те ствари, однесите их онима којима су најпотребније. Не онима који понекад злоупотребљавају систем. У нашем граду имамо агенције са којима Црква сарађује како би лакше препознала људе који су заиста потребити како би добили подршку Цркве. Будите више налик Исусу Христу у свакодневном животу браћо и сестре.

А постоји још један начин како да се уподобимо Исусу Христу. Доведите своје пријатеље у цркву, чланове породице, доведите суседе у цркву. Да, суседе! Ова црква није само за Грке, Русе, Румуне, Арапе... Она је за сваког! Свако људско биће заслужује сусрет са Исусом Христом овде, у нашој Цркви. И кад је Симон Петар имао толико вере да каже: "На Твоју реч, без обзира на све..." и спустио мреже ухватио је толико рибе да му је требала помоћ да их извуче, зар не?
А шта Исус Христос каже њему? "Од сада ћеш ловити људе." Један од најбољих начина да постанемо налик Христу је да доведемо своје пријатеље, суседе и породице
да дођу и заиста сретну Исуса Христа овде у Његовој Цркви. Не можете у потпуности сусрести Бога само читајући о Њему. Не можете у потпуности сусрести Бога
само говорећи о Њему. То се дешава када примамо Христово Тело и Крв, кад смо у Његовом стварном физичком присуству, сусрећемо Га на начин који се не може у потпуности објаснити. Али ако желимо БИТИ више налик Исусу Христу тада ћемо бити неуморни доводећи људе да Га сусретну. Не мислим да их вучемо, тучемо по глави, називамо их свакојаким именима... Али ви сви имате пријатеље који би били благословени сусретом са Исусом Христом. Позовите их. Начините тај додатни корак. И чак када сте у најтежем тренутку, кад мислите да не можете постићи више ништа, предајте срце Богу и реците: "Без обзира на све Господе, на Твоју реч постаћу више него што сам данас." Слава Богу за све!

Ето, то је био мало другачији приступ, зар не? Гледање на живот као да смо практично сви превише заузети, сви уморни... Али морамо бити вољни да предамо живот Христу, имати веру као свети Петар и рећи: "Упркос свему Господе, на Твоју реч..." и бити вољни да превазиђемо своје (не)моћи. Не ради се о чињењу нечега већ о томе да будемо нешто. Бити хришћанин значи бити као Исус Христос, свакодневно све више. Зар не желите да будете као Бог?


Посетите нашу веб-страницу www.liveanewlifeinchrist.org, где можете наћи више информација о Православној Хришћанској Цркви, а можете нас пронаћи и на Православној Хришћанској мрежи myocn.net. Можете нас пратити средом уживо на часовима веронауке. Средом у 19:00 часова по источном времену. До следеће недеље Бог вас благословио и не заборавите да живите новим животом у Христу.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

America NEEDS More Martyrs

All but one of the Holy Apostles was martyred for standing up and living the Gospel of Christ. In the earliest centuries of the Church, thousands of dedicated men and women were killed in a thousand different ways, by those who refused to embrace the message of hope that is preached by the Church. In many cases, these holy men and women, refused even to pretend to deny Christ, in order to show the world that the Kingdom of God is greater than any kingdom on Earth. The result of these martyrs was the conversion of the world into Christ’s Holy Church. Their willingness to die for the Gospel was an inspiration to thousands.

In our current political environment, it is becoming clear that sooner rather than later, the Church will again be in the position of standing up for the Gospel of Christ. In doing so, we must understand that the society at large will work against the Church. We may not be persecuted with death as in early centuries, but nonetheless we will be challenged to choose between living the Gospel and pleasing society. Although we cannot ignore that many are in fact being killed for their Christian Faith in other parts of the world, already these new martyrs have inspired new converts in the Middle East.


In America, our martyrdom will be different. We will be called to give up comforts, tax exempt status, wealth and other privileges that Churches have enjoyed since the founding of our nation. In America, our martyrdom will be green rather than blood red. In America, our martyrdom will include jumping through hoops to get buildings built and marriages sanctioned. Like the martyrs of old, our willingness to lose wealth and status and comfort will be an inspiration for others to embrace the Gospel of Christ. America NEEDS more martyrs. America needs YOU!

Putting all the Pieces Together

Now that cooler weather has settled in and leaves have begun to fall, many families are looking for activities to gather and enjoy fellowship now that it’s too cold for beach fun. Among the many long-time traditions for family fun is building puzzles. Puzzles come in all sizes and shapes, and made for all ages young and old alike. Puzzles highlight beautiful scenery and famous landmarks. After an evening of family fun, NOTHING is more frustrating than have a missing piece to the puzzle. A puzzle with just a single piece missing will inspire families to search for long periods of time, overlooking nothing, to find that single missing piece. Everyone cheers when the missing piece is found; much more than if the family had completed the puzzle quickly without any missing pieces. Puzzles are great family fun...

We often hear life being compared to a puzzle that needs to be solved, and our spiritual life and Church are no different. The Orthodox Christian way of life is like a carefully crafted puzzle in which every piece is perfectly interconnected. Without EVERY piece, the puzzle just isn’t complete. It always surprises me that many, unlike game puzzles, have no difficulty in leaving the pieces of the Orthodox Way of Life puzzle either missing or not connected.

The pieces of the Orthodox Christian Way of Life puzzle include:
  1. Receiving Holy Communion
  2. Prayer
  3. Fasting
  4. Caring for the poor
  5. Reading and studying the Holy Scriptures
  6. Reading and studying the Holy Fathers of the Church
  7. Reading and studying books about the Faith and Church history
  8. Tithing to the Church
  9. Attending Sunday Divine Liturgy EVERY SUNDAY ON TIME
  10. Regular Holy Confession
  11. Regular attendance at special Church blessing services
  12. Regular attendance at special Church prayer services
  13. Serving others (inside and outside the Church Family)
  14. Reaching out to others and inviting them into the Church
  15. Enjoying fellowship with others inside the Church

Like every puzzle, the most important piece is THE MISSING PIECE, since without it, the puzzle is not complete. As we enter into the Advent Season, and the Christmas Fast, take a moment and look over the puzzle you’ve been working on. Is there a missing piece? Have you spent any time recently working on completing your puzzle?


Like any puzzle, the Orthodox Christian Way of Life puzzle is best worked on as a family, when each member searches for the next piece and then rejoicing when each piece is carefully put into place. As a family, we can only rejoice when the entire family is participating in building the puzzle. Take it one piece at a time and, with dedication and unity, the entire puzzle will be complete. Let’s complete the puzzle!

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Touch of God

Many people think they don’t need to walk into a Church to encounter God, but you can only touch God in His Church. God could have called down from Heaven and forgiven all sins and welcomed humanity back into Paradise, but He chose instead to take on flesh and touch humanity. There are many ways to call out to God, but only one way to touch Him. When the Precious Body and Blood of Christ touches your lips, your sins are forgiven and you are healed, because the touch of God heals and you live forever.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Touch of Christ Heals All

So many times we struggle with whether or not we should attend Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning. I’ve heard so many explanations in the past twenty years about why people don’t need to be in Church to pray and experience God. The Gospel offers us a different answer with the story of the raising of the widow’s son in Nain. (Luke 7.11-17) In this story it was the physical touch of Christ, along with His command, that healed the young man. He touched the open coffin when He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” (Luke 7.14)

St Cyril of Alexandria said, “Why then did He not work the miracle by only a word but also touched the bier? It was, my beloved, that you might learn that the holy Body of Christ is productive for the salvation of man. The flesh of the Almighty Word is the body of life and was clothed with might.” Don’t you see? God could have called out from heaven and healed not only this young man, but all humanity. But He didn’t. He came and lived among us – in a real body, touching and blessing us.


THIS is why we must attend Divine Liturgy if we wish to be saved from death. Christ commanded that His Body and Blood be offered in the Eucharist, as life for the salvation of the world. You can’t receive Holy Communion on the golf course. If you can’t receive Holy Communion, then you cannot touch Christ. And the touch of Christ is life and heals all.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

We Hold Ourselves to a Higher Standard

We live in a world, much like the Christians of the first century, in which morality is based not on the teachings of Christ, but the teachings of darkness. Daily, it seems, our world is stepping further away from the way of life of Christ and His Church, as is evidenced in the daily news reports. In a world in which the terminally ill are invited to take their own lives with “dignity,” or in which there is no longer a distinction between males and females, we must strive to hold ourselves to a higher standard. We are encouraged by Saint Paul to coexist peacefully in this world, all the while never faltering in our commitment to live a life worthy of Christ. Holding ourselves to a higher standard doesn’t mean abandoning nonbelievers to hell; rather it means being in a constant state of prayer that their hearts may be softened. Of course, we understand the Gospel message will fall sometimes on deaf ears, but that does not give us license to live according to the same fallen standards of the world. We hold ourselves to a higher standard. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Responding to Contentions about the Law

With the recent decision of the US Supreme Court regarding pending court cases, same-sex marriage licenses were being issued in Charleston, SC amid celebrations and cheers. What is the Orthodox Christian response? We state our opposition to such laws, but we understand that the gift of free will given by God allows for each human being to either accept His will or reject it.

As we celebrate the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the 7th Ecumenical Council, at which the Holy Fathers defended the truth of Orthodoxy in Holy Icons, we might learn a lesson from the willingness of ALL the Church Fathers
to stand up for the truth within the Church, while acknowledging those outside the Church are not bound by the same standards. Preaching about Titus 3.9, St John Chrysostom said this:

“For when a man is perverted and predetermined not to change his mind, whatever may happen, why should you labor in vain, sowing upon a rock, when you should spend your honorable toil upon your own people, in discoursing with them upon almsgiving and very other virtue.” (from Homily 6 on Titus)

Our Orthodox Christian response must be to protect and nurture the faith in our children. We must strengthen the faith within the Church in order to defend against the attacks of the Evil One who will never cease trying to destroy Christ’s Church. If such laws in South Carolina continue, it will become increasingly difficult for our children to remain faithful to Christ and His Church unless we “spend our honorable toil” to not only teach them the faith, but teach them to LIVE the faith. “These things are good and profitable to men.” (Titus 3.8)


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

It’s All About Family

When you were baptized and chrismated into the Church, you became a child of God. Our God is the only God who allows His people to call Him Father, and He has given us a Mother, the Church, to guide, protect, and comfort us as we grow perfecting holiness as sons and daughters of God. Christ invites us, “Be merciful like your Father is merciful.” Are you willing to live as a child of God?


Saturday, October 4, 2014

A Spiritual View of Politics

I am often accused of making EVERYTHING spiritual. In making this accusation, people are suggesting that there are issues that can, and should, be considered merely for the secular value the present. In fact this spiritual vs. secular perspective is a common debate within youth ministry circle. Can a basketball tournament “be” just a basketball tournament, or must it always include spiritual discussion sessions? Indeed I believe it is better to allow a basketball tournament to “be” just a basketball tournament, but does that make it merely a secular event? THAT is where the debate rests, but it isn’t limited to youth ministries.

How you view sports, education, work, family and friends, economics, and even politics, is shaped by how you view the world. If you view the world from a secular point of view (everything neatly placed in a box which is not and should affect any other box) then sports is just sports. However, if you view the world from the Orthodox Christian point of view in which EVERYTHING is connected, then even basketball is not just basketball and politics is NEVER just politics. The Orthodox Christian worldview, if it is genuine, must affect every aspect of our life.
 
Let’s consider some of the presumed mundane issues of our life. Sports and recreation are important leisure activities, but are they purely secular? Caring for our physical bodies and our mental state of mind are an important part of our spiritual journey, but only if we in fact engage in a spiritual journey. Since Orthodox Christianity is a way of life journey, then even sports and recreation are spiritual in so far as they play a balanced role in our overall health. But what about politics?

I’ve been considering lately the economic politics of our current American scenario. Multiple points of view are competing for our attention and loyalty to possible solutions. Of course the two loudest, often called conservative and liberal, seem to be on polar opposite points of view. However, if you consider the question of economics from an Orthodox Christian point of view, the liberal-conservative debate loses steam. Both points of view are based upon selfish agendas. I won’t debate which agenda is correct, but suffice it to say, no matter which side of the argument you find yourself, economics are changing and so politics with it. HOW you maneuver through the economic waters of the future will either be your salvation or condemnation.

Saint Paul urges us to be content with what we have. So long as we have been united to Christ, all this ‘stuff’ we fight over during our life will not be with us in heaven.
“Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have.” (Hebrews 13.5)
And Jesus said
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6.19-21)
How can we choose sides of the political debates about the economy when both sides fight are “getting more” or “keeping more” of what we want.....MONEY AND WEALTH?!

The economy of the world is rapidly changing, and unless we embrace the Orthodox Christian worldview of wealth and poverty, live and death, legal vs. moral rights, etc., we will ultimately become lost and despondent. What difference does it make if employers, insurance companies, or the US Congress “pays” for our health care? Is it about how much MONEY we will control or whether we will live or die? We WILL die and all money is ultimately left for someone else to spend.

So consider this.....If Jesus Christ returns in the next five minutes, are you ready to make an accounting of how you were a faithful and loyal servant? Or will you beg for a few more minutes? Money is just money, and basketball is just basketball. Most of all, politics is just another way of arguing to get YOUR way rather than God’s way. How about putting it all aside and searching out to make time for the Orthodox way of life? Christ GAVE you the Church for a reason, not a burden.


Friday, October 3, 2014

Our Journey from Childhood to Adulthood

When Jesus called His Disciples, He said to them, “You will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” (Luke 6.35-36) Saint Paul, quoting the Old Testament, reminds us that God had promised to become our Father long before He called His disciples. “I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6.18, 2 Kingdoms 7.14)

Once we are Baptized and Chrismated into Christ, we ARE the children of God, but just like “normal” childhood, we still have some growing to do. This is why Saint Paul said, “Therefore having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 7.1) Our Christian life is a journey from childhood to adulthood.


Every child is guided by teachers, mentors, and parents to become the most they are meant to be, and in every way we are children of God. He has given us His Church as teacher, mentor, and mother to guide and shape us as we become children of God. We are never quite complete; as Saint Paul says, we are “perfecting holiness” through the life of the Church. However, even though we may still be children, we are STILL children of God, and He will never abandon us on our journey.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

It isn’t about Doing More; it’s about Being More

You wake up every morning running at full speed even before getting out of bed because you already know there are more things you need to accomplish today than you have time to finish. But every day you wake up committed to working hard for your family’s needs, and you don’t stop until the moment your head hits the pillow, and the next day begins all over again before you are even finished with today. The sense of exhaustion is real. Just when we are at our most exhausted moment, the Christ calls to us, “Let’s go, there’s more to do.” Just then you beg God, “Please, don’t ask me to do more.” 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Just a Bit More...

We live in a busy society. Our day never seems to stop from the moment we wake until the time in which we finally lie down to sleep, normally MUCH later than we would hope. We live in a multi-task society in which we are expected to always be thinking about work and how we are going to accomplish the next task on our agenda. We live in a society in which if we dare to spend a few moments to reflect upon the “greater things of life” we are considered lazy. When rest does come at the end of the day, you are finally able to reflect upon the joys of life. Just then, you get a call: “Get up, go back to work, you have more to do before you can sit down!”

I wonder if that might have been the reaction of the Disciples when Jesus came to them that fateful day and said, “Put out into the deep and let your nets down.” (Luke 5.4) They must have been very frustrated since they had, like so many of us, worked all night long and needed a moment of rest. And Jesus knew their frustration when He blessed their efforts with a catch larger than they expected. Their willingness to “go just a bit more” was honored by God.

Many times, just when we think that we can’t possibly do one more thing, the Church calls out and challenges us to go just a bit more. We are asked to fast when we struggle just to put food on our table. We are asked to come to special Church services when we struggle just to get to Church on Sunday morning. We are asked to read the Bible when we struggle just to find a few moments to catch up on the important news of our world. And the Church wants us to “go just a bit more?”


The blessing of a great catch was possible only when the Disciples were willing to “go just a bit more,” and the blessing God has in mind for us are only “just a bit more” away, but we may never know those blessings. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Desire, Struggle & The Cross

The Christian path to salvation is freely given and must be freely embraced. Jesus said, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me.” (Mark 8.34) In this invitation, Jesus grants us the ability to choose to follow Him. For two thousand years, holy men and women have desired Christ, struggled to deny themselves and followed Christ. Orthodox Christianity is a “tried and tested” way of life that will lead us to see God....IF we desire it.


Friday, September 19, 2014

What Sunday Worship is REALLY all About


In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!" And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. (Isaiah 6.1-4)

The majesty which Isaiah witnessed when he saw God being worshipped in Heaven was also expressed in the Temple which God commanded Moses to construct for His People to worship Him on Earth. For a better description of how Moses was commanded to construct the Temple, read Exodus chapters 25-28 all of which express the majesty of God.

This SAME majesty is expressed in Orthodox Christian worship. Golden candlesticks, incense, Altars, Thrones, Vestments, precious metals and stone are all integrated into Orthodox Christian worship for a reason – to prepare us for being in Heaven.

Many Protestant Churches today express quite a different atmosphere to their worship. Rather than the majesty of heaven, many Church services Sunday mornings “feel” more like a night club. Rather than bowing and reverencing the Altar of God, many Church services Sunday mornings lift up the human passions rather than the mantle of God. In fact many Christians validate this by using the expression “It felt awesome today in Church!” or “I get so lifted up when I go to Church!”

On the contrary Saint Paul and Saint John the Theologian had quite the different reaction to seeing God being worshipped in heaven, much the same as Moses and Isaiah.

And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. (Revelation 1.17)

And I know such a man -- whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows --how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. (2 Corinthians 12.3-4)

The Orthodox Church has a centuries-long witness in the lives of countless holy men and women who have had visions of God, ALL OF WHOM express similar stories as we find the Holy Scriptures. So, if we are preparing as Christians to worship God in Heaven for all eternity, why would we not express that same majesty in our Earthly worship? Of course as Orthodox Christians, we do, are at least we should.

The trend in mega-Churches toward the night club atmosphere is obviously attractive to many in today’ entertainment culture, but does it REALLY prepare believers for what is coming for all eternity? If God taught that the way to salvation was in taking up our cross and denying ourselves, it would seem that Sunday worship would focus, not on what makes us FEEL good, but the awesome majesty of being in God’s presence. Would a believer, if they were in the presence of God, REALLY worry more about feeling good than bowing in reverence at the Altar of God?


When you come to Church on Sunday, please consider the REAL reason you are worshipping God. If you are focused more on how you “feel” rather than being in His Presence and glory, you may not be preparing yourself and your family for what is coming in Heaven. Don’t you want to be prepared?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Not Every Struggle Should be Embraced

When Jesus Christ said, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow Me,” (Mark 8.34) He was comparing our Cross to our Christian struggle. But does God expect us to welcome every struggle? We all struggle, but not everyone embraces their struggles nor should they. What types of struggles are we expected to embrace if we are to follow Christ?

When we find ourselves in a struggle that is beyond our control such as poor health or natural disaster, we would do well to remind ourselves, that this sort of struggle is the result of our fallen world, and is not necessarily punishment for poor behavior or a test from God. Sometimes things just happen. These struggles should be embraced as any other part of daily life and they strengthen us for tomorrow.

When we find ourselves in a struggle that is the result of our Faith in Jesus Christ, either in the form of temptation or persecution, we would do well to remind ourselves that the world will forever fight against us to keep us from calling upon the Lord. We will never avoid temptation or persecution so long as we are following Jesus Christ. These struggles should be embraced as building spiritual muscles to fight against the devil and our passions.

And then there are the struggles that we bring on ourselves. We procrastinate. We eat poorly. We sleep when we should be working. We work when we should be praying. We make all sorts of decisions EVERY day that bring us struggle. HOWEVER these struggles should be avoided because they are the result of our poor decisions. This type of struggle is NOT your cross, but your consequence.


And THESE struggles can only be avoided when we embrace the Cross and those struggles that strengthen our faith SO THAT we can fight against temptation. Avoid the poor behavior and the struggle fades away.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

There is Power in the Cross of Christ

Ever since finding the Precious and Life-Giving Cross of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ in 327 C.E. the Christian world has lifted it high for all to venerate as a sign of victory and power. The Power of the Cross defeated death two thousand years ago, and the Power of the Cross is sufficient for you to defeat your temptations and struggles. All you need is to accept the Power of the Cross into your life, and live a new life in Christ.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Politics and Morals Don’t Mix

In a recent conference in Washington, D.C. a group gathered to discuss the plight of Christians in the Middle East. It was held in Washington, I suppose, with the dream that close proximity to our Nation’s politicians would garner a certain amount of attention to the moral cause of protecting an oppressed people. According to statements made by the organizing committee, the discussion was productive. However, a US Senator, believing (again I suppose) that American Foreign policy interests would be morally sufficient for anyone to support the Nation of Israel, was booed off the stage by a primarily Arab Christian group of people. Why?????because politics and morals don’t mix.

In America it has become trendy to use expression such as, “Keep your religion to yourselves,” or “Don’t force your religion on others.” In many of these cases that I have experienced these expression are used in response to a predominantly Christian moral being used as a basis for law. Of course the most common moral issue debated nowadays is same-sex marriage. The Christian Church (in general terms) has been characterized a gay-hating, middle-ages loving, white men, which may actually be true in a few cases. But any objective evaluation would reveal this is just not the case. In fact, if something is to be voted upon, which is the American political way of assessing common moral behaviors, how ANYONE chooses to come to their particular vote is a matter of choice. This unfortunately is rarely the case. Why??????because politics and morals don’t mix.

And yet, another popular trend today is for America to “force” her morals upon other countries when it comes to issues of gender, sexuality, citizenship qualifications, and even international borders. How is it, that a population which demands to be left to their own moral choices chooses NOT to allow other nations the same benefit? Why????because politics and morals don’t mix.

Even within America, those who cry freedom of moral oppression from one party, acknowledge that OTHER behaviors are CLEARLY not acceptable. Polygamy, Incest, Child-Adult relationships, bestiality...ALL these are just as taboo as homosexuality used to be, and YET, the LGBT community continues to demand their independent right while denying anyone else to ability to vote on the matter. Why???????you got it....politics and morals don’t mix.

So what is the solution? God gives each human being the free will to choose Him or to deny Him. We live in a society which allows for the public debate and participation in the setting of common morals. It seems pretty clear to me that LGBT issues are quickly becoming the “norm” while bestiality etc are not. I accept that I live in a land that allows for such freedoms to be manifest in the very laws of our nation. In fact, I am thankful for the freedom this country does allow for. However, I think it is high-time for both sides to concede they will not convince the other. In the meantime, can we at least acknowledge that both sides benefit when we allow freedom to prevail?


That means.....if Christians want the freedom to not support, participate in, or in any other way endorse same-sex marriage, we must not forget it is that SAME freedom that allows others the choice TO marry. Alternatively, if the LGBT community wants others to keep their religion to themselves, they must not forget it is the SAME freedom they are attempting to deny others in their choice. Freedom works both ways, and while politics and morals don’t mix.......politics and freedom are a match made in heaven.

Excerpt from Saint Cyril of Jerusalem “Catechetical Lecture 13”

St Cyril, prior to becoming Bishop of Jerusalem, had been charged with preparing those for Baptism. These lectures were delivered in the (then) brand new Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem in 348 CE just two weeks prior to Holy and Great Friday, most likely in the shadow of the True Cross of Christ which was present in the Church from its finding in 327 CE until 614 CE when it was stolen by the Persians. It was restored to the Church in 628 CE. The Feast of the Universal Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross of Christ on September 14th commemorates both the original finding and its restoration.

Let us not then be ashamed to confess the Crucified. Be the Cross our seal made with boldness by our fingers on our brow, and on everything; over the bread we eat, and the cups we drink; in our comings in, and goings out; before our sleep, when we lie down and when we rise up; when we are in the way, and when we are still. Great is that preservative; it is without price, for the sake of the poor; without toil, for the sick; since also its grace is from God. It is the Sign of the faithful, and the dread of devils: for He triumphed over them in it, having made a show of them openly (Colossians 2:15); for when they see the Cross they are reminded of the Crucified; they are afraid of Him, who bruised the heads of the dragon. Despise not the Seal, because of the freeness of the gift; out for this the rather honor your Benefactor.

Hymn of the Cross
Save O Lord Your people, and bless Your inheritance. Grant victory of the faithful against the adversaries of the faith. And protect Your people, by Your Holy Cross.

Kontakion of the Cross

You were lifted up upon the cross of your own will, Christ our God. Grant your mercy upon the people that bear your name. In your strength make glad the Orthodox, giving them victory over their adversaries. May they have your alliance as a weapon of peace, and an invincible trophy.

Find the complete "Catechetical Lectures" of St Cyril HERE