Friday, January 31, 2014

The Hymn of Simeon Should Be Our Hymn

When the righteous Simeon was presented with the infant Jesus for the Presentation to the Temple, he remembered God’s promise. You see, one day while Simeon was praying, the Holy Spirit revealed to him, “that he would not death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” (Luke 2.26) It was shortly after hearing this promise that the Mother of God was in the Temple with her Son for the Forty Days Blessing. When Simeon held Jesus, he praised God and said, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2.29-32)

Now Simeon felt he could die in peace, knowing the Savior had been born.

We have also received a promise from God. God has promised that if we believe in Jesus we will live eternally with Him in Heaven. Saint Paul reminds us, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10.9) Simeon knew this promise and believed in his heart, and he rejoiced at the news.

With all the stress and anxiety our world is facing, you would think that we were wanting peace in our hearts. Now we can have it because our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has saved us from death. What more could possibly cause anxiety in our hearts if we remember this promise? The hymn of Simeon should be our hymn; maybe it would help us remember God’s promise.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Politicizing Morality – Good, Bad, or Unavoidable?

By definition, morality is a communal agreement about behavior or attitude, and by definition, is relative to a particular group. For example, one group agrees to share the use of a local pond. By agreement, the pond can only be used for swimming and fishing, but no powered vehicles are allowed. By definition, then, it becomes immoral to boat on the pond. If someone wants to use their boat, he must either defy the moral code by boating, or politic to change the moral code to allow boating. It’s during the politicking process, that I’m concerned with for this blog post.

The process of arguing morals within a particular group, can take a variety of tangents. But the common thread is, one person (or several/many people) wants to engage in a behavior that another person (or other people) believes to be against the agreed morality. And so the debate is engaged, and the group is divided into the boaters and the swimmers, the fishers and the players, the environmentally conscious and the polluters. Every member of the group is forced to align with one side or another of the debate, each for their own reason.

As the debate rages on, the common goal of the group (in this case, the use of the pond) is forgotten in exchange for the goal of winning the debate. Once this happens, the division of the group is complete – winners and losers. NOBODY wants to be a loser, so the debate degrades further into name calling and bullying. At this point, oftentimes, the boaters (the ones who originally desired to alter the moral) take matters into their own hands and, boldly violate the moral code causing further division of the group into law abiding and law breaking. Then comes sanctions followed by sympathizers who just want to keep the peace. The debate has become personal and THIS MEANS WAR!

I purposefully used the common use of a local pond to outline exactly what is happening in our nation about a variety of topics. I was asked recently for advice about how an Orthodox Christian should “function” within their work environment while such debates are occurring within the office. The example given was in regard to “non discrimination policies” and what categories should be included. The initial thought of the Orthodox Christian was simple, and genuine. “We do not discriminate! Why isn’t that enough?”

The reason it isn’t enough has to do with boaters and swimmers. As a society, we discriminate ALL THE TIME. (Think local pond) Society is a group of people who have agreed to discriminate based upon certain categories. Yes, we DO discriminate every day. We discriminate “against” pedophiles, bank robbers, short people, tall people, skinny people, fat people, married people, single people, gangbangers, polluters, dog walkers, dog owners… get the point. It isn’t that we don’t discriminate, but HOW we discriminate. The moral code – the agreement of the group – is what we are debating, and currently there is a growing agreement that certain characteristics should be included in the “not allowed” category.

Just like the local pond, we each have aligned ourselves with a particular group for our own personal reasons. And just like the local pond, the debate has degraded into personal attacks and NOW we are either haters or sympathizers. So, how do we “function” as Orthodox Christian within this environment? I suggest we consider Saint Paul’s advice:
 I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner -- not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore "put away from yourselves the evil person." (1 Corinthians 5.9-13)
If we heed the advice of Saint Paul, we will remember the proper focus during the constant debate of society morals. We are held to a higher standard as members of the Church. We participate in the process only so far as we are able to avoid the degradation of the process into haters and sympathizers. However, just like our local pond, I believe the degradation is unavoidable.

Whether the topic is discrimination policies, marriage, property rights, immigration status, it really doesn’t matter. The process is the same and continuous. The boaters will eventually be allowed to use the local pond, simply because the swimmers don’t want to be considered haters. And they will find another place to swim, until someone wants to go boating. THEN…the whole process will start all over again.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Why I don’t preach on specific sins

Recently I received a request for a sermon that dealt with anger. I realized, after looking through my sermons online, that I don’t remember ever preaching about anger specifically. Then I realized I don’t recall, although I may have, ever preaching on any sin in particular. I have blogged about one sin or another on occasion, but never preached a sermon. You might wonder why.

Anger is really just like any other sin. We get angry because we feel an injustice, normally against us, by another, normally considered inferior to us. Anger, just like the other passions, is an expression of our ego. Some people struggle with anger, while others struggle with lust, avarice, gluttony, listlessness, or pride. With each of these passions, our ego if left unchecked will lead us to sin.

The Orthodox Christian struggle is the struggle to overcome our passions. In other words, we are charged with not allowing our passions to govern our actions. As Orthodox Christians, we struggle to allow the will of God, rather than our will, to govern our actions. A proper Orthodox Christian ascetical life or prayer, fasting, almsgiving and full participation in the Sacraments of the Church assist us in choosing God’s will over our passions.

Consider anger, for example. Why do we get angry? “Normally” it is because we don’t get something we either desire or determine we deserve. In both cases, it is our ego which drives this passion. If we could recognize that we don’t deserve special treatment, we are less likely to become angry about not receiving special treatment. If we could recognize we can’t always have what we want, we are less likely to become angry about not receiving it, or better yet less likely to want it in the first place.

So, now you understand why I don’t preach about particular sins that often. Sin is sin. Passions are passions. Our goal is to overcome the passions and sin, at whatever cost. Just focus on prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and the Sacraments; and the rest will take care of itself. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Too Much Focus on Gay Marriage

Gay marriage is the “civil rights movement” of our day it seems. Everywhere you turn around, the question of same-sex marriage is being battled in the media, courts, and legislative chambers of our Nation. If you ask me, which of course you didn’t, it’s all a bit too much.

There are plenty of examples of marriage in which the Orthodox Church doesn’t participate:
  1. 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, etc Marriage are forbidden by the Church
  2. Marriage between first, second and in many cases third cousins is forbidden by the Church
  3. Marriage between “God-siblings” is forbidden by the Church
  4. Marriage between an Orthodox Christian and a non-Christian is forbidden by the Church
  5. Marriage between two Orthodox Christians OUTSIDE the Church is forbidden by the Church
  6. Oh yeah….and same-sex marriage is forbidden by the Church
There are also examples of marriage in which the Orthodox Church doesn’t even bother to acknowledge because it takes place outside the spiritual boundaries of the Orthodox Church.
  1. Any marriage in a courtroom performed by a “Justice of the Peace”
  2. Marriage between two non Orthodox Christians
  3. Marriage between a Christian and a non Christian
  4. Marriage between two non Christians
  5. Oh yeah…..and same-sex marriage performed in a non Orthodox Church
While I do believe the question of marriage to be a major spiritual struggle within our society, I don’t believe it is prudent for the Church to become vigilant on the question of same-sex marriage, as it will just be another marriage the Church either forbids or refuses to recognize. When the time of national recognition arrives, which it will, the Church will simply “get out of the legal marriage license” business. We’ve done that before and we can do that again.

Orthodox Christian spirituality has always been deeper focused than on any one particular sin, excluding blasphemy against the Holy Spirit of course, so we would do well to remember our Sacred Tradition. The Orthodox Christian way of life is beyond the realm of societal approval or trends, because it is a way of life based upon the Heavenly Kingdom. We would do well to keep our attention on those members inside the Church who, unfortunately are being taken captive by secularists and humanists, and remind them of our need to overcome our passions, and to live in communion with our Lord.

We need to stand up for the Church, within the Church, as a growing number of “members” have sided with the society on many moral questions. I’m not sure it is because they have actually chosen to reject the Church, so much as they have fallen trap to a constant and very well strategized effort from outside the Church to convince them the Church is out of touch. The Church has allowed the society to shape the argument and form the premise without engaging our own members in an authentic spiritual struggle. It’s time to speak the broader truth of our spiritual struggle, and to stop allowing the society to drag us into the pit.

It isn’t about same-sex marriage being more fair; it’s about life NOT being about sex.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

There is Healing in God’s Church

In a society based upon individualism, many have forgotten what Church really means in our life. When we need healing, God sends us to His Church, not for some dead ritual, but to participate in the Community of Faith known as the Church.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

What would you do if Jesus came to your house?

Each year, the Church calendar repeats itself. Each year, the Church reads (if you’re in Church every day) the entire New Testament, excluding the Book of Revelation, from cover-to-cover. Each year, the Church urges us on to a deeper relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Each year, we are expected to make a decision to welcome Him into our hearts. But what about welcoming Him into our homes? What would you do if Jesus came to your house this year?

Each year, near the end of January, the Church glances forward to the Feast of Feasts, Holy and Great Pascha. On this Sunday, known as the 15th Sunday of Luke, the Church reads the Gospel story of Zacchaeus, the short tax collector who wanted to see Jesus. Zacchaeus ran ahead and climbed up a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus, but he got much more than he had hoped. Jesus said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” (Luke 19.5) What did he do? “So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully.” (Luke 19.6)

What would you do if Jesus said to you, “Hi there, I’m coming to your house tonight?” Surely, you would run ahead and prepare your house. You would clean it. You would remove to clutter so there would be no distractions. You would probably even cancel any appointments you made, just to make sure you had time to prepare for His visit. Then, once everything had been prepared, you would open the door and receive Him joyfully. Right?????

Well, Jesus IS coming to your house, but not just your house…..your soul. Is it prepared?

A “New” American Heresy

I spend a good amount of time in the car, especially this time of year, going from home to home for house blessings, so I tend to listen to the radio. What I listen to tends to go in cycles, ranging from podcasts and liturgical music to local radio.

For months now I have been intrigued by a commercial for the “Biblical Money Code” and its assurance of guilt-free, God-endorsed, wealth building. The man who discovered this code, according to the radio commercials, used to be a Christian Pastor and “NOW DONATES MORE THAN 50 THOUSAND DOLLARS A YEAR!” There is no hidden message; follow the code, and become filthy rich. And… the way, when you’re rich you can finally give a lot of money away.

I have so many difficulties with this premise; I’m not really sure where to start. We live in a society consumed with money; how to get it, how to spend it, how to save it, and how to get more of it. How any Christian Pastor can endorse a system of wealth building which is rooted in the Sacred Scriptures, seems counter-intuitive to the message of Christ.
But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. (1 Timothy 6.9-10)
And yet, when a rich man confronted Jesus with the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life,” Jesus said,
"If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Then Jesus said to His disciples, "Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 19.21-23)
Ultimately, what Jesus desires is our entire love and devotion. He asks us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him. (see Mark 8.34) Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom.” (Matthew 6.33) If we seek wealth, we cannot seek Christ and His Kingdom.

So where is the heresy? The most dangerous heresies are those based upon partial truths. (Check out my post on "Partial Truth is More Dangerous") The so-called Prosperity Gospel contends that Jesus actually desires us to be wealthy, comfortable and “enjoy life,” which brings us true happiness. Many I have heard, base this heresy on a short passage in the Old Testament.
Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this," Says the LORD of hosts, "If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it. (Malachi 3.10)
It is perpetuated by New Testament quotes such as,
But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. (2 Corinthians 9.6)
I suspect this is also why the radio commercial makes a point to proclaim how much the former pastor is now “able” to donate. His presumed guilty conscience is soothed by a charitable donation, just as a promised donation is rewarded by God.

But how is this reconciled with God’s commandment for us to be willing to die to the world, and lose everything, just for our love for God? It can’t be, but that is nothing new. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Prayer in Public Schools

You might be surprised to know that I do not support prayer in public schools. I often meet people, online and in person, who presume that because I am a priest, I would support a policy of returning prayer to public schools. Well, that couldn’t be the furthest from the truth.

While I do acknowledge that our schools had a long history, as did our other government institutions, in which prayer played an important role in the beginning of every day, I must also acknowledge that we are a very different society today than “yesterday.” Our nation used to be a predominantly Christian society, so public prayer normally consisted of some Christ-oriented prayer. But we have to face facts, whether we admit it or not, that our nation is no longer predominately Christian.

What’s that I say? America is no longer a Christian nation? Well, I’m not sure we were ever truly a Christian nation. We may have been founded by deists, but that is a far cry from Christians. We cannot forget that the Bible of Thomas Jefferson resembled swiss cheese with all the verses and chapters cut out and removed, because he personally did not agree with them. Besides the deists, would a Christian nation have laws supporting abortion and capital punishment? Would a Christian nation have such blatant examples of personal greed? Our nation is founded on freedom, which admittedly is a Christian value, but we have long since turned away from using our freedom to honor God. But on to prayer in public schools….

In 2014, with such a wide range of Christian Churches and a substantial presence of non-Christians, what would such a public prayer include? It wouldn’t include references to Jesus Christ, for fear it would offend the non-Christians. It could, I suppose, include reference to God, but for the growing atheist movement. It wouldn’t be permitted to include references to Allah, even though Allah is technically the Arabic word for God, since many Muslims insist on its usage to be limited to the Islamic God, and fundamentalist Evangelical Christian would have a fit. It might, I suppose, include a prayer to “the supreme energy” which many Christians would pretend acknowledged God, but as Orthodox Christians, we could never tolerate such a blanket reference. EVEN IF the “rest of the nation” could agree on such terminology, it veers so far from the Triune God of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we could never allow our Orthodox youth to participate.

So that leaves us with no prayer in public schools. As an Orthodox Christian Priest, I can better explain why WE prayer and others do not pray, than I can explain why certain prayers are wrong to pray. I don’t doubt many Protestant Christians, and a growing number of Orthodox Christians, are unable to appreciate the nuances that overwhelm such a public prayer. To this I would turn our many faithful to a careful study of Christian history and discover there existed, especially at times of secular and pluralist influences, rules forbidding the faithful from praying with others. It wasn’t because we were being elite, but because we were protecting the faithful from offering incorrect prayer? Lest you think there is no such thing as “incorrect prayer” consider this example of the Gospel.
Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples. So He said to them, "When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one." Luke 11.1-4
The disciples took this instruction so seriously, they commanded Christians to pray this prayer three times each day. I would rather have our children pray this in front of their icon corners and before/after meals, than to have them mumble some “O great unknown in the sky….” prayer, but it could just be me.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Something I Think Protestant Christians Would Want to Know

Of all the Saints of the early Church that I would expect Protestants to honor, it would be Saint Athanasios the Great. For us as Orthodox, he wrote the Creed, the Symbol of Faith, which we are encouraged to memorize and proclaim publicly as a testimony to what we believe as Orthodox Christians. Though the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (as it is known) is no longer recited by many Protestants, Saint Athanasios is known for writing something that I would expect Protestants to hold as dear to their tradition as we hold the Creed. In 367AD, Saint Athanasios, in his capacity and with the authority as Patriarch of Alexandria, wrote a letter to his Churches  teaching what the Church had accepted as Scriptures. For Protestants, who hold so dearly to Sola Scriptura, I would expect them to know about this letter, since without it, they may not have the Scriptures they read. Since we honor this Great Saint of the Church today, I thought I would repost his letter here. (The text is taken from the Advent Church Fathers website.)

(For 367.) Of the particular books and their number, which are accepted by the Church. From the thirty-ninth Letter of Holy Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, on the Paschal festival; wherein he defines canonically what are the divine books which are accepted by the Church.

1. They have fabricated books which they call books of tables, in which they show stars, to which they give the names of Saints. And therein of a truth they have inflicted on themselves a double reproach: those who have written such books, because they have perfected themselves in a lying and contemptible science; and as to the ignorant and simple, they have led them astray by evil thoughts concerning the right faith established in all truth and upright in the presence of God.

2. But since we have made mention of heretics as dead, but of ourselves as possessing the Divine Scriptures for salvation; and since I fear lest, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians 2 Corinthians 11:3, some few of the simple should be beguiled from their simplicity and purity, by the subtlety of certain men, and should henceforth read other books— those called apocryphal— led astray by the similarity of their names with the true books; I beseech you to bear patiently, if I also write, by way of remembrance, of matters with which you are acquainted, influenced by the need and advantage of the Church.

3. In proceeding to make mention of these things, I shall adopt, to commend my undertaking, the pattern of Luke the Evangelist, saying on my own account: 'Forasmuch as some have taken in hand Luke 1:1,' to reduce into order for themselves the books termed apocryphal, and to mix them up with the divinely inspired Scripture, concerning which we have been fully persuaded, as they who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word, delivered to the fathers; it seemed good to me also, having been urged thereto by true brethren, and having learned from the beginning, to set before you the books included in the Canon, and handed down, and accredited as Divine; to the end that anyone who has fallen into error may condemn those who have led him astray; and that he who has continued steadfast in purity may again rejoice, having these things brought to his remembrance.

4. There are, then, of the Old Testament, twenty-two books in number; for, as I have heard, it is handed down that this is the number of the letters among the Hebrews; their respective order and names being as follows. The first is Genesis, then Exodus, next Leviticus, after that Numbers, and then Deuteronomy. Following these there is Joshua, the son of Nun, then Judges, then Ruth. And again, after these four books of Kings, the first and second being reckoned as one book, and so likewise the third and fourth as one book. And again, the first and second of the Chronicles are reckoned as one book. Again Ezra, the first and second are similarly one book. After these there is the book of Psalms, then the Proverbs, next Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. Job follows, then the Prophets, the twelve being reckoned as one book. Then Isaiah, one book, then Jeremiah with Baruch, Lamentations, and the epistle, one book; afterwards, Ezekiel and Daniel, each one book. Thus far constitutes the Old Testament.

5. Again it is not tedious to speak of the [books] of the New Testament. These are, the four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Afterwards, the Acts of the Apostles and Epistles (called Catholic), seven, viz. of James, one; of Peter, two; of John, three; after these, one of Jude. In addition, there are fourteen Epistles of Paul, written in this order. The first, to the Romans; then two to the Corinthians; after these, to the Galatians; next, to the Ephesians; then to the Philippians; then to the Colossians; after these, two to the Thessalonians, and that to the Hebrews; and again, two to Timothy; one to Titus; and lastly, that to Philemon. And besides, the Revelation of John.

6. These are fountains of salvation, that they who thirst may be satisfied with the living words they contain. In these alone is proclaimed the doctrine of godliness. Let no man add to these, neither let him take ought from these. For concerning these the Lord put to shame the Sadducees, and said, 'You err, not knowing the Scriptures.' And He reproved the Jews, saying, 'Search the Scriptures, for these are they that testify of Me Matthew 22:29; John 5:39.'

7. But for greater exactness I add this also, writing of necessity; that there are other books besides these not indeed included in the Canon, but appointed by the Fathers to be read by those who newly join us, and who wish for instruction in the word of godliness. The Wisdom of Solomon, and the Wisdom of Sirach, and Esther, and Judith, and Tobit, and that which is called the Teaching of the Apostles, and the Shepherd. But the former, my brethren, are included in the Canon, the latter being [merely] read; nor is there in any place a mention of apocryphal writings. But they are an invention of heretics, who write them when they choose, bestowing upon them their approbation, and assigning to them a date, that so, using them as ancient writings, they may find occasion to lead astray the simple.

What do you think about the Church?

When Jesus began His public ministry with the words, “Repent; for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” He was commanding us to change the way we look at life. He was asking us to change the way we think of Church? Many think the Church is just another place we gather to pray to God, but it is much more than that.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Yes, Jesus said, “Go to Church”

I can’t count how many times I have heard, “Father, I don’t have to go to Church to worship God, because He is everywhere.” While we do believe God is everywhere, the idea of not going to Church has never been part of the Christian point of view. In the Gospel of Luke, we hear the story of the Ten Lepers who came to Jesus who, “lifted up their voice and said, ‘Jesus, Master; have mercy on us!’ So when He saw them, He said to them, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed.” (Luke 17.13-14)

Of course, this was not an isolated incident. The Old Testament is filled with commandments for the people of God to go to the Temple for healing and to receive the blessings of God. The Church is a holy place where God continues to meet His people. There is blessing in the Church. There is peace in the Church. There is healing in the Church. There is salvation in the Church.

God established His Church, the people AND the Temple, as a place of salvation. Our journey as Orthodox Christians is not as lone rangers, but a community of faithful dedicated to living in communion with God. When God commanded the Ten Lepers to show themselves to the priests, He was offering the Lepers the blessing, and ultimately healing, of being part of the People of God. Had they said, “We don’t need to go to Church…” they would never have been healed.

It’s time to get back to Church to find peace and be healed!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

What does it mean to be a Church?

I have many times in this blog suggested a goal for revitalizing the Church in our lives as Orthodox Christians. I realized, having said that, many not know what I mean by Church, so I have decided to dedicate the February Newsletter to the theme of “Church” and what it means for us practically speaking. How does it affect our daily lives? And quite frankly, why should we care?

It is no secret the Church has changed over the past several decades. We “see” and “feel” the difference on a weekly basis, so I will begin with the obvious fact. WE ARE NOT THE SAME COMMUNITY we were fifty years ago, and I don’t just mean the actual people. The Church is the Body of Christ, made up of individual people, like you and me, jointly working out our salvation. As a community, we gather for prayer and worship as we, together as a united body, struggle to live in communion with Jesus Christ. So it is no surprise that we are different today than we were fifty years ago. We have different struggles that keep us from our Lord.

Fifty years ago, many Orthodox families were focused on establishing themselves in a new world. The Church was a safe place to gather as Orthodox people, considered exotic by most and even strange by others. The Church was a place we could be comfortable being Orthodox – fasting, having Holy Icons in our homes, celebrating weddings, baptisms and funerals, and coming to Church for the Divine Liturgy. We celebrated birthdays, wedding anniversaries and namedays AS A COMMUNITY. We depended upon our Church for our spiritual AND our social life.

Today, our families have long since been established. Even new families have been welcomed as “our  extended families” by the American culture. Today, as many non-Orthodox friends can be found at birthdays and anniversaries as Church members. Today, our families are no longer considered strange and exotic, but respected members of society. We now have a new struggle. We live in a society in which Orthodox Christianity has less in common than ever before. Fifty years ago we lived in a society that was at its core, Christian. Today, we live in a society that encourages same-sex marriage, while arguing that the traditional understanding of gender (males and females) is no longer relevant. The Christian morality is tolerated by most, but persecuted by some. But we still need the Church.

The Church continues to be a place we can feel safe being Orthodox, but TODAY we must teach our children that our society considers our morality wrong. The Church continues to be a place where we struggle to overcome our sinfulness and grow closer to Jesus Christ, but TODAY we must teach our children that our society considers our idea of sin “outdated.” The Church continues to be a place where help each other find Jesus Christ, but TODAY we must teach our children that our society places individual happiness above communal interconnectedness.

I suppose as many things have changed in our Church, one thing has remained the same. We are still considered strange, but now for different reasons. Through all these decades, the Church has never abandoned us. It has remained here for us to gather as Orthodox Christians so that we could safely, and according to our own Sacred Traditions, follow Christ. What does it mean to be a Church? Being a Church means we are dedicated to living in communion with God, and helping each other struggle to overcome the temptations and distractions of daily life, so we can find Jesus Christ. And that will never change.

Monday, January 13, 2014

There are “some” things in life I just don’t understand…

I know this is football playoff season. I know football fans across the nation are boasting the talent and prowess of their respective teams. I ‘even’ know that the Super Bowl is only a few short weeks from yesterday. No, this isn’t a football post. I’m just using football as an illustration about a trend I find completely baffling.

I just do understand how someone can know so much “meaningless” detail about something such as “insert sport here” and so little about the Church they claim is important. Insult someone about their pro sports team, and they respond as if you were insulting their mother. I actually do this, especially during Super Bowl season, just to expose the lunacy of sports mania. What would happen I wonder if their Church were under the same slanderous attack…

In fact, the Church IS under attack every day, and it isn’t ‘only’ by Satan, although he is at the root of all attacks against the Church. Every day, the Church is being attacked by Christians who judge Orthodoxy either as pagan because of Sacred Icons, or for being out of touch and bigoted because of our moral stance on marriage and family. And how do members of the Church respond?

This is where I get confused. JUST LIKE pro sports, when someone attacks the Church, her members defend her with zeal, proudly displaying their icons (albeit hidden from public view) in their homes and business. But UNLIKE pro sports, there seems to be no true allegiance beyond the verbal defense. Pro sports fans spend hours watching their teams, and studying the rules of the game. They even know the most trivial statistics of players they have NEVER met in person.

How do members show their allegiance to their Church? Most of us know very LITTLE of Church history. Most of us have no clue as to the “rules” of the Church, unless we are declaring how wrong the rules we “think” we know might be in our minds, although in my personal experience, the rules we “think” we know, are in fact NOT RULES or even statements of the Church. But when we learn of the truth, we shrug the information off as unnecessary.

I mentioned this wasn’t a football post. The trend I’m concerned about is how we, as members of the Church, have allowed certain idols to replace God in our daily lives. Idols don’t have to be golden statues. They can be:
  • Sports
  • Money
  • Outdoor Recreation
  • Physical Fitness
  • Prestige
  • All sorts of hobbies
  • Politics

The trend I find so confusing, is how we have allowed so many activities to replace God as priorities in our lives. Sure, we “say” God and His Church are important in our lives, but when our allegiance requires more than just a few words in defense, our commitment runs short. I wish I knew why…

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Partial Truth is More Dangerous

When the Devil tempted Eve in the Garden, he began with a partial truth to distract her.
Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, "Has God indeed said, 'You shall not eat of every tree of the garden'?" (Genesis 3.1)
As Eve “tried” to explain, God never said she couldn’t eat of EVERY tree, but by that time she was already distracted from God’s original commandment. The Devil tricked Eve into a dialogue that would eventually end up in destruction.

God’s commandment to love one another does not rest is the treatment of others, but the love of God. Our love for others radiates from our love for God. In fact all of God’s commandments originate in loving God, and desiring to live in communion with Him.
“If you love Me, keep my commandments.” (John 14.15)
Many people obey the commandments of God without loving Him first. Many people feed the hungry, cloth the naked, visit the sick, and give the thirsty a drink, without loving God. So there must be something deeper than just treating others with respect.

Don’t be distracted by partial truths about God’s love. Focus on LOVING God and be willing to do whatever it takes to live in communion with Him. One of the most dangerous partial truths, is, “God loves all people, no matter what.” While this is true, it is almost always used to defend a certain behavior in which God doesn’t want us to engage. God also says, “Sin no more,” (John 5.14 & 8.11) to the paralytic and the adulterous woman.

Just as between Eve and the serpent, accepting a partial truth creates a false premise which never leads back to truth. Be wary when someone begins a discussion with such statements as defense for a certain behavior, as it might lead to destruction.

Want a real truth?

God love you, and He wants you to love Him more than ANYONE else, including yourself! Try that truth on for size.

So……You Think You’re Special?

I often encounter faithful Christians who share their frustration about the temptations in their lives. Many faithful Christians also question why they struggle in life. There seems to be belief, unfounded in Sacred Tradition and the Holy Scriptures, in which faithful Christians shouldn’t be tempted nor suffer. This myth is perpetuated by “The Prosperity Gospel” which suggests that God desires for His followers to be comfortable and prosper in worldly fashion. Preachers such as Joel Osteen fill huge arenas filling people with hopes of future comforts and worldly success. Just believe God wants it for you, and you will achieve it….so they preach.  And when the believer doesn’t become rich or they suffer what they consider an “injustice” from God, the cause is their lack of faith and positive thinking. And all along, the preacher becomes wealthy in the process.

Some cannot deal with the pressure of suffering in a world they are told they should not be suffering. Many turn to drugs and alcohol for comfort, or a life of moral decay and financial collapse. When they hit rock bottom, if they survive the decline, the preachers are gone and offer nothing but, “You didn’t have enough faith.” They have nowhere to turn, so they think, and finally become angry with God for letting them down.

It is at that moment when I ask, “What makes you think you’re so special that you shouldn’t suffer?” This may sound tough, but it was self-oriented advice that brought them to this low place to begin with, and just as a drug addict must be shocked into sobriety, I have found (in my experience) that selfish addict requires the same shock treatment. “After all,” I say, “Jesus was tempted and suffered. Do you REALLY think you’re better than Him? Do you REALLY think YOU deserve not to suffer, but He did?”
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. (Matthew 4.1-2)Then they spat in His face and beat Him; and others struck Him with the palms of their hands. (Matthew 26.67
Some will say to me, “Sure, but that was Jesus. He could handle it because He’s God.” Then I remind them Christians have been suffering all along.
Have you suffered so many things in vain -- if indeed it was in vain? (Galatians 3.4)For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans, who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men. (1 Thessalonians 2.14-15)
So Jesus Christ and His Church have suffered and were tempted to help us.
For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted. (Hebrews 2.18)
You may be in the midst of a great struggle, or you have just completed a great struggle and “licking your wounds” looking back and wondering why it all took place. You may be tempted to blame God for your struggle. You may be tempted to think you deserve better in life because you believe in Jesus Christ. You may believe Jesus let you down. Please keep this in mind… are TEMPTED to believe these things about God, because someone doesn’t want you to know the truth.

The truth is; you don’t deserve better, not because you’re bad, but because nobody deserves better.
The truth is; nobody deserves God’s love, but He loves you anyway.
The truth is; you will suffer, and God didn’t make you suffer, but He is holding your hand right now.
The truth is; God has NEVER left you.

We are all in the same boat. We “all fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3.23) but He loves us anyway. You’re not special, but you are one of us. Join us and we can struggle together.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Back to Basics; Back to Church!

Following His baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, Jesus went into the wilderness and fasted for forty days and forty nights, being openly tempted by the devil. Once His fast was completed, He began His sacred mission to bring all people to Himself for salvation. “From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” (Matthew 4.17) What did Jesus mean when He commanded us to repent?

Repentance has many components, but the main concept is “to change direction and return to where you began.” In calling humanity to repent, Jesus was inviting us to return to where WE began, a life in communion with Him. Since we cannot physically return to the Garden, He has provided His Church for us as a place to live in Communion with Him. This means we have been called by Christ to turn ourselves around and return to the Church and live a life in Communion with Him.

Why turn around? It’s simple, really. We have walked away from our roots as Orthodox Christians. We have embraced a way of life foreign, many times, to Sacred Orthodox Christian Tradition. We have forgotten, many of us, what it means to live a life in Communion with Christ. We have stepped away from the Church. While we might have kept the Church in our memory, we have forgotten to keep it in our hearts and daily actions.

And what is the Church? It is a way of life, established by Christ and His Holy Apostles, in which we live DAILY our life in communion with the Holy Trinity. It is a life of prayer, fasting, taking care of the poor and sick, reading the writings of Holy men and women (including the Bible), and participating in the Sacramental life of the Church. The ENTIRE LIFE of the Church is a life or repentance, a life of getting back to where it all began – a life in Christ.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

One of Those Days

Today has been one of those when I found myself absorbed in my work. After being out of the office for several days (since Christmas really) I finally found an opportunity to get some "busy work" done in the office. For a Priest,  these are the days you glance at your list of tasks and "close your door" and get it done. And I did just that.

The same can be said for our spiritual life. We often go through, yes WE, periods when we neglect our relationship with God. It might be as simple as forgetting to pray at night because we've had a long tiring day, or it might have been a long time since we've been to Church. Either way,  at some point we recognize that we have let things "pile up" unattended.

Believe it or not, whether in the office, or your spiritual life, the solution is the same: you put aside the distractions and get it done. So today I got a bunch of office work accomplished that I had been putting off, and I am able to begin tomorrow "caught up" (almost anyway) so I can focus on the one-to-one ministry that is so crucial.

So, if you have some things in your spiritual life that you've been neglecting, maybe you just need one of those days when you put aside the distractions and just get it done. Declare a personal retreat day if you need.

You'll be able to begin the next day refreshed and ready to meet the Lord.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Welcome Back Fasting; I’ve Missed You

I have longed believed the Holy Spirit guides the Church into Traditions that are not only spiritually beneficial, but have a physical benefit as well. Fasting is one of those Traditions. No objective person could deny the physical benefits of fasting twice per week and for longer periods during the year. In fact, an Orthodox Christian following the fasting guidelines of the Church will abstain AT LEAST from meat more than two hundred days a year. That translates to less trans-fats and cholesterol, not to mention all the added hormones and other harmful chemicals fed to livestock.

There are a few times each year when I actually look forward to fasting returning to my routine. When the Church forbids fasting, such as the week following Pascha, the week following Pentecost, the week of the Publican and Pharisee, and the eleven days after Christmas, I tend to feel bloated and full whether I am eating or not. I am sure that this is because my body is weighed down (in more ways than one) with the extra meat in my system. It just takes more time to digest meat than veggies.

So today, the first Wednesday back to fasting after Christmas, I woke and said to myself
YEAH! I get to fast today!
Feasting is always a joyous occasion, but we all know it doesn’t have nearly as much joy without its counterpart, fasting.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Greatest Man Born of a Woman

Today is the Feast of Saint John the Baptist, of whom Jesus said,
Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. (Matthew 11.11)
Today the Church honors this great man of whom the Church sings,
The memory of the righteous one is praiseworthy; but for you it is enough to be the witness of the Lord, O Forerunner; you have been truly revealed as greater than the prophets, for you were also found worthy to baptize in water Him Who was announced; therefore you fought most valiantly for the truth, joyfully proclaiming even to those in Hades that God had appeared in the flesh, taking away the sin of the world, and granting us the great mercy. (Apolytikon of St John the Baptist)
Today the Church honors a man who says of himself,
There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. (Mark 1.7)
Today the Church celebrates the Divine Liturgy in honor of a man who said about God,
He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3.30)
There is so much we can say about John the Baptist that I hesitate other than to say; he is a worthy model for every Christian life. When he was exalted, he lowered himself. When we was praised, he deflected all praise toward God. When he was honored, he humbled himself as not worthy of honor.

And yet…

WE grab all the glory we can get. WE demand to be exalted by our peers at work. WE claim all the credit for any accomplishment in our lives. WE honor ourselves and humble God and His Church with expressions like
  • GOD doesn’t need all that Gold……but we sure do enjoy it!
  • GOD doesn’t need money…but won’t stop until we have all of it!
  • GOD doesn’t want us spend all that money on His Church…but I sure do LOVE spending on me!

If we REALLY wanted to be great, we would become more like John the Baptist. Ironic that he didn’t want to be considered great, and yet he was. Something to think about today.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Why is Theophany So Important?

There is a HUGE difference between God and human beings. He is the creator and we are His creation. It is impossible for us to understand ANYTHING about Him unless He reveals it to us first. It is IMPOSSIBLE, no way, no how, for us to even believe in Him without Him first revealing Himself to us. It is IN NO WAY conceivable that we, mere creatures, can comprehend the purpose of our existence without the Creator first showing Himself to us.

So why is the Theophany so important for the Orthodox to celebrate? For many Christians, Theophany – also called Epiphany – the arrival of the Magi at Christ’s manger, or merely His Baptism in the Jordan River. But for the Orthodox, Theophany is THE APPEARING OF THE UNDIVIDED TRINITY – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – for the first time in human history.
It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven, "You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." (Mark 1.9-11)
So while we are indeed celebrating the baptism of Jesus, the greater gift of God is His divinity revealed as Trinity to those standing by and those of us who “love His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4.8) In the baptism of Jesus, it wasn’t Jesus that was changed, but the entire creation by His presence in the water. By entering the water, Jesus reveals the love of God for every living thing on Earth.

In the ancient Church, this revelation was welcomed with great joy and many believers were baptized. But since we only believe in one baptism, many faithful sought a new way to express the joy of the news of God’s appearing. Immediately after the consecration of the baptismal waters, and prior to baptizing the new believers, the faithful would drink from the Font to express their participation in the Feast and receive a blessing from God. As the Church practice developed over the centuries, rather than baptisms taking place on this day, the Church established the Great Blessing of the Waters, in which we all are blessed to participate.

Today, throughout the Orthodox Christian world, Churches are celebrating the appearing of God with the Great Blessing of the Waters. Some even celebrate with an event called a “Cross Dive” where young men, and sometimes women, dive into the water to retrieve the Cross of Christ. Let’s face it, when God reveals Himself to His creation, it’s worthy of great celebrations.

May God be blessed!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas WE FAST!

You cannot have Feast without Fast. We have been celebrating for nearly two weeks since the Birth of Christ. Today the Church calls us to Fast in preparation for the Feast of Theophany. Normally, January 5th is a strict fast, but today is Sunday, so oil and wine is allowed. If you have never fasted for the Feast of Theophany, I invite you to spend the rest of today fasting as strictly as you are able, but AT LEAST from meat as an offering to God.

The Tradition of House Blessings

Each year in January, following the Feast of Theophany, we Orthodox Christians open our homes and businesses to the Church to be blessed. Just as Christ blessed all of creation while being baptized in the Jordan River, He blesses us and our entire existence when the Priest enters our homes and businesses with Holy Water blessed in Church. The Blessing of Homes (and businesses) during the Theophany season is one of the many sacraments of the Orthodox Church where the Holy Trinity is present (in this case through Holy Water) to sanctify our time on the Earth.

Ever since God created humanity He has given us His creation to assist in growing closer to Him. Ever since God created the heavens and the Earth He has given us His creation in order for us to experience His love and grace. Ever since God created we have been struggling to understand His love for us and struggling to overcome our self-love by learning to surround our lives with God’s presence.

By inviting the Church to bless our homes and businesses, we are expanding that “sphere of God’s presence” to include our everyday functions of working, eating and even sleeping, with the hope that someday we will overcome our self-love and learn to love the Lord God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. At least we can begin with our homes and businesses…

Saturday, January 4, 2014

A Higher Standard Needed for Christians

While I will acknowledge Facebook isn’t the “be-all-end-all” of current trends, I’ve notice a growing number of Christians “fighting back” with insults toward any anti-Christian expression. While I don’t question the motives of these individuals, I do wonder what benefit is gained by such reciprocation. Jesus taught to “turn the other cheek” and many Christians seem to have confused defending the Faith with fighting back. While there is an appropriate place for what the Church refers to as, apologetics, and there is a tradition of the Church engaging the society, the Church has always been cautious, if not avoided, attacking the opposition.

The Sacred Tradition of the Church is to focus on members INSIDE the Church. It has been, and continues to be, the emphasis of the Church to guide BELIEVERS into a communion with God through the Eucharist. We cannot argue others into Communion. We cannot debate faith into someone’s heart. ONLY the Holy Spirit can inspire others to believe. OUR role is to continuously strive for OUR repentance and OUR (the Church as a body) relationship with Christ, while inviting others to discover the Good News and freedom that is Christ.

I invite readers of Be Transfigured! to embrace a new, and higher, standard for the New Year. Rather than attacking those who attack you, acknowledge and repent of YOUR sins. Rather than worrying about whether someone else’s sins will keep them out of heaven, acknowledge that YOUR sins are no less dangerous.

Just a thought.

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas – We Could Sure Use Some Pipers Piping

 “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3.1)

As we continue our theme of Theophany, today we hear John the Baptist’s call to us from the wilderness. Many answered this call and went out to John and were baptized, “confessing their sins.” Have you responded yet? Have you gone out into the desert and heard the message of the Kingdom of Heaven? The Feast of Theophany was one of the original days for baptism in the ancient Church, imitating Christ’s baptism. Since baptism is a “once only” event in our Faith, how can we relive that moment when we joined Christ? The Church offers the “Great Blessing of the Waters” as part of our celebration of Theophany. We actually no longer celebrate baptisms on this day, but with the Great Blessing of the Waters, we can each rededicate our lives to Christ. Many of the prayers from the Great Blessing of the Waters are taken from the Baptism service. Once the water has been blessed, we drink it, we sprinkle the Church with it, we sprinkle our homes with it, and we sprinkle our cars, offices, crops, livestock, and anything that is a part of our life with it. In the sprinkling of Holy Water, we ask God to bring the Kingdom of Heaven into our entire life and rescue us from the desert of the world. If only we had eleven pipers piping so more people could hear the call to follow Christ! I know….YOU be the piper!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Orthodox Christian Stewardship

Since the Church commemorates the Holy Prophet Malachi today, and since we are in the beginning of another new year, I thought I would remind you of your Orthodox Christian Stewardship. For those Orthodox Christians from a “traditionally Orthodox country” such as Greece, where the Church receives if even limited State support, Orthodox Christian Stewardship is a new or even unknown concept.

January is a time of all sorts of resolutions like joining a gym to improve our physical health, or getting out of debt. Some even make resolutions to be more organized and outgoing socially, but have you ever considered making a New Year’s Resolution to increase your Orthodox Christian Stewardship?

That’s right! Orthodox Christian Stewardship is worthy of a New Year’s Resolution. Unfortunately, many will routinely contribute their weekly Stewardship to their Church without any thought. Even “tithers” can fall into this trap, where giving to the Church has become a “rote exercise” rather than an intentional act of worship and gratitude to God.

But proper Orthodox Christian Stewardship requires faith and action. It is something that MUST be connected to our hearts, not just our pocketbooks. While most Orthodox Christians are very supportive of their local Church, nearly all fall short of the challenge God offers to us in Malachi.
Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this," Says the LORD of hosts, "If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it. (Malachi 3.10)
Have you tried God on His promise? You shouldn’t be confused, however, and think that God is challenging you to bring Him 10% of your worth SO THAT you will become rich. This is NOT the purpose of His challenge, though tragically many (including Orthodox Christians) preach this version of the “Prosperity Gospel.”

The intent of God’s challenge is for you to place your trust in God. Trust me on this; it requires great faith to bring 10% of your wealth to the Church, especially in our current economic uncertainties. Will we have enough food in our cupboard? Will we have enough money to pay the rent? These are series questions and require serious discussion and faith.
Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God. "But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. " Also I say to you, whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God. "But he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God. "And anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but to him who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven. "Now when they bring you to the synagogues and magistrates and authorities, do not worry about how or what you should answer, or what you should say. "For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say." Then one from the crowd said to Him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." But He said to him, "Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?" And He said to them, "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses." Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: "The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. "And he thought within himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?' "So he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. 'And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry." ' "But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?' "So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." Then He said to His disciples, "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. "Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. "Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds? "And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? "If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest? "Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. "If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith? "And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. "For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. "But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you. (Luke 12.6-31)
Why not make a New Year’s Resolution to have enough faith in God to bring your TOTAL TITHE to God’s Church, not to become rich, but simply to honor God? The blessings God has promised will be well worth the risk.

On the Tenth Day of Christmas – It’s Time to Prepare

Everything worth something requires preparation. I’m sure you can think of something, no matter how small, that you have prepared for in your life. That is, of course, if you considered that “something” important enough, and a priority in your life. Today we begin our liturgical preparations for the Feast of Theophany with a service we call “Royal [or Great] Hours” celebrated on the Eve of Theophany. If Theophany falls on a Sunday of Monday, this service is offered on the Friday before the Feast, since it is NOT to be offered any Saturday or Sunday as these are days reserved for other services. This service, a combination of the First, Third, Sixth, and Ninth Hours, is celebrated also on the Eve of Christmas and on Holy Friday Morning. The prayers, hymns, and readings from the Old and New Testament, are filled with references to the coming Feast of Theophany.

One such hymn, uniquely assigned to the Friday before the Feast if Theophany, speaks of this idea of preparation and anticipation. In this singular hymn, the Church teaches us to prepare ourselves and be ready to receive Christ, Who “appeared, wanting to renew the entire creation. Even the river must prepared itself!
Prepare yourself, Zabulon, and make ready, Naphtali; and you, Jordan river stand still to receive with joy the Master coming to be baptized. Rejoice, Adam, together with the first mother Eve; do not hide yourselves, as you did before in paradise; for having seen you naked, He appeared in order to clothe you with the first raiment. Christ has appeared, wanting to renew the entire creation.
The concept of liturgical preparation is most appropriate for Friday, the Day of Preparation. With the Sabbath  and the Lord’s Day approaching with Liturgy and Great Vespers and, in the case of Theophany, the Great Blessing of the Waters, we cannot afford to leave details to the last minute.
  • Is the Holy Water Font cleaned and ready?
  • Is the Prosoforo baked for Liturgy?
  • Have the Altar covers been changed to reflect the Feast?

These are details, among others, the Church must prepare, but there are details for you to prepare as well.
  • Do you have your Holy Water bottle from last year cleaned and ready to fill from the Font?
  • Have you prepared for Holy Communion with Prayer and Holy Confession?
  • Have you cleaned your home to receive the Priest who will begin house blessings in a few days?
  • Have you arranged your family schedule to include attending special services for Theophany?
  • Have you looked up your nearest Orthodox Church service schedule to see when the services are?
  • Have you “signed up” to have your house blessed by the Priest?
  • Sunday is a day of fasting (rare and not strict); have you prepared an appropriate menu for Sunday?

When the Sabbath was more strictly followed (see my prior post on the importance of the Sabbath), Friday (the Day of Preparation) was when all the necessary tasks for the Jewish household had to be accomplished, which is yet another reminder that we must rededicate our lives to focus upon the Lord.

Why not start this year by preparing to celebrate the Feast of Theophany in a truly Orthodox Christian manner? Spend time today reading Holy Scripture and other sources, like this blog, to have a richer understanding of your Faith. It doesn’t have to be a LOT of time, but enough for you to grow in your Faith and LIVE A NEW LIFE IN CHRIST.