Friday, February 28, 2014

No Thanks Hollywood, You Can Keep Your son of god

The new movie The Son of God opens in theaters today…

I make no secrets about my dislike for “the Hollywood agenda” when it comes to the moral direction our society continues to engage. But when it comes to movies about Jesus and His Church, I can no longer sit quietly under the guise of, “at least they’re talking about Jesus,” without offering a serious warning.

The Orthodox Church throughout history has fought courageously to maintain the truth about who we know Jesus Christ to be, as that truth was revealed by the Holy Spirit to the Holy Apostles. We have defended the truth of Orthodoxy down to single letters when the meaning of who Jesus was and is might be misunderstood by the faithful. We have maintained this truth, “once and for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1.3) through the holy and sacred tradition of the Church.

We would not sit quietly when Arius spoke falsely of Christ, and we cannot sit quietly when contemporary “theologians” under the guise of producing Hollywood blockbuster movies, as these movies are often times fictional representations of the Gospels and early history of the Church. This is nothing new, of course, as Hollywood has a long tradition of altering history for big screen for affect, while defending their actions in “the name of entertainment,” and warning viewers they are not responsible for educating our children.

I remember growing up being warned, “You can’t trust a movie with the facts. You have to read the book!” Teachers were, and probably still are, very good at forming questions that required knowledge of the book rather than just the movie. We can all think of movies where multiple characters from the book were blended into single portrayals on the big screen. So what makes us think this is not also happening when the Bible is produced on the big screen?

The reading of Scriptures is a crucial part of every Christian’s spiritual journey, but there are verses which don’t flow well, for the big screen. If movies were limited to just the written verses, the classic “Ten Commandments” would have been much shorter a movie and Charlton Heston would have been much less famous. I noticed the last time I watched the movie, (and I LOVE the movie) I had my Bible open. What was said in two verses in my bible was more than thirty minutes on the screen. How? Fiction and fantasy is the only way.

But it isn’t only the fictional additions that we must be concerned with. The Orthodox Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, has been interpreting the Holy Scriptures since they were first written (speaking specifically of the New Testament) and the Sacred Tradition requires us to “stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” (2 Thessalonians 2.15) We must be extremely careful anytime we hear the Holy Scriptures interpreted by anyone, including within the Church. Are the interpretations consistent with the Teachings of the Holy Apostles? Are they in line with the understanding of the Church Fathers, who themselves were loyal to the teachings of the Holy Apostles when they first sanctioned the Bible with Canonical Authority.

If you plan to watch this new movie about Jesus, or Noah opening March 28th, then I caution you to sit with your spiritual father afterward about what the movie teaches. The visual impact of the movie will make it difficult for you to “forget” the incorrect teachings in favor of the Church, but prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit will help as well.

I suppose, from my vantage point, these two movies might comprise a new attack on the Church, since they are being released during the Great Lenten journey while we are seeking a closer relationship with God. Many will flock to the movie theater “seeking a deeper relationship” rather than finding it in the Church. What they are likely to find is partial truth and fantasy about a god who is not the same as The God who revealed Himself to the Church.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Being Christian in a Pluralistic Society Requires Love

We live in a post-modern, many suggest post-Christian world. Without doubt, we live in a secular and pluralistic society, which includes Christians of ALL denominations, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Atheists, Baha’i, Humanists, Wiccan, and many more I don’t know the name of. For centuries, Christians have been the recipients of legal protection of their way of life from governments of all sorts. But times are changing.

With the growing reality of our secular and pluralistic society, it has become fashionable to declare “Christian persecution” and “intolerance” of our Christian ideals. I can’t speak for everyone, but we must admit that there does exist persecution and intolerance, but is it warranted? Is it government sponsored? Just because a growing number of Americans believe that marriage should be redefined, doesn’t mean Christians are being persecuted. If anything, we are feeling the sting of no longer being the majority moral followers of our nation. I suppose that could “feel” like persecution, but it isn’t really.

Living in a world with other people requires a deeper Christian love than we might need living in a Christian compound.  As Christians we believe that God has given us free will, and with that free will, come consequences. As Saint Paul reminds us, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful.” (1 Corinthians 6.12) Just because people have the free will to live their life, doesn’t mean their choices will be helpful in their relationship with God.

But I don’t want to write about other people today, I want to write about us, Orthodox Christians. WE are called to use our free will to live according to the commandments of God. WE are called by Christ to a life of holiness dedicated to God. “The body is not for sexual immorality, but for the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 6.13) But most importantly, WE are called to love our neighbor as ourselves, and when we love, we have to allow the same free will that God allows.

Loving others doesn’t mean condoning or endorsing their behavior. It means that we allow them the same opportunity to exercise their free will that God has allowed to us. It also doesn’t mean forcing them to live according to our Christian way of life. The benefit of a so-called Christian society supporting our moral codes hasn’t been about us forcing our way of life upon others. It has been a result of mutual respect for a minority to live in a society based upon foreign moral standards, while remaining privately dedicated to their chosen way of life. And we are slowly becoming a minority.

Sexuality, while possibly the most popular moral shift of our times, is not the only difference in our moral codes, but since it is so popular, I use it as an example. There are many other morals standards which the Orthodox Church frowns upon that are upheld by our society, not the least of which is abortion. While we as Orthodox Christians teach against such behavior choices, we cannot lose sight of the fact, that until WE are forced to behave according to such standards, we are not being persecuted, even though such behaviors are endorsed and sanctioned by the society at large.

So how do we coexist in such an environment? As members of our society, we each have a say in the common moral codes of our society. This is the rich blessing of living in a democratic society. We cast our votes and debate in the public square, but once the votes have been cast, we agree to accept as lawful while not helpful, the decisions which we, in our private lives, would never endorse. This is not selling out. Rather, it is an expression of love to allow free will.

On the topic of same-sex marriage, it might sound like, “No, I don’t agree with same-sex marriage. I know it’s legal, but we don’t believe it is proper, but I can’t stop you for expressing your own free will.” I try to remind faithful Orthodox Christians all the time, “Legal does mean moral.”

But there is another difficulty in our coexistence. As with the recent attempt in Arizona to “protect religious freedom”, many confuse tolerance with acceptance. Part of this problem is a natural result of the western concept that certain sins are worse than others. In Orthodoxy, ALL SIN separates us from God. Whether someone falls to sexual sins, greed, gluttony, etc., ALL SIN is seen by God as against His will. So if we would “do business” with greedy fat people, we should be willing to “do business” with skinny gay people.

Again, Saint Paul has great 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.” (1 Corinthains 5.9-13)
It isn’t a betrayal of Christian morals to photograph a gay marriage any more than it is to bake a cake for fat people.

Where this get’s a “little murky” might be IF you are in a certain profession in which you are required to PERSONALLY ACT in a way that is against the will of God. This is often the difficulty in medical circles in regard to abortion. So, until an Orthodox Christian Priest is ‘ordered’ to perform a same-sex marriage, the legal status of such marriages is not a matter of persecution.

Will it ever get to this point? I suspect it will. Jesus said,
“If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15.19)
The day will eventually come when Christians are forced to act against Christ, and the blood of martyrs will once again flow through the streets. It is already happening in other nations. But until it does…remember what Jesus said,

“In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16.33)

Judgment is Coming!

One week before the beginning of Great Lent, the Church calls to our mind the Parable of the Last Judgment found in Matthew 25.31-46. We are urged to take seriously the condition of our heart, so that we can be welcomed into the kingdom of prepared by the Father. It isn’t the presence of “bad things” we do that will condemn us, but the lack of “good things” we chose not to do. But most importantly, it will be our ability to see God in the lowest members of our society.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Purpose of Great Lent

Great Lent is just a few days away, and the Church reminds us today of the purpose of the coming fast.
“Now, therefore," says the LORD, "Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning." (Joel 2.12)
Though we have already begun our fast from meat, the Church still urges us to a deeper appreciation for the coming fast as a time for repentance. The themes over the recent weeks have caused us to reflect upon the condition of our hearts. We are not the human beings God desires us to be – NONE OF US – and the sooner we realize that we must repent and return to a Godly life, the better our hearts will be prepared to meet the Lord when He comes into His Kingdom.

Repentance is more than just a matter of our mind. It isn’t sufficient to merely stop hording our goods, we must share them with others. It isn’t sufficient to merely stop hating others, we must love them. It isn’t sufficient to merely say we forgive others; we must avoid the grudge in our hearts. True repentance requires a physical response to the Love that we CHOOSE to fill our hearts.

As the Prophet Joel continues…
So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm. (Joel 2.13)

Are you ready for Great Lent? It’s almost time to begin your journey of repentance.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Amazing Grace

In today’s Gospel for the Tuesday of Cheesefare Week, which every year occurs on the Tuesday before Holy and Great Lent, the Church prescribes a rich Gospel lesson from the Mount of Olives. (see Luke 22.39-71, 23.1) The Church calls to our mind just how much grace God grants to us in our weakness. We hear of two accounts of His disciples being weak in the faith and what we might call spiritual stamina.

In the first case, we hear Christ praying in the garden while His disciples fall asleep. “Then He said to them, ‘Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.’” (Luke 22.26) We know the disciples fell asleep THREE TIMES before they finally awoke to the Lord being taken into custody by the guards. In the second case, during His trial, we hear Peter denying Him three times.

In both cases, His disciples were weak and fell into temptation. And in both case, Jesus forgives them. These are the same disciples who would become the Holy Apostles, and establish the Church with the authority of God. These are the same disciples who, though they followed Him for three years, still were not strong enough in their faith to bear with Him at the Cross. And Jesus STILL allowed them to grant the Holy Spirit to others through the laying on of hands.

God’s grace is revealed to us when we allow ourselves to trust in Him beyond all other things. God’s grace is poured over our heads when we allow ourselves to pick up our cross and follow Him. No matter how many times we may fall into temptation; no matter how many times we are too weak to stay awake and attend to Him; no matter how many times we deny Him; He is still willing to welcome us home into His Kingdom.

The Church offers us these lessons today as a preparation for Holy and Great Lent, a time of repentance and vigil. Great Lent will be upon us in a few days, and we will grow tired of fasting, yet we must stay awake. We will want to deny knowing Christ, yet we must be willing to suffer ridicule from others “just because” we are spending additional time in Church. And when we engage Great and Holy Lent to its fullest, then we will feel His grace, and what amazing grace it is!

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Dangers of Fasting

Yesterday, besides being the day in which the Church commemorated the Last Judgment, was the last day to eat meat until Pascha. If you are fasting according to the teachings of the Church, today begins your long journey of finding food substitutes and new vegan recipes for your favorite meals. The Great Fast is almost upon us. It actually begins NEXT week, but the Church begins our fasting one week early by asking us to abstain from meat beginning this week. Last week was known as Meatfare Week, while we rushed to make use of the meat in our refrigerators before it spoils. This week is known as Cheesefare Week, and is the final week of dairy before the Great Fast. Fasting is such an amazing spiritual discipline of the Church, but it can be misused so many ways, so today I thought I would warn you of about some danger signs that your fasting is on the wrong track.

  1.       You know the fasting guidelines of the Church, but you insist on creating your own plan for Great Lent – Anytime you look on the teachings and sacred traditions of the Church as a buffet menu from which you can pick and choose which practices you like and which you think are not valid, you have lost the entire purpose of fasting. Fasting is a spiritual discipline through which we learn to subdue our ego and desires. If we instead feed our desires by choosing our fasting routine, we have lost the opportunity to conquer our ego, and fasting becomes nothing more than a diet regiment. If you are unsure where to begin your fasting, it is better to ask your spiritual father, than to make up your own plan. He has received the grace of God through Holy Ordination to guide you along your spiritual journey.
  2.       You view fasting as “giving something up” for Great Lent as a sacrifice for God. The term sacrifice, as used in the Church, means “to make holy” and is not associated with what has become a practice of “self-denial.” The Great Fast is not meant to deny your body the things it craves. It is meant to sanctify your heart. The idea of “giving something up” for Great Lent is more of a punishment rather than a discipline, and leads to resentment of the Church rather than the purity of your heart.
  3.       You scrutinize every food label just to make sure nothing forbidden has been included. You search for “may contain whey from milk” as a warning that the food doesn’t “pass muster” on your Orthodox menu plan. As with any rule in the Church, you must keep focused upon it purpose. Bread in general is a fasting food, but nearly ALL bread in the store has at least one ingredient that “breaks the rules” if you read the ingredients panel. If you need a piece of toast with breakfast, it would be better to have it (without butter obviously) than to worry that there “might” be egg in the dough. With the industrialization of the food industry, it would be nearly impossible to find “legal” bread unless you make your own.
  4.       You have never fasted before, but THIS year you decide to keep the strict fast. This might be the most dangerous warning sign of all. As with any discipline, you must gradually increase the practice. Otherwise, you are destined for failure. Compare fasting to running. If you want to run a marathon, you would NEVER just put on your shoes and begin to run 23 ½ miles. You must first build up your stamina before the race. The same caution must be used with fasting. If you want any benefit from your fasting, you will allow your spiritual father to help you with where to begin, just like you would allow a trainer to create a running and training routine.

 Here are more posts on fasting

Sunday, February 23, 2014

When Things Get Out of Control

If you are reading this, you might have something in your life that you think might be out of control. We all have something, so don’t panic. Don’t think you’re alone. But, if you have come to the point in your life, when you realized that something had to change, now is your chance. God is waiting for you to turn yourself around and return to Him and His way of life in His Church. He is waiting to restore you to your original glory. What are you waiting for?

Friday, February 21, 2014

Severe Illness and Death

I had the honor of praying with three different families this week following the death of loved ones who had suffered from serious illnesses. In each case, while there was grief, there was also a sense of relief at the lack of pain and suffering their loved ones FINALLY were enjoying.

I also lost my mother almost three years ago following a serious illness, so I have personal experience with this hand-in-hand concept of relief-grief. I think is must be similar to a salve that a skilled doctor smears on a wound in order to help it heal. Sometimes the salve burns before it sooths. I believe serious illness sometimes sooths and acts like a salve for our grief. In fact, I think illness and death, taken in this context help each other.

What do I mean? When my mother was suffering from cancer, the pain of seeing her with no treatment possibilities was soothed by the death process as I knew she was finally comfortable. The pain I experienced in my mother’s death was soothed by knowing the illness had finally been healed. You might think one would have been easier without the other. But, in living the experience, I can say that each gave a deeper meaning to the other. Without the other, there would have only been pain without the soothing salve.

I think God gives us many gifts we don’t recognize in the midst of our pain and suffering. At the very least, serious illness allows us the opportunity to share the last days in love and peace, leaving nothing unsaid, while we say our goodbyes. It allows the chance for forgiveness and reconciliation. It allows us to see clearer than before, just how much God’s grace fills our lives. And all these soothe our aching hearts. For that, I am thankful.

Tomorrow is the Saturday of Souls, a day which the Church commemorates ALL the faithful who have died since the establishment of the Church. It is a day for us to remember, and pray for, our loved ones who are face-to-face with God praying for us. It is a day we can be soothed by God’s loving embrace.

May their memories be eternal.

Judgment is Coming; Do You Know the Criteria?

On the Third Sunday of the Triodion, the Church commemorates “Judgment Sunday” during which we hear the Last Judgment as found in Matthew 25.31-46. We all know the story, “I was hungry and you fed me….” But do we know WHY the Church offers us THIS story on THIS particular Sunday?

Many people believe that God is going to judge using a scale with “sins” on one side, and “good deeds” on the other. So long as the “good deeds” outweigh the “sins”, many believe, we will be saved. THIS IS FALSE, and the based upon an incorrect interpretation of the story. First, we must realize that Jesus Christ is not just telling us a story. He begins with the words, “When the Son of Man comes in His glory…”indicating that these are events THAT WILL take place, and we should be fully aware of them.

Second, and the main point of Judgment Sunday, is that God will judge every person based upon how much they love the Lord. If we love the Lord enough to “see Him” in the poor and destitute, we will be saved. Christ identifies Himself with the poor and destitute. In the Gospel, we understand that “the sheep” (those who were saved) expressed their love for God in how they treated the lowest of society. It would be easy to love God, but because they could love others who were outcasts, they inherited the Kingdom of God.

As we draw closer to the Great Fast, the Church is urging us to search deep within our hearts. Do we love God enough to love the homeless strangers in prison? Great Lent isn’t “just about” fasting. It is about purifying our hearts, using the spiritual tools of the Church, so that we “see Him” in all people. THEN, and ONLY THEN will we inherit the Kingdom of God.

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Chance to Spend Time with God in His Church

It has been a cold, wintery year so far in 2014. With record cold temperatures, snow and ice storms, and thousands of our neighbors without power for hours, or even days, it allows us the chance to keep things in perspective. When the weather drives us indoors without the ability to “stay busy” as we have become accustomed to, our initial however, reaction is frustration.

But frustration eventually leads to contentment when we allow ourselves to appreciate a few hours without cell phones, email, cable TV, and road traffic. And if we are lucky enough to lose power, and must depend upon the sun for light and each other for company, then if even by force, we accept the hours ahead for quiet family time around a fire. Then we allow ourselves to realize what really is important in our lives – time with our family. In the stillness of a candle-lit room, surrounded by our family, we realize how much busier our lives have become, and how much we missed spending time together. The bad winter storm has succeeded in restoring a close family unity that few ever regret.

The cold weather is behind us, and we look ahead to another spring. We look ahead to another opportunity to keep things in perspective. Our lives have indeed become so busy; we have forgotten what it means to spend time with God, in His house. We have forgotten how much peace we experience being in a Church lit only by candlelight. We have forgotten how much joy we experience lifting our voices to the Lord during the worship services we remember from our youth. We have forgotten what really matters – our soul’s time with God.

Great Lent is our annual chance to keep things in perspective. Great Lent is our annual gift, like the storms of winter, to come together as a family in the quiet of a candlelit Church, to reconnect to our Lord and His Church. Great Lent is our annual opportunity to slow down, and speak to God without cell phones, emails, cable TV, and social networking sites.

But just like a winter storm, the services and strict lifestyle of Great Lent, at first can be met with frustration. BUT, every year I hear people say, “I’m going to miss the services. I really enjoyed them this year.” Sometimes we have to look past the inconvenience of attending Church and allow ourselves to enjoy the time spent in Church. THEN we will look back and realize what is really important in life.

Eventually the snow melts, and we return to our daily lives, closer to our family and missing the hours we spent together. Don’t allow Great Lent to go by without taking full advantage of the peace, stillness, and God-filled services. Don’t allow Great Lent to end with you looking back saying, “Why didn’t I go to Church more? It’s too late, Great Lent is over.”

Don’t allow Great Lent to end without spending time with God in His Church.

The Pain of Coming to Your Senses

In the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15.11-32), Jesus tells us of the journey of the youngest son of a father, who wants to go out on his own. He demands to collect his inheritance early and strikes out on his own. His father, loving and supportive, allows his son to leave the safety and comfort of home. Aside from the demand for an early inheritance, many of us can relate to, and maybe even admire, the courage of a young man going out on his own. But that is where the story takes a turn for the worse.

The young man took his inheritance and, “journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living.” (Luke 15.13) After losing everything he possessed, he was left to eat pig slop, “and no one gave him anything.” (Luke 15.16) All those he knew in this far country were no help in his pain. He was suffering from some very poor choices. Jesus said, “He came to himself,” (Luke 15.17) and chose to return to his father, not as a son, but as a servant. At least he would have food in his stomach and a roof over his head.

This young man expressed humility by returning to his father, and his father “ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.” (Luke 15.20) He had been welcomed back to the family and FULLY restored to his original place in the family. The young man’s humility gave him not just a roof and food, but a family and a home.

This man represents each of us and the choices we make in life. Many times we find ourselves suffering from the poor choices we make, and none of our friends helps us. It only takes the willingness to humble ourselves, admit our poor choices through Holy Confession, and we will be FULLY restored by Christ to His family – The Church! We will not receive simply food and a roof, but we will have Communion with God in Heaven! We don’t have to remain with the pigs, when our Father welcomes us home.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Triodion Day 5 – Love

Since tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, I thought I would talk about love. When we love someone, we place them above all other people in our circle. We desire to be in their presence more than anyone we know. We place their desires above our desires, because our true desire is for them to be happy. We consider our desires as less important. And most often we feel like we would “just die” if we didn’t get a chance to be in their presence. These are some of the realities of being in love with another person. As our relationship progresses, unfortunately, some of these realities become histories, as our love can fade was we grow tired of “never getting what WE want,” even though we were the ones insisting.

Human love, is fallen love. Go back and read this post from the beginning…

Did you notice the hidden selfishness in our interactions with the people we love? We want the ones we love to have their desire “only” because we desire to please them to be happy. As human beings, our love is constantly burdened with our fallen nature, and never quite pure in its intentions. What seems like love, is really self-love.

Think about it for a moment. When was the last time you expressed your love for someone with absolutely no personal gain. It isn’t impossible, just challenging. That moment when you realize your love has been imperfect, is the moment you have an opportunity for repentance. That moment, is called humility.

Humility is the theme for the first week of the Triodion for a reason. We cannot repent until we first realize we need to repent. Unfortunately, in our contemporary society, humility gets a bad rap. Most people think humility is the equivalent to self-hate, and the opposite of self-love, which is not true. Humility, in the Christian understanding, is having an honest understanding of whom we are. We ARE fallen human beings, who need God’s grace and assistance to become true human beings, living in communion with God. Until we reach that level of self-awareness, just as the publican did in the Parable of the Publican and Pharisee, we will not repent, because we won’t think we need to repent.

Humility and love work as partners. We can only love purely when we realize we have loved impurely in the first place. One flows from the other. Pure love is only possible when humility gives us the eyes to see our fallen nature and selfish intentions. Humility falls on deaf ears unless we love someone enough to leave selfish intentions behind.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Two Plus Two Equals Five; Really…..It Does

I live in a city filled with Bible studies. They take place mornings before work, afternoons during lunch, evenings after dinner, and just about every other throughout the day. They are lead by ordained and non-ordained pastors, pious men and women trained in regional seminaries, and otherwise faithful believing Christians that encourage the study of the Holy Scriptures. There are Bible studies just for men, just for women, just for seniors, just for “at home” moms, and any other subcategory you can think of. Oh….and I host an Orthodox Christian Bible study at our Church FOR ANYONE every week.

You might wonder what Bible study and first grade math have in common. Well, because there is such a plethora of Bible study options in Florence, several Orthodox Christian faithful who desire to learn the Scriptures, attend some of these Bible studies with their friends. Some also come to the Orthodox Christian Bible study, but not all. If you haven’t noticed, with more than 30,000 Christian, not every Christian Church interprets the Scriptures the same, and herein is the parallel.

If your children attended a math class with declared 2+2=5, you would IMMEDIATELY remove your children for fear they would learn incorrect math. You may still not see the comparison. What would do if that same math teacher insisted that 2+2=5, and then further insisted that you as parents were overreacting by removing your children? Right….you would remove them because EVERYONE knows 2+2=4, and refuse to allow your children to be influenced by ignorant math teachers.

It’s possible the reason you still don’t understand the comparison, is because, well, everyone DOES know that 2+2=4 and NOT 5. You can’t even imagine otherwise, and when you think of the Bible, you can’t imagine Churches would teach something wrong. You may even say to yourself, (I’ve actually heard it) “Well, at least they’re learning the Bible.” So, why not react to math facts with the same open-mindedness? I suspect it is because you don’t think there is only ONE interpretation of the Scriptures, so why get so worked up about it.

The reality is, with over 30,000 denominations of Christianity, EVERY Church thinks they are correct in their interpretation of the Scriptures. Let’s face it. There wouldn’t be over 30,000 denominations if everyone agreed. As Orthodox Christians, we believe other Churches do not teach the complete truth about Jesus Christ, His Church, His way of life, the Holy Apostles, Church History OR Doctrine. So why would we trust our children (or adult family and friends) to a Bible study that is not the complete truth?

Let me offer an example. For more than two years, a man was attending the Orthodox Christian Bible study in my parish. He almost never missed a week. I would watch him week after week nodding his head in agreement with what I taught. One evening, I mentioned to his friend who was a parishioner of mine, to be “on the lookout for confusion” of his friend. He wouldn’t be able to continue to balance the truth being taught in my Bible study and the “truth” he was hearing from his pastor. The very next day, the friend received a call, “I can’t accept what your Priest is saying. My pastor says he’s wrong.” And we never saw him again. From the Orthodox Christian point-of-view of course, the pastor was wrong rather than the Church. It was as if the pastor was saying, “2+2=5, REALLY….don’t believe that Priest who is trying to tell you 2+2=4.”

It’s about time we start to insist with equal zeal that our children (or adult family and friends) learn the truth about Jesus Christ from the Church. It might not be as clear as 2+2, but it is eternally more important.

Pride and Self Esteem

Triodion Day 2 – Fast Free Week
Yesterday we heard the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee in which the sinful pride of the Pharisee would not allow him to see his sinfulness, but rather thank God for his goodness. In our current self-driven society in which we teach our children to consider their own happiness and value ahead of all others, this parable I suspect falls on deaf ears. We are EXPECTED to congratulate, thank, honor, praise, salute, and even feature the GOODNESS in ourselves, but at the expense of humility and proper self evaluation. We are EXPECTED to downplay sinfulness in our children in the name of self esteem.

And yet….the Christ lifts up the sinful publican who recognized the need for God’s mercy. Jesus says, “I tell you this man went down his house justified rather than the other.” (Luke 18.14) I often find that because our society expects so much praise, most people reject any discussion of sinfulness or the need for repentance. And yet….Jesus says “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4.17)

When we entertain pride in our “goodness” we tend to ignore repentance. We tend to think we are “all ready” for heaven. We tend to visualize ourselves as holy. We tend to live in total denial. The Triodion is designed to inspire us to turn away from pride and return to the understanding that we all need God’s mercy, and begin to repent. Then once the Great Fast begins (this year on March 3rd) we will be of a proper mindset to engage in the spiritual struggle of growing closer to Jesus Christ.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

It is the Work of the Church, not the Government

Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common. (Acts 2.44)
Many wonder why I am not a supporter of government “doing the work of the Church” by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving shelter to the homeless. As much as I teach the importance of these Christian traits, many are confused as to why I do NOT support the government being involved in these good works. The answer rests in the results of Communism as it has been expressed on the world scene in the 20th Century.

Within the Church for more than 2000 years, however, communism has been practiced with great success. Have you ever wondered HOW the Church has been successful with communism while governments have not been successful? The answer is freedom. The Church has NEVER forced her believers to live “in common” but allowed love to govern the hearts of believers. It was an act of love and unity that created the WILLING sharing of resources in the ancient Church.
Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. (Acts 4.32)
To this day, communism is thriving within the Church through holy monasticism. Men and women VOLUNTARILY join monastic communities and live in common with each other. (Monasteries are not coed; men live in male monasteries and women in women monasteries.) In fact, joining a monastery is neither taken lightly, nor should it be a rash decision. Potential monastics are required to spend a period of time (varies from place to place) to ensure the decision is genuine and the way of life freely chosen. Then following a period of “testing” the candidate is eventually allowed to join the monastery. This process is necessary to ensure the freedom of every human being is preserved as a sacred gift of God.

When government is involved in communism, or any form of shared resources, freedom must be preserved at all costs. When, as was the case in Russia in the last century, resources are taken from one and given to another by force, the system ceases to become a response of love and unity, and becomes a system of resentment and separation. Eventually the system collapses, not because people are incapable of loving, but  because ultimately ever human being strives to be free.

So when I am faced with whether or not the government should get involved in the “work of the Church”, the answer isn’t as simple as yes or no. The answer depends upon the hearts of those participating. There have been and will be times when the sharing of resources is universally and freely embraced. At those times, the answer might be yes. If however, the sharing of resources becomes a matter of force and lacks the free participation of those involved, I am less inclined to support such work.

Of course, this does not address the fact that I believe STRONGLY that the work of the Church is the WORK OF THE CHURCH and should not be delegated to the government, as the government by design does not work from the perspective of Christian love, but democratic compromise. The real answer, from my point of view, is THE CHURCH needs to get back to what it does best… as a community of love.

NOW I Can Die in Peace

We all desire peace in our lives, and we all have something which creates great longing in our heart. Once we achieve that peace, we feel content and even complete. The peace we are longing for is found in Christ and His Church. We only need to allow ourselves to see Christ and allow Him into our heart.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Don’t Lose the Forest through the Trees

Sometimes, when we find ourselves in the midst of a struggle, we lose focus on why we entered the struggle in the first place. This is easy in the forest. From the outside looking in, the forest is nothing more than a bunch of trees clumped together, but from within we notice not just a clump of trees, but hundreds if not thousands of trees, shrubs, grasses, vines, puddles, rocks, and maybe even some wild animals. What should be a quick stroll through a few trees to enjoy the breath-taking lake on the other side, becomes a scary journey of twists and turns surrounded by dangerous obstacles. Once inside the forest, we sometimes forget that we are just using the forest as a path to the lake, or worse, we become engrossed in the details of the forest and forget the lake even exists.

The same danger exists in our spiritual journey. God has given us His Church as the path to heaven. He invites us to enter the Church and walk with Him toward salvation. The Church, like the forest, is much more than just “a” Church. It includes many details that, without them, would no longer be a Church. Just like a forest without trees, shrubs, grass, wild animals, etc., would not be a forest. Rather than trees and shrubs, the Church has a way of life which includes prayer, fasting, almsgiving, the Holy Sacraments, and Divine Services of the Church. Once inside the Church, we can sometimes lose focus on why we entered the Church in the first place. We didn’t enter the Church “just” so that we could fast. We entered the Church so that we could find Christ and live with Him. Along the way we pray, we fast, we help others, we tithe, we confess our sins, we marry, we baptize, we ordain, we anoint, we bury, and we receive Holy Communion.

But if we lose sight of WHY we do these things in the Church, we can lose sight of Christ and heaven all together. How do we know this to be true? Consider the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee. It was the Pharisee who lost sight of WHY he was living the life of he chose. He had forgotten that fasting, praying, paying tithes, etc., had a purpose… find Christ. As we enter the Triodion Period (also called Pre-Lent) and begin a more intense spiritual journey, let’s try to remember WHY, and not lose sight of the goal….to find Christ. Let’s not lose the forest through the trees.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Jesus is Coming to YOUR House!

Surprise! Yep, Jesus called, and He’s coming to stay at YOUR house tonight. Are you ready? The Church has what you need to get your heart ready to meet the Lord. All you need to do, is come to the Church, and follow the way of life established by Jesus and His Holy Apostles.