Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Role of a Disciple of Christ

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

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

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

Trust Leads to Peace

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

Saturday, November 22, 2014

When Politics Becomes Spiritual

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Greed is Spiritual Cancer

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Being Convicted by the Gospel

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

Monday, November 17, 2014

Starting the Fast with a Miracle

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 13, 2014

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

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

Seeing their cold hearts, Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Matthew 9.12-13) The very purpose of the Jewish Law of sacrifices and prayers and daily offerings were so that the people of God might grow more loving and more merciful. In the case of the religious elite, the opposite had occurred. They had grown cold to those who were not as “holy” as they were.

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

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

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Not Every Healing is a Miracle

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

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

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

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

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

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

Priestly prayer for the sick in the hospital

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

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


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

Friday, November 7, 2014

God Isn't in Control of Everything

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

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

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

Monday, November 3, 2014

Avoiding the Torment of Hell

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