Thursday, December 31, 2015

Today is the “End” of Christmas

There is a term in the Church, called “Apodosis, or Leave-taking”, which represents the end of a particular festal period. For example, the Apodosis of Pascha is the day before Ascension. Just as with Pascha we stop greeting each other with, “Christ is Risen” after the apodosis, today (The Apodosis of Christmas) will be the final day we greet each other with, “Christ is Born!” Tomorrow begins another festal period for the Feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord on the Eighth Day.

So why does the Church speak about the Twelve Days of Christmas if December 31st is the Leave-Taking? Both feasts, Christmas and Circumcision, lead up to Theophany and the Baptism of Our Lord. In fact, in the earliest centuries, Theophany was the main feast with very little emphasis on the Nativity narratives. The Church began placing emphasis on Christmas only in the Fourth Century, not that 1600 years doesn’t make it an ancient feast.

The Church celebrates Theophany as the appearing of the Holy Trinity in creation, while Christmas was the birth of the eternal Son of God. Once the Church extended the celebration to include the Nativity, it was natural to “link Christmas to Theophany,” so much that the hymns for the Royal Hours of Christmas actually include the words, “We worship Your Nativity O Christ, show  us also you Divine Theophany.” The hymn is sung in the same manner as Holy and Great Friday when the Church prayers, “We worship your Passion O Christ, show us also Your Holy Resurrection.” Just as the Passion LEADS to the Resurrection, the Birth LEADS to Theophany. Thus.....the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Be faithful in your struggle

Today’s Epistle Reading: St. James' Universal Letter 1:1-18 - JAMES, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greeting. Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways, will receive anything from the Lord. Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like the flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one; but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

Do you feel tempted by God? Then this reading is for you. God DOES NOT TEMPT. You are being tempted by the devil who desires more than anything that you give up hope on God. Don’t let the devil win. Welcome your trial knowing it will produce steadfastness in the Lord. Your steadfastness in the Lord will be blessed by God. It is those who give in to the world and pursue the world, giving up all hope of a new life in Christ, that are lost and perish. But YOU, remain faithful in your struggle and God will not abandon you. He has proven it over and over again.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Innocent Victims of Politics

Today’s Gospel Reading: Matthew 2:13-23 - When the wise men departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, "Out of Egypt have I called my son." Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more." But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, "Rise, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead." And he rose and took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaos reigned over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, "He shall be called a Nazarene."
It seems every time I consider the current moral battle being waged in American society, I am reminded of this Gospel reading. Today the Church commemorates the 14,000 innocent victims of Herod’s insane politics. Innocent children always seem to become the pawns of politicians attempting to force their agenda upon others. In the case of Herod, his furious rage over the Magi, coupled with his insane jealousy to remain in power, resulted in the killing of thousands. In the case of today’s moral war, men and women who desire guilt-free and responsibility-free sexuality, slaughter thousands of infants in the name of so-called reproductive rights. But the abuse of innocents doesn’t end with abortion.

Every time our politicians engage in political warfare, the victims are children. School lunch programs, after school activities, health care, are all political issues. But the innocent victims of politics, maybe because children cannot vote, seem to always be the children. And what’s worse is the Church, which SHOULD be comforting the children, become alternative victims when the Church’s moral teachings conflict with the political elites of the day, causing most Church to watch from the sidelines for fear of losing their tax exempt status.

The Church commemorates the 14,000 innocents murdered by Herod today. In your going about today, remember ALL the innocent children of yesterday AND today. In your prayers, beg God’s forgiveness that we have not done enough to protect our children from politicians. Then...consider how you can bring your children into the embrace and protection of the Church so they can learn the ancient Orthodox Christian morals that have historically been the only protection children ever really experienced. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

How much of the world's nonsense did you buy this year for Christmas?

Today’s Gospel Reading: Luke 14:25-35 - At that time, great multitudes accompanied Jesus; and he turned and said to them, "If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build, and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an embassy and asks terms of peace. So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored? It is fit neither for the land nor for the dunghill; men throw it away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear."
Today is the fourth day of Christmas. Have you chosen to follow Christ or are you still a slave to the worldly things? Did you attend Liturgy for Christmas, or was your Christmas merely a celebration of gift-giving and family feasting around a decorated tree. Were you so “tired of Christmas” by the time December 25th FINALLY arrived that you were glad to wake up on December 26th so you could start packing up your decorations for next year? The world has much to say about how we “should” behave as citizens, but much of it is nonsense and should be ignored.

Your willingness to ignore the worldly advice is the essence of today’s Gospel reading. When Christ says, “If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life...” He is speaking about your willingness to ignore the secular advice the world was trying to sell you during the holidays. How much of the world’s nonsense did you buy this year?

Two Ways of Responding to the Good News

When we hear the Good News of Christmas, we get to choose
how we respond. We can respond as Herod the King with rage because we don’t
want to give up our comforts and material way of life. We can choose to embrace
the Good News as freedom from the anxiety and pressures of the worldly life or
we can stand up and fight against the truth of the Church, as the crowd stood
up and stoned Saint Stephen.  King Herod had the chance to see the joy and freedom of the Good News of Christ’s Birth, but he couldn’t even see Christ as the coming freedom from Rome. How will you respond to the Good News of Christmas this year? Will you respond like Herod
and the crowd, or sing God’s praises as the Angels? Christ is born; Glorify
Him; you have been set free!

Friday, December 25, 2015

SO Much More than Happy Birthday Jesus

Christ is Born; Glorify Him!
I awoke this morning to see the same limp, uninspired, secular Christmas wishes on social media. My least favorite was “Happy Birthday Jesus,” as if Christmas is just another day to send birthday wishes because a Facebook reminder popped up and told you that today was Jesus birthday. I’m actually surprised that Facebook hasn’t found a way to further cheapen the greatest of Christmas. But today’s blog post isn’t about Facebook. There would be just too much to write. Today’s post is about the painful truth that more than half of Americans consider Christmas as nothing more than a cultural experience. There is not religious significance to the day for HALF of our country, even for those who “openly celebrate” Christmas. I suspect that if you consider how many people are actual members of your Church, and you compared that to the number of faithful in Church for Christmas, you will find the same ratio true in your community.

But today is SO MUCH more than happy birthday Jesus. The Magi knew this to be true. Although they were astrologers, God had told them through the star that the birth of Jesus was different. The Magi knew that lying in the manger that moment in a cave was the King Who was God, born to die. The gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh were not random gifts for “just some baby” but to declare their total acceptance of a new life made possible only because of the birth of God. The God-King born to die, makes possible that we no longer have to be anxious about the worldly things.

This is the essence of our Orthodox Christian greeting for Christmas – Christ is Born; Glorify Him! We greet each other in the manner as we do during Pascha to express the amazing change in the world that His birth has brought into being. This new reality is what gives us the freedom FROM anxiety of all the worldly struggles. Do you struggle with finances? Christ is Born, and you no longer have to look at finances as a source of anxiety. Do you struggle with health issues? Christ is born, and you no longer have to look at your health as a source of anxiety. It is SO much more than Happy Birthday Jesus!

Christmas Has to Mean Something

More than half of all Americans consider Christmas a
“cultural experience” rather than a religious holiday. We all know at least one
person, maybe even a family member, that considers Christmas just about
decorations, gifts and a big family dinner. But if the God Who created the
universe really became a human on this day we call Christmas, then that has to
mean something. Calling God our savior is more than just a few words. If He
came to save us, we have to want to be saved. If Christmas is just another day
for family to gather around the dinner table, then it isn’t Christmas.
Something so significant and life changing – life saving – as God becoming a
baby has to mean something.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Greeting Makes a Difference

For weeks we have been greeting each other with Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, but all that stops tonight. Now that the Feast of Christmas has arrived, NOW we celebrate. Since November 15th we have been preparing and the greeting, “Merry Christmas” was meant as a future event. HAVE a merry Christmas. Now that the Feast of Christmas has arrived, NOW we look to the present with the traditional Orthodox Christian greeting, “Christ is Born; Glorify Him!” In the same tradition as Pascha, we NOW greet each other with, “Christ is Born,” and we respond with, “Glorify Him!”

Christ IS Born. It isn’t a once in the past moment in history, but a real and current reality. When we celebrate the birth of another family member, we are celebrating an event that happened and now has past. BUT the celebration of Christmas is different, because unlike the birth of another human being, the birth of God has forever changed the world. And the Church celebrates this event in the present as if we are there to witness the event.

The Kontakion of Christmas reads, “Today, the Virgin bears Him who is transcendent, and the earth presents the cave to Him who is beyond reach. Angels, along with shepherds glorify Him. The Magi make their way to Him by a star. For a new child has been born for us, the God before all ages.” TODAY our world has changed, and tomorrow is a NEW day. It is no longer just a birthday, but a day to Live A New Life In Christ. It is a day to, “Glorify Him” Who was born in a cave for our salvation. It is so much more than just a birthday party. It is a new creation worthy of glory!

It is ok to wonder

It is ok to question God about what you don't understand. When you question Him with faith as Joseph did, you will receive blessings of a new life. Joseph trusted in God's answer and became the guardian of the newborn Christ with His mother the Panagia. So if you, or someone you know, are struggling with the possibility that God became a human being while always remaining God, it's ok. You aren't the first and won't be the last. Just trust God and let the Holy Spirit do the rest. Have a blessed Christmas. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Perfect Gift for God at Christmas

Today’s Epistle Reading: St. Paul's Letter to the Hebrews 10:1-18 -  BRETHREN, since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices which are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered? If the worshipers had once been cleansed, they would no longer have any consciousness of sin. But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin year after year. For it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins. Consequently, when he came into the world, he said, "Sacrifices and offerings thou hast not desired, but a body hast thou prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings thou hast taken no pleasure. Then I said, 'Lo, I have come to do thy will, O God,' as it is written of me in the roll of the book." When he said above, "Thou hast neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings" (these are offered according to the law), then he added, "Lo, I have come to do thy will." He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this one had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, then to wait until his enemies should be made a stool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, "This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds," then he adds, "I will remember their sins and their misdeeds no more." Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

In the Old Testament, when someone wanted to thank God for a blessing they had received, they went to the temple and made an offering. There were many sorts of offerings which you can read about in the Old Testament. But with the coming of Christ, all these offerings were replaced with one perfect offering. The Eucharist, the Body of Blood of Christ, has replaced any and all offerings made in the Old Testament as the perfect offering, the perfect way to say thank you to God, the perfect way to seek His blessings, the perfect way to be in Communion with Him, the perfect way to Live A New Life In Christ. Do you have a reason to be thankful this year at Christmas? Attend Divine Liturgy, the sacrifice of all sacrifices, the Precious Body and Blood of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is the perfect gift for God at Christmas.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Holy Martyr Anastasia Intercede for Us!

A brief story about Saint Anastasia - This Saint, who was from Rome, was a most comely, wealthy, and virtuous maiden, the daughter of Praepextatus and Fausta. It was her mother who instructed her in the Faith of Christ. The Saint was joined to a man named Publius Patricius, who was prodigal in life and impious in disposition, but she was widowed after a short time. Henceforth, she went about secretly to the dwellings of the poor and the prisons where the Martyrs of Christ were, and brought them whatever was needed for their daily subsistence. She washed their wounds and loosed them from their fetters, and consoled them in their anguish. Also, because the Saint, through her intercessions, has healed many from the ill effects of spells, potions, poisons, and other harmful substances, she has received the name "Deliverer from Potions." Since the fame of her deeds had spread about, she was arrested by Diocletian's minions, and after enduring many torments she was put to death by fire in the year 290. (from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America website)

Can you imagine being killed just because you show compassion on other people? Can you imagine being burned to death just because your love for Christ provided you with the willingness to wash the wounds of Christian prisoners? Do you still thing your faith is strong? Do you still think you are loving the way Christ has called you? Something to consider just days before the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord.

Monday, December 21, 2015

He Paid them no Heed

Today’s Epistle Reading: St. Paul's Letter to the Hebrews 8:7-13 - BRETHREN, if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion for a second. For he finds fault with them when he says: "The days will come, says the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; for they did not continue in my covenant, and so I paid no heed to them, says the Lord. This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach every one his fellow or every one his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for all shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more." In speaking of a new covenant he treats the first as obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing Old is ready to vanish away.

For those who turned their back on God’s promise, He “paid no heed to them.” Just because you call yourself a Christian doesn’t mean your work is complete. Countless Jews called themselves Israel, the People of God, but they never recognized Him when He came in the flesh to deliver them from their sins. Will YOU recognize the Lord when He comes? He HAS come, but you do not live as if you believe. You call yourself Christian but you continue in your slavery to sin. Just a few things to think about in the final days before Christmas.

The Story of the Savior

When most people read the Old Testament, they read with the
belief they are reading about the saved people of God. If the Old Testament is
a story about God saving His people from death, the story is a failure since every
human being, righteous and sinful with the exception of Elias and Enoch, dies in
the Old Testament. But if the Old Testament is the story of the SAVIOR rather
than the saved, it is a great success. The Old Testament is a story about how
God, just in the nick of time, provides a savior to continue the human race, so
He can enter into His Creation at Christmas. The entire Old Testament is the story
of the lineage of Jesus Christ and not the lineage of the Saved. This is why on
the Sunday before Christmas, the Church reads the genealogy of Jesus Christ as
written in the Gospel According to Matthew. When we read the Old Testament in
this way, we are better prepared to greet Him at Christmas as our Savior. God
has saved us from the materialism of the world and all the fallen passions. Although
we will still die like those of the Old Testament, God has something better for
us when He returns. Although we still struggle like those of the Old Testament,
God has something better for us when He returns.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Christian Life is a Narrow Path

Today’s Gospel Reading: Luke 13:19-29 - The Lord said this parable, "The kingdom of God is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his garden; and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches." And again he said, "To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened." He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. And some one said to him, "Lord, will those who are saved be few?" And he said to them, "Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the householder has risen up and shut the door, you will begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, 'Lord, open to us.' He will answer you, 'I do not know where you come from.' Then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.' But he will say, 'I tell you, I do not know where you come from; depart from me, all you workers of iniquity!' There you will weep and gnash your teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves thrust out. And men will come from east and west, and from north and south, and sit at table in the kingdom of God."

It always amazes me when confronted with the notion that the Christian life is the narrow path, many will accuse the Church of judging and trying to control people. But with the words we read today in the Gospel of Luke, Christ made perfectly clear that entering into heaven is reserved for those who choose the narrow path rather than the broad avenues of the world. Something to think about in the final days of the Nativity fast.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Old Testament as the Story of the Savior

On the Sunday before Christmas the Church prepare us to receive Christ by recalling the story of His ancestors. When most people read the Old Testament, which we should ALL read, they think they are reading the story of the saved people of God. While the Old Testament does in fact speak about the people of God whom God continues to save, if you take a closer look you will notice the story is really about the family tree of Jesus Christ.

Look very briefly at Genesis and you will see the story. Creation...Fall... First Promise...Sinful world gets out of control....Fall (Great Flood)....Promise (Noah)....Sinful world gets out of control....Fall (Tower of Babel)...Promise (Abraham)....Sinful world gets out of control....(slavery, plagues, famine, murder, etc). At the point when the whole world had fallen into a sinful state THEN the final Promise is fulfilled with the coming of God into the world. This is why the Gospel of Matthew begins with the generations of Christ from Abraham to Christ.

For Orthodox Christians the Old Testament always points toward Jesus Christ. The Old Testament is the story of how God ensured at every point when sin had spread to the furthest reaches of the world that He identified at least one righteous human being through which the family line of the savior could continue. God’s promise since the very first Fall has always been to save humanity from eternal death, and the celebration of Christmas is the celebration of the beginning days of that final promise as it became a reality.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

40 Hours of Bible Study FREE!

With the closing of last night's LIVE STREAM Bible we have completed more than forty hours of Bible Study and discussion of The Church of the Holy Apostles: A Bible Study on the Book of Acts. Inspired by the homilies of Saint John Chrysostom "On the Acts of the Apostles" this Bible Study series began September 2014 and once complete (in May 2016) will include more than fifty-five hours of study and discussion on the life of the ancient Christian Church. One recent attendee said, "I love this ministry, we don't have a bible study at the parish where I attend college so this is a great tool for me to use each week. Whether I watch it live or not, I look forward to it every week!" You can view ALL forty hours using the link below. I truly look forward to our next session on January 13, 2016, when we will begin the final season of this great project.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Experiencing Christmas as an Adult

Today’s Epistle Reading: St. Paul's Letter to the Hebrews 5:11-14; 6:1-8 - BRETHREN, about Melchizedek we have much to say which is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of God's word. You need milk, not solid food; for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the work of righteousness, for he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their faculties trained by practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, with instruction about ablutions, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then commit apostasy, since they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt. For land which has drunk the rain that often falls upon it, and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed; its end is to be burned.

Christmas is just a “few days” away and you should be wondering why the Church offers us this particular reading. Keeping in mind this reading is assigned to be read on Wednesday of the 24th Week following Pascha, it routinely is read during December. While it is not particularly for the Christmas season, as so many daily things are focused on the “holidays” around our society, it does have something to teach us for Christmas.

Christmas is a season during which many of look back with fond memories of our childhood. Many even judge their current Christmas experience with memories of “better days” when we were children. It is a natural process, but one that rarely encourages growth and maturity. If we experienced Christmas with the same maturity that we had when we were children, we would never be satisfied. We would never be willing to help others. In essence we would be what some have called grown children. Others use the term spoiled brat.

The same can be said of our spiritual growth and maturity. If we insist on experiencing Jesus Christ (and now I’m not just speaking of Christmas) with the mind of a child, we will forever remain self-oriented brats. I often use the comparison to math. If we went through life only knowing 3rd grade mathematics and expecting the world experience of a 3rd grader, we would not only be lonely and miserable, we would be in danger. Intuitively we know that we MUST grow up, and most of us do pretty well in our secular lives growing up, but what about our spiritual life? This is the warning from Saint Paul today.

If you are still experiencing Christmas as a 3rd grader, maybe it’s time you grow up and put some effort into preparing your soul to receive Christ this year, and no so much about how well the Christmas Tree is decorated.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Is it good to beg God?

During the Christmas season, parents share a common struggle with the reality of begging children. Our children set their hearts on a particular gift they MUST have for Christmas, and go about the task of convincing their parents that they just don’t love their children enough if that gift doesn’t make its’ way under the Christmas Tree. EVERY parent understands this painful responsibility between wanting our children to be happy and knowing what really would make our children happy. EVERY parents understands that our children don’t fully understand the different between needs and wants. EVERY parents understands the pain of denying children something that, as parents, they know the children don’t need, or worse is dangerous for them to have.

Any now place yourself in the position of the child begging for something YOU have set your heart on this year. Have you asked God for something that, as of yet, He hasn’t given you? Do you continue to insist that God give you a particular blessing by begging Him in your daily prayers? Do you sometimes feel that God must not love you JUST because He hasn’t given you exactly what you want? Do you sometimes think YOU know better than God? Aren’t you really just behaving like a spoiled child during Christmas?

I must admit, I struggle with just how much is enough when it comes to praying “for” something we believe we need. It may be a new job, better health, nicer/kinder neighbors. During our daily prayers, we often find ourselves listing a number of “demands” from God. And then.....huff when He has decided that answer to our prayer is “no” or maybe “not yet” which makes us even more frustrated. Do we believe that if we just ask God enough, He will eventually “give in” to our demands? Worse is being taught that “just believe, and prayer with faith, and God will provide.”

Isn’t that what we learned as children? If either as parents who give in to children, or mentors who teach others to “name it and claim it” in our prayers, haven’t we just taught our children to beg God until He give in? And when He, in His wisdom and love for us, responds with “no” do we get angry or trust that He knows better what we need?

Next time you find yourself begging God after praying numerous times, ask yourself this: “Don’t I trust that God knows better?” And then finish your prayer with, “If it is God’s will.” If those final words are included with EVERY request, God will ALLWAYS “give us” what we seek because we seek His will.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Remember Be Transfigured with a Christmas Offering.

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Live A New Life In Christ

It Doesn't Matter if Your Name is on the List if You Make Excuses

In the Parable of the Great Banquet found in the Gospel of
Luke 14.16-24, Jesus warns us of the result of excuses. When we continue to
come up with excuses why we can’t attend Church, or why we can’t live the life
of the Church which is meant to prepare us for heaven, then we will find
ourselves left out. The life of the Church has only one purpose, to prepare us
for heaven. It doesn’t matter if our name is on the membership list in the Church
office, if we make excuses and don’t accept God’s invitation to attend the
banquet known as the Divine Liturgy. If we live a life filled with excuses
about church when we are alive, the chances are much greater that we will
continue to make excuses when God reminds us that heaven is ready and waiting
for us. It won’t make any difference when we claim our name is on the
invitation list, it will be too late.

Friday, December 11, 2015

If you are too busy for Church, you are too busy

The Gospel tells a story of a great banquet. Many were invited, but very few actually attended using all sorts of excuses. One had just bought a new farm, one had just purchased five oxen, and another had just been married. Excuses, excuses, excuses! The invited guests begged to be excused from the banquet. As a result the master of the banquet not only excused them, he banned them for EVER attending even if they had changed their mind saying, “none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.” (Luke 14.24)

This parable is to teach us about the kingdom of God. We have all been invited. When Jesus Christ came two thousand years ago to establish His Church, we received word that the banquet was ready. It is now up to us to not only accept the invitation, but actually attend the banquet. The banquet is heaven and you have been invited. What will your response be?

Attending Church services, most especially the Divine Liturgy, is our opportunity to accept Christ’s invitation to join Him at the banquet. The Divine Liturgy is more than just a Sunday gathering of like-minded Christians. The Divine Liturgy is the banquet. The Divine Liturgy is heaven on earth and you have been invited to attend. Will you attend or will you make excuses like the three men in the parable? Some will attend while others will make excuses. You may have just bought a new house, or you may have paperwork for the business. You may even be expecting family from out of town. The parable is meant to teach how God will respond to us if we beg to be excused. He will excuse us, not just for now but ban us for later. If you believe the parable then you should know, if you are too busy for Church, you are too busy.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Your Soul will Thank You

Today’s Gospel Reading: Luke 21:28-33 - The Lord said to his disciples, "Look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." And he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree, and all the trees; as soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."
When Jesus shared this parable He was speaking of His Own presence in the midst of the people. The Kingdom of God is found in Jesus Christ. His call then for people to raise up their heads and take notice of what was going on around them, is as true today as it was then. We MUST raise up our heads and take notice of the signs of our times. Christ also said,
 Therefore when you see the 'abomination of desolation,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place" (whoever reads, let him understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened. (Matthew 24.15-22)

Only the Lord knows if we are in the “end times” but we must nonetheless be prepared and watch for His return. The Kingdom of God is near as Saint Paul warned us,
“And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.” (Romans 13.11)
Don’t let another day go by without searching your heart, calling upon the Lord and repenting to Live A New Life In Christ. Call your priest today and schedule Holy Confession for Christmas. Your soul will thank you.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Coming Persecution of Christians

Today’s Gospel Reading: Luke 21:12-19 - The Lord said to his disciples, "Beware of men who will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name's sake. This will be a time for you to bear testimony. Settle it therefore in your minds, not to meditate beforehand how to answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put to death; you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives."
Are you being persecuted for your faith? You should expect it, but don’t seek it out. The early Church is filled with examples of thousands of martyrs who were persecuted to the point of death. Many others were tortured to the point of “near death” in attempts to convince them to deny Christ. These “near death” martyrs are referred to as “Confessors” since the evidence of their physical torture bore witness to their faith for Christ. The Saints may not have been looking for torture or death, but they never shied away from becoming a witness to the love and hope that is in Christ.

As we watch the daily evening news accounts of new martyrs and new confessors for the faith, we should take to heart today’s Gospel warning from Christ. We WILL be delivered up. We WILL be brought before governments. We WILL be betrayed even by our closest family and friends. We WILL be persecuted for Christ, maybe not to the point of death or physical torture, but we will be persecuted. As I have written before in this blog, I believe our persecution will be financial rather than physical.

Churches WILL lose tax exempt status.
Christians WILL lose employment if they refuse to hide their faith.
Christians WILL be imprisoned on charges of not supporting the position of the state.

But fear not. God will provide a defense for us. We will NOT PERISH. We have been forever united to God. They may take away our earthly life, but they cannot take our eternal life with Christ.

Monday, December 7, 2015

An Elderly Joseph, the Virgin Mary and Sexuality

Each year I find myself reminding people, and quite frankly becoming exasperated, about the truth of Joseph and Mary. As Orthodox Christians we teach that Joseph was a righteous old man in his seventies when he, by lot, was blessed to be the caretaker for the Panagia, the Theookos and Ever-Virgin Mary. Furthermore the Church AFFIRMS that since she was a virgin before conceiving Christ, while she was pregnant with Christ, and after Christ was born – why we call her Ever-Virgin – Joseph and Mary NEVER HAD SEXUAL RELATIONS.

This idea of ever-virginity is difficult for most western Christians to accept since, for at least 200 years, the west has considered Joseph as a young man engaged to Mary “just staring out their life” when he discovered she was pregnant. The west uses as their defense for their position that so-called brothers of the Lord mentioned in Matthew 12.47 as evidence that Mary “must have had” sexual relations with Joseph. How else could He have had brothers? The west ignores Christ’s reply whey He says, “For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12.50)

Without this verse, there is no scriptural evidence that the Panagia, the Ever-Virgin Mary, and Joseph had sexual relations; the west is left only with the emotions of a young man starting out his life alongside his young wife. Who could possibly doubt they were sexually active? What young seventeen year old boy and thirteen year old girl, a “newlywed” couple, would remain virgins? By today’s sexual standards, this would be unheard of, especially in the context of such a high teenage sexually active society as we have today.

I then return to the ANCIENT teaching that Joseph was an elderly widower with children who had been chosen by lot from among the righteous men to be betrothed to the Panagia. In recent years even Orthodox Christians with whom I have spoken struggle with this notion of an elderly Joseph, but not from any sense of spiritual piety or historical evidence. Many today simple cannot stand to see an old man being betrothed to a young girl despite the ancient writings of the Church.

Our society has become so hyper-sexualized that many, by their own admission to me, are grossed out by seeing and elderly Joseph appear in Christmas plays. Refusing to break from the contemporary hper-sexualized society we live in today, and consider that Joseph was righteous and holy, many today prefer to visualize Joseph as a young man. Many are more comfortable “expecting sexual relations” between a young Joseph and “Virgin” Mary than a celibate elderly Joseph caring for an EVER-Virgin Mary.

Ah, the ever present “Christmas Pageant” produced by Sunday Schools around the country. Orthodox Christians have felt the need to “fit in” so terribly with our American culture, we insist on annual Christmas pageants, forgetting that the Protestant West “needs” them since they have no liturgical or iconographic life in their Church. Without the annual Christmas Pageant, most Protestant Churches look and sound “no different” during Christmas than any other day of the year. Without the richness of Orthodox hymnography and iconography, Protestants are left with “the stage” to experience Christ.

The theological fall-out of Christmas Pageants is that most are written by and for Protestants, perpetuating Protestant theology and tradition. And what is left, are Orthodox Christians holding on to traditions that teach our youth incorrect history and theology, when all we needed to teach was Orthodox Tradition in the first place. And if seeing an elderly Joseph walking up the Church aisle during the Christmas Pageant is uncomfortable, a better option would be to acknowledge just how far away from God our contemporary idea of sexuality has come, but at least our youth would know the truth about Joseph and the EVER-Virgin Mary.

Obey the Church

It seems like the holiday season is one of the most
difficult times to follow the life of the Church. Around every turn our society
is urging us to turn away from following the life of the Church in favor of
secular parties and materialism. With the burden of Christmas shopping, laying
out decorations, attending holiday parties at work or in the neighborhood, most
people are just happy Christmas is over, once it finally arrives. Attending
Divine Liturgy is nothing more than an obligatory punctuation mark to an
over-scheduled, over-hyped and over-worked season. An all the while the Church
expects us to prepare for Christmas with fasting, prayer, reading the
Scriptures, helping the poor, going for Holy Confession. We have a choice. We
can either obey the Church, with her two thousand year history of experience
and grace, or we can obey the society and look at the expectations of the
Church with ridicule. The choice is yours.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Fruit of the Spirit or the devil?

Today’s Epistle Reading: St. Paul's Letter to the Galatians 5:22-26; 6:1-2 - Brethren, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.  And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.  Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another.  Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.  Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted.  Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Especially during these “holidays” when materialism and commercialism beckons around every corner, we should be convicted by today’s reading from Galatians. Just how do we expect to “have crucified the flesh” if we are not willing to fast during these days when the world is celebrating? I hear sometimes, “We’re supposed to celebrating the holidays, and now you’re telling me I should fast. How am I supposed to do that? Everyone will think I’m weird.” AS IF we place more value in the opinions of strangers on the street than whether our soul is in fact bearing the fruit of the spirit. Think of it for a moment...self-conceit, provoking one another, envy of one another....aren’t these the exact sins we encounter during the holidays? Aren’t these the exact sins that we drain our soul of joy? The reason is simple really. The world, being led astray by the devil, seeks to draw us more into our selfish desires rather than focus upon God. If the devil can use our friends, coworkers, neighbors and family members to shame us into going with the flow of society, we will not bear fruit of the Spirit, but fruit of the devil. Something to think about while you’re out shopping for that ‘perfect gift’ this weekend.

Friday, December 4, 2015

If We Won’t Listen to the Church, Then Who?

When our Lord returned to His Throne in Heaven He commanded His Disciples, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28.18-20) Since that very moment the Church, guided into all Truth by the Holy Spirit (John 16.13), and the authority given to them by Jesus, has been responsible to God for our spiritual growth.

But most of us refuse to listen to the Church. This is why Saint Paul said, “Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account.” (Hebrews 13.17) It isn’t only authority the Church received by God. The Church also received grace from the Holy Spirit to teach us to observe all that God had commanded us. The Holy Apostles were the protectors of that way of life, and the Church down through the centuries has continued as protector and teacher of truth. This is why the Church REQUIRES that every teaching remain unchanged from the Holy Apostles.

The Holy Fathers, the bishops, archbishops, metropolitans and patriarchs of the Church, always loyal to the teachings of the Holy Apostles, are today’s protectors and teachers of the truth. This is why during the Divine Liturgy we pray, “Among the first remember, O Lord, our Archbishop Alexios, whom You have granted to serve Your holy churches in peace; keep him safe, honorable, and healthy with length of days, rightly teaching the word of Your truth.” Between the Holy Spirit guiding the Apostles into all truth, the Holy Fathers protecting the truth over the centuries, and the Bishops today protecting and teaching the word of God’s truth, why wouldn’t we obey our leaders? If we won’t listen to the Church with all the grace the Church has received from the Holy Spirit, who will we listen to? 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Wealth and Giving

Today’s Epistle Reading: St. Paul's First Letter to Timothy 6:17-21 - TIMOTHY, my son, charge the rich in this world not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on uncertain riches but on God who richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous, thus laying up for themselves a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed. O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards the faith. Grace be with you. Amen.
My goal recently has been to blog daily as I have other years during the Nativity Fast. It helps to remain focused on spiritual matters rather than the mundane politics of the day. It hasn’t always been easy since part of my ministry includes spending some time every day on the internet during which time it has become increasingly difficult to avoid politics. Nonetheless, I will attempt to offer a few words every day for the glory of God.

In today’s Epistle reading we hear another commandment for the Church to urge wealthy individuals to higher spiritual standards. Yesterday, I spoke negatively about the new “Giving Tuesday” movement because I truly believe it takes advantage of peoples good intentions to be generous, so that wealth can increase. There are many reports of CEOs of various national charities with unreasonably high salaries. It is clear to me that many people have become quite rich claiming to serve the poor.

Talking about wealth can be a daunting task. Everyone who is wealthy wants to remain wealthy, and so many who are not wealthy desire to become wealthy. Some even suggest they desire wealth “just” so they can help others. How many times have you heard, “If I could just win the lottery, I would be able to help....” but the money never seems to flow to the various charities as promised. There always seem to be other desires that get in the way. Advance promises give way to current excuses. Wealth can be so tempting.

It doesn’t require wealth to love others. It doesn’t require wealth to have compassion for others. It doesn’t require wealth even to feed the hungry. It requires a heart that desires God above all else, because once wealth finds its way into our bank account, it isn’t a difficult journey into our hearts. Once we “get the taste of wealth” we crave an ever more growing supply. And then we make excuses that our donations, though they are but a small fraction of our wealth, are “more than others need.” I was once told, “Father, if just the men around this table tithed, the entire Church budget would already be funded,” as if that were a bad thing.

And so it continues. The wealthy use their wealth to influence society, sometimes even claiming it is for the good of society, without ever really giving to society themselves. It isn’t uncommon for a wealthy person to say, “I know how to make money. If you listen to me, the Church will have plenty of money,” but then never actually giving any of their own wealth to the Church. Many times, it would have been much easier, and more effective in the long run, if instead of teaching others how to earn money for their Church, the wealthy taught others how to give by actually giving.

I invite you this Nativity Fast to learn how to give rather than how to get the best deal. I invite you to reconsider how to go about your Christmas shopping. Rather than attempting to “get as much as you can for as little as you can,” spend the Nativity Fast giving what you already have. In other words, your love, your time, your compassion, your peace....and then you may just find that shopping mall a less stressful experience. This isn’t a fasting period for nothing.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Giving Tuesday

I learned something yesterday. The Tuesday after Thanksgiving has become known (or is in the process of becoming known) as “Giving Tuesday” during which we are encouraged to give to charity. Charities asking for donations during the holiday season isn’t a new thing. In fact, I was just working on our Church “Christmas Appeal” yesterday coincidentally of course. So why I am blogging about “Giving Tuesday” today?
Today’s Epistle Reading: St. Paul's First Letter to Timothy 5:22-25; 6:1-11 - TIMOTHY, my son, do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor participate in another man's sins; keep yourself pure. No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments. The sins of some men are conspicuous, pointing to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. So also good deeds are conspicuous; and even when they are not, they cannot remain hidden. Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be defamed. Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brethren; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their service are believers and beloved. Teach and urge these duties. If any one teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching which accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit, he knows nothing; he has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, and wrangling among men who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. There is great gain in godliness with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs. But as for you, man of God, shun all this.
The human struggle between greed and generosity is an old struggle, and many have “wandered away” from the true teaching of the Church in hopes to become wealthy. Still something bothered me yesterday about “Giving Tuesday” that I wanted to share. WHY do we even NEED a day to encourage people to give to charities? Is it to soothe our guilty consciences? Do we somehow know that our shopping sprees and wealth building is leading our soul away from God? Or have professional fundraisers perfected the “art of the ask” when it comes to charitable giving?

I watched an interview yesterday with a representative from the organization spearheading “Giving Tuesday” and what struck me was the lack of purpose behind the giving. According to the organizers website, ">GivingTuesday connects diverse groups of individuals, communities and organizations around the world for one common purpose: to celebrate and encourage giving.” And then it occurred to me.... “Giving Tuesday” is a MOVEMENT, and I am always skeptical of movements. Movements are mean to “move people” from one place to another, so my question is, “To where does the “Giving Tuesday Movement” desire to move the world if not toward the Church? There is NO mention of God or religion among the information for volunteers and organizations. The only reference to God/Church/Religion was a list of religious organizations that profited from the movement. What I DID find was a bunch of gimmicks used to increase fundraising dollars. Even the list of religious organizations was more of a “you can get some too” presentation without praise for the actual Christian work being done. The implication was “Just list your cause and you too can be rich.”

As Christians our giving is not a movement, nor is it a gimmick; and it is most certainly NOT a tool to unite the globe. It is an expression of OUR LOVE FOR JESUS CHRIST. If all “Giving Tuesday” is going to accomplish to increase the donations collected for charitable organizations rather than bring Jesus Christ into the hearts of the people, isn’t Giving Tuesday just another “love of money” exercise under the disguise of giving?

And then there was another post I came across yesterday from Pflag urging people to stop donating to the Salvation Army because the Salvation Army opposes gay marriage despite the hundreds of thousands each year who benefit from the outreach and assistance which they otherwise would not receive if not for the Salvation Army. I found the post painfully ironic since we are often told to ignore a minor detail like abortion in favor of the great work of Planned Parenthood as reasons why we should fund that organization.

Ultimately I’m quite sure many good and holy organizations received benefit from “Giving Tuesday” yesterday, and for that I am thankful. But when our Christian life is limited to “doing good things” than we no longer need Christ. We become a “Dogooder” rather than a Christian.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

It’s Not You, It’s Me

Any fan of the TV show Seinfeld knows what this phrase means. It is a polite way of “getting out telling the truth” when breaking off a relationship. The truth of this phrase, when used in common practice, really says, “I can’t stand you. You stifle me. You keep me in a box. You don’t respect me. You don’t allow me to be who I really am. I’m leaving you!” You get the point.

But today, I want to imagine the phrase as genuine. When someone departs from the normal path of the Church, we often hear excuses similar to the above statements from broken relationships. I RARELY hear, in fact I can’t recall ever hearing it at all, “The, ‘It’s not you, it’s me, routine,’” to borrow a phrase from Seinfeld.

What if we lived in a world in which people were honest with the reason they leave the Church?
“It’s not the Church’s fault; I just don’t like being told that I have to deny my own desires in exchange for the desires God has for me in my life.”
“It’s not the Church’s fault; I just don’t have the intention of going to Church every Sunday.”
“It’s not the Church’s fault; I just don’t have the desire to dedicate my life to Christ.”
“It’s not the Church’s fault; I just don’t have the desire to limit my lifestyle.”
“It’s not the Church’s fault; I just don’t want to be told what the Bible means.”
Instead we normally hear...
“Doesn’t the Church know I have too many things to do on Sundays?”
“I’m not a Saint. I don’t need a Church that tries to change who I really am inside.”
“God doesn’t make mistakes, and He made me. He loves me just the way I am.”
“The Bible was written a long time ago, and times have changed.”
While I will be the first to admit that not every Priest or Parish is the perfect place to encounter God; let’s face it, there is NO perfect Priest of Parish. That doesn’t mean that the life the Church has outlined, guided by the Holy Spirit, doesn’t have something to offer our journey toward oneness with God. I suppose I just want people to be honest, and admit they have no desire to live the life of the Church, rather than blaming the Church for being too preachy or too demanding.

When Jesus said, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me,” I’m pretty sure He wasn’t using the “It’s not you, it’s Me,” routine. Just a thought.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Baptism is just the beginning

Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, "teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen. (Matthew 28.16-20)
The Gospel of Matthew ends with the words invoked at every Orthodox Christian Baptism. With these words, the Church BEGAN the work of making disciples of all nations, and each Baptism BEGINS a NEW life in Christ. Saint Paul teaches:
Brethren, do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6.3-11)
It is a privilege and great blessing to be allowed by the grace of God and the authority of His Church, to baptize infants and adults into Christ. But the baptism is only the beginning. As with any life, without growth and nourishment life ends in death, spiritual as well as physical. And how do we grow and nourish our NEW LIFE IN CHRIST?

The life of the Church, with her prayers, fasting, almsgiving, sacramental life, house blessings, Holy Scripture readings, Matins, Vespers, Supplications, Anointings, Holy Water blessings, feeding programs, clothing drives, visitations....get the picture? The Orthodox Christian Way of Life IS the nourishment and growth of the soul if we fully embrace the life in Christ that was given to us at our Baptism. Otherwise, baptism is just another “thing” we Orthodox do, rather than the beginning of a “life” we live.

Live as Children of Light

Look around at any family gathering and you will no doubt
see children acting like their parents. Parents often look at their children
with pride as they “see themselves” in their children because children often reflect
their parents. In fact each of us reflects what is most important in our
hearts. Like the rich man in the Gospel (Luke 18.18-27) our heart can also be
cold and greedy and turned away from the love of God. A quick look at news
coverage during the Thanksgiving Holiday, and we can see the priorities of many
in our society. Shopping malls are filled with angry and sometimes violent
shoppers grabbing for that discounted product, while their brothers and sisters
are living in the streets with nothing to eat. The world can be a dark and
lonely place, and for those lost in the darkness, just a glimpse of light can
bring hope for a better tomorrow. As Saint Paul said, “For you were once
darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.”
(Ephesians 5.8) As Orthodox Christians we have an opportunity to reflect the
Light of Christ for those lost in the darkness, and bring hope that there is
Way out of the darkness. We have an opportunity to reflect the Light of Christ
so others will see the Light and follow the Light to the Church. If we indeed
are children of light, then we should reflect our Father’s Light.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

If it hurts it might be your pride

Today’s Gospel Reading: Luke 10:19-21 - The Lord said to his disciples, "Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will."
Jesus promised the disciples that nothing would hurt them, but as we know only one of the original twelve died of “natural” causes. The rest were martyrs. We became His disciples and people hurt every day, physically and emotionally. What did Jesus mean when He promised that nothing would hurt us?

I received a note from someone recently asking advice on how to respond to a situation when they were hurt. The person asked, “In orthodoxy we are taught to turn the other cheek when someone strikes us.  I have followed this throughout my young life however now I wonder if there was something more to that?” YES, there’s always more to the story. The idea of turning the other cheek is more about US than the person who hurt us. Let me explain.

We pray in the 50th Psalm, “Against You only have I sinned.” If our sin is only against God, then the sins of others are also only against God, even though we may feel the action. The call to turn the other cheek is to guide us into NOT taking personally the sinful actions of others. In fact, it is our sinful pride that we think that any sin could be against us, because in our mind it is ALWAYS about us. We must remember the context of the “turn the other cheek” command of God. (see Matthew 5.39) Jesus is helping us to resist evil. Among the turn the other cheek commands are the following commands:
" You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' "But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. "If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. "And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. "Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. " You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' "But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, "that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. "For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? "And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? "Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5.38-48)

So what is it that hurts when someone sins? Our pride is hurt, and that then becomes our sin. What about the physical pain we feel from others? Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10.28) The only damage done when someone hurts us physically, if we hold off our pride, is a simple flesh wound. Flesh wounds might hurt for the moment, but they heal. We often think the WORST possible thing someone can do to us, from our earthly vantage point, is to kill us. That ultimately is what Jesus wants us to understand from today’s reading. EVEN if they kill us, that doesn’t hurt us because Jesus has conquered death. We will live forever with Him. What will hurt much more ‘later’ is the hell we created by pride and our own sinful passions. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

Back to fasting

With yesterday’s 24 hour respite from fasting (in America) for the only day nationally set aside to thank God for our blessings in the rear view mirror, we return today to the Christmas Fast. The Christmas Fast, meant to prepare our soul to encounter Christ at His Nativity in a few short weeks, is rarely practiced in America, at least from so-called cradle Orthodox. With “the holidays” and “holiday parties” at every corner, it has become increasingly difficult to fast for the forty days before Christmas.

From my perspective the difficulty is what brings the benefit. Fasting in and of itself doesn’t bring much blessing. It in fact is the very willingness to depart for the secular trends that nourishes our soul. Think about it this way; if every time we were faced with the choice between the Church and ‘society,’ we chose society, our soul would sink deeper and deeper into the pit. On the other hand, when we are willing to at least attempt to choose the Church’s way of life over the society, we have already won the first battle, if not the entire war.

When I teach fasting to teenagers I often say, “If you can’t say ‘no’ to a hamburger, what makes you think you can say ‘no’ to sex on a Friday night?” Likewise, if we can’t for a few short weeks care more about our soul and fast in preparation for Christmas rather than attending every holiday party we can fit into our schedule, what makes us think we will be able to choose other holy options in our path? Once we have accepted that society is the way we choose, what chances do we have to be generous rather than greedy, sharing rather than selfish, honest in business rather than shrewd, content rather than contemptuous?

These are the real battles of a Christian in society, and fasting trains our body and soul to choose the holy life of the Church, which has been guided by the Holy Spirit, rather than the secular life of the world, which is guided by sin and evil. So today, the day after Thanksgiving, having given thanks to God, we return to fasting....for the good of our soul.

Have a blessed remainder of the Christmas Fast.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Give thanks to the Lord for He is good! for His mercy endures forever!

Psalm 135 (136)
  1. Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.
  2. Oh, give thanks to the God of gods! For His mercy endures forever.
  3. Oh, give thanks to the Lord of lords! For His mercy endures forever:
  4. To Him who alone does great wonders, For His mercy endures forever;
  5. To Him who by wisdom made the heavens, For His mercy endures forever;
  6. To Him who laid out the earth above the waters, For His mercy endures forever;
  7. To Him who made great lights, For His mercy endures forever --
  8. The sun to rule by day, For His mercy endures forever;
  9. The moon and stars to rule by night, For His mercy endures forever.
  10. To Him who struck Egypt in their firstborn, For His mercy endures forever;
  11. And brought out Israel from among them, For His mercy endures forever;
  12. With a strong hand, and with an outstretched arm, For His mercy endures forever;
  13. To Him who divided the Red Sea in two, For His mercy endures forever;
  14. And made Israel pass through the midst of it, For His mercy endures forever;
  15. But overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea, For His mercy endures forever;
  16. To Him who led His people through the wilderness, For His mercy endures forever;
  17. To Him who struck down great kings, For His mercy endures forever;
  18. And slew famous kings, For His mercy endures forever --
  19. Sihon king of the Amorites, For His mercy endures forever;
  20. And Og king of Bashan, For His mercy endures forever --
  21. And gave their land as a heritage, For His mercy endures forever;
  22. A heritage to Israel His servant, For His mercy endures forever.
  23. Who remembered us in our lowly state, For His mercy endures forever;
  24. And rescued us from our enemies, For His mercy endures forever;
  25. Who gives food to all flesh, For His mercy endures forever.
  26. Oh, give thanks to the God of heaven! For His mercy endures forever.

Since today is the ONLY day in our Nation’s public life that has been set aside to give thanks to God for our blessings, seen and unseen, I offer this prayer from Be Transfigured Ministries. Have a blessed Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Don’t Ruin Christmas!

A month ago, in a mall in Charlotte, NC., shoppers were taken by surprise to discover a “Glacier Experience” had replaced the traditional Christmas Tree to feature Santa Clause for their annual holiday pictures. Almost immediately shoppers led protests and social media online went viral with outraged parents bewailing their children’s ruined Christmas. Boycotts ensued....and eventually Simon Malls replaced the glaciers with Christmas Trees. Just weeks after the glacier fiasco, Starbucks made news with a plain red “holiday” coffee cup. Again shoppers went viral online with their anger and accusations that the company was being politically correct and some even suggested persecuting Christians. Starbucks, unlike Simon Malls, has not changed their decision, but it should be noted the Starbucks annual “holiday” cup has never said Merry Christmas, but rather included snowflakes and candy canes designs.

It seems a shame to me that Christians have turned Christmas into such a secular and commercialized holiday, even to suggest somehow shopping mall decorations and coffee cups could ruin Christmas. And let’s not forget the Santa Clause image we see in stores IS and HAS BEEN a commercial endeavor for many decades. The world has long since forgotten the story SAINT Nicholas, the ORTHODOX Christian Bishop of Myra. If anything has ruined Christmas, it has been using Christmas to sell toys and gadgets simply to increase profit margins for large corporations. Twinkly lights and snowflakes hanging from a fur tree don’t “make” Christmas anymore than Santa and his elves make Christmas.

Christmas is the queen of Feasts as Saint John Chrysostom says. Without Christmas, there would be no Pascha, and without Pascha, our life would be in vain. To prepare to celebrate the coming of the Creator of the Universe into creation requires more than lists of good little boys and girls, or waiting in line to sit on the Santa’s lap. It requires prayer, fasting, reading the Scriptures, Holy Confession, remembering and helping the poor, attending Divine Liturgy often, and being prepared to receive Holy Communion – the Body of Blood of Christ – at EVERY Divine Liturgy. If anything can ruin Christmas, it would be forgetting to prepare our soul to receive God.

Fortunately for us, we have another chance this year to “get it right” and worry more about our souls than our Christmas stockings.
  • Serve the Poor
  • Read and Study the Scriptures
  • Fast.
  • Schedule Holy Confession
  • Attend Divine Liturgy OFTEN

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Don't waste another moment

Today’s Gospel Reading: Luke 17:26-37; 18:8 - The Lord said, "As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of man. They ate, they drank, they married, they were given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise as it was in the days of Lot -- they ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all -- so will it be on the day when the Son of man is revealed. On that day, let him who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away; and likewise let him who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot's wife. Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it. I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together; one will be taken and the other left." And they said to him, "Where, Lord?" He said to them, "Where the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together. Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?"
Many Christians bewail the fact that morals continue to erode in our society. Consumerism is at an all-time high. The sexual revolution and abortion rights advocates have turned God’s gift of sexual intimacy into nothing more than a one-night stand with the same privileges as selling goods in the marketplace. Obscene wealth builders look with disdain at those around the world struggling for a slice of bread. The world truly has returned the days of Lot and Noah. “Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?” There is still hope! So long as we awake with the ability to breath and repent, there is hope. But time is short as Saint reminded us.
Now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts. Romans 13.11-14

During these weeks of the Christmas Fast, TAKE the time (you won’t find it easily) to rededicate your life to growing closer to God. Rather than extra shopping trips during your lunch break, stop by the Church and light a candle, venerate the Holy Icons, and pray. Make an appointment with your priest for Holy Confession. Don’t waste another moment.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Kingdom of God is in our midst

Today’s Gospel Reading: Luke 17:20-25 - At that time, when Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, he answered them, "The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, 'Lo, here it is!' or 'There!' for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you." And he said to the disciples, "The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and you will not see it. And they will say to you, 'Lo, there!' or 'Lo, here!' Do not go, do not follow them. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of man be in his day. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation."

When Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven, He spoke of the future and, as in today’s Gospel lesson, in the present. His desire to live within our hearts is nowhere more obvious than His reminder, “The Kingdom of God is in the midst of you,” He was speaking of Himself being in their immediate presence, but we cannot forget that in the Church, through the Holy Eucharist, He is STILL present among us. Every time we are in Church we are in His presence and therefore in Heaven. Something to think about next time we are tempted to look only to the future. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Appearing to Care

Today’s Gospel Reading: Luke 16:15-18; 17:1-4 - The Lord said to the Jews who came to him, "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts; for what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. The law and the prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and every one enters it violently. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one dot of the law to become void. Every one who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery."  And he said to his disciples, "Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, 'I repent,' you must forgive him."

It struck me this morning when I read the Gospel for today. Especially since the terrorist attack in Paris, it occurs to me so many desire to be SEEN as being compassionate that they will go to extreme ends to display their solidarity through Facebook and other forms of social media. I’ve grown tired of the various meme’s pulling at my Christian heart strings with pictures that show Joseph and Mary being “locked out of America” as refugees; as if CLEARLY one must be the chief hypocrite for even wanting to discuss the question of the recent refugee crisis. We are so preoccupied with APPEARING to care, I wonder how many of us really care in the first place. If we did.....the world would already be different.

So I will remain silent for now on the refugee crisis, not because I don’t have an opinion, but because I’m not sure the current conversation is even a conversation. If you have been a fan of my blog for any time, you know my thoughts about politics and faith, and you know my thoughts about wearing our faith merely as dressing rather than converting our hearts.

I received a text message yesterday from someone who wanted my advice on “how” she should be thinking about the refugee crisis. My response was that it is too deep for a text message. She shared with me that she was conflicted. I said, “You should be.” The problems of our world are real and the only way we will ever truly be able to address them is when we stop worrying about being justified by men, and start worrying about being justified by God.....but let me warn you.....that will mean MUCH more discomfort than merely posting a meme showing Native Americans rejecting the pilgrims because they no longer accept refugees. It will require genuine repentance in your heart and mercy from God.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

I Choose God

The Orthodox Church Lectionary is a tool through which each devout Christian reads the Holy Scriptures daily. In the wisdom of the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, Orthodox Christians read the entire New Testament, with the exception of Revelation, each year “piece by piece” each day. The readings for today are as follows:

2 Thessalonians 2.13-3.5 - But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace, comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work. Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord concerning you, both that you do and will do the things we command you. Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ.

Luke 16.1-9 -  He also said to His disciples: "There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. "So he called him and said to him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.' "Then the steward said within himself, 'What shall I do? For my master is taking the stewardship away from me. I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg. 'I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.' "So he called every one of his master's debtors to him, and said to the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' "And he said, 'A hundred measures of oil.' So he said to him, 'Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.' "Then he said to another, 'And how much do you owe?' So he said, 'A hundred measures of wheat.' And he said to him, 'Take your bill, and write eighty.' "So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light. "And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home.

In the Gospel lesson for today, if we take at face value JUST the verses written, we might think that Jesus was praising shrewdness and dishonesty. But this parable does not elevate shrewdness. Instead it suggests that eventually the shrewd and dishonest steward will eventually fail, and THEN his only hope will be those FOR whom He was dishonest. Notice it isn’t the master who will be his friend in the end, but those who profited by his dishonesty. (see Luke 16.9)

But in the next verses, though they are not read today) we find a deeper understanding...
Luke 16.10-13 - "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. "Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? "And if you have not been faithful in what is another man's, who will give you what is your own? "No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon."

If we read these verses we understand meaning Christ wants to understand. He MUST choose our friends. Are we going to choose those who will only support us when we are shrewd and dishonest? Or will we choose God who will stand by us in our struggle and pain? I don’t know about you, but I choose God as my friend, and if that means I lose some friends in this life who would only support me when I am shrewd, then sobeit.