Monday, March 30, 2015

Humility & Repentance

On the final Sunday of Great Lent, the Church makes one final plea for us to look into our hearts with Christian humility to see our sinful ways. Saint Mary of Egypt was stopped from venerating the Holy Cross of Christ because of her sinful life. The Disciples were prideful and seeking after honor, when God revealed their hearts. It doesn’t matter who we might be, in our hearts we know how far away from God we really live. Saint Mary of Egypt and the Holy Apostles, after having their hearts revealed, lived a life of total repentance. Only once we have seen our hearts, can we truly repent and live with God in Heaven. If we desire to live with God, it will require humility and repentance – you can’t have one without the other.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Repentance and Humility; the keys which unlock the Gates of Heaven

The final Sunday of Great Lent, the Church urges us on further toward repentance and humility on the Sunday of Mary of Egypt. On this day the Church directs our attention to the total and complete humility and repentance of a woman who had been consumed by sin. While at the “height” of a quite successful “career” of prostitution, she was called by God in a unique way. According to the Tradition of the Church, she was attempting to enter the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem with a group of men she had been seducing. An unknown force kept her from entering the Sacred Church, which she interpreted as a sign from God. She made a vow to the Theotokos that if she was allowed to enter the Church and venerate the Life-Giving Cross of Our Lord, she would renounce the world and live in total repentance. She spent the remaining forty-seven years of her life alone in the desert.

On this day we also hear the Lord challenge his disciples to life of humble service. After the disciples were found arguing about who would be greater in God’s Kingdom, Jesus said, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.” (Mark 10.42-44)

These are two great lessons of humility and repentance as we approach the final days of Great Lent. Don’t waste another day. Take full advantage of the days you have remaining for repentance and practice humility. These keys will unlock the gates of heaven and you will be welcomed into the banquet with honor.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Holy Week: Day by Day

Many of us have been attending Holy Week services since we were very young, and while we continue the blessed Tradition of attending Church services during the “holiest week of the year” many of us are unaware of the meaning of each day, and why the Church has called us to gather (sometimes) in the darkness of night to pray what seem like long and tedious prayers. To help us this year, I have attempted to summarize the “themes” for each day of Holy Week. It is my prayer that this will assist each of us to experience the fullness of the Resurrection of Our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ. You can read more about Holy Week in a wonderful resource, “Great Week and Pascha in the Greek Orthodox Church” byFr Alkiviadis Calivas.

The Saturday of Lazarus and Palm Sunday is a two-day festival commemorating the raising of Lazarus from the dead Christ’s Triumphal entrance into Jerusalem. “By causing the final eruption of the unrelenting hostility of His enemies, who had been plotting to kill Him, these two events precipitate Christ’s death. At the very same time, however, these same events emphasize His divine authority.”

Holy Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday feature stories from events in the final days in the earthly life of Jesus Christ prior to His Passion. The Service of the Bridegroom, which is celebrated each evening beginning with Palm Sunday evening, focuses our attention by remaining vigilant on the coming of the Lord’s Judgment at His Second Coming. It should be remembered the earliest Christians believed Christ would return in THEIR immediate lifetime. Themes such as conflict, judgment, authority, mourning, and repentance are meant to draw our hearts to long for Christ and prepare for His return.

The Mystery (or Sacrament) of Holy Unction is celebrated on Holy Wednesday evening almost like a bridge between the preparatory themes of early Holy Week and the Coming Passion of Christ. The Mystery of Holy Unction, founded upon the actions of Christ, “serves to remind the faithful of Chris’s power to forgive and liberate the conscience from the blight of personal and collective sin.”

Holy Thursday focuses on the events in the Upper Room and the Garden of Gethsemane. Within the context of “The Mystical Supper” we witness the institution of the Eucharist by Christ with the words, “Take, eat; this is My Body...Drink of it all of you; for this is My Blood of the New Covenant.” This is the final Liturgy before the Crucifixion, and includes the consecration of the “reserve communion” which is used throughout the year for hospital calls etc. While praying in the Garden, Jesus is betrayed by Judas with a kiss. On this day, light and darkness, joy and sorrow, life and death, are strangely mixed converging in one moment in the Church, reminding us of the inevitable struggle of life.

Holy Friday the Church remembers the mystery of Christ’s death on the Cross. The moving service known as “The Twelve Gospels” focuses upon the passion of Christ in which we, “commemorate the holy, saving and awesome sufferings of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ: the spitting, the striking, the scourging, the cursing, the mockery, the crown of thorns, the purple cloak, the rod, the sponge, the vinegar and gall, the nails, the spear.”

Holy Saturday contemplates the mystery of the Lord’s descent into Hades, where death is finally defeated by Life. Standing around the Tomb of Christ, we sing hymns of joyous lamentations as we behold Life in the Tomb. “The day embodies the fullest possible sense of the meaning of joyful-sadness, which has dominated the entire week. Holy Saturday is a day of strictest fast.

Monday, March 23, 2015

It Begins with Renouncing the World

A holy man was asked to write down some advice about how to get to heaven. What resulted was a “book” we now know as “The Ladder of Divine Ascent” and has become a spiritual classic within the Orthodox Church. There are thirty chapters that build the ladder to heaven, but it is the first step that makes all the difference. It begins with renouncing the world.


Friday, March 20, 2015

Is Our Lenten Struggle Worth It?

Half-way through Great Lent, we are tired, hungry and a bit grumpy, and the Church encourages us to keep up the struggle if we desire to be with God in Heaven. We are all willing to struggle, sacrifice and work hard for something which we desire. Do you desire to be with God in heaven? The Way of the Christian is the way of the Cross, IF we desire God. Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Mark 8.34) Our Great Lenten struggle isn’t forced upon us by God as punishment, but an offering to help us follow Christ. So, is our Lenten struggle worth it? It is, if you desire to be with God in heaven. It’s your choice.


Friday, March 13, 2015

When it comes to your spiritual journey, the struggle is EVERYTHING

We have arrived at the “half-way point” of our Great Lenten Journey, and the Church brings our attention solidly upon the Holy Precious and Life-Giving Cross of our Lord. In the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Great Lent we hear Jesus Christ challenge us to join Him on the Cross. “For whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Mark 8:34) The life of every Christian is found in the Cross, both the Cross of Christ and OUR cross which we carry through our daily struggles.

We know that anything of value is worth the hard work it takes to achieve. A good crop, a well built house, a successful business – these each are possible only with hard work and dedication. The same is true with our spiritual life in Christ. If we desire a good outcome, it will require hard work and dedication. That is why, half-way through Great Lent we hear the words of Christ, “For whoever desires to save his life will lost it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?” (Mark 8.35-36)

It isn’t too late to dedicate the rest of your Great Lenten Journey to the hard work it will take to prepare your soul to encounter Jesus Christ in His glorious resurrection on Pascha when we will receive the eternal Light and sing, “Christ is risen from the dead!” Embrace the struggle that is Great Lent by fasting, increasing your prayer life, attending extra Church services, and serving the poor. As Christ says, “What will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8.37)

Monday, March 9, 2015

Do You Love Your Friends Enough?

On the Second Sunday of Great Lent we hear of a paralytic who had four friends who loved him enough to not give up trying to get him into the presence of the Grace of God. When Jesus saw THEIR faith, the Gospel says He turned to the paralytic and said, “Your sins are forgiven.” How much do you love your friends? Do you love them enough to never give up trying to bring them to encounter the Grace of God in His Church? Do you love them enough to bring them to Christ in His Church so they can hear the words, “Your sins are forgiven?” The Uncreated Energy of God is present in His Grace in the Holy Sacraments of the Church. If we truly loved our friends enough, our Churches would be filled to capacity with those seeking a real encounter with the Grace of God. Our friends would hear the words, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Friday, March 6, 2015

We are Saved in Serving Others

When one paralyzed man was brought by his four friends to Jesus Christ for healing, it was THEIR faith that Jesus noticed. We hear in the Gospel of Mark, “When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven you." (Mark 2.5) In this encounter, Jesus is reminding us that we have a responsibility to our fellow human beings.

Jesus taught serving others is the path toward salvation. Here are a few reminders...
  • “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9.35)
  • “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13.34-35)
  • "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends.” (John 15.12)
  • “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22.39)

The essence of every human relationship is love, both for God and our neighbor. If we love God, we will serve others. As we serve others, God will bless both the ones we serve and us. What have you done this week to serve others? 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Being True to the True Faith

On the Sunday of Orthodoxy, the first Sunday of Great Lent, the Church proclaims the truth of the Faith. The Church proclaims, “This is the Faith of the Orthodox! This is the Faith of the Apostles! This is the Faith which has established the universe!” What are you doing to be true to the Faith of the Church as revealed by Christ, received and protected by the Holy Apostles, and guided by the Holy Spirit? Are you living as Nathaniel and Philip who went and told their friends about Christ, or are you keeping the truth to yourself?