Thursday, July 30, 2015

Everyone Needs a Little Time Away

As summer comes to a close, and vacation season is coming to an end, it is a nice reminder that even Jesus took some time away for prayer. According to the Gospel of Matthew, we hear that just after feeding thousands of people with just a few loaves of bread a couple fish, He sent the Disciples on to their next location, while He went to the top of a mountain to pray by Himself.

Each of us needs some time for reflection and prayer. Our society has grown increasingly busy to the point that many of us forget about these important quiet moments when we can pray without the distractions of the world. This is one reason we incorporate a daily “Alone with God” time during our Metropolis Camps and Retreats. We all need a few minutes by ourselves to pray to God....and then to listen for His voice.

I invite you, in the coming weeks as your family looks ahead to the “Fall Schedule” to make a better effort to include time at Church throughout the week for prayer and reflection. At the Church is the only place we can be free of the distraction of our busy schedules, so we can hear God. This week is an excellent opportunity to “get started” as people will gather in Church each evening for Paraklesis to the Theotokos. But don’t stop with this week, and don’t limit your time in Church to just Sunday morning. Each week, throughout the year, Churches offer worship services and times for fellowship and Bible study. They do this for YOU to find that important time for prayer and reflection. I pray you will take advantage of this gift.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Power of Love

When God asks us to do something, we often respond with
doubt because we’re not sure we have what it takes to get the job done. Just as
the Disciples believed they didn’t have enough food to feed five thousand
people with five loaves of bread and a couple fish, we question whether we have
enough to share with others. Our doubt isn’t limited to feeding the hungry; we
doubt whether we can afford to donate to the Church, or help the poor. We doubt
whether we have enough patience to show those fighting against us that we love
them. We even sometimes doubt whether we have enough love, to love. But when
the Disciples included God in the plan there was not only enough, but an
overabundance of leftovers. The power of love, when we love as God loves, and
when we allow the love of God into our hearts, will always provide enough for
us to share with others.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Difference between Tolerance and Endorsement in Politics

I often wonder why so many people advocate for the very behaviors they claim to oppose. This has become quite prevalent with the recent SCOTUS decision on marriage. For the hours that followed the ruling, all I could see were rainbows throughout the Internet. Most disappeared after a couple days, but I continue to be intrigued by the rainbow profile pictures that remain. And then it occurred to me.

In our contemporary society, we have lost not only the ability, but I believe the desire, to disagree with others publicly for fear that we may be “called out” on our own sins. So long as we share the common moral of a group, we don’t mind expressing our beliefs. But once our beliefs are in conflict, for fear of not being liked, we hide our beliefs under the cloak of fairness and tolerance. We “get on board” with political movements with phrases such as, “I don’t personally believe in gay marriage, but who am I to say it’s wrong for others?” There ceases to be a willingness to say, “I think it is wrong. PERIOD!” Unfortunately I believe, once we join the effort to support those with whom we disagree, we cross the line into endorsement, if even outwardly.

And that is where I am intrigued. How can you advocate for a behavior or belief which you do not accept? In case you were wondering......changing your Facebook profile to a rainbow IS a statement that you agree with same-sex marriage. If you don’t, then why publicly advocate? You may very well, as do I, believe that every human being has been granted free will by God to believe and act in any way, but there IS a difference between accepting free will and advocating for certain behaviors.

The issue of tolerance vs. endorsement isn’t limited to sexuality. It still is possible to say, “Same-sex marriage is wrong. You don’t have to agree with me, and you are free to do what you wish, but it is wrong.” It is just as easy to say, “Greed is wrong. You can chase the almighty dollar all you want, but it’s wrong.” Or you can say, “Lashing out against others in anger, and forcing them to do as you desire is wrong. You can be lash out all you want, but its wrong.” You can EVEN say, “I believe in One God, Father Almighty....etc. You may not, but I do.” See? It works with any belief or behavior.

If we are going to honor our faith in Jesus Christ, the time is past that we should stop advocating for sinful behaviors, and we should begin advocating for a life dedicated to living according to God’s desire for us.  In Orthodoxy, that means being dedicated to defeating our passions, not soothing them. It DOESN’T mean one sin is worse than another. It doesn’t mean we are without sin. It simply means that as Orthodox Christians, we tolerate other’s choices to sin, but we cannot endorse them. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Transform Your Fear into Wonder

All people, when they encounter God, respond to his acts of
love in different ways. Some are afraid to be seen by God, since they know
their sins deserve punishment. Others see God’s willingness to forgive with
wonder, and take the opportunity for repentance. Sometimes fear can paralyze us
into inaction, hiding ourselves from God in the hopes that He will not see us.
Adam and Eve tried that! Other times fear can keep us safe from the dangers of
the world like train tracks and hot stoves. But fear should never keep us from
opening our hearts to God, so that we can learn from His love, and repent. It
is only when we transform our fear into wonder that we can confess our sins in
the Mystery of Confession with open hearts, be forgiven by God, and grow closer
to Him.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Don’t Allow Fear to Get Between You and God

A little boy sits, crouching behind the couch, waiting for his mother to find the broken lamp on the floor. Will she notice? Will she know he was the culprit? Will she be upset? Will she punish him for playing football in the den? Every child knows this fear, and every parent knows the power of forgiving the child, in hopes that the football remains outside next time he wants to play. Rejoicing in his freedom, and happy that he can sit down without pain in his behind, the boy quickly remembers that football is an outside game. This is an example of a little fear, mixed with forgiveness, can be a good thing, leading to a better future. We aren’t always “that smart” to learn the lesson and power of forgiveness.

In the Gospel of Matthew, we hear of a crowd that was afraid and marveled at the ability of Jesus to forgive sins. The Gospel says, “Now when the multitudes saw it, they marveled and glorified God, who had given such power to men.” (Matthew 9.8) The power of God can bring fear into the hearts of many, but what we do with that fear, is what matters. A little boy learns to stop playing football in the house. Do we learn to stop our sinful behavior?

Saint John Chrysostom warns us to not be too comfortable in our sins, just because we haven’t been punished by God yet. This little boy could just have easily calculated that his mother would never punish him, and he might continue to play football in the house....until the next lamp, or window, or TV is broken. Then he will hide behind the couch wondering, is THIS the time she will punish me? This fear is hindering the boy’s relationship with his mother, and not leading to repentance.

Don’t allow fear to get between you and God. If you find yourself behind the couch, be thankful He hasn’t punished you “yet” and repent from sin. In the long run, you will spend less time hiding and more time enjoying the love of God.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Questions and Answers: American or Greek Orthodox; What’s in a Name?

Many people have questions about our Orthodox Christian Faith. Many simply do not remember what they learned in Sunday School. Many are not comfortable asking their questions in public. But ALL of us can benefit from the questions of others. This week’s question is about our name. Why can’t we just say American Orthodox Church instead of Greek Orthodox? Many are confused when the sign on the curb describes us as Greeks or Russians or Romanians, but there is more to the term Greek than just a place for Greeks!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Suffering in the Presence of God

When Jesus was approaching the country of the Gergesenes, He was met by two men who were demon possessed. We are told the demons were so fierce, these men actually lived among the tombs, and still they would torment others. But the time came for them to meet Jesus, and the demons were the ones tormented, not by violence, but by the very presence of God.  Sometimes, just being in God’s presence can be torment for those who reject His love.

But we don’t have to be possessed by demons to be tormented by God. Sometimes we are tormented by just the idea that God is near to us. As He approaches are stomachs might tighten up, our mouth might become dry, and we may break into a sweat at the very notion that the Creator of the Universe is calling our name. Or....then again, we may prefer that God depart far from us, so that we can continue in our sinful lives.

Some people just cannot tolerate being in God’s presence because they are reminded of their sin. The town people, after being reminded of their sin and losing their flock of swine, chased God away from their presence. They couldn’t tolerate seeing the consequences of their choices. But our life can be different. God gave the two men a new chance, free from the demons. He granted them a new beginning to life, and He can grant you a new beginning also.  What is your choice? Are you tormented by knowing God is close to you? Will you chase Him away, or will you thank Him for a new life? The choice is yours.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Why Bother?

If you have been a reader of this blog for any length of time, you know that my goal is for us to LIVE the Orthodox Christian life rather than just use the label on hospital records. With last week’s SCOTUS decision to extend legal status of same-sex marriage, it occurred to me ask a simple question of my readers....
Why bother being Orthodox?
I mean, really, if the moral teachings of the Church are not considered formative for our life in Christ, then why bother calling ourselves Orthodox Christian? I’m not talking about rights here, but conscience. Why do you (if you do) insist on considering yourself Orthodox Christian if you casually refuse to accept her moral teachings? Granted, the Divine Liturgy is AMAZING, if it is well performed, but from most of the Churches I’ve witnessed over the years, it CAN’T be the awesome performances. I’ve found much better choirs in the Baptist and AME Churches. It can’t be the kneeling for an hour on Pentecost. There IS the food....the food is delicious, no matter what ethnic Church you enter, but you can always visit the local Church festival to take some home for later. So why bother?
If there is no commitment to following the Orthodox Way of Life, which is an admitted struggle against the passions...ALL THE PASSIONS... then why not just become a member of one of other 42,999 Christian denominations? 21st Christianity has become a “have it your way” religion, and many in the Orthodox Church have embraced this mentality under the guise of freedom. But freedom comes with consequences.
The truth of the matter is this; Orthodox Christianity is the Way of Life established by Christ and His Disciples IN ORDER to assist us in defeating the passions which separate us from God. As Saint Paul said,
For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man.  But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God -- through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. (Romans 7.15-25)
If we are not committed to defeating the passions, and therefore defeating sin, then why subject ourselves to all the rigor of the Orthodox Christian Way of Life? It becomes a meaningless exercise. If, on the other hand, we desire to grow ever closer to God, then we will embrace the moral teachings and way of life of the Church, as weapons of war.
Ultimately it boils down to the ever-present ego, a battle that humanity has been fighting since the first day in the Garden. We tend to want things OUR way, rather than God’s, and anything (including the Church) that stands in our way of self-indulgence, we will readily reject. Here is a reminder...
Then the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. (Genesis 3.4-6)
Sounds like a good reason to bother....if you ask me.