Monday, September 28, 2015

A New Season

The Church calendar includes different seasons during which
we read different Gospel lessons each day. On the second Sunday after the Feast
of the Holy Cross, known as the First Sunday of Luke, we witness the calling of
the first disciples by Christ. Jesus Christ calls a few humble but faithful
fishermen to trust Him enough to leave everything aside and follow Him. This
new season of the Church, allows for us to reconsider our role within the
ministry of the Church, and whether we desire to leave aside the secular
temptations of the world to be part of the team we call, The Church. Jesus
Christ didn’t accomplish His ministry in isolation; He involved the Disciples to
help Him. Adam couldn’t exist in isolation; God created Eve to assist him. The
Church also doesn’t work in isolation; we are called to assist the Church – and
therefore Christ – to cast our nets out into the deep and bring in as many as
God has determined should join the Church. But all this takes requires a fresh
perspective. It requires a fresh vantage point. It requires a new season in our
lives. And in this new season, when God is with, nothing is against us.

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I have a question to ask you. Has this ministry helped you in your journey to Christ? Have our blogs, podcasts, and videos inspired you to Live A New Life In Christ? Then I have a question to ask you. I need your help. Every day, our ministry reaches people throughout the United States and several foreign countries with a message which, I pray, challenges us to rededicate our life to a more meaningful relationship with Christ. I continue to receive messages from individuals who have been touched by our ministry. Today, I appeal to YOU to help us continue to reach others with our videos, blogs, podcasts, and LIVE STREAM Bible Studies. October is the end of our annual funding cycle, and by God's grace we have reached nearly half our expected needs, but we cannot stop there. We have more work to accomplish. We have more people to reach. We have more programs to produce. I am working on a new idea RIGHT NOW that would include a NEW interactive LIVE video format where we will discuss faith and science. We have a lot of wonderful ideas planned, and I invite you to join me in making them happen. Please consider a safe online donation today and help us reach our goal.

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Father Athanasios

Friday, September 25, 2015

Do You Have a Bucket List?

We’ve all heard of them, and some of us actually create one. I never have, so I thought I would. NO....I’m not talking about jumping out of airplanes or climbing Mt Everest. I’m talking about an Orthodox Christian Bucket List. I think the common bucket list is a waste of time, which may be why I never wrote one. I have been mountain climbing, but who really cares about Mt Everest. I’ve been in lots of airplanes, and trust me when I say, I’m quite comfortable staying INSIDE the airplane. Those types of bucket lists seem to me to focus on thrill seeking rather than what really matters. Preparing our soul is what really matters. So today, I thought I would create an Orthodox Christian Bucket List....

(In no specific order, but the order they came to me while blogging this morning)
  1. Go to confession four times this year
  2. Pray my morning Prayer Rule every day this month
  3. Pray my evening Prayer Rule every day this month
  4. Ask my spiritual father for a prayer rule
  5. Attend Divine Liturgy every Sunday this month
  6. Visit every Canonical Orthodox Christian Monastery in America (33 male monasteries, 38 female monasteries)
  7. Attend Divine Liturgy in every Canonical Orthodox Christian Church within a two hour drive of my home
  8. Read the entire Bible (Orthodox Christian edition)
  9. Attend every Holy Week Service (in the same year) at least once
  10. Visit Jerusalem and the Holy Lands
  11. Visit with my Bishop in his office
  12. Visit the Cathedral of my Bishop
  13. Visit the Cathedral of my Archbishop or Metropolitan
  14. Visit the Cathedral of my Patriarch
  15. Witness the ordination of a Deacon
  16. Witness the ordination of a Priest
  17. Witness the ordination of a Bishop
  18. Witness the Consecration of a Church
  19. At least once attend every Divine Liturgy for the 12 Great Feasts of the Church in one year
  20. Go on a short-term mission trip (less than 3 months in length)
  21. Visit an Orthodox Christian Orphanage
  22. Visit every Orthodox Christian Seminary in America
  23. Establish a home Altar
  24. Have my home blessed by the Priest this year
  25. Spend an extended-stay spiritual retreat at an Orthodox Christian Monastery
  26. Venerate the Relics of my Patron Saint (if they are known to exist)
  27. Venerate a miracle Icon (weeping, crying, myrrh-flowing etc) of the Theotokos
  28. Serve a meal at a soup kitchen
  29. Distribute food at a food bank
  30. Distribute clothing at a clothing bank
  31. Visit a stranger in a hospital
  32. Visit a stranger in prison
  33. Visit a stranger in a nursing/assisted living home
  34. Read “On the Incarnation” by Saint Athanasios the Great
  35. Read “On the Holy Spirit” by Saint Basil the Great
  36. Read a complete commentary on a Book of Scripture by an ancient Orthodox Christian Church Father
  37. Read a book on Orthodox Christian spirituality this year
  38. Read Eusebius’ book on Christian History
  39. Keep a strict fast for the Great Fast at least once
  40. Keep a strict fast for the entire Apostles Fast at least once
  41. Keep a strict fast for the Dormition Fast at least once
  42. Keep a strict fast for the Christmas Fast at least once
  43. Keep the Wednesday/Friday Fast this month
  44. Keep a strict fast for the Feast of Holy Cross this year
  45. Keep a strict fast for the Feast of the Beheading of John the Baptist this year
  46. Keep a strict fast for the Forefeast of Theophany this year (January 5)
  47. Attend Divine Liturgy for the Feast of my Patron Saint this year
  48. Attend Divine Liturgy for the Feast of my Parish this year
  49. Attend Great Vespers at least once this month
  50. Attend Matins at least once this month
  51. Attend a Paraklesis Service at least once this month
  52. Attend every Paraklesis Service during the Dormition Fast at least once (in one year)
  53. Invite a friend to attend Divine Liturgy with me this year
  54. Establish a personal prayer list for family and friends
  55. Pray my personal prayer list every day this month
  56. Submit my personal prayer list to my Parish Priest and ask him to include it his prayer this month
  57. Submit my personal prayer list to a Canonical Orthodox Christian Monastery with a donation
  58. Make a donation to International Orthodox Christian Charities this year
  59. Make a donation to the Orthodox Christian Mission Center this year
  60. Make a donation to the Orthodox Christian Network this year
  61. Make a donation to the Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry this year
  62. Make a donation to an Orthodox Church building fund this year
  63. Make a donation to a National Orthodox Christian Charity this year
  64. Make a donation to a regional Orthodox Christian Charity this year
  65. Make a donation to my Bishop’s ministry this year
  66. Make a donation to my Archbishop/Metropolitan’s ministry this year
  67. Make a donation to my Patriarch’s ministry this year
  68. Tithe to my Parish this year
  69. Volunteer for a ministry at my Parish NOT INCLUDING the Festival or major fundraiser this year
  70. Volunteer for my Parish festival or other major fundraiser this year
  71. Volunteer to serve as a greeter for my Parish at least once this year

I’m not sure how long bucket lists are supposed to be, but I thought this was a good starting point. I hope you enjoy my list, and I invite you to create your own. Feel free to use mine as a starting point. I tried to include as many aspects of an Orthodox Christian life as I could. I may have missed a few, and I probably will remember (and then add) a few later, but I really believe that if we each had this sort of bucket list, our souls would be much better prepared than worrying about jumping out an airplane.

Oh....I just remembered another one....Make a donation to Be Transfigured! 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

You Just Can’t ‘Go It Alone’

Moments before calling His first disciples, Jesus invited a group of fishermen to cast out their nets in a place where they had fished the night before with absolutely no success. When they did as He commanded, “they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them.” (Luke 5.6-7) It was only together that they were able to haul in the greatest catch they would ever see. It was at this moment; they dropped their nets and followed Christ.

There are many times in our lives that we are tempted to ‘go it alone’ rather than depend upon the helping hand of others. We are often too proud to look to the experience and knowledge of others to help us get to where we are going. And it is too often that we find ourselves lost and unable to accomplish our goal simply because we refuse to call out and signal to our partners that we need their help. So why do still insist on trying to go it alone?

You could call it our fallen human condition. Ever since Adam and Eve, we have been trying to live independently from God, even though we, like the fishermen, keep coming up short. As human beings, we were created to live in communion with God and each other, not as isolated individuals. In fact it is only when we accept the invitation of God to join Him, that we can finally accomplish our true purpose. And what is our true purpose? Entering into heaven and living eternally with God, and we can’t do THAT alone......that’s for sure.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Illness

Since Adam and Eve, all human beings have suffered from the
illness I call “ego.” We tend to see every option in our path using the
pronoun, “I.” Whether it is when to attend Church, how to spend our money, what
to eat, even how to interpret the Holy Scriptures, we invoke our God-given
freedom to swear off any influence from anyone over our decisions. So when
Jesus invites us to follow Him with the challenge, “Deny himself, take up his
cross, and follow Me,” it should make us think twice about the illness we call “ego.”
The Church’s way of life of reading and interpreting the Holy Scriptures,
prayer, fasting, attending Church services, house blessings, caring for the
poor, and Confession, are meant to cure the illness of the “ego” so that we can
follow Jesus into heaven.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Cure

When we are sick, we follow the advice of our doctor if we
desire to be healed from whatever sickness or disease we have. We do this,
because we believe the doctor knows the best cure. We trust him to have our
best interest at hand. We put our belief in his abilities into action, and
follow his instructions to the letter of the law written on the prescription. But
when our soul is in need of healing most of us, most of the time, ignore the
advice of the Church. The Physician of our Souls, Jesus Christ Himself, has
provided a cure for our spiritual sickness, and we ignore it. He has given us a
way of life we call the Church, and though we claim to believe in the cure, we
refuse to follow the instructions necessary to experience a full recovery. We
refuse, all the while rationalizing away our poor choices in the name of
comfort and wanting to avoid suffering, the very cure that has been tried and
tested for two thousand years. Sometimes the cure is painful, and causes nausea,
but healing comes through the struggle of the cure. If we avoid the struggle,
we avoid the cure. The time has come for us to embrace the life of the Church,
struggle and all, and allow Christ to heal us through His Church.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Our Ministry Continues to Expand

Our LIVE STREAM Bible Study ministry continues to grow, and for this I am extremely thankful to God. Through the cooperation of many individuals, many of them fan of this blog, we have succeeded in expanding our internet presence for the glory of God. I just wanted to outline a few new elements of our Bible Study ministry. Of course, I invite EVERYONE to join us "in person" but I also know many people live in an area without an Orthodox Christian Church, or their particular schedule makes it difficult for them to attend a Bible study in their local city. Thankfully we are blessed to be able to share our ministry with others.

The Orthodox Christian Network has been a strong supporter of our ministry in the past seven years. You may remember hearing a few of our sermons on the OCN Podcast "Theologically Thinking" over the years. Last year, the OCN expanded their support of our ministry by sharing our video sermons and LIVE STREAM Bible studies on their website. Immediately, support of our ministry began to expand, and this year the OCN has again expanded its support of our ministry by creating a dedicated area within their website where fans can download study guides and watch LIVE STREAM Bible studies and register to receive reminders and links each week.

In addition to the expanded presence on the OCN, the audio version of our weekly Bible study airs three times each day on The Anchor, an online radio ministry of the OCN. Now, even if you miss the LIVE STREAM or just want to listen "in the background" at work, you can tune in to The Anchor. Our Bible study follows the very popular "Come Receive the Light" radio program daily at 9am, NOON and 6pm.

IF THAT weren't enough.....we have also been working with Orthodox Circle (sort of like a facebook for Orthodox) to offer a LIVE CHAT ROOM where fans could chat about the Bible Study during the LIVE STREAM. I had noticed that many wanted to chat, but with certain YouTube limitations, people could not engage in the discussion. I am currently working to establish a group of approved moderators who will be willing to "bump up" certain questions from the Orthodox Circle chat room to YouTube (since I can only see the YouTube feed during LIVE sessions) so I can include additional questions in the live stream. The Orthodox Circle requires a special membership, but doesn't require members to be Orthodox. I invite ALL my fans to join Orthodox Circle AND join the dedicated "circle" for the Bible study.

So now there are many opportunities for you to connect with our ministry, and for that I am thankful to God. May He continue to bless our ministry to inspire YOU to Live A New Life in Christ.

A Not-so-New Temptation

Many American Christians can be heard waxing and waning over the persecution of the Church in America. Arguments around the water cooler about gay marriage and religious freedom are but the most recent example of how politics becomes spiritual in our nation. But I want to talk about a different type of persecution, what I see as a not-so-new temptation of secular praise.

Many Christians in America expend a great deal of thought and effort into their decision process, especially when it comes to their children. What preschool will best put them on the right path to success? What school will give them the best education? What education will best prepare them for college? What college will be prepared them for a stellar career? What career will earn them the greatest income? What image will the family have in the world in which their children are raised? Will their children be considered prudish or small minded? Will their children have out-dated ideals about family and the social welfare? And these are just the obvious questions. Then there are agonizing questions about the “extra-curriculars” that are presumed a requirement to earn prestige and the all-coveted scholarship to college. All this in the name of, “I want my children to be well-rounded.”

When was the last time you heard a parent include their child’s spiritual health in their life-plan? Why don’t we ask questions about faith? How will this particular extra-curricular prepare my son for heaven? Will that school encourage my daughter to turn against her Church? Will this Sunday soccer league teach my son that it is ok to be absent from Divine Liturgy for three months? Will attending boy scouts or girl scouts, two organizations which promote moral choices against the teachings of the Church, create too much temptation for my children? Will my children grow up thinking their Church is out of touch with the modern world? Have I taught my children that attending Divine Liturgy is more important than sleeping in on the “only day” available?

I could go on and on about the questions we SHOULD be asking, but I think you get the idea. Christians of the 21st century are faced with a choice that is neither new nor is it unique to any time of Christian history. Parents (and just parents) are faced with preparing for the world or preparing for heaven. WE CANNOT prepare for both as Jesus said, “No one 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.” (Matthew 6.24) When the first followers of Jesus were faced with this same reality, many refused to confess their belief in Him, “For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” (John 12.43)

Extra-curricular activities are not necessarily sinful or dangerous in themselves. What IS dangerous is the reason we insist upon placing them above the life of the Church, “so that our children are well-rounded.” EVERY time our children are faced with a moral choice that conflicts with the Church, they are tempted to choose against the Church. It is high time that we begin to live the words of the Lord’s Prayer, “Led us not into temptation, but deliver us from Evil.”

v  BEGIN with faith by asking questions about faith rather than the world, and commit to always placing the life of the Church “first on the list” of importance ahead of “being well-rounded” according to worldly standards.
v  CONTINUE with avoiding temptation at every step.
v  FINISH by making a choice that being prepared for heaven is infinitely more important that any college scholarship.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Belief Takes Some Effort

Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3.14-16) When most Christians hear this promise of our Lord, we are comforted that “all we need to do is believe” and we will be saved. But what does it mean to believe?

Belief requires some sort of action if it is going to have any meaning in our life. We believe penicillin will cure certain ailments, but if we refuse the treatment, that simple belief is no good to us. If the Jews “believed” that the serpent of Moses would be strong enough for them not to die, but they did not keep their eyes on the serpent, they would have died. Mere belief is never enough. It takes effort.

What are we doing with our belief in Jesus? He said our belief would keep us from dying, but unless we put that belief into action, we will die. When the doctor gives us a prescription for penicillin, it comes with instructions, and if we want to be healed, we follow the instructions. Jesus gave us a prescription He called the Church, and it also comes with instructions. The time has come for us to follow the instructions that came with the cure, so that we can truly live in Christ, and never die. What are the instructions? The God-inspired life of the Orthodox Christian Church IS the instruction manual that comes with the cure, and IF we believe in Christ, we will follow His instructions. After all....belief takes some effort. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

The REAL Power of Prayer

I often hear, it seems like multiple times each day, about the power of prayer. I have to admit, I tend to stay away from such discussion, not because I do not believe in the power of prayer, but because I do not believe that prayer is designed for us to exert our will upon the world. The REAL power of prayer is in its ability to change our hearts, not our surroundings. If we are willing to be honest about what WE mean by the power of prayer, would we not be forced to admit that EVERY time we talk about answered prayer, or the power of prayer, is when we (or someone else) receives EXACTLY what they were praying for? It is as if we believe (and many actually do) that just because we pray more, pray harder, and that many others pray more and harder with us, that God will eventually do exactly as we wish.

Now consider what Jesus said, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him DENY HIMSELF, take up his cross, and follow Me.” Where is the “deny himself” in the way we consider the power of prayer? Even when we are not praying directly for our particular blessing, are we not still praying for our will rather than God’s will, when our prayer should ALWAYS be for the will of God. Sometimes He will say “yes” and sometimes He will say “No”, but the real power of prayer is when OUR hearts are changed rather than someone’s sickness, financial standing, marital status, or other personal suffering ends.

It isn’t that I believe we should want our friends or family to suffer, but when we focus so much energy on making any and every struggle of life disappear, we lose focus on what we should really desire for our friends and family. Maybe a ‘better’ prayer would be that they (and we) have time to repent of our sins before it is too late. Maybe a ‘better’ prayer would be that they (and we) accept that our time on Earth is about preparing for eternal life with God and in God, so that our suffering, no matter how horrific, is but a glimpse of the eternal life that awaits us. If we spent more time preparing our souls for eternity with God, then even the suffering on Earth would be seen for what it opportunity to trust in the Lord with all our heart.

The REAL Power of Prayer is in repentance, not physical blessings.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Willing AND Prepared to Enter Heaven

When Jesus describes heaven, He uses parables so we can
better understand. In the parable of the marriage feast found in Matthew
22.2-14, we find several profound truths in the layers of the story, which
teach us not only that we have been invited to enter heaven, but that, how we
respond to the Church will absolutely have an impact on whether or not we will
find ourselves in, or out, of heaven. If we make excuses, mock and disregard
the Church, and reject the invitation of the Church, we will find ourselves not
worthy to enter heaven. But even if we accept the invitation, but we attempt to
enter heaven without listening to the Church’s teachings and by preparing
ourselves, we will also find ourselves on the outside. The Church, as he
servants of God, is the key to the gates, and we must be willing AND prepared
to enter heaven.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Don’t Worry; God Won’t Force Us into Heaven

In the Gospel of Matthew, we hear Jesus describe a wedding banquet in which those who were invited had no desire to attend. When the master sent His servants to call those who had been invited, those who had been invited “Made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them.” (Matthew 22.5-6) They thought of an empty wedding banquet was not acceptable, and the master sent His servants out again, this time telling the servants, “Go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.” (Matthew 22.9) They filled the wedding banquet with all sorts of people, EXCEPT those who had been originally invited. According to the master, they were no longer worthy.

The wedding banquet is heaven, and we have been invited by God to attend. The Church, just like the servants, has reminded us that the banquet is ready. All that remains is for us to accept His invitation and enter into heaven, but He will not force us to enter if we do not wish. If we, like those in the Gospel, make like of God’s invitation, then He will move on to those who desire heaven. He will respect our choice to remain outside the doors of the banquet.

You may not think you are rejecting God’s invitation to enter heaven, but any time we choose to ignore the Church, we ignore His servants. It isn’t a matter of coming to the banquet later, but trusting the Church to call us when the time has come. The Church IS calling. Will we trust the Church and enter the banquet, or ask them to find someone else. God will respect our choice, but it would be better for us to accept the invitation and follow the Church into heaven. Not everyone will be allowed into the banquet because, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22.14)