Saturday, December 31, 2016

Time for a Spiritual New Year Resolution

Today is the day that everyone focuses on improving something about life in the New Year. As clocks strike midnight all across the globe, good intentioned men and women scurry to confirm New Year resolutions. Of course many if not most if not all New Year resolutions end up in the garbage pail by the end of the first week of the New Year, but that won’t stop millions across the globe for faithfully committing to improving their life next year. By no means am I against New Year resolutions. It is just that we waste so much time making resolutions about things that ultimately don’t matter. Here is the top 10 for 2017 according to one website...
  1. Lose Weight
  2. Getting Organized
  3. Spend Less, Save More
  4. Enjoy Life to the Fullest
  5. Staying Fit and Healthy
  6. Learn Something Exciting
  7. Quit Smoking
  8. Help Others in Their Dreams
  9. Fall in Love
  10. Spend More Time with Family

What would Saint Paul have to say about New Year resolutions? Would he worry about the same issues that we worry about? Consider today’s Epistle Reading:
St. Paul's First Letter to Timothy 6:11-16 (RSV) - Timothy, my son, aim at righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.  Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.  In the presence of God who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ; and this will be made manifest at the proper time by the blessed and only Sovereign, and King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has ever seen or can see.  To him be honor and eternal dominion.  Amen.
It isn’t that these issues are necessarily bad for us. In fact there is most definitely a spiritual side to every issue listed, but I’m not sure most people want to “spend less and save more” for the sake of their soul. I could be wrong. I’ll be the first to admit people surprise me every day with better intentions that I would have presumed. That being said however, if the constant drive to build bigger economies own more things, I suspect people are trying to save more in order to “eventually” own more, or at least have more to spend later.

Nonetheless, I invite you today to consider your soul when it comes to making your New Year resolution for 2017. To assist I often encourage people to take the “Spiritual Self-Assessment” I came up with a few years ago. You may want to add some items to your resolution list.

Friday, December 30, 2016

2016 Top Ten Videos from Be Transfigured Ministries

Where do you stand?

As this year comes to a close we have an opportunity to evaluate how we have responded to God in the past year. Have we denied our ego, welcomed our struggles, and followed Him and His Church in a life of prayer, fasting, and caring for the poor? Or have we focused on our own agenda, searched always for comforts, and let the poor fed for themselves? The Church has been given to us, as today’s Gospel indicates, for us to be temporary guardians and stewards.
Gospel Reading: Mark 12:1-12 (RSV) - The Lord said this parable, "A man planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a pit for the wine press, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country. When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. And they took him and beat him, and sent him away empty handed. Again he sent to them another servant, and they wounded him in the head, and treated him shamefully. And he sent another, and him they killed; and so with many others, some they beat and some they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son; finally he sent him to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' But those tenants said to one another, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.' And they took him and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard. What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants, and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this scripture: 'The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes'?" And they tried to arrest him, but feared the multitude, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them; so they left him and went away.

One day, and we don’t really know when that may be, the Lord will return and expect an accounting from us. When that day comes, where will you stand?

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Be Transfigured Ministries Granted 501c3 Status

IT'S OFFICIAL!!! The IRS has granted full 501c3 tax exempt status to Be Transfigured Ministries. What does that mean for our future? That means YOU our dedicated and prayerful fans and supporters are able to deduct all your contributions to Be Transfigured Ministries as a charitable donation. That means we are eligible to receive grants, trusts, bequeaths and all other donations in support of our online ministry.

We are thankful for all the support YOU our fans have provided over the years for our ministry. We pray this new status will better position Be Transfigured Ministries to continue to grow and inspire others to Live A New Life In Christ.

Tax deductible donations can be made online by clicking "DONATE TODAY' in the above menu. Don't forget to share our ministry with your friends?

Here's to a grand 2017!

Monday, December 26, 2016

It is STILL Christmas

Every year I find myself needing to remind myself that Christmas isn’t over just because it is December 26th. As Orthodox Christians we celebrate the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for two weeks! Christmas isn’t just a single day event. It isn’t just about one day during which we all gather to open too many presents and eat too much food. In fact, it really isn’t about the “day” at all but a “life” that we choose to live in Christ. Please allow me to explain...

In our secular world Christmas, even among many Christians, has become a secular holiday where slogans such as, “Christmas is about family” or “Christmas is a time for giving” have become trite sayings. Many Christians don’t even plan to attend Church services any longer. We shouldn’t really be surprised though because for many Christians, even Orthodox Christians, throughout the year attending Church services has become at best an honored tradition and at worst a painful obligation during which we stare at the floor and anxiously await the end of the service.

But today it is still Christmas. Not only does the Church continue the actual celebration of Christmas with the singing of the Christmas hymns and the forbidding of fasting, the Church reminds us that celebrating Christmas is a chance to change our life for good. Christmas is about encountering the newborn Savior and living a life genuinely connected (what we call in communion) with Him not just on December 25th but EVERY day.

Don’t allow Christmas to come and go like the forgotten toys in the corner the day after Christmas. Encounter the newborn Savior and Live A New Life In Christ. Enjoy Christmas every day......but at least for the next two weeks! It is STILL Christmas!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas is a TODAY Experience

Many Christians celebrate Christmas as a historic event, but Orthodox celebrate Christmas as a TODAY experience. “Today He who holds the whole world in His hand is born from a Virgin.” We are blessed with the gift of Christmas so that we can live a new life in Christ TODAY, not just to celebrate some far-away concept of an event that happened in history. If Christmas is nothing more than history, we are no better than Herod who turned away from Christ. We have a better way, a living way, a TODAY way!

Friday, December 23, 2016

It’s Just SO Hard to be a Christian

The world is constantly pulling at you. Your friend keep asking when you are going to get a new job so you can make more money, and your boss keeps asking you when you are going to take your job seriously because he needs you to  make more money. Politicians keep telling you that unless you make more money, you are lazy and need to go out and try to make more money. On top of all that....this week is Christmas, so EVERY story and online shopping warehouse is trying to get you to spend more money by convincing you that your family will only think you love them if you got it.....more money on THEM! All you want to do is think about Christ at Christmas but everywhere you turn, all anyone seems to care about is money, money, money.
Check out today’s Gospel Reading: Mark 10:24-32 (RSV) - The Lord said to his disciples, "How hard it will be for these who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God." Peter began to say to him, "Lo, we have left everything and followed you." Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many that are first will be last, and the last first." And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; and they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.

Worrying about money isn’t anything new. What’s new is your willingness to put God above money. What’s new is the freedom that you have to escape the constant torment from society about money. What’s new is Christmas. Jesus Christ became one of us, the same in every way except sin (see Hebrews 4.15) SO THAT you would no longer be a slave to money. It’s your choice to truly honor Christ during Christmas this weekend. It isn’t easy, but it is possible.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Who’s Way is Best?

The Church Community can be a difficult experience for even the longest standing members of the Church. It isn’t always for lack of communication, although Churches do many times lack proper communications techniques. The most common cause of our struggles is explained in today’s Gospel Reading:
Mark 9:33-41 (RSV) - At that time, Jesus and his disciples came to Capernaum, and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you discussing on the way?"  But they were silent; for on the way they had discussed with one another who was the greatest.  And he sat down and called the twelve; and he said to them, "If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all."  And he took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me."  John said to him, "Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us."  But Jesus said, "Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me.  For he that is not against us is for us.  For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward."
It isn’t because we don’t talk to each other. It is because when we do speak with each other, we are always fighting for OUR way rather than someone else. We expect OUR Church to serve OUR needs rather than the needs of others. We expect OUR goals to be the goals of the Church rather than the goals of Christ.

Christ compares our spiritual life to that of children. It is common for children to be selfish. In fact parents spend much of their time teaching children to be less selfish. What is it that we cannot teach ourselves to be less selfish like we teach our children? We solve that....and we will solve our community struggles. By the way the same logic works for our politics as well.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The final days before Christmas

Christmas is just a few days away and many of you are making your final checklists to make sure you are ready for the holiday. Shopping for gifts, shopping for ingredients, pulling out the rest of the decorations, cleaning the house to welcome guests....the work never ends does it? But what about your soul? Have you made your checklist to make sure your soul is ready for Christmas?
Here is today’s Gospel Reading: Mark 9:42-50; 10:1 (RSV) - The Lord said, "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to Gehenna, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. For every one will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its saltness, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another." And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again; and again, as his custom was, he taught them.
I am sharing this with you today to encourage you to make a spiritual checklist for Christmas.
  • Have I fast as much as I am able as an offering to God?
  • Have I said my daily prayers as I should?
  • Have I been making time to read the Scriptures?
  • Have I chosen a charity to support for Christmas?
  • Have I prepared to receive Holy Communion?
  • Have I lived a Christian life?

If you haven’t done all these, don’t panic. We all have fallen short of the glory of God. That is why the Church reminds us again this week of the importance of preparing our soul for Christmas. But there is one final item for your Christmas Checklist....schedule Holy Confession. I encourage you to contact your spiritual father and make an appointment for Holy Confession. Since we all know we fall short, it is through the joyous mystery of Holy Confession that we can get that “fresh start” and be fully prepared for Christmas. Your soul will thank you...

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Our Ancestors

Our spiritual ancestors lived dedicated Orthodox Christian lives, willing even at times to sacrifice everything they had for the truth of God. Our physical ancestors made sacrifices too, many coming from far off lands with just a few dollars in their pocket, so that we could have a better life. The better life our ancestors sought was not only about houses and cars. The better life they sought included building a Church at the center of our life.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

I Know Better Than You

It goes like this...(generic ‘you’ & ‘me’)
Me: You don’t know what you’re talking about. You never do.
You: You’re doing it again. You never think I know what I’m talking about, but you’re always wrong. I’ve just come to live with having to ignore your opinion.
Me: Nobody thinks like that anymore. You need to come along with the times. You’re old fashioned.
You: You’re being racist. You can’t say that.
Me: You are!
You: No, YOU ARE!
Me: NO...Y O U  A R E!!!!
And so the raging argument continues without any resolution, not because ‘you’ and ‘me’ don’t love each other, but because they aren’t listening. When it comes to issues that are close to our hearts, and most especially religion and politics, most people can’t seem to listen to other opinions. It isn’t because they are being mean. It’s because they already insist they know better. Consider today’s Gospel Reading
Luke 14:1-11 (RSV) - At that time, one sabbath when Jesus went to dine at the house of a ruler who belonged to the Pharisees, they were watching him. And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. And Jesus spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, "Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath, or not?" But they were silent. Then he took him and healed him, and let him go. And he said to them, "Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well, will not immediately pull him out on a sabbath day?" And they could not reply to this. Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he marked how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, "When you are invited by any one to a marriage feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest a more eminent man than you be invited by him; and he who invited you both will come and say to you, 'Give place to this man,' and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, 'Friend, go up higher'; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

The only way we can resolve our conflicts is to be humble and that means to accept that maybe, just maybe, that means we might be wrong. It is completely arrogant to believe you are always right, and yet most of us live in that world. We are always right, and we always know better than everyone else. So today as the political debate rages on, consider how you are adding fuel to the fire. Step back and allow someone to “Say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher,’ then you will be honored.’” But until then remember you don’t REALLY always know better.

Friday, December 16, 2016

It’s easy to be confused

Have you ever read something in the Bible and wondered why you didn’t understand the words the same way the Church taught? It can be really easy to read the Holy Scriptures and come to your own conclusion about the meaning of the text, but chances are you will be wrong as often as you are correct. Even the same disciples who would eventually become the Holy Apostles didn’t always get it right when they were first following Jesus. Of course once the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost, they were guided into all truth as Jesus promised. What’s the lesson for us today? Look at today’ Gospel Reading.
Mark 9:33-41 (RSV) - At that time, Jesus and his disciples came to Capernaum, and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you discussing on the way?"  But they were silent; for on the way they had discussed with one another who was the greatest.  And he sat down and called the twelve; and he said to them, "If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all."  And he took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me."  John said to him, "Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us."  But Jesus said, "Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me.  For he that is not against us is for us.  For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward."

The difference between our lack of understand the Holy Apostles rests only in our willingness to allow Christ to transform our understanding to be along His desires. While He walked with the disciples, He was continually teaching. He continues to teach, through the Church, for those of us willing to listen and learn. It’s easy to be confused, but if you are willing to be guided by the Holy Spirit who works through the Church, then your confusion will lead to truth.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Are You Ashamed?

It seems every day we are given the opportunity to confess our love for God, either in words or often more importantly in actions. Many times we are faced with a split second decision to either confess God or deny Him. Sometimes our quick decisions are words that come from our mouths, but NORMALLY this decision has more to do with our actions than our words.

How will we respond to the homeless man on the sidewalk?
How will we look the request for food?
How will we treat the stranger who attends Christmas Liturgy?

Saint Paul says, “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God.” (2 Timothy 8)

The quick responses that face us everyday speak more about our hearts than the well chosen words we choose to use on Facebook or through emails. If we are willing to embrace the words of Saint Paul, then our actions (not just our well chosen words) will BE a living example of the gospel of Christ.

Just something to think about as Christmas draws near...

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Remember Be Transfigured Ministries at Christmas

2016 has been an incredible year for Be Transfigured Ministries. As we continue to expand our internet presence with weekly sermons and blog posts, our ministry continues to grow by God's Grace and we couldn't do it without your help. I would be honored for you to consider helping our ministry grow with your Christmas Gift. Just "click" on the button below to make your safe online Christmas Gift, and help us help others Live A New Life In Christ.

Have a blessed Christmas,
Father Athanasios C Haros, President
Be Transfigured Ministries

The Holy Scriptures are a Book of Love

As I was reading today’s Epistle reading I once again encountered a passage that seems to be ignored by so many so called Sola Scripture Christians....
Epistle Reading: St. Paul's First Letter to Timothy 1:18-20; 2:8-15 (RSV) - TIMOTHY, my son, this charge I commit to you in accordance with the prophetic utterances which pointed to you, that inspired by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith, among them Hymenaios and Alexander, whom I have delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; also that women should adorn themselves modestly and sensibly in seemly apparel, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly attire but by good deeds, as befits women who profess religion. Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.
Women preachers, women teachers, women clergy, women bishops, women wearing gold, women wearing costly attire....if I didn’t know any better women would be total second class citizens in Protestant Churches....of course thankfully they are not.

So if Sola  Scripture Christians are not REALLY Sola Scripture, then why does the Orthodox Church receive so much grief that our Holy Traditions aren’t Biblical? Of course they ARE Biblical, but that has been a matter of interpretation.

There are more examples that are not about women, lest you think today’s blog is about keeping women down. This blog is NEVER about keeping women down...
  • Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. (Matthew 23.9) YET....I’ve never met a single Christian who claimed NOT to have an earthly father.
  • And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. (Matthew 23.10) YET...there are many Protestants who are called teachers.
  • You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you. (Deut 4.2) YET....the ENTIRE New Testament is in violation of this passage.

My point today is NOT to favor Biblical literalism, but to wonder why so many claim literalism while ignoring so many verses. The answer of course is the holistic approach of the Orthodox Church. The Holy Scriptures are to be used to lead people into a deeper relationship with Christ. They cannot be used to bully people, guilt people, or otherwise control others. The Holy Scriptures are a Book of love.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Free to Do Good

Continuing with yesterday’s post about being free to follow the Church, today’s Epistle reading reminded me that the Law of the Church can and is many time abused by people trying to control others. When we consider the Holy Canons of the Church as a way to control behavior, we are already in a state of abuse. In truth the Holy Canons, also known as Canon Law, is meant to guide people into a holy life in Christ.

St. Paul's First Letter to Timothy 1:8-14 (RSV) - TIMOTHY, my son, we know that the law is good, if any one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, immoral persons, sodomites, kidnapers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. I thank him who has given me strength for this, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful by appointing me to his service, though I formerly blasphemed and persecuted and insulted him; but I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

When the Holy Canons are used for good, they lead others to Christ. When they are used for control they turn others away from the Church. My guess is the person who left the comment I blogged about yesterday has been abused by the Church. If He had felt the loving guidance of the Church and wanted to live with Christ, he would see the goodness in the Holy Canons and not evil.

If you find yourself considering how the Holy Canons are good to control behavior, I invite you to consider another point of view. When you are seeking control over others, it is more likely you are the one with a choice to make. Do you use the Law for Good or evil? You are free to do Good. Now go do it.

Monday, December 12, 2016

You’re Free to Disagree

Yesterday I received the following comment on my YouTube Channel attached to one of our sermons...Here is the comment:
Get over it and stop promoting hurtful discrimination against people - we are not living in the Middle Ages, Christianity does not rule the world anymore thank God.......imaginary crimes that do not exist except in the eyes of extremist religions. You are promoting discrimination, hatred and violence. Why don't you do everything the bible says??? Why don't you kill gay people, kill adulterers, prohibit women from speaking in church etc. etc. There is nothing holy about much of what the bible says, much of it is hurtful.
The truth is the Church teaches freedom. We are free to join Christ and we are free to depart from Him. The sad truth is there exist may who are trying to distract us away from Christ. Consider today’s Gospel Reading:
John 10:9-16 (RSV) - The Lord said, "I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.  I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep.  I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.  And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd."

Don’t go through life naive about wolves in sheep’s clothing. They are real and they surround the Church. You are free to disagree with the Church, but that won’t stop the Church from proclaiming the truth.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

We Have been Invited to Heaven

In the Parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14.16.24) our Lord compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a great banquet to which we have all been invited. As in the parable many of us make excuses as to why we or our family cannot attend. As servants we are commanded to go out and invite others who have also been invited so that God’s House is filled. We don’t know when God will call us to Heaven, but we must be prepared to answer the call without excuses and enter into Heaven with our Lord. No more excuses. We have been given another opportunity to answer the call without excuses. Through the life of the Church we can be prepared to enter into Heaven. No more excuses. We can still be loyal and faithful servants.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Light Shines on Good and Bad

We often think about how a light shines in the darkness and we are comforted. From a young age light was the source of comfort and safety. As little children we begged our parents to leave the light on as we fell asleep. We were sure the light would keep monsters away from nibbling on our toes during the night. Growing up, the light always was a sign of good things. But light is not always a sign of something good. It can also reveal sin and evil. Consider today’s Gospel Reading:
Luke 8:16-21 (RSV) - The Lord said, "No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a vessel, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hid that shall not be made manifest, nor anything secret that shall not be known and come to light. Take heed then how you hear; for to him who has will more be given, and from him who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away." Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him for the crowd. And he was told, "Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you." But he said to them, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it."
Light shines on our Churches. It shines on the good and the bad. When a Church is an example of love and faithfulness to God, the light reflects God’s light and others are drawn to the Church. When a Church is an example of sin and selfishness, the Church no longer reflects God’s light but is exposed with sin, and others who seek the Lord are driven away.

If your Church is not growing, one thing to consider is how the life the Church members is reflected in God’s light. Is the life of each member drawing others to Christ or away from Him? Nothing that is hid shall not be made manifest.....something to think about when it comes to Church growth.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Time is Drawing Near

Yesterday I wrote about making excuses when the Lord sends His servants to call us to heaven. At some point the Lord will come calling. We all know and accept that reality, but it has become “normal” to think we have more time. We are confident the Lord isn’t coming today, “So why not just go about our business,” we think every day. But as today’s Gospel reminds us, our time is drawing near...
Here is today’s Gospel Reading: Luke 21:28-33 (RSV) - 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."
I have noticed over the years that two types of people general exist. There are people who put off until the very last moment the work needed for a project. The project could be school related, work related, and even vacation related. Have you ever realized your vacation was beginning tomorrow and you hadn’t made hotel reservations yet? The other type of person is the one who arrives at the airport three hours in advance “just in case” something comes up they have to attend to. This type of person would rather sit at the gate for three hours and enjoy reading a good book, than feel rushed through security in a state of panic the plane would depart without them comfortable in their seat.

No matter what the project, the procrastinator will procrastinate. There is one major problem though when it comes to our relationship with God. WE DON’T KNOW the departure time. We only know, as the Lord says in today’s Gospel, the time is drawing near. When it comes to our time to enter heaven, we won’t be able to ask for more time, we won’t be able to wrap things up, we won’t be able to “pull an all-nighter” to finish the report. God will come for us, and whatever we have accomplished we have more – no less.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you know my emphasis on taking seriously the life the Church offers to us as preparation for when God calls. I invite you today, most especially if you are a procrastinator, to consider whether or not you are prepared to enter the kingdom of heaven. “The time of your redemption is drawing near.” Will you be ready?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

What will your excuse be?

One time I was sitting around a table with religious leaders from all sorts of different backgrounds. This group included Christians and non-Christians, and we were discussing the importance of hospital ministry. One Christian pastor asked, “Is there anyone who would visit a patient in the hospital and not pray for physical healing?” The question sounded obvious enough since the very reason a patient enters the hospital is to be healed by doctors who have been trained in all the newest technologies. We don’t go to the hospital to die. I was troubled by his question because as Orthodox Christians we approach life from a different vantage point, so I raised my hand. “I don’t!” I let it sit out there for a minute or two. “As an Orthodox Christian I pray they are healed so that they may live long enough to repent.”  A long discussion ensued.

I think it has become too easy to pray for healing just so that we are no longer sick. We pray that God fixes what is broken in our bodies so that we can continue to pursue our dreams of building great dynasties. We pray that God allows us to get up from our sick bed so that we can walk into work another day and close that perfect deal we were just about to wrap up. We even pray to God that we don’t die too soon so that we can enjoy time with our family. Let’s face it; we all have excuses about why we don’t want to die. But if we’re honest the excuse rarely if ever includes time for repentance and confession. We hear something similar in the Gospel.

The Lord compares heaven to a great banquet to which many had been invited. The master had sent word to those who had been invited that the banquet was ready, “But they all with one accord began to make excuses.” (Luke 14.18) The result was that others were brought into the banquet and those who had made excuses were left outside. The master said, “For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.” (Luke 14.24)

The stories in the Gospel are never just stories. They are meant for us today to hear and embrace as a witness to God’s loving promise about our future with Him. That means WE have been invited to the banquet which He calls Heaven. We have been called by His servants, the Saints of our Church, to remind us that He is waiting for us. We have been given the opportunity to accept His invitation to the banquet. It also means that we have been the chance to come up with excuses about why we aren’t ready to attend. It isn’t because we don’t want to attend; we just would rather spend more time doing what we like to do “down here” for a while longer. That’s really why we spend so much energy trying to get healed and leave the hospital. We want more time to check out the new property we just purchased, test the new equipment we just installed, or enjoy time with our family.

The truth of God’s promise is that we don’t know exactly when He will send His servants to “bring us” to the banquet, so we need to be willing to answer the call when the time comes. That can only mean that we must be ‘ready and waiting’ for His call. But when He calls and you aren’t ready, what will your excuse be? Instead of making excuses, be ready for Him. Be waiting for Him. Enter into the banquet together with Him and avoid being left outside the gates of heaven. It isn’t about property, jobs, and family. It is about entering into heaven with God.

Monday, December 5, 2016

A True Christian Cannot Ignore those in Need

Today is the Feast of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker. He was a great saint and holy Bishop of the Church. Of his many traits, the love of the poor was among his greatest. As I continue to “settle in” to our new host parish of Saint Nicholas Cathedral in Tarpon Springs, yesterday I spent a few moments sitting with a few of those being served breakfast during our weekly feeding ministry. It was only a few minutes between appointments, but I immediately was warmed by the graciousness of who many in our society would consider outcasts. I am pleased to say our Cathedral hosts the feeding twice per week. What pleased me additionally was the presence of several parishioners working with dignity and class to provide a simple and needed meal for those in need. I bring this up not to boast on our host parish, but to hopefully inspire you to remember the poor, not just on Thanksgiving and Christmas, but every day.

They are blessed by God as we hear in today’s  Gospel Reading:
Luke 6:17-23 (RSV) - At that time, Jesus stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured.  And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came forth from him and healed them all.  And he lifted up his eyes on His disciples, and said: "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.  Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied.  Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh.  Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man!  Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven."

May the Holy Wonderworker and Hierarch Saint Nicholas be an inspiration to you as he has been for me.

There’s Always Time for Cranberry Sauce

When Jesus healed a woman on the Sabbath, those who were watching complained because He “worked” on the Sabbath. They had forgotten there was an actual purpose for the Sabbath. In the same way, many of us look at the Church rules as just rules to follow. We spend so much time worrying about following the rules; we forget that the rules have an actual benefit for our lives. The weeks leading up to Christmas present a great opportunity to refocus our attention on what really matters. If only we could trust the Church enough to understand the meaning behind the rules, we could arrive at the Feast of Christmas with peace rather than a panic about making sure everything is in order for the dinner. There’s always time for cranberry sauce. This year, let’s get our soul ready for Christmas.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

We Already Know What to Do

When we were growing up, our parents and teachers spent much of their time teaching us the proper way we were to behave. They taught us how to act in Church, the proper way to sit in a restaurant, and the polite way to remain still and quiet in a library. As we grew older and we forgot our manners (as we often did) our parents would remind us about proper behavior. As we grew even older and still forgot how to properly behave, if we were lucky they would ask, “Didn’t I teach you how to behave? Show me how you are supposed to act in Church.” Since we did remember everything they taught us, even though we didn’t always act like it, we were always able to repeat the rules to them. “We are supposed to sit quietly and pay attention” Eventually we became adults and our parents were no longer constantly reminding us about our behavior because we already knew what to do.

There was a certain ruler, who just like us knew the right way to behave. In fact he had always followed the rules. One day he asked Jesus how to have eternal life. When Jesus reminded him about keeping the commandments he said, “All these I have observed since my youth.” (Luke 18.21) He must have thought he was “good to go” to heaven, since he had always followed the rules. But there was something missing that Jesus pointed out to him. "You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." (Luke 18.22) There was only one little problem.....he was very very rich. The ruler walked away from Jesus that day very sad.

You see it isn’t enough to just follow the rules. Rules don’t get us into heaven. There are many stories in the Holy Scriptures about people who follow the rules but still end up losing. Of course it isn’t because they followed the rules that they lost. They lost because they thought following the rules was the key to heaven. They lost because they didn’t understand the purpose behind the rules in the first place. It is the purpose that counts, not just the rules.

When the ruler thought following the rules would be enough to get him into heaven he didn’t realize the rules had a deeper purpose. The rules were supposed to help him love the way God wanted him to love. When Jesus said, “You know the commandments: 'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not bear false witness,' 'Honor your father and your mother,’” He offered a few of the Commandments to remind the ruler that when we want to love like God loves, we would not commit adultery, or murder or steal or lie. Jesus was telling the ruler that the Commandments were supposed to help him learn to love.

Unfortunately for the ruler he was more concerned about whether the rules were being followed and never considered that he was expected to love. How do we know? When Jesus said, “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor,” He knew that only someone who loved the way God loves would be willing to sell everything. Unfortunately for the ruler, he decided to walk away.

We are blessed because, just like our parents were willing to remind us about the rules, the Church is willing to remind us about the rules. We don’t have to walk away from God. We can still choose to learn from our mistakes. We can still choose to learn to love the way God wants us to love. After all, it isn’t about just following the rules. It’s about learning to love, but then again....we already know what to do.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Focus Focus Focus

Thanksgiving is behind you and the leftovers are gone. The fast is the best way to remain focused on the coming chaos of secular Christmas preparations. Don't lose focus. Pray, fast and attend Church services as often as you can. There'll be plenty of time for celebrating AFTER Christmas.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Every Good and Perfect Gift is from Above

It is tempting to think that our success has everything to do with our hard work. It is even more tempting to think that the fruit of our success are meant for our pleasure. Neither is true. In fact no matter what our vocation, whether we are fishermen or farmers, our only part in our success is a bit of hard work. Everything else is a gift from God and that gift has a purpose. When we were married the priest asked God to bless us so that we could help others. Thanksgiving is a wonderful opportunity to thank God for the blessings He has given to us by reaching out and helping other this year.

The Reason for Blessings

When we consider our accomplishments it is very easy to be filled with pride. Whether we arrived from the old country with twenty dollars in our pocket or rose up through the ranks of corporate America, our normal point of view is to say to ourselves, “You have done a great job! Congratulations!” Unfortunately we tend to forget that we didn’t accomplish it on our own, but I’m not talking only about the other people who helped us in our accomplishments. Even more than the people who helped us are the other gifts and opportunities provided by God.

Today’s Gospel begins with the words, “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plenty...” (Luke 12.16) In this case God provided the soil, the rain, the sun, the minerals, even the very seeds he used. There was nothing the man used, to plant and harvest his crops that were not provided by God. This is why in the Divine Liturgy we pray, “Every good and perfect gift comes from above, coming from You the Father of Lights.” The rich man in the Gospel forgot this singular truth about his accomplishments.... “If it is good, it comes from God.”

The problem isn’t in accomplishing good things, but when we forget where those good things come from. When we think we are the source of goodness, we also tend to think we are in control of our circumstances. The rich man said, “I KNOW what I’ll do....” as if he was in control of the sun, the soil, the rain and minerals in the soil. His eyes weren’t on thanking God but praising himself. He lost sight of why God has blessed him with such a great crop in the first place. “Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?” (Luke 12.20)

God doesn’t bless us so we can praise ourselves. He blesses us so that we can bless others and lift others up. We run the risk of being a fool if we think our blessings are for us to enjoy ourselves. Such is the opportunity of holidays like Thanksgiving. This week we have a unique opportunity to come to Church on a day dedicated to thanking God. What would be the result if we spent this week focusing on thanking God for the blessings He has given to us, and THEN using those blessings to help others?

The fool is the one who stores up treasurers for his own pleasure. “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." (Luke 12. 21) This week I would like to challenge each of you to consider the blessings that God has given to you and thank Him by helping someone else. Here are just a couple ways you can thank God this week...

Bring food to a local soup kitchen or emergency pantry
Donate supplies for the local Thanksgiving “give-away” (every town does something this week)

It doesn’t have to be complicated or over the top, but it does have to come from your heart. You can’t focus on yourself when you are helping others. Let’s face it, there is a reason for the blessings that God has given you. This year for Thanksgiving, start with helping someone else.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

What is your excuse?

We all make them and we all think ours is the best. Excuses seem to be a part of our everyday life. Whether late for an appointment or delayed in completing a task, we all make excuses as to why we haven’t done something. Of course we don’t normally call them excuses. For us they are reasons. The word choice is crucial because rationalizing something creates the illusion that it may not have been within our control. For example, “I’m sorry I’m late, but I chose to spend a few minutes on a project that I knew I wouldn’t finish because I figured you would cut me some slack,” sounds much worse than, “Sorry I’m late, but I had to finish something.” Of course, that’s not to say that real obstacles to our agenda don’t exist. Traffic accidents, bad weather, illnesses, and other unexpected circumstances can always stand in our way to what we had planned. But let’s face it....MOST of the time it is just an excuse because we made a choice. Consider today’s Gospel Reading:
Luke 9:57-62 (RSV) - At that time, as Jesus was going along the road, a man said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head." To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." But he said to him, "Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."
How many times have we CHOSEN to be absent from Church by making excuses as in today’s Gospel reading? “I’m sorry Father but I had to do some paperwork for the restaurant,” when what we really mean to say is, “Listen Father, I know you want me in Church but I want to have a life outside my restaurant so I get my paperwork done on Sunday morning. It allows my family to go an enjoy life every once and a while.”

If we are honest with ourselves we can admit that making the time (on average two hours) on a Sunday morning to attend Divine Liturgy isn’t enough to ruin any plans we may have for enjoying an outdoor day with family. Nor is it enough to suggest that there isn’t a “different” two hours we can find for paperwork. So let’s quit with the excuses and plan to attend Divine Liturgy EVERY Sunday and find time for the other things after Church. Until we make spending time with God actually FOLLOWING Him we won’t be “fit for the kingdom of God.”

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Sin is against God

Temptation and sin are an everyday experience, but it wasn’t always meant to be that way. Originally God created humanity to live in communion with Him under His protection, but our ancestors were led astray by the devil and his cunning ways. It began with the lie, “You will not surely die.” (Genesis 3.4) With these words the devil proved that he could not be trusted. But God had a plan to save us from ourselves and death. He understands our weakness. This is why said, “Temptations and sin are sure to come.” We can one the one hand be comforted that our Lord knew in advance that we would sin.

Then He said, “But woe to him by whom they come!” These words are more serious. WOE...isn’t just an insignificant expression. It is serious business to cause someone to sin. It is something that as a priest I consider every day. Are my actions, teachings, and guidance leading others toward God or toward sin? It is often easy to excuse away our behavior by rationalizing the behavior of others. But if we are honest, every day we cause others to sin. But it isn’t all bad news. There is always hope.

Since we all sin, and we are all tempted, the hope is our opportunity for repentance and God’s willingness to hear our confession, but that’s the “easy” (or at least easier) part. In Psalm 50 we pray, “Against You, You only have I sinned and done that which is evil in your sight.” If our sin is against God, and God commands us to forgive those who sin against us, that means He will forgive us. The difficult part is to understand that while we may “feel” the sin of others, their sin is really against God and we have no reason to hold any grudge or resentment against anyone. If OUR sin is only against God, then THEIR sin is also only against God. We really have no legitimate right to refuse to forgive anyone.

Just a bit to consider with today’s Gospel Reading

Luke 16:15-18; 17:1-4 (RSV) - 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."

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Secret Sin

It has been said that Orthodox Christianity is the ‘best kept secret in America’ because nobody knows the Church is present. Nobody outside the immediate Church member knows or understands what takes place inside the Church. In many places ‘outsiders’ don’t even know we are Christians since our Holy Traditions are so exotic and elusive. There are even some who read the sign on the street corner which begins with Greek, Russian, Antiochian, Bulgarian, etc., and think, “Well, even if they are a Church, we aren’t Greek or Russian, so we may as well go down the block to the next Church and check them out.” Of course our Churches are known for our food festivals of every possible ethnic combination, but to the extent that we are Church they may wish to enter for worship, we are relatively unknown. If it were otherwise, let’s face it, we wouldn’t call ourselves the best kept secret. Confidentiality is good, but in this case the secret is a sin. Consider today’s Gospel Reading:
Matthew 5:14-19 (RSV) - The Lord said to his disciples, "You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hid.  Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.  Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.  Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven."

If we are going to do the work of Christ we must make the work known not for our glory, but so others may join us in that work. It is a commandment of God that we open our doors and let the light shine in the darkness of the world. When was the last time you invited a friend to Church? When was the last time you spoke openly about the Church with your friends BESIDES inviting them to your Festival? When was the last time your Church opened its door to the public for prayer and reflection? If our Churches are going to be a light to the world, we can no longer keep that light under a bushel. It’s time to remove the bushel, open the doors, turn the lights on, and give glory to our Father in heaven. Anything else is a sin.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Sin is Sin

I can’t believe what HE did!
Did you hear what SHE did?
OH MY! I wonder what THEY did!

In the world there are sinners and there are sinners. That’s right, we are all sinners. The problem is that we go around thinking “they” are worse sinners than “we” are, but consider today’s Gospel Reading:
Luke 13:1-9 (RSV) - At that time, there were some present who told Jesus of the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish." And he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, 'Lo, these three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down; why should it use up the ground?' And he answered him, 'Let it alone, sir, this year also, till I dig about it and put on manure. And if it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'"
There is no doubt that Jesus equates all sin as causing death. He also affirms that certain sins are no more sinful than others. They may actually be more dangerous and more difficult when it comes to repentance, but they are no worse. So if you are spending your time thinking that someone else’s sin is worse than yours, and therefore you are somehow better, think again....sin is sin.

That is why Christ gave the Church authority to forgive sin through the mystery of Holy Confession. Jesus said, “"If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." (John 20.23) He gave this authority to the Holy Apostles who gave it to their successors, our Bishops. Sin may be sin, but forgiveness defeats them both! Call your spiritual father and schedule a confession so he can forgive your sins and you can get a fresh start before Christmas!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What have you done with the gift?

Today the Church commemorates a great Saint who offered himself to Christ and His Church. Saint Nektarios, a fairly recent 20th century Saint, is known for sacrificing his time and life for others. He was able to offer so much, not because he gathered worldly wealth and notoriety.  He recognized the great gift that God has offered in His Church. Consider today’s Gospel Reading:
Luke 12:48-59 (RSV) - The Lord said, "Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more. I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division; for henceforth in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against her mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law." He also said to the multitudes, "When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, 'A shower is coming'; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, 'There will be scorching heat'; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky; but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? As you go with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison. I tell you, you will never get out till you have paid the very last copper."

The Church has been given to you by Christ to help you get to heaven. The Church has been given to you as a great gift to free you from the slavery of selfish materialism. You have received this great gift. What have you done with the gift? 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Seek the Kingdom Rather than Politicians

With the election of the new United States President planned for tomorrow, what a great gift we have (if we choose to accept the gift) in today’s Gospel Reading.
Luke 12:13-15, 22-31 (RSV) - At that time, while Jesus was teaching one of the multitude said to him, "Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me." But he said to him, "Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?" And he said to them, "Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." And he said to his disciples, "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat, nor about your body, what you shall put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a cubit to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass which is alive in the field today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O men of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind. For all the nations of the world seek these things; and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well."

This year’s presidential election has been a rollercoaster of slander served upon scandal. Each candidate has been accusing the other of dangerous ruin for our nation if elected. It might seem we have nothing to be hopeful for in the future of our nation. Yet our Lord says, “Do not be anxious about your life.” Politicians come and go, but Christ and His Church are eternal. Vote but do not be anxious. Participate in the debate but do not place your hope in the economy or health care system. Seek the kingdom rather than politicians!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Learning from Each Other

“I grow old always being taught.” This ancient Greek saying expresses a truth about life that leads to heaven. It is only in a relationship that we can be taught and learn from each other. With the Church as our mother and teacher we learn to live together in humility, faith, patience and love waiting for God’s blessings. It is together that we experience joy and sorrow, anxiety and peace. We won’t always get what we want, when we want, how we want it, but through humility, patience and love as expressed by Jairus and the woman with the flow of blood in the Gospel, we learn to give glory to God.


Lessons Learned

In a society which elevates self promotion as worthy traits, it is difficult to imagine learning a lesson from a woman crawling on her hands and knees to secretly be healed by God. In a society which awards self accomplishment, it’s even more difficult to accept that it is honorable to sit and wait for healing rather than demand immediate attention. Our society, while offering wonderful opportunities for anyone and everyone to express their God-given talents, the last character trait we expect to see highlighted in humility. But it is humility that is our greatest teacher. In both healing stories we hear today in the Gospel, it is humility rather than self promotion and accomplishment that is lifted up by God.

The woman, despite the fact she had been seriously ill for twelve years without a single moment of relief from doctors, came to God secretly almost crawling on the ground just for a chance to touch His garments. By today’s standards she might have been accused of not have enough self esteem to approach God. Some may even ask, “Doesn’t she know God can heal her? All she has to do is name it and claim it!” God makes a lesson of her humility when He brings her to the front, “Who touched Me?” She was forced to admit she had dared to touch the Lord. She had dared to have enough faith that God would heal her. She knew the teachings of the Holy Scriptures. How many in the crowd knew the Old Testament prophecy this woman knew? (See Malachi 4.2) How many understood that when she reached out to touch the fringe of His garments, she was declaring Jesus to be the Messiah? Even so, this woman chose not to teach others the read the Holy Scriptures; she didn’t even want to be seen. It was enough to have simple faith that Jesus was the Messiah. She was healed and God lifted up her humility for us to learn a lesson.

The man whose son was near death begged Jesus to come to his house. This bold statement reflected a man that knew Jesus Christ had the ability to heal. Then while Jesus was on His was to heal the son, He was interrupted by a strange woman sneaking around to delay Jesus by getting healed. It was just enough of a delay that his son died. Rather than getting upset with the woman or going on a rage against the disciples for not keeping Jesus moving, the man was willing to walk away.  Jesus said, “Do not be afraid. Only believe and she will be made well.” (Luke 8.50)

If we were in the place of either the woman or the father in this morning’s Gospel story, would we have had the humility to sit quietly and wait for God’s healing? Or would we rant and rave that we were here first? Would we have been willing to allow the woman to approach Jesus? Or would we have dismissed her as just another member of the crowd? It is easy to follow the lead of our society and promote our agenda as more important than the others in our group. It is more convenient to demand first come first served rather than allow others to receive God’s attention or blessings before us. But then again any lesson worth learning isn’t easy. The path of self promotion and self accomplishment might be the preferred American way, but it isn’t the Orthodox Way. The Orthodox way is the way of humility.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Preach the Kingdom

As this week I am just beginning a new ministry in Tarpon Springs, Florida, today’s Gospel rings loudly in my mind. Our journey on earth, no matter what our career is temporary. We are brought together for a short time to accomplish great things in the Name of the Lord. Some will receive us and other will not. Having served the Church in various capacities for 23 years, I can attest to this fact. I have seen souls healed and bodies healed, but I have also seen angry rejection of God’s kingdom.  Consider today’s Gospel Reading:
Luke 9:1-6 (RSV) - At that time, Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal. And he said to them, "Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them." And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.
When we preach the kingdom and someone rejects us, we can’t think they are rejecting us. Jesus also said, "He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me. (Luke 10.16) But that doesn’t give us the free reign to abuse others and demand our own agenda under some false pretense that we are God’s messengers. It requires humility and constant confession of our own sins to our spiritual father. How can we accuse others of rejecting Christ if we don’t constantly repent of the sins of pride that plague our hearts?

As I begin my new journey here at Saint Nicholas Cathedral, please keep me in your daily prayers. Pray that I don’t fall victim to my own passions. Pray that I am able to see my own sins rather than the sins of others. Pray that I do not lose sight of preaching the kingdom and being a healing presence for those I meet. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

It isn’t an “Either Or” Game

It can be very tempting to dismiss the needs of others by claiming we have other obligations. We can’t feed the poor because we to build a new Narthex. Some say we shouldn’t expand the Church because we need to feed the poor. St John Chrysostom often wrote about the spiritual danger of having golden chalices while the poor were outside the Church starving. But he never suggested we had to choose between one and the other. Consider today’s Gospel reading...
Gospel Reading: Luke 11:42-46 (RSV) - The Lord said to the Jews who had come to him, "Woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and salutations in the market places. Woe to you! For you are like graves which are not seen, and men walk over them without knowing it." One of the lawyers answered him, "Teacher, in saying this you reproach us also." And he said, "Woe to you lawyers also! For you load men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers."

The key words here are “These you OUGHT to have done WITHOUT neglecting the others.” Feeding the poor and tithing to the Church is not an either or but a both and. If we are going to live a life dedicated to Christ and His Church we must learn to tithe our income to His Church for the work and blessings of the Church while still doing the other important charitable work that calls our hearts.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Christian Stewardship

The idea of Christian Stewardship brings all sorts of questions for members of the Church. We’re always trying to figure just how little we can offer to the Church within “the rules” so our spending on gadgets and luxuries is not hindered. We know our Church has bills to pay, and we would prefer the doors remain open to the Church. We speak about projects we know are needed and still we don’t give as we should. When all else fails, we question the money management of the council when our $250 each year isn’t enough. It was enough in 1975, but we can’t figure out why it isn’t enough today. Consider today’s Epistle Reading:
St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians 15:58; 16:1-3 (RSV) - BRETHREN, be  steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. Now concerning the contribution for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that contributions need not be made when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem.
These verses should, if our heart is open to hear the Word of God, comfort us and inspire us to bring our stewardship offerings to the Church without hesitation.
  • Our work for the Church is never in vain
  • We should bring our offerings now for future needs
  • Our offerings should reflect our prosperity
  • It is good to have people we trust in charge of our offerings

You will notice that St Paul reminds us that we have been “directed” to bring our offerings, and that our offerings are not for our benefit but for the benefit of the work of the Church no matter where or when that need may be. Just something to think about.

Friday, October 28, 2016

One Thing is Needful

With less than two weeks until Election Day, it can be difficult keeping focused on what really matters. We get wrapped up in polling data, TV and internet commercials, and social media arguments between friends no less that we too easily forget that our salvation is not to be found in staying busy with politics but in the Lord. Consider today’s Gospel...
Gospel Reading: Luke 10:38-42, 11:27-28 (RSV) - At that time, Jesus entered a village; and a woman called Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve you alone? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her." As he said this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, "Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!" But he said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!"
Have you lost sight of what is really important in your life? Now is your chance for a fresh start. Now is your chance to sit at the Lord’s feet and choose the one thing needful. It won’t be taken away from you.

Special note: Today is the Feast of the Protection of the Theotokos in the Greek Orthodox Church and those Churches which have an ethnic connection to Greece. The Feast was originally celebrated on October 1st but was “moved” to coincide with the Greek National Holiday OXI Day which commemorates the day on which Greece stood up to tyranny during World War II. The Greek people love the Panagia so much, the Feast was moved to remind them of her dedication, love and protection. The Feast is celebrated on October 1st throughout the remainder of the Orthodox world. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Free to Doubt

When someone encounters the truth about God, even those who have been “born in” the faith or members for a very long time, there is never a compulsion to believe. God truly has given every human being the freedom to accept Him, the freedom to reject Him, the freedom to love Him and the freedom to hate Him. God has even given us the freedom to doubt.
Today’s Gospel Reading: Luke 11:14-23 (RSV) - At that time, Jesus was casting out a demon that was dumb; when the demon had gone out, the dumb man spoke, and the people marveled. But some of them said, "He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons"; while others, to test him, sought from him a sign from heaven. But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace; but when one stronger than he assails him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoil. He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters."

He desires our open free hearts to believe and follow Him. He has given us His Church as a witness for others to come and see for themselves so they can choose to follow rather than being forced to accept a truth they may never have heard about or seen. Invite them in, but do not force them. Welcome them, but do not obligate them. Share with them your experience of God, but allow them the freedom to doubt.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Prayer is NOT Random Thoughts

So often I hear people pray at conferences, ecumenical gatherings, and even during Orthodox retreats, and I am saddened to hear what could otherwise be called a string of random thoughts. “Father this,” and “Jesus that,” often “Please Lord.” But when Jesus was asked how to pray, He offered a different example:
Gospel Reading: Luke 11:1-10 (RSV) - At that time, Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he ceased, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." And he said to them, "When you pray, say: 'Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread; and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive every one who is indebted to us; and lead us not into temptation.'" And he said to them, "Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; and he will answer from within, 'Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything'? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened."

The Orthodox Christian way of life is designed by God to assist us in preparing for eternity. When we attend Church services and read the prayers in our prayer books, we are learning to pray. Since the very first days of the Church, the Holy Apostles continued in the Holy Tradition of Christ by teaching us how to pray. Let’s face it. We are too wrapped up in our own agenda and ego to “create” words for a prayer. I guess that why it ends us sounding like a string of random thoughts so often. Let’s break the pattern and pray as we have been taught by the Church.

Monday, October 24, 2016

We All Have Demons

When we hear about demon possession in the Holy Scriptures many of us don’t consider that we have anything to benefit. Many of us either do not believe in demons, or we accept that we aren’t ourselves possessed by demons. The truth is, we all have demons that take control over our life. Our demons may not be the spiritual demons that we read about in the Holy Scriptures, but we all have struggles that control us with no less power to cripple our lives. The Good News is that God is able and willing to heal us from our demons, no matter what that demon may be, and we can be freed from the struggle to follow Him and be a witness of the great things God has done for us.


Saturday, October 22, 2016

Humility Accompanies Faith

When we think of faith, many times we think of how we believe God will do special things for us. We “have faith” that God will find us a job. We “have faith” that God will help us get pregnant. We “have faith” that God will find us a new house. It seems we always “have faith” for that God will look favorably upon us, but what about others? Consider today’s Gospel Reading:
Luke 7:1-10 (RSV) - At that time, Jesus entered Capernaum. Now a centurion had a slave who was dear to him, who was sick and at the point of death. When he heard of Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his slave. And when they came to Jesus, they besought him earnestly, saying, "He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he built us our synagogue." And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying to him, "Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come,' and he comes; and to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it." When Jesus heard this he marveled at him, and turned and said to the multitude that followed him, "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith." And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave well.
The centurion wasn’t asking for himself. He wasn’t even asking that Jesus come all the way to his house. “Say the word, and let my servant be healed.” Yes, he was showing his faith that Jesus only had to speak and his servant would be healed, but there is something more in the reading if we open our eyes. Consider the deep humility of the centurion. When was the last time you asked God for a blessing for someone else without any regard for yourself? When was the last time you said, “God, You don’t even have to come to me. Just say a word and that little boy I have never met, whose picture I saw on the internet, will be healed.” When was the last time you didn’t feel blessed because God “heard” YOUR prayers and healed someone?

I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t want God to heal our friends. I’m not even suggesting that we should only pray for complete strangers. But we should consider if our prayers lack the humility of the centurion. Just something to consider as you prepare to attend Divine Liturgy tomorrow. Don’t forget to say your prayers and prepare to receive Holy Communion. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

What is Your Demon?

Many times we read the Gospel stories about demoniacs like the one in the Gospel (Luke 8.26-39) and we think there is nothing relevant for us today. Most of us don’t even believe demons are real, let alone know of anyone who may be possessed by them. Of course, they are real, but the truth is, even if we do not suffer from demons we can still benefit from this story from the Holy Scriptures.

We all have demons that control us. They may not be the sort that are described in the Gospel, but the demons that control our life have effects that are just as crippling. Our demons are the passions, temptations, and sins that surround us. Here are a few to consider: depression, anxiety, laziness, various addictions, and various emotional and physical illnesses. These all tend to overpower us and can even take control of our lives, sometimes even leaving us lifeless.

But there is hope for even the most violent and crippling demon. As Christ approached the demoniac described in the Gospel of Luke, He found a man that had so many demons he no longer lived in the city among his family and friends, but in the wilderness among the graves. He had become a complete outcast from society. Sometimes we can feel alone and without family and friends. Sometimes we can even feel totally abandoned and want to call out to God for help. There is always help. There is always God. There is always a way to return home. We only have to approach God and He can help. There is no demon that God cannot heal or remove from our soul if we ask.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Sometimes You Just Don’t “Get It”

It isn’t difficult to misinterpret the commandments of God. Even the Disciples who walked and talked with Jesus Christ, didn’t always get it right. Consider today’s Gospel Reading:
Luke 9:49-56 (RSV) - At that time, one of Jesus' disciples came to him and said, "Master, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he does not follow with us." But Jesus said to him, "Do not forbid him; for he that is not against you is for you." When the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him; but the people would not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?" But he turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village.

I don’t want you to think that we should ignore our failings by claiming that the Disciples also misinterpreted our Lord. I want us to consider that He rebuked them and through them, us when we attempt to force others to love the Lord. Too many Christians spend their time trying to force people to live according to the Church’s standards. But you can’t force anyone to follow Jesus Christ. If you are considering trying to force or otherwise guilt and pressure someone to live a Christian life, remember today’s Gospel.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

It’s not all about You

Everyone struggles with it. You want to be the center of attention. You want to be the one everyone turns to in a time of need. You want. You want. You want. Well, it’s not all about you. Consider today’s Gospel Reading:
Luke 9:44-50 (RSV) - The Lord said to his disciples, "Let these words sink into your ears; for the Son of man is to be delivered in to the hands of men." But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, that they should not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask him about this saying. And an argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. But when Jesus perceived the thought of their hearts, he took a child and put him by his side, and said to them, "Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me; for he who is least among you all is the one who is great." John answered, "Master, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he does not follow with us." But Jesus said to him, "Do not forbid him; for he that is not against you is for you."
Even the Holy Apostle struggled to keep their ego in balance to the point of arguments about which apostle was the greatest. Notice how in this reading the apostles even attempted to stop others from casting out demons. It was bad enough that Jesus had to remind them, “It’s not all about you.” Well, He didn’t really say it that way, but I’m pretty sure that is what He meant.

OBVIOUSLY there are going to be cases in which others are abusing the name of Jesus. OBVIOUSLY there are going to be situations in which we can’t follow someone who claims to preach the Gospel. Even though in today’s reading Jesus said, “He that is not against you is for you,” there were other times when He warned, “" Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” (Matthew 7.15)

The point that I want to make today is just because someone is not living as you think they should, or speaking as you think they should, or teaching as you think they should, doesn’t mean it is your responsibility to correct them. God is greater than you or me. If it isn’t your job to correct them, let them be. God can handle the correcting.

One additional point I wish to make today. Jesus said, “Do not forbid him; for he that is not against you is for you,” doesn’t imply that he is for God; just that he is not against you. There will be many that are working against God, but aren’t your responsibility to correct. Your job is to be faithful over what God has given to you, and allow God to handle the rest. I’m sure there is something that God has appointed to do the correcting. He always has in the past. It just might not be you, but that’s ok. It’s not all about you.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Salt Makes your Fruit Sweeter

A few ago I was enjoying some fresh delicious cantaloupe and was enjoying its delicate sweetness. A gentleman came to me and said, “You should put just a bit of salt on that.” I couldn’t believe that salt would improve the flavor, but I gave it a try. It was even more flavorful that before. The salt had indeed brought out the subtleness of the melon and improved my experience. I suspect that is what Saint Paul had in mind with today’s Epistle Reading.
St. Paul's Letter to the Colossians 4:5-11, 14-18 (RSV) - BRETHREN, conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer every one. Tychicos will tell you all about my affairs; he is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts, and with him Onesimos, the faithful and beloved brother, who is one of yourselves. They will tell you of everything that has taken place. Aristarchos my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions if he comes to you, receive him), and Jesus who is called Justos. These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me. Luke the beloved physician and Demas greet you. Give my greetings to the brethren at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. And when this letter has been read among you, have it read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you read also the letter from Laodicea. And say to Archippos, "See that you fulfill the ministry which you have received in the Lord." I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my fetters. Grace be with you. Amen.

If we want to bring out the best in others, our words will be like a sprinkling of salt. We shouldn’t pour on the salt and hope something changes. My cantaloupe would have been inedible if I had done that. It only took a light sprinkling of salt to bring out the flavor. In the same way, when we are communication with those outside the Church, we are best to offer just a bit of salt to improve our relationships with them. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Working our Soul for Good Seed

When it comes to our soul many of us live as if everything we learned in Sunday School was enough to get us through the daily struggles of life. Some even leaven their soul unattended, or worse allow bad seed to make its way in. As the Lord explains in the Parable of the Sower, our soul is at times hard, rocky, filled with weeds, or even rich fertile soil, but it doesn’t happen by itself. It requires work to improve the condition of our soul to receive the Word of God, and it requires work to maintain a healthy soul. Luck for us we have the Church and the way of life of Orthodox Christianity to work our soul to prepare it for the Good Seed, the Word of God.

Click here to listen and subscribe to our audio podcast