Monday, February 29, 2016

Starving with the Pigs

As we come closer to Great Lent, the Church offers us the
Parable of the Prodigal Son as inspiration for us to embrace a genuine
repentance in our heart. The story of two brothers, both selfish but only one
experienced the love the father by repenting. When we remain in our sin
refusing to admit that we need to change our life and return to God, we will
remain lost and starving with the pigs. Even when we remain loyal to the
father, in Church every Sunday, if our loyalty is not with love, we will not be
able to experience the love of God. The blessing comes the moment we admit that
our life needs changing and we choose the return to God. At that moment God
welcomes us home and restores us whole to His Kingdom.


Hello, My name is Father Athanasios Haros and I'm the pastor here at the Transfiguration of our Savior Greek Orthodox Church in Florence, South Carolina and I'm your host for Be Transfigured Ministries. Here at Be Transfigured, as we say, we invite you to live a new life in Christ. We feature our sermons, and our Bible studies, and other special events in the life of the Church. We do it to inspire you to join us in living a new life in Christ. I hope you'll join us. I'll be back in a moment after this video to share some information about our ministry.

Today we're beginning our second week of the Triodion Period, the second week of our pre-Lenten preparation and the Church gives us this great message of repentance. The Sunday of the Prodigal Son we call it because there was this son who squandered his living. He spent all of his inheritance on prodigal living, on sinful living. We know the story but have we placed ourselves in the story because the Church wants us, my brothers and sisters, as we are preparing to enter Great Lent, the Church wants for us to hear the message as if we are in the story. I want to peel off a few layers and I want to place us in the story this morning.

We know that the father represents God and there are two sons. There is the one son who says to the father, "I don't even want to wait for you to die. Give me my inheritance now." He's selfish but the loving father says, "Here you go. Take what is yours," and this son goes and he lives in a far off country wasting everything. Everything his father gave him is now gone. He does not have one penny to his name and he's feeling all abandoned. He says, "I tell you what, I'm going to go into town and I'm going to find somebody and I'm going to get a job."

Now, think about that. The first step is he spent everything. He was a rich man and finally he realized, "Well, I suppose I'll just have to get a job." Someone takes him in and sends him out to feed the pigs. It says in the Gospel that he would have gladly eaten the pods, the pigs'- the slop. The Gospel says no one gave him anything so he thinks to myself. He says, "Here I am. I'm starving. I have no money. I have no food. Even the pigs are eating better than me." Then he remembers his father's servants, the ones who used to serve him, and he says, "I would rather be one of my father's servants because they had plenty of food to eat. I'm going to go back and tell my father, "Don't take me as your son. I'm not worthy to be your son. Just hire me as one of your servants."

Now, my brothers and sisters, this is the great message of repentance. So long as he was in the far off country, so long as he thought he was okay, we could even say, so long as he refused to admit he needed help, he would remain starving with the pigs. That's the first place that the message of repentance has to rest within our hearts, my brothers and sisters. Until we realize that we need God's help, until we realize we are lost, until we realize that we are starving with the pigs, we will remain there hungry and lost. This brother first had to accept that he had to change something about his life. He first had to admit to himself, "Something is not right here. I've made some poor decisions. I need to return to my father but I'm not going to return to my father as if nothing happened."

You see, repentance, my brothers and sisters, is not simply going back pretending everything is okay. Repentance is not going back to God and saying, "Hello, God, I'm back. Remember me?" Repentance, according to the message in this morning's Gospel is, "Lord, I have sinned against You. I am not worthy to be called Your son. Please accept me back simply as one of Your hired servants." That is repentance and that is where the Church is calling us, my brothers and sisters, as we enter this Great Lenten period, not just to come to Church but to come to Church with a heart open to God saying, "God, I have sinned against You. I am not worthy to be called Your child."

I have news for you. Until we are willing to accept that reality we will never have true repentance in our heart because there was another brother in the story, the loyal brother. The obedient brother never left his father, always at his father's side, always doing exactly what his father wanted, living the life of that rich family but he had a problem also. His loyalty was not out of love. When the younger brother came back and the father, which was his right, chose to restore the brother as if he had never left, it was the loyal brother, the obedient brother, we could say the brother who was in Church every Sunday; he turned to the father.

He was angry, "How dare you let that man back in our house. That son of yours, he wasted everything you gave him on harlots and you come and you kill the fatted calf? I never left you. I have always obeyed you. I have been here serving you loyally, father, and what have you done for me?" We are also that son because more often than not we find ourselves sitting in Church when someone does return thinking that we, the whole time, were sinless, living our entire life thinking that we were the good one simply because we were the ones coming to Church every Sunday out of loyalty, out of obligation but if there's no love in our hearts, if we're only sitting in these pews because we think it's the place we're supposed to be, then we may as well be out in the street selling hot dogs because God wants our hearts to want to be with him.

In the story of this morning's Gospel, my brothers and sisters, the loyal son was the one condemned. The one who never left was the one who was condemned because his heart was so selfish he could not see the love of the father on someone else. If our Great Lenten journey is going to mean anything for us this year, if we're going to receive any blessing whatsoever from God, it must begin there at the pigs. It must begin in our hearts where we realize and admit maybe even for the first time, "I have sinned against You God. I am not worthy to be called Your son." That is the moment that God opens to us His kingdom. At that moment when we truly in our hearts realize that we need God and that we do have things about our lives that have to change, that is when God opens for us the kingdom, and He kills the fatted calf, and He puts a royal robe on us, and He puts the ring, which symbolizes our inheritance being restored to us as if we never left.

The key, the key to that door, it rests, what are we doing with the pigs? Are we still thinking that we don't have anything about our lives to change? Are we still the loyal brother sitting in Church pretending, rationalizing ourselves away, saying, "Well, I'm in Church. I'm doing just fine. There's nothing I have to do to change?" This is the great opportunity, my brothers and sisters that the Church offers us every year with our Great Lenten journey. We have traveled far from God whether we want to admit it or not. We have traveled far away from God's kingdom and He is waiting for us to return. He is looking over the horizon, as the father did, and the moment the son turned around the father ran and embraced him and welcomed him home. The moment we, in our hearts, return and acknowledge the need for God in our lives, that very moment is when He welcomes us back. Then we can begin the journey home and walk with God back to the kingdom and enter paradise as one of His children; glory to God for all things.

Well, I'm back and I hope this video was an inspiration to you. I hope it helps you live a new life in Christ. Please share our message of hope with your friends and family and invite others to live a new life in Christ. Find more information about Be Transfigured Ministries by joining us on our website at You can also find many of our videos at the Orthodox Christian Network, our partners at As we say at Be Transfigured, until next week, God bless you and don't forget to live a new life in Christ.


Be Transfigured is a production of the Transfiguration of our Savior Greek Orthodox Church in Florence, South Carolina and presented by the Orthodox Christian Network. Contributions in support of this ministry may be sent to Be Transfigured, 2990 S. Cashua Drive, Florence, SC 29501 or online at our website at

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Loyalty is nothing without love

In the Parable of the Prodigal Son Jesus tells us a story of two sons, one loyal and the other not. The not-so-loyal son, thinking he was deserving of his inheritance early, spent everything he had on harlots and sinful living. The loyal son remained at home with their father and maintained the family business. The not-so-loyal son found himself broke and hungry with nothing to call his own. The loyal son had the family wealth at his fingertips whenever he desired. The not-so-loyal son was comforted by the father while the loyal son found himself suffering with anger.

What was the difference? Both sons were loved by the father, but only one experienced his love. When the not-so-loyal son returned to his father to become a servant, the father was willing to forget his sins and selfishness and welcome him home again. The father never once stopped waiting for his son to return, and the son felt the father’s love deep in his heart. The loyal son, though he never left the father, refused to experience the father’s love. Instead he could only resent his brother for returning home as if nothing had happened. The father never stopped sharing everything he had with the loyal son, and the loyal son never accepted his father’s love.

The difference was love. Without love the son’s loyalty was nothing more than a job. Without love the father may have forgiven the son, but would never have welcomed him home. Without love both sons would be left out in the cold, but with love both sons had the potential of being comforted by the father. Love makes all the difference.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

It has to be from your heart

Today’s Gospel Reading: Luke 20:46-47; 21:1-4 - The Lord said to his disciples, "Beware of the scribes, who like to go about in long robes, and love salutations in the market places and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows' houses and for a pretense make long prayers.  They will receive the greater condemnation."  He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury; and he saw a poor widow put in two copper coins.  And he said, "Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all the living that she had."  Having said this, he proclaimed, "He who has ears let him hear."
There are many opportunities each day in which we can open our hearts to the Lord and our fellow human beings. As you walk down the street you encounter countless people, each with an opportunity to share your heart and love for God. Even just a pleasant smile followed by ‘good morning’ can open another person’s heart to receive God’s love. If you choose to believe it, many of the people you pass spend their entire day without hearing a kind word or seeing an accepting face. When you open your heart to them, you open their heart to God’s love.

When Christ speaks of the scribes in today’s Gospel lesson, He is speaking of a group of people who had not opened their hearts to others. The scribes expected OTHER people to greet them with smiles and warm welcomes. The scribes expected OTHER people to give up their seats for them. The scribes did not open their heart to the experience the love of God.

As you go about your day, remember the scathing review of the scribes, and DON’T BE A SCRIBE. Don’t go through life waiting for someone else to greet you; welcome others with a smile and ‘good morning.’ Don’t wait for someone else to get up for you; offer them your place. But do it from your heart with love for God and your neighbor. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Friday, February 26, 2016

You can't over do love

Today’s Gospel Reading: Mark 14:3-9 - At that time, while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head.  But there were some who said to themselves indignantly, "Why was the ointment thus wasted?  For this ointment might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and given to the poor."  And they reproached her.  But Jesus said, "Let her alone; why do you trouble her?  She has done a beautiful thing to me.  For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you will, you can do good to them; but you will not always have me.  She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burying.  And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her."

This is one of my favorite readings. I have nothing more to say than this...when it comes to loving God, you can never over do it.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Take Heed and Watch

Today’s Gospel Reading: Mark 13:31-37: 14:1-2 - The Lord said to his disciples, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.  But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come.  It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.  Watch therefore -- for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning -- lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.  And what I say to you I say to all: Watch."  It was now two days before the Passover and the feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth, and kill him; for they said, "Not during the feast, lest there be a tumult of the people."

It seems many Christians have forgotten this warning from our Lord. His words will not pass away, and yet many live as if what He commanded is no longer in effect. Greed, oppression, sexism, pride and the rest of the passions are running wild in our world, yet many Christians seemingly have forgotten that Christ is returning at an unknown moment to judge our hearts and actions. This is why He warns, “Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come.” Many of us spend our day as if there is no judgment coming. We see the coming night not with fear of judgment, but with anticipation for what we can still enjoy in the morning. In a few days the Church will commemorate the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. Are you ready to return to YOUR Father Who is in heaven? Something to consider on this fifth day of the Triodion.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

What did you go out to see?

Today’s Gospel Reading: Matthew 11:2-15 - At that time, when Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities. Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?" And Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me." As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to behold? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, those who wear soft raiment are in kings' houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, 'Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who shall prepare your way before you.' Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has been coming violently and men of violence take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John; and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear."
Today the Church commemorates the First and Second Finding of the Head of John the Baptist. Before I share my thoughts on today’s Gospel lesson, allow me to share a true story about a non-Orthodox friend of mine and his reaction to tomorrow’s feast. We had just finished college and he had agreed to help me with my youth ministry. While trying to get some things on my schedule he noticed the date on my planner read, “First and Second Finding of the Head of John the Baptist” at which point he said, “Boy, you Greeks will celebrate anything!” I still laugh every year on this day, and it’s been more than twenty years since he said that. Now on to today’s thoughts...

Jesus asks the crowd, “Who did you go out to see?” trying to help them understand the character of Saint John the Baptist. Ultimately we must understand John Baptist as the one “among those born of women there has risen no one greater.” What is it that makes him the greatest? Everything he did and stood for was to prepare the way Christ. He pointed everyone to Christ. He told everyone to be ready for Christ. Even from prison he sent his disciples to learn from Christ. We could learn a great lesson from John the Baptist....are you doing, saying, everything for Christ? Why not start now?

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Are you strong enough to last?

Today’s Gospel Reading: Mark 13:14-23 - The Lord said to his disciples, "When you see the desolating sacrilege spoken of by Daniel the prophet, set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains; let him who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything away; and let him who is in the field not turn back to take his mantle.  And alas for those who are with child and for those who give suck in those days!  Pray that it may not happen in winter.  For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will be.  And if the Lord had not shortened the days, no human being would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days.  And then if any one says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or 'Look, there he is!' do not believe it.  False Christs and false prophets will arise and show signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.  But take heed; I have told you all things beforehand."

Triodion Day Three and the Church sends us another reminder of what is to come. Yesterday we were warned that we would be persecuted. Today we hear just how bad it is going to be. “If the Lord had not shortened the days, no human being would be saved.” It should come as no surprise the Church is shrinking. That much has been told to us. The question for us today, will we be strong enough to withstand the persecution and tribulation that is coming? The ONLY way for us to be prepared, or as prepared as possible, is for us to embrace the invitation of Christ, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Mark 8.34) If we insist on catering to our own desires, then the tribulation will be too much for us to bear. The ONLY way to be strong enough to hold off the temptation so far as it might be in our power to do so, is to fully embrace the live the life that Christ has called His Church; prayer, fasting, almsgiving, the sacraments...the life that has (as we will be reminded on the First Sunday of Lent) established the universe.

Monday, February 22, 2016

I hope you're ready for Great Lent

Today’s Gospel Reading: Mark 13:9-13 - The Lord said to his disciples, "Take heed to yourselves; for they will deliver you up to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear testimony before them. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. And when they bring you to trial and deliver you up, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say; but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. And brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved."

Day two of the Triodion and the Church is already reminding us of what is to come if we are genuine followers of Jesus Christ. We cannot escape the trials and persecution of the world, so best look ahead to Great Lent and prepare to dedicate our souls to God in everything we do. And WHEN, not if but when, we are mocked for taking our faith too seriously because we refuse to go to a party during Great Lent, or WHEN our friends decide it is more important to go drinking rather than spend time with us because we are spending more time in prayer, or WHEN our coworkers don’t understand why we can’t get together for drinks Wednesday after work because we will be in Church....just remember “But who endures to the end will be saved.” Get ready for Great Lent.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Almost Home

Today is the first day of the Triodion, a three week period leading up the Great and Holy Lent. For me today always arrives with a sense of relief like that feeling you have when you’re almost home from a long trip. You know....that feeling of relief when you land at the airport after a long trip away from home. You know not quite home yet, but you’re so close your entire body reacts with relief.

For me the Triodion has that same feeling. As human beings our soul’s home is with God. Ever since God breathed the breath of life (Gen 2.7) each human soul knows its home belongs to God. Our journey through life of sin and distraction brings us further from home. As we approach Great Lent, which is a period dedicated to restoring our soul to a relationship in communion with God, our soul knows it is returning home.
The Gospel reading for today: Luke 18:10-14 - The Lord said this parable, "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.'  But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!'  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."

For me this reading reminds me that my soul needs to return home. Unless we realize that our life is not what it should be, or that our soul is not where it should be, we will never consider the Great Lent as a journey home. But...when we understand our sinfulness, as the tax collector did, then we welcome the longer and additional Church services, strict fasting and dedicated prayers as the chance for our soul to return home. In the meantime, the beginning of the Triodion reminds us that we’re almost home. It won’t be long now.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Ancient Blessing in a Modern World

Today I had the awesome blessing of venerating a wonder-working Icon of the All-Holy Mother of God which was more than 700 years old. The Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God was brought to a local Russian Orthodox Church in West Columbia, about an hour away, so we planned the spend the day receiving the blessing of God and the Panagia. More than thirty from our parish made the journey this afternoon, and more will travel tomorrow for the Divine Liturgy. It is truly a blessing to have such an opportunity.

While at the Church, my family was permitted to have a picture taken along with the Icon which I was honored to hold. As I held the Icon in my arms I contemplated the centuries of Czars, Patriarchs, Archbishops, Bishops, Priests, Deacons, Monk, Nuns, and the millions of faithful men and women who have bowed down in veneration of the power of God revealed in the Kursk Root Icon. You can read more about the Kursk Root Icon here.

I also considered how many thousands of our Protestant brothers and sisters would be unable to receive such a blessing from God simply because they continue to refuse Holy Icons. We must continue to pray they hearts of softened by God’s grace and the Panagia’s love for each of us.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Church is above politics

Today’s Epistle Reading: St. Peter's First Universal Letter 4:12-19; 5:1-5 - BELOVED, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or a wrongdoer, or a mischiefmaker; yet if one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God. For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? And "if the righteous man is scarcely saved, where will the impious and sinner appear?" Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will do right and entrust their souls to a faithful Creator. So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed. Tend the flock of God that is your charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd is manifested you will obtain the unfading crown of glory. Likewise you that are younger be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble."

It’s political season, not that it really changes my thought for today, but since the Pope spoke about Trump’s “status” as a Christian, pundits have not shied away from either praising or condemning the Pope for his remarks. My post today has NOTHING specifically to do with Donald Trump, but everything to do with how the world speaks about the role of the Church. My comments today also are neither supportive nor against the Pope or Donald Trump.

The reality is that the Church is called by God, among other reasons, to be the conscience of the world. When the world is moving in the wrong direction, the Church must speak the truth of Christ. So long as the Church’s positions are supportive of our opinions, we tend to thank the Church for the support. But when the Church teaches something with which we disagree, then HOW DARE THE CHURCH get involved.

In today’s reading, Saint Peter calls the elders (the Priests and Bishops) of the Church to “tend the flock of God that is in your charge.” A shepherd loves his sheep, and would die for his sheep, But he also is willing to correct his sheep and steer his sheep away from danger. I often get the impression that the world would prefer a shepherd that only coddles his sheep. The Church is regularly reminded to love the sinner, but (as I have noticed) rarely does that include correcting poor behavior for the good of the sinner. If a sheep is headed for the ravine, does the shepherd not do anything in his power to protect the sheep?

Loving the sinner doesn’t have to mean endorsing the sin. In fact, it shouldn’t ever mean endorsement of sin. But likewise, calling something sin is not the same as judgment either. When the Church speaks out against behavior, even though leaders of the Church are ‘just as guilty’ as others, it doesn’t make the Church hypocritical; it reminds us that we are all sinners in need of God’s mercy.

Being in need of God’s mercy also doesn’t mean the Church has no authority to teach the truth of Christ. People many times quote the story of the woman caught in adultery found in John 8.1-11, as a defense against ANYONE telling them their behavior is wrong. But this is NOT what Christ said. The prohibition against judgment is  not the same thing as discernment. Calling a behavior a sin isn’t condemnation. Christ called acknowledged the behavior was sinful. And saying only God judges does not mean we are not called to identify sin. If anything it is supposed to mean we should be more merciful since we too are guilty of sin.

As the political season worsens, my advice is to be cautious of using the Church in your political battles. The Church is above politics, but that doesn’t mean the Church shouldn’t speak the truth of God when it is needed.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Dumpster Diving for Donations

Driving around town you may have seen an old desk, sofa, or a lamp or two along the curb, but would you pick them up and bring them to your Church? I understand they are “still perfectly good,” but does that mean the Church should have them? Have you ever purchased a brand new TV or computer, and then turned around and donated your old outdated computer to the Church? The computer is still good, right? Why not let the Church use it. The Church has other more important expenses to worry about. When we think about donating items to the Church, does it really matter where the item comes from? Is there anything wrong with donating our old items to the Church?

I remember hearing, “I’m just going to throw this away; do you want to eat it instead?” Of course, the food hadn’t actually spoiled, but what my friend was saying was, “Do you eat garbage?” After all, if it truly was “still good” then why get rid of it in the first place? Why purchase the new shiny model if the old computer is still working “just fine?”

What does it say when we think of the Church when we see items in the garbage? Is it that the Church doesn’t deserve something brand new? If you’re thinking that the item is “still just fine,” why throw it away in the first place? I admit we live in a disposable society and that many times we throw away items that are indeed in perfect working order. That is not my point here. The fact that we throw away healthy food rather than give it to the poor is not my point here. That is for another post.

My question is quite simple. If the Church has a need, and we want to fill that need, why not just go out and purchase the item for the Church? Wouldn’t the Church get better use of a new item? Is Church worth more than garbage?

Satisfied with Whatever God Gives to us

It has happened to all of us before. We ask God for
something, and we don’t hear an answer. We ask again and again. Finally...we
hear His answer and the answer sounds like He said, “NO!” Frustrated, we sulk
in a corner wondering why God gives everyone else what THEY ask for, but when
it comes to what WE want, He always says, “NO!” In the story of the Canaanite
Woman in Matthew 15.21-28, we see a woman who seems to be struggling with the
same problem. She asks God over and over again to heal her daughter until she
finally hears Him say, “It is not fair to take the children's bread and throw
it to the dogs.” The difference is that this woman didn’t sulk, and she didn’t
accuse God of giving everyone something that she deserved. The Canaanite Woman
had deep faith and a deeper humility that allowed her to be satisfied with
whatever God gave to her, and her daughter was healed from the moment she
reached that pure faith.

Hello. My name is Father Athanasios Haros. I'm the pastor, here, at the Transfiguration of Our Savior Greek Orthodox Church, in Florence, South Carolina. I'm your host for Be Transfigured Ministries. Here at Be Transfigured, as we say, we invite you to live a new life in Christ. We feature our sermons, and our bible studies, and other special events, in the life of the Church. We do it to inspire you to join us in living a new life in Christ. I hope you'll join this. I'll be back in a moment, after this video, to share some information about our ministry.
                                One of the things that, sometimes we ponder, we wonder about, when we read the scriptures, we see stories like this morning's Gospel, where there is a woman in need, her daughter having a demon possession, having a demon taking over her body, and you see this plight of a woman begging God for help for her daughter. We hear this story more than once throughout the year. This Gospel reading is one of the seven Gospels read during the service of Holy Unction. One of the things that we can understand, from the way the Church uses this scripture reading, is that the Church wants us to consider healing, physical and spiritual healing, when we hear this Gospel.
                                This is not simply a story about God's healing miracles. It's about our healing. I want to take apart bits and pieces, this morning, of the Gospel, and we're also going to talk about the Epistle for just a moment, and I hope we can have a little better understanding of why the Church feels that this particular Gospel is healing for us. If it is not healing for us, my brothers and sisters, then it's just another story. It doesn't do us any good to memorize this story, and to remember how He talks to the woman, and how the crowd talks to Him, and how the woman talks to God, if it doesn't somehow heal us.
                                The first question we have to ask is, heal us from what? What is our illness? We're not talking, here, about a cut hand. We're not talking about pneumonia. We're not even talking about cancer, today. This woman's daughter was possessed by a demon. Our illness, my brothers and sisters, is the constant attack, and the effect that the demons have on our lives. Each and every one of us goes through life under a constant attack, and sometimes we find ourselves like this woman, asking God for help. Lord have mercy on me.
                                The first thing we see in the Gospel, it says, "He didn't answer her one word," and immediately we wonder, what's God waiting for? If He's going to heal the daughter, why doesn't He just do it right away? Why does He make this woman suffer? Why does He not even answer her one word? We find ourselves, many times, in the same place as this woman.
                                We think our prayers have gone unanswered. Where is God? Why didn't He do for me, what I asked Him? The disciples say, "Lord, come on. Send her away. She's pestering us. She's following us, crying out to us." Again the Lord responds, but not to her, He says, "I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." She was a Canaanite woman, so she was not one of the house of Israel. Again we wonder, we look around, and we think we see God treating other people better than He treats us. Well, they got what they asked for, how come I didn't get what I asked for? It goes on, and on, and on.
                                Finally, the woman comes, and she bows down in front of Him. She makes it now so He cannot avoid her. This is a deep challenge, the words that He says to her, "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the little dogs." Imagine, now, what this woman must have thought. Excuse me. Are you telling me, God, that I am the same as these little puppy dogs running around? The little puppy dogs that, if they're here one day, and gone the next, nobody notices? Is this what you're telling me, God? That wasn't her response. Her response was, "Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their master's table."
                                You see, this woman had a deep, deep faith, and an even deeper sense of humility. She understood what God was trying to help everyone understand. She understood in her heart that, yes, we ask God for things, but what God wants us to understand is exactly what is necessary for us. What do we really need from God? Sometimes, in our own lives, my brothers and sisters, this is a very similar exercise. We ask, and we ask, and we ask, and God continues to hold us off. I've said this before, you may remember, and I said, "There are three possible answers to every prayer, yes, no, not yet."
                                In this woman's story, the first two answers were not yet, because He was going to heal the daughter. He wanted the people to see what it meant to have a deep faith, and a deep sense of humility. Not the kind of humility that the world expects us to have, speaking down upon ourselves, oh I'm garbage, I'm this, I'm that. That is a false sense of humility. That's what the world thinks makes us look better. What God wants us to have, my brothers and sisters, the kind of humility that this woman had, is understanding that, in spite of everything that's going on around us, we are not the most important thing in the world. Including all of the struggles that we may have, we are not the center of attention. That ultimately, we have to be okay with whatever God throws our way.
                                This woman showed God, and of course He already knew it, this woman showed to God that she was going to be satisfied with whatever He did for her. Like we would say in Greek, Να είναι ευλογημένο, may it be blessed. If the Lord would have given her one little crumb, she would have been satisfied. He knew her heart, but He wanted the crowd to see this deep humility, and this deep sense of faith that this woman had, willing to accept whatever answer the Lord gave, not believing in God only on her terms.
                                So many of us believe in God on our terms. I hear this all the time, "I don't believe in a God that would... fill in the blank." We find ourselves believing in God in our own terms, and so the struggle, my brothers and sisters, is how do we take what we naturally want to do, and that is bestow our terms on God, "God, we want what we want, when we want it, and how we want it, we want it right now." How do we get from there, to this faith of the woman? “Yes master, but even the dogs eat the crumbs, the leftovers, the most insignificant bits of nothing, even the little dogs eat that when it falls from your master's table.”
                                How do we get to that point, my brothers and sisters? It is by remembering the words of Saint Paul on this morning's Epistle. Saint Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, said this, and it is incredibly important for us to remember these words, "For you are the temple of the living God. As God said, I will dwell in them, and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. Therefore, come out from among them and be separate says the Lord. Do not touch the unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty."
                                Are we truly willing to live as if we are the temple of the living God? Are we really prepared, my brothers and sisters, to cast away, to separate ourselves from the world? This woman was. This woman had no sense of worldly desire. She wanted God, and a relationship with God, and she knew that He would take care of her daughter with whatever He chose to do. How do we get to that point, my brothers and sisters? The life of the Church. The rhythm of life. God gave us this wonderful mission to be, and to live, as temples of the living God. Our very body, God dwells within us. The rhythm of life of the Church is meant to help us tame our bodies. The rhythm of life is meant to help us tame our desires, and our passions.
                                By looking at the way of life, fasting for example, I had a conversation with somebody, this was several months ago, and the response to me was, "Every time I go to the mall I can't help but shop, and buy, and buy, and buy more things." My response was, "You have to fast more." This person said to me, "What do you mean? What is fasting...what does what I eat have to do with what I buy at the shopping center, at the mall?" I said, "Until you can learn to do without." Until we can learn, my brothers and sisters, that life is not about pleasing ourselves, until we can learn through disciplining our bodies, we'll never learn how to discipline our soul. Our body is filled with very powerful urges, and the urges are always to please ourselves.
                                Our struggle is to separate ourselves out from that, and to become this faithful, humble woman, who is satisfied with whatever God sends our way. Are we ready for that? If we cannot imagine telling God, "Yes God, whatever you're willing to send me is fine." If it's three crumbs for today, να είναι ευλογήμενο, may it be blessed. If we cannot bring our minds to that, then we have to further embrace and practice the way of life, the rhythm of life, in the Church. By coming to holy confession on a regular basis. By fasting, not how we choose to fast, but fasting how the Church teaches us to fast. By praying, not how we want to pray, but being taught to pray, by the Church who has been guided by the Holy Spirit. Taking care of the poor, not how we desire to take care of the poor on our own terms, but taking care of those who are in need, on the terms of the Church.
                                You see, my brothers and sisters, every time we turn around, we have an opportunity to choose our way, or God's way. Believe it or not, an atheist can feed the poor. A Satan worshiper can feed the poor. Feeding the poor is not what makes us believers in God. Loving God, living as the temple of the living God is what makes us Christians. Separating ourselves out from our own desires, and being satisfied with whatever God gives to us, that, my brothers and sisters, is what makes us Christians. That is the rhythm of life that the Church is giving to us to help us accomplish that, to help us get us to that point.
                                I will be a father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters. It's an intimate relationship. God is our father, He is not our angry master looking down from some tower. He wants the best for us. He wanted the best for the woman in the Gospel. It isn't always what we think we want that is best for us. Sometimes God says to us, as He said to the woman in the Gospel, "Not yet. Let's wait a little bit. Let's make sure we really know what you want, and let's wait to see if what you want is really what is good for you." Then once we reach that point, God's blessings will overflow upon our head, because we'll finally want what He wants in our life, and there'll be no stopping the grace from flowing. As it says in the Gospel, "When she came to that point, her daughter was healed from that very moment."
                                We too, my brothers and sisters, can be healed by the spiritual illness, the genuine sickness that we suffer with, the moment we bring our heart to the point of this woman. From that very moment, God will heal us, and his grace will pour down upon us. Glory to God, for all things.
                                Well, I'm back, and I hope this video was an inspiration to you. I hope it helps you live a new life in Christ. Please share our message of hope with your friends, and family, and invite others to live a new life in Christ. Find more information about Be Transfigured Ministries by joining us on our website, at You can also find many of our videos on the Orthodox Christian Network, our partners at As we say at Be Transfigured, until next week, God bless you, and don't forget to live a new life in Christ.

Closing:                Be Transfigured is a production of the Transfiguration of Our Savior Greek Orthodox Church, in Florence, South Carolina, and presented by the Orthodox Christian Network. Contributions in support of this ministry may be sent to 2990 South Cashua Drive, Florence, South Carolina, 29501, or online at our website, at

Saturday, February 13, 2016

We Don't Change the Message: The Message Changes us!

There used to be a time when members of the Church would leave professions because the lifestyle of the profession was not conducive to the Christian calling. There used to be a time when we were committed the Faith of Christ enough to risk comforts to avoid temptation. There used to be time Christians considered their faith as more important than their work or recreation. Alas how things have changed.

By way of example there was a canon in the early Church that forbid members of the Church from the professions in the theater. It wasn’t that acting specifically was sinful, but that the way of the life back stage was filled with temptation and scandalous practices. It would be beneath the dignity of the Christian to be known as a member of the theater. The Church in her wisdom, remembering the words of Christ laid out in what we now call the Lord’s Prayer.... “lead us not into temptation” .... understood that is was better to avoid the temptation of the backstage life and not be in the profession.
Times have certainly changed, and not for the better. Now, rather than allowing the Church and Christian way of life to help us choose our professions, a large number of Christians including unfortunately a growing number of Orthodox Christians, would rather leave their Church than leave their job, if the two ways are not compatible. It is now considered old fashioned if we allow the morals of our Church to dictate how we live in private, let alone what job offer we accept.

Of course we shouldn’t be surprised. With more than 43,000 denominations considering themselves the true Church, why would we expect any Christian to remain faithful to the teachings of the Church? If we don’t like the teachings of First Avenue Christian Church, we pick up and establish Second Avenue Christian Church, and then we are surprised and offended when people leave OUR Church to establish Third Avenue Christian Church.  The cycle continues to repeat itself. That is why I read a Church sign along my daily route as so ironic...a Protestant Church claiming, “We don’t change the message: The message changes us.” ...unless of course you don’t like the message. Then you just establish a new denomination. Times sure have changed...

Thursday, February 11, 2016

How Much is Enough?

A mother faced with her daughter’s serious illness, approached Jesus for help. “"Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed." (Matthew 15.22) But the Lord turned her away with what by modern expectations might be considered harsh. After putting her off; even telling His disciples that she should be sent away, said, “"It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the little dogs. And she said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." (Matthew 15.26-27) After allowing her to express her deep faith and humility in front of others, then He heals her daughter. What exactly was it that God wanted her to express to the crowd?

The mother had already expressed her belief that Jesus was able to heal her daughter. She had already proven her patience when she remained waiting for Him, even after being told to leave. But it was when she confessed that she didn’t want all His attention, nor did she expect any special treatment or anything for herself, but simply wanted her daughter to be healed from the demon. Then God granted her wish, and her daughter was healed from the very moment.

We could learn a lot from this mother, but the greatest is her deep faith and humility. She asked not for herself, but for her daughter. She didn’t ask for special attention from God, but just to be noticed. She was content in her heart to accept whatever the Lord offered her. Life is filled with opportunities for us to choose between our needs and the needs of others. Every day is a chance for us to confess in front of others that we seek God and are willing to accept whatever He has to offer at that moment. In our heart we will know it is enough.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

I’m not your cruise director

I have the distinct pleasure of serving on a special board for our local newspaper. The board is known as the Faith and Values Advisory Board, and six or so Christian members of the greater city community gather each month to discuss trends and topics that might be developed as feature stories in our local newspaper’s Faith and Values Section with runs each Saturday. As part of this board I have the added pleasure of publishing a regular column on average of once every two months. Yesterday’s discussion centered around the question of why millennials are leaving the Church. In fact, even within the Orthodox Church this topic has been at the forefront of many conversations throughout the country, so I was interested to hear what others in the room had to say. The conversation was quite eye-opening.

It started with the standard excuses why millennials complain about “church” being boring, and how we as pastors don’t “speak their language”, and how we must be willing to come down to their level if we desire to reach them. One even suggested that if our Churches were not willing to install large flat screens and display the Scripture text as we preach, we will ‘never’ reach the young people. Others spoke of music styles, and still others focused on Church life outside the Sunday service.

So there I was, the only Orthodox member of the board in a room of men and women, white and black, young and old. I don’t want to get into too much detail of the conversation since most was arguing back and forth about whose approach was better etc. If those of us in the room hadn’t already been casual friends, one might have thought we were about to start throwing fists.

There was a common thread among the others – we must be willing to cater to the desires, styles, and priorities of the young people to get them in Church. Sure the Lutheran had a different version of catering than the United Methodist or Pentecostal, but each was fighting for their version of how to best cater to millennials. So I asked, “What then? What happens when their desires, styles and priorities change? What will you do then to KEEP them in Church?” Not surprisingly they would keep changing. And thus continues the patter of the ever-changing Church which reinvents itself every seven to ten years leaving last year’s millennials back on the outside.

As Orthodox Christians our worship reinforces our theology and our commitment to love God with all our heart, mind, body and soul MORE than anything else. Our worship reinforces the invitation to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Christ. Our worship directs (or at least it should) ALL our attention on God. This is beautifully expressed even in the point the clergy face God with the people rather than face the people. Our worship is about being in communion with God. But it doesn’t end with our worship.
Our very way of life as Orthodox Christians is meant to bring our entire being into communion with God. Our life of prayer, fasting, almsgiving, reading the Holy Scriptures, modeling our life after the Saints, attending the Divine Services (not just Liturgy) of the Church, etc are all meant to encourage us to become Holy.

Whether it is our Sunday worship, or Wednesday evening Paraklesis and Bible Study, our Orthodox Christian way of life is about being holy, it isn’t about flat screens and light shows. It is about focusing our attention on God, not ourselves. It isn’t about sponsoring the most exciting dance featuring the most popular rock-n-roll band, although we do enjoy dancing together. It is about being in the safety and comfort of the Ark of Salvation, not a holiday cruise ship. And that is why I am a Greek Orthodox Priest, and I am not a cruise director.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Someone is Praying for You

Few sermons or Sunday School lessons stand out in my mind after more than three decades. We all have similar stories. One or two, maybe three if we’re lucky, memories of a lesson we learned from an important mentor in our life. For me, one of the single most profound moments in my life, fresh in my memory as if it took place yesterday, was one Sunday in eighth grade Sunday School. Thirty-four years later, and I still remember that day.

We were asked a basic question. “If you were ever in a airplane that was about to crash, what would go through your mind?” Answers were as you would expect from a classroom full of eighth graders. Then the words of deep spiritual wisdom, maybe even holiness, came from the mouth of our teacher.
“If you are ever in a situation like this, I want you to always remember, someone in the world is praying for you. In every Greek Orthodox [I know she would say Orthodox Christian today] Church, someone is praying for you. Some monk, some nun, some every Divine Liturgy the Church is always praying for the entire world. In every time zone, in every country, there is at least one Church praying you at this very moment. Don’t ever forget that!”
And I never have. The knowledge that someone is praying for me, no matter what time it is, has comforted me in times of struggle, and guided in times of confusion. And lately has helped me in my ministry as an Orthodox Christian Priest, offer the same words of wisdom and comfort to those I encounter along the way of life.

I have now shared these words with you, and I pray you too will never forget! Someone is praying for you right now!

Monday, February 8, 2016

When was the last time you chose the Church OVER something else?

The Lord asks that we love Him more than anyone or anything else. When asked if we love the Lord this way, we often stand firm in our conviction that we love the Lord and have placed Him first in all things in our life. But do we really love Him more than anything or anyone? As I have been focusing on the importance of the life of the Church in recent weeks as a means for us to grow closer to God, I wanted to take a very brief moment to ask the question...
When was the last time you chose the Church OVER something else?
We live in a world filled with distractions and competing priorities, yet each Sunday morning the Church calls us to worship. We may not hear the actual bell tower any longer but the Church calls us nonetheless. Do we answer the call, and put everything aside for a few hours to join our brothers and sisters in Communion with God? we find other things that we rationalize are important for us to accomplish Sunday morning. We can go to Church next week, we comfort ourselves. But what have we actually accomplished? We have placed something or someone above God.

You may not agree with me on this, but I can with surprising accuracy predict families that will eventually fall away from the Church by their attendance and the level to which they are committed to the Orthodox Way of Life. When our children are raised in a family that chooses a sports game, business accounting, or even just a bit of laziness over attending the Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning, we should not be surprised when our children choose to leave the Church.  When our children are raised in families which do not even attempt to maintain the fast, we should not be surprised when our children ignore the moral teachings of the Church. In fact every time our family ignores, or worse defies, the teachings and way of life of the Church, we are teaching our children that NONE of the Church is important.

If you really desire to place God first in your life, the ONLY way to put this into practice is to place the Church as your highest priority. Make a commitment that unless a life or death emergency or serious illness keeps you from Church, you and your family will be IN CHURCH, ON TIME, EVERY SUNDAY. It won’t be as easy as it sounds, since you likely have spent many years rationalizing away your absence from Church on Sunday. But when you actually begin to choose church OVER something or someone, THEN you will experience what it means to love God above all other things.

Give it a try. Starting this week, make a commitment that you will be in Church EVERY SUNDAY, ON TIME, NO MATTER WHAT, and experience the joy of a true loving relationship with Christ. Then when you are faced with choosing to be or do something else on Sunday, ask yourself, “Is this more important than God?” Your answer will always reveal what you love more.

Don’t Bury the Church

In the Parable of the Talents, we learn that God has given
each member of the Church resources according to our ability. He has given us
the Church with the expectation that we each would make full use of the
Church’s way of life so we could grow closer to Him. The Divine Liturgy,
blessing services, Holy Confession and the other Sacraments, prayer, Holy
Scriptures, and more are each meant to help us increase in our relationship
with our Lord. Unfortunately, most of us choose not to use the resources the
Church has. We depend simply upon our ‘membership’ in the Church as if having
been given the resources is enough. Most of us choose to bury the Church rather
than increase. Most of us become the wicked lazy servant who was cast into the
outer darkness, rather than the good and faithful servant invited into heaven.
But that can all change today.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

What Happens when the Church Joins the State

Over the centuries the Church has both enjoyed and suffered eras of close and sometimes total unity with the State. In cases where the State has departed from the ancient and Holy Tradition of the Church, and therefore turning its back on God, the relationship between Church and State suffers. Even in cases such as the United States in which there is not official relationship between Church and State, tensions increase when the State departs from the Way of Christ and the teachings of the Church. We can see this clearly in our current days as the legal battles against Planned Parenthood and so-called gay marriage, which are the most visible, play out in the media and courtrooms of America.

There are other tensions that evolve from Church-State partnerships, both ancient and contemporary, that serve to remind us that our Kingdom is not of this world. Today is the Feast of Saint Photios, the Patriarch of Constantinople, who himself was the center of political controversy; having been elected Patriarch after the Emperor had deposed his predecessor. Long story short, tensions increased between Rome and Constantinople, both politically and spiritually as a result. The truth of the Church was victorious, but not without a cost; there is always a cost. The Photian Schism played a role in what eventually separates Rome from the East.

There are some other more recent Church-State relations that have been a source of tension. Greece right now is undergoing a great deal of political pressure from the European Union to change a centuries old tradition of Mount Athos, by trying to force Greece to allow women to visit the Holy Mountain. Greece thus far has held its head high and refused, thankfully, but at what political cost? The President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, invoking his Orthodox Christian faith has very publicly stepped forward in the defense of Syrian Christians and others in the Middle East, using the military force of Russia in defense of the Church. Russia too is under serious pressure by Europeans and others to alter laws, such as homosexuality prohibitions, claiming the Church shouldn’t have such “power” over the State. Many have already forgotten how Serbian President Slobodan Milosovic attempted to use the Church in his war against his own citizens. In that case, thankfully the Church spoke against his efforts.

So whether the Church-State relationship is officially sanctioned as in Greece and Russia, or the tacit relationship as in America where the Church merely speaks her mind amidst the many voice clamoring for attention, the result is the same. So long as the State remains loyal to the truth of Christ, Church-State relations are peaceful and at times even thriving. However when the State departs from the truth of Christ, we can AND SHOULD expect tensions to increase in Church-State relations. The question isn’t whether or not for the Church will stand true to Christ. That should be expected. What remains is her willingness to stand publicly against the policies of the State and risk political ramifications, such as did Photios the Great. As the pendulum continues to swing away from the Way of Christ, we can only pray the Church remains faithful to the end. Our salvation depends upon it.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Keeping the Church Hidden is a Sin Against God

In the Parable of the Talents found in the Gospel of Matthew 25.14-30, which is meant to help us understand how God will judge each member of the Church, only one servant is condemned as wicked, lazy and worthless. He was condemned because he hid the talents that his master had given him, rather than using the talents to accomplish the will of his master. The others in the parable were praised because they were faithful to their master and used the talents for his will. They were escorted into the kingdom.

God has given us His Church, just as the master had given his servants talents (money) to watch over until He returns. We have been entrusted with His Church until He returns. What remains for us is whether or not we will hide the Church, as the wicked and lazy servant, or bring the Church to the world so others can benefit from her teachings and way of life.

The Church is a great treasure but if we hide it from the world, it can do nothing but collect dust. When a treasurer is hidden it cannot increase or be used for blessings. It remains locked up, dark, and useless to anyone. This is what happens when we are not active in bringing the Good News of the Church to others. There is no secret to how God wants us to use the treasure He has given us. “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’  Amen.” (Matthew 28.18-20) Let’s be the good and faithful servants, so we can also be escorted into heaven.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

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What is ‘the blood’ of Jesus?

Today’s Epistle Reading: St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians 1:1-9 - PAUL, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are at Ephesus and faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose.
Living here in the Bible Belt, I often hear that we are saved by the blood of Jesus, about which I am in total agreement. But what does Saint Paul mean when he says “we have redemption through his blood?” For many Protestants, at least by the way they talk, means the very blood dripping down the bloody cross now that the vengeful God has been satisfied to taste blood on His Altar. At least that what it sounds like to me when I am told of the sacrifice and that blood had to be shed in order for God to forgive us. .... as if God was unable to simply forgive us..... He could and He did by the way.

As Orthodox Christians we are saved by the blood of Christ, but in a different way. In the Eucharist, the Body and BLOOD of Christ, in our unity with Christ, what we call Communion, through our Baptism and His Grace, we are saved from death. Just something to think about...

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

I’m Fasting; I’m not a Vegan

Words matter! We all know that, and when it comes to the word “vegan” it REALLY matters. When someone “is” a vegan, it normally means they refrain from using animal products (meat, eggs, dairy or any other product derived from an animal) but often extends beyond diet such as ethical standards on the treatment of animals etc. So when someone declares themselves “AS” vegan, we can presume they are speaking in terms much greater than just food.

Words aren’t the only things that matter. Intent matters as well, and that is where my diet during a fast and a vegan diet are distinctly different. My abstinence from meat, eggs, fish, dairy, and other animal products has nothing to do with how the animal is treated, but everything to do with self control and self discipline. Keep in mind the fast also includes wine and oil, neither of which are “off limits” to vegans.

You might say that vegans and those who keep the fast share one thing in common....we allow our philosophy of life to determine how, what, and when we eat. Beyond that, other than what is on the plate, there is nothing in common with a vegan and one who keeps the fast. Since today is Wednesday, A FAST DAY, I thought I would ask us to consider WHY we fast...and not WHAT we eat today.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

He Who Condescended for our Salvation

Most of us think of this word in the negative. “I would NEVER condescend to....” or “He was so condescending....” that when we hear the word used in reference to Jesus Christ our ears sort of perk up?....or at least they should.

Today is the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, which commemorates Christ’s 40-day blessing according to the Law. You can read the entire story in the Gospel of Luke 2.22-40. It was a big day for humanity as the righteous Symeon was blessed to hold the infant Christ in his arms. He had received a vision from God that he would not die before setting his eyes on the Christ. When he held Christ in the Temple, he prayed...
Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.
There are so many great things about today, but I wanted to touch on the word condescension with my post for today. As part of the dismissal prayer, the Priest begins, “May He Who condescended to be held in the arms of the Righteous Symeon for our salvation, Christ our God....” This formula is used for more Feasts of Christ. For Epiphany it read, “May He Who condescended to be baptized in the Jordan by John...” etc. You get the point. But when we hear the word condescended we must not think negatively toward what God is accomplishing, but with thanks.

You see, for the Creator of the world to dare to allow the world to see Him, let alone hold Him in their arms as with today’s Feast, this is a moment of God’s great mercy as He condescends (literally comes down to our level) to save us. But it doesn’t end there.....we are only saved when He returns to the Father bringing us with Him, restored to our true humanity in communion with God. God doesn’t merely come down to our level, but LIFTS US UP to His level in heaven. That is what makes it a great mystery.

Many people today talk about the need for the Church to come down the level of the people, but unfortunately I fear most believe the Church should stay down at our level. If Christ had come down, and then stayed, we would never have been saved. Remember we can only be saved when we are LIFTED up with Christ. If the Church does not work to lift us up, we will remain fallen. So, be thankful when the Church struggles to lift you up. Don’t fight against the Church, because she is only trying to save you.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Blessed Month

It is a Greek custom to wish friends a “Καλό Μήνα” or a “Blessed Month” on the first day of the month. What I enjoy so much about this tradition is the manner in which the Greek people have been able to incorporate their Orthodox Christian Faith with daily life. In an attempt to always include God in our daily plans, each month begins with a prayer for blessing. In the ancient Church (at least as far back as the early 4th century) it has been the custom of the Church to celebrate the Blessing of the Waters on the first day of the month. This blessing invites God into our very calendar. So....have a blessed month! If you are in Florence, join us for the Blessing of the Waters at 6pm.

Climb Above the Crowd

We each have something that gets between us and God. We each
have a crowd that stops us from seeing God. I’m not talking about people
specifically, but the temptations and life-stress that preoccupy our attention.
We spend so much time planning the small things in life; we forget the
importance of making a plan to see God. The Orthodox way of life helps us to climb
above the crowd of obstacles and challenges. The Church life is our plan.