Monday, March 21, 2016

You Don’t Have to Make it Up

It has become very popular to make up your own religion by
accepting one belief and rejecting another, or following one practice but
inventing a new individual custom to follow. There is a better way. For
centuries holy men and women, righteous figures of the Old and New Testament,
have been following a way of life established by God, and they “were well
attested for their faith.” (Hebrews 11.39) The way of life Christ has given His
Church, the Orthodox Way of Life, has been tried and tested, defended and
perfected, for centuries, so we could receive this Holy Tradition today. This
is the faith of the Orthodox that is celebrated on the Sunday of Orthodoxy. God
became man, so that man could be united to God. This is the truth the Church
has defended in Holy Icons and our way of life. And that belief has
consequences. Do you believe? Then follow the Church. Do you want to follow
Christ? Then follow the way of life He has already given to us in His Church.
You don’t have to make it up.

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, 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.

It never ceases to surprise me just how many people prefer making up their own religion. A couple of weeks ago I was having a conversation with someone and we were talking about the human body. We were talking about how in Orthodox Christianity we consider the body to be a sacred vessel of the Holy Trinity. Part of our conversation was that I was sharing with this person that we as Orthodox Christians believe that because God came and became a human being, and because in our baptism we are united to Jesus Christ, and because in receiving Holy Communion we are in physical union with God, that we believe the human body to be a sacred thing. As St. Paul teaches in the Scriptures that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and part of this conversation, I was sharing that this is why in the Orthodox Church, we do not allow cremation because cremation is an intentional destruction of the human body. It is done with compete disrespect. Hosing things down into the sewers. It is absolutely desecrating to the human body and therefore not respectful of the temple of the Holy Spirit because God came into the world as a real human being and sanctified human flesh. This person said to me, "Well, that's very interesting how you respect the human body but that really has nothing to do with salvation."

That's exactly what I said. "What?" I said, "But for us Orthodox it has everything to do with salvation." This is why today we are celebrating the Sunday of Orthodoxy. We have just completed the first week of our Great Lenten journey and today we are commemorating a historical event in the Church that held up and defended the truth, not simply of a piece of wood, but the truth of Jesus Christ incarnate, becoming a human being.

You see, in the ancient Church, my brothers and sisters, there were many who believed that Holy Icons were idolatry. If you look into your history books it isn't because of Christian teaching, it was actually because of the Islamic influence over the world at the time. We're talking around the 700s. There was a big movement in the Church to remove Holy Icons and in 787 AD the Church gathered what we today call the Seventh Ecumenical Council and once and for all defended the truth of Christ. That he came in human flesh and because he came in human flesh, we ought to depict him, we ought to paint him, in Holy Icons.

Icons are not merely a decoration in our Church. They are a declaration of the truth of Christ. The God of the Universe. The God who created everything with just the spoken word came and became one of us. Human flesh and blood. He was hungry. He was tired.  That truth, my brothers and sisters, has consequences.

As I was trying to share with this gentleman when we were having this conversation, if we really believe that Jesus Christ came in the flesh and united humanity to Him, then that belief must have consequences. The consequences are that we must treat each other as if, according to St. Paul, we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. With dignity, with love, with respect. Not just when we're living but also when we're dead. This is why in the Orthodox tradition we treat the human body, even after death, with prayer. We respectfully, and prayerfully put the body into the grave.

Why do I bring that up today? Because people around us are always making up their own religion my brothers and sisters. Even some of us try to make up our own individual practices of Orthodox Christianity. It's Great Lent and many of us will sit in our comfort of our living room and think to ourselves, "Hmm, what shall I fast from this year? Maybe I'll give up chocolate, or maybe I'll do this, or maybe I'll do that." We have forgotten that the Church already has a way that has been tried, and tested, and laid out, and prepared for us called Holy and Great Lent. The Church has already answered the question, "How should we fast during Great Lent?" The Church has already answered the question, I received this question just yesterday, about a special book that we should read during Great Lent. The Church has already answered that question. It has very specific scripture readings for the days assigned to Great and Holy Lent. Why not begin with the Church my brothers and sisters? Why do we always think that we have to reinvent the wheel? Why do we always think we have to recreate our own religion?

I suspect it has something to do with our individualism that has been so enshrined in our American system. We believe what we want to believe. We are individual. We take care of ourselves. We pull up ourselves from our bootstraps. All of these individualism ideals, but when it comes to our faith it has been given to us by God.

Listen to what St. Paul said. We heard it just a few minutes ago but I'm going to read it again. He was referring to the Holy men and women of the Old Testament and he said, "Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured not accepting deliverance that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scouragings, yes, and of chains and imprisonments. They were stoned. They were sawn in two. They were tempted. They were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins being destitute, afflicted, tormented."

My brothers and sisters, these righteous men and women of the Old Testament endured these sufferings for the faith that we have received. St. Paul goes on, "Of whom the world was not worthy." He goes again, "They wandered in deserts, and mountains, and dens, and caves of the earth." He says, "And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise God had provided. Something better for us." He says that, "They should not be made apart perfect from us." In other words, all of these Holy men and women were loyal to the faith and the religion that God had established in the Old Testament but God did not want them to receive any greater blessing than we. Nor did he want us to receive a greater blessing than them. The Old Testament did not receive the full promise. The full promise comes when Christ returns and ushers in His final Kingdom.

Why is this important to remember on the Sunday of Orthodoxy? Because we, my brothers and sisters, are engaged in a spiritual battle for all eternity. How we spend these next few weeks in our Great Lenten journey ... If we choose to embrace the journey that Christ has given us in His Church, we will follow voluntarily, the same path that the Old Testament prophets, and Holy men and women did. We will follow voluntarily, the same path that these Holy men and women did who are depicted on the walls of our Church.

It's a life of struggle. It's a life of suffering because the world will reject our way of life, but it's a life following the truth of Christ. Because as when we process this afternoon and we carry our Icons out of the Church for everyone to see, we are reminding the world that the God of the universe, Jesus Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity, became a human being so that we might be united to God forever.

If we really believe that, my brothers and sisters, let's trust the Church. Trust the thousands of years of experience of Holy men and women who have already learned how to live their faithful lives in a world that wasn't so friendly to their faith. If you really want to follow Christ in these few weeks of Great Lent, follow the Church. Fast as much as you are able within the guidelines of the Church. Don't worry about making up your own rules. The Church has already figured that out for us. If you really want to follow Christ during this Great Lent, pick up your Holy Scriptures and read the readings assigned for the day. I'll give you a hint. Tomorrow, if you open up your Scriptures and read the readings for the day tomorrow, you're going to read in Genesis how Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden as a reminder of why we're involved in this Great Lenten journey to begin with.

Christ came to restore what was broken, to recreate humanity from within. He could have called down from Heaven and said, "Hey, you guys down there! You're forgiven." Instead, he came and he made us part of Him. He became one of us. That truth, my brothers and sisters, is what this beautiful thing that we call Orthodoxy is all about. Living a life trying to wrap our minds around that truth of God being made man so that we could be united to Him forever. All we have to do is live the life of the Church. Trust the Church. We don't have to make up our own rules. It's already been tested and perfected by the Holy righteous men and women of the Old Testament, and the New Testament, and our Church history. Our job is to follow them. Glory to God in all things.

Well, I'm back. 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.

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 South Cashua Drive, Florence, South Carolina 29501 or online at our website

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