Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Who, What, Where, When and Why of Prayer

The Who, What, Where, When and Why of Prayer
As part of our “Ask Father” series I was asked, “Can we pray for people who are not of the Christian faith, for example for the healing from a sickness?” When I was considering this question, it occurred to me that we should speak about prayer in general since it is a central part of our Orthodox Christian Life. The simple answer to this question is, “YES, we should pray for people who are not Christian,” but why might be a better question. For that we turn to the New Testament witness.

Christ Himself addressed the topic of prayer several times within the Gospel, mostly in the context of the act of praying. He was either praying or telling His followers to pray...
  • Pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you. (Matthew 5.44)
  • Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. (Matthew 26.41)
  • Pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. (Luke 10.2)
  • Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man. (Luke 21.36)
  • When you pray, say: Our Father.... (Luke 11.2-4 see also Matthew 6.9-13)

Who should we pray for? EVERYONE
What should we pray for? SALVATION, MERCY, and PEACE for EVERYONE
Where should we pray? In the depth of your heart, sometimes alone and sometimes with others.
When should we pray? ALWAYS be in a state of prayer
Why should we pray? Because it brings us closer to God and each other

There are times for personal private prayer, and there are times for communal public prayer. We need both to fulfill our spiritual journey to God. If we only pray in the privacy of our secret place, we run the risk of wounding the unity of our Christian family. If we pray only when we come to Church, we run the risk of temptation from the sinful world that surrounds us. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Coexistence is part of the Christian Life

So often Christians feel like life “would be easier” if everyone was a believer. If you have ever spent more than just a few hours at an Orthodox Christian monastery or seminary, you would know this is not at all possible. I remember well how I had to overcome this myth my first year at seminary. The truth is Christians will always be surrounded by non-Christians, so it would be better to learn how to live our Christian life despite the lack of Christian examples in our immediate society.

Consider today’s Gospel Reading from Matthew 13:36-43 - At that time, Jesus went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field." He answered, "He who sows the good seed is the Son of man; the field is the world, and the good seed means the sons of the kingdom; the weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

Life isn’t about being able to weed out non-believers. It is about living a New Life In Christ among non-believers. Until the return of Christ our goal must be to remain loyal and bear fruit for the glory of God. In fact, if we are able to live as Christians in a non-Christian environment, THAT is what will draw attention toward the power of a relationship with God. It was the NEW LIFE IN CHRIST of the early Christian saints that turned countless pagans to consider loving the Lord. If they see you loving God with all your heart, mind, body and soul, despite the efforts of others to turn you against God, your loyalty will be a light shining the way to God.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The World Needs More UNmercenaries

Today the Orthodox Church commemorates the memory of the Great Martyr Panteleimon, the physician. Trained in medicine, he treated people FREE OF CHARGE in the NAME OF CHRIST. In today’s political environment it has become almost second nature to hear someone speak about the need for universal health care. For sure the cost of health care in our nation has gotten out of control with premiums so high that many families hold down a second job JUST for health insurance, and if the insurance is used for anything but the slightest routine procedure, our premiums increase.

Within the breadth of the debate I hear about access for the poor to health care, and how granting universal access would bring health care to the poor. I’ve never really been a huge fan of bigger governmental plans for anything, let alone health care. The truth is the government rarely delivers on what they promise. What the world REALLY needs is more UNmercenary physicians.

Imagine how we could grant access to the poor if more trained professionals provided their services for free? Imagine how many of our brothers and sisters could receive routine check-ups if UNmercenary doctors and nurses followed the path of Saint Panteleimon? The UNmercenary Saints (there have been many in history) didn’t receive pay from OTHERS to treat the sick. They provided for themselves often from family fortunes.

I say this because inserted into the carillon calls for free services from the government, many often invoke Christian compassion as the justification of increased government services. Using the government to serve others doesn’t make anyone a better Christian. Saint Panteleimon didn’t use the King’s money, he used his own resources to treat the sick.

I DON’T write this today to suggest that doctors and nurses shouldn’t be compensated for their services. Christ reminds us a “worker is worthy of his food.” (Matthew 10.10) I only remind you of the rich Christian history of UNmercenary saints who treated the sick without compensation. The world has plenty of doctors and nurses; the world needs more UNmercenaries. 

Monday, July 25, 2016

Learning to Trust God through Tithing

There are many things that can help us to trust God. Just like learning how to swim requires us to build trust in our teacher little by little, tithing helps us to learn how to trust God. Saint Paul knew this truth when he reminded the Romans, “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10.9) Since we have been saved from death, we have nothing to fear. When we tithe to the Church, we learn that God is always looking out for us. Nothing can hurt us without God’s permission. Even the demons were not allowed to enter a herd of pigs (Matthew 8.31-32).

Friday, July 15, 2016

Patron Saints and Welcoming the Holy Spirit

This week there are two questions in our “Ask Father” series. Our first question, “Why are some Patron Saints more popular and more recognized than others?” explains why some names are more popular than others in the Church. The tradition of being named after a Saint or event in the life of Christ is an ancient but sometimes confusing tradition. Our second question, “How should we prepare our homes and our life for the Holy Spirit?” continues to follow-up with the issue of welcoming the Holy Spirit into our life. The simplest answer is “we should live the life of the Church.”


Friday, July 8, 2016

The Fruit of Political Rhetoric

I have chosen for many months to remain silent on the recent various blog posts and news stories about the “Black Lives Matter” movement and numerous response slogans which were, depending upon all positive discretion, expressed with good intentions. But as I awoke this morning to the details of last night’s violence in Dallas, Texas, I can no longer remain silent.

The political rhetoric of recent months is bearing fruit, and I’m sure it is fruit worthy of consumption, as the Lord said, “The tree is known by its fruit.” (Matthew 12.33) The fruit of so much political rhetoric proves to me the intentions have not been as innocent as we may have first been led to believe. Among the acceptable definitions of rhetoric, Merriam Webster includes, “insincere or grandiloquent language.” Either the rhetoric has been insincere, or the desired affect was violence in the first place. Either way, the fruit has been the same, rotten.

So what is the solution? Clearly it cannot be more insincere rhetoric, unless we desire more violence. In order for our conversation to heal the wound of hatred and racism, we must begin with the Love of Christ and the peace that comes through living a life dedicated to Him rather than our own agenda. A life dedicated to Christ is a life filled with the Holy Spirit, and that life also bears much fruit. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5.22-23)

Having just completed the 43rd Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, and being inspired by the many inspiring words of Archbishop Demetrios, Geron (Elder) of America, throughout the Congress, he inspired us with the challenge, “You are the Voice of Christ in a Changing World” If we are going to heal any of the violence and hatred of recent months, as a society we must – one conversation at a time; one person at a time – speak the truth and love of Christ.

So long as there remains a difference between the voice of Christ and the voice of political rhetoric, not only will the violence not end, it will increase. We either eat the fruit of political rhetoric which is rotten, or we are filled with the fruit of the Holy Spirit. I choose the Holy Spirit, and you can too. It begins when you Live A New Life In Christ, and it can begin today. Find the closest Orthodox Christian Church, enter the Church and ask God to fill your heart with the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Then share that fruit with the next person who is struggling - one conversation at a time; one person at a time.

Let us pray to the Lord

Again we pray for the protection of this holy church, this city and every city and land, from wrath, famine, pestilence, earthquake, flood, fire, sword, foreign invasions, civil strife, and accidental death; that our good God Who loves mankind may be merciful, gracious and favorable to us by turning and diverting from us all wrath and sickness impending against us, and deliver us from His just rebuke, and have mercy on us.
These words reflect the care and hope of the Church prayed during the Paraklesis to the Theotokos and other services of the Church. As I awoke this morning to the sad news of yet another shooting, my mind immediately was taken to this prayer. Engaging in a street war between races and economic classes will not cure the illness which affects our culture. Only the peace of God and His love will heal the wounds of violence and hatred that are so rapidly spreading within the streets of our cities.0

Lord have mercy.

What are you worried about?

Let’s face it, life is difficult. “Where will my family live?” “What will my family eat?” “How will I send my children to college?” “Will I have a job next week after the merger?” Although we may not struggle about these exact questions, we all know life is a struggle, no matter who we are or where we live. And yet the Lord says, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on.” (Matthew 6.25)

This commandment by Christ creates a conflict in our hearts. We wake up every morning feeling with our own hands and seeing with our own eyes the struggle that is before us. Some are tempted to respond by “just sitting back and waiting for God to provide,” because Jesus says, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6.26) But this mentality is not where our hearts should attempt to resolve the conflict. Jesus also says, “For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well." (Matthew 6.32-33)

The birds are not anxious, nor are the birds lazy. They live every day struggling just as we do to make ends meet. They search for food and shelter just as we do. The key my brothers and sisters isn’t to avoid the struggle; the key is to avoid the anxiety. The cure to anxiety is the Kingdom of God, the only place of true peace and rest. Seek the kingdom and the peace of God will settle the anxious heart. Only then can we truly fly high above the earthly cares as the birds.