Saturday, October 29, 2016

Christian Stewardship

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

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

Friday, October 28, 2016

One Thing is Needful

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

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

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Free to Doubt

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

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

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Prayer is NOT Random Thoughts

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

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

Monday, October 24, 2016

We All Have Demons

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


Saturday, October 22, 2016

Humility Accompanies Faith

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

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

Friday, October 21, 2016

What is Your Demon?

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

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

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

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Sometimes You Just Don’t “Get It”

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

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

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

It’s not all about You

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Salt Makes your Fruit Sweeter

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

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

Monday, October 17, 2016

Working our Soul for Good Seed

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

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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Modern Day Pharisees

We read the Holy Scriptures and too often think about the Pharisees as if they no longer exist, but I encounter them every day. I’m not speaking about Jewish Pharisees, but Orthodox Pharisees. Allow me to explain...
Consider today’s Gospel Reading... Gospel Reading: Luke 6:1-10 (RSV) - At that time, Jesus was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands. But some of the Pharisees said, "Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath?" And Jesus answered, "Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?" And he said to them, "The Son of man is lord of the sabbath." On another sabbath, when he entered the synagogue and taught, a man was there whose right hand was withered. And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him. But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man who had the withered hand, "Come and stand here." And he rose and stood there. And Jesus said to them, "I ask you, is it lawful on the sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?" And he looked around on them all, and said to him, "Stretch out your hand." And he did so, and his hand was restored.
The Orthodox Christian way of life, much like the ancient Jewish way of life, is enriched by a litany of “do’s” and “don’ts” that is meant to shape our life to align with a Godly life rather than an earthly life. The life of prayer rules, fasting rules, lectionaries, service schedules, almsgiving, and the like can be a bit taunting to the outsider. Making things worse, Orthodox Pharisees, continue to insist on obeying these “rules” but continue to display a lack of understanding why the Orthodox Christian way of life is so important.

The same thing was the case in today’s Gospel lesson. The Pharisees didn’t understand WHY the law was created in the first place. It wasn’t merely to teach the Jews to refuse to work on Saturday, but that we as humans needed the inspiration to spend time in prayer and rest. Otherwise we have a tendency to keep working until we fall over from exhaustion. The Pharisees focuses on doing the Law but never took the time to understand WHY.

The Orthodox Christian way of life is enriched when we fast. We learn that life isn’t about pleasing our own selfish desires. We learn that we can go without for a period to allow for prayer and rest. We learn to keep food in its proper place – nutrition for the human body.

The Orthodox Christian way of life is enriched when we schedule our daily life around times for prayer. We learn that taking time for our relationship with God is crucial to understanding our time on earth. We learn that if we don’t schedule prayer, we are likely to just keep right on working and forget to spend some time talking to God.

The Orthodox Christian way of life is enriched when we read the Holy Scriptures every day, but we more likely would read the parts we like over and over again and miss the full experience of the Holy Scriptures. The lectionary guides our reading throughout the year to align to certain seasons and holidays helping us put the different pieces together.

The Orthodox Christian way of life is enriched when we take care of the poor and tithe to the Church. Jesus commanded us to love others and see Him when we see others, and caring for the poor helps us to actually express our love in actions rather than just use the words. Tithing to the Church helps us put God and mission of His Church first in our life. If we wait to see “how much we can afford to give” we will always find other things to claim our attention.

We don’t do these different actions merely to do them, but to gain spiritual benefit from them. Take a moment to call your priest and schedule Holy Confession to confess your sins and discuss these issues. He will help you realize that it isn’t about following the rules; it is about allowing the rules to help you live a new life in Christ.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Your Soul Cannot Remain the Same Year after Year

In the Parable of the Sower found in Luke 8.5-15, our Lord reveals to us the condition of our souls. Our soul is either hard, filled with the weeds of temptation, blocked by the rocks of struggle, or rich fertile soil. Year after year God, just like the dedicated farmer scatters seed, sends out the Word of God to every soul no matter what condition. If our soul is prepared to receive the Word, our faith bears fruit; if not, our faith withers away.

The work of every farmer, and therefore the work of each Christian, is to continually work the soil either to improve poor soil, or maintain rich fertile soil. Glance at any vacant lot in town and even the riches soil eventually fills with weeds and rocks eventually hardening to the point of being an eyesore. Our soul is no different. We must either work to improve our soul or maintain a healthy Godly soul. If we leave our soul “just the way it is” it becomes just another vacant lot showing the lack of attention.

Year after year we hear the same Gospel stories read to us in Church, and year after year our souls is not in the same condition it was the year or years before. If you want your soul to become more fertile and filled with fewer weeds, it takes work. The more your work your soul, the better the soil becomes and the more fruit your faith with produce when your soul receives the seed and you hear the Word of God. But if you depend on what you learned last year or when you were in Sunday School as a child so many years ago, don’t be surprised when the Word of God doesn’t grow into fruit in your soul. Don’t let your soul become an abandoned lot, embrace the life of Orthodoxy and your soul will become more fertile each year and your faith will bear more fruit. No matter what you choose, your soul cannot remain the same. It’s up to you.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Don’t Look Directly at Miracles

It seems to me that miracles in the Holy Scriptures are different than miracles today. Yes, there are miracles today, but because of our point of view they are seen differently than in the Holy Scriptures. Here’s what I mean. In the Gospel story of the Widow from Nain, a man was raised from the dead by Jesus Christ. This was no ordinary miracle. No miracles are ordinary. This man had died just a few days before and was actually being buried when Jesus came up to him and brought life back to his dead body. The man was the only son of a woman had already lost her husband, a widow.

But I don’t want you to focus your attention on the actual miracle. I don’t want to you dwell upon the fact that the man had been dead a few day when Jesus came to him. I don’t want you to dwell upon the fact that his mother was already a widow. That was the miracle, but not the reason for the miracle.

Too often we go through our life seeking miracles for our family, our friends, our friends’ families, the tragic story down the street we hear about in the news. We ask God to go outside the normal chain of events and heal the sick. There is not thing wrong with healing the sick. Nobody wants to see their loved ones sick and in the hospital near death. But why do we want a miracle? Is it because we think we are special? The widow in this morning’s Gospel was not special. In fact we don’t even know her name. Jesus didn’t bring her son back to life for her sake; He brought him back to life for us.

Saint Cyril of Alexandria reminds us, “But there meets him Christ, the Life and Resurrection, for He is the destroyer of death and of corruption; He it is "in Whom we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28); He it is Who has restored the nature of man to that which it originally was; and has set free our death-fraught flesh from the bonds of death.” Christ didn’t perform the miracle for the widow or the son; He performed the miracle so that everyone watching, and those like us who would read about it for centuries later, could understand that Jesus Christ came to defeat death and to restore what was lost in the Garden of Eden.

When we think of the miracles of God as just a physical healing, then we miss the entire point of Christ’s plan of salvation. He didn’t come so that we would not get sick or die; He came so that sickness and death could no longer control us. Jesus reminded us, “My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.” (Luke 11.4) When we look directly at the miracles of God, we see only the physical, lest we forget that every person that God healed with a miracle still eventually died. The true blessing of any miracle is to be reminded of God’s love and plan for our ultimate union with Him in heaven.

Sometimes God brings us relief on earth from our struggles. Sometimes that relief is a miracle; other times it is a point of view through which we can see the struggle with peace. Sometimes it isn’t even for us but for those who have the eyes and faith to see what God is really accomplishing with us. But when it is a miracle, and they do still happen, just don’t look directly at it or you won’t really see what God wants you to see.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Less Shouting - More Silence

Today’s Gospel Reading: Luke 7:31-35 (RSV) - The Lord said, "To what then shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the market place and calling to one another, 'We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep.' For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine; and you say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of man has come eating and drinking; and you say, 'Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is justified by all her children."
When I consider this passage in the Holy Scriptures, I can’t help but think of our current social and political atmosphere. Watching the news and social media feed is like watching an elementary school playground. We need less shouting and more silent prayer.

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have Mercy on Me, a sinner.”

Wednesday, October 5, 2016


It’s one thing to preach about the grace of God; it’s another to actually witness grace in action. I’ve been blessed many times during my priesthood to witness changed lives through the services and mysteries (sacraments) of the Church. I’ve been blessed to be a part of many of those lives, even witnessing the return of the prodigal son.

If you remember the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15.11-32) as the father waited, the son “wasted his possessions with prodigal living.” The father continued to wait and wait. Finally after the son reached the lowest possible depth of personal despair that “he came to himself” and realized just how far he had fallen. Looking up from deep despair he decided to return to his father humiliated, shamed, and afraid of the possible rejection. “But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him... said to his servants, 'Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' And they began to be merry.”

I have witnessed with my own eyes and through the mystery of Holy Confession, the prodigal son climb in one night from the depth of despair to stand before the Holy Icon of Christ and bear his soul in genuine repentance. I have been blessed to see shame turn to relief in the eyes of someone who once thought he could never be worthy of God’s (or the Church’s) love, and receive the news that God had forgiven EVERYTHING and restored him to his proper place. I have witnessed the grace the God in action giving the prodigal son a new beginning from which to live a new life.

I have been blessed to be a part of so many new lives as people chose to embrace the opportunities the Orthodox Christian way of life offers as a ladder to climb from the depth of despair to heaven, while God is holding their hands. None of those lives changed without hard work. None of those lives remained perfect and sinless, but none of those lives was left abandoned by God. I know, because I have witnessed grace in action.

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Road to Heaven

Sometimes we just need a bit of a reminder that, even though life has its challenges, the hope of the Gospel isn’t about this life. The hope of the Gospel is in the life that God has planned for us, living with Him in heaven. Saint Paul knew this. He knew the true struggle of every Christian especially in a world that at the time was much less tolerant of Christians that today’s world. Eve depended on her understanding of the benefit of eating the apple rather than on God, and we know what happened to Eve? Saint Paul is trying to remind us, “The transcendent power belongs to God and not to us.” The Church, through the entire life it presents to us, is trying to help us depend upon God rather than ourselves, and that takes endurance. It won’t be easy. That much we know, but it is worth the struggle.