Thursday, August 17, 2017

Beware of Spiritual Carcinogens

I am often asked why I get so worked up when I “see” Orthodox Christians involved in other spiritual environments, whether it be attending a nondenominational Bible study or getting exercise with yoga. For me it all boils down to the environment we place our vulnerable soul, and risk of what I refer to as spiritual carcinogens.

Spiritual Carcinogens – defined (by me) as the bits and pieces of heresy and foreign spiritual concepts floating in the air during any non-Orthodox Christian event.

Spiritual Carcinogens can be bad theology about the Personhood of Jesus Christ and His Economy of Salvation, or totally non-Christian influences such as pagan religious concepts. They are found not only in religious organizations, but in schools and throughout the media. Like other more common carcinogens that affect our physical bodies, they make up a constant barrage of foreign elements that can, if left unnoticed, cause serious damage to our soul.

Some common warning signs that you might be exposed to a spiritual carcinogen include the statement, “Your Church is behind the times,” or, “Your Church shouldn’t try to control you,” or, “You don’t really believe I would hurt you do you?” Lest we forget the first spiritual carcinogen in history, “You will not surely die.” (Genesis 3.4) Anything….ANYTHING….that teaches the Church is wrong should come as a warning sign that you are in the presence of a spiritual carcinogen.

What should we do if we have find that we have been in contact with spiritual carcinogens? The first step is to step away from the danger and return to the Church.

STOP attending non-Orthodox Christian Bible studies
STOP attending non-Orthodox Christian worship services
STOP getting exercise through yoga
STOP the behavior…

START attending Holy Confession
START attending more Orthodox Christian church services and classes
START reading the Holy Fathers’ interpretations of the Scriptures
START reinforcing Orthodox Christian behavior in your daily life

As with anything foreign influence in our bodies, our souls can be healed by God and our willingness to turn away from the dangerous behavior in favor of blessed behavior in the Church. It is never too late to be healed by God, but the longer you wait the more difficult it will be to purge the carcinogen from your system.

Start TODAY!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Why do I always talk about fasting?

Every Wednesday and Friday, the forty days before Christmas, almost sixty days before Pascha, an average of two weeks in June, and another two weeks in August; a total of over two hundred fasting days in 2017. If you’re paying attention to the Church calendar and at least trying to live the Orthodox Christian life, you may ask yourself why all the talk about fasting? Now you’ll know.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The evil eye has no power

In a discussion of what to do with wedding crowns, the question was asked if something would happen to us if our ex-spouse threw away our wedding crowns after the divorce. In truth, we cannot be hurt by the actions of others. As Orthodox Christians, we do not believe in curses, bad luck and most especially the “evil eye”. It is enough to believe in the power of God for our protection, although sometimes our faith is weak. Thankfully the Church offers us prayers and blessings even in our weakness.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

How do we dispose of blessed objects?

The question was asked, “What should we do with the Sunday Bulletin when we are finished reading, since it has an icon on the cover. Can it be thrown away?” This is a wonderful and thoughtful question which reflects a deep faith and love for the Lord and His Church. There is a simple answer, but as with many questions about our Faith, there is always more to the question than meets the eye?

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Disposing of Blessed Objects

The question was asked, “What should we do with the Sunday Bulletin when we are finished reading, since it has an icon on the cover. Can it be thrown away?” This is a wonderful and thoughtful question which reflects a deep faith and love for the Lord and His Church. There is a simple answer, but as with many questions about our Faith, there is always more to the question than meets the eye?

When the time come to dispose of blessed objects in the Church such as icons, bibles, communion clothes, Altar covers etc, the proper thing to do is they should be burned in a reverent manner and the ashes should be placed in the garden rather than the garbage. I always invite members of the Church to bring “old” items such as bibles and icons to the Church to be burned properly. But where does that leave the Sunday bulletin? There is an icon on the cover. Does that mean the Bulletin should be burned every Sunday?

That is where the answer becomes a bit more complicated. Yes, there is an icon on the cover, but it has not been blessed. Does that mean we should treat the bulletin cover as a sacred object, or just another piece of paper? In the case of the Sunday bulletin it is neither sacred nor just another piece of paper. I have known people who cut out the icon from their Sunday bulletin and use the icons for special Sunday School craft projects, or to send to missionaries who don’t have the blessings to have permanent Church and icons as we have in the United States. I also known many who throw their Sunday bulletin in the trash when they are finished reading. Neither option is more correct than the other since the bulletin has not been blessed. Intent is everything!

While the Sunday bulletin cover may not be sacred and can be thrown away, that does not mean we should treat it with disrespect. It does have a holy image on the cover. For example, it would be wrong to use the bulletin cover to show anger toward God. It would be wrong to stab holes in the cover, or to use the cover for target practice. Intent is everything!

Here is a list of items that should NOT be thrown in the trash:

Bibles; Icons that have been blessed in the Church; any items that have been used in worship and prayer; any items that have been on the Holy Altar of God; Communion clothes; wicks from oil candles on our home altar; left over antidoron, artoclasia, or kolyva including crumbs; prayer lists; etc. If there is a doubt, consider the use of the item and the intent. If the items was used as part of your prayer to God, then it should not be thrown away.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Questions and Answers: Baptizing Children

The question of when the Orthodox Church began to baptize children and babies is a simple answer. We have been baptizing children along with their family since the very beginning of the Church. But this week’s “Ask Father Sermon” expands the topic to include WHY we baptize children and makes the case of taking seriously our life in Christ in the Church.

Monday, July 3, 2017


“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” These famous words from the Declaration of Independence set in motion a national consciousness committed to defend and promulgate the ideal of freedom here and abroad that has endured for over two hundred years. This freedom though comes with responsibility. And as with any gift we receive, we are obliged to respond with gratitude to the one who gives.

Whether some choose to acknowledge it or not, it is God that ultimately is the grantor of the freedom that we hold so dear in our nation and His gift of freedom comes with the expectation that it is used for the glory of God and not our own glory. As Saint Paul writes, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful.” (1 Corinthians 6.12) It appears that Saint Paul was keenly aware that there would be times when we might freely choose something that would cause us harm. It goes without saying that I have the freedom to climb to the highest building and throw myself off the roof, but who would dare suggest this action would be helpful?

What should our response be to God for this freedom? All He asks is that we love each other. “Love is the fulfillment of the Law.” (Romans 13.10) How can we continue to allow our fellow human beings to suffer with hunger and homelessness if we love them? How can we continue to allow our fellow human beings to suffer the wrath of alcohol and drug addiction if we love them? How can we continue to ignore the needs of others when we have been so richly blessed by God? How can we continue to watch innocent babies slaughtered at the hands of doctors sworn by an oath to “do no harm?” We cannot!

This week I invite you to honor freedom! There are steps we can take that will show our love for our fellow human beings. First we must pray for each other that our hearts be opened to God’s call for a relationship with Him. Second we must live every moment as if we love Him. “If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar.” (1 John 4.20) Finally, we must take the time in our personal lives to help others, either by volunteering at local charities or by supporting those efforts to the best of our ability.

May God continue to bless America!

+ Fr Athanasios Haros

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Do You Have to be Orthodox to be Saved?

This week’s “Ask Father” sermon is a follow up last week’s question, “If we believe that Orthodox is the true faith, ten why don’t we evangelize?” In the setting of the Sunday of All Saints, we discuss why it is important to be Orthodox and what it really means to live as an Orthodox Christian.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Where is Christ?

From a local charity...

We continue to grow both in membership and our ability to adapt to the changing needs of our community. We have nurtured lasting bonds of friendship and have built a legacy of service. Since 1927, we have treated those suffering from disease and physical ailments, fed the hungry, provided clean water for the thirsty, educated those who yearn for knowledge, built playgrounds and recreation centers for the youth of our community, sheltered the homeless in disaster areas, combated Polio on a global basis, and provided financial support to local school groups and community organizations. And we have fun doing it! We are dedicated to working together for the well being of our community, our nation, and the world!

I read this on the social media page of a local charity and it occurred to me that many Christians this statement defines a good Church as well. There is one drastic element missing from this description if it is to properly describe the Church.....where is Christ? The Christian life is not about feeding the hungry or providing water to the thirst, even though Christ calls us to this actual work. If we take seriously the call of Christ to live in communion with the Holy Trinity, then we must realize that our actions must emanate FROM our communion with God. Anyone can do good things, but only a Christian serves others because he loves Christ.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

UNITY: It’s What God Wants

Shortly before our Lord ascended the Holy Cross, He prayed for us to “be one” as He is one with the Father. The Church has struggled for centuries with this dilemma as we are fallen human beings. We tend to gather in separate groups. If we are going to answer the call of Jesus Christ, we must learn to put aside the different groups in favor of being ONE Church, ONE family, ONE Body of Christ.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Some Choose to be Blind

On the Sunday of the Blind Man, the sixth Sunday of Pascha, the Church once again offers a chance for us to see and believe in the power and majesty of God. Unfortunately many of us choose to remain consumed in our own reality and blind to the truth of God. We say we believe, but we do not live as if God is real in our life. We remain blind to our own sinfulness thinking instead about our self-righteousness. We have seen the Light; now we should live by it instead of remaining blind.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

There is always enough

Many Churches are faced with the issue of resources. Will there be enough money? Are then enough volunteers? Do we have enough seats in the Church for more people? These are daily struggles (or struggles similar to them) that every Orthodox Christian parish faces in America. Today’s Gospel has the answer.
Today’s Gospel Reading: John 6:5-14 (RSV) - At that time, Jesus, lifting up his eyes and seeing that a multitude was coming to him, said to Philip, "How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?" This he said to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, "Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little." One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, "There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what are they among so many?" Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was much grass in the place; so the men sat down, in number about five thousand. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, that nothing may be lost." So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign which he had done, they said, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!"
Everything we possess comes from God, even if we think we “worked for it” all our life. Our financial resources, our talents, our knowledge, even our very life was given to us by God. Each of these gifts has been a cooperative effort between God, us, and many times the efforts and time of others. Just as it was a cooperative effort between Christ and a young lad to feed more than five thousand, Christ depends upon our cooperation to reach out to those around us.

Next time you wonder if your Church will have enough resources to take seriously its role in feeding the spiritual poor (and physically poor) with the Gospel of Christ, remember that when you are cooperating with God, not only will there be enough, there will be plenty left over!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Truth is Never Relative

It is a common ideal today to think of truth as “my truth” vs. “your truth” in many circles. I’m sure you have participated in conversations during which one person said, “You believe what you believe and I believe what I believe.” Of course belief is not synonymous with truth, since each of us is free to believe as we wish without the burden of any proof. In fact since faith cannot easily be proved, in times of religious discussions we are often forced to admit our faith is based upon our desire to believe, but we should not confuse our desire to believe with whether or not something is the truth. Truth is truth, and two opposites cannot both be true. Red cannot be green.

In today’s reading from the Gospel According to Saint John Jesus declares the devil as the “father of lies” and challenges us to make a choice. Is the devil our father or is God our Father? We cannot have it both ways. Either we follow the devil or we follow God. Both cannot be true as they are opposites. Take a moment and read today’s Gospel...
Today’s Gospel Reading: John 8.42-51 (RSV) - The Lord said to the Jews who came to him, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded and came forth from God; I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But, because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? He who is of God hears the words of God; the reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God." The Jews answered him, "Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?" Jesus answered, "I have not a demon; but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it and he will be the judge. Truly, truly, I say to you, if any one keeps my word, he will never see death."
In 2013 Gordon-Conwell Seminary reported more than 43,000 denominations of Christianity existed worldwide. I suspect several thousand have been added since then, all with one thing in common. Each denomination and it alone, declares it has the truth about Jesus Christ. If that were not bad enough, some may even subscribe to the “there is more than one truth” mentality. How can it be that 43,000 different answers to, “Who is Jesus Christ,” all be correct? It is a mathematical impossibility.

There are many among those 43,000 who accuse the Church of false teachings. Many also who subscribe to the “Sola Scriptura” mantra, while ignoring the promise of Christ that the Church would possess the fullness of the truth. “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.” (John 16.13)

The Holy Apostles had the fullness of the truth as a gift of the Holy Spirit, and the Orthodox Church is vehemently loyal to that truth. If the Holy Apostles said it, we can trust it. Anything outside that witness of the Holy Apostles cannot be trusted to be the truth. So what now? When we find something which conflicts with the teachings of the Holy Apostles, we have a choice. Which do we believe? Both cannot be true? One is the truth; one is a lie. One is from God; one is from the devil. You know which side Be Transfigured Ministries is on, and we invite you to side with us. Choose the Church which is loyal to the teachings as given to us by the Holy Apostles who have been guided into all truth.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Women of Faith

We honor our mother during Mothers’ Day each year in honor of the great efforts they have made in raising us. They do everything for us, and without them we would be and have nothing, but the most important thing they offer to us is to bring us to Church. Without our mothers we would have not faith. They are courageous, strong, and faithful women who are the bedrock of our lives. We honor them with gifts and flowers, luncheons and presentations, but the greatest gift we can give to our mothers is to live a life in Christ. The real honor we offer our mothers is to have a relationship with Christ.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Are you alive?

Each of us likes to think we are alive. As a population we spend trillions of dollars in fact to stay alive. Most of us try our best to eat healthy food and to live active healthy lives in order to be alive longer. Many of us even have memberships to fitness centers. Some of us actually use those memberships. We are consumed with being alive and being alive as long as possible. And yet....most of us are dead.

Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6.53-54) We spend so much time and energy feeding and nurturing our bodies, we forget our soul may be dead.

The call of Christ is quite clear. If we do not receive Holy Communion (the body and blood of Christ) we HAVE NO LIFE. We may think we are alive. Our bodies may be walking and talking and earning lots of money, but we are nothing more than spiritual zombies. I often hear people confess, “My faith in very important to me,” but can’t remember the last time they received Holy Communion. We pride ourselves in knowing the Scriptures (some even attend non Orthodox Christian Bible studies which is VERY dangerous) but never receive Holy Communion. Need I remind you that Cleopas was face to face with Christ but could not recognize Him until they had Communion? (see Luke 24.18-35)

The Orthodox Christian way of life is not about memorizing facts and historical dates. Nor is it about learning which of the Apostles lived in which cites, although it is all helpful. The Orthodox Christian way of life is a life IN COMMUNION with God, which at its core is celebrated in the Holy Eucharist-Holy Communion-the Divine Liturgy.

Next time you consider how important your faith is, ask yourself, “When was the last time I received Holy Communion in Church?” Then turn to the Church and begin to live the life given to us by Christ and His Church. It is the way of life. If it has been a long time since you received Holy Communion, I invite you to contact your local Orthodox Christian priest and schedule Holy Confession and a discussion about returning to a life in communion with God. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Are you an apostle of Christ?

The Church often speaks about “making disciples” as in integral part of our mission. Christ Himself said, “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 28.19-20) but what about apostles? Who is an apostle? More importantly, are YOU an apostle?

The word “apostle” means “one who is sent” and similar to the term “saint” it can be considered either with a capital “A” or “a”. (Saints are those who the Church lifts up in an official capacity as some worthy of modeling our life around, while saints are each of us Christians working to live holy lives.) The Apostles were those sent directly from God to go out and lead the Church. We normally think of the Twelve, but there were also The Seventy (Luke 10.1-17) who were also sent out by God. Today the Church commemorates one of Twelve known as Simon the Zealot.

Have you ever considered you were also an apostle with a “small” a? You were sent out too, as part of every Divine Liturgy. “Let us go forth in peace...” are the words which open the dismissal prayers of the Divine Liturgy. Just as Christ said, “Go therefore...” the Church says, “Go!” Being a Christian is more than just being a disciple. Being a Christian includes being an apostle.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

You Are Not Alone

On the Fourth Sunday of Pascha, known as the Sunday of the Paralytic, we hear of a young man who thought he was all alone. When Jesus asked him, “Do you want to be made well,” his response was, “I have no man.” He was not alone, and you are not alone. You have the Church and you have God. Together nothing is impossible.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

When Belief is no longer Belief

In today’s Gospel reading, our Lord tells those who claimed to believe in Him that they did not in fact believe. I share both the selection for today and the longer theme reading because it helps to better understand the context of belief in Christ. Many of us say we believe, but we live in a such a way that we must not actually believe, or at a minimum believe incorrectly. Take a moment and read both selections below.
Today’s Gospel Reading: John 6:35-39 (RSV) - The Lord said to the Jews who believed in him: "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me; and him who comes to me I will not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me; and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day."

Here is the longer theme: (John 6. 22-59)On the following day, when the people who were standing on the other side of the sea saw that there was no other boat there, except that one which His disciples had entered, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with His disciples, but His disciples had gone away alone --however, other boats came from Tiberias, near the place where they ate bread after the Lord had given thanks when the people therefore saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they also got into boats and came to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. And when they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, "Rabbi, when did You come here?" Jesus answered them and said, "Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. "Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him." Then they said to Him, "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?" Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent." Therefore they said to Him, "What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? "Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.' " Then Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. "For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." Then they said to Him, "Lord, give us this bread always." And Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. "But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. "For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. "This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. "And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day." The Jews then complained about Him, because He said, "I am the bread which came down from heaven." And they said, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, 'I have come down from heaven'?" Jesus therefore answered and said to them, "Do not murmur among yourselves. "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. "It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God.' Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. "Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father. "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. "I am the bread of life. "Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. "This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. "I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world." The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?" Then Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. "Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. "For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. "As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. "This is the bread which came down from heaven -- not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever." These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.
I have blogged many times on the importance of Holy Communion and allowing our belief in Jesus Christ to actually form the manner in which we live. I also have blogged many times in the importance of “deny yourself” which I often refer to as “get over yourself” as the first and most critical step to follow Our Lord into heaven. Today’s reading is a perfect example of what I am saying.

  • IF we believe that Jesus Christ is God, then why would we ever not be as prepared as possible (since we are never truly worthy) to receive Holy Communion.
  • IF we believe that Jesus Christ is God, then why would be continue to insist on satisfying our physical needs rather than uniting our soul to God?

So the Lord challenges our claim to belief. Do we believe? Then let’s prove it! Let’s learn to live according to the way of life given to us by God and His Church IN ORDER THAT we may learn to deny ourselves and follow Christ into heaven. Don’t wait for that face-to-face moment with Christ to hear the words “And yet you do not believe.”

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

What’s in a Relic?

Today the Church commemorates the “Removal of the Relics of Saint Athanasios the Great” which honors the placing of the bones of this great saint of the Church for veneration by the faithful. Saint Athanasios the Great served as Patriarch of Alexandria, but was also present while still a deacon at the First Ecumenical Council. His is credited with authoring the Nicene Creed. He has written thousands of books and treatises on the faith, not the least of which has become a standard even for Protestant seminary students, titled “On the Incarnation” which established the proper manner for all Christians to understand the incarnation of Christ. He also in 367 AD, through his annual Paschal Letter to his faithful established the first official list of which books should be included in the Holy Scriptures both for the New and the Old Testament. He is considered one of the Great Fathers of the Church, and most definitely worthy of honor.

The veneration of relics (through either bones or articles of clothing) dates to the original days of the Church. There is evidence for such honor in the Acts of the Apostles. You can watch a short video here to understand a bit more about the importance of Holy Relics in the history of the Church.

I always find it strange that many faithful Protestants cringe at the honor the Church places on Holy Relics, while at the same time honor clothing and other remembrances of other family members and otherwise famous men and women from history. Some even proudly display and feature such secular relics in their homes. Why the difference? Relics connect us to the past through the physical creation in a real way. Nobody has even denied the reality that famous places feel different just because of what may have taken place there. Thousands piously enter secular shrines every day dedicated to American history, but it doesn’t end with secular museums. Many also enter the Church and experience “it feels different” but they are never quite sure why.

It is because when Jesus Christ came to earth, He sanctified all of creation. His love, His grace, His glory all can be, and have been, experienced through creation. When the Church honors Holy Relics of Saints, we are honoring the presence and grace of God in the life and events of that particular saint. Often times, just as we hear in Acts, God continues to work His grace and miracles through the physical remains of the Saints. What’s in a relic? The grace of God is in a Relic, and so we honor that grace.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Healing is for Believing

Many times we approach God requesting His assistance in sort level of healing. It might be an infant with an ear infection, or a grandparent with a heart condition. It could be our spouse suffering with cancer, or our own affliction. The cause of the suffering can really be anything. It doesn’t even have to be physical illness, although that is my focus today. The issue at hand today is, “Why ask for healing” from God?
Consider today’s Gospel Reading: John 4:46-54 (RSV) - At that time, there was an official whose son was ill. When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Jesus therefore said to him, "Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe." The official said to him, "Sir, come down before my child dies." Jesus said to him, "Go; your son will live." The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went his way. As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was living. So he asked them the hour when he began to mend, and they said to him, "Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him." The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, "Your son will live"; and he himself believed, and all his household. This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.
In truth God allows many more to die from various illnesses than He chooses to perform miracle healings. While I have been privileged to witness what I would categorize as a miracle healing on more than one occasion, I have celebrated many more funerals than miracles. Actually, even the miracles eventually die. So why ask for miracles?

Most ask for miracles for the simple fact they want to end suffering. We don’t like seeing our family members struggle, and we don’t want to imagine ourselves without our loved ones. If we are being honest with ourselves, our desire for a miracle healing is selfish. In the vast majority of the cases, all that I have watched, we are already believers, which is why we ask for the miracle in the place.

In the context of today’s Gospel reading, maybe we should take a step back and reflect. Jesus said, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” Do you already believe in God? Then you don’t need miracles. A better focus for your prayer life during an illness would be for repentance and peace, both for yourself, and the one who is suffering. When you do pray for healing, which we all do, pray your loved one (or you) has time for repentance before death.

We spend hours in Church during Holy Week being reminded that God will return at any time, and that we are supposed to be prepared for Him. Just because we turned the lights on in the Church doesn’t mean the message isn’t still the same. Healing is for believing. 

Friday, April 28, 2017

Don’t Hold Back

When was the last time you offered your ALL to God? Holy Week was filled Church services during which you had the opportunity to give it your all. Did you skip a few services, or did you take full advantage of the Church services offered for your benefit? In today’s Epistle reading we hear of a couple who chose not to give it their all.
Acts of the Apostles 5:1-11 (RSV) - IN THOSE DAYS, a man named Ananias with his wife Sapphira sold a piece of property, and with his wife's knowledge he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God." When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him. After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, "Tell me whether you sold the land for so much." And she said, "Yes, for so much." But Peter said to her, "How is it that you have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Hark, the feet of those that have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out." Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all who heard of these things.
To properly understand this reading you should know that the ancient Church had a communal appreciation that has long since disappeared among Christians. Resources of one were used for the benefit of the entire Church community. There were guidelines of course to ensure proper usage and discernment with various distributions, but that authority rested within the Church. There are many references to collections and donations and assistance within the New Testament, so we know money was involved. Those who had more, offered more; those who needed more benefited more, but everyone was part of the same community.

We seem to have lost this understanding of the Church community these days. Families hold back just as Ananias and Sapphira, but so do entire Churches worried about how they will be able to pay their own bills. I wonder what the world would be if we didn’t hold back....With the smell of incense still in the air from Pascha, I invite you, “Don’t hold back.” There’s work to be done in the name of Christ and the Church needs your help to get it all done. The more we each hold back, the less the Church can accomplish. 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Salvation is more than just eternal life

There are many who challenge the Orthodox Church on the question of salvation. We are asked, “Are you saved?” The normal Orthodox response is something along the lines of “I was saved. I am saved. I am being saved.” For Orthodox Christians the question of salvation is a question not of a single moment in time, but a process of the heart. I recently offered a sermon, “Are you saved? I hope so.” You can watch it here.

But what if salvation wasn’t about eternal life? What if you lived forever whether or not you were saved? It really all depends upon what you are hoping to be saved from in the first place. Are you hoping to be saved from death? Then that part was already accomplished when Christ died and resurrected. Maybe you are hoping to be saved from the struggles of life? Every day Christ saves us from the struggles of life. Even in our most severe pain, Christ reminds us that pain is only temporary and comfort is just around the corner.
Here is today’s Gospel Reading: John 5:24-30 (RSV) - The Lord said to the Jews who came to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself, and has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment. I can do nothing on my own authority; as I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of the Father who sent me."
Maybe you want to be saved from hell. That is a different story. Physical salvation is guaranteed to all who hear the word of God, as we hear in today’s Gospel “all who are in the tombs will hear his voice.” Once we are in our tomb we will hear God’s voice. What will matter then is whether or you not you want to hear His voice, whether or not you desire to see His face, whether or not you have chosen to love Him. Whether we experience His voice as salvation or hell will depend only on our heart, and how our heart has governed our life.

This is the truth we celebrate when we proclaim Christ is Risen! This is the Good News, that Christ has conquered death. I guess the “not so good news” is that salvation is more than just eternal life.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Today....WE FAST!

Since today is the first fast day since Pascha, it seemed appropriate to post on the subject. Every year after Pascha I welcome this day with open arms, thankful I am able to fast again because it helps me. Fasting helps me learn to stop putting myself first. As we heard more than once during Great Lent, Christ said, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him DENY HIMSELF, [emphasis mine] take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Mark 8.34) We cannot begin to follow Christ until first we learn to deny ourselves and take up our cross. Fasting helps learn how to do this.

Fasting is a spiritual discipline first and foremost. Like any commandment from God, fasting is meant to teach us how to live. When we fast as the Church guides us, we very quickly learn to embrace the art of following rather than leading. We must follow Christ into heaven. We can’t lead Him into heaven. Fasting as the Church guides us helps to perfect the skill of following Christ. This is why I always speak of the importance of not choosing our own fast, but fasting as the Church guides us. When we choose our own rules, we quite frankly are not learning how to deny ourselves, but the opposite becomes true. It begins with, “I think fasting should be like this...” and ends up with, “I think the Gospel means this...”

But that is not the only benefit to fasting. In my case, and I know in the case of many others, fasting is a physical blessing. Ever since Pascha I have been celebrating by making my way through the food chain and enjoying all the foods I missed during the Great Fast. Now I’m feeling a bit sluggish since I haven’t been eating properly. If you have been a Be Transfigured Ministries fan for any length of time, you know I struggle with overeating. I don’t hide it. I can’t hide it. But I do struggle with it. So in my case I look forward to today as the day I am able to get back to proper eating. In my case fasting is a gift of God to help me reassert self control, and for that I am thankful.

The life of the Church has so many benefits since it is guided by the Holy Spirit. If only we took the time to learn about why we do what we do as Orthodox Christians, a main purpose of this ministry, and embrace that when we follow the life of the Church we benefit both spiritually and physically. So today.....WE FAST!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Christian Should be Sober Minded

Yesterday I was listening to the radio and heard a comment about how many times a child smiles per day as compared to how often adults smile. The numbers were drastically different which came as no surprise, but I was struck by the “compelling need” some adults feel to always be smiling. It seemed as if I was being told, “If you don’t smile, then you are an unhappy person,” or worse, “I must somehow be less loving because I don’t smile as much as a child smiles.”

I understand that children are laughing and playing much more than adults, but I’m not sure that is a bad thing. It isn’t that I think adults should be happy, but is “being happy and smiling” the sign of a healthy adult perspective? Consider today’s Epistle Reading:
St. Peter's First Universal Letter 5:6-14 (RSV) - BRETHREN, humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you. Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you. Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, first in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish and strengthen you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. By Silvanos, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God; stand fast in it. She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings; and so does my son Mark. Greet one another with the kiss of love. Peace to all of you that are in Christ.
St Peter is challenging us today to be “sober” and “watchful” in the face of suffering and temptations from the devil. As adults we understand the real struggle of life which explains our less frequent smiles than little children, but the lack of a smile is not the same thing as being despondent. Being sober minded is about vigilance and readiness to fight the temptations thrown at us by the devil. A child seemingly never-ending laugh is more about innocence than joy.

There is a difference between having joy and always smiling, just as there is a difference between sober minded and depressed. A Christian is to be filled with joy that Christ is Risen as we are still celebrating Pascha, and sober minded that even though Christ is Risen, the devil lurks behind every corner waiting to devour us.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Here we go again

“They” say repetition is the mother of all learning, and nothing can be more true than in the Orthodox Church. During services we repeat the “Lord have mercy” dozens of times; we ask for peace over and over again; some of the prayers even begin with the words, “Again and again...” Why all this repetition? Wouldn’t it be sufficient for us to KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) rather than the elaborate singing of Christ is Risen dozens of times?

With the smell of incense still in our nostrils and the bright flame of Pascha is still burning in our minds, the Church “moves on” and begins another cycle of readings, feasts and fasts. With the coming of Pascha, the Church flips the Gospel and Epistle Book back to the front and it all starts over again with Acts and the Gospel of John. Using a formal Lectionary the Church publicly “reads” the entire New Testament excluding Revelation each year, bit by bit. You can find these “readings of the day” in most Orthodox calendar apps available for free downloads. The one I prefer is from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Here is the link....

So here we go again. We are still singing Christ is Risen, but we are not the same people we were a year ago. Our faith has encountered another year of temptations and struggles and prayerfully we have grown closer to God. Maybe even we slid back this year. It happens. Thankfully either way, we get another round of readings and feasts and fasts to help us through another year.

When you read the readings of the day, don’t focus on “I already read that. I remember the story.” These comments will cause you to gloss over the text rather than be inspired by it. Rather read the selections with the knowledge that you have experienced another year and allow God to speak to the “new” you....the 2017 you.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Retreat from the City but not from God

Over the past eight weeks, I truly cannot recall exactly how many services we celebrated in our host parish of Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Tarpon Springs. I could look at the calendar and count, that’s true, but when I sit and reflect upon the past two months it is a blur of Church services in most cases two times per day in our Cathedral sometimes more. Today however I am enjoying a two-day retreat at the Diakonia Retreat Center near Salem, South Carolina for the annual Metropolis of Atlanta Pascha Picnic. Later today more than three hundred faithful and clergy from the nearby communities will gather for Vespers and a wonderful lamb roast picnic. It is something I look forward to every year.

Saint Paul teaches us to pray always without ceasing, (See 1 Thessalonians 5.17) but I’ve never believed he meant to be in Church 24 hours per day without ceasing. Such a teaching would be impossible and the Church does not give us the impossible. She challenges us to challenge ourselves, but never to the point of expecting us to live up to an unachievable standard.

So today I am retreating. Sure I said my prayers. I will pray again later today, and I’m sure before I go to bed this evening I will have offered several blessings and prayers. But this is never a chore for me. I always consider a blessing I receive when I offer God’s blessings on others as a Greek Orthodox Priest. I will enjoy a stroll around the lake today and feel the, albeit warm and humid, breeze across my face. I may even sit under the shade of a large pine tree and enjoy the silence, and I don’t feel a bit guilty.

Christ taught us this important lesson of retreat away from the chaos of the city as He went away several times. We retreat from the city not solely for the breeze and the shade since we can find physical refreshment anywhere. When we retreat to place such as the Diakonia Retreat Center our spiritual batteries are recharged. Our attention isn’t on ourselves but on God and His creation. When we retreat we remember there is more to life than making money and paying bills. There is even more to life than “being in Church” all the time. Life isn’t about standing in the pews without ceasing. Life is about praying always, and I can and will do a good bit of it this weekend during my retreat.

We return from retreat refreshed and ready for more spiritual challenges in life. Life doesn’t stop and the devil will not stop his attempts to distract us from God. Thankfully our Holy Metropolis has this place where we can retreat from the city but not from God.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Why We Post the Negative Opinions from Others

Over the past couple weeks, news has been spreading through cyberspace about a high profile Protestant who converted to Orthodoxy for Pascha. In the coverage has been a ranting Protestant who, among other accusations, used terms such as “witchcraft” and “sorcery” to describe the Pascha Liturgy. I posted one article on our Facebook Page which has naturally caused a great deal of emotion from many of our fans. Some even questioned why we would past such articles that were obviously so negative about Orthodox Christianity. My answer is to quote Saint Basil the Great...
“There is no lack in these days of captious listeners and questioners; but to find a character desirous of information, and seeking the truth as a remedy for ignorance, is very difficult. Just as in the hunter's snare, or in the soldier's ambush, the trick is generally ingeniously concealed, so it is with the inquiries of the majority of the questioners who advance arguments, not so much with the view of getting any good out of them, as in order that, in the event of their failing to elicit answers which chime in with their own desires, they may seem to have fair ground for controversy........ You, however, chiefly with the view of benefiting them, or, if they are wholly incurable, for the security of such as may fall in with them, have expressed the opinion that some clear instruction ought to be published concerning the force underlying the syllables employed. I will therefore write as concisely as possible, in the endeavor to lay down some admitted principle for the discussion.” (On the Holy Spirit – Chapter 1)
Saint Basil acknowledged that many choose to ask question merely to argue. For those he does not suggest engaging into a debate, since they are not seeking truth. For the sake of those who are under the influence of those who are merely arguing, Saint Basil agrees, in essence to protect others from false teachings, agrees to debate the subject.

In like manner, I expect that the recent articles against the Orthodox Church are not written from the point of view of seeking the truth. There are many more examples of those seeking the truth who indeed embrace Orthodoxy. That being said, for the sake of those who trust the words of the authors writing such outlandish vitriol about the Church, I post these articles and engage in the debate. Our young people especially are under the great influence of such authors and nonOrthodox Churches who speak out against the Church.

We Orthodox have done such a poor job of properly training and educating our youth in the faith, they many are being led astray from Orthodoxy. I don’t begrudge anyone their God-given free will to leave the Church. I do, however, owe it to those faithful to offer them the truth about the Church praying they will remain faithful members of the Church.

Alas our mission at Be Transfigured Ministries is to help people Live A New Life In Christ, within the Orthodox Christian Church. In more than twenty years of ministry, unfortunately, I have found many have left the Church in ignorance thinking they were rejecting poor theology. In truth they were rejecting a lie, which in most cases I too would have rejected.

If you would like to help us with this mission, please share our ministry with your friends. Become a supporter of our ministry and invite your friends to support our efforts. Ultimately though.....LIVE A NEW LIFE IN CHRIST! Your life will be a true reflection of the truth of Orthodoxy.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Gym and the Church

Every year starts off the same way in every fitness center and gym. January 1st ushers in the crowds and their New Year Resolutions. Regular gym attendees find themselves in a sea of new faces and frustrations as their favorite machine has been taken by someone who hasn’t been there since last January. Employees warn of this in advance, but there are always a few who are frustrated. Why won’t people stay the rest of the year? Within two weeks, most gyms return to their normal regular patrons with a few new faces sticking it out for the long haul. Their lives have been changed by their workout experience.

Now let me replace a few words...

Every Holy Week starts off the same way in every Orthodox Church. Palm Sunday ushers in the crowds and their conscience. Regular Church attendees find themselves in a sea of new faces and frustrations as their pew has been taken by someone who hasn’t been there since last Holy Week. The Priest warns of this in advance, but there are always a few who are frustrated. Why don’t people care enough to stay the rest of the year?  By the Sunday of Thomas, most Churches return to their normal regular attendance with a few new faces sticking it out for the long haul. Their lives have been changed by their Holy Week experience.

While the setting and challenges might be different between the gym and the Church, the truth is there is much in common. The Orthodox Way of Life is a life of discipline and commitment to overcoming the temptations that lead us astray, just as joining the fitness center. In the gym you will find fitness trainers who understand this challenge, just like your local Priest understands your spiritual challenge. Unfortunately, just like January in a gym, the week after Pascha in the Orthodox Church people give up their new challenges and return to their old way of life.

In many cases, and I speak from years of experience, overcoming weight issues can take years to conquer. The same is true with our spiritual battles. Being addicted to food can be a real problem as the daily challenges of eating healthy are often overcome by the temptations to gorge on candy and potato chips. Food addicts wake up every morning genuinely not wanting to overeat, but sadly by noon many have lost the battle for another day. If we are honest we are each addicted to sin. We wake up every morning not wanting to sin, but sadly by noon (if not earlier) we have already sinned.

So today I throw the gauntlet.....Holy Week is over! Pascha has arrived! It’s January in the gym and the Church is still filled with the smell of incense from the Resurrection Liturgy. Don’t fade away too quickly. But if you do, you can always come back and try again. You won’t have to wait until Holy Week!

Christ is Risen!

Monday, April 17, 2017

It’s Just Getting Started!

Just as quickly as it began, so it has ended. Many Orthodox Christians today are exhausted physically and emotionally from a long Great Fast which culminated in hours of Church services the past few days, the pinnacle of which was the Resurrection of Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ celebrated at MIDNIGHT. Today many are looking back and wondering why it all has to end.

PHOTO BY: George Patides
It doesn’t have to end. In fact the celebration of Pascha is only getting started. This entire week, which the Church refers to as Bright Week or New Week, each day is Pascha. Fasting is forbidden. All the lights are on for every Church service but we still hold lit candles to represent the Resurrected Light of Christ. Even the Royal Gates remain open in the Church to signify the open Tomb of Christ and the Open Gates of Paradise. But those things are just the outwardly signs of Pascha.

The real celebration of Pascha is in our hearts as we begin to Live A New Life In Christ. Just as we have spent the past 56 days fasting and praying, now we have a second chance to live in the joyous news of the resurrection. If we took the time to evaluate our relationship with Our Lord, then today we are truly experiencing the New Week, during which we begin our new life in Christ.

In the ancient Church since most baptisms (baptisms were seasonal rather than throughout the entire year) the new faithful members of the Church would wear the white baptismal garments for the entire week returning on the Sunday of Thomas to “complete” the Chrismation service. In today’s practice this completion is the ceremonial wiping of the Chrism oil from the face, hands, feet, etc. at the very end of the service, but in the ancient Church this wiping didn’t take place until the end of the first week. This is one reason why this week is known as Bright Week, since the new faithful members wore the bright white garments all week.

So you have fasted, you have prayed, you have confessed, you have received the Light of Christ. Now go and live it! Your new life in Christ is getting started!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Learn Your Limitations

When I was young I never really understood what it meant to be accused of being too big for my britches. After (admittedly) too many times of needing to be helped down from somewhere I had no business climbing, eventually I learned to understand my limitations. The lesson we all (hopefully) learn in our secular life has great potential when we consider our spiritual journey these final days of Holy and Great Week.

In the Gospel reading from the Vesperal Liturgy this morning which commemorates the Mystical Supper in the Upper Room, we get a close-up view of the Apostles getting too big for their britches. Here is the excerpt I talking about.....(the entire reading is including at the end of today’s post.) “And as they were eating, he said, "Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me." And they were very sorrowful, and began to say to him one after another, "Is it I, Lord? ... . Then Jesus said to them, "You will all fall away because of me this night; for it is written, `I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.' But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee." Peter declared to him, "Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away." Jesus said to him, "Truly, I say to you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times." Peter said to him, "Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you.”

We know how the story unfolds. Not only did EVERY disciples except for Saint John the Theologian run away when Christ was one the Cross, Peter denied even knowing Christ three times. Saint John Chrysostom helps us be graceful especially to Saint Peter because he had not yet experienced the resurrected Christ nor had he received the Holy Spirit.

But we have received the Holy Spirit, and we witness the Resurrection ANUALLY. How often do we get too big for our “spiritual” britches? How often are we not strong enough to fight the temptation of sleeping late on a Sunday morning and missing the Divine Liturgy? How often do we find ourselves too weak in the face of friends and coworkers challenging us because we are “too” holy? Is it even possible to be too holy? I don’t think so.

So my dear brothers and sisters, as we walk the final days of the Great Fast and experience the final moments of Holy Week, I pray that we are each strong enough to remain loyal followers of Christ. Thankfully God offers us a chance to learn from our mistakes. If (and I really should say because) we found ourselves in the past not strong to stand up to temptation, let’s not continue to make the same mistakes. Let’s commit to standing stronger longer than in the past.

And if (and here again I really should say when) we find this year we are not strong enough to fight, remember that the Apostles EVER AFTER they ran away and EVER AFTER Peter denied knowing Christ, they were forgiven by God and became the leaders of the Church. They became strong and eventually stood firm against the temptations to deny Christ. All but one of the original Apostles were martyred because they refused to deny Christ. They learned their limitations. We can too!

Have a blessed Resurrection!

Gospel Reading: Matthew 26:1-20; John 13:3-17; Matthew 26:21-39; Luke 22:43-44; Matthew 26:40-75; 27:1-2
 At that time, Jesus said to His disciples: "You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of man will be delivered up to be crucified." Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and took counsel together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. But they said, "Not during the feast, lest there be a tumult among the people." Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head, as he sat at table. But when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, "Why this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for a large sum, and given to the poor."  But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, "Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her." Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, "What will you give me if I deliver him to you?" And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him. Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the passover?" He said, "Go into the city to a certain one, and say to him, `The Teacher says, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at your house with my disciples.'" And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the passover.

When it was evening, he sat at table with the twelve disciples; Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God,  rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel. Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded. He came to Simon Peter; and Peter said to him, "Lord, do you wash my feet?" Jesus answered him, "What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand." Peter said to him, "You shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no part in me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but he is clean all over; and you are clean, but not every one of you." For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, "You are not all clean." When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

And as they were eating, he said, "Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me." And they were very sorrowful, and began to say to him one after another, "Is it I, Lord?" He answered, "He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me, will betray me. The Son of man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born." Judas, who betrayed him, said, "Is it I, Master?" He said to him, "You have said so." Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom." And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus said to them, "You will all fall away because of me this night; for it is written, `I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.' But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee." Peter declared to him, "Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away." Jesus said to him, "Truly, I say to you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times." Peter said to him, "Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you." And so said all the disciples. Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, "Sit here, while I go yonder and pray." And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me." And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt."

An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, "So, could you not watch with me one hour? When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death; and they bound him and led him away and delivered him to Pilate the governor.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Give it Your All

On Palm Sunday, the day we welcome our King, the Church challenges us to answer the question, “Are we prepared for Christ? Have we done what it takes to welcome our King? How far are we willing to go to honor God?” In the Gospel According to John 12.1-18 read on Palm Sunday we hear about a woman who gave everything to God. She spent everything she had on a costly ointment she then pour over Christ’s feet before wiping His feet with her hair. If we would prepare to greet an earthly king, what are we willing to do meet Christ? We must give it our all!

The Final Countdown to Pascha

Before a rocket is launched into outer space, the command center’s main responsibility is to ensure that absolutely everything is in proper order before takeoff. If just one screw is out of place, it could result in total disaster. Once the inspection is complete and the Launch Director has determined the rocket “Go for Launch” then final liftoff sequence may begin. The same can be said about the Passion of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ.

With the raising of Lazarus from the dead which we commemorated yesterday, the stage was set for Christ to complete what He had come to accomplish. Up until this point, Jesus always rejected the public praises of the crowd, even disappearing without notice to avoid arriving at His Passion too quickly. The Gospels teach of Christ’ birth, Baptism, temptation, recruiting His disciples, His teaching, His miracles, His public and private debates with members of the religious elite, and the numerous prophecies He fulfilled. Once everything had been set in order, then Jesus authorized the final countdown sequence.

Saint Athanasios teaches us that Christ waited for the most public day, in the most public city, during the most public feast, for the most public death, in order that when He is Raised from the Dead the joyous truth of His saving mission for us will be believed by as many as were witnesses to His death. On that first Palm Sunday, five days before Passover, Christ no longer stopped the crowd from proclaiming His authority. He no longer slipped away quietly to avoid being discovered by the elites. He was prepared to begin the final countdown to His Glorious Passion. Today the Church looks joyously ahead at the result of Pascha, but understands there are still a few last minute details to work through before Christ is lifted upon the Cross.

Just as it can be exciting to be a witness of the launch of the rocket into outer space from distance, it is even more rewarding to be a part of the launch team and be present first hand for the event. Holy Week is your chance to be present first hand with Christ and His launch team (the Church) to witness the final launch of His plan to save us from death. I hope you’re ready. T-6 DAYS.

Here is your final checklist for Holy Week...
  • Have you fasted as the Church teaches?
  • Have you read your Scriptures as the Church teaches?
  • Have you prayed daily as the Church teaches?
  • Have you prepared for Holy Communion as the Church teaches?
  • Have you helped the poor as the Church teaches?
  • Have you made plans to be in Church this week?

The Lord has initiated the final countdown to Pascha! Don’t be late! You don’t want to miss the event that changed the world for ever!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Traditions can be Good or Bad

Today is the final day of our 2017 Great Lenten Journey. While the Great Fast is not yet over, and Holy Week will begin a couple days, I wanted to write about tradition today. As Orthodox Christians we speak often about the benefits of tradition. We speak about “BIG T” and “little t” traditions. Sometimes we even find ourselves fighting over traditions, to the point sometimes of missing the entire point of Pascha.

Over the next few days, your particular Orthodox Christians parish will experience Holy and Great Week with many Church services which will include local and global traditions. Some of these traditions will very ancient while others may be of a more recent origin. I won’t deny that tradition is an important part of our Orthodox Christian expression, but it is possible that we sometimes lose focus. Sometimes we look at the traditions as “making or breaking” our celebration of Holy and Great Week. If the priest, especially if he is new, changes ‘just one thing’ about how your parish celebrates Holy and Great Week, many will feel as though he has RUINED their entire experience.

Though all traditions have a history, sometimes the history isn’t worth keeping. One tradition for example is to limit Holy Communion to once or twice per year, or to allow Holy Communion lines to continue for hours on Holy Thursday morning. In these two examples, and there are more) the tradition was based upon an improper understanding and practice, and have mostly stopped within our Churches, but there were many arguments and finger waving sessions when clergy worked to correct poor behavior. I’m sure we can all think of at least one such tradition.

I’m not going to list “good” and “bad” traditions here, but I will urge you to consider Orthodox Christianity is an ancient expression of God’s truth and faith. There have been seasons when we lost focus and seasons when we struggled to regain the proper perspective. If your priest either forgets to honor a tradition, or if he outright stops the practice of a particular tradition, don’t panic. He probably has a pretty good reason. The tradition you hold so dearly may just be hiding your eyes from seeing the true beauty that is Holy and Great Week. If you don’t believe me, pay attention to the many references to the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes during the services next week. They honored many traditions that didn’t lead them to Christ. Check with your priest and he can (and most would prefer) to explain the various decisions so you could better understand Holy and Great Week.

It has been a blessing for me to write a daily reflection for the 2017 Daily Lenten Journey. I pray it has been a blessing, and I pray it becomes a healthy and beautiful tradition here at Be Transfigured Ministries. Have a blessed Holy Week and Pascha. I will work to continue some posting as I did last year. I may miss a few, but God willing whatever we offer will be a blessing.

Today’s Old Testament Readings:
Isaiah 66:10-24 (RSV) - "Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her; that you may suck and be satisfied with her consoling breasts; that you may drink deeply with delight from the abundance of her glory."  For thus says the LORD: "Behold, I will extend prosperity to her like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall suck, you shall be carried upon her hip, and dandled upon her knees.  As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.  You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bones shall flourish like the grass; and it shall be known that the hand of the LORD is with his servants, and his indignation is against his enemies.  "For behold, the LORD will come in fire, and his chariots like the stormwind, to render his anger in fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire.  For by fire will the LORD execute judgment, and by his sword, upon all flesh; and those slain by the LORD shall be many.  "Those who sanctify and purify themselves to go into the gardens, following one in the midst, eating swine's flesh and the abomination and mice, shall come to an end together, says the LORD.  "For I know their works and their thoughts, and I am coming to gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and shall see my glory, and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Put, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands afar off, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the nations.  And they shall bring all your brethren from all the nations as an offering to the LORD, upon horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and upon mules, and upon dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the LORD, just as the Israelites bring their cereal offering in a clean vessel to the house of the LORD.  And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the LORD.  "For as the new heavens and the new earth which I will make shall remain before me, says the LORD; so shall your descendants and your name remain.  From new moon to new moon, and from sabbath to sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, says the LORD.  "And they shall go forth and look on the dead bodies of the men that have rebelled against me; for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh."
 Genesis 49:33-50:26 (RSV) - When Jacob finished charging his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed, and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people.  Then Joseph fell on his father's face, and wept over him, and kissed him.  And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel; forty days were required for it, for so many are required for embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days. And when the days of weeping for him were past, Joseph spoke to the household of Pharaoh, saying, "If now I have found favor in your eyes, speak, I pray you, in the ears of Pharaoh, saying, My father made me swear, saying, 'I am about to die: in my tomb which I hewed out for myself in the land of Canaan, there shall you bury me.' Now therefore let me go up, I pray you, and bury my father; then I will return."  And Pharaoh answered, "Go up, and bury your father, as he made you swear."  So Joseph went up to bury his father; and with him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, as well as all the household of Joseph, his brothers, and his father's household; only their children, their flocks, and their herds were left in the land of Goshen.  And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen; it was a very great company.  When they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, they lamented there with a very great and sorrowful lamentation; and he made a mourning for his father seven days.  When the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning on the threshing floor of Atad, they said, "This is a grievous mourning to the Egyptians." Therefore the place was named Abelmizraim; it is beyond the Jordan.  Thus his sons did for him as he had commanded them; for his sons carried him to the land of Canaan, and buried him in the cave of the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite, to possess as a burying place.  After he had buried his father, Joseph returned to Egypt with his brothers and all who had gone up with him to bury his father.  When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, "It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil which we did to him."  So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, "Your father gave this command before he died,  'Say to Joseph, Forgive, I pray you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.' And now, we pray you, forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father." Joseph wept when they spoke to him.  His brothers also came and fell down before him, and said, "Behold, we are your servants."  But Joseph said to them, "Fear not, for am I in the place of God?  As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.  So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones." Thus he reassured them and comforted them. So Joseph dwelt in Egypt, he and his father's house; and Joseph lived a hundred and ten years.  And Joseph saw Ephraim's children of the third generation; the children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were born upon Joseph's knees.  And Joseph said to his brothers, "I am about to die; but God will visit you, and bring you up out of this land to the land which he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob."  Then Joseph took an oath of the sons of Israel, saying, "God will visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here."  So Joseph died, being a hundred and ten years old; and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.
 Proverbs 31:8-31 (RSV) - Open your mouth for the dumb, for the rights of all who are left desolate.  Open your mouth, judge righteously, maintain the rights of the poor and needy.  A good wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.  The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.  She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.  She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands.  She is like the ships of the merchant, she brings her food from afar.  She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and tasks for her maidens.  She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.  She girds her loins with strength and makes her arms strong.  She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night.  She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle.  She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy.  She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet.  She makes herself coverings; her clothing is fine linen and purple.  Her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land.  She makes linen garments and sells them; she delivers girdles to the merchant.  Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.  She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.  She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.  Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:  "Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all."  Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.  Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

God will be by your side

As we see the final day of Great Lent coming in just a few hours, I invite you to take a look back over the past 39 days. Then look back even further. Look back to every faith struggle you have encountered in your journey to live with Christ. Yes, I even want you to look at the difficult times you thought would never end......Now look at tomorrow, next week and your future journey to live with Christ. Just as God helped you get through yesterday, He will help you get through tomorrow.

We hear in today’s reading from Genesis that Israel departed for his journey with God “with all that he had.” He didn’t leave anything behind, or more likely he left a bunch of things behind, bringing what he figured was important. The critical part to understand is that God promised to journey WITH him. He promised to be with him through ups and downs (you’ll have to read the passage to understand what I’m talking about) until he would take his last breath.

My dear brothers and sisters, as we approach the final day of Great Lent, I invite you to remember that God makes you the same promise He made to Israel. He will journey with you, through the ups and downs, until you take your final breath. If you have embrace the Great Lenten Journey, then you will have appreciated that even through the struggle, God has never left your side. He has held your hand, and He will guide you.

Today’ Old Testament Readings:
Isaiah 65:8-16 (RSV) - Thus says the LORD: "As the wine is found in the cluster, and they say, 'Do not destroy it, for there is a blessing in it,' so I will do for my servants' sake, and not destroy them all.  I will bring forth descendants from Jacob, and from Judah inheritors of my mountains; my chosen shall inherit it, and my servants shall dwell there.  Sharon shall become a pasture for flocks, and the Valley of Achor a place for herds to lie down, for my people who have sought me.  But you who forsake the LORD, who forget my holy mountain, who set a table for Fortune and fill cups of mixed wine for Destiny; I will destine you to the sword, and all of you shall bow down to the slaughter; because, when I called, you did not answer, when I spoke, you did not listen, but you did what was evil in my eyes, and chose what I did not delight in."  Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: "Behold, my servants shall eat, but you shall be hungry; behold, my servants shall drink, but you shall be thirsty; behold, my servants shall rejoice, but you shall be put to shame; behold, my servants shall sing for gladness of heart, but you shall cry out for pain of heart, and shall wail for anguish of spirit.  You shall leave your name to my chosen for a curse, and the Lord GOD will slay you; but his servants he will call by a different name.  So that he who blesses himself in the land shall bless himself by the God of truth, and he who takes an oath in the land shall swear by the God of truth; because the former troubles are forgotten and are hid from my eyes.
 Genesis 46:1-7 (RSV) -  So Israel took his journey with all that he had, and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac.  And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night, and said, "Jacob, Jacob." And he said, "Here am I."  Then he said, "I am God, the God of your father; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt; for I will there make of you a great nation.  I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again; and Joseph's hand shall close your eyes."  Then Jacob set out from Beersheba; and the sons of Israel carried Jacob their father, their little ones, and their wives, in the wagons which Pharaoh had sent to carry him.  They also took their cattle and their goods, which they had gained in the land of Canaan, and came into Egypt, Jacob and all his offspring with him, his sons, and his sons' sons with him, his daughters, and his sons' daughters; all his offspring he brought with him into Egypt.
 Proverbs 23:15-24:5 (RSV) - My son, if your heart is wise, my heart too will be glad.  My soul will rejoice when your lips speak what is right.  Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the LORD all the day.  Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.  Hear, my son, and be wise, and direct your mind in the way.  Be not among winebibbers, or among gluttonous eaters of meat; for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and drowsiness will clothe a man with rags.  Hearken to your father who begot you, and do not despise your mother when she is old.  Buy truth, and do not sell it; buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding.  The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice; he who begets a wise son will be glad in him.  Let your father and mother be glad, let her who bore you rejoice.  My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways.  For a harlot is a deep pit; an adventuress is a narrow well.  She lies in wait like a robber and increases the faithless among men.  Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes?  Those who tarry long over wine, those who go to try mixed wine.  Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly.  At the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like an adder.  Your eyes will see strange things, and your mind utter perverse things.  You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, like one who lies on the top of a mast.  "They struck me," you will say, "but I was not hurt; they beat me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake? I will seek another drink."  Be not envious of evil men, nor desire to be with them; for their minds devise violence, and their lips talk of mischief.  By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.  A wise man is mightier than a strong man, and a man of knowledge than he who has strength.