Monday, October 16, 2017

The Garden of our Hearts

In the Parable of the Sower found in Luke 8.5-15, our Lord explains His parable so we can know the mysteries of God. We are the soil that receives the word of God in our hearts, and we are the fruit and seeds that He sends out into the world in order to produce even more fruit for the glory of God. But like any garden soil needs constant attention and work to remain fertile, our hearts need constant work through prayer, fasting, almsgiving and the sacramental life of the Church to become and ultimately remain rich fertile soil.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Comfort of God’s Presence

Just when we think we are all alone and have no place to turn, God is there for our comfort and peace. As revealed in the raising of the widow’s son (see Luke 7.11-16) God is always able to comfort our heart when no other comfort is possible. Through His physical touch and presence, His power is enough to defeat death and any other pain that troubles our heart. He has promised to be with us in His Church through Holy Communion. Do you need comfort? Come into the Church and find God’s presence.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Why do you care?

Yesterday I awoke to my social media news feed overtaken by prayers and well wishes for the survivors of the tragic shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada, and I asked myself, “Do these people really care?” Now before you jump all over me for the question hear me out…

When I was a newly ordained priest serving as an assistant to a senior priest who was mentoring me, a woman I knew was going through a divorce. I asked my mentor priest if I should call her? He asked, “Why do you care?” I was shocked at his question! What did he mean, why do I care? He explained, but before he did he asked another question. “When was the last time you called her to see how she was doing?” Indeed, I hadn’t. “So why do you care now suddenly that she is going through a divorce? Is it because you want to be known as the priest who cares? If that is why you suddenly care enough to call, you shouldn’t. I’m her priest, you’re not.” He went on to explain that if I had been her priest and discovered a difficult time, I should in fact call and follow up, but never just because I wanted to be known as the priest who cares. I have taken that bitter pill of advice with me in my priestly journey every day since.

So back to my question. Why do people on social media insist on posting “Prayers for….” memes every time there is a tragedy. Are the really praying? Do they really care, or are they just wanting to be known as the people who care? Has our caring become politicized?  I don’t recall my news feed filled “Prayers for…” during other events that I would consider tragedies. I understand the conversation about the tragedy and how our society may or may not be going over the deep end, but if as many people posted that they were praying, were really praying, I suspect our society would be in a different state than it is today.

Next time you are tempted to post a “Prayers for…” meme, ask yourself why you care? If you really care, pray and move on. It doesn’t really matter what you post on social media.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Everyone is Worthy of Mercy and Love

It is easy to love those who love us back, but even sinners do the same. This is reminder from Christ in the Gospel on the Second Sunday of Luke. (see Luke 6.31-36) As Christians we are called to higher form of love than what is easy in the world. We are called to love whether or not someone loves us back. We are called to love whether or not someone is nice to us. We are called to love even our enemies, because everyone is worthy of mercy and love.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Delayed Reward

Last week I posted a blog titled “Fair Weather Christian” in which I wrote out our fallen human tendency to think God doesn’t answer our prayer because we don’t get what we wanted. Today I have another challenge. In today’s reading from Luke (you can read it below) Christ makes a clear indication that our reward for following Him and living the life He desires for us, will not be in this life. Beware…..there are many who claim that the Gospel promises earthly blessings. The so-called Prosperity Gospel has become hugely popular exactly because of truths of this delayed reward. Our selfish ego demands immediate pleasure, and our society continues to reinforce instant gratification. Children are given stars and applause at even the smallest indication of success at the very moment.

So if you are finding that living the Christian life has become difficult, if you have found it to be filled with struggle, if you have realized the reward never seems to come, do not fear. “Your reward is great in heaven.” Just another example of ‘deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me.” (Mark 8.34)

At that time, Jesus stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came forth from him and healed them all. And he lifted up his eyes on His disciples, and said: "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God. Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven." (Luke 6.17-23)

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Don’t Be a Pretender

I meet many people who claim to be Orthodox Christian, yet do not attend Divine Liturgy at all or rarely. They fast, they say their prayers, they even light candles in churches and chapels, but they can’t remember the last time they received Holy Communion. I often wonder why someone who go through all the motions of being Orthodox, even having elaborate home altars with oils and other holy items for veneration. Consider today’s Gospel reading from Luke…
At that time, the Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, "Why do the disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink?" And Jesus said to them, "Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days." He told them a parable also: "No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it upon an old garment; if he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new; for he says, 'The old is better.'" (Luke 5.33-39)

Christ is reminding us that living in communion with Him is the reason we fast and pray and do all the other things we do as Orthodox Christian. I’m sure you’ve heard people say, “Fasting without prayer is a diet.” This is true, but let’s go a step further….. “Orthodox practices without Holy Communion is just pretend.” Don’t be a pretender. Call your spiritual father today to schedule for Holy Confession and get back on track to Live A New Life IN Christ.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Where were you when Jesus was crucified?

Today the Church celebrates the memory of Saint John the Theologian. When Christ was still hanging on the Cross, He turned to John and pointed to the Theotokos. “Behold your mother!" And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.” (John 19.26) John the Theologian was one of the inner circle among the Disciples. He was present at the Transfiguration and was considered one of Christ’s closest friends. He was also the only one of the men disciples who had the courage to stay at the Cross until the very end. The remainder had fled for fear. It is his eyewitness the Church depends upon for the events that day.

He wrote the Gospel of John and several letters to the global church. He finished his gospel account with these words, “This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true. And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen.” (John 21.24-25)

Today we honor the man who was our eyes and ears at the events that are our salvation, and we are thankful. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Healing is for repentance

One time I attended a special roundtable discussion with several nondenominational clergy to discuss the issue of hospital ministry. We were asked, “Who wouldn’t visit a hospital and NOT pray for healing?” We do it all the time. We pray for others to be healed from sickness. Being totally honest I thought the question was sort of short-sighted, so I answered, “I don’t.”

What I meant was that we as Orthodox Christians don’t merely pray for healing, but we pray that our friends and family will be healed so they can have time for repentance. If our prayer is merely for physical healing, it will be a waste of time. In today’s Gospel, Jesus healed Saint Peter’s mother-in-law, (Luke 4.38-39) who once she was healed immediately began to serve Him. In fact, at each healing we read about in the Scriptures, it is followed the worship of God and a life of repentance. Any other healing is a waste of time.

Bring in the Catch

When considering the Gospel story of the calling of the Disciples as told in Luke 5.1-11, we must remember the Lord is calling us to go out and fill the Church with faithful. Unfortunately, many times we are too busy with our own agenda and cannot recognize Christ when we hear Him calling us. If could only engage the life of the Church so we could recognize God when we meet Him. Then we will be willing to leave everything behind and follow Christ.


Sunday, September 24, 2017

Drop Everything

In today’s world our lives are filled with countless opportunities to take up our time with household chores and projects at work. From the moment we awake our mind races from task to task taking us from place to place. We rest only for the momentary chance of eating a few bites of food to fuel another few hours of productivity. And if we dare to take a few hours away from work, we are accused of being lazy and not accomplishing up to our potential.

The reality of busy lives filled with work is nothing new. Even in time of Christ, days were filled with work from sunup to sundown, and sometimes even overnight. The day was for work. That is what makes the story of the calling of the first Disciples so extraordinary. Despite having worked all night long, and though they were mending their nets to prepare for the next day, when Jesus Christ called and said, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch,” (Luke 5.4) Simon and his partners were willing to shove off and give Christ a chance.

It wasn’t without reason, though, since they had prepared with souls to hear His word. We know this from Simon’s answer, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” (Luke 5.5) He called Him Master because they had prepared their heart to hear His word. After a catch that almost sank their boat, they were willing to drop everything and follow Him, ultimately to their death.

We can learn something from this story. The Disciples would never have trusted Christ’s invitation unless they had first prepared their soul to hear His word. The story isn’t meant to lead us to believe that God merely wants our business careers to excel beyond our wildest dreams. The story is about building the Church with faithful disciples who, after preparing their souls to hear the Word of God, are willing to trust Him enough to make following Him a priority greater than anything that occupies their life.

Jesus said to these new disciples, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men” (Luke 5.10) If we are willing to prepare our souls to hear His invitation, and trust where He sends us, our Cathedral will be filled to overflowing, just as their boats were with fish. Are you willing to drop everything and give it a try?

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Trust Has Consequences

When Archangel Gabriel gave word to Zacharias that his wife Elizabeth who was in old age would bear a son, he stood in disbelief. He found it impossible that God would be able to reverse the sterility of her Elizabeth’s womb. As a result of his disbelief, he was made mute until the birth of his son. You can read the entire account of the conception of Saint John the Baptist below.

The point I wish to make today is that when we find it difficult to trust the promise of God, there are consequences that we may find difficult to bear. For Zacharias the consequence was not being able to speak, but in his day, this was understood as a sign from God. For most of us the consequence of not trusting God is often subtler than losing our ability to speak. More often than not our consequence is found in the way of increased struggle.

When we pursue a life that God does not desire for us, we will find increased struggle. We may find that “things just don’t work like we expect them to,” when we don’t trust God’s promise. We know from the entire story of Zacharias and Elizabeth, that he only received his voice back once he obeyed the will of God. Once Zacharias named his son, John, his voice returned and he glorified God. If you find that things just are not working as they should, maybe you are in that place of disobedience. Maybe it is time to call your spiritual father for confession, and trust in God’s promise. Once you follow God’s will, your voice will return.

There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years. So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. "And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. "For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. "And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. "He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, 'to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,' and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." And Zacharias said to the angel, "How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years." And the angel answered and said to him, "I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. "But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time." And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple. But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless. And so it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house. Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, "Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people." (Luke 1.5-25)

Friday, September 22, 2017

Fair Weather Christian

Today’s Gospel lesson reminds of a constant frustration I have with most every Christian I meet. We all pray at some time for something, especially when we feel the need is great. When God has granted our request we say, “God answered my prayers.” This ALWAYS means God said ‘yes’ to our request. I have NEVER (if I have I truly cannot remember when) met a Christian who said God had answered a prayer when the answer was no. We have come to believe the only answered prayers are those for which God says ‘yes’ to our request.

Then there is today’s Gospel. Here is the entire passage from Luke 4.22-30…
So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. And they said, "Is this not Joseph's son?" He said to them, "You will surely say this proverb to Me, 'Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in Your country.' "Then He said, "Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country. "But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; "but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. "And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian." So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way.

Jesus had just finished reading from the Old Testament (see Luke 4.16-22) after which the crowd was really excited. He had just promised that people would be healed and slaves would be set free. Now today we hear “Many lepers were in Israel…and none of them was cleansed except Naaman,” so they cast Him out of the city. They were willing to love God only so long as they believed they were going to get from Him what they wanted.

It is a shame when we act the same way, but we just pretend God didn’t answer our prayers. It sooths our soul to believe He would have said yes if He had answered. The truth is God always answers prayers. It is just that sometimes the answer is ‘no’ and other times the answer is ‘not yet’ or ‘we’ll see what happens.’ Don’t be a fair weather Christian thanking God only for ‘yes’ answers. Instead trust that when He says, ‘no,’ it is because He knows better than you, that what you are asking for is either not good for you, or may even be dangerous.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Christian Life Attracts Attention!

Sometimes I wonder why people don’t respond to the Church’s invitation. The Gospel is a message of freedom and peace, not slavery and anxiety. So why are so many Christians miserable? Citing the Old Testament Jesus said, “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD." (Luke 4.17-18) Who wouldn’t want the things Jesus offers in today’s Gospel?

Who do you know that is sick and doesn’t want to be healed?
Who do you know that is a slave and doesn’t want to be free?
Who do you know that is blind and doesn’t want to see?

If you are like me, I don’t know anyone who would not welcome the good news of today’s Gospel. There is only one problem…..most of us Christians don’t actually live as if this is good news.

Many would rather their soul be sick than choose to confess their sins to their spiritual father.
Many would rather remain a slave to material comforts than choose to live simple lives.
Many would rather not see their own sin than choose repentance and the holy life.

It is no wonder so many who need the Church walk by every day without ever walking in her doors. In the ancient Church lives were changed by the Gospel of Christ. Early believers left sinful lifestyles for the holy life. Early believers opened their eyes to the slavery of sin and freed themselves in Christ. The new life, The Way as it became known, was attractive to others who asked how they could find the same peace these strange Christians seemed to find. The early Church lived the good news and it attracted attention!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

God Never Promised a Rose Garden

Too often I hear and read comments from Christian leaders of various disciplines, including within the Church, that if only we would pray more and listen to our hearts more, God would take away the struggle that we are encountering. We are constantly being promised that our Christian lives will be filled with blessings rather than pain, if only we believed, if only we “claimed the Lord as our Savior”, but is that really what God prepares us for?

In today’s Gospel reading the Lord reminds us that life will be a struggle. “You will be delivered by even by parents and brothers and kinsmen and friends; and some of you they will put to death.” (Luke 21.16) If that isn’t bad enough, the Lord says, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” (Luke 21.17) This is in direct conflict with the many Christian leaders who promise a life of prosperity and happiness.

I’m not surprised that many preach the prosperity gospel considering that our fallen human condition is self-absorbed and ego-driven. Nobody desires to suffer. Nobody enjoys being hated. Nobody considers it a privilege to shunned by family members. It should come as no surprise that churches that preach prosperity and comfort are growing and expanding, while churches that preach a life of struggle and spiritual discipline are hovering below the radar barely known by the neighbors one block away.

But life isn’t about prosperity, and churches aren’t about comfort. They are about preparing our entire being (body and soul – see Genesis 2.7) to live eternally united to God. “But not a hair on your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.” (Luke 21.18-19) So bring on the world and all its challenges. The Orthodox Christian way of life has a cure for every pain and wound of life. It won’t always be easy, but it will always lead to God.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Fruit of the Church is Making Disciples

Christ tells a story of a vineyard which is lent out to workers. Unfortunately for the workers, when they tried to keep the fruit of the vineyard to themselves, the master of the vineyard took it away from them and gave it to other workers. Of course, it isn’t a vineyard the Lord is speaking about. The vineyard is the Church, and we will all be called to account for the fruit of the Church.


Friday, September 1, 2017

The Fruit of the Church

In the Gospel we hear about a vineyard which was lent out by its master to others to manage. When the time came for the master to collect the fruit which they had harvested, they decided they wanted to keep it for themselves. They killed several servants and eventually the Master’s Son. When the Master eventually came, He took the vineyard away from them and gave it to someone else until He returned, again to collect the fruit that was harvested. To avoid any possible confusion, Jesus said, “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.” (Matthew 21.43)

We are that nation. The Church established by Jesus Christ and His Apostles have been given the Church, as God’s vineyard, to be stewards of it. We are expected to bear fruit and we will give an account of that fruit when the Lord returns for the harvest. What is the fruit of the Church? As Christ was preparing to return to heaven after His Resurrection He 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." (Matthew 28.19-20) The fruit of the Church is disciples.

When a grape vine is first planted it takes time before it is established enough to bear fruit. As the years go by, with proper care from the vinedresser, eventually a great harvest is possible and many can enjoy the abundant crop of sweet, juicy grapes. If the vine is neglected, very few grapes (if any at all) will be present, and they may even whither on the vine before they ripen. In those cases, as with the Gospel story, the vinedressers will be kicked out and a new team given the task of caring for the vineyard.

When it comes to the Church, if we are not producing disciples, then we are not producing fruit. For the Church to produce disciples, we must manage the affairs of the Church so that more people not only discover the Church, but those who are already in the Church become stronger every year. Just as a grape vine has new and established branches, so the Church has new and established disciples. Just as the vinedressers nurtures the established branches, the Church works to strengthen established members. The stronger the established disciples, the more new disciples will be produced, just as with any healthy vine.

Ultimately, the Master will return and He will take an account of the disciples we have produced for His Church. We will have no excuse if when He returns all we have to show is that we kept the fruit for ourselves. 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

What Keeps You Away from God?

We like to think we want to be with God in heaven, but when we hear what is expected of us, how many times do we turn away from God and walk away? We hear of a rich man in Matthew 19.16-26 who said he wanted eternal life, but when God told him he had to sell everything and give it all to the poor, he left sad. For this man, it was money. What keeps you away from God?


Sunday, August 20, 2017

All Sin is Against God

Jesus calls us each of us to forgive others from our heart or risk eternal torment. Many however find it difficult to forgive others because we feel the pain of the sin. In Psalm 50 we pray, “Against You only have I sinned and done that which is evil in your sight.” If our sin is only against God, then all sin is only against God. Maybe when we come to terms with the truth, then we can more easily forgive.


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!