Tuesday, February 28, 2017

No Worse for the Wear

Yesterday the Orthodox Christian world embarked upon our annual Great Fast. The Fast is a spiritual journey that many these days do not welcome, or at best do not understand. For many the Great Fast, also known as Great Lent, is about self-denial often misunderstood as punishment. Many still speak in terms of “what are you giving up this year” but this loses the point of the Great Fast.

While we do abstain from certain foods during this holy season, to limit the Great Fast merely to refusing ourselves the foods we love, reinforces the false dichotomy of body vs. soul. The Great Fast isn’t about defeating the body in favor of the soul, but conquering the passions in favor of God’s will. When we fast we are telling God that our relationship with Him is more important than what we choose to eat. In fact, fasting places a proper Orthodox perspective on food as nourishment for the body.

Yesterday, if we chose to accept it, was more of a jump start to this spiritual emphasis on our soul. If we were willing, today we can look back and realize that we are no worse for the wear. We didn’t die. We didn’t suffer an irreversible agony.  We may have been a bit hungry, but in the end we survived. I think ultimately that is the greatest benefit to fasting. We will survive despite our challenges and even in spite of our failings. Once we embrace this truth, the rest of our spiritual journey begins to appear much more appealing.

Here are the Scripture Readings for the 2nd Day of the Great Fast
Old Testament Readings: Isaiah 1:19-2:3 (RSV) - "If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken." How the faithful city has become a harlot, she that was full of justice!  Righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers.  Your silver has become dross, your wine mixed with water.  Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves.  Every one loves a bribe and runs after gifts.  They do not defend the fatherless, and the widow's cause does not come to them. Therefore the Lord says, the Lord of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel:  "Ah, I will vent my wrath on my enemies, and avenge myself on my foes.  I will turn my hand against you and will smelt away your dross as with lye and remove all your alloy.  And I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning.  Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city." Zion shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness.  But rebels and sinners shall be destroyed together, and those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed.  For you shall be ashamed of the oaks in which you delighted; and you shall blush for the gardens which you have chosen.  For you shall be like an oak whose leaf withers, and like a garden without water.  And the strong shall become tow, and his work a spark, and both of them shall burn together, with none to quench them. The word which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.  It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say:  "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths."  For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
 Genesis 1:14-23 (RSV) - And God said, "Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth."  And it was so.  And God made the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; he made the stars also.  And God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness.  And God saw that it was good.  And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day. And God said, "Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the firmament of the heavens."  So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind.  And God saw that it was good.  And God blessed them, saying, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth."  And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.
 Proverbs 1:20-33 (RSV) - Wisdom cries aloud in the street; in the markets she raises her voice; on the top of the walls she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:  "How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?  How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?  Give heed to my reproof; behold, I will pour out my thoughts to you; I will make my words known to you. Because I have called and you refused to listen, have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded, and you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when panic strikes you, when panic strikes you like a storm, and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but will not find me. Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord, would have none of my counsel, and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way and be sated with their own devices. For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacence of fools destroys them; but he who listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of evil."

Monday, February 27, 2017

A Blessed Beginning

Today is the beginning of Great Lent, also called the Great Fast, during which time the Church concentrates our attention on preparing our soul to encounter God. It is the only season during which the Church reads daily from the Old Testament. While the Old Testament is read throughout the year during major feast at Great Vespers, it has long since fallen out of daily use from the Church Lectionary. Beginning today and continuing through the entire Great Fast, the Church invites us to read from Genesis, Isaiah, and Proverbs in a systematic manner.

Each day during the Great Fast Be Transfigured Ministries will again offer a daily Lenten reflection. We will send this out each morning via our email distribution list. If you have not yet subscribed to our email list, you may do so using the form below. For your convenience we will republish the daily readings as they appear on the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America Website, but we also encourage you to dust off your bible and sit in a comfortable chair and send time reading the scriptures every day. We encourage you to make your bible you friend, in which you can gain confidence and learn to love the Book. Some even choose to write notes to themselves in the margins. However you use it, we encourage you to use it, and to use it often. We pray this year’s 2017 Daily Lenten Journey will inspire you to take up your Bible and read it every day. Then you can Live A New Life In Christ.

Have a blessed beginning...
Old Testament Readings: Isaiah 1:1-20 (RSV) - The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzzi'ah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezeki'ah, kings of Judah.  Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord has spoken:  "Sons have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me.  The ox knows its owner, and the ass its master's crib; but Israel does not know, my people does not understand."Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, sons who deal corruptly!  They have forsaken the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged. Why will you still be smitten, that you continue to rebel?  The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.  From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and bleeding wounds; they are not pressed out, or bound up, or softened with oil. Your country lies desolate, your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence aliens devour your land; it is desolate, as overthrown by aliens.  And the daughter of Zion is left like a booth in a vineyard, like a lodge in a cucumber field, like a besieged city. If the Lord of hosts had not left us a few survivors, we should have been like Sodom, and become like Gomor'rah. Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom!  Give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomor'rah!  "What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of he-goats. "When you come to appear before me, who requires of you this trampling of my courts?  Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me.  New moon and sabbath and the calling of assemblies -- I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.  Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them.  When you spread forth your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.  Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow. "Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:  though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.  If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; But if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken."
Genesis 1:1-13 (RSV) - In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.  God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.  And there was evening and there was morning, one day. And God said, "Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters."  And God made the firmament and separated the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament.  And it was so.  And God called the firmament Heaven.  And there was evening and there was morning, a second day. And God said, "Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear."  And it was so.  God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas.  And God saw that it was good.  And God said, "Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, upon the earth."  And it was so.  The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind.  And God saw that it was good.  And there was evening and there was morning, a third day.
 Proverbs 1:1-20 (RSV) - The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel: That men may know wisdom and instruction, understand words of insight, receive instruction in wise dealing, righteousness, justice, and equity; that prudence may be given to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth -- the wise man also may hear and increase in learning, and the man of understanding acquire skill, to understand a proverb and a figure, the words of the wise and their riddles.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. Hear, my son, your father's instruction, and reject not your mother's teaching; for they are a fair garland for your head, and pendants for your neck.  My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.  If they say, "Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood, let us wantonly ambush the innocent; like Sheol let us swallow them alive and whole, like those who go down to the Pit; we shall find all precious goods, we shall fill our houses with spoil; throw in your lot among us, we will all have one purse" -- my son, do not walk in the way with them, hold back your foot from their paths; for their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood.  For in vain is a net spread in the sight of any bird; but these men lie in wait for their own blood, they set an ambush for their own lives.  Such are the ways of all who get gain by violence; it takes away the life of its possessors. Wisdom cries aloud in the street; in the markets she raises her voice.

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Sunday, February 26, 2017

In God’s Space

God makes it clear that the only way to enter heaven is for us to forgive others. Before we can forgive others, we must first allow ourselves to get into common space with them. Only then can we truly forgive others, and only then will we find ourselves in God’s space. Great Lent is an excellent opportunity for us to get into each others’ space and forgive. Our salvation depends upon it.

Finding Common Ground

In the Gospel reading for the Sunday of Forgiveness, the day before the beginning of Great and Holy Lent, the Church places a strong emphasis on the need for forgiveness as a prerequisite for our entrance into heaven. “But if you do no forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6.15) For us to best understand the concept of forgiveness, we must take a moment and study the words used in the Holy Scriptures.

In the original Greek text of the Gospel, the word which gets translated as forgive is “αφήσει”which literally means to “let go of something” as in “let go of the ball”. When you let something go, you leave it behind and walk away. With that understanding, to genuinely forgive someone, we must let go of their actions and leave it behind us. The Lord says, if we are able to do this for those who have sinned against us, then, and only then, He will do the same for us.

Consider the modern Greek word used in this passage as forgiveness, “συγχωρήσει” which has a different understanding than “αφήσει” since its literal understand is to “find common ground or put yourself in the same place” with someone. In the modern Greek sense the passage sounds like this. “But if you do not find common ground with men for their trespasses, neither will your Father find common ground with you for your trespasses.” In this sense the Lord says, if we are able to find common ground or put ourselves in the same place as others who might sin against us, then, and only then, will He do the same for us who have sinned against Him.

Orthodox Christianity is about understand that God joins us to Himself. In our baptism and chrismation, we are forever joined to God and become one with Him. God has found common ground with us, and has placed Himself in the same place as us, which we call “living in communion with God.” Our salvation is found only in our desire to live in communion with God. In the context then of this Gospel lesson, unless we are willing to live in communion with each other, we cannot live in communion with God.

Forgiveness then is not a legal justification of actions, but a willingness to join together. This requires love. God has already joined each person to Himself when He was born, and we join ourselves to Him in our baptism and chrismation. If I am joined to God, and my enemy is joined to God, then we are joined to each other. My condemnation, in the context of this Gospel lesson, is my refusal to be there joined alongside my fellow human being in the common ground of heaven with our Lord.

Thankfully we have Great Lent as a gift from God and His Church to help us find common ground with each other in heaven, but we must first learn to find common ground here on earth. Let’s start by entering the Church together during the period of Great Lent. Let’s pray together, fast together, help others together, worship together, and eventually learn to love together. Then, as God has promised, He will do the same for us.

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Greatest Man

I’m sure you’ve asked yourself what makes a great man. Is it superior genius like Albert Einstein? Is greatness defined by men of extreme wealth like Bill Gates? We all have our own definition of what makes a man (or woman) great.

Today the Church commemorates the man of whom Jesus said, “Among those born of women there has risen no one greater.” This man suffered for Jesus sake and the truth. His humility was never at question since he lived in the wilderness and ate wild locust and honey. When people called him great he said, “He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry.” (Matthew 3.11) This great man had a following of disciples, but sent them away to follow Jesus saying, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3.30) In every way this man was the greatest and should be an example to us in our journey to know Christ and become more like Christ in our lives.

His name is John the Baptist and today we honor the second and third time the Church recovered his head. (pictured above) John’s devotion to God and truth was so great that he was beheaded by King Herod. Take a moment and read the reading for this feast and ask yourself, “If this is who Jesus calls great, why am I not living like this man?”

Gospel Reading: Matthew 11:2-15 (RSV) - At that time, when Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities. Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?" And Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me." As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to behold? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, those who wear soft raiment are in kings' houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, 'Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who shall prepare your way before you.' Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has been coming violently and men of violence take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John; and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Support Be Transfigured Ministries for Lent

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You have been Warned

Since the earliest days of the Church, and during the Old Testament times, there have been issues with member of the Church living lives that are not worthy of being called Christians. Many have even over the centuries caused great scandals in the Church by their behavior. Christ often spoke of the people who were members in name only as hypocrites. Look around your parish this weekend and I’m sure you will find a few, maybe even in the mirror.

In preparation for the Great Fast, the Church makes ever effort to bring our attention to our own sinfulness and begs us to stop looking for the sin in others. But that does not mean we are not supposed to keep our eyes open to the warning signs that one of our brothers or sisters is walking a dangerous line. St Jude boldly warns those who live this ungodly life that the “gloom of darkness has been reserved for ever.” While there may always be faithless members of our Church, that in no way should offer us the excuse to not be counted among the faithless. Consider the Epistle Reading:
St. Jude's First Universal Letter 1:11-25 (RSV) - Beloved, woe to the ungodly, for they walk in the way of Cain, and abandon themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam's error, and perish in Korah's rebellion.  These are blemishes on your love feasts, as they boldly carouse together, looking after themselves; waterless clouds, carried along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars for whom the nether gloom of darkness has been reserved for ever. It was of these also that Enoch in the seventh generation from Adam prophesied, saying, "Behold, the Lord came with his holy myriads, to execute judgment on all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness which they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against him."  These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own passions, loud-mouthed boasters, flattering people to gain advantage. But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; they said to you, "In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions."  It is these who set up divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.  But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.  And convince some, who doubt; save some, by snatching them out of the fire; on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh. Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and for ever.  Amen.
I invite you read this epistle reading as if to you and not to “the others”. Are you a grumbler, malcontent, follow your own passions, loud-mouth boaster? Do you flatter people to gain some advantage? Do you set up divisions among the members of the Church? I pray you are not, but chances are better than you struggle, even if you don’t fall, with the temptations that St Jude warns against. Lucky for you, the Church offers the Great Fast as an opportunity to reset your bearings and abandon the ungodly life.

The Great Fast is about repentance through prayer, fasting, almsgiving, Holy Confession, and the other Mysteries of the Church. It is about spending time IN CHURCH in the PHYSICAL PRESENCE of God. It is about restoring what was lost in our ancestors’ disobedience in the Garden. It is about living a new life in Christ. I pray you are willing. If not.....you’ve been warned by St Jude what awaits.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A Glimpse of Lent

Today is the Wednesday before the Great Fast and as part of our final pre-Lenten preparation the Church offers us a glimpse of what is to come. The services for today are Lenten services although we are not yet actually in Lent. It’s nice to experience how the Church gradually eases us into the Great Fast. We began the fast from meat this week, but no other fasting is yet expected. Even today the Church allows us to eat dairy, fish and oil which will not be the case next week once the Great Fast has begun. The readings for today speak of the future and our need to return to Christ, which has been and will be the continual theme of the Triodion and the Great Fast.

Here are today’s readings...
Joel 3:12-21 (RSV) - Let the nations bestir themselves, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the nations round about. Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe.  Go in, tread, for the wine press is full.  The vats overflow, for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision!  For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.  The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. And the Lord roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth shake.  But the Lord is a refuge to his people, a stronghold to the people of Israel. "So you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who dwell in Zion, my holy mountain.  And Jerusalem shall be holy and strangers shall never again pass through it. "And in that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the stream beds of Judah shall flow with water; and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord and water the valley of Shittim. "Egypt shall become a desolation and Edom a desolate wilderness, for the violence done to the people of Judah, because they have shed innocent blood in their land.  But Judah shall be inhabited for ever, and Jerusalem to all generations.  I will avenge their blood, and I will not clear the guilty, for the Lord dwells in Zion."
Joel 2:12-26 (RSV) - "Yet even now," says the Lord, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments."  Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repents of evil.  Who knows whether he will not turn and repent, and leave a blessing behind him, a cereal offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God? Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people.  Sanctify the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants.  Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep and say, "Spare thy people, O Lord, and make not thy heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations.  Why should they say among the peoples, 'Where is their God?'" Then the Lord became jealous for his land, and had pity on his people.  The Lord answered and said to his people, "Behold, I am sending to you grain, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied; and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations. "I will remove the northerner far from you, and drive him into a parched and desolate land, his front into the eastern sea, and his rear into the western sea; the stench and foul smell of him will rise, for he has done great things. "Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things!  Fear not, you beasts of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green; the tree bears its fruit, the fig tree and vine give their full yield. "Be glad, O sons of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord, your God; for he has given the early rain for your vindication, he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the latter rain, as before. "The threshing floors shall be full of grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.  I will restore to you the years which the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you. "You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you.  And my people shall never again be put to shame."

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

When was the last time you denied knowing Christ?

Please trust me when I tell you it is not be accident that the Church this week before the Great Fast calls our attention to the events of Holy Week. Great Lent is an ancient journey and sacred tradition for members and catechumens of the Church to focus attention on the really important things in life. These things have nothing to do with stock markets and international trade deals, but everything to do with the eternal comfort of our souls. As the Great Fast approaches, the Church invites us to take a moment and consider the question of denial. When was the last time you denied knowing Christ? Take a moment to read today’s Gospel reading for the Tuesday before the Great Fast...
Gospel Reading: Luke 22:39-42, 45-71; 23:1 (RSV) - At that time, when Jesus came out, he went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him.  And when he came to the place he said to them, "Pray that you may not enter into temptation."  And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed, "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but yours, be done."  And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, "Why do you sleep?  Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation." While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them.  He drew near to Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, "Judas, would you betray the Son of man with a kiss?"  And when those who were about him saw what would follow, they said, "Lord, shall we strike with the sword?"  And one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear.  But Jesus said, "No more of this!"  And he touched his ear and healed him.  Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, "Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs?  When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me.  But this is your hour, and the power of darkness." Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest's house.  Peter followed at a distance; and when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them.  Then a maid, seeing him as he sat in the light and gazing at him, said, "This man also was with him."  But he denied it, saying "Woman, I do not know him."  And a little later someone else saw him and said, "You also are one of them."  But Peter said, "Man, I am not."  And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, "Certainly this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean."  But Peter said, "Man, I do not know what you are saying."  And immediately, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed.  And the Lord turned and looked at Peter.  And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, "Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times."  And he went out and wept bitterly. Now the men who were holding Jesus mocked him and beat him; they also blindfolded him and asked him, "Prophesy!  Who is it that struck you?"  And they spoke many other words against him, reviling him. When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes; and they led him away to their council, and they said, "If you are the Christ, tell us."  But he said to them, "If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I ask you, you will not answer.  But from now on the Son of man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God."  And they all said, "Are you the Son of God, then?"  And he said to them, "You say that I am."  And they said, "What further testimony do we need?  We have heard it ourselves from his own lips." Then the whole company of them arose, and brought him before Pilate.
Saint Peter whom we know as the leader of the Apostles fell to the temptation of self preservation and denied even knowing Christ. In Peter’s case it wasn’t just once but three times before he realized his sin. Fortunately for Saint Peter, Christ forgave him and offered Peter the chance to repent after the resurrection when He asked, “Simon Bar Jonah, do you love Me?” (John 21.15) Three times Peter denied knowing Christ, so three times he was able to confess his love for Christ.

I’m sure there have been days, weeks or month even, in your life when you have denied knowing Christ either in words or actions. We each fall to the temptation of self preservation at one time or another. That is one of the great benefits of the Great Fast. We have a chance to repent and confess, in actions and words, our love for Christ. The Sunday before the Great Fast is known as Forgiveness Sunday in the Church. Take a few minutes this week and consider how you may have denied knowing Christ in your life. Then come to Church Sunday and confess your love for Him by being with Him in Church and offer your voice in praise of His glory. Call you priest and make an appointment for Holy Confession during the Great Fast. It worked for Peter; it can work for you.

Monday, February 20, 2017

You Cannot Silent the Gospel

There are many examples of the world attempting to silent the Gospel of Christ. It began when Herod sent out armies to slaughter innocent children as an attempt (and I repeat....attempt) to stop the Messiah. It didn’t work. Rome itself was unable to silent the Gospel even killing Christ and unknown hundreds of Christians. Eventually Rome fell to the grace of God and the Gospel was victorious. In modern times too there have been many attempts to silence the Gospel. For more than seventy years the Soviet Union attempted (and I repeat....attempted) to silence the Gospel by forbidding public preaching, teaching and outward displays of faith. Within days of the fall of the Soviet Union, Churches were reopened and thousands have been rebuilt in the years that followed. You might think the enemies of the Gospel didn’t believe Christ....
Gospel Reading: Luke 19:29-40; 22:7-39 (RSV) - At that time, when Jesus drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, saying, "Go into the village opposite, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat; untie it and bring it here.  If any one asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' you shall say this, 'The Lord has need of it.'"  So those who were sent went away and found it as he had told them.  And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, "Why are you untying the colt?"  And they said, "The Lord has need of it."  And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their garments on the colt they set Jesus upon it.  And as he rode along, they spread their garments on the road.  As he was now drawing near, at the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"  And some of the Pharisees in the multitude said to him, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples."  He answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out." Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the passover lamb had to be sacrificed.  So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying; "Go and prepare the passover for us, that we may eat it."  They said to him, "Where will you have us prepare it?"  He said to them, "Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house which he enters, and tell the householder, 'The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I am to eat the passover with my disciples?'  And he will show you a large upper room furnished; there make ready."  And they went, and found it as he had told them; and they prepared the passover. And when the hour came, he sat at table, and the apostles with him.  And he said to them, "I have earnestly desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you I shall not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God."  And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, "Take this, and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes."  And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body which is given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me."  And likewise the cup after supper, saying, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.  But behold the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table.  For the Son of man goes as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!"  And they began to question one another, which of them it was that would do this. A dispute also arose among them, which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.  And he said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors.  But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.  For which is the greater, one who sits at table, or one who serves?  Is it not the one who sits at table?  But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have continued with me in my trials; and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren."  And he said to him, "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death."  He said, "I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you three times deny that you know me." And he said to them, "When I sent you out with no purse or bag or sandals, did you lack anything?"  They said, "Nothing."  He said to them, "But now, let him who has a purse take it, and likewise a bag.  And let him who has no sword sell his mantle and buy one.  For I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in me, 'And he was reckoned with transgressors'; for what is written about me has its fulfillment."  And they said, "Look, Lord, here are two swords."  And he said to them, "It is enough." And he came out, and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him.
This reading from the Gospel is read on the Monday following the Sunday of Judgment (which was yesterday this year) as a reminder of what is to come. Christ has told us exactly what to expect. Whether it was the Old Testament signs which were to prepare us for His First Coming in the Flesh, or the many signs from the New Testament that have come to pass. Christ has always prepared us for what He had planned, and His plan is to save us if we are willing.

As you make your final preparations for the beginning of the Great Fast next week, I invite you consider how you may have been ignoring the Gospel in your life. Over and over the Church calls our attention to the challenges of faith. Yesterday we learned of our coming judgment. Next week we will hear how we must forgive. We will be forever tempted to take the path of the world, but the world will never be able to silence the Gospel. Why keep trying? Wouldn’t it be easier to embrace the Gospel and Live A New Life In Christ? 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Faith in Action

On the Sunday before fasting from meat begins, known as Meatfare Sunday and also the Sunday of Judgment, the Church reminds us that judgment comes not from the bad things that we do, but the good we choose not to do. Our judgment will be whether or not our heart and eyes can see the world as God sees the world. Do we see Jesus in every person? Do we treat others as if they are Christ? The answer to these questions is determined by how we are able to put our faith into action.

It’s What You Don’t Do that Matters Most

On the Third Sunday of the Triodion, known as “Judgment Sunday” in the Church, the Gospel of Matthew 25.31-46 teaches one of the well known Parables of the Last Judgment. In the story we hear the words, “When did we see you...” both from those in heaven and those in hell. For those in heaven, Jesus says, “I was hungry and you fed me...etc.” and for those in hell, He says, “I was hungry and you didn’t feed me.”  In truth neither actually saw Jesus, so what really is this Gospel story about?

As part of the Triodion and the Church’s effort to inspire us to change our lifestyle during Great Lent, we are reminded that how we treat other people, especially the poor and needy, makes a difference in how we experience eternal life. For those who were experiencing heaven, their life was filled with love and service for others. For those in hell, although they were willing to serve Jesus Christ, when it came to others in need they were unwilling to recognize the need to help. Our Great Lenten journey, which begins in just eight days, will be affected in how we recognize our relationship with others.

In this parable, those in heaven were there not because they did anything incorrectly or acted in a sinful manner. The way the parable plays out, they actually didn’t DO anything at all, and that was the problem. By doing nothing, they kept to themselves when others were in need, in effect not living as human beings. We are only authentic human beings when we are in a relationship with other human beings. When we love, it is because we act with love toward another human being. Anything other than love toward another human being is self-love which leads to hell. This is why those who were unable to see Jesus Christ “in” those in need were experiencing hell.

So what can change? ... WE can change.

We have been given the opportunity by God, today, to change our lifestyle and live with love toward others rather than with self-love. We have been given the opportunity during Great Lent to change the way we look at our fellow human beings, and I’m not just speaking about our fellow Greeks or members of the Church. If we want to find ourselves in heaven, in the end, then we will be able to “see” Jesus Christ in the face of every human being. We will be able to recognize the need for our help for those who are hungry, homeless, sick, or just down on their luck. We will be able to reach into our pocket and rather than seeing only ourselves, see the needs of others. But we will never see Jesus “in” others so long as we are focused on ourselves.

Great Lent offers each of us a unique blessed opportunity to accomplish both. We are invited by the Church to both change our inner soul through prayer and fasting AND change the way we love others by reaching out and helping those in need. In fact we are only saved in both our internal efforts and our external acts of love. How does prayer and fasting help us reach out to others? As Saint John Chrysostom teaches...

When we truly fast, we learn to be without. When we learn to live without, then we learn to not want for much. Then, without being so focused on our “wants” we can truly see the needs of others and serve them with genuine love. We will then see Jesus “in” the others rather than seeing others just as a group of people needing things we would rather keep to ourselves. It is when we do nothing at all that neither our inner soul nor our external actions glorify God. It’s when you do nothing that we will find ourselves in hell.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Always Be Aware

One of the great gifts of fasting is the training you receive when you are vigilant. Since the first days of the Church we have been asked to fast every (with a few exceptions) Wednesday and Friday. The only way to successfully pull this twice-a-week fast off, we must always be aware of what day it is? Is it Tuesday, then pepperoni pizza it is! Is it Friday, then PB&J for lunch! You might think the Church is asking us to worry too much about the calendar, but I suggest you are denying the added benefit of learning to be vigilant. Take a moment and ready today’s Gospel Reading:
Luke 21:8-9,25-27,33-36 (RSV) - The Lord said, "Take heed that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name, saying, 'I am he!' and, 'The time is at hand!'  Do not go after them.  And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified; for this must first take place, but the end will not be at once.  And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth distress of nations in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  And then they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.  But take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a snare; for it will come upon all who dwell upon the face of the whole earth.  But watch at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of man."
This reading about learning to be vigilant and that God will bless such vigilance in our spiritual life. Fasting twice a week helps to teach this vigilance if we choose to embrace it. It is when we are conscious about our surroundings, then we can remember whether the calendar says Monday or Friday. Once we have learned to be aware, it becomes much easier to keep watch for the false teachers and antichrists that will continually work to distract us from God.

With the Great Fast approaching and tomorrow being the “last day” until Pascha that we will each meat, I invite you to view the coming weeks of fasting not as self-denial or just a spiritual diet, but “vigilance training” for your soul. The false teachers have been told to us by God Himself. They will and have come to lead you astray. “Take heed that you are not led astray!” Always be aware of your surroundings!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Fight Against Hypocrisy

As we approach the end of the second week of the Triodion and the Sunday of Judgment, it would be good to consider the question of hypocrisy. Looking back over the past few weeks we remember the great journey from sin to salvation of Zacchaeus, the Tax Collector, and the Prodigal Son. We can see in each of those stories also the warning against hypocrisy. The Church continues to send the message, “Don’t be like....those guys over there. BE like Christ.”  With Judgment Sunday around the corner, I invite you to read both today’ readings in the context of your tendency toward hypocrisy. We are all tempted to think of ourselves as better than the others. Of course it doesn’t help matters that so many Christians have chosen to categories sins as “not so bad” “bad” “really bad” and “OH BOY THAT’S REALLY REALLY BAD” when in truth ALL SIN IS THE SAME. Take a moment and read today’s readings:
Epistle Reading: St. Paul's Second Letter to Timothy 2:1-10 (RSV) - TIMOTHY, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier on service gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to satisfy the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hardworking farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will grant you understanding in everything. Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descended from David, as preached in my gospel, the gospel for which I am suffering and wearing fetters like a criminal. But the word of God is not fettered. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain salvation in Christ Jesus with its eternal glory.
Gospel Reading: Luke 20:46-47; 21:1-4 (RSV) - The Lord said to his disciples, "Beware of the scribes, who like to go about in long robes, and love salutations in the market places and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows' houses and for a pretense make long prayers.  They will receive the greater condemnation."  He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury; and he saw a poor widow put in two copper coins.  And he said, "Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all the living that she had."  Having said this, he proclaimed, "He who has ears let him hear."
We are encouraged to beware of scribes not because we are better than the scribes but exactly because it is so easy for us to become just like they are. We are reminded that athletes will not be crowned as victorious if they do not compete not because we have already won the race, but exactly because many of us so easily want to avoid the race all together and simply be escorted into heaven as champions.

Great Lent is about growing closer to Christ through repentance. It is about realizing that WE are sinners and hypocrites and often untrustworthy witnesses to the love of Christ. It is about following Christ into heaven. He is the example. He was lied about, spit on, arrested without (and convicted and executed) without cause. He was perfect God and all these things happened to Him. The greatest hypocrisy would be to think we are above the same challenges that He faced. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Love Requires a Relationship

God commands us to love as He loves. It isn’t an option. It cannot be avoided. Anything other than love reveals the lie in our hearts. Consider today’s Epistle Reading:
St. John's First Universal Letter 4:20-21; 5:1-21 (RSV) - Beloved, if any one says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also. Every one who believes that Jesus is the Christ is a child of God, and every one who loves the parent loves the child.  By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.  For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.  And his commandments are not burdensome.  For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? This is he who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood.  And the Spirit is the witness, because the Spirit is the truth.  There are three witnesses, the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree.  If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has borne witness to his Son.  He who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself.  He who does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne to his Son.  And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  He who has the Son has life; he who has not the Son of God has not life. I write this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.  And this is the confidence which we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him.  If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal.  There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that.  All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal. We know that any one born of God does not sin, but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him. We know that we are of God, and the whole world is in the power of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, to know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ.  This is the true God and eternal life.  Little children, keep yourselves from idols.  Amen.
I bring this up today because I think it often comforts me to think that Christians have struggled from the very beginning to ‘walk the walk’ and ‘talk the talk’ of belief in Christ. Our battle against the devil isn’t new and the Church has a two thousand year track record of overcoming the struggle. Readings like today, if we have ears to hear and eyes to see, can serve to inspire us to either keep up the battle or get back into the fight.

Great Lent, which begins in just a little over a week, is our chance to get back into the battle. This coming Sunday the Church will remind us of the coming judgment. Let’s not wait until it is too late to fight back.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

There is no Obligation in God’s Love

As Great Lent draws even closer, and we consider how we may make the most of the Great Fast, I was reminded by today’s Epistle reading that God doesn’t force us to love Him. And if God won’t force us to love, then how is it we are always trying to force others to love Him? Take a moment and read today’s Epistle Reading:
St. Paul's Letter to Philemon 1:1-25 (RSV) -  PAUL, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved fellow worker, and Apphia our sister and Archippos our fellow soldier, and the church in your house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may promote the knowledge of all the good that is ours in Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love's sake I prefer to appeal to you - I, Paul, an ambassador and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus - I appeal to you for my child, Onesimos, whose father I have become in my imprisonment. (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel; but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own free will. Perhaps this is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back for ever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand, I will repay it - to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping through your prayers to be granted to you. Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchos, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.

Saint Paul confirms that he had every right to command Philimon (and the others) to obey him and live according to the teachings of the Church. Instead he chose “to appeal” to their sense of Good and inspire them to live a new life in Christ. In this sense, though I clearly have no authority to obligate you, today I appeal to you to welcome the life of the Church and Live A New Life In Christ. God won’t obligate you....neither will I even try.