Friday, April 28, 2017

Don’t Hold Back

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

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

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Salvation is more than just eternal life

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Today....WE FAST!

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Christian Should be Sober Minded

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

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

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

Monday, April 24, 2017

Here we go again

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Retreat from the City but not from God

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Why We Post the Negative Opinions from Others

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Gym and the Church

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

Now let me replace a few words...

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

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

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

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

Christ is Risen!

Monday, April 17, 2017

It’s Just Getting Started!

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Learn Your Limitations

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a blessed Resurrection!

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Give it Your All

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

The Final Countdown to Pascha

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 7, 2017

Traditions can be Good or Bad

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 6, 2017

God will be by your side

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

He is Right in Front of You

In just a few days we will celebrate the final days of Christ on Earth. We will witness Him enter as the King of Kings come to rescue us. Unfortunately most of us won’t recognize Him, but that would be no different from so many in the past. In today’s reading from Genesis we hear the brothers of Joseph being face to face with him, but they didn’t recognize him. It wasn’t until Joseph revealed himself to his brothers that they fully understood who he was.

This is the story of Holy Week and Pascha which is just a few days away. God came to us, His brothers and sisters, and we didn’t recognize him. Joseph invited his brothers to his home to come and spend time with him. Jesus has invited you into His house during Holy Week and Pascha to spend time together. Joseph’s brothers would never have discovered who he really was if they had not accepted his invitation. We also we will never fully discover who Jesus Christ is if we don’t accept His invitation to join Him in Church next week. It isn’t too late. It is just a few days away, but you can still make plans to be in Church during Holy Week.  Just remember.....if you don’t accept His invitation, you may never discover His true identity.

Today’s Old Testament Readings:
Isaiah 58:1-11 (RSV) - Thus says the LORD: "Cry aloud, spare not, lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins.  Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God.  'Why have we fasted, and thou seest it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and thou takest no knowledge of it?' Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers.  Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.  Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a rush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD?  "Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?  Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.  Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, "Here I am." "If you take away from the midst of you the yoke, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.  And the LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your desire with good things, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.

Genesis 43:26-31; 45:1-16 (RSV) -  When Joseph came home, they brought into the house to him the present which they had with them, and bowed down to him to the ground.  And he inquired about their welfare, and said, "Is your father well, the old man of whom you spoke? Is he still alive?"  They said, "Your servant our father is well, he is still alive." And they bowed their heads and made obeisance.  And he lifted up his eyes, and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother's son, and said, "Is this your youngest brother, of whom you spoke to me? God be gracious to you, my son!"  Then Joseph made haste, for his heart yearned for his brother, and he sought a place to weep. And he entered his chamber and wept there.  Then he washed his face and came out; and controlling himself he said, "Let food be served."(Chapter 45:1-16) Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him; and he cried, "Make every one go out from me." So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers.  And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it.  And Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph; is my father still alive?" But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence.  So Joseph said to his brothers, "Come near to me, I pray you." And they came near. And he said, "I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.  And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.  For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest.  And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.  So it was not you who sent me here, but God; and he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.  Make haste and go up to my father and say to him, 'Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not tarry; you shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children's children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have; and there I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come; lest you and your household, and all that you have, come to poverty.'  And now your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see, that it is my mouth that speaks to you.  You must tell my father of all my splendor in Egypt, and of all that you have seen. Make haste and bring my father down here."  Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin's neck and wept; and Benjamin wept upon his neck.  And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.  When the report was heard in Pharaoh's house, "Joseph's brothers have come," it pleased Pharaoh and his servants well.
 Proverbs 21:23-22:4 (RSV) - He who keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.  "Scoffer" is the name of the proud, haughty man who acts with arrogant pride.  The desire of the sluggard kills him for his hands refuse to labor.  All day long the wicked covets, but the righteous gives and does not hold back.  The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination; how much more when he brings it with evil intent.  A false witness will perish, but the word of a man who hears will endure.  A wicked man puts on a bold face, but an upright man considers his ways.  No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel, can avail against the LORD.  The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the LORD.  A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.  The rich and the poor meet together; the LORD is the maker of them all.  A prudent man sees danger and hides himself; but the simple go on, and suffer for it.  The reward for humility and fear of the LORD is riches and honor and life.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

There is a Purpose

As we begin to wind up Great Lent, the Church reminds us of the actual purpose for Pascha. “Thus says the Lord: ‘I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Jesus is the Light. He is the Light that will reach the end of the earth. The world can be a dark place, but with light even the darkest places can be conquered. If you have lost sight of the purpose of Great Lent and Pascha, lucky for you there is still time.

Today’s readings from Isaiah remind us that no matter how dark the world may seem, we have a savior. Take a moment to read today’s readings and consider whether you have forgotten the purpose of Christ and Pascha. If you see your challenges listed by Isaiah, be comforted also by the promise that “the Lord who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

Today’s Old Testament Readings:
Isaiah 49:6-10 (RSV) - Thus says the LORD: "I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth."  Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the servant of rulers: "Kings shall see and arise; princes, and they shall prostrate themselves; because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you."  Thus says the LORD: "In a time of favor I have answered you, in a day of salvation I have helped you; I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages; saying to the prisoners, 'Come forth,' to those who are in darkness, 'Appear.' They shall feed along the ways, on all bare heights shall be their pasture; they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall smite them, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them.

Genesis 31:3-16 (RSV) -  Then the LORD said to Jacob, "Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you."  So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah into the field where his flock was, and said to them, "I see that your father does not regard me with favor as he did before. But the God of my father has been with me.  You know that I have served your father with all my strength; yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times, but God did not permit him to harm me.  If he said, 'The spotted shall be your wages,' then all the flock bore spotted; and if he said, 'The striped shall be your wages,' then all the flock bore striped.  Thus God has taken away the cattle of your father, and given them to me.  In the mating season of the flock I lifted up my eyes, and saw in a dream that the he-goats which leaped upon the flock were striped, spotted, and mottled.  Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, 'Jacob,' and I said, 'Here I am!'  And he said, 'Lift up your eyes and see, all the goats that leap upon the flock are striped, spotted, and mottled; for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you.  I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me. Now arise, go forth from this land, and return to the land of your birth.'"  Then Rachel and Leah answered him, "Is there any portion or inheritance left to us in our father's house?  Are we not regarded by him as foreigners? For he has sold us, and he has been using up the money given for us.  All the property which God has taken away from our father belongs to us and to our children; now then, whatever God has said to you, do."

Proverbs 21:3-21 (RSV) - To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.  Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin.  The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but every one who is hasty comes only to want.  The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death.  The violence of the wicked will sweep them away, because they refuse to do what is just.  The way of the guilty is crooked, but the conduct of the pure is right.  It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a contentious woman.  The soul of the wicked desires evil; his neighbor finds no mercy in his eyes.  When a scoffer is punished, the simple becomes wise; when a wise man is instructed, he gains knowledge.  The righteous observes the house of the wicked; the wicked are cast down to ruin.  He who closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself cry out and not be heard.  A gift in secret averts anger; and a bribe in the bosom, strong wrath.  When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous, but dismay to evildoers.  A man who wanders from the way of understanding will rest in the assembly of the dead.  He who loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich.  The wicked is a ransom for the righteous, and the faithless for the upright.  It is better to live in a desert land than with a contentious and fretful woman.  Precious treasure remains in a wise man's dwelling, but a foolish man devours it.  He who pursues righteousness and kindness will find life and honor.

Monday, April 3, 2017

God’s Way is Life

Too many people live being afraid of God, but fear is an emotion that has a short-lived benefit. Fear is best limited to quick responses such as running away from an angry tiger, or climbing to high ground during a flood. It may be enough to keep you safe for the moment, but in the long run fear wears off and we begin again to live carelessly.

Today’s readings in Proverbs includes, “The fear of the Lord leads to life,” but fearing the Lord is not the same thing as being afraid. God prefers us to love Him rather than to be afraid. St John the Theologian says, “There is no fear in love.” (1 John 4.18) How can we reconcile fear and love? The word φοβος which we translate as fear, is also translated as awe. In this way we read “Awe of the Lord leads to life.”  If we could learn to be in awe of God rather than be afraid of Him, we would realize the great gift that His way of life in the Church really is for our journey to heaven.

As we begin our final week of Great Lent, try to focus on the benefit of living as the Church suggests? Take a moment and reflect upon today’s reading from Proverbs and ask yourself, “Am I following my plans for God’s plan for my life?” The answer will lead you to life.

Today’s Old Testament Readings:
Isaiah 48:17-49:4 (RSV) - Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: "I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go.  O that you had hearkened to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea; your offspring would have been like the sand, and your descendants like its grains; their name would never be cut off or destroyed from before me." Go forth from Babylon, flee from Chaldea, declare this with a shout of joy, proclaim it, send it forth to the end of the earth; say, "The LORD has redeemed his servant Jacob!"  They thirsted not when he led them through the deserts; he made water flow for them from the rock; he cleft the rock and the water gushed out.  "There is no peace," says the LORD, "for the wicked." Listen to me, O coastlands, and hearken, you peoples from afar. The LORD called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name.  He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away.  And he said to me, "You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified."  But I said, "I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my right is with the LORD, and my recompense with my God."
 Genesis 27:1-41 (RSV) - When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called Esau his older son, and said to him, "My son"; and he answered, "Here I am."  He said, "Behold, I am old; I do not know the day of my death.  Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field, and hunt game for me, and prepare for me savory food, such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat; that I may bless you before I die."  Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game and bring it, Rebekah said to her son Jacob, "I heard your father speak to your brother Esau,  'Bring me game, and prepare for me savory food, that I may eat it, and bless you before the LORD before I die.'  Now therefore, my son, obey my word as I command you.  Go to the flock, and fetch me two good kids, that I may prepare from them savory food for your father, such as he loves; and you shall bring it to your father to eat, so that he may bless you before he dies."  But Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, "Behold, my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man.  Perhaps my father will feel me, and I shall seem to be mocking him, and bring a curse upon myself and not a blessing."  His mother said to him, "Upon me be your curse, my son; only obey my word, and go, fetch them to me."  So he went and took them and brought them to his mother; and his mother prepared savory food, such as his father loved.  Then Rebekah took the best garments of Esau her older son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son; and the skins of the kids she put upon his hands and upon the smooth part of his neck; and she gave the savory food and the bread, which she had prepared, into the hand of her son Jacob. So he went in to his father, and said, "My father"; and he said, "Here I am; who are you, my son?"  Jacob said to his father, "I am Esau your first-born. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, that you may bless me."  But Isaac said to his son, "How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?" He answered, "Because the LORD your God granted me success."  Then Isaac said to Jacob, "Come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not."  So Jacob went near to Isaac his father, who felt him and said, "The voice is Jacob's voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau."  And he did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau's hands; so he blessed him.  He said, "Are you really my son Esau?" He answered, "I am."  Then he said, "Bring it to me, that I may eat of my son's game and bless you." So he brought it to him, and he ate; and he brought him wine, and he drank.  Then his father Isaac said to him, "Come near and kiss me, my son."  So he came near and kissed him; and he smelled the smell of his garments, and blessed him, and said, "See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field which the LORD has blessed!  May God give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine.  Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother's sons bow down to you. Cursed be every one who curses you, and blessed be every one who blesses you!" As soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, when Jacob had scarcely gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, Esau his brother came in from his hunting.  He also prepared savory food, and brought it to his father. And he said to his father, "Let my father arise, and eat of his son's game, that you may bless me."  His father Isaac said to him, "Who are you?" He answered, "I am your son, your first-born, Esau."  Then Isaac trembled violently, and said, "Who was it then that hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate it all before you came, and I have blessed him? - Yes, and he shall be blessed."  When Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry, and said to his father, "Bless me, even me also, O my father!"  But he said, "Your brother came with guile, and he has taken away your blessing."  Esau said, "Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has supplanted me these two times. He took away my birthright; and behold, now he has taken away my blessing." Then he said, "Have you not reserved a blessing for me?"  Isaac answered Esau, "Behold, I have made him your lord, and all his brothers I have given to him for servants, and with grain and wine I have sustained him. What then can I do for you, my son?"  Esau said to his father, "Have you but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father." And Esau lifted up his voice and wept.  Then Isaac his father answered him: "Behold, away from the fatness of the earth shall your dwelling be, and away from the dew of heaven on high.  By your sword you shall live, and you shall serve your brother; but when you break loose you shall break his yoke from your neck."  Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, "The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob."
  Proverbs 19:16-25 (RSV) - He who keeps the commandment keeps his life; he who despises the word will die.  He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed.  Discipline your son while there is hope; do not set your heart on his destruction.  A man of great wrath will pay the penalty; for if you deliver him, you will only have to do it again.  Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom for the future.  Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will be established.  What is desired in a man is loyalty, and a poor man is better than a liar.  The fear of the LORD leads to life; and he who has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm.  The sluggard buries his hand in the dish, and will not even bring it back to his mouth.  Strike a scoffer, and the simple will learn prudence; reprove a man of understanding, and he will gain knowledge.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Preparing for Heaven

For many Christians, going to Church and living ‘by the rules’ is about earning a spot in heaven. For Orthodox Christians, going to Church and the Orthodox way of life is about preparing for the reality of being in heaven. Christ said to His disciples, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" Are you able to live the life that Christ has offered? Don’t waste another moment. Great Lent is about learning how to live as God desires, if we choose to follow Him to Heaven.

Nothing is too hard to forgive

On this the last Sunday of the Great Fast, the Church invites us to take one final look at our sinfulness. Over the past nine weeks our eyes have been directed toward the ultimate goal of repentance and salvation. One does not take place without the other. Looking quickly at the Gospel lessons of the past nine weeks, we find those who were saved lived not for themselves but for God who were saved.

  • Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee – It was the sinful tax collector…
  • Sunday of the Prodigal Son – It was the sinful younger son…
  • Sunday of Judgment – It was those who saw God in others…
  • Sunday of Forgiveness – It was those who chose to forgive…
  • Sunday of Orthodoxy – It was those who understood the Holy Scriptures…
  • Sunday of Gregory Palamas – It was those who brought their friend to Christ…
  • Sunday of the Holy Cross – It is those who willingly deny themselves and accept their cross…
  • Sunday of St John Climicus – It was those who realized they needed God…
  • Sunday of St Mary of Egypt – It was those who were willing to be last among their friends…

By now the Church expects that we have realized our sinfulness, admitted our mistakes, and chose to return to God and “take our lumps” with whatever God has planned for us. Some of us may be worried that our lives are not worthy of God’s forgiveness. Maybe some of us worry that our sins too big, or that we can’t possible change this late in life.

That is one blessing about the Great Fast. Today the Church brings our attention to one of the greatest sinners in the history of the Church. Mary of Egypt was a prostitute who was given a second chance by God. She devoted the remainder of her life to total repentance if God would allow her just a chance to enter the Church. After He allowed Mary to enter the Church, she left and spent the rest of her life in the dessert. Her repentance was so complete that even wild animals respected and reverence her body at the time of her death.

Your sins may not be as drastic as Mary of Egypt and you probably are not being called to live the rest of your life in the desert, but the fact remains. No matter how bad you think you may have sinned, it is not too late to repent and start fresh. It isn’t too late to return to God, schedule a confession and begin a new life dedicated to God and serving others. It is the whole witness of the Great Fast. We are asked to admit our sins, return to God, seek His forgiveness, and begin our new life free from the past’s sins. Nothing is too hard to forgive when it comes to God.

Here are today’s Readings:
Epistle Reading: St. Paul's Letter to the Hebrews 9:11-14 (RSV) - BRETHREN, when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
 Gospel Reading: Mark 10:32-45 (RSV) - At that time, Jesus taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles; and they will mock him, and spit upon him, and scourge him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise." And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him, and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." And he said to them, "What do you want me to do for you?" And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" And they said to him, "We are able." And Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared." And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant of James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, "You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."