Wednesday, May 31, 2017

UNITY: It’s What God Wants

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

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Some Choose to be Blind

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

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

There is always enough

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

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

Monday, May 15, 2017

Truth is Never Relative

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Women of Faith

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


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Are you alive?

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Are you an apostle of Christ?

The Church often speaks about “making disciples” as in integral part of our mission. Christ Himself said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen,” (Matthew 28.19-20) but what about apostles? Who is an apostle? More importantly, are YOU an apostle?

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

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

Sunday, May 7, 2017

You Are Not Alone

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

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

When Belief is no longer Belief

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

What’s in a Relic?

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 1, 2017

Healing is for Believing

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

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

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

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