Welcome to Saint Herman's, Hudson, Ohio

This blog is a partial compilation of the messages, texts, readings, and prayers from our small mission community. We pray that it will be used by our own people, to their edification. And if you happen by and are inclined to read, give the glory to God!

The blog title, "Will He Find Faith on the Earth?" is from Luke 18:8, the "Parable of the Persistent Widow." It overlays the icon of the Last Judgment, an historical event detailed in Matthew Chapter 25, for which we wait as we pray in the Nicean Creed.

We serve the Holy Orthodox cycle of services in contemporary English. Under the omophorion of His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph of the Bulgarian Patriarchal Diocese of the USA, Canada and Australia, we worship at 5107 Darrow Road in Hudson, Ohio (44236). If you are in the area, please join us for worship!

Regular services include:
Sunday Divine Liturgy 10AM (Sept 1 - May 31)
930AM (June 1 - Aug 31)
Vespers each Saturday 6PM

We pray that you might join us for as many of these services as possible!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Prophecies on Our Lord's Coming in the Flesh

Matthew 1:1-17 gives the genealogy of our Lord through the birth record of Joseph the Betrothed.  This birth record was promised to Abraham directly.  "I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Gen 12:3)

Among the patriarchs, the promise was continued in Isaac.  "But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year." (Gen 17:21)  And it continued still in Jacob.  "Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed."


The first and the last of these prophecies share a common thread that is important to us.  "All the families of the earth shall be blessed."  All the families!

As Christians, we tend to think of ourselves as segregated, and especially as Orthodox Christians it seems that sometimes we "wall ourselves off" from the people around us.  Perhaps this is because we truly think of ourselves as "in this world but not of it."  Regardless of the reason, we miss the importance of these prophetic promises when we do this.

That guy and his wife across the street who never have seen the inside of any church?  They're blessed by the coming of our Lord.  That terrorist who wants to steal from us our peaceful existence?  He's blessed by the coming of our Lord.  The people who work in the abortion clinic?  They're blessed by the coming of our Lord.

You see, there is no place in all of creation that the coming of the Savior in the flesh has not changed, and in that change, it is blessed by His touching His own creation from the human fleshly state.

When we bless things in the church, we do so by transferal.  We sprinkle Holy Water onto things, and we declare them to be blessed.  When the antidoron is blessed at Liturgy, it is done by touching one piece of the bread to the chalice and diskos, and by transferal, all the other pieces in the bread bowl are also blessed.

God's feet have walked this planet. His Body was immersed in the River Jordan.  The rain washed His face, ran to the ground, and entered another cloud, thereby sanctifying every portion of the entire globe - eventually.

Truly, ALL families are blessed by the coming of the Lord.  Our world is not the place that it had been before His coming.  We, who dare to touch Him by taking His Body and Blood within us through the Holy Eucharist are even more intimately connected to Him, being thereby sanctified, made holy, made different from other things around us.

And like that small piece of bread, we are not to sequester ourselves in a corner of a bowl and not ever touch any others who surround us.  Instead, we are to reach out and touch all who surround us, bringing the sanctification we have received to them as well.

Because EVERY family of the earth is blessed by His coming!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

All Who Love Nicholas the Saintly

The perversion in the contemporary world of all that is holy and pure proceeds without abatement.  It reminds one of the prophecy from Isaiah Chapter 8, "the spoil speeds, the plunder hastens,"  a prophecy to which we return during this time of the coming in the flesh of our Lord.

But specifically I speak of the perverting of the image of Saint Nicholas, whose Feast we celebrate on this day.  How many miracles have we come to know of related to this wonderful saint of the church?  They seem innumerable.  And yet, every time we think we've heard them all, yet another comes to us from yet a different source.  We'll not take the time nor space here to detail these.  It is profitable research for those who wish to do so, however.

The world has taken a man who is the image of purity, the image of love, the image of peace, and most of all, the Image of Christ, and they have attempted to cover all that he is.  I do not say, "all that he WAS," because Saint Nicholas' impact on our lives continues unabated until this very day, and will continue until our Lord returns.

They've covered his omophorion in red velvet and white fur.  They've covered his bishop's mitre with a funny little hat.  They've taken his physical poverty and spiritual wealth and turned them upside down, giving the impression that he has unlimited physical resource, and a spirit that's good only for a good laugh now and then.

This is the world's (and the enemy's) means of attacking the Image of Christ.

Don't allow it!  For the sake of the memory of this truly great Saint, remember him for who he truly is.  He is the image of his Master, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!  As we pray for his intercessions, we should pray to share in the image he shows us.

The final verse of the hymn we sing in his honor on this day belongs here:

Holy Saint, listen to our prayers.
Let not life lead us to despair.
All our efforts aren't in vain,
Singing praises to your name;
Holy Father, Nicholas!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Is There Life "Out There"???

Those who know me know that I spend my weekday daylight hours as an electrical engineer, and therefore I am what most would describe as a technology freak.

Ergo I spend time perusing technology and science articles.  Today, one caught my attention.  The title read, "Scientists Confirm Existence of Earth-like Planet Kepler-22b."  We are so very preoccupied with finding "other" life in the cosmos that people dedicate their entire lives to the pursuit.  In this particular article, the planet in question is a mere 600 light years away.  Let me put that into perspective for you.  The fastest spacecraft ever created by mankind achieved a speed (as it will pass the planet - oh, I mean rock - Pluto) of about 50,370 miles per hour.  The speed of light is 186,000 miles PER SECOND (not "per hour").  Thus the fastest thing mankind has ever built could make it to this wonderful potential little oasis that is 600 light years away in nearly the blink of an eye - if it took your eye roughly 8 million years to blink.

Problem is, we're looking for life in all the wrong places (sorry - I'm NOT trying to paraphrase or play on words from popular songs....).

The life we should be looking for is eternal life.  While it's true that the focus is therefore not "of this world", it is neither part of any other "pseudo-earth."  The life we seek, being eternal, is not related to things that are perishable.

So if you see a confused astronomer or physicist, point them to Holy Scripture, or better yet, to the doors of an Orthodox Church.

We can show them life, and abundantly!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The "Occupy Heaven" Movement

Thanksgiving.  It’s a government sponsored feast which we’ve just passed.  Today’s Gospel reading is done at every Moleben that is served to offer thanks to God for any particular event in our lives.

Thanksgiving is a word indicative of our posture as “takers” in this world, those who wait upon the Lord to give of His bounty to us.  I get upset all too often as I watch the sometimes violent demonstrations in the streets of our country today by the “Occupy” movement people.  Like many, I sit and think, “Get off the streets and go and find a way to support yourselves.  Quit screaming, “Gimme, GIMME, GIMME! 

And yet, isn’t this who we all are with respect to God?  Without Him blessing our endeavors, without His granting us the grace to succeed, to hold meaningful and profitable jobs, we would have nothing.  And therefore, to a large extent, I too am saying constantly to God, “Gimme!”  In my sinfulness, I’m insatiable.  I never have enough of anything.  When food is before me, even though I don’t need to take seconds, I do, because the bounty of the Lord’s blessings is present before me.  Do I thank Him for this?  Not often nor well enough!  When rest is available, and sometimes even when it should not be, I become lazy and seek some refuge from the constant barrage of requests for my time in the world, and I seclude myself.  This, while there are people who need the spiritual blessings that I have been set to provide through His blessings upon me.  When I go to make a purchase for something I need, do I take what will suffice, or do I go for something more.  I do the later, and in so doing, I rob resources which could be donated to benefit this mission, or to give alms to those in more need than I.  When I see something that has become popular in this world, I want it, and I take steps to attempt to acquire it, even though the need is not present – only the want

“Gimme, Lord – Gimme!!”

In today’s Gospel, the Lord is on one of His journeys.  The verse immediately before today’s reading makes it clear that Jesus is traveling throughout Samaria and Galilee.  The particular “certain village” is not known.  But it is fascinating to study the faith indicated in today’s reading.  Again, we often “gloss over” things without trying to understand the depth being offered to us.

Lepers were not permitted to live among the general populace.  People so feared the disease that if a leper was seen outside a leper colony, he or she would be stoned.

I mention the high level of faith because here we find a group of ten lepers, all of whom leave their leper colony and risk death at the hands of the general populace.  Further, somehow they must have come to know that Jesus would pass that way.  How this information reached inside the leper colony, we can’t know.  But it’s clear that these ten waited patiently for this opportunity, and when it came, their faith led them to seize the moment.

This is why Saint Luke records that they “stood afar off,” for getting any closer to the crowds that surrounded Jesus would have brought certain rage and retaliation from those very crowds.  But in their faith, they call out to the Lord.  “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  Yes, they are gravely ill.  But in the theme of that which we are focusing today, the general tone of the message is, “Gimme.”  “Lord, will You hear us?  If You hear us, will You acknowledge our need and heal us?” 

There is not an instance in Scripture where one who has come in faith to Jesus has left unanswered.  Even in the instance of Saint Paul, who teaches us about his “thorn in the flesh” (2Cor 12:7), and how he prayed to the Lord that it be taken from him, even in that case, the Lord’s response, “My grace is sufficient for you…” is not a denial, for indeed, His grace was a greater gift than the healing could ever be.

I don’t want to give anyone the impression that, at least with respect to God, the “Gimme” attitude is completely without merit.  However, it’s in fact the attitude that matters.  Let me explain.

We have children, most of us, and we know how they are.  There’s a certain “Gimme” mentality in all of them.  How do you as a parent most lovingly respond to your child’s “Gimme” nature?  Is it when they simply demand – “GIMME!”  Or rather is it when they in all seriousness come to you and say, “I have no right to ask, but would you give to me….???”  You can complete the request as you may choose.  But you see the point, I think.  Both postures are founded in the “Gimme” mentality, but one makes a demand presupposing that the positive response will happen because “it’s deserved” or “it’s unjust for you not to conform to my demand.”  The other is a contrite request, recognizing a lack of foundation, and therefore expressing something more of a need than an excess.

The people in our streets today who are part of the “Occupy” movements are aligned with the “I deserve, I demand, you are unjust” mentality.  I heard an audio capture from a news report in Canton, Ohio this past week where there was an inner-city woman, 35 years old, unmarried, with 15 children.  You do the math – it boggles my mind.  In her rant, she was telling the reporter that society owed her whatever she needed to support her family.  Now, if you’ve delivered 15 children by the age of 35, you have not spent much time productively contributing to society, except perhaps by increasing its size.  But to demand that others pay for the life she has chosen to live, that’s what we see in the world around us.  And while our Lord indeed told us, “the poor you have with you always,” as He responded to the chastisement regarding the ointment that the sinful woman poured upon Him before His passion (Mat 26:11), there are poor who are truly unable to provide for their needs, and then there are poor who are in that state because they choose to have others take care of their needs.  One is the result of an unfortunate condition, the other is the result of poor choices.  Helping the first leads to recuperation.  Helping the second leads to repeated exponentially increasing poor choices.

And so I propose a new kind of “occupy” movement, one that we can get behind, one that should resonate with any who truly seek salvation and a place in the eternal kingdom of our Lord.  As Christians, we should have the “Occupy Heaven” mentality! 

Those in Occupy Wallstreet have abandoned homes and lives for the sake of protesting to receive that for which they have not labored.  We in Occupy Heaven should abandon our ties to this world for the sake of seeking to receive the blessing of attaining a place in eternal life with Christ, a gift and a grace for which we have not labored. 

Those in Occupy Wallstreet are demanding equality in terms of redistribution of wealth, not recognizing that if this were to occur, there would not so much be piles of money that resulted, but rather piles of debt that has already been incurred.  We in Occupy Heaven are not demanding equality, but rather praying for mercy, because we know that we have amassed a large debt of sin, and we seek to have it forgiven equally.  Some of us have larger debts than others, but the equality we seek is mercy that forgives all debt from all of us debtors.

Those in Occupy Wallstreet are demanding free tuition, free housing, free health care, free living, without the need to contribute on their own to that which is required to house, feed, and sustain their existence.  We in Occupy Heaven are seeking a home in a place where there is no sickness, no sorrow, no sighing.  In short, we are seeking entry to the one place in all of creation where “need” does not exist, and so indeed, if that is true, all of our needs will be met by the One whom we seek to serve in faith and love.

The Occupy Wallstreet people hate the system, and hate the people who are part of the system.  The Occupy Heaven people love one another, and although we do so imperfectly, we love even those who hate us.  The only system we are part of is the system that is the Church, who is the Bride of Christ, and while she, being in this world suffers from the sinful place in which she resides, she is beautiful, she is being made perfect to be received by her Bridegroom, and we also therefore love her, for we are part of her.

There is no positive example in what we are seeing in the world for us to follow.  But as you see, if we take the rantings of the world, if we find the places where the world is failing to follow Christ, and if we truly and literally “go the other way”, we have hope, for there is full faith and credit in the kingdom of our Lord.

"Going the other way" is the definition of repentance!  We simply need to decide where our allegiance lies. 

Here or there?

Each of us has ‘free will’.  We get to pick.  But we must choose wisely.

To the choice of heaven or here, the only response I can offer is, “Gimme heaven”!

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Mid-Point of Advent

During the Great Fast, we watch for the day known as "mid-Fast."  We wait for the Sunday of the Cross to indicate to us that the fasting season is half way through.  It is simultaneously a comfort and an admonition.  It comforts those who have labored to fast, knowing that they need only struggle yet a little while longer.  It admonishes those who have not attempted to enter the Fast in the knowledge that the time grows short, and if any spiritual gain is to be made, the time is now.

We are entering that mid-point in this Advent Fast at the beginning of the coming week.  And so, it's good to take inventory.

How has the time been going for you personally?  Are you more spiritually connected than 20 days ago?  Has your reading of scripture increased, or have you attended more of the Divine services at your church?  Have you increased your almsgiving?  Have you taken on additional service projects to those in need?

In three short weeks the Creator of all is coming to be born in the flesh.  He will assume all of our human conditions except for sin.  His very life will be threatened from the day of His birth.  Tens of thousands of innocents around Him will be slain by evil men because they know of His coming.  How do we live a daily life in partying ignoring these things knowing of them in advance?

The time grows short to the Day of our Lord's Nativity.  But our time in this life grows short at the same time. Are we diligently preparing for our eternity, or are we living today as we lived yesterday, without care for tomorrow?

The Advent Fast still gives us time, but the sand is running to the bottom of the hourglass.  Don't wait, for once the end comes, it is too late....

Monday, November 28, 2011

What Are We Becoming?

In the spirit of the title of the blog, we echo a report this past week that was "in the news"....

A sheriff's deputy was dispatched last week to a Florida elementary school after a girl kissed a boy during a physical education class.  School officials actually reported the impromptu kiss as a possible sex crime, according to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.  The assistant principal of Orange River Elementary School called the police after a teacher spotted the act on Wednesday at the school. Teacher Margaret Ann Haring, 56, initially called child welfare officials, who directed her to contact the sheriff, according to the report.  The kiss apparently occurred after two girls debated over whom the boy liked more. That’s when one of the girls “went over and kissed” the boy. The redacted sheriff’s report notes that Haring “stated there were no new allegations of sexual abuse as far as she knew.”  Deputies do not appear to be further probing the preteen kiss.


By now, I'm considered ancient by most young people.  And I can remember that it was not unusual for little girls to try to embarrass little boys by kissing them unexpectedly.  Does anyone remember "Sadie Hawkins Day"?  Look it up, if you don't.


We've given over the control and charge of our youth to others outside the family.  Yes, rapes occur in our world, and it's a terrible thing to even have to address the issue juxtaposed with a report like the one above.  Excluding those acts of truly physical attack, I know of only one time that a kiss has been foul - the one that was given by Judas to our Lord.


When did we stop being parents?  When did we abdicate our ability to discipline our children, either in or out of the school, without fear of reprisal from police?  Yes, again, I know that there are instances when parents go too far, and we never want to condone those acts.  But people go too far in many of life's pursuits, and we hold the aberrant behavior in contempt while holding the righteous up to praise.


"Praising child abuse, Father?"  No - NEVER!  But can we not find the place as responsible parents to not spare the rod and thereby spoil the child?  Can we not find a place in our world for God's word to be employed as He intended?  "Let the righteous strike me; it shall be a kindness...." (Ps 141:5)  "Strike a scoffer, and the simple will become wary; rebuke one who has understanding, and he will discern knowledge..." (Prov 19:25)


As a parent, we should applaud righteous chastisement of our youth, and we should reinforce the message with them when the opportunity presents itself.  Unfortunately, all too often parents (and I have adult children who are teachers, so the following is not opinion as much as survey) blame those in authority for being "too hard, singling out only my child instead of others."  It's never our children's fault.  And, as in most instances, we turn to lawyers and courts to settle what should not even be an issue.


No, this is not an attempt to speak on both sides of an issue.  The teacher who reported a simple childish kiss as a crime would have no such opinion even come to mind if it weren't for her being "conditioned" to believe that she has the ultimate moral authority in the life of the child, instead of the parent.  And that's the abdication of authority that we must find the way to return to righteous normalcy.


How can we do this?  First, pray.  Then, clear schedule to spend time with our children - not watching them from afar as they perform in sports or clubs or events, but at their side, being with them.  Finally, pray some more.


And if you have time left over afterwards, pray for me..... and 'ancient' child.....

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The "Wall of Partition"

Saint Paul says in today's Epistle, “(He) has broken down the dividing wall of hostility.”  In other translations, these words are different, for they say with somewhat more clarity, “(He) has broken down the middle wall of partition.”  The reference to the “middle wall” relates to the Temple of Solomon.  Excavations of the temple site show that there was this “central wall” beyond which only those who were Israelites were permitted entry.  In that excavation, a stone was found on which was engraved, “No man of another nation is to enter within the enclosure round the Temple.  Whoever is caught will have himself to blame that his death ensues.”


Saint Paul uses the wall as an analogy to the wall that was present between God and man because of sin. It separates us from God eternally unless it can be torn down.  Christ came, He lived in our flesh, He demolished the wall by living a sinless life and, through His death and resurrection, the wall is removed and we are restored to the presence of God.  No barrier remains.
 
Saint Paul continues that our Lord has done this great work “so that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two.”  Saint Paul refers to the two who are on opposite sides of the wall – the first, we who live in the fallen world, who have no hope of entering into the other side, and the second the Man who is God who is the only one worthy or eligible to be on the inside.

The prophet Isaiah says, “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you.”  This is the separation that has been removed for us by our Lord.  This is the wall of enmity that has disappeared – the wall of our sins.  

"(You are) built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord;  in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit."  By breaking down the wall, the Lord reuses us, the bricks, in a new structure. He creates from us a temple for the Holy Spirit, Whom we know, Who is our Comforter, Who lives in and among us, to Whom we pray always that He will "come and abide in us,"  we who are held together, made fast by the Cornerstone, Jesus Christ!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Evil One

Today's daily readings carry with them a wonderful happenstance in that the Epistle reading ties nicely to the Gospel reading.

Saint Paul (from 2Cor 11:1-6) teaches, "I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ."  This ties nicely with the comment from our Lord in today Gospel (Luke 10:19-21) to His Apostles, "Behold, I give you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy..."  It is the same enemy in both cases, and it is the same enemy who attempts to deceive and corrupt us to this very day "by his craftiness."


If you've ever read "The Screwtape Letters" by CS Lewis, you've been exposed to a wonderful range of the depths to which the servants of the devil will go to tempt us and to force us to fall from grace, fall from communion with Christ.

In the novel, Screwtape sends letters of advice to his tempter, who is attempting at all turns to get the man to whom he is assigned to fall.  One such piece of advice is, "How much better for us if all humans died in costly nursing homes amid doctors who lie, nurses who lie, friends who lie, as we have trained them, promising life to the dying, encouraging the belief that sickness excuses every indulgence, and even, if our workers know their job, withholding all suggestion of a priest lest it should betray to the sick man his true condition."

The tempter advised by Screwtape is the same "scorpion" spoken of by our Lord.  It is the same serpent who beguiled Eve.  Our failings are presented to us subtly, so that like the proverbial frog placed into ever warmer water, he does not know until it's too late that the water is beginning to boil, and that the end is near.

The world around us attacks us subtly.  "Miss Church to go to the professional football game.  It's just ONE Sunday...."  "Come with us on a golf outing.  You're at Church too much as it is....."  Then there are the non-verbal pressures, like eating with 'friends' who tear into their meals so quickly that you feel self-conscious about bowing your head in prayer before you take a bite.  Or as you're on the bus, and you see a homeless person on the side of the street, you feel awkward making the sign of the cross and offering a short prayer for the person because others around you in the bus will judge you.

Do you see how the serpent beguiles?  Can we understand how the water is warming, and that Screwtape's advice is gaining favor in the world around us?

How do we reverse this?  Start with the one. Start with ourselves. Start with not worrying about what others think of you when you pray, public or not.  Start by making just one small movement to add to your spiritual arsenal.  When you feel tempted, make the sign of the Cross, wherever you are.  Approach the Chalice at every opportunity - after making a proper confession.

He has given us 'power', meaning the authority, to trample under foot all that are sent to cause us to fall.  And "nothing shall by any means hurt you".

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Final Note on Being Thankful

Be thankful that you don't already have everything you desire.
If you did, what would there be to look forward to?

Be thankful when you don't know something.
It gives you the opportunity to learn.

Be thankful for the difficult times. 

During those times you grow.

Be thankful for your limitations.
They give you opportunities for improvement.


Be thankful for each new challenge.
Each builds your strength and character.

Be thankful for your mistakes. 

They teach you valuable lessons.

Be thankful when you're tired and weary.
It means you've made a difference.

It's easy to be thankful for the good things.  A life of rich fulfillment comes to those who are also thankful for the setbacks.  Gratitude can turn a negative into a positive.  Find a way to be thankful for your troubles, and they will become your blessings.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving Thanks

Each year, on this particular Thursday in November, the people of our country 'celebrate' Thanksgiving.

Yes, we still give the day the honor of a "capital T", indicating that it's something Holy.  Unfortunately the day, like most things that start out having a sacred focus, has become more about gluttony, a day off the job, football, or sleeping in advance of staying awake all night for Black Friday sales than it is about prayerful thanks to God for the benefits and bounties He has bestowed upon us.

The psalmist long ago wrote, "Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His mercy endures forever."  I'd give the reference to the Psalm, but there's not only one.  These words are contained in Psalms 106, 107, 118 and 136.  Based on their repetition, you might conclude that this phrase is fairly important.

When we look at the issue of thanks, we should do so through the lens of our Lord's own words, through the inclusion of the issue of thankfulness within His life and ministry.  In Matthew 15:36, we find the Lord giving thanks over the loaves and fish before He feeds the four thousand.  In Matthew 26:27 we find Jesus again giving thanks as He instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper.  In Luke 17 we find the Lord healing the ten lepers, and when He questions, "Where are the (other) nine?", indicating to us how important it is to give thanks to God.

All of these instances notwithstanding, we need to look at the ending phrase from the psalmist above.  Why should we give thanks?  "For His mercy endures forever."  While the entire phrase is repeated in the aforementioned four Psalms, this one phrase is repeated 26 times in Psalm 136 - once in each verse of the Psalm.

On this day, a government once supportive of Judeo-Christian worship and values still declares it proper for us to take the time to give thanks to God.  But for us as Orthodox Christians, we recognize that this act of giving thanks is not a one-day-per-year event.  It is not a daily act.  It is a portion of our "prayer without ceasing". (1Thes 5:17)  And the thanks that we give, in very great proportion, is specifically because "His mercy endures forever."  Without our Lord continuing to show us His mercy, what would we have to be thankful for?  What possible benefits would we find in our lives, separated from His mercy?

On this day, we must remember to give thanks, just as we do on every day - "for His mercy endures forever!"

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Things Which Are Impossible With Men...

What things are impossible for men?

Today, we have scientists who preach to us that they understand the very moment of creation, although they deny that "creation" exists, that we're all just a strange and wonderful "accident".

We have scholars who preach that we are descended from single cell living entities that are billions of years old, and yet they fail to be able to explain the path to the complexity that is human life, and more importantly, they deny the gifting to this one particular life form of a soul - that which causes humanity to truly share in the image of God.

We have genetic experts who claim to know how to modify plant life so that it will survive in any climate.  We have nations that produce far in excess of their own needs in terms of food crops.  And yet the world remains held in the grasp of famine.

We have politicians and ambassadors who know that war and conflict solve no problem, and yet today there are 56 countries currently involved in wars or skirmishes with over 200 countries or insurgent groups.

We have doctors who tells us that they can heal the most complex diseases, and we are indeed blessed to have such magnificent talents in the world.  But these same doctors can't cure the common cold, and cancer still runs rampant in our world, as does AIDS, and also many other fatal diseases.

We have bankers that preach to us how we need to provide for our security by entering various markets, telling us that we're too inept to know how best to manage our own God-given resources, and that we need to trust them to do this for us, and yet it is these same people who have been bailed out by a government on the verge of failing itself.

What things are impossible for men?

It is impossible for us to live without sin.  And yet one Man managed to do this.

It is impossible for us to achieve salvation based on our own merits.

It is impossible for us to love others to the depth that our Creator loves us.

It is impossible for us to live and maintain any semblance of true joy in our lives without having the Cross, the Tomb, and the Resurrection as our focal points.

It is impossible to offer sufficient thanks to God for the blessings we have received from Him.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Rejection

Today's Gospel reading ends with the words from our Lord, "(The Son of Man) first must suffer many things, and be rejected by this generation." 

Those of us who have been ordained to minister to others, and to preach meaningfully to others, we often question our messages.  And that is a wonderful thing to do.  Unfortunately, sometimes, in my own questioning, I'm led to a point of dejection.  It's not despair.  It's just disappointment.  We want to see that the words we're led to speak are changing things.  We desire with all our hearts to see people finally come to accept the faith in its fullness.  We hope that the things spoken in homilies or in counseling sessions or in private conversations result in confessions, turned hearts, more participation in all the services, greater almsgiving - whatever the case, we desire to see the fruits of the seed we believe we've been called to plant.

But all too often, that 'vision' - that 'seeing' of fruit developing is nowhere to be found.  And worse still, the words the Lord allows me to speak, they have not changed my own heart to make it acceptable because of my greater love of sin than of my Lord.

This message is not only for clergy.  It happens to us as parents as well.  We take our children to church.  We encourage them to pray.  We instill in them the importance of faith in our lives.  And as they grow to maturity, we watch them make our faith a byword in their mature lives.  We see them drift to places we would not choose for them to go.  And perhaps we think, "Why should I be surprised when I don't see a change in myself...????"

There are two things to keep in mind about these observations.  First, we see from the words of our Lord Himself that this also happened to Him.  Jesus speaks today of His being rejected by His own people, the ones who were waiting, LONGING for the coming of the Savior.  They knew what to look for, and still, when He came, he was rejected by them.

Second, there is no coercion when it comes to faith.  You accept in faith, or you reject.  This is also quite clear in our Lord's own words: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!  How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing." (Mat 23:37)

The image is a loving one.  The reality points us to the rejection of our Lord and His Gospel in the world to this day, and until He returns.

So, what are we as pastors, teachers, or parents to do?  Should we just give up?

You know the answer to the question.  Saint Seraphim of Sarov said, "Save yourself and thousands around you will be saved."

The path we should take is reinforced in what the Lord says earlier in today's Gospel to these same Pharisees who are questioning Him.  They seek from the Lord an indication of "the sign" for which they should look that tells of the coming of the Kingdom.  Failing to recognize that the Kingdom is before them in the person of its Master, Jesus patiently and lovingly teaches even these men.  "Indeed, the Kingdom of God is within you...." (Luke 17:21)

Let those of us who know Him not reject Him.  He waits to gather us together, as well.  And so, let us pray to Him:  Maranatha! - Come, Lord Jesus!

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Entry of the Theotokos

"Today is the prelude of the good will of God, 
of the preaching of the salvation of mankind.
The Virgin appears in the temple of God
In anticipation proclaiming Christ to all.
Let us rejoice and sing to her:
'Rejoice, O fulfillment of the Creator's dispensation."
(Troparion of the Feast)

A prelude - an action that precedes a more important one, and also an introductory performance.  The good will of God has always been with us, but on this day He brings to us an introductory act.

The preaching of salvation - Mankind lives separated from God, but on this day we are granted the glimpse of His plan of redemption, of bringing us back to Him.

The Virgin appears in the temple of God - Mankind built an earthly temple according to His command.  And yet God has prepared His own Temple, and it will be the womb of the child who today enters His earthly and physical temple.  A temple in a temple!

In anticipation proclaiming Christ to all - This child is carried to the Holy of Holies, the place where God dwells within the temple of Solomon, and in so doing she shows the presence of God, the presence of the Son of God, to be coming forth from her fleshly temple and into the world.

Rejoice, fulfillment of the Creator's dispensation! - We use the word "Rejoice!" freely in connection with the Theotokos.  It is present in the Akathists to her.  It is used in hymns we sing to her.  It is the angelic greeting to her at the Annunciation!  And in the word, we link the human concept of bliss, of delight.  These are true in the way we sing of the virgin.  And yet we remember the words of the Idiomelon (by St. John of Damascus) of the funeral service.  "What earthly sweetness remains unmixed with grief?"  The innocent child we watch today, as she ascends the steps to the temple, leaving behind mother and father instead preferring to live in the presence of God, this joy, this bliss will be with her until the time of her betrothal.  But this same child will be called to stand at the foot of the Cross, to watch the life drain from the pure Body of her Son and her God, filling her with that earthly grief.  But she too will be among those women - in fact, tradition holds she is the first to hear the proclamation of the angel of the Lord's resurrection, and the first to behold His risen Body.

This is the fullness of the Creator's dispensation.  And we, too, must rejoice!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

"I Will Follow You Wherever You Go..."

In today's Gospel reading (Luke 9:57-62), this "certain man" is different from me in exactly what way?  In fact, I am representative of all of these who come to the Lord.  We seek to "follow", but only when and where it is convenient for us.

Jesus is calling, "Follow Me."  We have already "come and seen" - we know the bounties that He has and that He continues to bestow on us.  But the world continues to hold rein on us.  I've not failed because I go to bury my father in the flesh, but who is my father in the world?  Is it my job?  "Lord, let me finish my career before I commit to doing what You truly seek for me to do...."  Is it my family?  "Lord, let me get my children through college before....."  I no less desire to "bury" a portion of that which holds me here than the man mentioned in today's Gospel.  Remember - "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me.  And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me."  (Mat 10:37)

The Lord's admonition, "Let the dead bury their own dead" at first sounds like nonsense.  How can dead bodies bury those who are dying?  But what Jesus is saying is that the things of the world are death.  There is only one source of Life, and it is with the Word of God!  Those things in the world, though they be breathing, are nonetheless dead if they are separated from the Kingdom of heaven, and from God.

"No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."  Once you've made the commitment to set out on the path, the act of "looking back" is longing for what was left behind.  Can we not see the riches and the benefits of what lay ahead instead?

Jesus says, "The Son of Man has no place to lay His head."  Our Master comes in poverty, at least as defined by the world.  How do we expect to "follow Him" and have more?  For "a disciple is not above his Teacher, nor a servant above his Master." (Mat 10:24)

We are all His servants.  Let us seek to truly accept the mantle of being disciples, those who choose with their whole heart to follow - and not look back.

Friday, November 18, 2011

God Knows Your Hearts...

Today's Gospel reading takes us to the all-knowing aspects of our Lord.  The title comes from the first verse (Luke 16:15):  "And He said to them (i.e. the Pharisees), 'You are those who justify yourselves before men.  But God knows your hearts.'" 

The Lord knows how to reach me exactly where I am, doesn't He?  I make an error, or I do something which is designed to exact retribution, or I exhibit gluttony, or I gossip - whatever my failing, I attempt to justify it.  I do this not only before men, but I do it even before my confessor!  "Father, I was angry with so and so, and it happened because he did this - ....."

The ending to that confessed item is irrelevant.  What another does to, with, for, or against me has nothing at all to do with my succumbing to temptation and failing to follow the commandments of my Lord.  I would be far better off if through tears I simply admitted to my confessor (and therefore to God), "I was angry, and so I did this.  I failed, and I am sorry for my failure, for my sin!"  The earlier answer is aligned with the positions of the Pharisees throughout the ministry of our Lord.  The second is aligned with the heart of the Publican (Luke 18:13), who could not raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his own breast, crying, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!"


The heart of that Publican - THIS is the heart we are trying, striving to cultivate during these days before the coming of our Lord in the flesh.  The recognition that we have failed is the key to turning and seeking the Lord fully.  When our hearts are filled with pride, or even with just self-justification, what need do we have of a Savior?  In our judgment, we have already justified ourselves.  There is no need of One Who will forgive me.  I have concluded that I am already pure enough as I am.

God forbid that any of us adopt such a perspective!  The Psalmist teaches us the path to the Lord's door.  "The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit.  A broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise!" (Psalm 51:17)

He is at the door.  In this contrite spirit, seeking His mercy and forgiveness, knock - the door will be opened. Since God knows our hearts, seek to purify the heart.  "He who loves purity of heart and has grace on his lips, the King will be his friend." (Prov 22:11)

God, be merciful to me, a sinner!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Fast of Philip

As we find ourselves at the threshold of the Advent Fast, some may note that the period is also often referred to as the "Fast of Philip".  This is due to the fast beginning on the day following the Feast of the Holy Apostle.

While the proximity of this Feast to the beginning of the Advent Fast is truly just a coincidence, in our constant pursuit of the concept that "nothing is an accident" in the Lord's work, we can certainly find edifying elements in the connection between the two.

Firstly, Philip is one of the first to be called to be an Apostle by our Lord.  And among Philip's first actions afterwards is his going to call his friend Nathaniel.  The call then, as is our call now, is "Come and see."

The ministry here in Hudson is one of a mission.  And being in that state, sometimes we think that we should be able to simply enter the public forums, issue our invitations, and fill the building with new members.  Those who have walked that path know that, like the case of the parable of the wedding feast (Mat 22 and Luke 14), those who are invited often find reasons to refrain.  Even more disheartening is the fact that those who are members of a parish community often find reasons to reject the same invitation.  In any community, the number of places occupied by faithful on a Sunday is routinely about 30% (or less) of the "total membership" of the community.  This is not a published scientific statistic - it's an observation from a number of communities with which we've been blessed to have connections over the years.  And when the focus shifts to non-Sunday Liturgy services (i.e. Vespers, weekday or weekend Liturgies), the numbers dwindle further.  Much further.

If we, in this Advent season, do not develop the heart of Philip, the heart that first desires within ourselves to "come and see", to be part of the continuing salvation our Lord is working in our lives, we cannot hope to find ourselves in the position of Philip, where we can invite a friend to "come and see."  What invitation is meaningful when the one who invites is not present him- or her-self?

Through this Advent Fasting season, let us pray that our Lord will open our hearts and fill them with the hunger to be near to Him.  There are those who will argue, "I can be near to the Lord in my car, or in my home."  And this is certainly true.  We are all called to "pray without ceasing" by Saint Paul (1Thes 5:17).  But there is no substitute for "lifting a load" with the help of others.  Our prayers are necessary when we're alone.  But they are wonderful when they are offered in concert, in one voice, all praising God or seeking His mercy.

Can your prayer be more meaningful, more effectual, than when you offer it alone?

Come and see.....

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

There Shall Be Joy in Heaven...

Joyous Feast to all who hold as Patron or who bear the name Matthew!

In today's Gospel reading (Luke 15:1-10), the Lord is being chastised yet once again by His critics, the Pharisees, who are accusing Him of "eating with sinners." 

Goodness!  I do that every day, and most often I eat alone....

But our Lord does not yet hold these ruthless men in contempt.  Rather, Jesus is still attempting to teach.  It's a wonderful thing to observe.  We sing in the Divine Liturgy from Psalm 103 "the Lord is compassionate and merciful, long-suffering, and of great goodness."  When we think of His long-suffering, do we often consider how long it has been that He has allowed us the time to struggle with our sins, to attempt to bring them into submission by way of the things He has already taught us?  How many times does He allow us, in His compassion for us, to turn from our sin and return to Him?

This is the essence of the parables the Lord offers in this reading.  The lost sheep being carried by the Good Shepherd is a central image in the Christian faith.  In Vespers, we sing, "The prophet David was a father of the Lord through you, O Virgin.  He foretold in songs the One Who works wonders in you.  'At Your right hand stood the Queen, Your mother, the Mediatrix of Life, since God was freely born of her without a father.'  He wanted to renew His fallen image made corrupt from passions, so He took the lost sheep upon His shoulder, and brought it to His Father, joining to the heavenly powers, Christ, Who has great and rich mercy has saved the world, O Theotokos!" (Theotokion, Tone 4)

The "one lost" sheep is us - humanity, and Jesus leaves the 99 (the heavenly powers) to reclaim, to save, to show His divine love for us!  Saint Gregory teaches that the 100 is a "perfect number", ten groups of ten.  Saint Luke records in this gospel that when the Shepherd has found this one lost sheep, "He lays it on His shoulders, rejoicing!"  The Lord's teaching continues, showing us the true essence of His message.  "There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance."  For there is only One in heaven Who needs no repentance, and it is He who leads the rejoicing!

Heaven rejoices when we "finally get it"!  Within the Advent Fast, may we be led in that direction.  I am certainly lost, but I trust that the Shepherd is looking for me, and I know from His own words that if I can find my way to repent, to turn around from the direction that has separated me from Him and His love, He will find me and will rejoice!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Making a Good Start

With the beginning of any fasting season, we find three distinct groups of Orthodox Faithful:
1)  There is a group which denies the Fast in one way or another, deciding that it is just another negative in the life of the church, and of no particular benefit to their spiritual walk.
2)  There is a group which sees the Fast as an inconvenience, something to be endured, even if disgruntledly, by increasing the fasting from Fridays to maybe an occasional Wednesday.
3)  There is a group which sees the Fast as a spiritual tool, a blessing which brings focus once again to a life in need of repair.

Just about every community has people who fall into each of these groups.  This past Sunday, after reminding the congregation that the Fast began today, one wonderful woman said to me before she left, "But it's so hard..."  The reply to her was, "Great!  It should be, and if it is, then you're doing it right!"

We see the word "fast", and we immediately snap to the issue of meat.  But fasting is more than just a hamburger.  Fasting is the removal from our daily lives of the things of excess, the things which tie us to this world, instead of the world to which we truly belong, of which we are citizens already.

One definition of "fasting" means to abstain from all food.  When Jesus fasted in the wilderness for forty days, He ate nothing!  Another definition of fasting means refraining from eating certain kinds of food.  But fasting does not simply refer to food.  We can "fast" from television, from gossip, from internet addictions, from alcohol, from outbursts of anger, or from using foul language.  If we see fasting as only the elimination of beef from an otherwise over the top diet, we're missing the point.  How?  Even vegans can "fast" - by eliminating from their diets those things which perhaps they find most enjoyable.  Move toward some level of discomfort!  As stated before, it should be difficult!

Why do we fast now, for the Advent season?  It's a question that is posed so very often inside Orthodox churches, mostly because it is counter to what the world is doing right now.

Beginning with the weeks we are in, you can walk into any shopping area and you are perceptibly attacked by holiday music (we're no longer allowed to have Christmas carols....), by holiday trees (we're no longer allowed to call them Christmas trees.....), by decorations (that say Happy Holidays!, not Joyous Nativity!), by an endless onslaught of marketing designed to separate you from the resources God has given you under the premise that huge misery will result unless you spend more than you have to purchase happiness for others.

Does anyone deny this scenario?

And what is the Church doing right now, as opposed to that which we outline above?

Today in the Church, we are watching a young maiden, probably in her mid-teen years, who is in the 34th week of her pregnancy.  She is unmarried, but betrothed.  She is aware that the Child she carries is a gift from God, in a way that has never occurred before in human history.  She is obedient to her betrothed and she is preparing for a long journey for the purpose of being counted in a census.  Beyond this, she prays - for her Child, for God's will to be done.  And she prepares as best she can for the coming of this precious Child into the world.

Seeing the difference between the Mother of God and her actions in these weeks, and those actions that are occurring in the world around us, actions which the world around us calls us to conform to its deformed and distorted reality, which should we choose to follow?  The world?  Or should we follow the Mother of our Lord?  And if we can't find inspiration in the Mother of God, then consider God the Son, who is in the Father, Who is coming into the world, Who has condescended to occupy the womb of this same maiden - He who is above all creation, Who cannot be contained, is taking flesh from His own creation.  He who possesses all things comes devoid of everything, taking only what the young maiden provides.

It's not that these are "unhappy" things.  But they are very serious things - things which even in our own lives cause us to ponder and fret.  Find a family near you who is having a baby in December and see if their lives are filled with the raucous partying of the world, or if they are tempered, metered, seriously caring for themselves so that the coming into the world of their own "new life" will be a coming for which they are prepared and have taken all prudent precautions.

Fasting is our way of doing such preparation on a spiritual level, of "cleaning our own house."  At each Proskomedia, we pray portions of the Troparion of the Pre-Feast of the Nativity of our Lord, which says, "Bethlehem, be prepared, for Eden is opened to all.  Ephratha, be made ready, for in the cave the Tree of Life has blossomed forth from the Virgin, for her womb has been shown to be a spiritual Paradise, in which is the Divine Plant, from which having eaten we will live, and not die as did Adam.  Christ is born to raise the image that had fallen!"  The tree from which Adam and Eve ate caused them to die in the flesh.  The Tree within the Virgin is the true Tree of Life, and eating of His Body and Blood brings us to eternal life in Christ!


We live in a fallen world, and our sins separate us from our God.  Our only hope is for God Who created us in the beginning to come and to re-create us again.  Saint Athanasius says, "the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning."  
 
Our Creator is coming - in 40 short days.  Let us fast according to our individual ability and need.  First, let us fast from judging others.  Then, let us turn our focus inward, seeking to cleanse our souls so that when the Divine Child enters the world, and in so doing presents Himself anew to us, we present ourselves to Him as a manger, a lowly place for certain, but one that wishes to welcome Him with all our being!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Saints Peter and Paul

There is often much confusion over the saints whose memories we celebrate today.

It is often said, especially by our brothers and sisters in the West, that Peter founded the Church in Rome.  This is not true.  Peter founded the Church in Antioch, the place where Saint Luke records that the disciples of our Lord were first called Christians. 

The Church of Rome was founded by Saint Paul.  This is the reason that he wrote his epistle to the Romans – the people there were his spiritual children.  Peter did not write to the people of Rome.  It is believed that Peter was in fact illiterate, and ‘dictated’ his memories and thoughts to Saint Mark, who wrote them down in a Gospel, and later wrote from such dictation the epistles of Peter.

It is also claimed that since Peter founded the church of Rome (which we now see to be untrue), this somehow gives the Church of Rome a primacy, a place of authority over the other churches.  This also is clearly not true.  If it were, the Church of Antioch should be capable of making this claim – a condition which has never occurred.

This ‘authority’ is based upon the reading we just finished from the Gospel of Saint Matthew, wherein Peter’s confession that our Lord is in fact the Christ, the Son of the Living God is met with words from our Lord in praise of the statement.  Note that we do not conclude that the Lord’s words are in praise of the man, but of the understanding and wisdom that was granted by the Holy Spirit to men, to confess that Jesus is the Christ, the true Son of God.  This is the unanimous interpretation of all the Church Fathers throughout the history of the Church, and it is borne witness to by the writings left to us from Blessed Augustine.

Saint Augustine wrote, “The profound confession of our Lord’s divinity, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,’ was deemed worthy by the Savior to hear the answer, ‘Blessed are you, Simon…. I tell you, you are Peter (‘Petrus’), and on this stone (‘petra’) I will build My Church.”  “This stone” (petra) is that upon which Peter said, “You are the Christ…”  It is on this confession that the Lord builds His Church.  Therefore, that is by this confession “You are Peter,” that is, from the stone (petra) you are Peter (Petrus), and not from Peter is the Church.”

This later distortion clearly is foolishness, implying that there is no Church without Peter!

Further, when our Lord was preparing for His Ascension, He ‘restored’ Peter for the three denials, asking “Do you love Me?”, and then commanding in return, “Feed My sheep.”  Jesus did not command Peter, “Feed YOUR sheep,” for the Church is the faithful, and the faithful are not Peter’s, they (we) belong to the Lord!

Another distortion often applied to this Feast is that somehow Peter represents the Church of the West, and Paul the Church of the East.  This also is untrue, and an invention that is very recent indeed.  Both Apostles were Jews, both came from the east, and went to the west.  In the words of the Apostle Paul himself, the Church is not ‘of Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas’ (1Cor 2:12), but the Church is Christ’s, it is His Body!

Such discussions attempt to legitimize a ‘separation’, a division of the Church.  Division within the Church is not possible.  Christ is not “divided,” and therefore neither is His Body, the Church.  If we see ‘division’, we must recognize it for what it is – a falling away from the truth, and not “division”!  We will pray shortly the Creed, in which we say that we believe in “One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.”  We say each time we pray this prayer that we believe in truth that the Church is One!  For the Lord is One, God is One in Trinity.  And it will remain this way until the end of time!

So, what can we say of Peter and Paul?  Certainly, they were very different fellows.  Peter was one of the twelve.  Paul had none of those experiences or direct memories of walking with the Lord in His ministry, for Paul was converted after the Ascension.  Peter was a simple fisherman, and as we’ve stated, most likely illiterate.  Paul was educated in the Temple, a highly educated rabbi.  Peter was a common man under domination of the Romans.  Paul was a Roman citizen.  Peter’s name, Simon, meant “he who obeys,” and was changed by our Lord to Peter, “the rock.”  Paul’s real name was Saul, meaning “the destroyer,” and was changed to Paul, which in Latin meant “short in height.”  Perhaps he was another Zacchaeus!

Peter renounced our Lord three times before His crucifixion, and this resulted in his triple repentance after the Resurrection in response to our Lord’s question, “Do you love Me?”  Paul persecuted the Church, taking part in the martyring of the first martyr of the Church, Saint Stephen.  Peter spent his life in ministry traveling to convert the Jews.  Paul traveled wherever he could, becoming known as “the Apostle to the Gentiles.”

Despite all of these differences, there was one core element in common between the two.  They were both obedient, both repenting for their failings and sins, and they both shared in the crowns of martyrdom, with tradition holding that they both gave their lives on this same day.

In this, they together show us the path to salvation – a path paved with great faith and repentance, living a life in accordance with the will of our Savior!

It’s a glorious Feast!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

On the Coming of the Holy Spirit

Saint Gregory Dialogos writes of this Feast by teaching, "Consider the greatness of this solemn Feast that commemorates God's coming as a guest into our hearts!"  It never fails to amaze me how the Fathers boil down into easily manageable ideas that most complex of issues.

God truly comes to dwell not just near to us, but within us!  The prayer of the Feast, which constitutes the opening prayer of every Divine service, includes the words, "Come and abide in us."  The words don't ask God to give us words of inspiration.  They don't ask Him to help us in some obscure or oblique way.  They ask Him to live within us.  And the most amazing thing is that He desires this, sinful as I am.  He wants me to change, to seek Him with my whole heart, conforming that heart which is stony to that which He has given me as an example through Jesus Christ.

Saint Basil the Great has perhaps written the definitive work, titled "On the Holy Spirit."  Within that wonderful work, there are yet more such teachings which are simple to grasp.

When Saint Basil teaches of the gifts bestowed by the Holy Spirit, he says, "He is distributed, but not changed.  He is shared, yet remains whole.  Consider the sunbeam.  Each person upon whom its kindly light falls rejoices as if the sun existed for him alone, yet it illumines land and sea, and is master of the atmosphere.  In the same way, the Spirit is given to each one who receives Him as if He were the possession of that person alone, yet He sends forth sufficient grace to fill all the universe.  Everything that partakes of His grace is filled with joy according to its capacity - the capacity of its nature, not of His power." (Ch 9, Para 22)

With respect to the relationship within the Holy Trinity, Saint Basil spends a great deal of time.  But among the more approachable arguments is, "The Father creates through His will alone and does not need the Son, yet chooses to work through the Son.  Likewise the Son works as the Father's likeness, and needs no other cooperation, by He chooses to have His work completed through the Spirit.  'By the Word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the Spirit of His mouth.' (Ps 32:6)  The Word is not merely air set in motion by the organs of speech, nor is the Spirit of His mouth an exhalation of the lungs, but the Word is He Who was with God in the beginning, and was God (Jn 1:21), and the Spirit of God's mouth is the Spirit of truth Who proceeds from the Father. (Jn 15:26)  Perceive these three: the Lord Who commands, the Word Who creates, and the Spirit Who strengthens." (Ch 16, Para 38)

On the ability to know God and our eternal salvation, Saint Basil teaches, "One cannot see the Father without the Spirit!  It would be like living in a house at night when the lamps are extinguished; one's eyes would be darkened and could not exercise their function.  Unable to distinguish the value of objects, one might very well treat gold as if it were iron." (Ch 16, Para 38) "On the day of judgment, (the Spirit) will be completely cut off from the soul that has defiled His grace.  That is why Scripture says that in hell no one confesses God and in death none can remember Him (Ps 6:6), since the Spirit's help is no longer present." (Ch 16, Para 40)

On the issue of our carrying our faith even when it seems to us that we are doing so without support of others, he teaches, "I learned from the example of the children in Babylon (the Three Holy Youths) that when there is no one to support the cause of true faith, we must accomplish our duties alone.  They sang a hymn to God from the midst of the flames, not thinking of the multitudes who rejected the truth, but content to have each other, though there were only three of them." (Ch 30, Para 79)

As we come to this Great Feast of the Church, the "birthday" of the Church of Christ, let us pray that our hearts will be filled by the Holy Spirit.   In so praying, let us take the necessary steps to purge from our hearts all that separates us from God - anger, hatred, fear, covetousness, pride, gluttony, lusts, and every human frailty.  Let us "make room" for Him in our hearts, that He may truth fill us.  As we sing in Stichera on Lord I Call from the Vespers of Kneeling after Divine Liturgy on this coming Sunday,

"The Holy Spirit is without beginning and without end, fully united with the Father and the Son, known as our Life and Life-giver, and as Light and Light-giver, good by nature and the fountain of goodness, through Him the Father is known and the Son is glorified, teaching us to worship the Trinity as one Rank and Power."

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

We're All Still Here....

Christ is Risen!

The first context of this message's title is that, while it has been a long time since we've updated this blog, we're still here and intending on posting messages as we are moved by things we read or which happen around us.

And that provides the second context for the message.  "Rapture" didn't come!

And to those who tenaciously cling to such heretical perspectives, we need to tell you, it will never come.

This heretical teaching has a short history.  Sorry to destroy your perspectives if you cling to such things, but the concept of a rapture did not originate with the Apostles.  And no, you can't tie even the teaching of Saint Paul from 1Thes 4:17 to it.  Why?  Here's what Saint Paul wrote that "rapturists" will hold up to you as "proof" of their position:

"Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And thus we shall always be with the Lord."


They'll say to you, "See - We'll be caught up!  It's right there in Holy Scripture!!! How can you deny it as truth?"

Well, let's begin by saying that if you seek the truth, you must seek the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  Part of the truth is just not enough.

Let me encourage those of you who resonate with the above argument to go back even just one verse in the same book.  Because Saint Paul also teaches in 1Thes 4:16 the following:

"For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first." 

Now, if you hold to the faulty idea of a rapture (a word that appears nowhere in Scripture), then you must ask yourself a couple of weighty questions.

1)  If I'm going to be "caught up", and the Lord is going to be "descending", how will we be together?  It seems as though that implies that we're in different places.... Hmmmm.....

2)  What is this "voice of an archangel" and this "shout" of which Saint Paul speaks?

3)  What is the meaning of "the trumpet of God"?

Good questions!  I'm so pleased that you asked them!!!

First, if the Lord is coming down, He's coming down for one reason, and that's NOT to "wave to you in passing."  He's coming to judge all of mankind.  This is why "the dead in Christ will rise first."  They will be judged first, and the rest "who are alive and remain" will be judged after them.  Can you see that the idea of a "rapture" precludes one passing through the Judgment?  And how can anyone pass without submitting to the Judgment?  Again, check Scripture:  "I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom." (2Tim 4:1)  And again:  "And He commanded us to preach to the people, and that it was He Who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead." (Acts 10:42)  Need more?  "They will give an account to Him Who is ready to judge the living and the dead." (1Pet 4:5)  ALL of mankind, regardless of status, regardless of living or dead, will pass through the Judgment of our Lord.

To understand 2) above, we need to go to Revelation 14:6-7.  "Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting Gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth - to every nation, tribe, tongue and people - saying with a loud voice, 'Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come..."  Can you see the phrase from Saint Paul is in agreement with Saint John?

Saint John Chrysostom teaches that the trumpet is the proclamation, the announcing of the time of Judgment for all of humanity.

The original work on what has become "rapture theology" was done by a Jesuit priest named Francisco Ribera at the end of the 16th century.  The idea had never appeared before that.  When Pope Leo X, who had commissioned Ribera and two others to write on the 70 weeks of Daniel, read the paper presented by Ribera, he deemed it flawed and faulty, and commanded that it be buried in the archives of the Roman church, never again to be found by anyone.  It wasn't until about 230 years later that a librarian of the Archbishop of Canterbury found the paper, and in his "wisdom" circulated it for others in England to read.  Over a circuitous path involving another several Protestant clerics, it came to Cyrus Scofield, who imprinted it as "Protestant theology" in his "Reference Bible."

But the concept is accepted nowhere in the Orthodox Church, nor was it ever accepted by any Orthodox theologian, nor by any of the Fathers of the Church.  It was never an issue discussed at any council.  There was never a decree making the idea "dogma", which is what it has become in many Protestant circles.

The Lord Himself says, "As the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be."  (Mat 24:27)  Jesus teaches this AFTER telling His Apostles that they should not believe people who would claim that He had returned (verses 23-26).  We can all tell when a storm is coming.  But we cannot, not one of us, predict when the lightning will strike!  The storm, many of us believe, is at hand.  But the lightning?  Only the Father knows, as Jesus Himself said. (Mat 24:36)

And any who attempt to tell you otherwise are trying to sell you something......

"For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect."  (Mat 24:24)  That's you, my brother or sister in Christ.  Jesus is counting on you, His elect, His beloved follower to discern the false from the true.

Will we be "caught up"?  Yes - there is truth in Holy Scripture.  But the 'catching up' of the faithful is AFTER the Judgment.  There is no promise that the faithful will in some way "miss" the tribulations that Revelation says will come.  The Lord's saints have never shrunk from difficult times - they are the times when His saints have shone forth in brilliance, through the Holy Spirit, leading others to Him!  Why would it change for some reason at the end?

Today, this same Harold Camping, who predicted an end on 6Sept94 and was wrong, who predicted the end on 21May11 and was wrong, has come out and said that he found "an error" in his calculations.  Really?  He has set another date - 5 months later.  Surely this one will be right!  Third time's the charm, eh?

Those who purport such things bring dishonor and disgrace upon the Church of Christ!  Who cannot see that those who put trust in such ludicrous predictions may come away with the thought, "It didn't happen!  There is no point in this faith!"?  And if that occurs, those who cause such to lose faith and fall away need to remember another piece of Holy Scripture:  "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea." (Mat 18:6)  I say this not seeking any retribution against those who pushed this heretical view, no to those who blindly but hopefully accepted it, but rather to encourage such to turn from such irrational desires as attempting to know the mind of God.  Seek first His will in the ways He gave us to do so - feed the hungry, care for the sick and needy, provide as He gives us the ability for "the least of His brethren." 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pascha at Saint Herman's!

Christ is Risen!

The following is a four-image synopsis of the events of Pascha at Saint Herman's.  If we missed you, I pray we might connect soon.

"For those who labor, and those who sing..."
At St. Herman's, that's EVERYONE!!!

The Sermon of Saint John Chrysostom

There are still baskets to be blessed.....

Finally!  Can we eat now? 
It's only 1:45AM.
The party lasted until about 3AM.

The faithful began to arrive for 1130 Nocturnes by 1050PM.....  Most knew that the Chapel would be filled to capacity.  Some brought extra chairs (which were a positive blessing!!!).

When Nocturnes began, there was a general hush inside the Chapel.  The solemn and beautiful hymnology of the Canon filled the room.  Candles were lit, but their warmth was overwhelmed by the prayers of those present!

When the Ninth Ode came about, all were singing, "Do not lament Me, O Mother, seeing Me in the tomb, for I shall arise, and be glorified with eternal glory in that I am God...."  As the "I shall arise..." was sung, the Winding Sheet was lifted from the tomb.  The Body of Christ entered the altar, to be placed onto the altar table for 40 days.

Soon, all the candles and lights were extinguished.  Total blackout.  And even though the room was filled with faithful, there was not a sound.  Then, from within the darkness, seemingly as bright as the sun, a single candle is lit in the altar, accompanied by the clergy singing, "Come receive the light, from the unwaning light, even Christ our God, Who is risen from the dead."  The flame was passed from clergy to faithful, person to person, until the room was ablaze in flickering light, as the procession began.

Upon returning to the entrance of the Chapel, the cemetery (where the Chapel is located) was filled with a resounding, "Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life."  One could almost feel those surrounding us joining with us in song!

The Chapel was re-entered, filled with lights ablaze, brighter than bright, for the room is filled not only with man-made light, but with the Light of Christ!  More singing, the Canon of Pascal Matins, "This is the day of Resurrection, let us be illumined, O people, ....", followed by innumerable "Christ is Risen" refrains.

Liturgy begins, and the Eucharist, which we celebrated only 14 hours earlier, takes on a whole new dimension, for now the Body we eat, and the Blood we drink are of our Risen Lord, He who has conquered death, put death to death, overthrown the authority of hell, and freed all whom it has held captive from the time of Adam.

Liturgy ends, and the Chapel empties for a brief few minutes, so that those who had been keeping baskets of food in their cars could retrieve them (for there's just not enough room in the Chapel for worship and food at the same time....).

The floor overflows with bread, eggs, cheese, ham, kielbasa, all the things from which the faithful have faithfully abstained for nearly 8 weeks.  More, "Christ is Risen" refrains, and prayers over the food.  Then, fellowship - sharing foods we've missed, sharing hugs, greetings of "Christ is Risen" with one another, holy kisses, and sips of wine.

Finally, most can go no longer, and at about 3AM, the room holds only five or six, who regretfully say goodnight to one another, but not parting without yet another, "Christ is Risen!", for this is our JOY!  Yes, we've missed the food.  Yes, we've labored with fasting, and many long services.  But we've longed to greet each other in this way, for this is who we are as a people.  We are a people who live for our own resurrection through the Resurrection of Christ!

And, if you haven't heard, CHRIST IS RISEN!!!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Pascha!

Let God arise!  Let His enemies be scattered!  Let those who hate Him flee from before His face!

Christ is Risen!

May the joy that comes from the knowledge that Christ has conquered death fill your homes and your hearts, on this day, and all days!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Why the Trial of Jesus Was Illegal

We hear within the hymnology of the Church as we move to the services of Holy Friday phrases which convict the Jews of conducting the trial of our Lord unlawfully.  Specifically, consider the following, all from the service of the 12 Passion Gospels:

Antiphon 1:  The rulers of the people have assembled against the Lord and His Christ.  A lawless charge is hurled against Me, Lord, O Lord, forsake me not!

Antiphon 2:  Judas hastened to the lawless scribes and said, "What will you give me to betray Him to you?"  Yet while they conspired against You, You invisibly stood in their midst.

Antiphon 3:  For thirty pieces of silver and a treacherous kiss, O Lord, the Jews sought to kill You.

Antiphon 5:  The disciple agrees upon the price of the Master.  He sells the Lord for thirty pieces of silver.  With a treacherous kiss he betrays Him to death at the hand of lawless men.

Antiphon 10:  He was struck on the cheek by hands that He Himself had formed.  A people that transgressed the law nailed the Lord of Glory to the Cross.

Antiphon 11:  In exchange for the good things that You had done for them, a transgressing people condemned You to be crucified, O Christ, and gave You gall and vinegar to drink.

There is more, but you can see the clear indication in the hymnology of the Church that assigns to the Sanhedrin, and through them to the people of Israel, the charge of lawlessness.  On what basis are these words founded?

The fact is (and these data come from BibleStudy.org) that the arrest, trial, conviction, sentencing, and execution of our Lord were each without legal precedent following the manner of Jewish jurisprudence and the law of Moses.

First, in order to bring someone to trial, one had to have some person formally accuse another of committing a crime.  This did not happen.  The soldiers came to Gethsamane and arrested the Lord through the betrayal of Judas without anyone having prior to that incident filed a claim of crime before the Sanhedrin.  "And they led Jesus away to the high priest; and with him were assembled all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes.....  Now the chief priests and all the council sought testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none." (Mark 14:53, 55)  Based on the law, there had to be at least two or three people charging a particular person with breaking the law.  "One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established." (Deuteronomy 19:15)  Conclusion:  The process of arresting and accusing Jesus was against the Law of Moses.


Next, it was Judas, one of Jesus' disciples, who lived with and accompanied Jesus throughout His ministry, who led the authorities to arrest Him.  "And immediately, while He was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, with a great multitude with swords and clubs, came from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders."  (Mark 14:43,44)  If Jesus was believed to have broken the Law, then the twelve disciples (including Judas) were considered 'accomplices' in His illegal activities.  The Law forbade use of an accomplice to bring about the arrest or conviction of a person. (W. Chandler, The Trial of Jesus, Vol. 1, pgs 228-229)

Next, there was no investigation of the merits of any accusations against Jesus, nor any provision for His defense.  "If a false witness rises against any man to testify against him of wrongdoing, then both men in the controversy shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who serve in those days. And the judges shall make careful inquiry..." (Deut 19:16-18)  There was no 'inquiry' in defending Jesus.  The 'judges' in His case served as defenders, and witnesses, and prosecutors.  Again, from W. Chandler, "The judges always leaned to the side of the defendant and gave him the advantage of every possible doubt."(ibid, pgs 153-154)

Then, the arrest and trial were held by night.  "And having dipped the bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot.... Having received the bread, he (Judas) then went out immediately.  And it was night." (John 13:26, 30)  The Sanhedrin did this to conceal their illegal acts from the view of the people.  When Judas brought the soldiers to Gethsemane to arrest Jesus, the Lord said to them, "Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me?  I was daily with you in the temple preaching, and you did not seize Me..." (Mark 14-48-49)  Jewish law permitted proceedings to take place only during daylight hours.  "Let a capital offense be tried during the day, but suspend it at night." (Mishna, Sanhedrin 4:1)

Further, Jewish law forbade a trial to occur on the day before a major feast or a Sabbath.  "They shall not judge on the eve of the Sabbath nor on that of any festival." (ibid)  Since the Passover began on the day after Jesus was arrested, His trial was unlawful.

In addition, "A criminal case resulting in the acquittal of the accused may terminate the same day on which the trial began.  But if a sentence of death is to be pronounced, it cannot be concluded before the following day." (ibid)   In other words, if a man is to be condemned to death, a trial must last for at least two days.  The trial of Jesus was completed in less than the span of five hours, by biblical accounts.

Next, the judges in a criminal case were required to recuse themselves if they had a predetermined opinion on the accused.  "Now it happened on another Sabbath that He entered the synagogue and taught. And a man was there whose right hand was withered. So the scribes and Pharisees watched Him closely, to see if He would heal on the Sabbath, that they might find an accusation against Him." (Luke 6:6-7)  The 'judges' were people already seeking ways to destroy Jesus.  "Then the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders of the people assembled at the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and plotted to take Jesus by trickery and kill Him." (Mat 26:3-5)  Ergo, this was hardly an 'impartial' gathering.   "Nor must there be on the judicial bench either a relation or a particular friend, or an enemy of either the accused or of the accuser." (Mendelsohn, Criminal Jurisprudence of the Ancient Hebrews, p. 108)  Those who would have possibly voted against condemning or punishing Jesus, and especially against sentencing Him to death, were not at His trial.  This would have included Joseph of Arimathea.  We know this because, "Now behold, there was a man named Joseph, a council member, a good and just man.  He had not consented to their decision and deed.  He was from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who himself was also waiting for the kingdom of God." (Luke 23:50-51)  Luke records that Joseph had not been at the council that condemned the Lord!  Nicodemus was like unto him.  "There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, 'Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with Him.'" (John 3:1-2)  But the Gospels also record that the decision of the Sanhedrin was unanimous.  "And they all condemned Him of being deserving of death." (Mark 14:64)  Ergo, neither of these men, who were on the council, had been informed of the meeting - forming a "kangaroo court".

Saint Matthew records, "Now the chief priests, the elders, and all the council sought false testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none.  Even though many false witnesses came forward, they found none."  The Sanhedrin had gathered anyone who would offer testimony against Jesus to speak.  But it was required that at least two agree on a charge, and none were in agreement!  But rather than suspend based on lack of evidence, they continued to seek testimony, with that already given clearly indicated as false by the lack of such agreement.  "There are six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him: a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren." (Prov 6:16-19) "If a false witness rises against any man to testify against him of wrongdoing, then both men in the controversy shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who serve in those days. And the judges shall make careful inquiry, and indeed, if the witness is a false witness, who has testified falsely against his brother, then you shall do to him as he thought to have done to his brother; so you shall put away the evil from among you." (Deut 19:16-19)

In addition, Jesus did not defend Himself against the charges from these false witnesses.  The high priest, frustrated at the Lord's not responding in His own defense, says, "'Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?' But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest answered and said to Him, 'I put You under oath by the Living God: tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!'  Jesus said to him, 'It is as you said...'  Then the high priest tore his clothes, saying, 'He has spoken blasphemy! What further need do we have of witnesses?....'" (Mat 26:62-65)  The point here is that, according to Jewish law, a person could not be condemned based on his own testimony.

Further, the indictment used to justify the death penalty as illegal because the judges themselves originated the charges.  Based on Mosaic Law, a charge against someone must be brought to the council by at least two or three reliable witnesses of the crime.  The Sanhedrin itself could not ever originate charges.  Its only purpose was to investigate charges brought before it!

If the charge then became 'blasphemy', the condemnation to death was illegal because the charge was not true.  Jesus IS the Son of God.  But the council took no steps to attempt to prove or disprove the claim of Jesus, which was their function!

The previously mentioned unanimity of the court was also illegal.  It meant that there was not even one who was assigned the purpose of being a defender.  It was illegal in Jewish law to unanimously condemn a person to death if there was no one who was a witness for the defense.  "If none of the judges defend the culprit, i.e. all pronounce him guilty, having no defender in the court, the verdict of guilty was invalid and the sentence of death could not be executed." (Jesus the Christ: A study of the Messiah and His mission, James E. Talmage, pg 647, quote from Rabbi Wise, Martyrdom of Jesus , p. 74)

In addition, sentencing of a person had to be proclaimed only in the Sanhedrin's appointed place, a chamber in the temple known as the chamber of hewn stones.  The sentencing of Jesus took place at the home of the high priest, Caiaphas.

Finally, those on this court changed the charge against Jesus not once, but twice!  And this, too,  was unlawful.  It went from asking Jesus what the men who said that they heard Him say He could destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days (the first 'accusation'), to blasphemy (for acknowledging that He is the Son of God), and then to "making Himself a King," the charge that this same group finally brought before Pilate.  The Sanhedrin "conveniently" switched the charge against Jesus from blasphemy (about which the Romans would not have cared at all) to treason.  Having levied this charge against the Lord before Pilate, the Sanhedrin presented no corroborating evidence - only the charge.  Pilate ultimately concludes (after far more investigation than the Sanhedrin gave) that the charges were unfounded.  The accusation that Jesus was murdered under was that which Pilate had affixed to His Cross, "The King of the Jews." 

"The pages of human history present no stronger case of judicial murder than the trial and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, for the simple reason that all forms of law were outraged and trampled under foot in the proceedings instituted against Him." (Walter M. Chandler, The Trial of Jesus from a Lawyer's Standpoint, p. 216)

"The assembly of the Jews demanded of Pilate that You, O Lord, be crucified; and finding no cause against You, they released the prisoner, Barabbas, and condemned You, the Righteous One, incurring for themselves the accusation of blood-guiltiness.  Render to them, O Lord, according to their works; for they plotted against You in vain." (13th Antiphon, Holy Thursday Evening)