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!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Same Sex .... I Can't Use the Next Word

Yesterday (Monday, September 23rd, on the Feast of the Conception of the Baptist and Forerunner John), the Assembly of Bishops sent an e-mail to its subscribing parishes listing actions of the most recent meeting held in Schaumburg, IL from 17-19Sept, just last week.  One of the elements of that work was the following document on the issue of Same Sex Marriage.

From the Assembly of Bishops
To our Orthodox Faithful
1. We, the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America, representing millions of Orthodox Christians in the United States of America, Canada and Central America, express our deep concern over recent actions on the part of our respective governments and certain societal trends concerning the status of marriage in our countries, in particular the legalization of same-sex unions.
2. The Orthodox Christian teaching on marriage and sexuality, firmly grounded in Holy Scripture, two millennia of Church Tradition, and Canon Law, holds that the sacrament of marriage consists in the union of a man and a woman, and that authentic marriage reflects the sacred unity that exists between Christ and His Bride, the Church.
3. Persons with homosexual orientation are to be cared for with the same mercy and love that is bestowed on all of humanity by our Lord Jesus Christ.  Moreover, the Church is a spiritual hospital, where we all are called to find the healing of our fallen humanity through Jesus Christ, who assumed human nature in order to restore it.  All of us struggle with various passions, and it is only within the Church that we find the means of overcoming these passions with the assistance of God’s grace.  Acting upon any sexual attraction outside of sacramental marriage, whether the attraction is heterosexual or homosexual, alienates us from God.
4. We exhort the clergy and faithful of the Orthodox Church to bear witness to the timeless teachings of Christ by striving for purity and holiness in their own lives, by instructing their families and communities in the precepts of the Holy Gospel, and by placing their trust in our Lord, who “has overcome the world.” (John 16.33)

5. Finally, we encourage our faithful to approach their parish priest or spiritual father with any questions or concerns about this statement and its practical repercussions in their daily lives.

Having our Hierarchs gift to us such an impressive, rational, and dispassionate position on the issue, we need to be mindful of the fact that others in our society will not be dispassionate, and in far too many instances may not even be rational.  Indeed, both sides of the issue continue to make arguments to support their positions, and both continue to ignore the dialogue coming from the opposing side.  I pray that many read what our beloved bishops have given to us, and take it to heart, for the Church indeed loves all of her children, for we are all sinners and in need of forgiveness and restoration by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

To the point of irrationality, we can offer the following.  We recently read a blog (on the side for same sex marriage) that said the following:

"There was a time I had tolerance for the intolerant. I didn’t understand the logic of the opponents, but I assumed there had to be some legitimate rationale for their position. No one, I figured, would spend so much time advancing a bunch of ridiculous hooey with no basis in reality.  But ridiculous hooey it is. The argument by the anti-gay-marriage crowd is so absurd, so internally contradictory, and so awash in unproven assertions that it is difficult to take it as anything more than a construct cobbled together by people who just don’t like those people. These are not arguments about law or marriage or children; if they were, anti-gay-marriage folks could marshal real facts."  (http://www.vanityfair.com/online/eichenwald/2013/03/it-s-time-to-drop-the-fallacy-of-the-anti-gay-marriage)

We live on the side of saying "same sex" and "marriage" in a single subject of a sentence is a logical absurdity.  And like the above author, we might "assume" that the other side has a legitimate rationale for their position.  Here are a few of the more prominent ones that they offer:
1) "You can't stop love - this is about love!"
2) "It's no one else's business what two people do!"
3) "Denying the right (sic) stigmatizes gay couples."
4) "There will be financial gain."
5) "It will become easier for gay couples to adopt children."

Let's look at these one by one in as dispassionate a manner as we can.

1) Love:  Love is without doubt the single greatest gift of God.  But every one of His gifts carries with it a responsibility.  Our world has come to confuse (and perhaps there are those who would contend it's not confusion as much as it is just substitution) the word "love" with the word "lust". In today's world, the physical desire for another person is termed "love".  This has never been the true meaning of the word.  Marriage is not based on lust.  Marriage certainly carries with it a physical aspect, and there is certainly a condition in which the love felt by a man for a woman (love as defined below) causes each to have a physical desire for the other.  And there is beauty in that physical desire when it is pure.  In the Orthodox Church, marriage carries with it a significant emphasis on this kind of 'pure' love, and it does this by giving the example that our Lord gave to us.  We read from the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Ephesians.  "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for her." (Eph 5:25)  Within this passage (I know - it means nothing to those who reject the love of God...) we hear a number of words that are foreign to the "same sex union" proponents.  Husband and wife - Where are these in a same sex union?  There is no statement of "Wives love your wives."  It was, is, and ever shall be impossible for this to be truth.  Christ loved the Church (HE did) and gave Himself for whom?  For another Him, who is the Church?  No!  The Church is the Bride of Christ!  SHE is resplendent in His (Christ's) glory!  And what aspect of this love is elevated to our attention?  Is it a sexual union? God forbid!  Not because the sexual union is sinful, but because the mystical union is so much greater!  The aspect of this love shown is the sacrificial nature of love, and in its purity.  Christ gave Himself for the Church.  The purpose of the union of marriage is to sacrifice for the good of the other.  Where is this argument in a "same sex union"?  There is talk of love, but that love is physical, not mystical, not spiritual.  If this were not so, the people engaged in the debate on the side purporting same sex unions would not be first associated with the gay agenda.  But they are gay first, desiring "marriage" second, and sacrificing - who knows when. Please note that there is no emphasis in Saint Paul's (or in the Church's) view of marriage that offspring - children - perform some kind of "pivotal role" in the institution of marriage.  Marriage is established for the sole purpose of one person so loving another that he and (not or) she would sacrifice themselves to bring the other to salvation in Christ.  In short, "Let's love each other so much that we get each other to heaven!"

2) Privacy:  It is true that it is not the business any person what another person "does".  But those on the side of same sex unions can "do" whatever they choose to "do" without "requiring" the legal change of status to "joined", and more specifically "married".  Ergo, the legal (not spiritual) bond must have some other agenda.  What might that other agenda be?


3) Stigmatization:  Now we get to a more focused heart of the matter.  Because there can be no legal union, those choosing to "do" what they choose to do are stigmatized.  Why?  Because they don't get the same "blessing" (sic again) from the state.  They feel bad.  Does that mean a pricked conscience?  If yes, we call this a healthy recognition of a state of being separated from the will of God.  But if we use the "s--" word (OK, if it needs to be spelled out, "sin"), you'll judge us, won't you?  The stigmatization that exists (if it exists) is a healthy gift from God.  What did Saint Paul say about this?  "For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) " (Rom 2:14-15)  

4) Money:  Yet a second focused reason to want to be de-stigmatized.  If the status is legalized, those who engage in it won't lose as much financially.  If you want to understand a position on a contemporary issue, find the money!  While it's true that the word "marriage" is linked in governmental documents with those who are granted tax benefits and health care benefits and Social Security benefits, it is not present because it is an ecclesiastical word - it is part of human law.  Marriage - that has a sacred meaning to just about every person on the planet who claims to believe in God in whatever fashion they choose (this does NOT single out Orthodoxy...).  So why doesn't the gay agenda movement attack the government to change the words in the rules?  They could have written into secular law an expression for "Legally united people" (LUPPIE's?)  This is not sufficient for those in this group.  Indeed, it's more important to tear down an institution that has existed since the beginning of time!  Why might that be?

5) Children:  This is perhaps one of the hardest issues to deal with.  Priests counsel people all the time, teaching that children need a solid and well grounded home.  Historically this includes a father who can (by his sacrificial love) raise the child to be loving as well.  It includes a mother who (by her sacrificial love) can instill in the child the sense of belonging to something that itself is loving - a family.  Divorce has compounded this problem to the extent that many children today (without any same-sex union issues) have more than one "father" or "mother", and don't think twice about that situation.  What was "normal" 50 years ago is today abnormal - a two parent home in which mom was there when I went to school, there when I got home from school, and dad disciplined me when mom told him that I needed it. The abortion condition (the s-- word again) in our country makes many of us desirous of finding any people who truly choose to love (sacrificially) a child who would otherwise be martyred (yes - it's a pejorative word, but - there it is).  So, adoption for singles?  Why not, if it saves a life. Adoption for gays?  That's a bit more difficult, not because they're "different" as people.  Not because we "hate" them (as the above author suggests).  As the position paper from the Assembly of Bishops so eloquently states, we ALL sin and fall short of the perfection to which God calls us.  But those supporting same-sex unions choose to rationalize their 'sin' to be 'normal', teaching a child that a sinful state that you choose, if you are adamant enough about supporting it, can be unilaterally and artificially declared by you to be  "OK".  If you're uncomfortable with "sin", then let's use "unnatural", for there is no way for a child to be conceived from two like sexes.  To argue otherwise puts the arguer into the position of offering "ridiculous hooey".  Ergo, the "marriage bed" that Saint Paul urges us to "keep undefiled" (Heb 13:4) immediately becomes defiled, for there by definition must be adultery (a third person) involved to create a child.  It's not a refutable argument.  And while the agenda has shifted to permitting marriage, adultery remains a legal criminal activity in at least 23 of our 50 states. Why is there no similar push to remove this "stigmatization"?  Because it has been relegated to the state of unenforceable, it is so rampant.  That and the wonderful rationalization of , "Everybody's doing it..."  

Many who have argued against same-sex unions have done so with hand-waving statements such as, "It will degrade the state of marriage."  While we may feel that way, the truth is that its danger for marriage lies in the institution which grants marriage from the spiritual (and sacrificial, as opposed to legal) perspective.  And herein lies the single greatest reason for the rhetorical "Why" questions above.  The agenda is (and will remain) to first marginalize, and then to destroy the church.  Indeed, such marginalization has already occurred.  There are not enough churches (or religious entities of any kind) standing up and saying, "NO!  ENOUGH ALREADY!" We tend to equate doing so with being unrighteously judgmental against those who are pushing the agenda we find intolerable.  

The word "hate" or variations thereof are often hurled at people like us for offering thoughts like those espoused herein.  Let us state for the record.  There ARE things that we hate!  Does that surprise you?  It shouldn't.  Let's go back to Saint Paul and Romans:  "Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor." (Rom 12:9-10)

So, yes - WE HATE!  We HATE cancer.  Judge us for it.  Go ahead, if you will!  Did we suggest that we hated the person with cancer?  How could we?  We are called by our Lord to lovingly care for the needs of such people.  We HATE fanaticism.  Surprised?  Did we suggest that we hate suicide bombers?  We are called by our Lord to love even them, and to do what can be done to lead them to salvation!  We HATE abortion.  Now we've gone and done it!  There we are, judging all those who felt 'pressured' into removing 'tissue' from a body that belongs to them!  We didn't say that we hate the girl/woman or child who has fallen into choosing abortion as her only alternative.  But we are called by our Lord to attempt at all costs to save the life of the unborn no less than to save the life of a suicide bomber or a cancer victim.

What the world refuses to see is that all of these examples are the same.  All are rooted in a world fallen through sin.  And yes, we freely admit to being sinful and in need of God's mercy ourselves.  As a priest, I am more in need of repentance and forgiveness form our Lord than those whom I am called to serve.  So don't attempt to judge me based on the statement.  Trust me, this article has been written, reviewed, revised, and edited 20 times before publishing in large part because of the recognition that my conscience tells me of my unworthiness to serve, but especially to judge.  Nevertheless, there is also a God-given charter to preach the truth.  And by your prayers, perhaps this and other articles like it contain some truth.

Legalization of same-sex unions, and the legal declarations which could result in this status, would never mention the church - not at this state in the process.  But what comes next?  "Hey Father, we're gay and we'd like to get married.  When can you schedule the service for us?"  "Um, I'm sorry, but I can't do that?"  "Why not?  It's perfectly legal now!  And you hold a license from the state to solemnize marriages.  If you won't do it, you're violating your duties to the state!  We'll sue!  We'll have you arrested for denying us our constitutional rights!"  "But my children, you have no such right in the Church?"  "Who cares, Father?  The church is an antiquated institution anyhow.  The sooner we can bring it to the ground, the better off we'll all be.  Look at you!   You're still trying to convince us that what we're doing is wrong!"

Think it can't happen?  Do you disagree that the "s--" words above are not viewed by the general populace as "sin"?  Look at the world around us today, compared with only 50 years ago.....  What lies ahead 50 year from now......         if we don't stand and speak the truth today.

God bless our Bishops!  Na mnogaja leta, Vladiko!  Many years, Masters!  To those of us in the churches, continue to pray fervently for them, for now more than ever, we need them to "rightly define the Word of Your truth!"


Who Were, Who Are "The Chosen People"?

We, as Orthodox Christians, view ourselves quite highly.  I avoid the use of the word 'pride', for it is pejorative in this context.  But we believe that we have the faith handed down from our Lord to His Apostles, the faith established by the Holy Fathers, a faith that has not been contaminated by divisions. Some would argue, "That's not true - you Orthodox have your divisions.  Look at how many times church has broken communion with church!"  And while that comment is true, those breaks in communion have come specifically over issues of defending the faith, and they are healed when one or the other parties repents and returns to the fullness of what the church continues to teach.  I dare say we may expect such issues to continue until the time our Lord returns.

And so it would appear that there is this 'contemporary' sense that we are now 'the Chosen People', having supplanted God's intention for the descendants of Abraham.  We take scripture as it is presented to us and conclude that when our Lord said, "God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones," (Mat 3:9)  He was speaking of His Church.

But is our view of our position of chosenness consistent with our behavior?  The Jews, and without doubt the Pharisees whom our Lord so often derided in His ministry, believed similarly about themselves.  And yet Jesus called them hypocrites, brood of vipers, "whitewashed tombs which appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness."  (Mat 23:27)

What would Jesus say about us today?

In order for humor to have its intended effect, there needs to be an element of truth within the joke.  There's a long standing joke that has appeared online for quite some time.  It details a discussion between two men, one of whom is telling the other that he is leaving the Orthodox Church for another.  The second man states categorically, "I was born into this faith, and I shall never deny it."  The first man asks him, "How often do you attend Liturgy?"  The reply - "Never...."

Perhaps this is an extreme indictment of the many, but if we're honest with one another, we as a people are not exactly committed to the fullness of the faith.  Within our little mission, Sunday attendance can vary from as few as 11 (on some summer Sundays) to as many as 38 to 40 (on a "good" Sunday) to over 60 for Pascha.  Why are there such stark differences?

We have Vespers every Saturday evening, which the Church teaches is an essential preparation for the Eucharist.  We've taught this in sermons from time to time.  And still, Saturday attendance is 4 to 6 people. If we have a week night Liturgy for a Feast, maybe we'll find 8 or 10 people.  When we schedule Adult Studies, we'll have the same 5-6 people each week.  Do these ministries (services, teaching) have no place in the church?  Are we as a people simply "too busy"?  Or does Christ not take that central, core position in our lives?

If we're "chosen" by God, what did He "choose" us to do?  Where did He choose us to be?  What has He chosen us to do?

Jesus, as He looked upon the city of Jerusalem, bemoaned their loss of their own "chosenness", as He said, "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)  That same heart of God no doubt wishes to gather us together.

Are we willing?

I think it's fair to say that "the Chosen People" are not the people whom God has chosen from among the masses, but rather the people who from among the masses have chosen God.  Remember the account of the Canaanite woman who came to Jesus seeking help for her possessed daughter, and to whom our Lord tested her faith (for the Canaanites were not "chosen" people) by responding to her plea, "It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the little dogs." (Mat 15:26)  Saint Matthew records that this woman "worshiped Him", and that even through the testing of giving her a negative reply, her faith did not waiver.  Ultimately, she received the blessing of hearing from our Lord's lips, "O woman, great is your faith.  Be it done to you as you desire." (Mat 15:28).  She was not chosen by being grouped with a people.  She first chose Christ, and then received blessings.

So it must be with us.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

After 12 Years, Where Are We As a People?

The 'anniversary' of the attacks on our country on 9/11 is always a time for me to take a kind of spiritual inventory.  Certainly we honor those who courageously gave their lives seeking to help others in need - the police and fire personnel who saw a greater good, who may have remembered the words of Saint Paul, "For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die." (Rom 5:7)

But we are not first responders, those chartered to go into dangerous situations for the sake of helping others.

Or are we?

What have we learned about our own need to seek the good and to reject the evil in this world since 9/11?

I did a quick search on "church attendance since 9/11", and the results are appalling.  Attendance was up after the attack.  For a paltry month.  Then, we enlightened Americans simply returned to our cesspool.  We began shopping, and watching reality TV, and hit the golf courses on Sunday mornings.  Where was God?  Oh, we put Him away, right back into that closet where we know we can find Him again - IF we need Him.

I don't believe that Jesus was speaking only about the Pharisees when He said,  "For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing. And their eyes they have closed. Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears. Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them." (Mat 13:15)  I think our Lord was focused on all of humanity for all time until such time as He would come again - to judge the living and the dead.

We don't need to be trained fire and police personnel to be "first responders" in a world gone mad.  We can pray today that our Lord will intercede for the people of Syria who are being slaughtered by mad men whose political agendas clearly dominate their care for a suffering people.  We can pray for the same intervention in Egypt, and in Rwanda, and in Afghanistan, and in literally hundreds of other places around the world.  We are called to be "first responders" in prayer.  And yes, maybe in fasting for that peace that can only come from God.

In a world filled with turmoil, we've forgotten the essential.  The attack on our country 12 years ago was not a 'judgment' meted out by God upon us.  But it did provide us with a wake-up call to return to Him, to repent, to "seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness." (Mat 6:33)

Jesus warned us in the Parable of the Wise Virgins that we must remain watchful, ever vigilant for His return.  He told us that we won't know the hour in which He will come, but that we must be ready for that hour when it arrives.  To be ready, we, like those wise virgins, must have our "lamps trimmed".  We need to be bearers of light to the world around us.  We need to carry with us that "extra oil" that will permit us to shine that light in a world that seeks only darkness.  How do we do this?  By repentance, by cleansing the lamps of our souls so that they might shine more brightly, and by arming ourselves with the weapon of the Cross, the weapon of peace.  

Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." (John 14:27)

Take comfort, 'be not troubled' in knowing that this peace cannot be taken from us.  The world can take every possession, every physical support, but Christ gives us a spiritual peace that supersedes all of these. 

On this anniversary, 12 years after a spiritual wake up call, let us not fall prey to the accusations in Proverbs: "As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly." (Prov 26:11)  For a month after 9/11, the churches were filled with those looking for God.  I think we can say now that if they didn't already have Him, they were not going to find Him in a 2 or 4 week "search".  So many who seemed committed to change their lives and seek God waned so very quickly, and returned to 'the folly' that was life in America, as it was on 9/10.

For those who believe, or those who have come to believe because God has our hearts, even if our faith feels as though it's 'in the margins', let us turn with renewed effort to following Christ - in the churches, in our offices and schools, in our governmental offices, in the streets, in our cars, and most especially in our homes.

"For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time."  (Rev 12:12)  Indeed, the devil's time, as well as our time, grows short.

"Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: "For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him." But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul." (Heb 10:35-39)

It is time for us to live as if we are slaves to a Master who loves us enough to forgive us our sins, and to save our souls.  It all begins with faith, and with a heart to not draw back to that same old lifestyle we led before we were awakened from our sleep.