Welcome to Saint Herman's, Hudson, Ohio

This blog is a partial compilation of the messages, texts, readings, and prayers from our small 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! We are open, and we welcome inside the Church all visitors. See our Parish web page:

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

In Celebration of Our Patron

Today we celebrate the Feast Day of Saint Herman of Alaska, our beloved Patron Saint, from whom we can come to learn abundantly about loving the Lord, doing His will, and living simply.

Living simply… What a difficult concept this is for us in the world today.  We believe that unless we have a full bank account, triple locks on our doors to protect our valuables, security systems, cars with 15 air bags and surround sound satellite radio that we are somehow ‘not living at all.’  When did such an idea creep into our way of thinking?  I suppose that Madison Avenue has a lot of blame to accept in all of this, but rather than blame, let us look at the simplicity of Saint Herman.

It’s believed that Saint Herman was born in 1756, and from the age of 16 he lived the life of a monk at the Valaam Monastery, which is still present in Russia to this very day.  Valaam is located on an island inside Lake Lagoda, which is just northeast of the city of Saint Petersburg.  The missionary group sent from Valaam to Alaska would have traveled overland – a distance of more than 4000 miles through some of the most severe travel conditions imaginable.  There were nine others who made the journey with Saint Herman from Valaam to become missionaries in Alaska.  We are told from the historical accounts that “very quickly” several thousand native Americans accepted the faith!  

How could this have happened?  Did the native Aleuts not have SOME kind of faith, a god or gods to whom they prayed?  Clearly, they found in the faith and the LOVE shown them by our beloved Patron and those with him that the God known to these pious Russians was to be desired!  By their LOVE.  By their FAITH.  It’s a simple message, is it not?

The group built a school for the native children.  They built a church.  But things were severe.  Think Alaska. Think 1798.  Some of the monastic party died from the elements.  One perished in a boat that sank as he was returning to Russia.  Some were martyred.  After several years of working this missionary effort, only Saint Herman remained from that original group.  Yet, he continued!  It was a simple plan.  God sent him to reap where he had not sown.  And God sent him to sow where others would come later to reap.

His home?  A simple cave, dug from the ground with his bare hands, which was converted to his grave after his falling asleep in the Lord.  By the love of those whom He had brought to the faith, a cell was built for him later near this cave – a simple building to keep him warm during the severe winters.  He remained there until his death.

He sustained himself from a garden which he worked with his own hands.  Potatoes, cabbage, mushrooms, vegetables,…. All of which he dried to provide a means of carrying himself through the severe winters.  His labors?  The natives used large wicker baskets to haul seaweed to fertilize their gardens.  It took at least two people to carry a fully laden basket.  Saint Herman was observed doing this alone.  His disciple once observed him carrying a log that would have taken four men to carry – and he was barefoot.  Strong but simple!

His clothes were the same whether summer or winter – no shirt, just a smock of deer skin.  He had boots or shoes, and the inner and outer cassock and klobuk (hat) of a monk.  Three garments, a hat, and shoes.  I tried to teach four daughters that you CAN indeed live with one pair of shoes, but they never would believe me.  Saint Herman proves me right!  Simply clothed!

His bed?  It was a wooden bench covered with a deer skin.  His pillow?  Two bricks.  His blanket?  A wooden board which he warmed by a stove, which he left with instructions to cover his body after his repose.   He lived simply!

His ecclesiastical garb was completed with a cross, only his was not something like that you on today's priests.  Saint Herman made his own cross.  It was quite large, made of common metal, not anything precious.  It hung about his neck using common available shipping chains.  The combination weighed about 16 pounds!  It was simple!

Saint Herman had a pleasant tenor voice, and those who knew him loved to hear him come to the church to sing.  Once he was offered ordination to the priesthood, but he refused the honor, a fact that must give pause to any of us who stand today and wear the vestments of a priest.  Saint Herman preferred to serve his Lord as a simple monk.  

The missionaries to Alaska had been sent as a means of bringing the native Aleut people into submission – teaching them ‘obedience’ from the Church so that the furring companies operating in Alaska could more easily exploit the people there.  Those who had this perspective had no understanding of our Lord, of His commandments, and of the way that faithful clerics would apply those teachings.  For Saint Herman, his love for the people God had entrusted to his care reflected his own simplicity, as well as his tenacity.  This use of the word 'simple' should in no way be construed as indicating that his work or care was small or meaningless, but rather it was pure.  Saint Herman came to the defense of those entrusted to his spiritual care, going to battle with the authorities in Russia on more than one occasion.  He wrote to the authorities with such words as these:

"Our Creator granted to our beloved homeland this land which like a newly-born babe does not yet have the strength for knowledge or understanding. It requires not only protection, because of its infantile weakness and impotence, but also his sustenance. Even for this it does not yet have the ability to make an appeal on its own behalf. And since the welfare of this nation by the Providence of God, it is not known for how long, is dependent on and has been entrusted into the hands of the Russian government which has now been given into your own power, therefore I, the most humble servant of these people, and their nurse (nyanka) stand before you in their behalf, write this petition with tears of blood. Be our Father and our Protector. Certainly we do not know how to be eloquent, so with an inarticulate infant's tongue we say: Wipe away the tears of the defenseless orphans, cool the hearts melting away in the fire of sorrow. Help us to know what consolation means."

You could say that Saint Herman knew how to use words….

Saint Herman loved children, and the natives loved him for this.  He baked biscuits and cookies for them, often denying himself of his own provisions to give to those he loved, and who so loved him in return.

His care for his people?  Once a bitter and fatal illness was carried to the area from an inbound ship.  Those infected contracted a fever, which became a heavy cold, then difficulty in breathing, chills, and in three days it brought death.  There was no doctor.  There was no medicine.  There was no hope.  The disease infected all ages.  So many died that there were not enough remaining to dig graves.  People infected were gathered into barracks where many died and lay for lack of workers.  Children lay at their dead mother’s bodies longing for food that was not to be forthcoming.  Saint Herman labored throughout the month that this pestilence lasted, never tiring, never leaving the sides of those in need.  For some he admonished their fear.  For and with all, he prayed.  Some he brought to repentance and prepared them for death.  But he never considered his own health, only the pressing need of those whom God had given into his pastoral care.  It was a simple plan – Do what God has sent you to do!

The school cared for the orphans of the Aleuts.  From here Saint Herman taught them the faith and how to sing the Divine Services.  On Sundays his disciple would read Hours, and Saint Herman would read the Epistle and Gospel and then preach to the people.  The natives gathered in large numbers to hear his words, and his explanations of God’s plan for all of us. 

Saint Herman brought people to an understanding of God through simple argument.  Once a ship was sent to inspect Russian holdings in the area.  It was manned by a captain and twenty-five officers, all very well educated.  Saint Herman boarded the craft to teach.  He asked them all what they loved most, and what they desired to bring about their own happiness.  Various answers were given, mostly focused upon material things.  Saint Herman offered to them an argument.  “Isn’t it true that all of your desires come to one singular conclusion – that each of you desires what you understand to be most worthy of your love?”  It was a simple question.  The answer of course had to be, “Yes.”  So our patron continued.  “Wouldn’t you agree that our Lord Jesus Christ, who created us, gives us life, sustains us, and loves us is that most worthy goal of your love?”  Again the answer of, “Yes!” resounded through the room.  The Saint continued, “Then should we not love God above all, desire Him more than all, and seek Him out?”  Again the answer was, “Certainly!  Yes!”

Now our Patron had them where he wanted them!  So he asked, “But do you love God?”  To a man, they answered, “Certainly!  How can we not?”

Saint Herman’s reply to them is one that we must burn within our memories and our hearts until our own final day.  He replied, “I a sinner have been trying for more than forty years to love God, but I cannot say that I love Him completely.”

And from this argument, we have perhaps the most famous of our Patron Saint’s expressions of faith.  “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us strive to love God above all.”

It’s a simple expression of faith.  But that is what our beloved Patron brings to us.  Simplicity full of faith. 

We've not touched upon his many wondrous deeds.  Known as a wonderworker, no doubt we could fill hours outlining and discussing these deeds as well.

For us, for today, through the prayers of Saint Herman, let us seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and filled with the burning desire to follow our Patron’s path of simplicity.  The lives of all of us right now are far too complicated!  We live in a world where expressions like “mind traffic” and “information overload” are the norm.  Only one thing is needful – and that is finding Christ while we live, and then living as He commanded, in short, “loving Him above all”.  It is still a simple message.  In our search, let us take recourse to Saint Herman, asking for his intercession before the Lord, to seek forgiveness of our sins, to ask for mercy, and to come to the love of God that our beloved patron taught to all he encountered.  His simple plan of following where God would lead still can work for us today! 

Within the Akathist to Saint Herman, we offer the prayer, “As a good laborer you did your great spiritual work in a harsh climate in this land. In your service to God, you were faithful in the little things. And, as the Lord said: ‘You have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much.’”

We may not “be much”, but we are who we are by the grace of God, and that means that we are under the patronal protection of this wonderworking saint.  As he loved the spiritual children he was given by God in Alaska, we can imagine his love for us as well.  As he cared for them, he cares for us.  To him we can run for protection and help, just as they did in times of need. 

But on this day, we run to him not for help, but instead to offer our thanksgiving for that which he has already accomplished here amongst us.  Truly, God is wonderful in His saints!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

In Celebration of a Wonderworker

Each year, as we come to the Feast of Saint Nicholas, I continue to be appalled at the corrupted view that the world has chosen to give to one of our Lord's greatest saints - Saint Nicholas.

Fat.  Laughing.  Herding reindeer. The best response I suppose we might offer in return is, "Bah!  Humbug!"

In Hudson for years now (on this day, now going into ten such years), the little congregation of Saint Herman's has attempted on a yearly basis to demonstrate and illustrate to the people of our town "Who is the REAL Saint Nicholas?"  How successful has the effort been?  God knows.  But if we've reached even one, the effort has been worth it.

As I prepare for the Vesperal Liturgy for his Feast, I often go back to read from the many wonders that Saint Nicholas has worked.  This year, a more recent account caught my attention, and I'll offer it to you as I found it.

In the 1920’s, Russia was in turmoil.  The communists were overrunning not only the political operation of the country, but in the process they were attempting to snuff out the church.

In Kiev at that time, there lived an elderly widow who had one son and one daughter.  The woman dearly loved Saint Nicholas, and in every instance when difficulty arose, she would go to the church for whom he was patron and pray before his icon.  She would always leave feeling consoled, her suffering eased.  Her son, after completing his student work, became an officer of the city. 

Now the city government was being changed by the Communists.  And as a show of force, they arrived and arrested all former city officials, this young man amongst them.  His sister, now beside herself, ran from government agency to agency, but could find out nothing about her brother.  The old woman instead ran to Saint Nicholas.  At the church, she prayed for endless hours.  When she returned to her home, as always, she was consoled – the saintly bishop would help.  While the daughter anguished over her lack of progress, the mother sat and sipped some tea.

Early the next morning, the son returned home.  Hungry, beaten, dirty, dead tired, he told of a large group of people like him who were taken in an armed convoy of guards, leading them to the town of Pechersk.  There in that town was a stadium of sorts where horses were raced, and beyond it, a grove with trenches dug to defend Russia against the Swedes when Peter I was Czar.  There, those taken were to be placed into the trenches and shot.

The son told the story that as they approached the stadium, a little old man came from around a corner.  He approached the leader of the soldiers and asked, “Where are you taking them?”  The commander said, “To Dukhonin’’s headquarters,” which in the jargon of the time meant “to be executed”.  He then said, “Go away, old man!”  The old man left, but not before grabbing this young man by the hand, and saying, “Let him go.  I know him.”

Neither the commander nor any of the guards even uttered a single word as the old man led the youth away.  Once out of sight of the guards, the old man said, “Go home to your mother,” and the old man immediately vanished.

The old woman was overjoyed to see her son, and immediately set off to give thanks to Saint Nicholas.  The son was so very tired and beaten that he wanted only to go to sleep, but the mother would have none of that.  She dragged him to the church.  While the boy may have been there occasionally, he had little interest in anything there when he was younger. 

As his mother led him into the church, she took him before the icon of Saint Nicholas.  The boy turned white and began to shake.  He could barely manage a whisper to his mother.  “Mother, dear, this is the same old man who led me to freedom…”

As Orthodox Christians, we neither need nor want any of the corrupted views of this Blessed Saint!  He is for all time a servant of the Living God, of Jesus Christ, and he has guarded and continues to guard those who run to him for help in times of trouble and need.  They go to him asking healing, protection from storms, intervention before Christ to save from sins.  They do not go asking for iPods, or Playstations, or bicycles.  His wonders aid the spirit.  They do not edify the desire for excess in a world overrun with excessiveness.  The words we sing in his honor resound with this idea.

O who love Nicholas the Saintly,
O who serve Nicholas the Saintly,
Him will Nicholas receive, 
And give help in time of need,
Holy Father Nicholas!

He who dwells in God's holy mansions
Is our help on the land and oceans.
He will guard us from all ills,
Keep us pure and free from sins,
Holy Father Nicholas!

Holy Saint, hearken to our prayer.
Let not life drive us to despair.
All our efforts shall not wane
Singing praises to your name:
Holy Father Nicholas!

Nicholas, tearfully we sinners
Beseech you in our fervent prayers.
Help us in our tribulations.
Comfort every Christian nation.
Holy Father Nicholas!

Ask these things of the blessed Saint.  And like the old woman, believe that his love, which is an image of the love of Christ, can and will deliver us from whatever evil may beset us.  Our battle is against evil, and not for "things".

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Beginning of Advent - And A Commitment to Blog

With the coming of Advent, we all have the need to focus more on the spiritual, on the things which separate us from the perfection to which our Lord calls us (Mat 5:48).

As I began to consider my own preparation for this season, I thought it might be good to go back and take a "refresher course" in the handbook of the season, Saint Athanasius and his wonderful work,  "On the Incarnation of the Word of God."

Within that work, from the very beginning, we are taken back in time to the creation, to the perfection into which humanity was created through our fore-parents Adam and Eve.

We are introduced by Saint Athanasius to the issue of why it was necessary for God to come in the flesh with these words.

You must understand why it is that the Word of the Father, so great and so high, has been made manifest in bodily form.  He has not assumed a body as proper to His own nature, far from it, for as the Word He is without body.  He has been manifested in a human body for this reason only, out of the love and goodness of His Father, for the salvation of us men.

God the Son has come.  He has taken on my flesh, that which He created for me, which I have corrupted by living in and succumbing to the lures of this fallen world.  And in His taking on this flesh, He elevates it immediately to be associated with God.  He restores the connection to God within the act of His incarnation.

This coming week we will celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Theotokos, a Feast within which we will be witnesses as a child of three years ascends the fifteen steps to the sanctuary of the Temple in Jerusalem.  This miracle child, born to aged Joachim and Anna, will dwell within the Temple, and there will be fed by angels, will be taught the word of God, will live within the confines of a place dedicated to God and to prayer.  There she will learn other skills, such as that of weaving, as we learn from Holy Tradition that it was she who wove the veil of the Temple which itself was torn in half when the One for whom she will weave a human body not so many years later gives up His life upon the Cross.

Check in tomorrow for day 2 of 40.  And pray that our Lord will bless us all with a season of preparation for His coming in the flesh that will fill us not with worldly joy, but rather fill us with the joy of knowing God, of knowing His love for us, of knowing His gift to us.  And pray that by our joy which comes not from man but from God He will enable us to enlighten the world around us to the real meaning of the coming Feast of the Nativity of our Lord.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Who Is A Martyr?

We hear the word used in our contemporary society, and it is 'thrown around' as if it should apply to many.  But while there have been many martyrs, those who have earned the crowns of martyrdom share little (and I might go so far as to say "share nothing") with those who are improperly associated with the name today.

Per Webster, a martyr is "one who voluntarily suffers death as the penalty for refusing to renounce his religion."  The more appropriate definition would come from the Greek root, which means "witness".

Note carefully that in neither of these defining forms is there mention of one who murders others for a cause....  Curious, then, that the term has been subverted to use for people who choose to commit suicide in the process of killing others. We should be righteously indignant at the improper use of the word in contemporary society for those who should simply be labeled "mass murders"?  Shall we agree that any who deserves the name "martyr" has not committed murder - either of self, or of others?

With that starting premise, this article focuses on Saint Sophia, whose feast was celebrated in September, and who serves as the patron of our parish Sisterhood.  With her we recognize as martyrs her daughters, Faith, Hope, and Love.  Named after the three Christian virtues, her daughters were examples who lived up to their virtuous names.

Under the evil rule of the Emperor Hadrian, these four were called to his court, and the daughters one by one were called upon to renounce their faith in Jesus Christ and offer sacrifice to pagan idols.  As they refused, one by one, they were exposed to cruel tortures, and ultimately beheading.  For their faith, they indeed received their martyr's crowns.

But what of Saint Sophia?  Her name translates to "wisdom".  She stood by and witnessed the torture and murder of her beloved daughters.  In the Troparion we offer in her honor, we sing, "In your contest you offered to Christ the sweet fruit of your womb, your daughters Faith, Hope and Love." 

It is difficult for us, I think, to put ourselves in the position of Saint Sophia.  Which of us could contemplate going to a courthouse in our current day, with children in tow aging from 9 to 12, and encourage them to say things to the judge which would bring about their torture and ultimate death?  It's unfathomable.  And yet, this is the contest and offering of Saint Sophia.

Her encouragement to her daughters was not about giving up a glorious life on earth.  She knew that the only glorious life is in Christ, in the Kingdom of Heaven.  And so her encouragement to her daughters was to seize their opportunity to lay claim to their places near to their Master, to our Lord and Savior.

Saint Sophia suffered none of the tortures levied at her daughters.  She left Hadrian's court physically possessing all that she had when she entered.  And yet, the Church recognizes her as no less a martyr than any other throughout the history of the Church, and no less than her own daughters.  For she witnessed to her faith, she stood and witnessed to the love of Christ by her remaining steadfast in encouraging her daughters to endure, even to death.  And because of her faithfulness in so doing, she too was rewarded with her own martyrs crown, giving her life after burying her beloved daughters.

Why the repeated reference to "crowns"?  From 1Peter 5:4 - "When the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away."  From Revelation 2:10, to the Church of Smyrna - "Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life."  From Revelation 3:11, to the Church of Philadelphia - "Behold, I am coming quickly!  Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown."  Finally, from Saint John Chrysostom, "On the Priesthood", Book 2 - "For Christians above all men are forbidden to correct the stumblings of sinners by force.... It is necessary to make a man better not by force but by persuasion. We neither have authority granted us by law to restrain sinners, nor, if it were, should we know how to use it, since God gives the crown to those who are kept from evil not by force, but by choice."

No human body was put in danger by Sophia and her daughters.  No human life was threatened.  No ill came to any at the hands of these whom we recognize as martyrs.  In fact, today in the Kingdom, these four intercede before the Lord for any who are set upon by unrighteous acts of mankind toward those who with wisdom follow the Lord in faith, in hope, and in love.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Being "in" the world but not "of" it

It's an expression we use a lot, I think.  We try to help one another by encouraging each other to live here, but live as if we are already in the Kingdom of Heaven.  The saints have a way of showing this to us.  

But for us, it seems difficult to grasp the concept.  I mean, I'm HERE, aren't I.  How can I be HERE in body, but not in spirit?  How can I project my spirit to a place where my body is not?

As I write, I do so from the lobby of a very nice hotel (no, not expensive, just 'nice') adjacent to the airport in Tokyo.  Sitting here, I "believe" that a business colleague is coming to collect me in about 30 minutes.  I "believe" that we will be driving to a place with which he is familiar.  I "believe" that he will deposit me in another suitable hotel for the night, where we'll prepare the efforts for the day ahead, and try to satisfy a secular customer of the business for which we both work.

And as I write, I come to recognize that my body is HERE, but my spirit is truly somewhere else.  For as a pastor, my heart is with my flock, with the people whom God has entrusted to my imperfect care.  I am a sinful man sitting 7000 miles from his sheep, and praying that my own Master will keep them from danger and harm while I am gone.

What a thing to pray!  For how can one pray in such a manner now, while the body is HERE, but the spirit is somewhere else?  How can prayers now be any different in fashion from those when the body is THERE, where the spirit is also?  Do I really think that it is by my own actions and care that said flock stays well and secure when my body is THERE simply because I am THERE?  Such a thought is utter foolishness!  For regardless of where my body is, those who belong to the Lord are His.  He shares their care with sinful men like me, and it is not until our bodies are HERE that we come to recognize the smallness of our being THERE in comparison with His divine care at all times, not only for the flock, but for the shepherd who cares for them.

It is in that recognition that one can find peace with being HERE, or in fact anywhere.  For all things are His, and happen according to His holy will.  All we can do is be faithful to remain focused on His teachings to us, His instructions for us, being thankful for all we receive, both blessings and strife, both health and sickness, both sadness and joy.  For in all things we can turn to Him and find Him.

Because He is HERE, no matter where HERE is!

Monday, September 24, 2012

A "Birthday" of Sorts

We would be remiss if we did not recognize this date as a "birthday".

At Saint Herman's in Hudson, we have a kind of "portable mentality".  Our building is rented space inside the city cemetery, and so we need to "tear down" our worship facility periodically (when the city arranges for the building to be used by others).  We are therefore not permitted to have any permanent signage outside the building, and so we have portable placards.

I mention these because they proclaim boldly the continuous pattern of Orthodox worship in this continent since 1794.  And thus, the 'birthday'.

It was on this day, 24September1794 that a missionary group from Russia landed in Alaska.  The group, which included one archimandrite, three priestmonks, one deacon monk, and one lay monk, departed from St. Petersburg on 21Dec1793.  They traveled 7300 miles in 293 days (25 miles per day).

The monks, as they arrived, had great compassion for the natives, who had been exploited by their countrymen who came to this region to trade in fur.

From the OCA web site (http://oca.org/history-archives/orthodox-christians-na/chapter-1), the following account of our own beloved Patron Saint Herman can be found:

The more general success of the Alaskan mission can be explained only by the heroic efforts of the missionaries in defending the Alaskans from Baranov and his henchmen, as well as by the missionaries’ sensitive approach to the pre-Christian spirituality of the Aleuts. The Russian monks presented Orthodox Christianity not as the abolition, but as the fulfillment, of the Aleut’s ancient religious heritage. Most persuasively, the personal example of the monk Herman provided the natives with tangible evidence that the Gospel, when embraced with full dedication and commitment, produced God-like men.
To avoid harassment (and possible assassination at the hands of Baranov’s men), the monk Herman left Kodiak sometime between 1808-1818, and relocated to Spruce Island, three miles to the north. He named his small hermitage “New Valaam,” in honor of his former monastery, from earlier generations of Orthodox monks had set out to evangelize Karelian, Lapp, and Finnish tribespeople. At New Valaam, Herman spent the rest of his life teaching the Aleuts, nursing the sick, raising orphans, praying, and working miracles. Most importantly, through his kindness, compassion and personal holiness, Herman exemplified an ideal Christian life. The last surviving member of the original mission, Herman died in 1837. His remains repose in Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church in Kodiak. The Aleuts never forgot the humble monk nor his legacy of prayer and deeds. Largely at their insistence, Herman was canonized in 1970 by the Orthodox Church in America as the first Orthodox saint America.
Through the prayers of Saint Herman of Alaska, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and save us!  Amen!!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Darkness and the Light of the Cross

Our world is a dangerous place.

There is (at least in the distorted memories of some of us) a recollection of a time when that danger was 'focused'.  Some of us grew up in the era when we were worried (perhaps consumed is a better description) about global nuclear destruction.  We participated in "drills" in our grade schools, climbing into interior rooms, being taught to crouch beneath strong tables - as if that were going to save us from a nuclear blast....

Today, the enemy is less focused.  He comes from a myriad of directions.  We have drug deals going down in the neighborhoods that surround us.  You can search on-line to find the meth-labs which have most recently been closed down - in your own neighborhood.  We have gangs in our cities, extremists in our towns, and polarization of our society to such an extent that we often feel that there are no people who share most of what we hold as truth in common with us.  We have wars which our military is fighting on more fronts than we knew existed 50 years ago.  We have ambassadors being murdered by "friends", political "allies" who are working against us, and partners whom we are disavowing.

Darkness seems to be everywhere.

Jesus taught about "darkness".  Among the things He left us as instruction are:

"The lamp of the body is the eye.  Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole body also is full of light.  But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of darkness.  Therefore take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness." (Luke 11:34-35)

The importance of this instruction is borne witness to in the Gospel of Saint John:

"In Him was Life, and the Life was the Light of men.  And the Light shines in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it." (John 1:4-5)

The Saints and the Holy Fathers have written gloriously of the Cross and its meaning to us.  Far be it from this sinful and humble priest to attempt to enhance that which they have already accomplished.  So, let us go to their writings for wisdom into this issue.

From Saint Ephraim the Syrian:  "The Cross abolished idolatrous adulation, enlightened the whole universe, gathered all the nations into one Church and united them with love...  The Cross is Light for those sitting in darkness....  Therefore on the forehead, and on the eyes, and on the mouth, and on the breasts let us place the life-giving Cross. Let us arm them with the invincible armor of Christians, with this hope of the faithful, with this gentle light."

From Vespers of the Feast:  "Shine, Cross of the Lord!  Shine with the Light of your grace upon those who honor You."

Given Saint John the Theologian's witness to the Light of Christ above, we can look to the instruction of Saint John of Kronstadt:  "Why do we honor the Cross wit such reverence that we make mention of its power in our prayers after asking  for the intercession of the Mother of God and the Heavenly Powers, before askin gfor that of the Saints, and sometimes even before asking for that of the Heavenly Powers?  Because after the Savior's sufferings, the Cross became the sign of the Son of Man, that is, the Cross signifies the Lord Himself, incarnate and suffering for our salvation."

And so, the Cross which we honor on this day carries with it the Light of the Word, the ability to bring to light that which is in darkness.

One can enter a dark room with a single candle, and the light of that candle will fill the room.  One cannot enter a room filled with light with any source of darkness and overcome the light with that darkness.  Light defeats darkness.

In a world rushing headlong towards darkness, it is we who carry upon our breasts the Cross of Christ.  We carry Him in our hearts.  He is present within us through the Holy Eucharist.  His light enters all places where we may go, so long as we allow Him to shine forth, and not to cover His light with that basket of our humanity, our sins, our own darkness.

The Lord's words above from Saint Luke instruct us in exactly this point.  We have "an eye" - it is not the physical eye which sends signals to our brain to keep us from stubbing our toes on things before us.  It is the eye of our spirits, which illumines our way in all truth, which shines to show us that which will preserve us from falling not into a physical pit, but from falling into evil.  It is this light that our spiritual eye must perceive. If that spiritual eye is "bad", we truly will be filled with spiritual darkness.  And like those spoken of by Saint John the Theologian, we may have that Light shining brightly around us, but how will we comprehend it?

The Cross is our key.  It is all that the Holy Fathers and the Saints have described from the beginning of the Church, and more.  On this day, as we elevate and exult it ourselves, let us bask in its light, and so be illumined, set ablaze by it, so that the Light of Christ may truly illumine all.

Friday, August 17, 2012

It's Been a Long Two Weeks

Withdrawal - It's a word we use too often to refer to the effects of someone who is under an evil influence, like drugs or alcohol or tobacco.  But the word can and does apply to positive situations as well.

As this is being written, there is a high-definition speaker system above my head blaring rock music in Korean.  I can't understand a word of it.  And the strange thing is - it's almost as if it's not even there.  The focus of the moment is not the loud music which surrounds, the odors of the food court in the airport, or even that western guy who seems angry at the poor Korean kid working at the Burger King because he can't understand "onion ring".....

No, what's important at the moment is the closure of being withdrawn from a "normal" spiritual life, from a week in which there is a rhythm, a schedule to which we pray, eat and fast, worship, and commune with God and with our brothers and sisters in Christ.  It is this withdrawal to which this short tome refers, and from which this sinful priest will shortly be delivered (by God's grace) through His provision of a complex machine that moves through the air, His gift of skills to a crew of pilots and ground support, and His grace to have completed a work effort hopefully in concert with His expectations, but also hopefully in concert with the expectations of a secular employer and its customers.

Yes, the return is to a beloved wife, to children and grandchildren, and the reunion with them will be sweet indeed.  But the return is also to a flock who is no less loved and cared for, to a building that we too often denigrate but remains yet another undeserved gift from God, to a job which provides support for all of these.
The more important return, though, is to Vespers, and Liturgy, and uninterrupted morning prayers, and Akathists, and visits to those in need.

For all of your prayers during this trip, for which I am unworthy, I offer humble thanks.  Now, turn those same prayers to seeking God's will in the coming months for the mission of Saint Herman of Alaska in Hudson!  Let us together seek God's will through our fervent prayers to Saint Herman and to the Theotokos!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Why Do I Feel As If I'm Making No Spiritual Progress?

It’s a question we often ask ourselves.  There are just times in our lives when we seem to feel that God is not answering our prayers.  We want peace, and we are in turmoil.  We want to feel as if we’ve forgiven someone, but in our next encounter with them, the past is remembered, and we can’t truly say our forgiveness is complete.  We want to pray meaningfully, but after our prayers, we feel empty.
If we think for a few moments, we’ll find that there are other examples of how we feel that our spiritual progress is just not what we hoped it would be.  Does any of this sound familiar?  
And so, what do we do? 
If you are an athlete, how do you train for an event?  If you wish to run a 100 yard dash, do you go to the track the day before the race, run the course once, and think it to be enough?  The Olympics are beginning.  Those who are considered the best athletes in the world are there, and they are competing.  Do you think that there is one of them who has dedicated just the past month to training?  Most of those who go to compete have dedicated their entire young lives to achieving the goal of getting to this competition, for being given the chance to measure themselves against the best in the world, and to see if they can overcome the limitations that they know that they still have to emerge victorious over the others.
Do we hear and understand that last statement.  Those who go know that they have not achieved perfection.  They know that they have limitations.  How do they deal with this?  They compete so that their limitations do not come to the forefront.  They find ways to overcome the limitations.  If a gymnast knows from training that they’ve succeeded in performing a triple jump once in every 50 tries, you can count on them not including it in their routine!
What does this mean for us?  It means that we too need to see our limitations.  They, like our talents, are also “God given.”  If we were not limited in this way, how much more difficult would it be for us to find humility in our daily lives?
Saint Leonid of Optina was once asked by one who sought his spiritual counsel, “Why, after years of struggle, do I find myself worse instead of better, more inconsiderate, colder of heart?”  Saint Leonid’s reply can enlighten us in our own struggles.
“Very few have flown up in a short time on the wings of faith and virtue into the spiritual heaven, or have sensed in themselves the undying pledge of hope and the betrothal of future glory.  There are others who will never sense this during their whole life on earth.  They will not sense it according to the dispensation (the gift) of our heavenly Protector, God, Who always provides what is best for us.  For we, infants in our understanding of the judgments of Him Who directs the world, often ask of Him such tools which in their own right and power are for our salvation, but we would put them to entirely detrimental use because of our inexperience.  Therefore, the loving Father of lights hides from certain pious people the gifts which are for the salvation of some, but to others bring perdition.  What would happen if God, Who knows all things, completely fulfilled our every wish?  I think, but I’m not saying for certain, that everyone in the world would perish.  Even though He does not reject the prayers of His chosen ones, God still does not at all times fulfill their desires.  And this only in order to arrange everything in a better way, in keeping with His divine intent.  Just because you see yourself making no progress does not mean that you are not making any progress at all.  Such feelings can plant sincere humility in your heart.  And when you have the genuine awareness that you are deprived of spiritual fruit, then make an unfailing effort to force your striving with God.  When we have had no success in the virtues, three is no closer means for salvation than humbleness of mind.  Haughtiness, even when joined to the virtues, is offensive to God.  But a meek thought will not be forgotten before Him.”
God’s wisdom is greater than we can imagine.  Even we have the wisdom to know, for instance, that a child is not ready to drive a car.  All of the muscles, all of the awareness, they are present in the child.  But the child lacks the experience to control unforeseen things.  How can we expect God’s wisdom for us to be less than our own?  It is folly to think in this way!  He gives to us what we need, when we are ready.
It is up to us to be accepting (and thankful) for that which we have, to recognize it as adequate (for God always gives us what we need), and to seek His will (and not our own) from that starting point.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Romans 10:10

In today's epistle from Saint Paul (Rom 10:1-10), the reading ends with the line, "For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved.”  These are powerful words for us as we attempt to follow those other words of Saint Paul, which exhort us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil 2:12)  You see, the Protestant view that Jesus has accomplished all for us already, and that all we have to do is accept His gift of salvation is voided by these words of Saint Paul.  Clearly there is more to the issue of our salvation than waving our hands in the air and saying, “I believe, Jesus!  I believe!”

Now the earlier words from Saint Paul lead us to that very same place.  “For a man believes with his heart and so is justified.”  What do these words mean?  The word translated from the original Greek as ‘justified’ can also be read as ‘righteous’.  When we believe with our hearts, we may be found to be righteous.  And so, how do we truly begin to believe with our hearts?  The word in Greek used for 'heart' is literally that part of us that is our beating hearts - cardia!  The clear implication is that the source of our earthly life needs to be conformed to the source of our eternal life!  When we conform what we say, do, touch, or work upon here in this life as if our eternal life were already in effect, then we may be justified, we may be found to live righteously, we are conforming to God’s will.

What a thing to contemplate – that we might live here in this life as if we were already in that eternal life.  And yet, is this not how the saints of the Church have demonstrated themselves to us.  Doesn’t the study of the lives of the saints point us in this direction, that we are already in the Kingdom of Heaven if only we live within the commandments of our Lord?

Saint John Chrysostom writes about this same passage from Saint Paul by taking the path of looking at Saint Paul as the ‘physician’, out to heal the people of Rome by his words and instruction.  Saint Paul’s argument to the people of the Church of Rome was that the Law of Moses was null and void in comparison with the issues of faith.  Chrysostom teaches that the object of the Law was to lead mankind to righteousness.  But the Law didn’t have the ‘power’ to do this, it only provided the prescription.  The person, the individual, still needed to conform to that prescription to achieve righteousness.  But no one did.  No one could.  But then our Lord came, and gave a means by which all could be accomplished – not by living only to a set of rules, but by conforming the heart to His will – by faith!  In that faith, we come to understand that we are not ‘like God’.  We are not perfect.  His rules in the Law are beyond our ability to live within them without ever breaking them in some fashion.  In that faith that He gives to us, in that faith that we hold in our hearts, in the very life-blood that sustains us physically and which then permeates into our eternal spiritual lives, He shows us the way through repentance to live that righteous life that He desires of us.

How do we change our lives so that we have this kind of faith deep in our hearts, spiritually and physically?

I have a wonderful little book.  It’s titled “The Orthodox Companion”.  Don’t go looking for it, you won’t find it.  It was written by Fr. David Abramtsov and published by the Syrian Antiochian Archdiocese under Metropolitan Anthony back in 1956.  Yes – it’s ‘old’.  But  within the book are small treasures of Orthodoxy, little things that we can use, especially to answer big questions like the one I just posed about changing our lives so that we can find this deep faith, a faith that fills our hearts, a faith that we won’t be able to suppress our lips from confessing.  What are some of these tidbit guides for us?

One is that we change the way we approach our day.  When we are about to begin our daily ‘duties’, whatever they may be, we could/should offer some or all of the “Prayers of the Optina Elders”.  The beauty of these is that whatever our particular work or duties are, they don’t matter in the least.  The prayers still apply, whether you’re a doctor going in to do heart surgery or a farmer going out to clean dung from your barn.  What are these prayers?

1)   Grant to me, Lord, that with peace of mind I may face all that this new day is to bring.  If we can’t start with our minds being at peace, how is the day not going to be filled with trouble and turmoil?  In short - Make a good beginning. 
2)   Grant me the grace to surrender myself completely to Your Holy will.  If I during the day decide that “I know what’s best – stand aside, God,” am I going to have any hope of being found righteous?  Do I truly believe with my heart if I do such things?
3)   For every hour of this day, instruct and prepare me in all things.  None of us can say what might happen next.  If I’m in the kitchen preparing supper, there’s always that chance that my finger could be sliced into the pile of potatoes.  The neighbor’s house could catch fire.  Or my child might ask for a loving response when I’m troubled.  Whatever might happen, isn’t is right for us to pray for God’s gift to prepare us for whatever may come our way?
4)   Whatever news I may receive during this day, teach me to accept it tranquilly, knowing that all things are done to fulfill Your Holy will.  We so very often forget that God accomplishes good out of evil.  We see evil surrounding us, and we conclude that God has abandoned us.  But in our hearts, those same hearts that we are trying to conform to His will, we know that He never abandons us, He is never far from us.
5)   Govern my thoughts and feelings in all I do or say.  Wow – if only!
6)   When unforeseen things occur, let me not forget that all comes from You.  This is like Number 4 above, but reinforces that everything – and that means everything – comes from God, and I need to recognize His sovereignty therefore over the things that I perceive to be in my control.  Ultimately, they are in His control.  Remember 9/11?  Remember how devastated we were?  Remember how so many questioned how God could permit people to be murdered in that way?  Remember how many came to God in prayer because of that day?  Remember how we found such spiritual strength as a nation, to rally around those who were harmed on that day?  Can we not see that God had a plan, even in such tragedy?  Can we see how we've reverted as a nation back to a place of complacency since, how we've forgotten our need to reach out to our God?
7)   Teach me to behave sincerely and reasonably toward every member of my family, that I may not bring them to confusion or sorrow.  Sincerity and reasonability.  If we approach spouse, child, parent with these, do our dealings with them ever go wrong?  And yet, how often do our dealings with family go wrong, usually because we are either or both insincere and/or unreasonable?  What a thing to pray!
8)   Bestow on me, my Lord, the strength to endure the fatigue of the day, and to bear my part in all its passing events.  Is it easy for us to remain sincere and reasonable when we’re tired?  It’s a common human excuse for misbehavior – “I’m tired!”  It means, “Leave me alone.  Stay away from me.”  These are words that divide us from those who love us.
9)   Guide my will and teach me to pray, believe, hope, suffer, forgive, and love. Amen!  Teach me to pray!  How many times in my life have I sat speechless, knowing that I needed to reach toward God, but not being able to find even a word to make that attempt?  How many times have I grown angry at myself for my impotence in reaching toward Him?  How many times have I sat in such silence, and then found myself resorting to words He has already given me?  Sometimes it’s Psalm 51 – “Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your great mercy…”  Sometimes it’s some other Psalm whose words apply to the situation I find myself in.  But often it’s our Lord’s own words that He gave us in response to the request of His own Apostles when they asked Him “Teach  us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:2)  Yes – it’s the Lord’s Prayer.

Let's look at an example that summarizes all we’ve talked about to this point, of having our hearts conform to the Lord’s will, of living a life that is always seeking His guidance, of praying for His peace, of treating others with respect and kindness even in the face of adversity, and of prayer that is inspired by Him.

We’ve told the story before, but it bears repeating as often as necessary.  I relate the story as it was told to me by a priest I knew quite a few years ago, and so if the details are "off", let me apologize in advance for any errors.

Quite a few years ago in the OCA, Bishop Dimitri was assigned to the Diocese of the South – Dallas I think was the ‘home’ cathedral.  Anyhow, Bishop Dimitri was invited to participate in a multi-denominational meeting with a group of other Christian denominations, and the ‘leader’ of the gathering was a certain Southern Baptist pastor who apparently had little love for the Orthodox.  Forced to introduce Bishop Dimitri to give the invocation prayer, the minister stood, and his introduction said basically, “Now, Bishop Dimitri is going to read us one of those written-down kind of prayers.” 

It was an unprovoked attack on one he didn’t even know.  It was a situation that could have forced any of us into returning evil for evil – generating confrontation.  But if we live the prayers we’ve just outlined, if we seek to believe with our hearts so that we’ll be found justified and righteous, we would likely do exactly what Bishop Dimitri did.

He stood quietly, went to the podium, took out a book and opened it, put on his glasses, looked down, and began to read:

“Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name….”

When he finished the prayer, there was a standing ovation!  

Love even those that hate us....

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Equating Christ With "Great Men"

Only a proud man is always prepared to equate Christ with other great men. Even though it is obvious at first glance, that great men are one thing and the Lord Christ another, just as creation is one thing and the Creator is another. Christ is not only great but He is the Creator and Source and Inspirer of every true greatness in the history of mankind. Napoleon, one of the transient great men in exile and misery on the island of St. Helena, uttered these words: "Alexander, Caesar, Hannibal, Louis XIV, with all their genius, are nothing. They have conquered the world and were unable to gain one friend. And behold, Christ calls and instantly entire generations are united in a bond closer and stronger than the bond of blood. Christ ignites the fire of love which consumes all egoism and surpasses whatever kind of love you desire. - St. Nikolai Velimirovich

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What Is YOUR Profession?

Continuing on our 'theme' of looking at this season of the Apostles' Fast for our own spiritual growth, let's ask the title question.

"What is your profession?"

It's an integral part of how we as human beings interact with one another.  When we first meet a person, we say to them, "Tell me something about yourself," so that we might come to know them better.  And the 'standard' response to such a situation is, "I'm a ___", where you fill in the blank with your profession.  It is as if someone should come to know a lot about us if we describe ourselves as a lawyer, a banker, an engineer, a doctor, a housewife, or a teacher.  And indeed, those 'labels' reveal something about us, but they don't come close to revealing to someone who we really are.

How many people would respond to the question with the answer, "I am an Orthodox Christian!"?  In my entire life, I've never encountered that as a response.  And in many instances, I or my family members have come to be 'introduced' to people who were in fact Orthodox Christians, and we only 'discovered' that spiritual connection after many discussions with them - a chance glimpse of a cross worn around the neck, or seeing us make the sign of the cross before we take a bite of food.  It takes those clandestine professions of faith to indicate to someone something more intimate about who we really are as a person, to reveal a portion of our spiritual side.

I write these things not to indict, for I am a classic case study in the issue.  I am secularly employed as an engineer, and the opportunities for meeting new people are endless.  In those opportunities, I never once introduce myself (in that business world) as, "I'm an Orthodox priest."  Rather, I'm an engineer, an alumnus of a certain college, with so many years of experience in a particular field.  And all this is right and proper, I think, for the situation.

But I often wonder, can the people who are new acquaintances see the priest inside the person they just met?  To generalize for all of us, can a new acquaintance find Christ reflected in what they see when they look at us?

If I profess faith in Jesus Christ, I have a 'profession'.  To make that profession visible, to strengthen my faith so that it is obvious to others, there is a reason for me to fast in this season.  Saint Paul taught, "To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled.  They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work."  (Titus 1:15-16)

May this Fast strengthen us all "for every good work".

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Apostles' Fast

The season in which we find ourselves is often either confusing to or ignored by many who call themselves Orthodox faithful.  I've often wondered why this is....  The season is one that can carry a very important significance to us, if only we allow ourselves to immerse ourselves in that which is prescribed by the Church.  How is this true, you might ask???

First, we need to go back to Chapter 9 of the Gospel of Saint Matthew.  Herein, our Lord is being questioned by the disciples of Saint John the Forerunner, who come to the Lord and ask, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?"  Perhaps it was 'just a question'.  More likely, it was a question sourced from jealousy.  Ancient Hebrew tradition included fasting, and the rabbi's compared a fast with offering up ones own body in a symbolic sacrificial way, depleting ones blood and fat which compared with the burnt offerings at the altar.  In that 'tradition', fasting was 'absolute', i.e. no food nor drink from 'first light' (before dawn) until sunset.

In responding to the query from Saint John's disciples, our Lord instructed them:  "Can the friends of the Bridegroom mourn as long as the Bridegroom is with them?"  In this response, Jesus clearly links fasting with this perspective of mourning.  But the Lord continues, saying, "The days will come when the Bridegroom will be taken from them, and then they will fast." 

As we find ourselves in this season after our Lord's Ascension, when the Apostles are filled with the Holy Spirit, it is not inconsistent for us to relate these words to exactly this season.  But if this was true for our Lord's Apostles, what does it say about us?  Are we not also His disciples in the most literal sense?  And if we are, why would we not avail ourselves of this season?

"But it's so hard, father!" many will say.  "This is the beginning of vacation season.  We go on picnics.  We travel.  Why do we need to fast now?"

The questions are posed from the wrong perspective, I fear.  For indeed, one may reasonably ask, "When is the season in which we should not fast?"  With all due respect to the Pascal season that we've just exited, when is it ever a bad idea to bring our bodies into submission to the Spirit?

Fasting for us is not aligned with the above 'idea' of the ancient Jews, where it is some symbolic replacement for a burnt offering, a sacrifice to please God.  Fasting for us as Orthodox Christians is a tool, a God-given means of weakening the flesh so that the spirit may increase.  Will we feel hunger?  Certainly.  Will we desire things that we set aside 'for a season'?  Absolutely!  But how much more savory is the food from which we've separated ourselves when the season ends?

In my own household, my children (when they still lived at home) would come from time to time during the year and ask, "Dad - will you make some Pascha bread?  It sounds SO good...."  And my standard answer was, "NO!"  It was something quite special, and our eating that sweet bread was always related to one day in the year, and no other.

While some may think that our 'fasting regimen' should end with Holy Saturday until the next year's Sunday of Orthodoxy, if we live in that way, we deprive ourselves of the differences of the fasting seasons throughout the year.

What can one find "special" here within this fasting season which can benefit our spiritual growth?  Given that this is the Apostles' Fast, how about reading from the lives of the Apostles?  What benefits might we accrue if we came to the firm realization that the Apostles were "just normal people" like us, except that they allowed the Holy Spirit "space" within themselves to change their lives?

In our homily this past Sunday, we recalled a story - I can't remember the source.  But it was about a little girl who came to church all the time.  One particular evening, she had been noticeably focused on the stained glass windows of the church, and the images of the saints which were cast into them.  When it was dark, and the service had ended, she approached the priest and said, "Father, I remember those windows from Sunday morning.  The saints aren't as pretty without the sun's light shining through them."

What a profound thing!  The saints are not beautiful unless they are filled with the light of Christ....

Remember - We are all called to be saints!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Interesting Article

Christ is Ascended!

I've become a rather voracious reader of a number of blog sites which I consider to be fruitful to my own spiritual growth.

I came across this one today:


It's published by Father Andrew Stephen Damick, pastor of Saint Paul Orthodox Christian Church of Emmaus, PA.  He's the author of "Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy:  Exploring Belief Systems Through the Lens of the Ancient Christian Faith" published by Conciliar Press.

The article in question is titled, "Evangelicals at the Eucharist", and can be found from a link on this page.  It's a fascinating article on how non-Orthodox are ascribing greater meaning (but as yet undefined in terms of dogma) to participation in the Eucharist.

Let me encourage you to go, to read, and to contemplate.

In our ascended Lord,
Father Basil

Monday, April 16, 2012

Christ is Risen!

May the joy of knowing that Christ is Risen from the dead fill all of us!  May we be filled with the firm knowledge that in His Resurrection He provides the path for all who follow Him in faith and in love to be with Him in His Kingdom.  And in that firm knowledge, may we attain to that "unity of the faith" that leads us to be near Him while we remain here, awaiting that day when we shall stand before Him.  For the Kingdom of Heaven is here and now.  Because Christ is Risen, there is no division between that which is heavenly and that which is earthly.  Because Christ is Risen, there remains no reason for fear or doubt.  Because Christ is Risen, there must not be hatred or suspicion that separates one from another.  As the Pascal Verses teach us, "Let us call brothers even those that hate us, and forgive all by the Resurrection."  This is what our Lord leaves to us as the lesson of the empty tomb.  There is no boundary to His love.  If we are truly His followers, there can be no boundary to our love.

Christ is Risen!  May that three-word summary of all theology fill each of us, today, tomorrow, and until we are with the Lord at His Second and Glorious Coming!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Great and Holy Monday

At Presanctified Liturgy today, we read from the 24th Chapter of the Gospel of Saint Matthew.  It is here that our Lord is taken aside by His Apostles, and they ask Him, "Tell us, when will these things be?"  The question is in response to the teaching that our Lord has just given to the Pharisees in Chapter 23, where the Lord repeatedly says to them, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees!  Hypocrites!"  At the end of that monologue, Jesus proclaims the fate of Jerusalem (Mat 23:37-39)

"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!  See, your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!'"
Saint Nikolai Velimirovich wrote a wonderful sermon on the content of Matthew 24 in his "Prologue."  In it, he says:

Who is this "other" who will come in his own name and whom sinful men will prefer to receive rather than Christ the Lord?  It is he who does not carry the cross and does not walk the narrow path; he who is not a lover of man but rather a hater of man; he who does not struggle against sin but rather struggles for sin; he who loves impurity and spreads impurity; he who is a soldier of eternal death and not of eternal life; he who flatters the godless and loves every passion and vice: he is Antichrist. He will come in his own name and not in the name of God, and all those who did not receive Christ will receive him. He will be more dear to them, for he will embrace all their crooked and sinful paths. He will be more dear to them than Christ, for alongside the difficult path of Christ he will build a path smooth as ice, over which men will easily slide, not thinking about the abyss to which it leads them. The Lord Jesus Christ came in the name of the eternal salvation of men, eternal life, eternal truth and eternal justice. Antichrist will come in his own name, that is, in the name of eternal destruction, death, falsehood and injustice. When the Antichrist comes among his own, his own will gladly receive him. In fact, all those for whom Christ is difficult will gladly receive Antichrist, for he and his path will appear easy to them. Only when it is too late will the foolish see that they were deceived, but there will be no salvation for them. When they begin to slide into eternal night, into the jaws of the fetid serpent, then it will be too late; repentance will not be accepted and there will be no salvation. The foolish banquet of earthly sinners and Antichrist will be over quickly, in the blink of an eye, and the house of impure joy will turn into a hopeless prison of remorse and misery. Then it will be too late.

In our world, we know the expression "Antichrist", and we've come to embrace the person as a fictional character, brought to us in movies that excite us by portraying world-wide destruction.  What many fail to recognize is that the person is real.  He will come.  The prophecies of the end times issued by our Lord in today's Gospel reading from Matthew 24 will come to pass.  Those who deny such reality place themselves into the perilous position outlined by Saint Nikolai above, as those who will "gladly receive him" because of the ease of life his policies will present.  

Here in Holy Week 2012, let us not ignore our Lord's words.  We began the Great Fast by celebrating before it a number of preparatory Sundays.  Among these were the Sunday of the Last Judgment.  This too is a real event, which will be precipitated at the fulfillment of all prophesied by our Lord in today's Gospel lesson.  

We celebrate for the first three evenings of Holy Week the Bridegroom Matins.  Within these services, we also remind ourselves of our Lord's parable of the wise virgins:  

"Behold, the Bridegroom comes at midnight.  Blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching, and again unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless.  Beware therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down with sleep, lest you be given up to death and lest you be shut out of the kingdom.  But rouse yourself, saying 'Holy, Holy, Holy are You, O our God!'  Through the prayers of the Theotokos, have mercy on us!"

Let us pray for this watchfulness and this focus as we walk with our Lord toward His Holy Passion!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Reflections On Lazarus Saturday

By this time in the Great Fast, and specifically now that the fast is over, we look ahead with great anticipation to the coming of Holy Week, but even more so to the Resurrection of our Lord.  We’re making plans already.  We’ve already begun to clean the house for guests, to decorate eggs, to bake bread, to buy our meats which we’ve been waiting these past seven plus weeks to be able to consume again.

But in the wisdom of the Church, while She knows that we’re doing all of these things, She is attempting at every turn to focus our attention on that which is happening around us.  And what I mean by that is not what is occurring in the world, with the political battles of this year raging, of wars, of murders in the streets.  While we shouldn’t ignore such things, our focus is supposed to be on that which is occurring right now to our Lord, as He is today in Bethany, and tomorrow in Jerusalem.

Especially today, on Lazarus Saturday, we find ourselves in a mixed state of sorrow and joy.  We sorrow, for we know that we must walk with our Lord to Gethsemane, and to Golgotha, and to the tomb.  We know that the rollercoaster of joy and grief will continue, as we sit with Him at supper and He gives to us that very first Eucharist, but then immediately reveals to us that one of us will betray Him.  Our sorrow deepens as we come to recognize those times in our lives when, by virtue of our selfish attitudes and our sinful ways, we too have betrayed Him.  We’ll be at His side as the guards rush in to arrest Him, as Judas kisses Him, as Peter strikes one of the guards, as He is carried away shamelessly to an unlawful gathering of those who hate Him, as He is struck on the face, beaten, spit upon, mocked, scourged.

We know instinctively that every time that we take that walk with Him, we see Him suffering all these things for our sakes.  His love for us is perfect.  Our love for Him is so very far from that perfection, and yet even the imperfect love that we have for Him causes us to grieve to the depths of our souls as we witness what our Lord comes to endure for us.  And in that sense, the depth of our grief is an indicator to us – it should strengthen us.  For when we feel as if we are separated from the Lord, all we need do is think about how we feel seeing Him nailed to the cross, how our bodies jerk in response to those sticks we clang together on Holy Thursday, reminding us of the nailing.  No human being grieves for someone we do not love.  But we grieve deeply for those whom we do love.  This coming week, we will grieve.  We will gather here and weep as we witness yet again that which our Lord chooses to endure for us.  As we gauge our grief in this coming week, we should bank those feelings for the coming year, for they bear testimony to the depth with which we love our Lord in return!  Every time we are tempted to think that our love for Him is lessened by something, some response, some sin, some act in the world – remember this week!  Remember the love you sense for Christ in these days, and draw from that well!!

Today, Jesus comes to Bethany, knowing exactly what He will find there – the body of a beloved friend, rotting, stinking in the grave, decaying and beyond all hope from men.  But it is not just any Man that comes to the tomb today.  It is the God-Man, God in the flesh, the One Who created us from the dust.  If He has the ability to create us from nothingness, how difficult is it for Him to call the soul back into a decayed body, and to mend that body back to perfect health?  It is a Word to God.  In today’s case, it is three words:  “Lazarus, come forth!”  If we need an indication that all hear the voice of God, here it is.  Lazarus is four days dead.  His physical ears are missing.  But our spiritual ears never fade.  In spirit, the dead man hears the voice of the Living God.  And he cannot disobey the command.  God’s will must be done, even amongst those who are dead!

Like Lazarus, we will also die.  Like him, we too will return to that dust from which our Lord made us.  And like him, we too will ultimately hear the voice of our Lord, when He returns to judge all mankind, call us from where we are.  For the living, they will come.  For the departed, they will return, at His command, just as does Lazarus on this day.  The day is coming for all of us, dead and alive, when we will respond just as Lazarus does on this day.  “All of you, come forth!  The time for judgment is at hand!!”

This coming week I say to you that we will all weep and mourn and grieve over what we witness happening to our Lord, and in that weeping we will show to Him and to ourselves the extent of our love for Him.  But in that weeping, we cannot overlook the fact that today, as Jesus comes to Bethany, He shares in that expression of love for us, His creation, whom He loves enough to endure even that which lay before Him in this coming week.  In His love for us, even God stops to weep, for it grieves even God in Spirit to see the perfection of His creation overcome by death.  It grieves Him so greatly that He cannot endure to allow it to go on.  And so today He calls Lazarus.  In another week, His voice will call all who have lain in the grave, since the death of Abel, the first of mankind to die, until the last person who will take their last breath before Jesus returns at His Second Coming.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is not something that will affect us sometime in an unknown future.  It applies to us now, to you and to me.  It must change us now, make us alive in Christ now.  It must comfort us now.  We must wash in it to remove our sins and passions, right now.  The raising of Lazarus calls us to this perspective today.  While the time of Holy Week itself is short, our time in this world grows short, it is shorter every day.  We cannot wait to claim this power of Christ’s victory over death until later.

The voice of our Lord is calling to us at this same time.  “You who are asleep in sin, come forth!”  We must not – we can not ignore the call.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Woman At The Well

Being a "child of the 60's" (my teen years), it was natural to become a fan of Peter, Paul and Mary.  The "protest song genre" notwithstanding, there was just a lot of good music that was produced, much of it spiritual in nature, taking cues from old time spirituals, etc.

One such 'tune' that always comes to mind is "Jesus Met the Woman at the Well."  It is a painfully repetitive but accurate account of the Lord's encounter with the woman we now know as Saint Photina at Jacob's well at Sychar in Samaria, as documented in Chapter 4 of the Gospel of Saint John.

Why this message on this day?  Because this is the day we celebrate the memory of Saint Photina!

In many Christian backgrounds, her name remains unknown.  But to us in Holy Orthodoxy, we have the rich tradition of what happened to this wonderful saint after her first encounter with the Lord.  The account is one that carries much hope for us even to this very day, for in a truly brief encounter, the shortest of improbable conversations, the heart of Saint Photina was changed, and she left her sinful life and followed Christ!  May it be so with us!!

From the years 54 through 68 (the reign of the emperor Nero), Saint Photina lived in Carthage with her younger son Joses.  Her evangelistic mission, which started when she left her water bottle at the well and went into the town to call others to 'come and see' Jesus continued in this new city.  The blessed saint's older son, Victor, was a soldier, a military commander in Asia Minor, distinguished in battle, whom Nero called to Italy to arrest and punish Christians. A friend of his, Sebastian by name, urged Victor to convince his family to submit to the will of the emperor, for he knew that they were all Christians.  Instead of shrinking at the threat from the emperor, Victor boldly proclaimed, "I wish to preach Christ like my mother and brother."

Saddened, Sebastian continued to try to change Victor's mind, and in response, he became blinded for three days, laying, without uttering even a word.  On the fourth day, Sebastian arose and declared, "The God of the Christians is the only true God."  When Victor asked why he had changed his own perspective, Sebastian replied, "Because Christ is calling me!"  He received baptism, and regained his sight.  At this, all of his own servants were also baptized.

Nero learned of all of these happenings, and summoned the group to Rome.  Christ appeared to Victor, giving him the name Photinus, because "through you many will be enlightened and believe in Me."

Saint Photina heard of the plight of her son, and left Carthage to join the confessors of Christ in Rome.  There, persecutions awaited, and they submitted willingly to all.  Saint Photina and her five sisters were given over to supervision by Nero's daughter, Domnina, whom Saint Photina evangelized and brought to Christ!  Casting the whole group into prison for three years, Nero again sent to receive a report on their being broken to renounce Christ.  Instead, he was informed that the whole prison had been evangelized, converted, and that it had become "a bright and fragrant place where God is glorified."

At this, Nero gave orders to crucify the saints.  After four days, an angel freed the martyrs from their crosses and healed them.  The tortures became even more savage.  Ultimately, the "woman at the well" was cast into a well by Nero, where she remained for twenty days.  After this, she was again brought before Nero and ordered to offer sacrifice to idols.  At this, Saint Photina spit in the face of the emperor, saying, "You impious and stupid man!  Do you think I am so deluded that I would renounce my Lord to offer sacrifice to idols as blind as you are?"

Saint Photina was returned to the well, and there she surrendered her soul to her Lord and Savior.