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! We are open, and we welcome inside the Church all visitors who follow state COVID guidelines.

Monday, October 19, 2020

He Who Hears You Hears Me

In a world filled with secular humanism, there’s a whole lot of “self” and not very much “other”.  Certainly our Lord instructed us to “love your neighbor as yourself,” (Mark 12:31).  And so in loving ourselves, we take a lesson in how it is that we are to love our neighbor.  This bars us from any kind of narcissistic love, but causes the love of which we speak to be that which is good for our salvation first.  And if we are concerned with our own salvation as a first priority (in our love for ourselves), then our love for our neighbor will also be love for them to seek THEIR salvation, as well.

The commandment given us by our Lord is not the first instance in Holy Scripture of this commandment.  Its first occurrence is in Leviticus Chapter 19.  There, in verses 17 and 18, are instructions on this love of neighbor.  And the contents may surprise you, if you’re not familiar with the words:

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart.”  This seems an easy commandment on the surface, but it is not so easy in implementation, is it?  Look at the world around you.  In the division that separates the country that we all love, I see countless signs in yards that say, “Hatred has no home here.”  But the signs are immediately placed beside other signs which speak to allegiance with organizations which espouse anarchy, and the non-peaceful overthrow of not just our government, but our very society.  One can only conclude that one or the other of the signs placed is specious. 

“You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him.”  Bearing sin can be a double-edged sword.  On the one hand, we are not to bear anger (hatred) which would be sin to us.  On the other hand, we cannot let unrighteous actions of our neighbor sway us into following them into unrighteousness.

“You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people.”  We know that vengeance belongs to God alone, if He will extract it.  It is not up to our will.  Thus, if we hold no anger, we will not be tempted toward vengeance.

“But you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  We’ve already focused on these words, and their meaning does not change from the time that Leviticus was penned until nearly 700 years later when our Lord, the Word of God, Who gave the words originally, called on them again.

As Christians, we CAN make productive use of the emotion founded in hatred.  We can hate the pandemic.  We can hate cancer.  We can hate those who persecute the Church.  We can hate the wanton use of abortion, throughout the world certainly, but especially in our own country where 60 million babies have been martyred since abortion was legalized.  We can hate these unhealthy and unrighteous elements of our lives while NOT hating those who recklessly spread disease, or NOT hating those who seemingly without conscience commit murder of the unborn.  Their ACTIONS are anti-Church, and it shows that they “have not heard” the message of the Church.

Is that their fault, or is it ours?

Whichever the case, it is time for us to act like the people who carry the name of Christ.  It is time to stand up for what is right.  We will only be heard if we speak out.  But let our words speak the Love that is Christ!

Monday, October 12, 2020

3rd Luke 2020 (Luke 7:11-16) - Dwellers of Nain

 In the name of the Father and of the Son of the Holy Spirit. Glory to Jesus Christ! 

We're familiar by now with this Gospel reading. We know that in our Lord's ministry the Gospels record three accounts of Jesus restoring life to someone. The first of these is today's account, the raising of the son of the widow of Nain.  The second is the account of Jesus restoring life to the daughter of Jairus. The third and final account is the raising of Lazarus, whom the church refers to as 'the four days dead'. We'll get to today's account soon, but first we're going to go back in time. 

We're traveling back to the time of Elijah.  We don't often preach from the Old Testament, but we're going to today. Why?  Because there are also three accounts of life being restored in the Old Testament. The first of these is an account from the life of the prophet Elijah. 

This account comes from the first book of Kings, Chapter 17. The reading describes a time when God has sent a drought on the land. And he promises Elijah that there will be no dew nor rain. As the drought comes upon the land, God speaks to Elijah and tells him go to the Brooke of Cherith. 

God promised Elijah that when he got there, He would send ravens to bring food to Elijah, and he could drink from the brook to cover his thirst.  And indeed the scripture records that when Elijah got to the brook, birds brought meat and bread to feed him, and he drank from the flow of water in the brook. We don't know how long this went on, but after a while the brook dried up.  When this happened, God spoke to Elijah one more time and told him to go to Zeraphath. God tells Elijah that He has commanded a widow there to provide for him.  Imagine being Elijah, and placing all your trust in God's word revealed to you such that you are willing to travel and depend on a widow for your food and well being!  But we know the faith of Elijah, and as we read this portion of Holy Scripture, we find incredible faith in the widow as well. 

Elijah arrives as God commands, and the entire region is parched, nothing but dry land, for as God indicated, there has been no water. 

Elijah finds the woman and approaches,  asking for a drink. But he's also hungry, so he asks her for a morsel of bread as well. She tells the prophet her own tale of woe, that she has almost nothing. Her words reveal that she has only a handful of flower a bin, and a little oil in a jar. 

As this discussion is happening, Elijah notes that the woman is gathering sticks.  As she describes her state of despair to the prophet, she tells him that the sticks she's gathering she'll take to her son, so that together, they might eat their last meal and die. 

Elijah shows his faith first. He instructs the woman to go and make a small cake for him from the flour and oil she has left. The prophet's words indicate that she should feed him first. And then he tells her to also make from what remains something for her and her son to eat. Elijah promises her that neither the flower nor the oil will disappear.  In scriptural terms, "they will not fail" until that day when the Lord sends rain. 

And the prophecy records that the three of them ate.  And apparently they ate for many days, just as Elijah had promised.

After the drought ends, the widow's child becomes ill and he dies. And she blames Elijah for his death. 

Elijah goes to the boy, and he stretches his own body out on the young man three times. The prophet cries in prayer to God asking Him to permit the boy's soul to return. And by the prophets works and words of prayer, the boy revives. The woman responds with these words.  She says, "Now by this, I know that you are a man of God, that the word of the Lord is in your mouth, and that it is truth."

In the Old Testament timeline, the second scripture describing restoration of life comes from Second Kings Chapter 4.  We're going to skip that reading for just a moment. 

We're going to Second Kings Chapter 13, where we find a very short account - only two verses. It records an event in the memory of the people who lived in the region where Elisha died and was buried.  In this place, on a particular day, people are taking a dead man's body out of the city for burial. Those who are bearing the body see on the horizon a raiding band of Moabites coming to attack their city.  This causes them to rush their task, and so rather than bury the body in its own burial place, they know where the body of Elisha was laid, and in haste, they open that tomb and they put the man into the tomb of Elisha.  When the man's body was let down, the dead man touched the bones of Elisha.  When this happened, he revived and stood on his feet. So we find that the faith of Elisha, even being dead and buried, carried God's blessing sufficient to restore life to this man. 

The middle account was left here until last for a specific reason.  This account comes from Second King's Chapter four. And most of us will be more familiar with it than the other two accounts because it's a reading that we in fact read in the church every Holy Saturday.

Elisha travels frequently.  In many of his travels, he goes back and forth along what is known as the coastal highway. It was a road that extended from the Mediterranean coast of Egypt around the sea through Israel and up and the coast into Damascus.  It was a trade route, and it was traveled heavily by many, some carrying goods back and forth from city to city in trade. 

But it was used by other people as well and Elisha was one who would travel that route. Along the path then was the city of Shunam. This is where the Shunamite woman lived. Shunem was only a couple of miles off of this beaten path. It lay on the lower slopes of Mount Moreh, a mile or two from this international coastal highway. Elisha's home was at Mount Carmel, about 20 miles north of Shunem. When the prophet would travel to Galilee or other regions, he would travel this road, and Shunem was a convenient stopping point. 

On one of his trips Elisha goes into this town, whereon the woman gives him some food and they establish a relationship.  She suggests to her husband that they build a room for Elisha so that when he comes by he can have a place to stay.  And they do so, and he in in loving honor for what they have done for him asks, "What can I do for you?"  He knows that the couple is childless, and so he tells the woman that at this season next year, you will bear a son. The woman is older and she says, "Don't tell me false tales, don't make up lies to me."  But indeed, she bears a son. And the boy grows.  As the scrpiture then records, the boy is out in the field with his father one day and he cries, "Oh my head."  The father sends him with servants back to the house, where he sits on his mother's lap. The scripture records that the child dies as she holds him at about the noon hour. She immediately calls servants. "Get me an animal - we're going to find the holy man."  She goes off to find Elisha. She doesn't even tell her husband why.  He asks, "Why are you going to the holy man on this day.  It's it's not a Sabbath, it's not a new moon, why are you going there now?"

All she tells him is, "It will be well."  And in that expression there's an undertow of faith that Elisha can solve her problem. Now she leaves after the noon hour.  While Mount Carmel may have been only 10 or 20 miles from Shunem, such a trip on a donkey - even one being "urged on" as the account says, would take hours.  Because of this, some scholars reckon that she would not have arrived to the place where Elisha was until late in the afternoon or early evening.  The chances are that they didn't travel at night going back to Shunem, so this boy would probably have been dead for the for about 24 hours by the time they arrived.

Upon arriving, Elisha goes and prays over the child. The scripture records that the prophet put his hands on the boy's hands, his eyes on his eyes, his lips on his lips, and the boy's body became warm.  Elisha got up and walked around the house, prayed more, and repeated the action of placing himself on the boy.  At this, the boy sneezed seven times and awoke. And so, Elisha gives the boy to his mother. 

Now why put this story last, and why do we bring these stories up today on this Sunday when we're talking about the widow of Nain?

At the time of today's Gospel reading, it's now literally 800 years since the account of the Shunamite woman. By this time, Shunam as a city is gone, it's not there any longer. What is there is a new town.  Nain has sprung up a mile or two away from where Shunam used to be. And so the people of Nain hold as their own ethnic heritage this account of Elisha raising the child from the dead as part of their urban folklore.  It's part of who they are as a people.  They know this story in implicitly.  Totally. And here we find Christ on this day showing up in this city where they remember Elisha so vividly, even after 800 years. 

And Jesus restores life to the child of a widow. 

The reason for raising all of these issues is to call our attention to what the people's response is to our Lord's act of mercy, what their reaction is to the miracle that we see today. 

And that reaction is, "A great profit is risen among us!" This is their response? A great profit?  Why do they use these words? They do so because they know Elisha. Elisha was a great profit. Let's go back and remember the account of Elijah being taken up into heaven, and Elisha is with him. In that scriptural account the two are traveling, and everywhere they go people are telling Elisha, "You know, your master is being taken from you today."  Everybody seems to know that Elijah is departing this earth, including Elisha.  And so they get to the place where Elijah is is ready to be taken up. Recall the account of the chariot of fire. Elijah says to Elisha, "Ask me for something that I can give to you before I leave." And Elisha's request is, "I would that you give me a double portion of your grace."

A double portion of what Elijah had as gifts from God! Elijah's response was, "This is a difficult thing. But if you see me departing then it will be granted. If you're not able to see me depart it won't."  After this Elijah is taken up, and we find Elisha calling out to Elijah, seeing him lifted into the wheels. So indeed, Elisha witnesses Elijah's departure, and he is therefore given this double portion of grace as he requested. The people of Nain knew the story.  They recognized the greatness of the prophet Elisha. 

But Elisha raised the Shunamite woman's child from the dead only by great effort and great prayer. It didn't happen at his word. Today our Lord shows up at Nain, and simply says, "I say to you child, arise!"  At the Lord's word alone, the boy gets up and speaks!

There comes a time when we have to be able to recognize things that are beyond our experience. It's beyond the experience of the people of Nain to see that the Man Who stands before them is both God and man. They view Jesus from the perspective of their urban accounts, their own regional tales of Elisha, and in so doing, they see only a profit, not God. 

At some point in time we need to be able to make a leap beyond what we "know", so that when God sends us things that are beyond our understanding, we won't rely on memories of the past to explain what God is showing us now. 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, the time is coming in this world when the Lord's return will be upon us. If we are blessed to be present at that hour, we won't be able to rely on our experiences, because there's no experience like the one that is coming. What is coming is beyond our ability to understand. 

May God, give us the grace required to understand the things that He sends our way, and to wait patiently for his Word to direct our lives.   May He bless us with the ability to remain vigilant, like the wise virgins, ever awaiting His coming!

Glory to Jesus Christ.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

October 1 - Feast of the Protection of the Theotokos

 From the Prologue from Ochrid:

From time immemorial, the Church has celebrated the Most-holy Theotokos as the patroness and protectress of the Christian people, who, by her intercessory prayers, implores God's mercy for us sinners. The help of the Most-holy Mother of God has been clearly shown numerous times, to individuals and to nations, in peace and in war, in monastic deserts and in densely populated cities. The event that the Church commemorates and celebrates today confirms the Theotokos' consistent protection of Christian people. On October 1, 911, during the reign of Emperor Leo the Wise, there was an All-night Vigil in the Blachernae Church of the Mother of God in Constantinople. The church was full of people. St. Andrew the Fool-for-Christ was standing in the rear of the church with his disciple Epiphanius. At four o'clock in the morning, the Most-holy Theotokos appeared above the people, holding her omophorion outstretched as a protective covering for the faithful. She was clothed in gold-encrusted purple, and shone with an ineffable radiance, surrounded by apostles, saints, martyrs and virgins. St. Andrew said to Blessed Epiphanius: ``Do you see, brother, the Queen and Lady of all praying for the whole world?'' Epiphanius replied: ``I see, Father, and am struck with amazement!'' The Feast of the Protection was instituted to commemorate this event, and to remind us that we can prayerfully receive the unceasing protection of the Most-holy Theotokos in any time of difficulty.

Stichera on Lord I Call in Tone 4 for the Feast:

You are like a divinely planted Paradise, O Theotokos,
The place where the Tree of Life was watered by the Holy Spirit!
We acknowledge that you gave birth to the Creator of all
Who feeds the faithful with the Bread of Life.
Together with the Forerunner, entreat Him on our behalf,//
And by your precious veil, protect your people form all attacks!

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

1st Luke 2020 (Luke 5:1-11) - Fishers of Men

 In the name of the Father.Of the Son of the Holy Spirit glory to Jesus Christ.

This is a particularly bad day to be in an Orthodox Church if you are one of the people who subscribe to the Gospel of Prosperity, because both Saint Paul and Saint Luke are teaching us that such is not the way that it is.  Listen to the words that were just read from the Epistle of Saint Paul to the people in Corinth.

"We are enduring great afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, and hunger.  They are treated as impostors, as unknown, as dying, as punished and sorrowful.  They have nothing and yet possess everything."

Inside of those words, we come to understand what it means to follow Christ. We come to the recognition that those who are God's favorites are not among the people who are the most successful in the eyes of the world.

It just doesn't happen.

Which brings us to today's Gospel reading. It's interesting, I think, that we don't know what Christ was preaching to the crowds.  Saint Luke records that Jesus got into Peter's boat and asked him to put out from the shore a little bit. The Holy Father's talk about this and they say that that this is Christ being who He is - being God, showing no favoritism. 

If Jesus stands on the shore, people will surround Him.  There would be people in front of Him, people behind Him, and and it could appear to be showing favoritism for some who are nearest to Him.  So He uses the surrounds to assure that all are before Him. Nobody can be can be to His rear, so none can be offended by position.

So we find Jesus speaking directly to everyone who's in front of Him.  I wish we knew what it was that He had said because clearly there was something in that message that's moved the heart of Peter. Why do you say that Father? Well, we know Peter to be somewhat of.... Let's just use the words that come to mind. Peter could be a bit of a hot head, right?  And so when Jesus finishes His preaching to the people, He turns and says to Peter, "Set sail and go out for a catch." We can imagine Peter just being completely and totally flabbergasted by this. But to his credit, Peter withholds what is probably his own human nature, perhaps because of what he just heard Jesus say to the crowd, and he says, "Well, we've we've done this all night long. But since it is You, Lord, Who issues the invitation go out, well then let's go out and set for that catch."  But Peter adds his own invitation.  "If You'll come with us and You'll tell us when to let down the nets, then we'll go." 

And so they go.  And we know the rest of the story. There are so many fish that Peter, Andrew, James and John are amazed.  They've never seen a catch like this before. Peter knows the Sea of Galilee, Lake Gennesaret.  He's been a fisherman for years. He's been taught by other good fishermen.  They and he know exactly what to expect out on those waters.  But what they see on this day is completely and totally beyond expectation, so much so that Peter falls at the feet of Jesus and says, "Leave me, Lord. I'm too sinful to be around a Person like You."

Inside of that confession is already the confession that Peter will offer when Christ asks, "Who do you say that that I am?"  Peter's later response, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!" is buried in today's words that Peter offers at seeing today's catch, where paraphrasing he says, "I'm sinful - You're not!" Peter already knows that the purity and the holiness of God is unable to occupy the same place, the same space as one who is so filled us with sin as I am, as Peter sees himself to be.  This recognition in its fullness is inside of Peter.

Now you would think that with what Peter, Andrew, James and John have just encountered, that they would be beyond rejoicing.  They're rich now, at least for a little while.  Such a great catch brings the success that we were talking about in the opening line of today's sermon.  Isn't this the Gospel of Prosperity?

But what is the response of these Apostles?

Jesus calls them out of this world when He says, "From now on you will catch people," in the translation that we just read from.  Most of us know it better as, "I will make you fishers of men."  That's Christ's next invitation, to come and follow Me, to be with Me from now on - permanently.  We can imagine that with the success that Christ has just given them as a gift, they might say, "Well, first let me go and negotiate sale of the catch.  Then we can have the money then to put into the mission, to help Your ministry."  

Is Christ worried about that?  Does He show any concern over the wealth that He has just created for these four men?  Not at all!

We can hear them also plead, "Well, let us first go and negotiate the sale of our boats, so that other people might, You know, provide again additional income so that we can take that with us and have something to to hold in reserve."

That doesn't happen either.  What does the gospel record?

The translation that we just read said they left everything.  The Greek word used is ἀφίημι, which translates to abandon.  They abandoned everything. The boats, the fish.  None of it meant anything. In fact, James and John abandoned not just the fish and their boats, but they also left their father.  The four left everything they'd amassed in this world, just walked away from it, to go and follow Christ.

This is what it means to accept faith as strongly as we hold to Holy Orthodoxy. When the call comes for action, all the things that are attached to the world need to mean nothing.  That's not to say that we don't live and do what is important for the day.  Peter and and Andrew were quite fine doing what they were doing up until this very moment in time - up until the moment when Christ issued the invitation, not the commandment, "I will make you fishers of men.  Come.  Follow Me."

But at that moment, there's there's no flipping the coin to decide.  In fact, note as well that it's not possible for said coin to land on an edge in our faith.  It's either yes or no. Heads or tails.  Positive or negative!  There is no maybe.

The Lord's invitation is (in today's jargon) binary.  "You can stay with your boats.  You can stay with your father.  You can stay with the fish.  Or you can follow Me.  I leave the choice to you."

We know what they did.  And we know that in what follows, two additional things are certain.  

One of the certainties is that these four will follow in the path of their Master.  They'll do it imperfectly, but they'll strive for meeting His expectations of them.  And in so doing, they'll be subjected to all of the things that He had to endure - the hardships, the beatings, the rejection.  We know this because many of them died by death on the cross.  Some died by being pierced through with spears. Some died by beheading.  Only Saint John managed to not succumb to a martyr's death.

The second certainty is that all of these things that would be endured here in this world would become their path to eternal life with Christ.  In the final view of their lives, they're next to Christ in the kingdom of heaven. They're with Him. They were with Him when they left the boats, they were with Him during His ministry. He never left them even when he was in the tomb.  He never left them after the Ascension.  He was always there.  He is always there. He's here today for those of us who believe as they believed, for we are taught from what they've left to us, to hold fast in our own lives to the traditions they've handed down to us.  And so to a very real extent, these same words should be echoing in our own ears - "Follow Me!"

You see, we too are witnesses to the miracles of our Lord.  And we are beneficiaries of those acts by our Lord.  And so in a very real way, the Lord's invitation is to us as well.  "Follow Me."

Lord, give us the strength and the wisdom to do Your will at all times, for You are holy always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Glory to Jesus Christ!  Glory forever!

Friday, September 25, 2020

The "Lukan Jump"

 This week in the Church we leave the Gospel of St. Matthew for the season (except for a few special Feast days), and we move to reading Sunday Gospels from the Gospel according to St. Luke.  In “Church lingo,” this is “the Lukan jump,” and it occurs every year in concert with the Feast of the Conception of St. John the Forerunner, which happens on 23Sep, this past Wednesday.

Why does this minor Feast change the Gospel?

To learn about this, it’s helpful for us to look at which Gospels are read in which seasons and for which reasons.

The Gospel of St. Matthew is read from the Monday after Pentecost (Spirit Day) until the ‘jump’ to St. Luke.  As you can envision, from year to year this duration varies, and so there are seventeen weeks allocated to the Gospel of St. Matthew, but in some years we read fewer (because Pascha comes late), and in other years we read more (because Pascha comes early).  This past year, we read through the 15th Sunday of Matthew, for instance.

The Gospel of St. Luke is divided over nineteen weeks, beginning on the Monday after the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross.

The Gospel of St. Mark is read during the Great Fast on Saturdays and Sundays, with the exception of the Sunday of Orthodoxy, on which we read the Gospel from St. John.

The Gospel of St. John is read in the Church from the day of Pascha until Pentecost Sunday.

So each of the four Gospels has its place in the yearly cycle of worship in the Church.

But back to the original question.  Why is this “jump” related to the Feast of the Conception of the Forerunner?

In the early Church, it was this Feast that marked the beginning of the new Ecclesiastical Year in the Church (now celebrated on 01Sep every year).

The reading of the Gospel of St. Luke is therefore related to the history of our Lord’s working salvation for the human race, for the conception of the Forerunner marks God’s “first step” towards the New Testament, the new covenant in Christ, as is contained in the hymnology from Matins for the Feast of the Conception of the Forerunner,

The sacred Forerunner has been born: the dove that loves the wilderness.  He preaches repentance and shows the incarnate Christ!  He is the intercessor for all sinners, ever helping all who are tossed by storms!  By his prayers, save Your world, O Christ!

As we see, from his conception, without uttering a voiced word, the Forerunner is already proclaiming the salvation to be wrought by Christ.

“OK, Father, but you still haven’t tied the conception to St. Luke.”

Search the Gospels.  St. Luke is the only one of the four to mention the conception of St. John (Luke 1:5-24), where in that 24th verse we hear, “Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived.”

As you already knew, there is always a reason for everything in the Church.

Now you can carry the story to others.  Go ahead, be an evangelist!!!!

Take Up Your Cross And Follow Me

 Human beings tend to look at each day as being a struggle.  I didn’t sleep well last night.  I’m going to be tired all day.  The boss is waiting for a report from me, and I haven’t started it yet because he’s given me three other things to do that are more important.  The car needs tires.  The yard needs cut or raked.  The house needs cleaned.  What’ll I cook for dinner?

Isn’t that where most of us live on a daily basis?  Maybe you’d say that such thoughts are not “complaints” so much as they are observations of how today’s just going to be that same struggle that I’ve come to expect from every other day.

Where is your Cross in all of this turmoil?  What is it that the Lord is calling you (and me) to “take up” so that we can be His followers?  And why these specific words—”take up”??

The idea of “taking up” implies lifting, elevating, placing at the fore of things to be considered, making it literally in front of our eyes and therefore primary in our view.  In other words, don’t bear your (our) cross by pulling it behind us.  Things treated in this way weigh us down and impede our ability to get things done.

That’s not what the Cross is to us.

For us, the Cross is our source of strength.  It is our light in times of darkness, our strength in times of weakness, our health in times of illness, our calm in times of turmoil, that which provides for us the peace that our Lord promised to us.  We refer to the Cross as our “invincible trophy, our weapon of peace” in our hymnology for this Feast.

As Orthodox Christians, many (I dare say most) of us wear a Cross about our necks.  Why do we do this?  People on the streets see it as a fashion statement.  There have been countless times when out in public dressed in clerics someone will look at me and say, “I really like your Cross.”  What should one say to such a comment?  One reply that perhaps won’t offend is, “Thank you, but it’s not worn to generate compliments.”

When a priest puts his pectoral cross on, he offers the words of the title of this piece as a prayer.  He makes the sign of the Cross over his Cross, and says, “You must take up your Cross and follow Me.”  He then kisses the Cross before putting it over his neck.  It’s an appropriate prayer and practice for any Orthodox Christian to follow in wearing their own Cross.

All those things that are happening today that will attempt to distract me, to weigh me down, to conquer my spirit—all of them will be seen in a different light if I first “take up my Cross,” if I elevate it in my field of view, if I call upon it to be that weapon of peace.  For there is no denying it’s power. 

St. Theophan the Recluse taught this:  Remember that each of us has his own cross.  The Golgotha of this cross is our heart.  It is being lifted or implanted through a zealous determination to live according to the Spirit of God.  Just as salvation of the world is by the Cross of Christ, so our salvation is by our crucifixion on our own cross.

To take up and to carry is to allow the Cross to conquer all those things that tie us to today and to trouble.  To elevate our Lord’s Cross in our lives is to live recognizing His already won victory over this world, the salvation He is waiting to grant to you and to me—if only we find it in our ability to take us the small cross He has left for us.

 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

The True Goal of Life

[Editorial Note:  We so often speak to the need to study the Holy Fathers.  What is presented below is one "letter" - one of eighty in a little book titled, "The Spiritual Life" from St. Theophan the Recluse.  These letters were spiritual guidance given by the saint to those who came to him for counsel.  This letter in particular is to a young adult, but its content should resonate with all of us, for we share in the insecurities expressed in this letter.  For this reason, it struck me as pertinent to many things that surround us in the world today.  The chapter's title is the title given this post - "The True Goal of Life."  It goes longer than most posts here, but we hope you'll find it edifying enough to seek out the book for yourselves, and be edified by its content even further.  ISBN 978-0-9729956-1-0.  FrB]

What has happened to you?  What kinds of questions are these?  "I do not know what to do with my life.  Should I be doing something in particular?  Should I define some particular purpose for myself?"  I read this and I was dumbfounded; where could such odd thoughts have come from?  Indeed, you already settled all of this when you expressed the desire to stand at the level of human dignity, as God intended it to be.  What have we been talking about, if not that!  Where did these problems come from?  I would guess that among your friends are progressive thinkers, or that you have joined a society having such people in it, and they have scattered your good sense.  Such people usually rave in this manner.  Phrases such as "the good of mankind" and "the good of the people" are always on their tongues.  Probably you, after hearing so many profound ideas, were captivated by them, and when you turned your eyes to your real life, you saw with regret that you had vegetated in your family circle without benefit or purpose.  Oh!  Only now has someone opened your eyes!

If my guess is correct, then you owe me an apology, because you said nothing about this, even though you gave your promise to write about everything honestly.  Wheter this is the case or not, I cannot put your problems aside without offering a solution.  Our entire discussion will serve as the complete solution.  For right now I will tell you only briefly a general thought, so you may see that the life you have lived up to this point, and that you are now living, is the true life, and there is nothing in it that needs to be changed.

One needs to know for certain the exact purpose of life.  Is this wise, however?  For is it not already certain?  The general assumption is that, because there is a life beyond the grave, the purpose of the true life, without exception, must be there, and not here.  This assumption is known to everyone, and there is no reason to go into it, although in practice, it is remembered least of all.  But make it a rule for your own life to pursue this purpose with all your strength; you will see for yourself what light will emanate from there onto your short sojourn on the earth and onto your affairs.  The first thing that will be opened will be the conviction that here on earth there are only the means to that other life.  There is a single rule concerning these means: To make use of these means, and to use them in such a way that they guide you toward your purpose and do not detract you from it, and are not at cross-purposes to it.  So there is the solution to your puzzle, "I do not know what to do with my life."  Look to Heaven, and measure every step of your life so that it is a step toward it.  It seems to me that it is so simple and at the same time comprehensive.

You ask, "Shouldn't I be doing something?"  Of course that is necessary.  Do whatever falls to your hands, in your circle and in your situation - and believe that this is and will be your true work; nothing more from you is required.  It is a great error to think that you must undertake important and great labors, whether for heaven, or, as progressives thin, in order to make one's contribution to humanity.  That is not necessary at all.  It is necessary only to do everything in accordance wiht the Lord's commandments.  Just exactly what is to be done?  Nothing in particular, just that which presents itself to each one according to the circumstances of his life, and which is demanded by the individual events with which each of us meets.  That is all.  God arranges the lot of each person, and the entire course of life of each one is also His all-good industry, as is each moment and each meeting.  Let us take an example: A poor man comes to us; God has brought him.  What are you supposed to do?  Help him.  God, Who has brought this poor man to you, with the desire, of course, that you act toward this poor man in a manner pleasing to Him, looks at you, to see how you will in fact act.  He will be pleased if you help.  Will you help?  You will have done what is pleasing to God, and will have made a big step toward the final goal: reward in Heaven.  If you generalize this instance, you will come to the conclusion that in all instances, and during each meeting, it is necessary to do what God wants us to do.  As to what He wants, we certainly know that from the commandments He has given us.  Is someone seeking help?  Help him.  Has someone offended you?  Forgive him.  Have you offended somebody?  Rush to ask forgiveness and make peace.  Did someone praise you?  Don't be proud.  Did someone scold you?  Do not be angry.  Is it time to pray?  Pray.  Is it time to work?  Work.  Etc., etc., etc.  If, after all of this has been explained, you set about to act in this way in every instance, so that your works will be pleasing to God, having carried them out according to the commandments without any deviation, then all the problems of your life will be solved completely and satisfactorily.  The purpose is the blessed life beyond the grave; the means are the works according to the commandments, the execution of which is required by each instance of life.  It seems to me that all of this is clear and simple; there is no reason to torture yourself with difficult problems.  You need to put out of your mind any plans about "multi-beneficial, all-embracing, common-to-all-mankind" activity such as the progressives rant about.  Then your life will be regarded as enclosed within peaceful boundaries, and leading toward the final goal without hindrance.  Remember, the Lord does not forget even a glass of cold water given to someone tormented by thirst.  

You will say, "All the same, it is still necessary to select and determine one's way of life!"  Indeed, how would we go about determining it?  We would start by thinking it over, and end up with mass confusion in our heads.  Best and most hopeful of all is to accept with obedience, gratitude and love that determination which God utters in the course of our life's circumstances.  I am taking your situation!  You are presently under your parent's protection.  What is the best thing to desire?  Warmth, safety, freedom.  Live, not flying a long way off in thought, but diligently doing each thing which falls to you.  "But still, think about how it is impossible to always remain that way.  I must, at some point, begin my own life.  How should I be then?  And how can I not think about it?"  There, that is the best line of thought for you in this matter!  Put yourself in God's hands and pray that He puts you in the place that He considers best, so that your fate does not hinder you, but instead helps you to attain that blessed life beyond the grave, without dreaming about some splendid lot.  After you have made up your mind in this way, wait patiently for the time when God will speak to you.  He will speak through the concurrence of circumstances and the will of your parents.  After you have become strengthened in these thoughts and have found peace in God, live without making empty plans, but doing the works that fall on you with respect to your parents, brothers, sisters, other relatives and to all people.  Do not think at all that this life is empty.  Everything that you do here, no matter what it is, will be a work, and if you do it with the consciousness that such a work is according to the commandments and that God wants such a thing, then the work will be pleasing to God.  So it is with every small thing.

It seems I have explained everything to you.  I would only add the hope that you have tried to grasp well what was written, have reinforced it, and thus made up your mind.  I predict to you that you will find complete peace, and that you will no longer be troubled by such thoughts as "My life is not going anywhere.... I am not doing anything useful."  There is just one other thing; it is necessary to keep the heart in check, because it takes pride in such nonsense.  True, it is no good without the heart, for what kind of life is it without the heart?  All the same, it is not good to give it free reign.  It is blind, and without strict guidance one immdiately falls into a ditch!

May the Lord bless you!

Sunday, September 6, 2020

13th Sunday - The Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers

 (Mat 21:33-42)

“The Lord told this parable…”  It is the beginning that we ‘add’ to a Gospel reading in which we, in our time, are going to be taught by a parable that our Lord used to teach in the time of His ministry.  The words are not part of the scripture itself.  They are present, inserted by us to get our attention, kind of like our use of the words, “Wisdom!  Let us attend!”  “Wisdom!” is a proclamation that says to us, “What is coming contains great learning for us, if we are willing to pay attention.”  And then, “Let us attend!” is exactly that very command – “PAY ATTENTION!!!”

 In preparing for this homily, we were reading from others and found the following from a Fr. Andrew Philips, a ROCOR priest from the UK.  He offers these words to help us with this parable:

 This parable is also addressed to each of us today in a very personal sense. The vineyard is our own soul. It is hedged around with prayer, with our guardian-angel, our patron-saint. The wine-press is where we offer ourselves to Christ. The tower is our inner church where we pray to God. We are tenants of our God-created souls. The servants sent to us are all those occasions when God speaks to us. He speaks to us in prayer, He speaks to us through the word of His Holy Scriptures, He speaks to us through every opportunity, every meeting, every event that comes into our lives. He speaks to us through the presence of His Church in the world. And how do we react? Do we reject everything sent to us, everything allowed to us, as a chance to do better, to make good our weaknesses? Do we fail to heed God? Do we ignore the Church? If so, then we also beat and stone and kill the servants of God. We are warned: the Heir is coming.

The vineyard is our own soul.  From the parable, the Landowner (the Creator, God in Trinity) has “planted” this vineyard, He has gifted my soul to me.  He has set a hedge around it, and as Fr. Andrew points out, this “hedge”, this protection, is that which protects our souls, protects us spiritually.  And so naturally our minds are drawn to our guardian angel, to our patron saint, and to our own prayers.  But don’t neglect the other elements of protection given us as gifts from God.  There are the prayers of parents for us as children, whether they remain here with us or whether they have gone to be with the Lord.  Equally there are prayers of children for us as their parents.  There are the prayers of people whom we’ve been led by the Lord to be benefactors to them – and we can’t ignore the truths that a beggar’s prayer for us when we offer them help can be just as important as any of these other prayers.  And what of coworkers, or bosses, or even subordinates in the workplace.  Or even that person we allowed to go before us at a traffic light – perhaps they offered a prayer for us as well.  All of these, and more, become for us our “hedge”, protecting us from evils and temptations and failings that play against our search for salvation.

The wine-press is where we offer ourselves to Christ.  What is a wine press?  Look it up, and what do you find?  “It is a device that exerts controlled pressure to extract the sweet juices from the fruit.”  In our lives, God gives us the gifts of being tried, of needing to call upon Him when we find ourselves in need, or in trouble, or in illness, or in any number of situations where our human intellect isn’t enough to get us through the particular situation.  He exerts controlled pressure to engender in us the movement of drawing nearer to Him, of calling upon Him, of learning to depend upon Him, and not on our own abilities, or those of any in this world.  The definition of the press goes further to state that “the pressure must be controlled, especially with grapes, in order to avoid crushing the seeds, which would release undesirable tannins into the wine.”  The result of the press is to be something very sweet – just as our offering of ourselves to Christ is to be!

The tower is our inner church where we pray to God.  What is this “place for prayer” within us?  Our Lord taught us, “When you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father Who is in the secret place; and your Father Who sees in secret will reward you openly.” (Mat 6:6) The Holy Fathers teach us that “your room” can be taken both literally and figuratively.  “Your room” in the literal sense should be that place in which you have the ‘tools’ required for prayer – a place of peacefulness, untouched by worldly things, where you can place yourself before icons to aid in your prayer.  In the figurative sense, “your room” must be that ‘secret heart’ spoken of by David when he said, “Teach me wisdom in my secret heart.” (Ps 51:6)  Either of these places is “a tower” in that it should rise above the levels of all things earth-bound.  Your prayer is that which elevates you to the heavenly, which allows your spirit to leave this plane and connect with the place to which your heart is called – to the place of salvation that we spoke of last week, to the place of eternal life in Christ.

We are tenants of our God-created souls.  God has blessed us with the gift of life.  We all know of people who reject this gift as being “good”.  They life a life of misery – for no good reason.  As we’ll discuss in our Adult Study sessions over the next several weeks as we read “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives,” by Elder Thaddeus, one person can be miserable while having all apparent blessings, and another who appears to be put upon from all sides can be in bliss.  The “building” of our souls between these two disparate people differs little from one to the other.  It is the tenant who is different.  One diligently cares for the building given to live in and brings blessings to those who approach.  The other trashes the building, and in so doing brings troubles to any who approach him or her.

The servants sent to us are all those occasions when God speaks to us. He speaks to us in prayer, He speaks to us through the word of His Holy Scriptures, He speaks to us through every opportunity, every meeting, every event that comes into our lives. He speaks to us through the presence of His Church in the world.  Look backward in your life.  Who had the greatest positive impact on you as a person, with ‘positive’ meaning moving you toward that goal of attaining eternal life?  Perhaps it was a parent, but it’s equally likely that it might have been a grandparent, or even an ‘adopted relative’.  In our lives, Popadia was blessed to come to ‘adopt’, or better stated, be adopted by, a wonderful woman who became her sponsor upon entering the church.  In a worldly sense, there was nothing special about her.  Oh, she had a beautiful voice, and enjoyed opera, but on the level of person-to-person, she was ‘nice.’  But on the spiritual level, she exuded faith.  Elderly, she labored to be at divine services.  She taught us “young people” so much about living a life of faith – lessons that can’t be purchased, but are only recognized as gifts from God after looking backward on them.  That’s one example.  You no doubt have your own.  Cherish these, and from what you’ve learned, share even moreso to those who need YOU to be that “gift from God” of being His servant sent to others to speak to them about faith.  All of these cause the vision of the Church to be “alive” to those who see in us a faith that cannot be shaken by old age, or weakness, or infirmity, or worldly cares.  Our steadfast holding to our faith needs to speak to those who look at us for strength.  We can show what the presence of our Lord’s Church in this world means to gaining eternal life.  We can, and we must!

And how do we react? Do we reject everything sent to us, everything allowed to us, as a chance to do better, to make good our weaknesses? Do we fail to heed God? Do we ignore the Church? If so, then we also beat and stone and kill the servants of God.  God forbid that we should adopt the perspective of the wicked servants of our Lord’s parable today!  “Making good our weaknesses” carries with it the responsibility to depend upon, call on, and believe that we will receive deliverance through His strength.  If I “stand firm in my faith and am courageous,” as St. Paul encourages in today’s Epistle, then my weaknesses are of no consequence.  There is no personal weakness if we draw on the strength of the Lord.  Carrying Fr. Andrew’s analysis just a tad bit further, it is not only our ignoring the Church that equates to beating and stoning the servants that God sends to us, but it is any choice we make that separates us from the elements we’ve just outlined – rejection of dependence on our patron or guardian, rejection of prayer, accepting suffering as an evil as opposed to a gift that can draw us nearer to our Lord. 

We are warned: the Heir is coming.  We all know what time it is.  If the Lord’s return is not at the very door, it is certainly on the horizon.  Time indeed is drawing short.  Our Lord has delivered to us clear instruction as to how we must prepare for His return.  His instructions are not only clear, they are simple.  Repent.  Love your neighbor.  Love your enemies.  Pray.  Care for the poor and needy. 

There was a writing from Fr. Seraphim Rose that beautifully expresses these ideas.  It says, “Only struggle a little more.  Carry your Cross without complaining.  Don’t think you are anything special.  Don’t justify your sins and weaknesses, but see yourself as you really are.  And, especially, love one another.”

May we all embrace the simple message of our Lord, and live as He directs, for our own salvation, and for the salvation of those whose lives can be changed by what they see in us!

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Friday, August 28, 2020

Patriarch Pavle on St. Basil's Teaching - 3 Stages of Spiritual Growth

The following is from an interview with Patriarch Pavle of blessed memory which can be found here in its entirety:  https://orthochristian.com/57464.html

St. Basil the Great says that there are three stages of spiritual growth.

The first stage is that of slave. A slave knows that his fate depends on the master to whom he belongs, who has the right to beat, kill, or sell him and his wife and children. Therefore, he will carry out his master’s will. Spiritually speaking, this is the Christian who does the will of God out of fear of hellfire. He understands that even a thousand years of living in sin will never pay off, while there he might be in torment for all of eternity.

The second stage is that of hireling. This is a free man who receives pay for his labor. He works to the extent that he gets paid. Spiritually speaking, this is the Christian whose wants to reach the highest possible level in Paradise. Not all levels there are the same. He who is worthy and good forever advances closer and closer to God, without ever attaining to Him, since God is infinite – but, still, he moves closer and closer. God, of course, is our life and our blessedness – He is our everything.

The third stage is that of son or daughter. A son carries out his father’s will not because he is afraid that his father will punish him, for he is not a slave; nor because he wants to get paid by his father, for he is not a hireling. He does so willingly, so that his father might be pleased. Spiritually speaking, this is the Christian who carries out God’s will because He loves God, so that God might be pleased.

While the first two are thinking about themselves – one does not want to be punished, while the other wants to get paid – the son or daughter is thinking about God. This is the true Christian. But no one can reach this level until he has passed through the first two. How long one will linger at each stage depends on each person individually.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Prayer of Elder Paisios

The blessed Elder encouraged us to "say this prayer every day, and God will always be at your side."

Our Lord Jesus Christ,

Do not abandon Your servants who live far away from the Church. May Your love work to bring everyone near You.

Remember, O Lord, Your servants who are suffering from cancer,

Your servants who are suffering from small or great afflictions,

Your servants who are suffering from bodily disabilities,

Your servants who are suffering from spiritual disabilities.

Remember our rulers, and help them to govern in a Christian manner.

Remember, O Lord, the children who come from troubled families and divorced couples.

Remember, O Lord, the orphans of the whole world, all those who are pained and unjustly treated in this life, and all those who have lost their spouses.

Remember, O Lord, all those in prison, anarchists, drug addicts, murders, evil-doers, thieves, and enlighten them and help them to be corrected.

Remember all immigrants,

All those who travel by sea, land, and air, and protect them.

Remember our Church, the Fathers of the Church and the Faithful.

Remember, O Lord, all Monastic communities, men and women, Elders and Eldresses, all brotherhoods and Fathers.

Remember, O Lord, Your servants who are in time of war,

All those who flee to the mountains and to the plains,

All those who are like endangered little birds.

Remember Your servants who have left their homes and their work and are suffering.

Remember, O Lord, the poor, the homeless, the unemployed, and all refugees.

Remember, O Lord, all nations, and have them in Your arms, protecting them with Your Holy Protection, and keeping them from every evil and from war. And our beloved homeland, keep in Your arms day and night, and protect it with Your Divine Protection, keeping it from every evil and from war.

Remember, O Lord, the suffering, abandoned, wronged, and tested families, and richly give them Your mercy.

Remember Your servants who are suffering from spiritual and bodily problems of all nature.

Remember all those who are in despair, and help and give peace to them.

Remember, O Lord, Your servants who have asked of our prayers.

Remember, O Lord, all those who have reposed from all ages, and grant them eternal rest.


Friday, August 7, 2020

Transfiguration - The Uncreated Light

 All of us are familiar with light.  The sun’s light awakens us in the morning.  It warms our skin when we are outdoors.  It causes plants to grow, and indeed, they tend to grow TOWARD the light of the sun, seeking it’s nourishment.

We know about light that comes from other sources.  We light candles in the Church as symbols of our faith, filled with warmth and light.  We know about the light that comes from electricity.  We know of light that comes from other things in nature, animals and insects which emit light, some under the sea, some that fly through the night air.  We even know about light that comes from chemical reactions (the “light sticks” that are all the rage).

But inside every one of these sources of light that we’ve mentioned, each produces light that is a product explainable through the creation.  The sun’s light comes from nuclear fusion which in turn emits photons.  Candles burn the fuel of wax, and in the conversion of stored energy in the wax, again photons are emitted which we can see.  This process is true in every instance of light we’ve mentioned.

But on Mount Tabor, something different happened.  Our Lord takes Peter, James and John up the mountain, and there He meets with Moses and Elijah.  And what do the Evangelists say about what happens there?

St. Matthew:  His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light….  (And) behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them.” (Mat 17:2, 5)

St. Mark:  His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them. (Mark 9:3)

St. Luke:  As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening. (Luke 9:29)

What is the source of this light that the three Evangelists document?  Note that their words do not define it, but rather allude to it, point to it.  They have no words to use which can comprehend the reality of this light.  It is “like” things, but it is not those things.  St. John Chrysostom explains this inability to fully express what the Apostles witness, but cannot in human terms comprehend.

When the Lord wishes to say something about Himself, He uses human images.  As for instance, He went up to the mountain, and was transfigured before them, and His face shone as the light, and His garments became white as snow.  He revealed, he says, a little of His divinity, He showed them the indwelling of God… The Evangelist then wanted to show His brilliance, and so he says, He shone.  How did He shine?  Tell me.  Exceedingly.  And how do you say?  As the sun… Why do you say so?  Because I have no other star brighter.  And He was white as snow.  Why as snow?  Because I have no other matter whiter.  That He did not shine (in an earthly) way is indicated by the following: ‘And the disciples fell to the ground.’  If He had shone as the sun, the disciples would not have fallen (for they saw the sun every day, and did not fall); but because He shone more than the sun and more than the snow, that is why, unable to bear the brilliance, they fell down. (Homily 56 on Matthew)

St. John goes on to indicate that this light, different from light inside of creation, is the very Light of God Himself, not light from His creation, but the Light that IS His being.

It is THIS light that the saints of the church speak of as uncreated light.  It is THIS light that we will encounter on that last day when we come before the Lord for Judgment.  It is THIS light that reveals all things (for how did Peter, James and John know that those who spoke with the Lord were Moses and Elijah?).

May we be illumined by the Light that is Christ our Lord!