Archive for March, 2009

I have an announcement

March 30, 2009

Do you know how much the jackpot is on the lottery? Usually, I don’t worry about playing until the amount of the lottery is over $100 million dollars. Why bother? (duh) Once it hits that plateau, I begin to believe that I will be the next lottery winner. After all, why should the devil get all the money? I can just picture what I will do with the money. Its all good, of course and I can just see what a blessing I will be to the Church (new chapels for everybody!) In fact, with such good intentions, I wonder why I haven’t won in the past. I wait by the phone, but the Lotto never calls me. Instead, the money goes to all kinds of people who aren’t Orthodox and who end up wasting the money on frivolous things.

What’s that? You have to buy a ticket to win? Is that right? Why, I thought they just picked your social security number and called you. No?

I am kidding, of course, I don’t play the lotto.

Its instructive to read the reports of what happens to those who win. Its seems so odd to me that most of them end up being very miserable, and a few ended up in bankruptcy. The Lord whispers in my ear that, should I win such a sum of money, I would end up losing my soul.

I use to think that the biggest lotto winner was the Virgin Mary. As I read the first chapter of Luke, it said that she had “found favor” with God. I was sure that this meant that she was the luckiest woman in the world.Gabriel seemed like the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes crew that knocks on doors and surprises the winners with balloons and a big check.

I’m Orthodox now, so I’ve learned better. God doesn’t play favorites and choose people randomly to be big winners. St. Photios the Great said, “The Virgin found favor with God because she had made herself worthy before her Creator, having adorned her soul with the fairness of purity, she had prepared herself as an agreeable habitation of Him…” The idea that she “found favor” means that she was found to be pleasing to God (Theophylact). So, the Virgin didn’t play the lottery but diligently sought to make herself a fit vessel for God.

So it has been for all of God’s Saints, but I treat them like lottery winners. After all, they had the luck to live in better times (why wasn’t I born in such times?). People were more spiritual then and more willing to believe in God with a simple faith. Maybe, they were lucky enough to have pious parents (which I didn’t), or were raised in unusual circumstances that made holiness easier to attain. Ah, those fortunate people!

No, they were not fortunate people. God found them to be worthy because they prepared themselves to receive Him. When He came to them, he announced to them that they had found favor with Him. Think of St. Seraphim. Surely it was a great thing to hear the Theotokos say, “he is one of us.” Can you imagine the Virgin announcing such a thing to you? St. Seraphim wasn’t lucky. He heard the voice of the Holy Mother because he sought with his whole soul to be worthy of God. Go stand on a rock for even one hour, and you’ll get the point.

I must confess that spiritually, I continue to live like I’m playing the lotto. I think that if I’m lucky enough, I will find God’s favor. My plan is to die in repentance and not in sin. It’s a toss-up, but I hope I’m lucky enough to die right after I repent. Then, I’ll be the big winner. Surely God can set up the odds for this if He really loves me. Frankly, I need to come to my senses. There is no lotto concerning spiritual life. I’m either striving for holiness, or I’m not. The Bible says it clearly: “God is not mocked. Whatsoever a man sows, that shall he reap.” If I sow to the flesh, then I will reap from the flesh. If I sow to the Spirit, I will reap from the Spirit.

It has nothing to do with luck or chance or timing.

Whether it be an angel from God or death knocking at my door, I pray that the announcement I hear is “you have found favor with God.


March 12, 2009



I’ll be honest. I love the ocean. I think it is a great natural wonder and it’s a pleasure to spend time on the water. However, I’m not a big fan of the beach and I hate to lay in the sun and tan. I had a friend who was a dermatologist who once told me that when your skin begins to turn brown, it’s telling you something: “Get me out of the sun, you idiot!” I have to admit that when I see white people intentionally turning themselves brown, I tend to be a bit critical. I think that if God wanted us in the sun, he wouldn’t have invented trees.

Now that I have that off my chest, I realize that being in the sun is beneficial. Exposure to the sun allows us to create vitamin D, an element essential to health. Long before we knew how to milk cows, we naturally made vitamin D as the sun inundated our skin. If there was no other source of vitamin D available, daily exposure to the sun would produce all the vitamin D that we would need. You can’t get your vitamin D sitting under a shade tree.

There once was a man named Barlaam, and frankly he was in the shade. He was a clever man, a philosopher, and a Greek. He taught that since God by his nature is invisible and unknowable, anyone who claimed to see God or experience God was either a liar or deceived. If Barlaam is correct, then we might as well stop fasting or praying, and go out for a dinner and a movie. What  good would such disciplines do? Orthodoxy would be like Islam: God is unknowable and all we can do is follow the rules given to us by his prophet.

Orthodoxy certainly believes that the essence of God is unknowable, unattainable, ineffable, and invisible.  However,  we can know the unknowable, attain the unattainable, experience the ineffable and see the invisible. How is such a thing possible? St. Gregory Palamas taught that while we cannot hold the Sun itself, or even stand close to it, the Sun is known to us through its energies of heat and light. God acts in the world. He comes to us by the Holy Spirit and by Christ. We can sunbathe in the heat and light of God, which is the Holy Spirit.

Near Salonika, you can find a cave in the rocks that was the home of St. Gregory Palamas. Here, he spent 20 years in fasting and prayer and in his Lenten discipline of silence, he experienced the Holy Spirit. Unlike Barlaam, St. Gregory did not come to this conclusion by the use of logic, or by the study of Aristotle. Barlaam stayed in the shade, while St. Gregory developed a very nice spiritual tan.

When we fast or pray, it’s easy to lose heart or to grow weary. Perhaps, all of this fasting, prayer, and church attendance is just a lot of useless effort. St. Gregory shows us that our prayer and fasting is not in vain. It  the way we sunbathe in the heat of the Holy Spirit.  The more we pray and fast, the stronger the heat and the light. The longer we stand in this heat and light of the Spirit, the more we begin to gain that healthy tan of holiness. The nice thing is we will never burn like we can in physical sunlight. Even better, we never need to use suntan lotion and we won’t get sand in our bathing suits.

St. Gregory Palamas, pray to God for us.