Archive for July, 2011

Real Love

July 23, 2011

Sometimes when you read the Scriptures for Sunday, there is a phrase that is used over and over. In Romans 12, St. Paul says “Be affectionate to each other” and also “let love be genuine between you.” In 2 Corinthians 6, he writes that he proves his ministry by, among other things, “love unfeigned.” You begin to catch a drift of meaning here. Though we may find it difficult to practice in the world, in the Church, love has to be the real thing. Orthodoxy has always been and will always be most fundamentally a matter of the heart. We can try to substitute religion or even piety for love, but it will never work. Don’t get me wrong, religion and piety play their part, but they must be expressions of love and not a substitute for love. Hear the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moons and Sabbaths and the calling of convocations wearies me.”

Well, for heaven’s sake, it seems like a direct put down of the Orthodox Faith. Why does God say this? Here is the answer: “…this people come near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but they have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men….”

This seems like a harsh word, and feels like a threat. Being a sinner, I know that most of the time my love for God and for my neighbor is anything but genuine. I do just enough and say just enough to get people to move on so that I can do the things I want to do. This doesn’t mean that I don’t honestly feel love at times, but I know that love is demonstrated not by what I feel but by what I do.

The Gospel story found in Luke 7 drives the point home. Simon, I have something to say to you. From the moment I came into your house, you’ve done nothing for me. A host is supposed to see that his guests have their feet washed. You did nothing, but this woman has washed my feet continually. You gave me no kiss of greeting as hosts are supposed to do, but she has kissed my feet continually. You did not anoint my head with oil as hosts are suppose to do, but this woman did even more and anointed my feet with oil. I tell you Simon, her sins are forgiven.

In this story, we come to understand why it is important that love be genuine and unfeigned and demonstrated by what we do. It is a very great and important truth – more than anything else, forgiveness depends upon love, a love shown in action.

Jesus makes this connection. Forgiveness and love are bound together and cannot be separated. Her sins, which are many, are forgiven. Why? Because, she loved much. But why does she love so much? Because, she was forgiven much. It seems very circular, does it not? Jesus tells the parable again about the man who owed a lot of money, and a man who owed little. Both debts were forgiven, but which one  loved the banker most? Obviously, it was the one who had the greatest debt.

So, I am driven to a conclusion about why my love is so shallow. I know the Church is trying to help me understand how great the debt that I owe is. If I can fully grasp this, my love will be great. Since my love is not so great, I really don’t have a clue as to how much has been forgiven me. Oh, I can grasp the concept in my mind, but my heart is another matter. So, it’s just easier to burn incense and attend services and flatter God with my lips as I chant about how much I love him.  Will he believe it more if I chant it in Greek or in Slavonic? Maybe tone 6 would do better than tone 2?

I am a good Pharisee, you see. I do all things right. Jesus knocked on the door of my heart and I opened it and invited Him in. Yet, how sad it is that Jesus entered into my house, and I have done so little for Him. What a sorry host I am. If I really loved him, I would be kissing feet and anointing heads and my love for God and for my brothers and sisters would be genuine.

May I come to know how great was the debt forgiven, so that my love will be great, and may that love and affection be genuine and demonstrated by the feet I wash and the heads I anoint.

Darnel

July 19, 2011

I’d like to introduce you to a former member of our church. His name is Darnel. I remember when he first came to visit. He had been to several churches but each one had its problems and eventually he found it necessary to look for another Church. I explained that All Saints had its problems as well, but Darnel assured me that he had grown from his past experiences and now wanted a quiet life of prayer and fellowship in a “more traditional church.” I must admit that for a period of time, Darnel seemed like a pillar of Orthodoxy and I invited him to help serve in the altar.

Then the trouble began. Darnel, although he had only been Orthodox for two years, began to question the way I did things in the altar. Being a convert priest, I had much to learn (and I still have much to learn), and so I would listen to Darnel’s advice. After all, Darnel had spent a lot of time studying liturgical books and could quote chapter and verse. Then, when my Bishop would visit, he would often correct what Darnel had advised. This caused Darnel a lot of embarrassment and later he would tell me how he didn’t like Bishop X because he was “cold.” I did tell him that he should not correct me during the service and that we could talk afterwards, but he seemed to bristle at the admonition.

The thing about Darnel is that he made friends easily. There’s nothing wrong about being friendly, but during one parish meeting, Darnel got up to oppose a motion on what I thought was a minor matter. In the end, He did not prevail but his passion made the discussion difficult. Later, I noticed that a group seemed to be angry. When I inquired as to the reason, they told me that Darnel had been hurt by the way he was treated in the meeting. I reviewed the meeting and while Darnel spoke, most people had sat quietly offering no objection. He lost by a simple vote. How had he been mistreated? The point was that Darnel had successfully created a faction in what had once been a harmonious Church family.

Many other things happened and soon I realized that Darnel was a real threat to the life of the Church. Yet, what could I do because he was an Orthodox Christian, and many people considered him to be a pious and friendly man? I talked to him several times but he always assured me that he was my greatest supporter and he would do whatever he could to help heal any situation. Church members began to come and complain about Darnel, and some wanted me to get him out of our Church. I knew that it would cause a lot of damage due to his circle of supporters. If I tried to pull Darnel out, I would lose other members as well. So, it seemed that all I could do was damage control.

My wife and I prayed often for Darnel and we did our best to soothe hurt feelings. Then the time came when God took Darnel from All Saints. News came that our jurisdiction was about to rejoin with the Moscow Patriarchate. Darnel made it his mission to speak often and long against this reunion. Yet as time passed, it became clear that this would be accomplished and Darnel became ever more adamant that we should leave our jurisdiction. When the final documents of union were signed, Darnel left our Church in a great huff. Happily, few of his supporters went with him. What followed was a time of peace, unity, and loving fellowship. The factions disappeared, but I realized then what the Lord meant when he said “The zeal of my house has eaten me up.”

I wonder when and if another Darnel will be planted in our fellowship. That’s up to the Lord because it is His Church. In a sense, Darnel was both a gift and a burden. When prospective members would come and stay, they would learn of the division in the Church, and some left. I will admit that I was glad when he left, but I also know that Darnel challenged us to exercise patience, forbearance, and forgiveness. It also taught us to trust that the Lord knows when to prune his Vine. Maybe this is why our fellowship is as strong as it is.

Do you have a Darnel in your Church? He/she looks like true Orthodox wheat in the garden of the Lord. In fact, they are weeds and not wheat. Pray to the Lord of the harvest and be patient.

Darnel, I’m glad you’re gone, but I wish you well. I hope that where ever you have gone, you have truly learned something from your time with us. I hope that you have become wheat in the Kingdom of God.

(Matthew 13:24-30 – KJV)

Its not easy being green!

July 2, 2011

frog

I live an anxious life.

The Master said that I cannot serve two masters. I don’t want to serve two, but its not that easy.  The problem is my vision. Sometimes my eyes focus on one thing and other times, I look in two directions.  This is great for a frog’s survival, but such double vision fills me with anxiety. When I look in both directions, its hard to concentrate on two things at the same time.

When I can focus on God, the vision fills me with light.  I know that life has been answered and there is no need to fear. In God’s eyes, I am worth more than grass and sparrows. He cares for them and so he cares even more for me. When my vision is single, I am not afraid. God is for me, so who can be against me? That should be enough.

The problem is that something moves into my field of vision and grabs my attention. My vision becomes unfocused and I become anxious.  Let’s take the economy for example. The Master said I shouldn’t worry, but has He seen the price of gasoline? Salaries are down -costs are up. Tomatoes are a dollar a piece and they aren’t that good. There’s 14 trillion dollars owed to someone and who will pay it? I’ve paid into something called “social security”, but will there be any security at all when I hit 65? And what of my children? What will they do if things continue as they are now. All the birds have to worry about is the next worm and grass doesn’t worry at all. Lucky creatures!

Then there are tsunamis and earthquakes, plagues and cancers, wars and rebellions and marches and protests and all kinds of misfortune. At this point,  both eyes have turned from God to the world and it is very dark indeed.

If a man’s vision is healthy and focused, anxiety and fear flees before the light of God. I know of such a man of vision – St. John Maximovitch. His eye was single, his vision was focused and healthy, and true. No matter how the world tried to catch his attention, and it tried very hard,  he kept both of his eyes on the Lord. His life gives me hope that maybe I too can learn to keep my focus where it belongs.

I long to end my frog’s way of life. I’m tired of my double vision and my wandering eyes. The Lord is right. My anxiety changes nothing, not even my height or hair colour. If I could just put both eyes on the Lord and focus them, I could see the truth in all things and the darkness of fear and anxiety would end.

Therefore, I am resolved that my vision will be healthy and focused upon God. I will not let my vision become double again. I will keep my eye single!

Oh, I just heard a story on the news that Congress may not be able meet the deadline for our budget and we will default on our loans. If that happens, we may go into a great depression. What are we going to do? How will we pay our bills? Tax increases? I can’t afford it. What will happen to us?

Oh no, one eye just shifted again and things got fuzzy. Two masters, again!!!

Call me Kermit, the Orthodox frog!

Its not easy being green!

(a reflection on Matthew 6:22-33)