Archive for the ‘Orthodox Life’ Category

The only thing about me is the Way I walk

December 5, 2014

crumb_truckin

 

Unless you are a classic rock fan, you may be too young to remember the rock group, Genesis. I wasn’t a huge fan, but among the songs I liked, this was a favorite: “Cause, I can’t dance, I can’t talk. The only thing about me is the way I walk.”

I think a lot about “the way I walk.”  I’ve often joked with people that when I found myself in a bad place, or in a compromising situation, I blamed my feet. Well, if my feet had not walked me into that place, then I would have compromised myself. My feet have carried me into many bad places in my lifetime. If only my feet would repent, and walk in better paths, then all would be well, right?

The Bible speaks a lot about paths and which ones we should walk or avoid. The Psalms especially talk about paths.  Psalms 17.5 “Hold up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not.”  Psalm 23.3  “He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”  Psalm 27.11  “Teach me thy way, O Lord, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies.”  Do a word study and you will find many more.  Obviously, King David thought a lot about about the way he walked.

In Ephesians 5, St. Paul says, “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil”  The way I walk is the way I live. It is the path of my life. I have to confess that for much of my life, the path I have walked has been a foolish one. I could not begin to account for the amount of time I have wasted in utter foolishness and idleness. I did not walk circumspectly; that is, I did not walk with any care or concern.

What I must do is to learn how to redeem the time? The dictionary has many nuances for the word redeem, but I will limit it to this one: gain or regain possession of (something).  The way I should walk, or the way I should live my life is a matter of gaining or regaining something. What I would like to regain is the innocence that I lost (or was taken from me). Why would I want to do that? True or not, in my mind I see an image of a child who lived a rather carefree and happy life, until the evil of that age took away my innocence. Normally,  it is not something that I will likely ever regain on my own. Only God can restore innocence.

Holiness is something I want to gain. We might think we know what the word means, but its helpful to dig into the etymology of the word. It can be defined as “sacred”, but that only poses more questions. The root of the word in English and German mean health, happiness, or wholeness. It is something that cannot be touched by corruption. In other words, when I attain holiness, I attain to the fullness of my humanity. I become a complete person in the way that God intended. I must admit that I am tired of my brokenness and would love to be complete. Holiness, or wholeness, is the only way to real and lasting happiness. We should pursue holiness instead of happiness.

Yet, if the days of St. Paul were evil, is it possible to attain this state of holiness in these evil days, or is it just a fantasy? I don’t remember the source, but I once read where the Elders said that the time would come when attaining holiness would be almost impossible. Are we now in those evil days? Yet, they said that if anyone gains any level of holiness in those evil days, they would be greater than the Elders. So, whether or not I can attain to the fullness of holiness, I must walk in paths that lead me towards it and get whatever holiness I can.  The Church has given us paths to walk, but sadly, many of us have abandoned those paths. Surely, the Master was correct when he said that the Way is narrow and few find it. The path of the world is super highway and it is easy to travel.

The narrow and winding path, or the wide and straight road – they both lay before me. Each and every day, I must choose. Which road will I take?

So, the only thing about me is the way I walk.

Who’s afraid of the big, bad wolf?

August 6, 2014

 

I’ve often heard converts who are preparing for Orthodox baptism say that as they get closer to the ceremony, life seems to get really difficult. Friends and family begin to express serious doubts and some become hostile. Work or school becomes more difficult. Physical ailments become more acute. Doubts about Orthodoxy abound. The list can go on and on.

I remember having the same experience before my baptism. It was like walking into a strong wind. You lean forward and your legs work hard. Most of the time you move forward, but sometimes the wind is so strong, you stumble back a little. Why is it such a struggle and where does this wind of opposition come from?

The Orthodox believe that there is an invisible world, and that part of that world is evil. This belief is mocked in our culture and it’s not kosher today to speak of Satan as a personal force of evil. You may be too young to remember the comedian, Flip Wilson. Among other things, he was famous for looking at the camera and saying “The devil made me do it.” It always got a lot of laughs.  Today it would bring hoots of derision. St. Paul called Satan a roaring lion going about seeking to devour us. It’s a mark of our times that people joke about something that will devour them.  I want to portray him as the wolf that tried to devour the three little pigs.  I’m sure that you know the story.

Let me ask you – have you ever had a direct and personal experience of the devil? I’m not talking about the experience of temptation that we all have, but a face to face encounter. We read about it in the lives of the Saints, but we rarely hear of it now except in Hollywood movies about so called exorcisms. I think that the wolf remains hidden because there are few saints these days. In fact, the wolf is not very involved in the daily lives of most people. Has he lost interest in the damnation of the human race? No, that is still his goal, but he has powerful allies that do the work for him. St. Paul said that most of the evil and temptation that we experience comes from within ourselves. Our fleshly nature is a great ally of the wolf. There is another ally – the world. You might remember the list of the unholy trinity – the world, the flesh, and the devil. With the world and the flesh as his helpers, he is free to work on bigger things.

So, there is no reason to fear the big, bad wolf, right?  It depends on what you are doing and if it draws his attention. For example, when he notices that you trying to build a spiritual life, he becomes interested. If you do well in building your spiritual house, the wolf starts to worry and he begins to take a more personal interest in you. Clearly, if you are building well, his allies, the flesh and the world, must be falling down on the job. You are becoming a threat to him, so it is time to come and test what you have built.

St. Paul speaks of this in 1 Corinthians 3:9-17. No matter how you build, the time of testing comes to us all. The wolf comes to blow and to test if we have built well and with good materials. If like two of the pig brothers, we build with hay or sticks, then our houses will surely fall. We will suffer loss and it will be sorrowful. How strong is this wind of opposition? It can be gentle in the beginning and then grow to hurricane force. Let’s remember how this wind blew against the early Church and how the Saints stood fast, often at the cost of their lives. It seems to me that the wind is approaching gale force again.

The material that we build with is faith, hope, love, patience, forgiveness, etc. The tools we us to build with is knowledge, Liturgy, prayer, fasting, etc. We have all we need to build well. It is amazing that so many of us live in spiritual shacks made with hay and sticks. It is inevitable that these will fall around us. When our houses fall under the wind is everything lost? In anger and despair, we look up to God and say “Why me? Do your really love me? What did I ever do to deserve this?” Having given us all we need, I can almost see God shrugging at the sentiment.

There is hope. Paul says that while we do suffer loss, we ourselves are not lost. The reason is that there is a foundation that is laid, and that foundation cannot be moved by any wind of opposition. The Apostles are the foundation and Christ is the cornerstone. No matter how disastrous my loss, I can begin to build again. We must rebuild! What good does it do us to just the materials and the tools and not use them. The only question is will I build with strong materials and will I build well. I won’t know the answer until the wolf returns.

Finally, this is not just a personal issue. St. Peter said that we are living stones and we are built into a spiritual house with other stones. If we are to successfully survive the wind that is coming, we need each other. Each of us must find our place in the wall of this spiritual house and be cemented together with other living stones.  We are charged to build each other up in love. To think of what is coming against the Church, it is a tragedy when we tear each other down.

So, who’s afraid the big, bad wolf?  We are on a good foundation, but we must continue to build our spiritual house, the Church, the Ark of Salvation. If we do well, when the wind of opposition blows again, we will not be moved. If we suffer loss, we will still stand on the rock foundation that cannot be moved. The gates of hell shall not prevail. In fact, the Saints tell us that the approach of the wolf is even a blessing from God. We often believe that we have done well in our spiritual life. God allows for us to be tested, and so we discover the reality of our situation.

We are the Temple of God, and the Spirit dwells in us.

Blow on, wolf, blow on.

The End of Comfortable Christianity?

August 2, 2014

 

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Come gather ’round people Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters Around you have grown
And accept it that soon You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’  -Bob Dylan

If you were born in America, or if you have been here for a while, you will eventually hear about what is called “the American idea.”  I recently heard Bono, the lead singer of the group U2, speak about this. The American idea holds that we are all equal, and each person is unique. Each person has the freedom to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.  Bono said that it is a gift not just for Americans, but for the world.

Well, the times they are a changin’. This American idea has evolved into the idea that the right of self-expression is now the highest American virtue, and it trumps all other rights. The right to assembly no longer means that I can meet with people who share a common interest. All must be allowed to join whatever they wish to join, irregardless of what the group or organization stands for. This is now impacting Christian colleges and universities who must include those whose lifestyle or belief is counter to traditional Christianity.

Curiously, in times of change, the power of conformity is great. We call it “political correctness.”  To feel accepted, respected, and to avoid any kind of persecution, we will live no differently from others and speak no differently. Let me make a blanket statement (always dangerous): most of us live somewhere between the hope of being true to ourselves and conforming to the world. The time is near when we can no longer find a safe spot and compromise will mean leaving the Kingdom of God. The time of comfortable Christianity is passing.

For the Orthodox Christian, neither self-expression nor conformity to the world is the highest value. As St. Paul said, we are not to be conformed to the world, but transformed by Christ. To take on the image of Christ is to be hated by the world. So we might judge that because the world has not hated us, we have succumbed to the conforming power of the world.

There was a time when it seemed that Christianity and society had a more comfortable relationship. The culture seemed to reflect the values of the Church, and members of the Church felt that being a good citizen was their highest and best calling. Some wish we could go back to those times (even if such a state never really existed).

Let us hear from one voice:

“We live in a time of exile. At least those of us do who hold to traditional Christian beliefs. The strident rhetoric of scientism has made belief in the supernatural look ridiculous. The Pill, no-fault divorce, and now gay marriage have made traditional sexual ethics look outmoded at best and hateful at worst. The Western public square is no longer a place where Christians feel they belong with any degree of comfort.

It is also being driven by issues that few predicted would have such cultural force. It is surely an irony as unexpected as it is unwelcome that sex—that most private and intimate act—has become the most pressing public policy issue today. (Who could have imagined that policies concerning contraception and laws allowing same-sex marriage would present the most serious challenges to religious freedom?) We are indeed set for exile, though not an exile which pushes us to the geographical margins. It’s an exile to cultural irrelevance.”                                                                    By ROD DREHER for the American Conservative

I maintain that cultural irrelevance is not the end of things, but the beginning.

The Church has been in this situation before. Exile meant being moved from home and family. It meant persecution and death. We lived in a fantasy that such persecution would never come again. This time persecution will come under the banner of equality, uniqueness, and freedom.  How do we survive this? Let me draw a few ideas from the history of the Church which not only survived, but converted the world around her.  These strategies have always been true, but in exile they are more urgent.

1. Community

In exile, it is vital that we draw closer together in community. This doesn’t mean that we close our doors to the world or move to Montana. It means that it is the Church, and not our circle of friends, family or work, from which we will draw our strength and protection.  We will need our Orthodox brothers and sisters, priests and hierarchs to draw closer together in love and mutual support.  The Sunday Liturgy is an expression of our community, but once a week is not enough for those in exile. The fellowship that we will share in these meetings will be vital.  We must abandon the American myth that we are all self-sufficient individuals and can do just fine on our own. This is the way the early church survived dark times of exile.

2. Liturgy

In exile, infrequent communion  and poor attendance will not be enough to face what is coming. More than ever, our spiritual life must be our number one priority, above work and family and all else. We will need strength to be able to witness to our family, to train our children so that they can understand why they face ridicule for being a traditional Christian.  We may want to rethink our abandonment of worship on Saturday night.  The Church has a liturgical schedule that can counterbalance the rhythm of the world.

3. Study

Since this exile is in part ideological, we must know how to respond.  We must be sure that we know the teachings of the Church and how they are to be applied.  The truth will set us free, but if we are ignorant of the truth, the world will easily ensnare us. We must study or die.

4. Prayer

The Saints in exile displayed incredible courage and commitment to the Lord. They were men and women of prayer. In work and in all of life, they had communion with God. When community, Liturgy, and study were taken away, it was prayer that sustained them.  If the voice of the prophet is being heard again, and our exile is near or already here, then it is time that we commune with God  until life becomes prayer and prayer is life. We must be ready, and we will be ready if we are people of prayer. After all, it is spiritual warfare and must be fought spiritually.

We are entering a time that we thought would never return. I know it may be hard to believe. We have always believed that the freedoms guaranteed in our Constitution would protect us. Now those freedoms are being used against us. Whether you compromise with this society or not will depend on your allegiance to Christ and the Holy Orthodox Faith. As the Apostle said, if you love the world, the love of the Father isn’t in you.

The line it is drawn The curse it is cast
The slow one now Will later be fast
As the present now Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’ And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’

-Dylan

 

Forsaken

June 13, 2014

 

lonely-boy

In my forty years of ministry, I have counselled a number of people who suffered from a deep sense of loneliness. Over time, whatever family or friends that they had known disappeared from their life. This resulted in a cloud of depression, a feeling of being forsaken, that hung over them. You can try to tell them that they are not really alone, that Jesus loves them and is always with them, but I found that it rarely helped. One man reminded me that even Jesus cried out  “My God, why have you forsaken me.”

Feeling forsaken is a very human emotion, and it is certainly one that we want to avoid if possible. We always want to have family and friends around us up until the day we die. Yet, to be honest, there are times when we feel forsaken even with a large family and many friends. People let us down and sometimes they aren’t available for us. Sometimes, people are unkind or even bullies, and we feel very alone. Sometimes, things that we thought we understood or relied on like the government or a club we belonged to or even the Church goes in directions that we don’t understand or agree with. We can feel alone or forsaken.  Finally, life can sometimes become so difficult, painful or disappointing that we feel that God has abandoned us. We join our voice to the forsaken cry of the Crucified Lord – God, why have you forsaken me?

Considering all of this,  it may seem strange to say that Jesus wants us to live a forsaken life.

Beg pardon?

Let’s consider the following from St. Matthew.

“Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. He that loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that takes not his cross, and follows after me, is not worthy of me.”

In the Orthodox Church, we talk a lot about confession and people often ask about how to make a good confession. It is certainly vital that we examine ourselves and confess to the priest so that we can take communion. However, confession is a more that this. Confession is how we live each day. It is a witness made to family, friends, and the world. A little Greek will help us.

The word for witness is μάρτυς, or martyr. There was a time when confessing the Lord Jesus meant rejection, persecution, and even death. It meant that everyone would forsake you including your family. Jesus knew what would come to those who followed him, and so he spoke of a cross that they would carry. One of the aspects of this cross is the experience of a forsaken life. If anyone is not willing to live a forsaken life, there was no use following him.

We modern folks, especially those of us who live in America, are glad that giving witness to Jesus does not mean living a forsaken life. We thank God that we live in a more cultured and advanced society where all are free to exercise their religion. Oh, really?

Maybe its just me, or maybe its a function of aging,  that I feel like such a dinosaur. As a young man, I lived a rather radical life and I was very liberal in my politics. Now, it seems as if the world has changed, especially in regards to Christianity. There is an uneasy feeling abroad that confessing Jesus will once again mean martyrdom of some type or another. American society seems determined to create a complete secular state in which God has no part in the public sphere. Whatever the situation, I am most happy to be a Christian as long as it doesn’t cost me too much, especially if it doesn’t cost me family or friends that I hold dear.

People often tell me that they just can’t cross themselves in public or pray over meals. Why? The truth is that they don’t want to be rejected or ridiculed by co-workers, fellow students, or friends.

I have had the honor of assisting people as they journeyed into the Orthodox Faith. As far as I know. most have remained Orthodox, but sadly some fell away. They found that the Orthodox witness, that is the Orthodox lifestyle, demanded too much from them. There were those who came close to the Faith, but backed away because of the fear that their family would oppose or reject them. They faced the Cross and could not embrace it.

Some embraced the Faith, but no longer witness to it by the way they live.  They no longer pray on a regular basis; they no longer fast with any conviction, and they are lax in their study, support, and attendance. They are Orthodox in name only and their neighbors don’t bother them. Why should they? They live a lifestyle that matches the lifestyle of our culture, and there is little in the way they live that makes them stand out. Is it any wonder why faith is so weak, why Orthodoxy means so little to most of us, and even why we feel so far from God. The corrosive power of this American culture is strong.

Who willingly takes up a cross?  What would motivate us to do that? Again, let’s consider the Gospel of St. Matthew:

“Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed you; what shall we have therefore? …. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life. But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.”

The Lord is demanding, but He is also very generous. We shall receive “a hundredfold” for what we have forsaken and in addition, everlasting life.   A hundred fold! Now there is a wise investment. If I could get that kind of return in the financial world, I would sell everything and invest! Yet, even though I know that I cannot reap what I do not sow, I put little into following Jesus. He says that if we are ashamed of him “in this adulterous generation” and will give no witness, then he will not confess us in the world to come.

Perhaps the time is coming (or is already here) when confessing Jesus in word and in deed will mean that we will live a forsaken life. It may mean that we will be rejected by family and friends. Who knows? If it is so, then let us rejoice and have courage. The world may consider us to be of no consequence, the last of all,  but in the eyes of God we will be the first.

In the end of our life, at our death, we will truly be forsaken of all things – possessions, family, friends, reputation- it will all pass away. May it not be that we are forsaken by God, for then we will be forsaken indeed.

Scripture reference – Matthew Chapter 10

I Am Arius

May 31, 2014

 

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Does it really matter if Jesus is God or not?

Couldn’t God have just picked a man and made him a savior or a messiah? He did it before with Moses and the Prophets. Could he not have accomplished the same if he had made Jesus a great spiritual guide like Buddha, or a man of peace and action like Gandhi?

I know it sounds like a shocking question coming from an Orthodox priest, but I am not the first to ask it.  Among the first to ask this kind of question was a man named Arius. To Arius, it seemed absurd to think that God who is eternal, invisible, inexpressible, and unattainable would appear on earth as a man.  So, Arius held that God created Jesus and so Jesus, being a creature, was not God or equal to the Father in anyway.

Of course, the 318 Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council understood that the divinity of Jesus absolutely mattered. The life of Jesus revealed something about God that we did not know before, something that is a great mystery-God is One, but He is also One in Three Persons.  This revelation of the Trinity was so profound that the Fathers knew that it was crucial to our salvation.  What Arius proposed broke this unity of God and separated the persons of the Godhead.  They labored in the Creed to say that Jesus was fully human, but also fully divine. Jesus was two persons in one without confusion.  So, the doctrine of the Trinity was preserved. Why did the Fathers think this was essential for our salvation?

First, when I meet Jesus, I need to know that he is human. I need to know that he has experienced the struggles and the temptations of life.  The Ascension of Jesus tells me something that no other religion has proposed –that a human being went to God, to sit on his right hand. In doing so,  he bore in his body the marks of his crucifixion. The struggles of humanity sit next to God!  Remarkable!!!

Then, when I meet Jesus, I need to know that he is God. Gregory Nazianzen said – “What Has Not Been Assumed Has Not Been Healed.” The thoughts of wise men and women can do a lot to help me, but if I want to be healed, to be fully saved; only God can do that.  He took upon himself my sin and brokenness and nailed it to the Cross.  He rose from the dead so that I too can rise from the dead.

So, I understand why the Fathers were so anxious to refute Arius. The problem is that while I believe in Jesus as God and man, I am still Arius.  If I truly honored Jesus as God, I wouldn’t do half of the things I do and I would do more than what I do.

When I am lax at prayer, I fail to honor Jesus as God and treat him like a man.  I am Arius.

When I am lax in my attendance at church, I fail to honor Jesus as God and treat him like a man. I am Arius.

When I am unforgiving to someone, especially my Orthodox family, I fail to honor Jesus as God and treat him like a man. I am Arius.

When I cannot take a moment to read the words of Jesus and contemplate his wisdom, I fail to honor Jesus as God and treat him like a man. I am Arius.

When I make no attempt to be a disciple of Jesus, I fail to honor Jesus as God and treat him like a man.  I am Arius.

When I do little or nothing to build His Church, which is his body on earth, I fail to honor Jesus as God and treat him like a man. I am Arius.

Jesus is God.

I am Arius.

Anathema Arius.

Kodak moments

May 20, 2014

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For the youthfully challenged, there was a time when the Kodak company ruled the world of photography. Cameras used something called film which captured the image and then had to be developed by a professional or by mailing it in to the company. The company was so dominant that the phrase “a Kodak moment” entered into the social lexicon.  I still hear it used now and then but it is becoming a bit old fashioned.  Still, a Kodak moment  is a special moment that should be remembered and memorialized – things like birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, etc.

Kodak may no longer exist, but with cell phones and digital cameras, we continue to memorialize the important moments in life. Now, instead of cabinets filled with pictures we rarely look at, we now have computers and memory sticks loaded with pictures; and again, we rarely look at them. We even have the Cloud and websites that will keep our pictures for us. Funny, but I don’t think I’ve been in the Cloud for a long time.

We all have people and events that we hope we will never forget, and we hope people won’t forget us. Even after someone leaves us in death, we try to remember their birthdays and anniversaries and the other meaningful times we shared together. We do this because of love and we are grateful for what these people meant to us and what they gave to us. They really made a difference in our lives.

The Orthodox have Kodak moments. We take pictures when there is a baptism, wedding, or some special congregational or church event. You can find pictures of these pasted all over the social media. For our church life, there are some moments that are most important. We call these moments feast days.  We remember the Kodak moments in the life of our Lord Jesus. You may be familiar with the two big ones – Nativity and Pascha, but there are many others like Ascension, the Lord’s baptism, Transfiguration, the raising of Lazarus, and so on.

Many churches  study these events, but few celebrate them. Why do we make such a big deal about not only remembering these events, but celebrating them? Simply, Jesus was God incarnate, and this truth alone means that every thing he did or said matters-everything! Every event should be remembered, celebrated, and contemplated because it changes us and challenges us. Every moment of his life was a Kodak moment. So, how should we go about celebrating the Lord’s Kodak moments?

The Orthodox  join together in Church to chant the Vigil and celebrate the Eucharist. We hear the Scriptures of both the Old and New Testament chanted, and we are confronted with the truth and glory of the event.  One of the great fears of the Old Testament is forgetfulness of God. “Then beware lest thou forget the Lord, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.”    -Deuteronomy 6:12 Given the demands and distractions of the modern world, we need these Kodak moments, or we will practically forget God.

There is no other place for an Orthodox Christian to be when these Kodak moments occur than in Church. When we unnecessarily absent ourselves, we are saying that these moments don’t really matter much. It would be like having our mother celebrate her 100th birthday and we don’t show up because something else had a greater priority. Can you imagine such a thing? And yet, Feast after Feast, the Orthodox are absent from Church. While legitimate hindrances can rise up from time to time, some have made non-attendance a habit and a lifestyle. Of course it is considered to be rude or judgmental to point it out.

I suppose that all I can do is end with the words of the Lord: “That all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He that honors not the Son honors not the Father which hath sent him.”                                                                                                    -John 5:23

Forgive us, Father, for the lack of honor that we show to You and to your Son. We truly don’t know what we are doing. Lord, have mercy on us.

Coming soon….

November 19, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was a time in my Protestant past when i lived with an expectation-“Maranatha! Come quickly, Lord.” In past decades, the media was filled with studies of Biblical prophecy and interpreters of Revelation. All of them predicted the End.  It gave me a sense that we were in fact close to the Eschaton.

Obviously, the predictions did not come to pass and my apocalyptic sense faded away. These days, when I cruise the TV channels, I see that some of the old “evangelists” and biblical interpreters are still peddling their bogus interpretations, and I must admit that it surprises me. I remember a Old Testament admonition that if someone presents themselves as a prophet, or an interpreter of the future, and their prophecy does not come to pass, then they are a false prophet and should be stoned to death (or at least get a poor TV rating)!

Using stories and parables, Jesus certainly taught that those who follow him should be ever watching and waiting for his return. He often said that the Master would come when we least expected it. Frankly, I don’t hear much about this anymore except when people tell me that when things seem really difficult in life, they wish that the Lord would return to fix it all. I guess he will come with a Mr. Fix-it hat, rather than a crown.

I have to admit that I miss those days when my mind was filled with expectation of the Lord’s return. On of my favorite classical pieces is Verdi’s Requiem. Dies Irae!!! Of course if the prophecies had come to pass as predicted, I wouldn’t be here writing this blog, but much of the recent sadness and tragedies of the world would have been avoided if Jesus had returned as predicted.

There may be little apparent anticipation these days that Jesus is returning soon, but that’s not to say the folks don’t have a sense of expectation.  Let me illustrate: “How many weeks till the next Hobbit movie”? I can’t wait! Will that TV show have a sequel? I hope so.  When will my favorite music group go on tour? I want to be there. What time is the World Series or the Super Bowl.  Will we be out of Church in time?  We anticipate buying a car or a house, going out on a date, getting married, our next meal, buying a new car, getting a new job, Christmas presents, etc.

Having such hopes and expectations for something joyful or entertaining is not evil in itself, but what would our life be like if we had a real, but balanced hope and expectation of the Lord’s return? Abandoning the failed prophecies and distorted Biblical interpretations of the past, how are we to live? Acts 1 gives us a model. The Lord ascends into heaven and the Apostles stand there amazed. Then the angels speak to them, “You men of Galilee, why do you stand here gazing into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same manner as you have seen him go into heaven.” So they left and went into Jerusalem.

So, here is the balance. Yes, He is going to return, and we should hope for it, but let’s get on with the Lord’s business. I think a lot of the prophecies of the past were just “gazing into heaven.” We are to be busy and at the same time live with a hope and an expectation that Jesus could come to us or to the world at any moment. In Orthodoxy, the Fathers talk about the remembrance of death. We moderns recoil from this idea because we live in a culture that denies death and doesn’t want to think about it.The Fathers are not telling us to be morbid or depressed. They are telling us to live with a sense that Jesus can come anytime, in the clouds of heaven, or in the moment of our physical death. Tomorrow is not guaranteed to us, and so we should live today to the fullest. If we had this hope and expectation, we would spend a lot less time on the stupidities of life, and more time on what is really important. This hope also keeps us from despair. Hell is a place where hope is absent. If I have the hope of meeting the Lord, then this hope gives me life.

The question now is how we can regain this hope and expectation in a way that it is an ever present existential and spiritual reality? I’m open for suggestions.

In the mean time, how long is it to the Hobbit movie?

Where I am not I, I am more happily I

November 16, 2013

For those not old enough to remember, Popeye was a cartoon sailor who gained super strength by eating spinach. After winning a battle, Popeye would say, “I yam what I yam, and that’s all that I yam. I’m Popeye the Sailor man.”  (I guess the speech problem came about because he never seemed to remove the pipe from his mouth.)

Popeye’s  gospel is prevalent and powerful in our culture. It is thought to be quite an accomplishment when I can say “What you see is what you get.”   It can be a boast of self-confidence that I have nothing to hide, that I have no illusions about myself. It might also be an apology that I can be no more. Whatever it means, the gospel of Popeye is often referenced in one form or another. It is the gospel of the eternal search for myself.

I often quote Popeye’s gospel to God. “Look, God, you have to forgive me. I am what I am, and you know how I got to be the way I am. I am a mix of hurt and history, success and failure, soul and flesh. Please, Lord, you have to accept me as I am and forgive me, because I can only be what I am. In fact, I don’t really know who or what I am. Don’t expect any big changes..”  Hmmm…the only thing I lack is a can of spinach, a nice sailor’s suit,  and a pipe.

The Gospel of Jesus is quite different. St. Paul said in Galatians 2:20 that “It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me.”  The Blessed Augustine put it this way: “Where I am not I, I am more happily I.” This is an interesting way to say it, and it is the exact opposite of Popeye. The search for myself is a futile search for there is nothing to find. Popeye’s idea that I should just be happy with what I am never seems to satisfy for very long. I find myself reaching for my can of spinach because I want to be stronger, wiser, and better looking, of course, The problem is,  it doesn’t last long. It does not help me find who I am.

Christianity is not a search for self-identity or self-fulfillment. It is a search for Christ and not only to make him my own, but to realize that the life I now live, I live by faith in Him who loved me and died for me. His life is now my life, and I no longer live, but He lives through me. I don’t have to settle for Popeye’s gospel. I no longer have to search for meaning or struggle for some understanding of myself. When I am not I, I am most happily I.

Don’t misunderstand. St. Paul said that this wonderful life is lived “in the flesh.” Here is the battlefield because my human impulses will rise up against this divine inner reality. Every moment, I can follow my fallen nature, or I can let Christ live in me. Of course, I fail at this, but at least I have a choice. Before my birth at baptism, I could only follow my human nature. Now there is another life in me and when I do consent to what my mind tells me, I know that it isn’t me who refuses, but the grace comes from the One who lives in me.

Popeye had an arch enemy, Bluto. Often, Bluto would always come to spoil what Popeye was doing, and he would momentarily get the best of Popeye. At that moment, Popeye would reach for his can of spinach and he would swallow the whole can in one gulp. Instantly he would gain super strength. With this power, he would defeat Bluto. Then the power of the spinach would fade away.  At the end, Popeye would sing his victory song- I yam what i yam.

We too face our own Bluto and for most of us, he dwells in our human nature. He dreams of freedom and strength.  He longs and struggles for it.. Fulfillment and accomplishment, pleasure and self-satisfaction, fame and fortune-these kind of things Bluto says will help me find myself. It is a hall of smoke and mirrors, but Bluto is insistent. I too need a can of spinach to defeat him, but it will not be found in a search for myself. The right spinach is found elsewhere (the leaves of the Bible is a good place to start chewing).

I am not what I am, and when I am not, I am most happily I. When I let Christ live his life through me, when his life is my life, I find myself. Then there is a peace that passes all understanding.

If it isn’t clear, eat more spinach!

Low Carb

October 12, 2013

low carbFr. Gabriel Weller is  a business man. He founded and operates Hawk Security. The company installs all kinds of security systems. I worked for the company for a little while, and so I got to see how the technicians figure out what kind of system is needed and then how it will be installed. They can install little units on every window and door so that if anyone opens a window when the system is on, the alarm will sound (and it’s a very loud alarm). They can install cameras that you can watch online. They can install units that detect motion and even detectors that are tuned to frequency of breaking glass. Once it’s set up, and you turn it on at night, you will free pretty secure against anyone sneaking in. Even more, the system is monitored so that if it’s set off, and no one turns it off with a security code, the police and fire department are called immediately.

We put a security system in our church. I told Father that instead of the alarm saying, “Intruder alert.  Intruder alert! Leave immediately!” I wanted to change it to “Sinner alert. Sinner alert. Repent immediately!”

Security is an important issue in life, for without a sense of security, we live with fear and anxiety. So, we try to be wise and arrange life to be emotionally, financially, mentally, and physically secure. The problem is that security is an illusion. Despite our best efforts life is filled with surprises and we are reminded that much of life is beyond our control. It can be quite a shock because we love the illusion that we are in control and life is secure.

The thief comes in the night, the Lord said, when we are asleep. In the pre-Hawk Security days, the only way to catch the thief was to stay awake. Physically, this is almost impossible, however the Lord is using this analogy to make a spiritual point – we must be awake or the thief will come to take what we have.

There is a Greek term that you should know – nepsis. It means to be in a wakeful state. The Orthodox Fathers were called the Neptic Fathers, the awake ones.  They held vigil over their hearts and minds so that nothing could break in and steal from them – no thought, no sin or passion could rob them of their spiritual treasure.

It’s so easy for the thief to take from us, because there is much that puts us to sleep. It’s like eating too many carbs. Even if it’s the middle of the day, we just want to take a good nap.  There are spiritual carbs too, things stimulate our passions. So we indulge ourselves, and we fall asleep spiritually.  This is when the thief takes away what little spirituality we have. Sadly, the day will come when the great thief, death, will steal everything from us; or someday, the Lord Himself will come when we least expect it and He will find us asleep. The Lord wondered if there would be any wise enough to remain vigilant.

The beginning of nepsis comes when we realize that there is no real security. We cannot fold our hands and take a nap when it comes to our souls. This is something we cannot turn over to Hawk Security. If we do not remain vigilant, awake, then what we have gained spiritually and even all that we have in the physical world will be stolen from us. Just as we have many stories of Saints who stayed awake, we also have many stories of those who started well in the Faith, but fell asleep and had everything stolen from them.

Spiritually speaking then, we must go low carb. We need to push away from the table and stop binging on the passions and the things that stimulate them. If we stay awake, we can watch with vigilance over our minds, our hearts and our souls. Nothing will break in or surprise us. Certainly, we will need to ask for God’s help because it is so easy to sleep, especially when it is dark.  It’s so easy “to be asleep in Zion.”

How did Bach put it?  Oh yes, “Sleepers Awake.” And he was a Lutheran!

A low carb spiritual diet – I recommend it

Life Savers

September 28, 2013

lifesaver

When I was young, I loved Lifesavers candy. Well, that isn’t exactly true. You see, Life Savers came in 5 flavors. I didn’t like the green one at all. I would toss it away or give it to someone (gosh, wasn’t I the generous soul?).  The other flavors I could tolerate well enough, but the prize was the red one. I would take my time peeling back the paper and eating the other flavors until the red one would appear. It was a happy moment when my patience would be rewarded with that delicious red flavor. Actually, I would have been happy if all of them had been red.

Why were they called Life Savers? In 1912, candy manufacturer Clarence Crane  invented Life Savers as a “summer candy” that could withstand heat better than chocolate. The candy’s name is derived from its similarity to the shape of lifebuoys used for saving people who have fallen from boats. The name has also inspired an urban legend that Crane invented the candy to prevent children from choking, due to his own child having choked on a hard candy.

Interesting, but what does this have to do with faith or salvation?

Sometimes I hear people say that Orthodoxy is too complicated. We tell them to “taste and see that the Lord is good”. They tell us that there are too many flavors and some of them they don’t like. Fasting is one of those Orthodox flavors that can be hard to swallow. A discipline of prayer is also difficult. Fasting and prayer taste green and we can spend a lot of time avoiding them. I remember a friend who had a non-Orthodox wife. One day he was pushing hard for her to convert, and she responded that she could not fast. He pressed a little harder, and she said that she could fast some, but she just had to have cheese. He later asked me if that would be acceptable, so I told him we would have one order of Orthodoxy with cheese. Actually, she never did convert. She told him that no one was going to tell her what to eat or what not to eat. He replied that that is exactly what Eve said!

Then there are flavors of Orthodoxy that are tolerable.  We don’t mind them too much and it isn’t that they are unpleasant, but they aren’t the red ones. The long services can be a bit tough, so that’s not a red one. We stand a lot and that’s not a red one. Then there’s the sermon – hmmm, that one feels a bit green. Confession – what can we say about that? We recognize the flavor, but it can be hard to get excited about. There are other flavors that we tolerate and even enjoy a little..

If I were to ask you what part of Orthodoxy is red for you, what part(s) you really savor,  I wonder what you would say? To me, the best red in Orthodoxy is the Eucharist. When Christ is present on the Altar, giving Himself to us, that is the best.  Another red for me is when brothers and sisters dwell together in a unity of mind and soul.  I really love that one. Another red is to see someone come into the Faith. Sweet indeed.

There are other reds, but I will stop at these because something has dawned on me. What if the whole pack could become red? What if I could savor each flavor of Orthodoxy?  What if I realized that each part of Orthodoxy is a red life saver? There are no greens or oranges in Orthodoxy, just reds. The problem is some of them still taste green to me, and while others are sweeter,  I just tolerate them really. This is sad because I desperately need a life saver, so what gives me the luxury of picking and choosing which one I will enjoy and which one I will not. I remember that the word “heresy” means “to pick and choose.” You see, fasting really is a life saver, and so is prayer, and attending church services, and so on. A drowning man can hardly wait for a particular color of life buoy. Still, if I valued all of them……

Those who came to understand that all of Orthodoxy is red are called  saints. I hope that someday, my pack of Orthodox Lifesavers will all be red. What a sweet day that will be, for that will be the day that I truly begin to save my life.