Archive for the ‘Prayer’ Category

Goat Boy

February 22, 2009


Be honest! Do you really think about the second coming of Christ? After all, it’s been about 2,000 years, so why worry now? Maybe, we don’t think about judgment because we hate to be accountable to anyone. I sometimes wish that God would follow His own advice: don’t judge lest you be judged. God should be so loving and forgiving that he will just pass over all of our sins, passions, and mistakes.

The Bible portrays the end of all things and usually, its not a pretty picture. You only have to read the book of Revelation to find some rather disturbing images. The Church has never taught that it’ll be all warm fuzzies and bright lights, and then Jesus speaks of the last judgment and said it would be a sheep and goat kind of experience. Sheep and goats? Compare to other images about the end, this seems a bit…pastoral.

In his parable of the Judgment, the Master separates the two with the sheep on the right and the goats on the left.  Is there something, some mark or characteristic, by which he tells the difference?  Is it how pure they were in this life? No. Is by how much they prayed and fasted? No. Is it by how much they read the Bible or how well versed they were in theology? No. Is it by how often they attended Church and went to confession and communion? No. Well then, what is the distinguishing mark that divides them? It is compassion. Compassion? Oh, I wish he hadn’t of said that. Why can’t it at least be some of the other things like  how well I followed the rules, or kept the fast, or prayed, or how well I avoided gossip or conquered my lustful thoughts?

Blessed Augustine said that we should not resist the first coming of Christ so that we will not dread the second. By first coming, does he mean Nativity? No, it is when Christ comes to us in the poor, the imprisoned, the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the depressed, the lonely, the desperate, etc.

Is compassion difficult? Not really.  It doesn’t take intelligence or wisdom to be compassionate. I don’t have to be rich or beautiful. What does it take? Heart.

“Ever let mercy outweigh all else in you. Let our compassion be a mirror where we may see in ourselves that likeness and that true image which belong to the Divine nature and Divine essence. A heart hard and unmerciful will never be pure.”   —St. Isaac of Syria

Seeing that compassion is easy for all of us to do, how then do I explain the poverty of my own compassion? When I take an honest look at my so called achievements, they aren’t so great really. Most of what I think I have accomplished  will fade into obscurity and be remembered no more. What will last in the memory of God is the mercy and compassion I have shown, or not.

At the moment, as I see it, I’m pretty much a goat boy. Yet, if I could get a sheep-like heart, it might even change every thing I do. For example, when I fast, instead of fretting over how “kosher” it is,  I can eat more simply and then take the extra money I save and support the food bank. Maybe I could empty my closet of clothes I haven’t worn in years and give them to the local mission. The possibilities are endless, if I could get a sheep’s heart.

Goat boy would rather not do any of this.  He would rather prove his love for God with piety. Of course, piety is important but the Judge said, “Forgive and you will be forgive, show mercy, and mercy will be shown to you. I was hungry and you fed me, naked and you clothed me, thirsty and you gave me water to drink.” Goat boy wishes that he would hear something like, “Good job. You didn’t eat that burger during Lent”, or “Way to go! You really nailed that prayer rule.” Of course, a heart that is “broken and humbled God will not despise.”

The last word is from the Prophet.

5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD ?

6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?

7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness a]”>[a] will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.”

The mouth of the Lord has spoken it!

Baby Kisser

February 20, 2009



I don’t follow the presidential campaign closely enough to know if it always  happens, but I suspect that it does. Usually, it’s a regular part of the campaign and you see lots of pictures taken when it occurs. Someone will hand the candidate their baby, and the candidate will duly kiss the baby. Now, I’m not sure about exactly what this means. Is it a blessing for the baby? Will the baby’s life be forever changed because this particular person kissed it? It’s funny to me that people want to hand their babies to famous people.

In Luke 2, the situation is turned around. The time of purification had passed and Mary and Joseph brought the Child to the Temple to offer the prescribed sacrifice. They weren’t there because they heard that someone famous was there. In fact, if they had handed the Baby to the famous and the powerful in the Temple, the elite wouldn’t have kissed this baby anyway. Joseph and Mary were poor people and would hardly be noticed. How do we know they were poor? Well, the law allowed the poor to offer two birds instead of two sheep or two cows.

The elite of the Temple did not understand that the history of the Old Testament had come to completion that day. For in this baby, God had returned the Temple. If they had known this, all of them would have lined up to kiss the baby. Yet, the significance of the moment was not lost on everyone. There were two people there who kissed the baby. One was an old man and the other was an old woman. Why is it that they, among all the people who were there, were able to kiss the baby?

It says that Symeon was a just and pious man. Well, I’m sure that there were many pious people in the Temple that day. Yet, Symeon was a man who came to the Temple each day with an expectation and hope. Each day he came to see “the consolation of Israel.” He believed, in fact he had been promised, that he would not die before he had seen the Christ. A lot of people believed in a Messiah, but how many believed that they would see him before they died?

What is life without hope? For that matter, what is faith without hope? Do I come to the Temple thinking that today, yes even today, I will kiss the Baby? See, I believe in God and I believe in Christ. Yet, is there any conviction in me that before I die, my eyes will actually see God’s salvation fulfilled in my life? Another way to say this is do I really believe that holiness is possible for me, that what God started in me He will actually finish? Is today the day that this will be done? I know that he did this for the Saints, but they were saints after all. For me personally, I am very skeptical because I am no saint. After all,  the times was so different then. Everything today is weak and watered down and compromised. Holiness is a slim possibility.

Anna, daughter of Phanuel, got to kiss the baby. What made her so special? Well, she never left the Temple and she worshipped God with fasting and prayers. You know, it never occurred to me that I worship God by fasting. I thought fasting was just one of those disciplines that we do to constrain our flesh.Yet, Anna had learned to worship God with her piety and so she gained the spirit of a prophetess. When the Baby came into the Temple, she knew who this Baby was and she spoke to people many about him.

Each time I come to the Temple, I can kiss the Baby. I kiss him when I embrace my brothers and sisters. I kiss him when I kiss the hand of the priest.I kiss him in the icons. Above all, I kiss him in the holy Eucharist. Do I have the eyes to see it? Having prepared myself with prayer and fasting, do I come with hope and expectation that today, in this very hour, I will see the salvation prepared before the face of all the people. Hope and piety-with these two things, I can kiss the Baby. Then, when I leave the Temple, or when God sends his angel to take my soul from the temple of my body, I will be able to say, “Now let your servant depart in peace.”

My Mother’s Voice

January 10, 2009

I would give most anything to hear my mother’s voice again. She died some years ago, but I can still hear her speak in my mind. There’s something about a mother’s voice that touches deep into the heart of a child. Nothing soothes more than a mother’s voice, and nothing can bring such terror. I could measure my situation by the tone and the volume of her voice. If the tone was right, it could make my heart leap for joy. If the tone was wrong, I got that burning sensation in my stomach.

Our Mother spoke and the babe leaped for joy in Elisabeth’s womb.That is the power of grace present in our Mother’s voice. So, our Mother speaks and we should listen. (Luke 1)

“All generations will call me blessed.” The Greek word for blessed is “makarion” (many saints were named Makarios). The word is sometimes translated as “happy”, but somehow that just doesn’t seem adequate. In classical Greek, the word “makar” was associated with the gods who lived beyond death and fate.The gods were the hoi Makarioi, the blessed ones. For Christianity, to be blessed is more than an emotional feeling or financial well-being. Blessedness is a sharing in the life of God, and that goes far beyond mere happiness. When we call her blessed, we affirm that our Mother has within herself the life of God.

“His mercy is to those who fear Him from generation to generation.” Since our Mother is “the champion Leader”, her children can also be named “markarios” because we can also share in the life of God. But listen carefully to her words because she links fear to gaining this mercy. This fear is not a sense of dread but of reverence. When I begin to see the beauty of holiness, I know that mercy is at the heart of that holiness, and it is a mercy that never ends.

“He scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.” Sometimes, we question God’s mercy because we believe that our sin is too great to be forgiven. The demons and my thoughts gather in a battle array to convince me that my situation is hopeless. Despair becomes my spiritual food. It takes the strength of God’s arm to scatter these enemies, so that I can see that mercy is always greater than my sin.

“He filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he sent away empty.” Our Mother shows us that if we lack Christ, we possess nothing. Her Son will speak of this when he says “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst…” If I am rich, then I have no need of what Christ has to give. Yet, if I know my hunger, God will fill me with good things. The Jewish race fed on the Law and the teachings of the Prophets, and that was a rich banquet. This feeding should have made them hungry instead of satisfied. When Christ came, they had no need of him and rejected him, and so they went away empty. Our Mother wants us to know our hunger. Mother’s are always worried about what her children are eating.

“He helped his servant Israel.” God made promises to our Mother, but would God follow through and bring them to pass? Our Mother trusted God and submitted her life to his will. In the same way, God had made promises to our fathers and to Abraham. Now, in her, the promises were finding fulfillment. The Blessed Theophylact wrote: “Now He did help His servant Israel in the physical sense; for many of them, myriads, believed, and the promise of God to Abraham was fulfilled [Gen. 2218]…And in a spiritual sense, all who see God are Israel, for thus being interpreted does the name declare. The Lord helped those who see God, leading them up to their heavenly inheritance.” Our Mother trusted God and Christ was conceived in her, and the promise was fulfilled. She invites her children to trust God so that Christ can be conceived in us as well. If we trust God (faith), we become partakers in his divine nature (II Peter 1).

I hear my Mother’s voice. My heart leaps for joy when her words enter my ears. Happy and blessed are those who believe. Jesus said, “Have you not read the verse that says ‘you are gods?” If we hear and understand the voice of our Mother, then are the hoi Makarioi- the Blessed.

Happy Mother’s Day!

I am a drunk!

October 15, 2008

Hello, my name is John, and I am a drunk.

I want to be sober. I long for sobriety. This is how my therapist described it:silence of the heart, guarding of the mind, attention to oneself. Yes, all the things I am not.

I am drunk on feelings. They wash in and out of my heart and I revel in them. Sometimes, its joy and desire and passion and sometimes its depression, hate, and anger. Once I take the first sip, I cannot stop but want more and more and more. Even sadness and depression becomes quite intoxicating. And so, I stagger and roar from the bottom of my heart. There is no silence there.

Guard the mind? No, I am drunk on images and my mind is wide open. The media is my drink of choice. Once I take a mental sip, I want more and more. There are so many bars to drink in the images. The television is full of them and the internet is my best bottle. Movies and magazines all help to keep me drunk! My mind is so filled with images that I can hardly pray without them popping up and darkening my mind. The thing is, I’ve been an image drunk since I was a child. Mom put the bottle to our lips when we were children by sitting us in front of the television. (It was a great baby-sitter).My father kept pornography around the house, so sensuous images are a constant. Strangely, I often walk past the images of the Holy Ones that I have in my house and I barely notice them.

I pay no attention to myself because I’m too busy observing the faults and shortcomings of others. Spending all my time judging, I sit in on the bar stool of the scornful. My sins come and go with ease because in my judgmental and drunken haze, I rarely notice them. Therefore, I have no real idea who I am or what motivates me, but like strong liquor, my pride makes me swagger with the claim that I am a fine man and nothing like those other drunks. After all, unlike the others, I can quit anytime I like.

Sobriety! One day at a time – one step at a time – trust in the “Higher Power” – be accountable – ask for forgiveness from those you have offended – make no excuses for yourself – do the therapy – attend the Meetings – take the Medicine -read the Books – meet with your counselor – its all important.

Or…be a drunk!

Super Moon

September 9, 2008


This coming Monday night, we will be able to see a super moon. The moon will be very close to us and very bright. (Let’s hope for clear skies) Growing up in the “boonies”, I have a lot of memories of bright moons. On a clear and cloudless night, the light  was so bright, you could drive your car without your headlights turned on.  The farmers could work at night bringing in the harvest. Looking at such a moon, you can understand why people in past times worshiped the moon. They thought that like the sun, the moon generated its own light. It wouldn’t be until modern times that we would understand that the moon simply reflects the light of the sun.

You can imagine St. Paul saw a lot of bright moons. Maybe it inspired him to write:  “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 3)

It is no small thing to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. It changes you. As Paul just said, we are transformed by that light. For this to happen, we must have unveiled faces. Paul must have been thinking about Moses who when he came from the mountain, he placed a veil over his face. This is not for us because we are to remove any veil, any obstacle between ourselves and the glory of God.

The problem is that most of us are unaware of the fact that our faces are covered. There are sins and ways of thinking that we simply will not give up, so the veil remains. Taking off the veil can be a real struggle so we usually avoid it.  The veil hides us so that no one can really see us. The problem is that our veil of pride and pretense blinds us to the light of God’s glory.

Of course, the Church gives us the way to take off the veil:  prayer, fasting, good works, reading the Bible, attending church and so on. Confession can really help us, but we avoid it. The goal is reach holiness,  to be like the Super Moon, full, bright, and unmistakable. Men will see no matter how dark the night. The light of God will reflect from our faces., when we begin to attain to holiness. Those around us will glorify God at the Light of Christ which reflects from our faces.

No, you can’t hide the Super Moon under a bushel basket! The light of Christ cannot be hidden, either. Listen to  Montovilov, the friend of St. Seraphim of Sarov. describe his super moon experience:

“Then Father Seraphim took me very firmly by the shoulders and said: “We are both in the Spirit of God now, my son. Why don’t you look at me?”

I replied: “I cannot look, Father, because your eyes are flashing like lightning. Your face has become brighter than the sun, and my eyes ache with pain.”

Father Seraphim said: “Don’t be alarmed, your Godliness! Now you yourself have become as bright as I am. You are now in the fullness of the Spirit of God yourself; otherwise you would not be able to see me as I am.”

After these words I glanced at his face and there came over me an even greater reverent awe. Imagine in the center of the sun, in the dazzling light of its midday rays, the face of a man talking to you. You see the movement of his lips and the changing expression of his eyes, you hear his voice, you feel someone holding your shoulders; yet you do not see his hands, you do not even see yourself or his figure, but only a blinding light spreading far around for several yards and illumining with its glaring sheen both the snow-blanket which covered the forest glade and the snow-flakes which besprinkled me and the great Elder.”

There is so much for us, my friends. If only we would take off the veil so that we too can see the Light of God in the face of Christ.

Extreme makeover

May 23, 2008


I remember some liberal bible scholar pointing out that Jesus must have been mistaken. Jesus said that there would be some of his disciples who would not die before they saw him coming into the glory of his kingdom. Obviously, the professor concluded, all of the disciples are dead and Jesus had not come into glory of his kingdom. According to the professor, Jesus had obvious delusions of grandeur.

Well, shortly after saying making his claim about glory, Jesus took three of his disciples and went into the mountains. There he fulfilled what he had promised, for these three saw Jesus shining in the glory of his kingdom. Oops! Sorry, professor!

So much has been written about this great Feast, but one truth is always clear and simple: when you look at Jesus, you see God. This is what he told Phillip in the Upper Room: “How can you say ‘show us the Father’ because when you have seen me you have seen the Father.” On this Mount, he shines in the glory of the Holy Spirit and the Father says, “this is My Son, hear Him.”

Yet, it isn’t only Divinity that we see on the Mount. We also see a human being transfigured and this teaches us something about ourselves. All of us are to be children of the light, transformed by Grace. In fact, the Mount of Transfiguration is the end and goal of all creation. The desire for transformation lies deep within our hearts and deep with the nature of creation itself.

I don’t know if you noticed, but transfiguration has become very vogue. Extreme makeover shows fill the media and this culture exults in transformation: we makeover houses and cars and faces and bodies and clothing. Everyone wants to be transfigured and transformed. Plastic surgery has become a billion dollar industry, and diet and weight loss ads fill the magazines.

Of course, the problem is that these transformations are only ‘skin-deep.’ Weight lost today returns two-fold tomorrow. These so-called extreme makeovers are hardly extreme at all, because they fail to reach deep into the heart.

Rather than a one-time makeover, Transfiguration calls us to an extreme makeover: one that causes light to emanate from within the very depths of our being. What Jesus is by nature, we can become by Grace. Of course, this means that we have to cooperate with that Grace. We have to embrace disciplines and practices that help to transform us.

And so we come back once again to the same old spiritual disciplines that the Church always places before us: prayer, fasting, and good works. Again we learn that doing these things has nothing to do with winning God’s favor, but has everything to do with us.

Someone said that the main purpose of prayer is the change the one doing the praying. Of course, what bothers us is that the change is not instantaneous. We are a rather impatient bunch. Yet, if we keep at it, each day we will see a little more light in ourselves. It’s a sure formula: the more prayer, the more light. Think of St. Seraphim and how he glowed with the visible light of the Transfiguration before his friend as they walked and talked in the forest. Of course he spent over 1,000 days in constant prayer and I can hardly manage 15 minutes in the morning! St. Seraphim, pray for me.

Transfiguration is considered by many Fathers to be greater than the Feast of Pascha. This may sound odd to us, but consider that Transfiguration shows us the very essence and direction of our salvation. Salvation is theosis, a process of transformation and a journey towards the Mountain of Transfiguration. On that mount we will be bathed with the uncreated Light of the Holy Spirit.

So, as they used to say in the 1970s, “keep your eyes on the prize.” We keep our eyes fixed to the Mount of Transfiguration. When we reach the top, it will truly be an EXTREME MAKEOVER!