Archive for the ‘Relationships’ Category

Lying with dogs

November 7, 2009


My mom use to tell me, “If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.” She told me this because she didn’t like the company I was keeping. I have to admit that I often ran with dogs and ended up with fleas. Yet, I found that it is not always a bad thing to be in the company of dogs.

Lazarus laid at the gates of Dives, the rich man. Day after day, he begged for bread and Dives ignored him. The Lord doesn’t give us any reasons why the rich man was so hard hearted. It seems that Lazarus never complained about his situation or cursed the rich man for his hard heart. No one else seemed to help him either.

Is this story without any charity at all? Well, charity can come from unusual sources. It seems that only the dogs had compassion, for they licked Lazarus’ sores. This may sound gross, but it was an act of mercy because it kept the sores clean and free of infection. It’s such an incredible contrast: the rich man with a poor heart, and the poor dogs with big hearts. Who knows, maybe all dogs do go to heaven.

How hard hearted can we be? Would you tend to believe someone that had just returned from the dead? The brothers of Lazarus wouldn’t believe it because they had refused to believe Moses or the Prophets. They would never believe a dead man come to life. I’m glad that we modern folks are not so hard-hearted. Oh wait! We did hear from someone who came back from death. Did we believe Him?

What makes us so hard hearted that we never see Lazarus? It’s a matter of perspective, really. We never see it from dog’s level.

First, we pay our taxes and the state runs the welfare system, and so we rarely see a beggar. But does it have to be a man lying by our door? There are so many around us, even in our church, who hurt and cry and beg for love, but we do not see them. We are not at dog level.

Then, we believe that since we have a welfare system, anyone who sits by the interstate exit begging for bread is just lazy and chooses not to work. I’ve had the experience of being chased by a beggar who would not be refused. I thought that if he had the strength to chase me, he had the strength to work. Of course, I was sure that he would just spend it on booze. I was not at dog level.

Finally, we are building the ancient tower of Babel. Science and technology promise to open the gates of paradise, where there will be no sickness or hunger, and we are true believers. I remember the day when the Challenger Shuttle exploded. We were sitting in a pizza restaurant watching a big screen TV. What a shock it was. It was a tragic loss, but to me this event was a bit of an icon. It reminded me that no matter how high we build our towers, we are not gods and our technology will not make it so. And so, we are blinded by our own cleverness and we rarely see Lazarus starving in agony at our gates. Jesus said that the poor would always be with us. Our cleverness keeps us from seeing things from the dog level.

To lie with the dogs means that we see the world through the eyes of humility. Lazarus kept the company of dogs and learned humility. He kept a soft heart and ended up in the bosom of Abraham (that is a soft place for soft hearts). The hard heart of Dives led him to hell.

Lord, may I forever lie with the dogs and lick the wounds of Lazarus.

P.S. To the aficionados of grammar, I understand the lie/lay situation. I just wanted to play with it and quote it as my mother
quoted it to me.

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!


February 1, 2009

A group of people who had entered into hell were taken to a beautiful dining room. It was finely apportioned with the best furniture, silverware, and glassware. On the table, every possible food was present and it was all of the highest quality. They were told to take a seat. Their punishment would be that they could eat all they wanted and they would never get sick or tire of the food.

Hardly able to contain their joy and surprise, they sat down, placed the fine linen napkin on their lap, picked up a fork, and began to eat. The fork would pick up the food, but just before it got to their lips, it would fall from the fork. If they tried to take the food by hand, it would just slip between their fingers or disappear.Try as they might, no one could get a morsel in their mouth. This was truly suffering as they grew ever more hungry, angry and frustrated. This would be their lot for eternity.

It would seem that the solution to the problem would be obvious. All they had to do was to feed each other, but it never occurred to them. In life it never occurred to them to consider others before themselves. Hell has a way of enhancing the worst of our human traits.

I once took a class in seminary on evil, suffering, and the Christian faith. I remember one thing that the professor told us. Most of us are insulated from suffering. This may be a survival technique or even a gift from God, because if we experienced all the suffering that goes on in the world in just a small moment of time, the experience would kill us or drive us insane. Evil and suffering may be an inescapable part of human life, but all of want a break from it all. We want to rest.

Jesus said, “Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am meek and humble in heart; and ye shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.

The Lord makes it sound so simple and so inviting. Rest is found by taking His yoke and learning about Him. Why is it then that is so few are willing to do it? We seem almost like masochists who prefer to suffer instead of rest. Here is a way offered to us by God, a way to be at rest, but we would rather take upon ourselves the yoke of the worldliness and sin.  Why would we prefer a hard yoke to an easy one?

The answer is that we believe the yoke of the Lord is too heavy. It is too much to ask that we pray. It is too hard to fast. It is too much to ask that they spend 4 hours out their week to come to the liturgies of the church. It is too much to ask that they come to Sunday school or Bible Study. It is too much to ask that they confess regularly. The yoke is too heavy. Refusing the yoke of the Lord, we struggle and suffer under the yoke of life’s demands. Weakened by the yoke of the world, there is little defense against the devil, the world, and the flesh.

There’s so much suffering in families today, even Orthodox families. Many wives suffer because their husbands refuse to serve them as Christ serves the Church. Instead of taking the Lord’s yoke of service, men demand that they be served. When wives fail to serve them because of weakness or frustration,  they resort to anger and sullenness, mental and even physical abuse. Husbands suffer because while they serve as best they can, wives refuse to show them honor and love. Men feel belittled by the sharp words of criticism from their wives. Parents suffer because children will not be obedient to them, and children suffer because parents forget that they are not to “stir their children to wrath.”

There’s suffering the Church today. We are told to forgive each other, but often we hold grudges. We are called to bear each other’s burdens, but we are too busy sharing our burdens than to bear them. We are called to build each other up, but we tear each other down. We are supposed to speak the truth in love, but we whisper behind doors. We are to admonish each other “with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making melody in our hearts to the Lord,” but we admonish with biting words and harsh criticisms, or show a cold shoulder to the offender. Instead of sitting with visitors or the elderly or the youth so that we might share our faith and build them up, we sit with friends who can match our sophistication and wit. Some of members of our church are lonely or hurting – do you know who they are? To the Church, the Lord says, “take my yoke.” We refuse and so there is much suffering at Church. As a result, the Church is not a place of rest.

Zacchaeus was man who carried a heavy yoke. He was a tax collector and thought of little else than financial gain. But for all of his money, he was hated and despised and rejected. How he must have suffered in his loneliness and isolation. Yet, when Jesus entered his house, Zacchaeus said with joy, “Lord, today, half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone, I restore to him fourfold.” Jesus said that at that very moment, salvation had entered the house, and Zacchaeus had become a true son of Abraham. Imagine giving away half of your possessions and then repaying all your debts fourfold. Zacchaeus did it with joy because he found it to be an easy thing to do. The yoke of Christ was light and Zacchaeus found rest, a rest that all the in the world could not buy him.

I invite you to take the Lord’s yoke. The result will be rest, not suffering. Learn of Him, and then do it his way. You will find that suffering will cease. I didn’t say that struggling would cease, for we live in a world that is not a place of rest. No, life will be a struggle, but if you struggle under the yoke of the Lord, you will find rest. Why is the yoke of Christ easier? The yoke of the world is a single one and you pull the plow alone. The yoke of Christ is a double yoke. The Lord will be in the yoke with you, helping you to pull the plow and break up the hard soil of life.

Plastic Fuzzy

July 25, 2008

When I was young, there was nothing more important to me than my friends. I spent a lot of my energy making sure that I was in the group, accepted and loved. My friends didn’t come from the “country club” side of town. They weren’t the rich, the popular, or the honor roll kids. My parents objected to some of my friends, and I resented it.

I would like to say that love held us together, but it wasn’t love. The Beatles came on the scene and suddenly we had heroes that we could emulate. We began to grow our hair in a long Beatle style, and dress like the Beatles. Of course, we discovered marijuana and we bonded around it. Curiously, some of the country club kids began to come around to join our party. We often took trips to the principal’s office to be threatened with expulsion if we didn’t cut our hair and dress differently. Altogether, it gave us a sense of solidarity.

Over time, it became clear that it wasn’t love that held us together. Almost all of those so-called friends are not in my life and I am not in their’s. We never really cared enough to stay in touch.  The same applies for most of the college friends that I had.  In truth, it seems that our relationships were shallow and plastic. Maybe I’m a romantic because I always thought that if love was real, it would last. The Beatles sang, “All you need is love,” and then broke apart over money and control. 

St. Paul must be a romantic as well because he wrote “Love never fails.” I’ve felt what I thought was love, and it most certainly failed. I’ve had people tell me that they love me, and that love failed as well.  So love can fail, or what I thought was love wasn’t love at all. St. Paul also wrote that love should be genuine and without hypocrisy, so there is real love and there is fake love, too.

I heard this analogy many years ago: real love feels like a warm fuzzy. When my wife hugs me and tells me that she loves me, I know  its real love and it makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside (BTW, she’s been doing this for about 37 years now). When I take the time to consider how much God loves me, I get the same feeling because despite my constant failing and falling away, He remains faithful to his love for me (BTW, he’s been putting up with me longer than my wife has).

The Old Testament has a word for genuine love, one that never fails: Hesed. Hesed love is God’s covenantal love. When God makes a commitment to us, his commitment is eternal. No matter how many times Israel fell away, God remained faithful to his part of the covenant. I had a real warm fuzzy when I was baptized because I felt the genuine love of God for me. God made an eternal covenant with me that day. I’ve come to understand how unfailing that love is. Sadly like Israel, I have been faithless to my baptismal vows, yet God has remained true. Every time I go to confession, God renews my baptism and sets me up on my feet again. Now that is real love.

So, I should be a good son, and be like my Father. Like Him, my love should be genuine, without hypocrisy and never failing.

Most of the time, my love is  fake love. Fake love looks like a warm fuzzy, but it feels plastic and not really fuzzy. Here’s an example – I’m sure you’ve had these kinds of conversations. You tell someone, “Let’s get together for dinner.” They reply, “Oh, sure. Ah, let me check my schedule and as soon as I have a free day, I’ll call.”  Ugh! Plastic fuzzy. 

I would like to be able to say that since I’ve been Orthodox my love has always been genuine. I would also like to be able to say that those who were Orthodox have loved me without hypocrisy. I’d like to be able to say so, but I cannot. So often my love has been shallow and plastic and hypocritical. On the other hand, I have had those who said they loved me, and then stabbed me in the back on their way out.

Besides warm fuzzies, and plastic fuzzies, there are also cold pricklies. A cold prickly makes you feel really bad. There’s no denying a cold prickly. Unlike the plastic fuzzy, it is what it is.  I had a few of those in my life. I remember times when a teacher would give me that cold scowling look and I would feel really bad. There are times when I really hurt my wife, and she would look at me with that pain in her eyes, and I really felt that cold prickly. Of course, I had just given her one, and she was returning it to me. I try to not give cold pricklies but sadly I often give plastic fuzzies.

Because our love is not genuine and lasting, the church does not grow spiritually or numerically. Without genuine love, there is no real community. How is genuine love demonstrated and experienced? Again, St. Paul has an answer in Romans 12. Genuine love hates evil and clings to what is good. Genuine love is expressed with affection. Genuine love honors others above self. Genuine love is not lazy, but is fervent in service. Genuine love rejoices and is patient. Genuine love seeks to meet the needs of others and is hospitable. Genuine love rejoices when others rejoice and weeps when others weep. 

Genuine love builds the church by building  up the members of the church.  We should realize that this will not occur on plastic fuzzies. There are simple ways that we can test if love is genuine. When is the last time you invited a member of the Church to your house? When was the last time anyone invited you? What do you know about those who stand next to you? Have you ever bothered to learn their story; do you know their joys and sorrows? Do you pray for them, or do they pray for you? Whose burdens have you every carried lately?

I wonder if I will ever have genuine love. God invites me to spend time with him, but I say “Lord, let me check my schedule, and when I have a free moment, I’ll call you.” Plastic! He invites me to his Feast, but I cannot come because I’m busy with bills, concerns and commitments. So, I tell the Lord that when I get things in order, I’ll be glad to come. Plastic!

It would be a hopeless situation if not for the fact that  I am pursued by the love of God. The “hounds of heaven” chase me and they will not leave me alone (check the 23rd Psalm -or the 22nd in some versions). They even have names: goodness and mercy” and they have followed me all the days of my life. Down every dark trail that I have chosen, they bark and nip at my heels until I turn from my hypocrisy. They show me God’s hesed love, never failing, never ending, and willing to go to the Cross for my sake.

I pray that someday, the love of God in Christ Jesus, a love so faithful and true, will melt all the plastic in my heart and give me genuine love.

“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and put a right spirit within me.” Warm fuzzies! Make it so, Lord.

Feed the Mule!

June 30, 2008

A farmer once had a mule that was the hardest working mule that any farmer ever had. All of the farmers in the area would marvel at the strength and stamina of this mule, and what amazed them the most is that no matter how hard the farmer worked him, the mule never seemed to balk or complain like most mules. Clearly, the wealth and success of the farmer rested on the back of this faithful animal.

One day, while working in the barn, the farmer got to thinking of his success and wondered how he might increase his profits. The land was producing all it could, so what else could be done? Then he thought, “What if I reduced the amount of grain that I give to the mule; I wonder what would happen?” So, the next morning he cut the amount of feed by one quarter. Sure enough, the mule worked just as hard and didn’t complain. Then a week later, he cut the grain by a third and again, the mule continued to work. The following week, he cut the grain in half. The mule seemed to go a little slower, but all in all, the work was good. The farmer became pleased with his plan since he saved a bit of money on the feed. This went on for a quite a while.

Finally, the miserly farmer cut the feed by three-fourths. The mule struggled and labored but refused to give up and would not complain or balk at the yoke. Then, one morning, the farmer came out to yoke the mule, and found him dead in the stall.

The moral is simple: feed the mule.

You would think that such a thing would be a no-brainer: take care of what is most important. Yet, I have witnessed the tragedy of “cutting the feed” to the important things of life. I’ve seen it happen in families, in churches and in the hearts of Orthodox men and women.

Romance is a wonderful thing and couples start their life together with so much hope. They feed each other with love and affection, ideas, hopes and dreams. It seems that the future will always be bright. Then over time, something begins to happen. There is less romance, less affection, and less communication. He doesn’t bring flowers like he used to; she doesn’t make his favorite foods; he spends a lot of time in front of the TV; she is always too tired to be affectionate; he always finding fault; she’s always nagging; they rarely pray together. Well, after all, life is filled with work and demands and there just isn’t time for all of that romance stuff.

In the beginning, he truly wanted to love her as Christ loves the church, to serve her and to give his life for her. Now, he’s always angry and sullen and non-communicative because she just doesn’t give him what he believes he wants and needs. She always meant to his partner, to stand by his side and to be his helpmate, lover and friend. Now she’s lives in continual frustration because what she needs most is to talk and to share, but he just won’t talk to her and tells her to stop nagging him.

It’s so easy to console yourself with the thought that there’s no need to worry because, after all, you have a good Orthodox marriage and so the commitment is there. While it’s precious to have an Orthodox marriage, it’s easy to fool ourselves with platitudes. Certainly, true love is more than romance, but let’s not fool ourselves. Look, I buy an automobile because I believe that it is a good automobile, yet what keeps it good is maintenance. I have to change the oil, get a tune up, rotate the tires, fill the tank, wash the outside, clean the inside, and have it inspected yearly if my good automobile is to remain good. Without regular maintenance, the good car will not remain good for very long. In the same way, a good marriage will only remain good with regular maintenance.Its funny – we understand the necessity of feeding the machines, but we do not feed the people we are supposed to love. We fail to feed the mule.

People begin their life in the Orthodox Church with so much hope. They feed on the love and affection of God, the beauty of the liturgies, and the warmth of fellowship. They discover new ideas, share hopes and dreams, and communicate their enthusiasm with everyone. The future looks bright indeed. They have every intention of going the distance with the Lord. Then, over time, something begins to happen. You don’t see them at Vigil anymore. Confession becomes an irregular thing, and when they do confess, you hear of how they don’t pray as they use to pray, don’t fast as they use to fast, and don’t read as they use to read. You begin to see less joy on their faces, and they talk of boredom and spiritual dryness. Finally, the day comes when you don’t see them at all. What happened? Usually the answer is that they starved their soul, but not all at once. They cut the feed slowly-a little here, a little there. In the end, the mule died from neglect.

Have you fed the parish mule? People love their priest and they will tell you that their priest is the greatest. They marvel at the hours he spends in ministry. Yet, I wonder if you ever thought that the priest and his family must also be fed, just as they try to feed you?

I have had the privilege of hearing the confessions of some priests and I wonder at the pain in their hearts. They mostly confess how unworthy they feel to be a priest, but often part of the pain is that their congregations don’t feed them. You see, it’s easy to enjoy the fruits of the labors and struggles of the “parish mule,” but when was the last time you fed the mule? How can you do this? First, words of encouragement are like bread to priests. Most priests I know would be profoundly shocked if someone came up and said, “Father, I’m praying for you and Matushka, and I want you to know that I’m here to help.” Preparation is like bread to priests. Many priests would be delightfully shocked if they discovered that those in attendance at a Liturgy had taken the time to read the Bible texts before the service and had studied the saints who would be commemorated. Regular attendance is like bread to priests. Does a priest need a full church to feel good about priesthood? No, but I can’t begin to tell you how poor attendance begins to wound the heart of a priest.

On a practical basis, I know of priests who have a very low salary, and even worse, they haven’t had a pay raise in five years even though the cost of living has greatly increased. Most priests I know are not covetous or money hungry, but when congregations make it possible for a priest to meet the needs of his family, it’s like bread to the soul of the priest.

Despite the cut in feed, the priestly mule continues to work, often without complaint. Yet, if this continues, will we someday find that the mule has died?St. Paul put it this way: “Don’t muzzle the ox that treads the corn.” (I Corinthians 9:9) Therefore, if you love your priest and his family, tell them. Let them know of your prayers for them, and show them you care by your presence, gifts, and service. These things will feed your priest far more than simply praising him for his good work. It will keep the mule strong for the work ahead.

I am guilty of cutting the feed to my mule. I have a soul that has served me well for almost 60 years. There was a time when my soul was fat and my body was thin. Over time, I began to cut the feed to my soul – less time in prayer, less time in Church, less time in study, less time serving others, and so on. Oh, I made sure that I fed my body well. Now my body’s fat and my soul is thin. So I wonder – will the mule be able to pull the plow when the ground gets hard? Will I have any strength of soul when the testing comes?My soul may be weak, but it’s not dead yet. What should I do?

Foolish man!It’s so simple. Feed the mule!

Smoking or non-smoking

May 23, 2008

Some time ago, I heard a protestant minister talk about the Old Testament story of the three youths who were cast into the furnace. I had read the story many times, but this minister pointed to something that I had never considered.

Shadrach, Mesach, and Abednego came out of the furnace and the Bible says that they were not even singed by the fire. Even more, they did not smell of smoke.

The protestant minister pointed out that we all go into the furnace of tribulation This story teaches us that the Son of God will be there in the midst of the fire to protect us from destruction.

Yet, even with this wonderful experience of Gods help and protection, many of us come out of the furnace reeking of smoke. In other words, we come out of trials and tribulations with the stink of bitterness, resentment, irritation, and a remembrance of wrongs.

Well, we understand how this can happen. It seems most natural that we would respond in this way. After all, in most cases, we feel that the tribulation was uncalled for, we didnt deserve it, what purpose did it really serve, etc. As the Bard says, we feel that we have suffered “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” Where is God in that?

Beyond this bit of self-pity, we need to consider the impact of bitterness and resentment on our spiritual life, upon others, and upon the Church. Older readers will remember the song that includes the line “smoke gets in your eyes.” Forgive my shameless use the idea.

The problem with smoke is that it causes tears and blurs your vision. And so it is with those who come through tribulation and reek with the smoke of bitterness and resentment. They cannot see anything very clearly. For example, those who stink of bitterness cant see that they repel people who truly want to love them. They dont know that it is their own bitterness that is causing their isolation and loneliness.

Above all, bitter and resentful people cant see God clearly. Even though He met them in the midst of their trials, bitterness and resentment now make them question if God was ever with them. They begin to think of God as hard, cruel, vindictive, and capricious.

We also need to consider what a spirit of bitterness and resentment does to the fellowship of the Church. Simply, it creates small currents of discontent that eventually swell up like a tidal wave that can destroy us all. Instead of “building up one another in love”, our bitterness, remembrance of wrongs, and petty resentments only tear down and destroy. People drawn to the Faith will come to visit, but the smell of “smoke” (not incense), will be apparent to them. If they have any sense, they will not return.

While I will have much to answer for when I stand before the judgment seat of Christ, I determined that I would do my best to build up the Church. I prayed that I would never have to answer for schism or for dividing the Body of Christ. That meant, above other things, that I would have to come out of any trials or tribulations free of smoke.

Sometimes, tribulations came by my own foolishness. Sometimes, trials came from family. Often, tribulation came from someone in the Church that I loved and had tried to serve. My first human response was to be bitter. How I longed to go over and “tell them off” so that I could avenge my “honor” and demonstrate how right I had been in the matter (a wrong assumption, most times). But the Lord constantly reminded me of my promise to put His Church and His honor above my own. And so by His Grace, I wiped the smoke from my eyes.

How are you doing? Are you a smoke-free Orthodox Christian? One way to tell is to observe if others smell it when you are around. Ive never been a smoker, but most of my family smoked tobacco. I never realized the pervasive odor of smoke until I would be away from home for a while. When I returned home, the house would literally stink. I would try to explain it, but the smokers would always deny it. They just couldnt smell it. In later years, when I would send the wife and kids home to visit, upon their return, their clothes and suitcases reeked of smoke.

Smelling the smoke is an important piece of self-discovery. I am sure that you dont want to answer for it when you stand before the Lord. Being free of smoke is both a gift of God and an act of will. Which is greater, the honor of God or your honor; your being “right”, or the peace of the Church; your vengeance, or the well being of your brother/sister in Christ?

Smoking, or non-smoking?

(A little side note – when someone asks if I smoke, I now say, “only in church!” Its an inside Orthodox joke!)