Tuesday, March 31, 2015

St. Mary of Egypt: Crazy? Lunatic? Delusional? Too hard on herself? Self-centered? All of the above?

In the fifth week of the Great Fast, usually on a Wednesday night (or sometimes on a Thursday morning to coincide with Matins or Orthros), the theme of Lent--repentance--comes once again to the fore.  As in the first week, the entirety of the Great Canon is chanted, but this time the whole Great Canon is chanted at the same service rather than being drawn out over four nights.  In addition, the Life of St. Mary of Egypt, written by Patriarch SOPHRONIOS of Jerusalem is read in two different sections.  Because of how the Feast of the Annunciation fell this year on that Wednesday, the Great Canon and her life were moved to Monday evening.
St. Zosimas giving the Eucharist to St. Mary of Egypt before her repose

Reading the Life of St. Mary, either alone or with others in the Church, is a bit of a struggle.  It is not a story one would expect to hear in a church especially if there were children present.  Also, it's just not an easy story to read as there is narrative and some dialogue and written in a language (even in translation) that is just hard for many to grasp.  However, for those who manage to get through the whole thing, the story is supposed to turn us to one more shot at repentance before Lent ends and Holy Week begins.

But the sad truth is that many Orthodox, if not MOST Orthodox Christians, have NEVER heard the Life of St. Mary of Egypt.  They may know that the fifth Sunday of Lent commemorates her, but they don't actually take the time to read it themselves or go to Church to hear its reading liturgically.  I have any number of theories as to why this is so:  Many people consider repentance to be nothing more than self-improvement and so the repentance that demands sacrifice and even denial of self is considered way off the deep end; there are others who believe that her repentance was sincere but it didn't need to go to such lengths as what she did; there are those who think that her repentance is exceedingly self-centered because what she "should" have done instead was helped others; more, still, think that the story is a complete fiction and should be disregarded simply because there's no proof as the written version did not come around until 100 years after she died.   Whatever the reason for Orthodox Christians staying away from this story, a lot of work needs to be done in Catechesis.

But let's consider the objections to the Life of St. Mary.  If you want to get a list of all possible objections, read no further than the comments left on Rod Dreher's post on the American Conservative.  St. Mary is actually denounced by many commentators who think that she is crazy, a lunatic, self-centered, etc.  Even when she was not called one of those derogatory terms, she was still labeled as someone who went too far, as someone who didn't need to do all of that.  It is absolutely infuriating that Christianity for many if not most Christians has been redesigned to be only a moral or ethical code.  And, what's more, that moral and ethical code needs to be updated to "get with the times."  I think it's a good time to point out just how Christianity and philosophy differ.  When you consider that the bulk of Christianity is what has been revealed by God to man, then to change Christianity into only a philosophy or ethical code is to strip it of any of that revelation and the residue will then form the foundation.  And that residue will be morality with a small tincture of theism.  God would be all but removed.  And if God is renewed, then the central tenet of Christianity would also have to be removed--The Resurrection!  St. Paul reminds us in his epistle to the Romans that without the Resurrection, our faith is in vain!  And what is required for Resurrection?  Death and then rebirth.

The Christian life was never meant to be a passive one.  It is not cheap psychological therapy. It is active. And it is self-denial which is a death of self, a death of ego, a death of "I."  For all the complaints about St. Mary of Egypt, we cannot and we should not dismiss her actions in the desert as something only a self-centered person would do.  A self-centered person does not deny himself and does not rid himself of the temptations of this world. A self-centered person calls all those things to him.  A self-centered person wants to be recognized and admired and adored.  St. Mary wanted no such thing, hence why she ran away from St. Zosimas.  A self-centered person does not give himself to prayer unceasingly.  A self-centered person prays only to himself and thinks of himself as God.  To rid ourselves of "I" we must rid ourselves of the world and embrace God.  Each person has a different path in his self-denial.  For St. Mary of Egypt it was to rid herself of the world; for someone like Mother Theresa it was to give of her self so that others could have a life in this world.  But for both women, their path was to deny self, not embrace it.  St. Mary embraced God by forsaking others; Mother Theresa embraced God by giving to others.  Who is to say which one is better?

Does repentance really need to go that far?  The only people who complain about this are people who rarely, if ever, even go to confession.  These are the Orthodox Christians who believe, like Protestants, that the only person you need to confess to is God.  But that's laziness.  You don't think God already knows?  I think that the reason many Orthodox do not go to confession is simply because they don't want a punishment.  A penance is NOT punishment.  It may require work, but if you were actually punished in accord with the sins that you confess, what you got was NO punishment but a slap on the wrist at best or a talking-to at worst. Now, THAT is self-centered! I remember once that I was given a penance to say the Jesus Prayer ten times with prostrations. I thought, "That's it?"  My priest thought it was sufficient so I did it and added 10 more for good measure.  I probably didn't go far enough.  To be honest, I think confessing the sin is much harder and much more humbling than the repentance that follows.  Who is to say that St. Mary's repentance was "too much."  If we are going by a strict measure of meeting out punishment for crime, maybe it was.  But approaching it in such a juridical way undermines what repentance is supposed to be--a change of self.  For St. Mary, this rigid self-denial changed her from the person she was into the person she hoped to be.  Death to the person she was and reborn as the person she wanted to be.  Who is to say to what degree repentance should take?

Can this type of repentance lead to vainglory and boasting?  Sure, but so can anything.  Anything can be abused.  Liturgy can be abused; sermons can be abused; doing charitable works can be abused. Should we do away with everything lest it not be abused?  Maybe we should just kill ourselves so that we don't have the temptation to sin any more!  Of course, that's ludicrous.  I got into an argument with a pastor of the LCMS who is a friend of mine about how he made his congregation wipe off the ashes after Ash Wednesday services lest any of them be tempted to boast.  I objected in the strongest terms.  Rather than let the parishioners decide for themselves, he decided for them.  Part of the spiritual life is screwing up.  One of the things that we, as a society, have really done as a disservice to our kids is making sure that they cannot screw up, especially in school.  We can't let them receive failing grades so we give them retakes; we can't let them get a 0, so we give them more time to do the project; we can't let them have 10 times to make up a quiz, so we give them 20!  We cannot learn, if we do not fail.  And yes, even in repentance, there is the possibility of failing.  We are to get back up and try again.  I doubt all of St. Mary's repentance in the desert was perfect.  Though the text doesn't mention it, I'm sure there were times she threw up her arms and said "What's the point?"  Failure must accompany the spiritual life.  Vainglory and boasting are undesired but often do happen in the midst of the repentance.  But that should not mean that we rid ourselves of good works to prevent those.  Faith without good works is a DEAD faith, says St. James. 

Let's also consider briefly about whether this story took place. So what if it didn't?  I ask my students if the story of the Trojan War as told in the Iliad would be a better story or a worst story if the Trojan War actually happened.  Most of them respond that it doesn't really matter.  And it shouldn't.  Just because Star Wars never actually happened (remember, it takes place in the past) does not make it a better or a worse trilogy.  If St. Mary of Egypt never lived, the TRUTH of the story should not be obscured just because it never factually occurred. 

The ambivalence of many towards the reading of the Life of St. Mary and even towards St.Mary of Egypt herself reveals a lot about how Christianity is practiced today.  It reveals that too many self-professed Christians see it as too hard and too serious and too burdensome so its requirements have to be lessened and made less than encompassing of our whole life.  Repentance is a necessary component of the Christian life.  Both Jesus and St. John the Baptist begin their ministries with that one word: "Repent!"  Thank God, in the end, that our repentance is not dependent on salvation.  But that does not mean we rid ourselves of it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Conversation between Mary and the Archangel, Gabriel

Scene:  Nazareth
Time:  About 4:30
Dramatis personae:  Mary, a young, unwed though betrothed maiden who has spent the last 12 years of her life in service of the Lord;  Gabriel, an Archangel, Captain of the Heavenly Hosts, and messenger of the Most High God.

Gabriel (alone and thinking to himself):  How is it that He Who is in the highest and incomprehensible shall be born of a virgin?  He Whose throne is Heaven and earth His footstool, how shall He be contained in a woman's womb?  How was he pleased to be incarnate of her by a word only, He Whom the six-winged Seraphim and those of many eyes cannot gaze upon?  He who comes is the Word of God?  Why then do I hesitate, and not address the maiden as I was commanded, saying:  'Rejoice, O full of grace, the grace of the Lord is with thee?  Rejoice, O spotless Virgin!  Rejoice, O groomless bride!  Rejoice, O Mother of life; blessed is the fruit of your womb?'

Sees Mary in the courtyard and appears to her and speaks.

Gabriel:  Hail, Mary!  Full of Grace!  Rejoice, O unseeded land!  Rejoice, O burning bush!  Rejoice, O depth inaccessible to vision!  Rejoice, O bridge leading to he havens!  Rejoice, O lofty ladder whom Jacob did behold!  Rejoice, O jar of manna! Rejoice, O dissolution of the curse!  Rejoice, O recall of Adam!  The Lord is with you!

Mary:  Truly, you have appeared to me as a man.  Why then do you utter supernatural tings saying that God shall be with me and dwell in my womb?  Tell me, how am I, then, to become a spacious place of sanctification for Him, who rides on the cherubim?  Mislead me not with deceit; for I have known no pleasure and have not approached wedlock.  How, then, shall I give birth to a son?

Gabriel:  When God so wills, the order of nature is overcome, and that which is supernatural is accomplished.  Therefore, O all-pure and holy one, believe my words. 

Mary:  Let it be unto me as you have said and I will give birth to the Incorporeal One, Who shall take a body from me so that, by His union with mankind, He may raise man to the first rank since He alone is mighty.

--Adapted from the Stichera and Doxastikon of Psalm 140 of the Vespers of the Feast of Annunciation

One of the things I have always loved about Orthodox hymnography is how much of it is framed in a conversation between a saint and the Lord, or an angel and the Lord or a saint and an angel.  Did such conversations actually take place?  Maybe, maybe not. But that is hardly the point.  The truth contained in those conversations is what matters. 

We have to remember that in the ancient world, many of the "Speeches" and "dialogues" even found in the great historians like Thucydides, Xenophon, Herodotus, Caesar, Tacitus and Livy were invented by the authors themselves.  They were not invented to deceive but to give a dramatic flavor to the events they sought to describe to their respective audiences.  Such is the case with much Byzantine hymnography.  Whether or not the conversation really took place is to miss the point.   The aim is not to supplant the Scriptures or to suggest that they are deficient but to give a dramatic edge while at the same time proclaiming the Gospel.  

In this case, the good news is that Christ will be born a man from a virgin, taking on human flesh to unite God with Man because of the separation that exists between the two because of sin.  And what a perfect time to remind the faithful of this news, especially as we are in the midst of Lent and the desire to worship the Lord's coming to Golgatha for His Crucifixion, His entombment and His Resurrection on the third day grows each day as we wait eagerly with anticipation:  That God, having become Man, died and rose again, born in humility and poverty though announced splendidly by the chief captain of the Bodiless powers.  I needed to hear this today.  I would dare say we all do.   Happy feast, everyone!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

This video PROVES that you need not dumb down Liturgy for kids

Growing up in a Lutheran Church, one of the (many) things I could never wrap my mind around was the need for a special sermon for the young people present in the congregation.  More often than not, it seemed to be an excuse for kids to go up, holding hands with a sibling and for the congregation to go "aww" about how cute these kids are especially when they gave outrageous responses to the Pastor's questions as if we were watching "Kids say the darndest things!"  Usually this children's message was a paraphrased version of the Old Testament, Epistle and Gospel readings which would then be dialed up for the adults after the children were dismissed.  And again, there would be "ooing" and "awwing" as the kids went back to their pews.  (Disclaimer:  As a parent now, I probably should excuse the fawning over the kids going up.  They can be pretty darn cute as they do that).

In tandem with the children's message, which, I admit, I often derisively called the "babies' message" was the need to involve the young of the congregation with the worship and the liturgy.  So, there were moves to make sure that things were hip and trendy such as making a "worship ensemble" with drums, guitar, bass and lyrics that would make most pop artists blush. Sometimes, "special services" were created by the youth group with skits and up-tempo music.  I remember once that I committed a piece to this, but it was a four part arrangement for the words "Kyrie Eleison."  I also remember that there were some, especially among the adults, who balked at the addition of this saying that it wasn't keeping with the spirit of what they were trying to do.  I probably wouldn't have minded these things so much, but it always took place in the church itself.  I did not think that was the proper venue to perform plays.

Furthermore, I recall so many instances when, as a member of one of the youth groups, that we were encouraged to go to various "Christian Rock Concerts" so that we could learn more about our faith.  I remember going on camping trips (which were generally quite fun) and while getting there being subject to listen to Christian contemporary artists.  At this time in my life, I would listen to nothing but classical music and I failed to understand (and still do) how these CC artists could rival the artistry, the talent and the religiosity of someone like J.S. Bach! 

My church was not exceptional. I think every church, mainline Protestant or even Roman Catholic was doing something along those lines.  Everything had to be hip, trendy, cool or people won't come or want to come, especially kids.  And those kids had to be there or else it would die.

I'd like you to watch this video.  HT:  Pastor Peters at Pastoral Meanderings.  In it, you see two Russian youths who are around five or six years old essentially "playing at Liturgy."  They are recreating parts of what you may find at the Vigil.  They are censing (Notice what their "Censer" is made from), reading from a "Gospel" book and chanting Alleluia.  They are placing the holy oil on their mother's forehead all while she is chanting a Slavonic Hymn (don't know which one, though I recognize the melody and the other is the Troparion "O Lord, save Thy People"), they are kissing the hands of the "priest."  They are blessing with their hands in the correct posture, blessing with the "Gospel book", placing it reverently upon their "altar".  Notice even the "vestments" they designed and how they remove their hats (I don't know what the Russian version is called) at the appropriate times.  Simply, this is fantastic.  These kids were definitely paying attention.  Kudos should also go to their mother who probably took them to the vigils and the Divine Liturgy.  Kids do get it.  And if they start out that young, then they're probably going to be less likely to want to rid themselves of it. 

Thus, you church growth people out there, even in the Orthodox world, do not need to pander to the lowest common denominator.  Kids can and do get it. It doesn't need to be made simple or paraphrased for them.  Hold on to what you do and let the kids imitate them.  So, watch below and be amazed.  And, yes, it's even cute, too!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Uniform for Church?

I teach at a private school where the students are required to wear uniforms.  On Monday and Wednesday through Friday, young men may wear khaki pants (or shorts, weather providing) and a green polo shirt or anything else as long as it has the name of the school.  Young women may wear khakis, but are more encouraged to wear plaid skirts with a polo shirt or anything else with the name of the school. On Tuesdays, all students wear their formal uniforms which, for guys, are gray pants, button down white shirt and tie with a navy blazer.  Ladies are required to wear skirts, a white shirt with a navy blazer, and knee high socks.   Most of our school population observe these rules consistently. 

However, on certain days of the year, there are out-of-uniform days.  This may extend to only the kids in one particular grade as a reward or to the entire school prior to the winter holiday during their final exams or during homecoming week.  Every time there is an out-of-uniform day, there is an obvious decline in learning and in discipline in general.

My wife teaches at a public school; I did so as well.  We have both pondered the effects if a uniform policy were instituted at a public school like at the one she teaches.  I suggest that the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.  The two in particular "pros" are 1) teachers would not have to be forced into awkward positions to reprimand students for not dressing according to the established guidelines (I can attest that as a guy teacher trying to tell a young lady that the spaghetti strap strings are inappropriate or that her shirt is cut too low that too much of her cleavage is exposed or that her shorts are too short, such is really awkward and some women will even go so far as to suggest that you're some sort of pervert for even noticing) and 2) students will not be able to "bully" anyone who doesn't wear the "right" clothes.  Will that also lead to increased student learning?  I don't know, but I think that it should be tried before it is written off as ineffective.

Let's apply this standard to church and what we should wear.  Does God care?  I would like to think that our coming to church and worshiping and praying are more important to him than our choice of attire, but we have to remember that what goes on at church is a communal activity.  Throughout St. Paul's epistles, he exhorts his readers to not be stumbling blocks (Greek skandalon) to others  by keeping the  fasts or not, for example.  Should a uniform policy be adopted by any church as a way to prevent others from stumbling during church?

In a sense the church already has such a policy.  Priests are vested particularly to reflect their office before God as are deacons as are the taper bearers as are the chanters and readers.  Why for them and not for the laity?  The uniforms are signs of the work that the persons wearing them are doing.  What is the job of the laity?  Like everyone else, it is to pray.  Should they not be marked out in a way to indicate that?   I know that an Orthodox Christian would balk if he saw his priest during the Divine Liturgy in anything besides his vestments. 

There are many arguments which I will not rehash here as to why more formal attire should  not necessarily be expected of parishioners.  I would just say that if we take such care to choose our clothing for concerts, parties, receptions, business meetings, lounging around the house, working in the yard, etc., why would we not put the same thought into what we wear in the House of the Lord?  Would more praying be accomplished if all men wore at least khakis and a polo shirt and women wore dresses?  Would there be more reverence and less talking from the parishioners if men wore suits and women wore nice hats?  I don't believe there is any way to measure this.  Anything that may change may well have to be measured against the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc.

As Orthodox Christians we are taught that everything in the Church is more than a mental activity. Our prayer life is more than a mental activity.  That's why we kiss icons, we cense the Church, we taste of the Body and Blood of Christ, we bow, we prostrate, we make the sign of the Cross.  Our Church's praxis is not one of Gnostic dualism, but where the body and soul come together in worship of God.  Shouldn't that also include the manner of our dress that is humble, not gaudy, and shows respect rather than receive attention?  And if we chose our clothes in such a manner would that not also translate to how we approach God in prayer while in His holy place?

I only have questions, no answers.  I seriously doubt my parish or any other parish for that matter would willingly let me do a study on that, as they should.  But if we emphasize comfort too much, how long before people start showing up in sweatpants or bathrobes with slippers on?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Giving them the funeral they want

In our modern culture, weddings are tailor made for every couple, for every time of year, for every destination, for every kind of circumstance, etc.  Weddings can be big or small; fancy or informal; catered or pot-lock; private or public; for love or for show, etc.  In fact, pretty much everything exists in this way.  Our way of life has become living Burger King's mantra:  Have it your way.  Except for maybe your funeral.

I came across this article the other day from America:  The National Catholic Review.  The article is written, as you might expect, from a Catholic perspective. The author is a nun who laments that fewer and fewer Catholic funeral masses (i.e. Requiems) are being given for funerals.  Some of this has to do with the fact that the Catholic Church in America is losing members.  Some of this has to do with the fact that the services provided for by Funeral Homes are more convenient, less restrictive and more inviting of giving eulogies than what is currently allowed for in Masses for the Dead.  Some of this also has to do with a sense of shame.  Why have a funeral in a church when only a few people will show up?  But, another reason, and one that is really quite disturbing is that the children, who are often left to plan these sort of things, often plan the funerals as if they were the ones who were deceased and more for their benefit.

Anyone who has been to a traditional Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead or Requiem knows that it is not centered around the person's life.  The homily given by the priest might touch on that, but it is not a personal affair.  The Mass is celebrated to reaffirm that the great mercy of God has triumphed over the evil of the Devil and made powerless death.  All will rise to receive judgment and many will enter into the abodes of the blessed.  But the Mass also stresses why all of this needed to happen, namely the sin of humanity.  Quite frankly, in our culture, sin has been replaced by a hierarchy of choices, some of which are better than others, but, ultimately, to be evaluated by the person himself.  For a lot of younger people burying their parents, this is precisely what they do not want to hear so they plan something more palatable for themselves and give themselves a sneak preview of what kind of funeral they want when their time comes.

I think that a dead person's wishes should be honored and respected.  If they want a traditional Catholic mass, they should get it and the children should not override those desires.  If the deceased wants his ashes scattered with a small ceremony, fine.  I agree with the author that the Requiem Mass is the way to go and that it is absolutely imperative that the funeral should be planned along with making any will or testament.  To force any kind of ceremony because the child has a problem with what the parents believed is disrespectful and does not honor the parent.  Here's an example.

The current head of the Episcopal Church in the USA is Katherine Jefferts-Schori.  To  call her a liberal is the understatement of the year.  She has undermined the Episcopal teaching on about every subject so much that numerous Episcopalians have either split off and formed their own dioceses or left the Episcopal Church altogether.  Jefferts-Schori has also decided that the limited resources of the Episcopal Church are best spent by suing breakaway dioceses, defrocking clergy who uphold traditional orthodoxy within the Episcopal Church, and confiscating property. 

Her mother converted to Orthodoxy later in life and died in the Church.  Jefferts-Schori planned an Episcopal memorial service with her even though her mother had made it clear to her priest that she wanted an Orthodox funeral.  Not only was this desire not granted by Ms. Jefferts-Schori, but the priest of her mother was also barred from attending and not even allowed to offer Orthodox prayers at the ceremony. This is nothing but pettiness, but since it is the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church here in America, it's par for the course.

The daughter should be ashamed.  But it's not just children of dead parents who have behaved poorly in this matter, but also parents when they unfortunately must prepare funerals for deceased children.  This example strikes very close to home.

Ten years ago, my best friend and a young woman whom I cared for dearly, tragically died by killing herself.  It was very hard for me to go to the visitation and to the funeral, too.  My friend was an agnostic if not an atheist (I don't think she knew for sure).  Her parents were very committed evangelical Christians.  It was no secret that the parents and she were at odds over the religious issue.  The funeral that was planned for her was one that would normally be given to an Evangelical Christian with Christian praise hymns and readings that I know she wouldn't have approved of.  I talked about this afterwards with other friends of hers and we agreed that the service we saw was not what she would have wanted.  I don't intend to be rude in saying this, but, in a way, I wondered if that was the parents getting in the last word in the religion argument.  I believe the parents should have honored her wishes, whatever they were.

I know that when I die, I want to depart from this earth according to the Byzantine Rite. I want the whole thing chanted in Greek, no women chanters in the most glorious Byzantine melodies.  That's what I want. I've been to enough Orthodox funerals to know that when we sing this Rite, we are praying reverently that the person's soul be saved by our merciful God. I don't want it any other way.

Should we force Orthodox funerals on those who have fallen away simply because that's what the living want?  Should we force small chapel services at the funeral home with lots of eulogies because that, again, is what the living want?  I say no.  Give them the funeral they want and respect their wishes.  If no wishes are left behind, then those who are planning the funeral shouldn't interpret that as a sign to do whatever they want because they want it.  To the living, plan your funeral now so it can be honored.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thankfulness is faithfulness

It is Thanksgiving Day. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

I know that it is customary for many families who share a meal together on this day to go around the table and say what they are thankful for.  It is a good custom, to be sure, but if we were really honest with ourselves, the sheer number of thanks for all the blessings, good fortunes, etc. that we each enjoy would fill up quite a lot of time to the point that the meal would never be eaten at least not before it's cold.

I was thinking about making a list of all of the things I am thankful for.  I took a walk this cold evening, just going over in my head the number of things I have that I should be thankful, but take for granted.  It was a long list and I don't have the time to write it. Instead, I was thinking of this story from the Gospel of Luke.  We all know the story about how ten lepers were cleansed by Jesus.  In case you don't here's the text:

Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. 12 Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. 13 And they lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
14 So when He saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed.
15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, 16 and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan.
17 So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? 18 Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” 19 And He said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.”
I admit that I don't know the text of the miracle by heart so when I read it in preparation for this post, I was struck by a few things.  First, the lepers are not close to Jesus, but afar off.   This just shows how scorned lepers were.  People who were infected with leprosy were told to keep far off from them lest they be infected, too.  Add to that a belief among many ancient peoples who thought that being struck by disease was in direct correlation to your worth or value as a person.  The text doesn't indicate whether Jesus saw AND approached them, but merely saw them. 

And he didn't heal them right away, but said instead for them to show themselves to the priests.  And they went.  To be given a clean bill of health by the priests so that you could reenter the temple worship and society itself required the priests to go over the entire body of the leper to ensure there was no trace of the disease anymore.  To ensure you were cured was as humiliating as having the disease itself.  Nonetheless, all ten of them go.  But it is only AS they go, that they are healed from their infirmity.  And we know the rest of the story: only one returns to give thanks.

Christ says to the one leper who comes back and gives thanks as saying that his faith made him well.   We have no indication that the other nine lepers who were cured as they went to the priests were reinfected because they did not give thanks and I doubt they would have been.  But the faithfulness of the one also reflected thankfulness.  We can argue ad nauseam as to whether faith precedes thankfulness just as the old Mediaeval philosophers debated whether faith preceded understanding or understanding preceded faith.  Here, in this story, it is apparent that thankfulness and faithfulness are two sides of the same coin.  It is not simply enough to have faith, but to demonstrate that faith in thanksgiving to God. 

I'm sure many would argue that one can still be thankful and have no faith in God.  I would agree, but for the Christian, the two simply must accompany one another.  If we are thankful, we must have faith; if we are faithful, we must give thanks.  And not only should we be thankful, but we should do so joyfully.  A Christian should always be joyful even if it seems that joy is the farthest thing from us. 

So, rather than make a list to share with those who would wish to read it of all the things I am thankful for, I would simply implore that all who are thankful on this do so faithfully and do so consistently. It's easy and natural to turn to God in times of distress and unhappines. It's easy and natural as well to simply go about our daily lives without being thankful.  But if we are not being thankful, then we are being faithful?

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Back up and running

I was unable to log into my account about three weeks ago and so I just assumed that it had been compromised.  In fact, I read that same night that a Russian mob had stolen over 1 billion (that's right, billion) passwords from websites all over the world.  I just assumed that I was one of these statistics but wasn't concerned because it's an old email address.  Well, lo and behold, I was able to get back in this evening and immediately changed my password.  So, for the time being, I'm back on line. 

Several comments have not been published and I apologize for that; I will get to those in due time.  School is starting up again so I'm going to write probably even less than I am now, but if the spirit moves me, I'm sure I can come up with something. 

Thanks for continuing to read my nonsense!