Thursday, November 26, 2009

Let us give thanks

O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, Alleluia: for His mercy endureth forever, Alleluia! (Psalm 135:1)

For all the good things that the Lord has bestowed upon us simply because He is the Good and nothing else can come from Him, let us worthily, reverently, humbly and prayerfully give thanks!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

This has got to be a joke...

but I've been wrong before.

Apparently you can recreate all the wonders of the Holy Mass (Divine Liturgy) in your own home with a Wii like video-game. You can do the Asperges, swing the censer, carry the cross, genuflect, conduct the choir and more. If this is a hoax, it's pretty good; if it's real, man, are we in trouble?

Theosis: The True Purpose of Human Life

The short pamphlet, Theosis: The True Purpose of Human life, which you can read here is a wonderful, short, easily read, understandable guide to the Orthodox doctrine of Theosis. For many Orthodox, they hear the word Theosis but do not have much of an idea of what it is, let alone how to achieve it. Those Orthodox who are willing to answer the question about Theosis will often say that it is "becoming like Christ." That's a good start. How does one do that? That's when they start to stutter and vainly search for an answer. Now they struggle not because they are uneducated or illiterate Orthodox, which many Protestants accuse Orthodox of being because we don't categorize everything under the sun as they do, but because it is a very hard question to answer. I'm sure all of us, once or twice, has asked: What is the meaning of life? And we struggle to find an answer, find ourselves to be incoherent, contradictory and otherwise adrift, bombarded by a number of different thoughts that don't make sense. If Theosis is to become like God, who, in essence is ineffable and incomprehensible, then we should naturally struggle to answer since we cannot fully known the essence of God as He is uncreate and we are creation.

But you don't need a long scholastic book on this like Norman Russell's book, Fellow Workers with God: Orthodox Thinking on Theosis which is available from SVS press. You can read reviews of that book at Unmercenary Readers, a blog by my fellow Orthodox Blogger, Chris Orr (Orrologion). Suffice it to say, I think that if any Orthodox or non-Orthodox wants to gain added perspective to what Theosis is AND how to incorporate it into your spiritual life, you should read Archimandrite George's pamphlet, Theosis: The True Purpose of Human Life. In case you are hesitant, I'd encourage you to read this review of Archimandrite George's work.

Scholarly investigation of various aspects of the faith such as salvation, creation, mercy, prayer are all well and good, but without examining them within the context of the spiritual life (i.e. prayer), then it is just a book and you become more knowledgeable without any transformation of the self. Thus, I wholheartedly recommend Archimandrite George's book for that very reason. I'd be happy to hear your reviews of it as well.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

How to worship...if you're an evangelical

Ever feel out of place in an Evangelical Church? Not sure what to do without causing undo attention to yourself? Want to feel the spirit when listening to up tempo, up-beat praise pop songs in a considerate manner towards all? Well, these questions and more can be answered on this video of how to worship at an Evangelical church. Enjoy.

Greek Church will stand up to the secularism of Europe

The Holy Orthodox Church of Greece will convene its Holy Synod next week to address the fallout and consequences of the recent EU Court of Human Rights' decision to remove any crucifixes from all Italian schoolrooms for fear that the display of such a prominent symbol of Christianity violates the freedom of religion of students who do not subscribe to Catholic Christainity or Christainity in any form.

Already, in Greece, a group calling itself the Helsinki Monitor is already using the Strasbourg decision as precedent and pushing the Greek government to remove icons of Christ the judge which hang in courtrooms and prevent witnesses from swearing on the Gospels to tell the truth as well as remove other religious symbols from Greek schools.

I'm hopeful that Greece will not bend to pressure from the European Union and that the Church there will stand up for what is true freedom of religion. But, then again, I don't expect the Europeans to have anything close to what we have here in the states (at least now) regarding freedom of religion. I really like this quote from Archbishop IERONYMOUS:

It is not only minorities that have rights but majorities as well.

May the Church be successful in her efforts to defend the Truth.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

When to give and when not to give

At this time of the Nativity Fast, we are invited to await the bridegroom's coming with prayer, fasting and almsgiving so that like John the Forerunner to proclaim the way of hte Lord. Fasting and prayer are talked about so much that I wanted to talk about giving to the poor. I was motivated to do this when I read something last week and I'll get to that in a momen.t

When it comes to charitable giving, it is easy to write a check or give a credit card number over the phone without really thinking about it. It's easy to do and it does help those in need. However, if ever on the streets we were to see some vagrant or person down on their luck, we will do our best to avoid them or be reluctant to give, justifying to ourselves that he'll use the money for drugs or for alcohol. We don't even look them in the eye. We're told stories about people who offer to buy homeless people a decent lunch or dinner, but then refuse, we think, because they want the money for those illicit substances. That said, I've always been told that when we give, regardless of how little or how much, to those "the least of these, my brethren" as our Lord says, we are giving to Christ. So, regardless of how the person may use a dollar you give him, you are still giving to our Lord. The dollar or so shoulnd't come with strings attached just as our Lord came to us out of his abundant mercy not because of anything we had done for Him except disobey.

Last week was the commemoration of our Father among the Saints, St. John Chrysostom, whose Divine Liturgy, homilies, prayers and thelogical treatises are still very much present in the life of the Orthodox Christian. I read his biography as compiled in the Lives of the Saints, Volume 3 originally compiled by the Great Russian Saint, Dimitri of Rostov which was taken from sources such as George, Bishop of Alexandria, the Emperor Leo the Wise, Symeon the Translator (Metaphrastes), Nicephorus and Socrates Scholasticus among others. In this life, we read the following passage:

Theodoricus understood that the Empress [Eudoxia, wife of Arcadius, Eastern Roman emperor] did not intend to use his [Theodoricus'] money for the needs of the realm but to gratify the insatiable avarice of her own heart. He went to the blessed John, told him of the designs of the Empress, and tearfully besought the saint to defend him from her. John immediately sent a letter to the Empress, meekly and kinly exhorting her to cause no offense to Theodoricus. The Patriarch's wise words put the Empress to shame, and although she was furious with him, she did as he wished. From that moment, Theodoricus resolved to obey the exhortations of the saint concerning the giving of alms, for John counselled everyone not to lay up treasures on earth where the hands of the vnous can take them away, but rather to store them in heaven where they are coveted and stolen by no one.

To me, it sounds like St. John Chrysostom counselled Theodoricus to be careful of whom he gives alms to. It was to be given to the protection of the Empire though it is not indicated in what fashion exactly, but the Empress would have surely appropriated it for herself. And so Chrysostom appears to rebuke him for that, advising him to know the motives of the person to whom you are giving. Theodoricus had his money returned and he gave all his wealth to the Church instead except that which was needed to care for himself and his family. But Chrysostom wrote yet another letter to Eudoxia, saying:

But if it is your intention to take from Christ what Theodoricus has given Him, be certain that you will not offend us, but rather Christ Himself.

Give to the poor for Christ's sake or be discerning and skeptical and cynical? St. John seems to want it both ways. But upon further reading of this passage, I realize that as I said above, and St. John seems to agree with me that when we give, we give to Christ. How that gift is used, whether for good or for ill, is up to the person for whom the gift is attended. And he will likewise reap benefits or judgments depending on it. Thus, it's not up to us and we should still give because it is exactly as what Christ did for our sake. Make ready, O Bethlehem!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Blessed Nativity Fast to all Orthodox Christians

Today, November 15 (Revised Julian Calendar), the Orthodox Church begins to prepare for the arrival of the Incarnate Lord in Bethlehem taking on flesh so that all He, the Logos, assumes will be healed (St. Gregory the Theologian).

Unlike other confessions of Christianity which are caught up in the secularization of their Advent season to feast and clebrate, although this was not always the case, the Orthodox have rightly taught that for all great Feasts of the Master which commemorate events done for us and for our salvation, we should approach that time with prayer, fasting and almsgiving. So, while the rest of the Christian world awaits the incarnation of the Lord, the Orthodox should use this time for increasing their prayer, lessening their intake of food and also certain types of food and giving charitably to others and the Church.

It is difficult for Orthodox Christians, however, to enter into the season penitentially. Everything around us is geared towards the secular. Even now, peoples' homes and businesses are being decorated for Christmas though we are a good full two weeks from the first Sunday in Advent on the Western Calendar. Even now, we hear Christmas music in stores, read about sales specials for Black Friday. All around us the works of the evil one and misguided people herald the coming of the King with presents and appetites only for themselves. It is difficult. If invited to someone's home, should we partake of the meat and dairy products there out of courtesy or should we politely refuse? It is a matter best left up to counsel with your priest.

Fasting is not a legalistic observance and it should never become that. We don't fast merely because the Orthodox Church has set up a time for us to do that. We fast to purify ourselves, to make ourselves ready to behold the awesome wonder of God Himself taking on human flesh because of our weakness. We struggle with our own weaknesses and shortcomings to begin to realize that the Logos emptied His Very Self to become like one of us. If He should do that as a sacrifice for us, is not giving up certain types of food with humility, reverence and gratitude a simple affair? We can fast the whole year, but that would also make the wrong statement. Christ said that it was inappropriate for his disciples to fast while the bridegroom was still present with them. At Christ's incarnation and Resurrection, those are no times to fast, but times to celebrate since Christ is in our midst, both in reality and mystically.

There are many obstacles present in this world that keep us from worshipping the One God in Trinity in purity and truth. Many times though, we make excuses because we don't want to be the "odd one out" or we just fear being different. I know my parents don't understand the benefits of fasting. I don't expect them to keep my discipline but they are kind enough to respect my discipline and I thank them for that.

Be reminded that the Nativity Fast is not as strict a fast as the Great Lent fast or Dormition fast. Fish, wine and oil may be consumed on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Wine and oil are also permitted on weekends, except for the final five days before Nativity. However, fasting from meat and dairy is not an excuse for you to load up on fishing. That's not fasting--that is dieting. And if you don't decrease your intake of food, how can you be expected to make up for your hunger in additional prayer. Prayer and fasting go together, our Lord says, to establish such a faith that can move mountains.

In this modern secular world, where fulfillment is the norm, we, as Orthodox Christians should make all the more effort to repent so that we can feast when the Master is among us. But in the midst of our preparation, let us sing out with hymns of praise, particularly this one which is the Apolytikion of the Forefeast of Nativity:

Make Ready, O Bethelehem, for Eden hath opened unto all. Ephratha, prepare thyself, for now, behold the Tree of Life hath blossomed forth in the cave from the Holy Virgin. Her womb hat proved a true spiritual paradise, wherein the divine and saving Tree is found, and as we eat thereof we shall all live and shall not die as did Adam. For Christ is born now to raise the image that had fallen aforetime.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Commemoration of the Apostle Philip, St. Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonika and St. Justinian, Roman Emperor

Today, November 14, the Holy Orthodox Church commemorates the Apostle Philip, who told Nathaniel (aka Bartholomew) that He had found Christ whom Moses and the Propets proclaimed (John 1:45) as well as St. Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonika who combatted the Latin heretics successfully by teaching correctly that God can only be experienced through His energies and through contemplative prayer known as "hesychasm" and finally the Roman Emperor, Justinian I "The Great" who built the great cathedral of Hagia Sophia, convened the fifth oecumenical council and composed the Hymn "Only-Begotten Son and Word of God" which is chanted after the second antiphon at the Divine Liturgy.

Through their intercessions, O Lord Jesus Christ, our True God, have mercy upon us and save us.

St. Philip, from the Prologue of Ohrid:

Philip was born in Bethsaida beside the Sea of Galilee, as were Peter and Andrew. Instructed in Holy Scripture from his youth, Philip immediately responded to the call of the Lord Jesus and followed Him (John 1:43). After the descent of the Holy Spirit, Philip zealously preached the Gospel throughout many regions in Asia and Greece. In Greece, the Jews wanted to kill him, but the Lord saved him by His mighty miracles. Thus, a Jewish high priest that rushed at Philip to beat him was suddenly blinded and turned completely black. Then there was a great earthquake, and the earth opened up and swallowed Philip's wicked persecutor. Many other miracles were manifested, especially the healing of the sick, by which many pagans believed in Christ. In the Phrygian town of Hierapolis, St. Philip found himself in common evangelical work with his sister Mariamna, St. John the Theologian, and the Apostle Bartholomew. In this town there was a dangerous snake that the pagans diligently fed and worshiped as a god. God's apostle killed the snake through prayer as though with a spear, but he also incurred the wrath of the unenlightened people. The wicked pagans seized Philip and crucified him upside-down on a tree, and then crucified Bartholomew as well. At that, the earth opened up and swallowed the judge and many other pagans with him. In great fear, the people rushed to rescue the crucified apostles, but only Bartholomew was still alive; Philip had already breathed his last. Bartholomew ordained Stachys as bishop for those whom he and Philip had baptized. Stachys had been blind for forty years, and Bartholomew and Philip had healed and baptized him. The relics of St. Philip were later translated to Rome. This wonderful apostle suffered in the year 86 in the time of Emperor Domitian.

Troparion to St. Philip (tone 3):

O Holy Apostle Philip, interecede with the merciful God that He grant unto our souls forgiveness of offences.

St. Gregory Palamas, from the Prologue of Ohrid

Gregory's father was an eminent official at the court of Emperor Andronicus II Palaeologus. The gifted Gregory, completing his secular studies, did not want to enter the service of the imperial court, but withdrew to the Holy Mountain and was tonsured a monk. He lived a life of asceticism in the Monastery of Vatopedi and the Great Lavra. He led the struggle against the heretic Barlaam and finally defeated him. He was consecrated as Metropolitan of Thessalonica in the year 1347. He is glorified as an ascetic, a theologian, a hierarch and a miracle-worker. The Most-holy Theotokos, St. John the Theologian, St. Demetrius, St. Anthony the Great, St. John Chrysostom and angels of God appeared to him at different times. He governed the Church in Thessalonica for thirteen years, of which he spent one year in slavery under the Saracens in Asia. He entered peacefully into rest in the year 1360, and took up his habitation in the Kingdom of Christ. His relics repose in Thessalonica, where a beautiful church is dedicated to him.

Troparion to St. Gregory (tone 8):

Light of Orthodoxy, pillar and teacher of the Church, adornment of monastics, invicible champion of thelogians, O Gregory, thou Wonderworker, boast of Thessalonica, herald of grace; ever pray that our souls be saved.

St. Justinian the Great, from the Prologue of Ohrid

Justinian was a Slav by birth, probably a Serb from the region of Skoplje. His Slavic name was Upravda, meaning ``truth, justice.'' He succeeded to the throne of his uncle Justin in 527. The greatness of this emperor is inseparably bound to his profound faith in Orthodoxy; he believed, and lived according to his faith. During Great Lent, he neither ate bread nor drank wine but ate only vegetables and drank water, and that, just every other day. He waged war against the barbarians of the Danube because they castrated their captives. This reveals his elevated feeling of love for his fellow man. Justinian was fortunate and successful both in wars and in his works. He built many great and beautiful churches, the most beautiful of which was Hagia Sophia [the Church of the Divine Wisdom] in Constantinople. He collected [and revised] and published the Laws of Rome and also personally issued many strict laws against immorality and licentiousness. He composed the Church hymn ``Only-begotten Son and Word of God,'' which has been sung during the Divine Liturgy since the year 536. He convened the Fifth Ecumenical Council (553). He died peacefully at the age of eighty, and took up his abode in the Kingdom of the Heavenly King.

Commemoration of our Righteous Father among the Saints, St. John Chrysostom

Today, November 13 (new calendar), the Holy Orthodox Church commemorates our Righteous Father, St. John Chrysostom. Chrysostom, in Greek, means Golden Mouth, since, in his lifetime, St. John was a magnificent orator schooled in the pagan schools of rhetoric yet used these gifts for the glory of Christ's Church. No one can not be moved by the zeal, the pathos, the energy of his sermons and of his theological writings. However, that earned him exile from Constantinople where he served our Lord as Patriarch because he dared to preach out against the extravagances of the Empress Eudoxia.

His liturgy is served almost every Sunday, weekday and feast day. His Paschal Sermon is always read after the Orthros Rush prior to the Divine Liturgy. His prayers prepare us for receiving the Immaculate Body and Precious Blood of our Lord. Along with St. Gregory the Theologian and St. Basil the Great, whose funeral he served at as deacon, he is remembered as one of the three great hierarchs. No saint is more synonymous with Orthodoxy then he. Through thy prayers, O St. John Chrysostom, may Christ our God have mercy upon us and save us.

Troparion of St. John Chrysostom (tone 4)

Grace like a flame shining forth from thy mouth has illumined the universe, and disclosed to the world treasures of poverty and shown us the height of humility. And as by thine own words thou teachest us, Father John Chrysostom, so intercede with the Word, Christ our God, to save our souls.

From the Prologue of Ohrid:

John was born in Antioch in the year 354. His father, Secundus, was an imperial commander and his mother's name was Anthusa. Studying Greek philosophy, John became disgusted with Hellenic paganism and adopted the Christian Faith as the one and all-embracing truth. Meletius, Patriarch of Antioch, baptized John, and his parents also subsequently received baptism. Following his parents' repose, John was tonsured a monk and lived a strict life of asceticism. He then wrote a book, On the Priesthood, after which the Holy Apostles John and Peter appeared to him, and prophesied that he would have a life of great service, great grace and great suffering. When he was to be ordained a priest, an angel of God appeared simultaneously to John and to Patriarch Flavian (Meletius's successor). While the patriarch was ordaining John, a shining white dove was seen hovering over John's head. Glorified for his wisdom, asceticism and power of words, John was chosen as Patriarch of Constantinople at the behest of Emperor Arcadius. As patriarch, he governed the Church for six years with unequalled zeal and wisdom. He sent missionaries to the pagan Celts and Scythians and eradicated simony in the Church, deposing many bishops guilty of this vice. He extended the charitable works of the Church and wrote a special order of the Divine Liturgy. He shamed the heretics, denounced Empress Eudoxia, interpreted Holy Scripture with his golden mind and tongue, and bequeathed the Church many precious books of his homilies. The people glorified him, the envious loathed him, and the Empress, on two occasions, sent him into exile. John spent three years in exile, and reposed as an exile on the Feast of the Elevation of the Precious and Life-giving Cross, September 14, 407, in the town of Comana in Georgia. Before his repose, the Holy Apostles John and Peter appeared to him again, as did the Holy Martyr Basiliscus (May 22) in whose church he received Communion for the last time. His last words were, ``Glory be to God for all things,'' and with that, the soul of the golden-mouthed patriarch was taken into Paradise. Chrysostom's head reposes in the Church of the Dormition in Moscow, and his body reposes in the Vatican in Rome.

St. John's Paschal Sermon:

Are there any who are devout lovers of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!

Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary from fasting?
Let them now receive their due!

If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their reward.

If any have come after the third hour,
let them with gratitude join in the feast!

Those who arrived after the sixth hour,
let them not doubt; for they shall not be short-changed.

Those who have tarried until the ninth hour,
let them not hesitate; but let them come too.

And those who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let them not be afraid by reason of their delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
The Lord gives rest to those who come at the eleventh hour,
even as to those who toiled from the beginning.

To one and all the Lord gives generously.
The Lord accepts the offering of every work.
The Lord honours every deed and commends their intention.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!

First and last alike, receive your reward.
Rich and poor, rejoice together!

Conscientious and lazy, celebrate the day!
You who have kept the fast, and you who have not,
rejoice, this day, for the table is bountifully spread!

Feast royally, for the calf is fatted.
Let no one go away hungry.
Partake, all, of the banquet of faith.
Enjoy the bounty of the Lord's goodness!

Let no one grieve being poor,
for the universal reign has been revealed.

Let no one lament persistent failings,
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death,
for the death of our Saviour has set us free.

The Lord has destroyed death by enduring it.
The Lord vanquished hell when he descended into it.
The Lord put hell in turmoil even as it tasted of his flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, were placed in turmoil when he encountering you below."

Hell was in turmoil having been eclipsed.
Hell was in turmoil having been mocked.
Hell was in turmoil having been destroyed.
Hell was in turmoil having been abolished.
Hell was in turmoil having been made captive.

Hell grasped a corpse, and met God.
Hell seized earth, and encountered heaven.
Hell took what it saw, and was overcome by what it could not see.

O death, where is your sting?
O hell, where is your victory?

Christ is risen, and you are cast down!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life is set free!
Christ is risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead.

For Christ, having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Christ be glory and power forever and ever. Amen!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

orthodox, Orthodox or ORTHODOX?

I admit that I stole this post from Pastor Peter's blog Pastoral Meanderings where the title was "Are you lutheran, Lutheran or LUTHERAN?" It was a great post and, upon reading it, thought that this could easily be framed for an Orthodox environment. So, with both gratitude and apologies to Fr. Peters, here it is:

In any congregation we have a mix of Orthodox -- not what you think. You are thinking a mix of Orthodox jurisdictions like Greek, OCA, ROCOR, Serbian, Antiochian etc. I am not talking about that. The mix of Orthodox we have in our congregations comes not from the various backgrounds of the Orthodox within the congregation but flows from their level of information, identity, and ideology.

The orthodox within a congregation are the folks who do not attend. They have their names on a membership roll and may or may not be contacted about this, informed of the need to be regular at the Lord's House and Table, or may just be allowed to hang on in this tenuous thread of a connection for, well, ever. These can sometimes be the people who insist that they know more than others what is Orthodox and what is not, and usually, what is going on in the Church today is not their idea of Orthodox. They were once active but something happened -- no, not the big thing that made them mad and turned staying at home into a protest (though sometimes that happens). Most of these gradually dropped out -- over time -- growing out of the habit of church attendance. These are often the ones who are least informed of what it means to be Orthodox, have an identity of being Orthodox but that identity is outside of their daily lives and does not affect who they are or what they do today, and whose ideology tends to be conservative but is less rooted in Liturgy and the Scriptures than in "that is the way it was when I grew up..."

The Orthodox are those who attend, but irregularly. These are not just Nativity and Pascha or Palm Sunday folks (though some of them are and they will even tell the Priest, "See you at Pascha" or "See you at Nativity" or "See you at Palm Sunday for the 'baby parade'"). But that is generally not the only time you see them. They will always be there at baptisms, weddings, and funerals. They are friendly and genuinely like the Church. They may even get The Word or other diocesan publications via the web. They intend to be active and usually see themselves as being active. They seldom realize how long it goes between times when they show up. They know a lot of the folks in the pews. They know the congregation and her history. They have a good idea about what the Orthodox believe and teach, less so an idea of what Scripture says. They are informed about the big things but less so little things (both theologically and in terms of what is going on in the congregation), their identity is deeply rooted both in Orthodoxy and in the congregation but less so in the weekly at the Divine Liturgy, and their ideology tends to be moderate on just about everything (having learned well from St. Paul moderation is a good thing).

Then there are the ORTHODOX who are there most Sundays, feast days, Holy Week, even Saturday night Vespers, -- in fact, when they are gone, everyone notices and wonders where they are today. These are the folks who sit in the pews week after week, who attend meetings, who volunteer for work days, who teach Sunday school, who sit on the Parish Council, who read their bulletin, who are advisors to SOYO (or GOYA and other youth equivalents) who provide coffee hour, who man the bookstore, who sing in the choir, who chant, who make the Holy Bread and who are concerned about the long term future of the congregation and the Diocese. Many of these are old time families who have a deep history within the congregation and a deep affinity for things Orthodox. But many of them are new to the Orthodox faith -- some having come from churches where the Gospel was not clearly proclaimed and where feelings replaced the Sacraments as means of grace. They have come through the journey looking for and finding a home where the liturgical life is rich, the music is the handmaiden to the Word, the Eucharist is central, the Scriptures are believed and preached, and life flows from and back to the altar . These are the folks who give extra toward the family in need (generally without anyone else noticing) or make sure that when something needs to be done, it is done regardless of how overworked they already are in service to the church and the Lord. They know the Priest well, may not always agree with him, but who know how to disagree without conflict and who try, in every way possible to find common ground on most all issues. They are rooted in the past but look for the best of what which comes from today. They bring back to the Priest the bulletins from other churches when they are away from home. They stand at the doorways and greet people (strangers from off the street or strangers to them from among the orthodox and Orthodox listed above). They are informed Orthodox, they are Orthodox in identity and informed choice, and their idealogy is based on the faith once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3) and taught through the Church and experienced through the Offices, Divine Liturgies and the Mysteries.

Sure you can divide up the folks differently and I claim no infallibility on this division. And I say this not to judge. I love them all. Some orthodox really want to be ORTHODOX but don't know how or think it is too much effort. Some ORTHODOX want to be Orthodox and step down their participation because the church is taking up too much time. I know that if the orthodox were really needed, they would be there but they see the Church as a fire extinguisher for emergencies and they would be the fire extinguisher in case the Church had a desperate need. But such a view cheapens that the Church is a hospital for those who are sick--and we are ALL very sick with sin. It's easy to come to the Church when we need it because of personal and sudden tragedy. It's all the more difficult when things are going great and we choose to revel in our prosperity, not realizing or not wanting to realize that such has come from God.

It's easy to be very judgmental especially for those of us who have come to the true faith from a tradition, as good as it was, did not have the fulness of the faith. We tend to speak out more of the need for our family and friends to be not only Orthodox but ORTHODOX. And then we lash out at those who may only be orthodox and throw up our hands in disbelief when they don't seem to realize all the great things the faith has for them and for their spiritual health. Some of us ORTHODOX feel that we have an angle on holiness, even suggesting that we are somehow worthy to be deacons or even priests. That will be a cross many of us will have to bear for the rest of our lives, a burden with which we will continually struggle. And hopefully, we will all be changed

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

With daring and with boldness

In an earlier post, I talked about preparation for the Holy Eucharist, which, I fear, is not done by many. At the same time, how much preparation can one possibly do to receive the Lord who is Holy in my body which is corrupt and sinful? In the Canon for preparation for the Eucharist, we confess that this is a mystery, saying: "How is it that I who am but clay partake of the mystic food! O Great Mystery! O Divine Compassion!" We sinful creatures cannot possibly wipe away our transgressions by ourselves. That's why the Lord came, incarnate, in the first place.

Since we cannot make ourselves holy no matter how much prayer and preparation we put ourselves through, that is why it is significant that we must confess that it is with daring and with boldness that we approach the chalice at every Divine Liturgy, especially in our prayers of preparation. In the 10 prayers of preparation, the following speak of the boldness and daring we have in Christ Jesus to come to his Holy Table. A few snippets:

From the first prayer of St. Basil the Great: Wherefore, though I am unworthy of both Heaven and earth, and even of this transient life, since I have wholly subjected myself to sin and am a slave to pleasures and have defaced Thine image, yet being Thy work and creation, I the wretched one, do not despair of my salvation; but emboldened by Thine immeasurable compassion, I draw nigh.

From the second prayer of St. Basil the Great: I know, O Lord, that I partake of Thine immaculate Body and precious Blood unworthily, and that I am guilty, and eat and drink judgment to myself, not discerning the Body and Blood of Thee, my Christ and my God. But trusting in Thy compassions, I take courage and approach Thee...

From the third prayer of St. John Chrysostom: For it is not one presumptuous [i.e. in my own goodness] that I draw nigh to Thee, O Christ my God, but as one taking courage in Thine ineffable goodness...

From the fourth prayer of St. John Chrysostom: I am not sufficient, O Master and Lord, that Thou shouldest enter under the roof of my soul; but since Thou, as the Friend of Man, dost will to dwell in me, with trust I draw nigh.

From the seventh prayer of St. Symeon the New Theologian: These things now do give me daring, These things give me wings, O Christ God; Trusting, then, in the abundance of Thy benefactions toward us, With rejoicing, yet with trembling, I partake now of the Fire.

Our sinfulness should keep us away from the Lord. Sinfulness separates us from our Lord. But He came incarnate bridging the uncreated with the created. That was nothing short of boldness, if not of love. Or perhaps boldness and love are the same thing. We are told to approach "with fear, with faith and with love." But as God was compassionate to come down from on high, to be incarnate for us, should we also not be bold to trust in that compassion, not at the expense of ignoring our sins or saying they don't exist?

So, let us be bold, let us be daring and, above all, let us approach with love.