Archive | Meditations

Mission Monthly – October 2007

“Well done, my good children. Hospitality is one of the first Christian duties. The beast retires to its shelter and the bird flies to its nest, but helpless man can only find refuge from his fellow-creature. The greatest stranger in this world was He that came to save it. He never had a house, as if willing to see what hospitality was left remaining amongst us.”

The Vicar of Wakefield

Hospitality has been on my mind as of late—most likely due to all the planning surrounding Rachel and Miguel Angel's wedding and the coordination of hospitality for the many out of town guests. Much was brought together in preparation for this beautiful day, and many were involved in providing a warm welcome to both personal and cultural strangers. And in the end, after the hospitality was extended, we found that we are not really strangers after all, but truly brothers and sisters in Christ.

Every October we are asked by the Archdiocese to remember our youth and to rededicate ourselves to the sacred ministry of raising God-pleasing children, in the hope and manner that the children entrusted to our stewardship will grow to be God-pleasing men and women. While this seems a most obvious goal for any Christian parent, Godparent, Grandparent, and other relatives and friends, I am skeptical that many today—even Orthodox Christians—are convicted and willing to enforce the needed direction and consistent discipline to accomplish this end. I know this is a delicate subject, and as a father of one and the father of many I can attest to the fact that there is little if any consensus on Orthodox Christian child-rearing; it is not my intention here to present a “one right way” to raise children.

The burden of our youth is one that has weighed heavily on my heart since our Lord mercifully woke me up from spiritual slumber during my college years. I was lulled asleep by many of the same forces that are acting upon our youth today; only today I believe these same forces are exponentially stronger. What words would one use to describe today's youth culture: active, entertained, scheduled, busy, electronic, comfortable, self-interested, passive, amoral, sexual, a-religious, carefree, moody, bored, disconnected, materialistic, impatient, segregated, lonely, ambivalent, ambitious? What is most intriguing to me is the passivity with which many adults today—even priests—demonstrate in detecting and fighting against the negative influences of “youth culture” attacking our own children! One priest with whom I had a challenging conversation many years ago told me that I shouldn't worry so much about our kids when they quit coming around late in high school and through their college years. He concluded by saying, “They'll come back when they get married and start having children.” I still feel sick when I think about the spiritual ignorance and irresponsibility of this attitude!

As a parent of a six year old I have a long way to go before it can be determined whether or not I have “managed my household well and kept my child submissive and respectful in every way” (1 Timothy 3:4); I am aware that the challenge before both Kh. Vanessa and me, like all parents, is a great one! Nevertheless there are a few points of child-rearing that I believe can be stated clearly: 1) I cannot be afraid that my child might resent me when I demand certain things of him or discipline him with love. 2) Prayer is more effective than words, action more valuable than intention. 3) Children have the capacity to achieve very high standards of expectation, and we sell them short every time we compromise because we do not want to press them or because we're exhausted from all of e's demands. 4) Children should never be allowed to use the word “bored” and we have a great responsibility to keep them engaged and far from the temptations of despondency and laziness. Isn't it interesting how these points pretty much require constant parental involvement and vigilant leadership?

There are many starting points to nurturing this right spirit in our children, but I believe thatpractical, hands-on serving may be the most beneficial, especially the virtue of hospitality where our children are taught directly how to come out of themselves by serving others. “He who grasps that charity is an active virtue, not a passive one, and begins to fulfill it after this manner, will soon find that heaven and earth reveal themselves to him in many colors. He will soon come to know both God's charity and man's. Charity is the striking of stone with stone that always produces a spark. He who strikes this blessed spark and he who receives it will both feel God's presence with them. At that moment, they feel God's caressing hand on both their hearts” (St. Nikolai Velimirovic).

I am still very hopeful that the generations placed in our care can be raised in faith and remain faithful their entire lives. Our dedication to this divinely consecrated ministry, as 19th century author, Charlotte Mason, put it, is as important as that of the bishop! Ours is an inspired work of inspiring our children to the love of God and neighbor, and to recognizing the beauty of this world and this life—not in the base allurements of sensual materialism, but rather in the heights of heavenly brilliance! Ours is the inspired work of helping our children understand God's hospitality towards us, and to nurture in them a thankful response and a conviction to love! May the virtue of hospitality be more diligently sought after by each and every one of us, for the love of our neighbor, for the sake of our children and for the glory of God!


Mission Monthly – August-September 2007

“We should live through difficulties and tragedies and see them all as opportunities for prayer, for approaching God. That's the secret: how the man of God will transform everything into prayer. St. Paul means this when he says, 'I rejoice in my sufferings,' in all the tribulations he encountered. This is how sanctification takes place. May God grant this to us. I ask for this fervently in my prayer.”

Elder Porphyrios

Recent events of tragedy and suffering in the lives of those close to my heart have affected me deeply. These words are not specifically intended for them, but they are felt as a general and loving response to the inevitable question, "Why?" I believe it takes a certain understanding of the development of our contemporary social climate in order to answer this question.

I do not believe my generation is interested much in suffering. The generations that have given rise to modern and post-modern societies have had a different aim in mind: material security and ease of life. And thus one of the greatest tragedies of the individual experience of tragedy in the post-modern society is that many of us today are completely unprepared to suffer even to the smallest degree.

It has been twenty years since my last living grandparent passed away. I believe they lived in a time prior to the combustible engine, electrical power grids, penicillin and indoor plumbing. My father’s parents were children whose older relatives fought in the American Civil War and my mother’s parents lived under the Turkish occupation of the Balkan states. They all lived through two world wars and the Great Depression. These and other experiences of my grandparent’s lives lead me to believe that they probably were not na•ve about life’s difficulties and would rarely if ever ask the question "Why?" regarding the suffering of their lives.

I do not claim that my grandparents and their generation possessed a great piety or faith. In fact, to some degree, I would lay the blame for some of the ills of post-modern society at the feet of the generation from which modern society emerged. I wonder sometimes if the generation that somewhat innocently sought "a better life" for themselves and their children would do things differently if they knew that the ease and comfort which they sought would eventually spoil their children and rob them of their ability to appreciate the freedom and convenience to which they’ve been born? I wonder sometimes if from their graves the knowing and unknowing architects of pre-modern and modern societies at all regret opening the door to unprecedented social self-indulgence and a soul-corrupting inability to suffer?

It would be wrong for me to place a value on suffering for the sake of suffering. Perverted, self-inflicted suffering is not of God in any way. The value of suffering can only be found in how a man responds when suffering’s inevitable nature reveals itself in his life. The question I would raise here is, "Am I prepared?" And for all of us, "Are we prepared?" As Christians we have a hierarchy of three points of history which carry great meaning. Preeminent 20th century Orthodox theologian, Fr. George Florovsky, focused on these three points in his famous book, "Creation, Fall, Redemption." The fall of Adam introduced into the world the inevitability of suffering. As Christians we must understand and accept this, and as Christians we must know and engage in the life of Christ which prepares us for it. How wonderful it is when a Christian seeks answers to his most intimate questions from the only Source where answers find their true meaning: in Christ. And why in Christ? Because it is only in the Cross-bearing redemption of Christ that life as we know it can be understood. When we form our lives in this way, with prayer and cross-bearing courage, our approach to God will be the cause of our sanctification and the transformation of our suffering into comfort, our sorrow into joy, our death into life!

I offer this brief reflection as an encouragement to our growing ability to respond to suffering with faithfulness. Being prepared is our greatest challenge because it requires us to choose—right now– to reject the soul-corrupting ease and self-indulgence presented to us as normal in our sensual and materialistic post-modern society. Ease and self-indulgence are the devil’s "cement overshoes" which keep us affixed to this earth and unable (or unwilling) to accept our heavenly calling as cross-bearers for the Kingdom of God. May God grant us the ability to "rejoice in our sufferings" that indeed our sanctification may be complete!


Mission Monthly – June-July 2007

“The grace of the Spirit has enlightened the Apostles of Christ; He has fearfully come down from heaven and set them on fire.”

Tuesday Matins of Pentecost Week

We are indeed blessed to have a longer Apostles Fast this year. Practically speaking, it is simply impressive that Orthodox Christians are directed to make a serious fasting effort to begin the summer. In the land of baseball, bratwurst and the Beach Boys, where “feeling the good vibrations” of summer is the norm, we're being charged to do what? In America? Right!!!

I must honestly admit that the old man in me looks with a hopeful eye to next year's Church calendar, hoping that the month of June isn't solid pink like it is this year! Whatever it may be, the length of the Apostle's Fast is directly related to the date of Pascha. When Pascha falls after late April there will be little or no Apostle's Fast; however, when Pascha falls in early April we could have four to five weeks of fasting leading up to the feast of Saints Peter and Paul on June 29th. This year we have four weeks, and while the old man in me struggles, the new man in me sees the self-centeredness, immoderation and immodesty of our “good vibration” society and recognizes with full conviction the absolute and urgent need for fasting. For this particular fast challenges head-on the passionate nature of summer and the spirit of this world, which can be summed up by a quote from a popular contemporary pop-culture artist (whose name slips me at the moment),“All I want to do is have some fun.”

Last month I wrote about what it means to be a Christian. To whom do we look to find the greatest examples of those who have followed Christ? Without equivocation we look to the saints; most especially to the most holy Theotokos, St. John the Baptist and to the Holy Apostles, led by the foremost of the Apostles, Saint Peter and Saint Paul. It is almost beyond comprehension when we consider how the Lord chose His Apostles, His beloved. It is even more awe-inspiring when we contemplate the response of these simple but zealous men and how they ended their earthly lives: Peter was crucified upside-down.

Andrew was crucified. James was beheaded.

John the Theologian died in a wondrous way.

Philip was crucified. Matthew was burned by fire.

Bartholomew was crucified, then flayed and beheaded.

Thomas was pierced with five spears. Thaddeus was crucified.

James the Son of Alphaeus was crucified.

Matthias was stoned, then beheaded with an axe when dead.

Simon the Zealot was crucified. Paul was beheaded.

How is it that these simple men became so holy and selfless?—By the grace of the Holy Spirit. It was grace that prepared them to hear the Word, it was grace that sustained them in their time of fear, and it was grace that eventually rooted within them, on the great day of Pentecost, all that is True, leading them on the irreversible course of apostleship as ambassadors and witnesses to the kingdom of God.

“Come, follow Me” is all Jesus said to these men and they literally dropped what they were doing and followed Him. Our God's invitation is indeed compelling. Nevertheless it took great courage for these men to do what they did, believing the radical story of the remarkable carpenter from Nazareth. Time with our Lord would eventually smooth out the rough edges of any misunderstandings, as these simple men learned little by little that the good news they were hearing had but one purpose: to bring salvation to man through love. These men, like many who heard Jesus speak, had a keen intuition in recognizing the authority in Jesus' words. It didn't take them long to discern the contrast of their God's teaching to the darkness of sin and the hopelessness of death in the world. And though eventually the Disciples of Christ would have to learn, “We are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12), with great faith, they set their faces towards their own “contending”, wholly devoted to live and to die for the sake of the Gospel.

It is in this light that each of us must look at our own invitation to follow Jesus. Is there an intuition or discernment within us to recognize the authority of Jesus' words? Do we see the spiritual warfare that intensely assaults our lives in this world? Do we understand the love that has been extended to us by God who sent His Son into the world to die for us in order that we might live in newness of life? Do we believe, as obedient followers of Jesus, that we also have been called to love as He loved, and that for the sake of this call we also must be ready for our own “contending” against sin, evil and death? Hopefully the answers to these questions are, “yes” and hopefully we are actively seeking the apostolic life to which we have been called.

Beloved, the same Spirit that enlightened the Apostles and “set them on fire” is present with us today calling us to faith, to obedience, to the arena of spiritual warfare, to a self-sacrificing standard of life and love. As we journey through this Apostle's Fast, preparing ourselves to celebrate the Feast of Sts. Peter & Paul, we are once again preparing ourselves to respond to our Lord's invitation, His calling to the apostolic ministry of God's Church. To be a Christian is fundamentally apostolic, our failure to live up to this calling is a distressing sin. Jesus said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37-38). This is something for each of us to measure ourselves against, and to make changes where changes need to be made! The Apostles were considered insane and foolish by the standards of the world; but to us they are heroic men whose lives, and deaths, are to be honored and emulated. They responded with self-abandonment and soulful-longing, with endurance and eloquence, with tears and uncompromising courage, with the commitment to love and the readiness to die. And for their response they received the fulfillment of our Lord's promise, “Truly, I say to you, there is no man who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive manifold more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life” (Luke 18:29-30).

This is the season of Apostolic renewal; let us “Look carefully then how [we] walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:15-17).


Mission Monthly – May 2007

“What are Christians? Christians are Christ-bearers Who is a Christian? A Christian is a man who lives by Christ and in Christ.”

St. Justin Popovich

Beloved! Christ is risen! Indeed, He is risen!

As we continue to proceed through this beautiful season of Holy Pascha my prayer for each of you is for an enduring sense of our Lord’s Resurrection in your lives! Whatever burdens you may be carrying, may they be lightened by the easy yoke of Christ! Whatever joys you may be welcoming may you ever see their source in the eternal love of God for His creation! It is also my prayer that each of us continue to grow in understanding the serious nature of bearing the name, “Christian!”

I received an e-mail recently which included graphic details of three Christian men in Turkey who were brutally tortured for simply leading bible studies. Reading the grueling details of the inhumane acts of disembowelment, dismemberment—slow deaths where they were forced even to watch their own gruesome ends—and eventual decapitations, left me sick to my stomach, to say the least, and broken hearted over the senseless brutality that can dwell in the hearts of men.

I share this with you, not to cast a shadow over our current celebrations of Pascha, our Bishop’s visit and our parish’s tenth anniversary, but rather to give these celebrations an even greater context in defining who we really are as Orthodox Christians! What does it mean to be a Christ-bearer? This question may best be answered “apophatically,” meaning to answer the question by saying what a Christ-bearer is not. A few things a Christ-bearer is not: one who openly sins and does not repent; one who denies that the pathway to heaven is through the carrying of the cross; one who mocks basic Christian virtues such as modesty and chastity by practicing just the opposite; one who worships God “his own way” and rejects the rich heritage of Christian Tradition which has clearly revealed “right worship”; one who legalistically holds to the teachings of the Church but neglects the weightier matters of the law—justice, mercy, and faith;”; one whodoes not show love for God and for his neighbor.

It is just as difficult, in this context, to then answer the question, “Who is a Christian?” There are many people in the world today who call themselves Christian, and in our case, “Orthodox Christian.” But dare we say that everyone who calls themselves such actually is? The truth of the matter is—and this is something that each of us should and must be concerned about if we are to ever take seriously this very personal claim—that not everyone who calls themselves a Christian is in truth a Christian. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” (Matt. 7:21). Unfortunately many churches today are filled with people who do not really want to follow the way of life of the Gospel. And why? Because it requires an uncompromising zeal for self-denial. Simply put, way too often people want the comfort of knowing that God is there for them without the personal dedication of being there for God.

Who, therefore, is a Christian? St. Justin defines a Christian as, “One who lives ‘worthily of God’ (Col. 1:10) by living according to the Gospel of Christ.” He goes on further to say, “Life according to the Gospel, holy life, Divine life, that is the natural and normal life for Christians. For Christians, according to their vocation, are holy: That good tiding and commandment resounds throughout the whole Gospel of the New Testament. To become completely holy, both in soul and in body, that is our vocation. This is not a miracle, but rather the norm, the rule of faith. The commandment of the Holy Gospel is clear, ‘As he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct’ (1 Peter 1: 15).”

I am deeply challenged by these words as I’m sure you are as well. As we continue through this holy season of Pascha let us set out each day not only to remember the words, “Christ is Risen,” but also to embody their meaning. “Christ is Risen!” leads men to the faithful enduranceof unspeakable torture as described above. “Christos Anesti!” leads men to the faithful seeking of the way of the Cross in the midst of a society that teaches and promotes virtually everything contrary thereto. “Christos Voskrese!” leads men in the active pursuit of all the virtues, but especially to the virtues of chastity and modesty in a sexually charged society where adultery, fornication, pornography, deviant sexuality and sexual addictions are horrifically common. “Al-Maseeh Qam!” leads men to honesty and integrity in all things, and the humility to be corrected when necessary. “Christ is Risen!” leads men away from the base, material existence in which our world is mired and towards a heavenly existence where, in the words of St. Justin, “a man knows that a true man is true only in God, when on earth he lives by heaven that our task is to make ourselves heavenly and to fill ourselves with the Risen Christ.” Beloved, let us seek to be the bearers of the Risen Christ, authentic and sincere, remembering the words of our holy patron,

St. Ignatius of Antioch, “We have not only to be called Christians, but to be Christians.” Beloved,

Christ is Risen!


Mission Monthly – April 2007

“Love shares the good with another not by dividing it with him, but by identifying itself with him so that his good becomes my own.”

Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island

Every year during Great Lent, as I am blessed to carry out my most “fulfilling” task as priest—the hearing of Confessions, there usually arises a common theme which our Lord seems to ask me to speak about with His beloved who have been given to my care. This year the theme that has been most powerfully present in the Confessional conversation has been the true meaning of loving others . For those of you reading this who had one of these conversations with me I sure you remember what I am writing about.

The most important aspect of love and the ability to love, I believe, is founded on the understanding and belief that all of life is interconnected, man with man, man with nature, and nature within itself. Creation is a system of life in which all living things are bound. It is this connectedness that forms the demand for a certain action among God’s rational creatures that is defined as love. In this view the most unloving thing a man can do is cut himself off from other men and be concerned only for himself. It is most interesting that only man can make the free choice of self(ishness). In the Akathist of Thanksgiving we hear, “Nature responds to [God’s] law, but I do not.” That which is of nature and lower forms of life are not given the gift of free and rational thought, therefore it is only man who can choose to disconnect himself from God and from the rest of creation (or so he thinks).

I do not want to say too much about the disconnectedness of modern society. There is much already written about this by both religious and secular observers. Suffice to say there is widespread agreement that within modern society and man’s pursuit of a material standard of living there has been much harm done to his ability and willingness to love. In fact, this probably was my main point in those many Confessional conversations: we as a society and each of us individually, at one level or another, suffer from a lack of love; meaning that most of us really struggle with identifying, as Thomas Merton states above, with the state of anyone or anything other than ourselves.

Certain biblical passages come to mind as I ponder this fundamental definition of love. “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (St. John 15:13). “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (St. Matthew 19.19). And maybe most importantly, “We love, because He first loved us”(1 John 4:19). From childhood we move from dependence to independence and as we grow we learn more and more to give and to sacrifice. We are taught to acknowledge the other but even more importantly we are commanded to completely identify with the other as with my own life. If we ignore this commandment the other is seen at best as only an inconvenience and at worst as a burden.

We live in a climate of self-determined ambition, which is a product of sin and the result of a lack of true love. This was the very subject vividly discussed in so many Confessional conversations this Lent because people are hurting! This is the most amazing fact to which we all are at least partially (and tragically) blinded. We are hurting and unfulfilled in our isolation: spouses from each other, parents and children from each other, extended family, friends, and co-workers from each other. And why, because we have been deceived into adopting a virtually singular material existence, an almost “every man for himself” mentality. This unfortunately leaves very little emotional time or room for one another, let alone an ability or willingness to identify with and love one another.

One cannot emphasize enough how important it is for us as Christians to make this pursuit of love our first and foremost priority. We have not been set in this life simply to pursue our own interests and secure our own wellbeing! This is one of the most important lessons we learn from our Lord Who became incarnate for our sakes, to die, and by His death to defeat death and sin for us. The love of God for His creation and His complete identification with us *save sin* is the perfect image of what our life is to be in this world; and one of the reasons why we suffer is precisely because we reject this image and choose our own isolated image—life disconnected from Life (which cannot be life)!

Repentance from this grave sin is paramount and requires our immediate and vigilant attention. It requires our worship, our prayer, our discipline, our gratitude, and our total conviction knowing what God has done for us and what life is truly meant to be. And it requires our response, the difficult response of learning to love one another, as we have been loved by the One Who is Love, and Who has loved us completely, in life, in death, and in Life! Beloved! Christ is risen! Indeed, He is risen!