Archive | Meditations

Mission Monthly – October 2006

“The man who keeps silence with knowledge is the man who is convinced that he is unworthy to speak, as the Fathers used to say, and this is silence ‘with knowledge'”

St. Dorotheos of Gaza

My father was a quiet man. Even now when I meet and speak with old timers who knew him they most often say that Dad “didn’t ever say too much but when he did people would listen.” Chester Joseph died almost 17 years ago. I was a mere 29 years old then and only at the beginning of my manhood; I never really understood my father’s quietness. At times I wished he would have been more vocal, but looking back I see how that would have been in opposition to his beautiful nature. I cannot say conclusively that Dad had the virtue of “silence with knowledge” but knowing how he was loved and respected by so many (his weekday funeral at a good sized church was standing room only) leads me to believe that I need not look too far to see a shining example of this exemplary way of life.

Within the vocation of the Presbytery one might think this virtue of silence might be practiced to a high degree. The ordained priesthood, however, seems to be one that requires a lot of talking. For those of us who may struggle with talking too much it could be a terrible place to fight this inclination. For those of us who might prefer to remain more quiet (whether because of virtue or simple preference), frequent speaking is virtually compulsory. Even my particular vocation is not immune from contemporary social forces which generally see silence not as a virtue but rather as a sign of ignorance and/or weakness.

Doesn’t it seem as though today no matter what subject is being discussed or reported on everyone is supposed to have an opinion on it; especially when it comes to a popular “topic du jour?” If one doesn’t have an opinion, or the ability to articulate it, that person might be subject to some form of ridicule. Maybe it’s the age of information and communication or maybe it’s the age of self-importance that has led us to this unhealthy place, but never has it seemed more (in)appropriate that the old adage applies, “Opinions are like bellybuttons, everybody has one.” Corporate culture, domestic and international politics, academia, entertainment, marketing, technology, Wall Street, pop culture, sports, relationships, etc; there seems to be very little room for “silence with knowledge.”

Here again we as Orthodox Christians are faced with another sober, “contrary to the world” characteristic of how we are to define ourselves in both word and action. I say “contrary to the world” for only a mild emphasis. There are much stronger ways to communicate the seriousness of this virtue. Suffice it to say that to ridicule or deny the virtue of silence with knowledge would be at best irreverent. This is another example of how truly “counter culture” the nature of Orthodox Christianity is.

No, we are not free to speak our minds. This commonly held (mis)belief, which has been helped along by the misinterpretation of the first amendment of the American Constitution, has led contemporary American society to an increasingly bitter place of “entitlement.” The pressure and right to “prove” one’s self has also led to the pressure to be right all the time, which is often accompanied by an aggressive defensiveness which beyond its sinful makeup is simply demeaning to the gracious potential of human nature. In my view there are too many words being spoken, being written, in print, in images, on television and over the radio, and now and maybe even more insidiously, over cyber-space on the internet with personal websites, e-mail, blogs, and streaming broadcasts. Anyone with even a little technical savvy can make their opinion known and feel pretty darn good about it (even if no one is listening)! The one thing generally missing in all this clamor is any sense of accountability, the one thing that differentiates a man who possesses the virtue of silence with knowledge. Silence with knowledge does not mean that we never speak (certainlywe know the importance of words in proclaiming the Gospel and in the worship of God in His Church); it just means that one understands responsibly that there are consequences to speech, and consequently becomes more aware that more often than not it is usually best simply to keep silent. Honestly I do not know if my father was a quiet man because he was being “accountable” or simply because it was his nature. The fact that he was deeply respected by so many certainly reveals that his quietness did have a virtuous effect on others. While I am only beginning to learn something about this virtue I find it somewhat ironic that I’ve chosen to write about it.


Mission Monthly – August-September 2006

“Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson were camping. They pitched their tent under the stars and went to sleep. Sometime in the middle of the night, Holmes woke up Watson. “Watson, look up at the stars and tell me what you deduce.” Watson said, “I see millions of stars, and if even a few of those have planets, it’s quite likely there are some planets like Earth, and if there are a few planets like Earth out there, there might also be life.” Holmes replied, “No, Watson, somebody stole our tent!”


Often in life it is the obvious which escapes us. If we are to grasp the obvious about what the prophet Joel said about living life as led by the Spirit of God, then what is it we will grasp; the obvious or the grand? What can be said about the Spirit-led life? Joel said: “old men shall dream dreams and young men shall see visions.” The word “vision” literally means a revelation. Through vision human beings have the capacity to contemplate the possibilities of tomorrow. Animals can’t do that. They react to surrounding influences and they respond with instincts. Only humans can set goals and dream of tomorrow’s possibilities.

The passage from Joel, which is this year’s conference theme, challenges us and beckons the question: Do we have goals, dreams and visions? Are we preparing for both the obvious and greater things for tomorrow? And by that, I mean, are we involving ourselves in something greater than serving self-interests?

To be led by the Spirit of God entails transforming our will to God’s will and to allow His teachings as revealed in Holy Scripture, and experienced in the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church, to direct our mind and spirit—to shape us into the image of Christ; obedient, submissive and productive. How do we do that? This doesn’t just happen by passively waiting for a miraculous sign from above. It happens by making a conscious decision to follow Christ, not just in Church on Sunday, but every day, in all areas of life. It means trusting Him to the point of following Him without reservation. We do this when we engage in the ministry of the local and greater church, making our faith come alive, using the time, talents and resources that God gave us, all to His glory.

You know, the Holy Spirit enables every person to exercise godly vision. He constantly works to inspire us to engage ourselves in the work of building up Christ’s Church, which transcends time and space and reaches into His eternal Kingdom. Christ tells us to love and care for one another—as we would care for Him in person. He tells us to set our goals on things eternal, to cultivate great visions, to dream godly dreams. A life which is led by the Holy Spirit is a life of dreams and vision. And it’s a life that stands up to the penetrating Light of Christ which illumines all.

We know that darkness leads to troubling encounters. We all make our share of mistakes. We all have made errant decisions in life. But the Light of Christ makes it clear that no person (with the notable exception of Christ Himself) has all the answers; and that when we think we do, we are chasing a dream that will be full of disappointments. So how do we test our dreams and visions? We do so by lining them up with Holy Scripture, with the Apostolic teachings and Holy Traditions of the Church. We test them by measuring them with the God-chosen leaders of the Church. In proverbs (11:14) we read: “Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” As surely everyone knows, this year we are celebrating 40 years of the episcopacy and primacy of His Eminence, Metropolitan PHILIP. The growth and achievements of this Archdiocese are a testament to his vision and the fact that he dared to dream dreams. So the question is, does our vision and dreams for the Church complement his? This is not to advocate cloning our vision and dreams to his, but it is important that ours do not counteract or detract from the accomplishments of his or those being cultivated by our Local Synod of Bishops, by our Diocesan Bishop or his local representative (the parish priest). Remember, testing our vision and goals by putting them next to those of the ones who have been called and chosen by God is the way that we find counsel and is God’s way of imparting the collective wisdom of the Church to us so that we may dream dreams and have godly visions.

The real characteristic of being led by the Spirit of God is not how many ideas we can come up with; nor is it the way we develop policy or programs. It isn’t about having a cheery exterior (not that it can’t help). It isn’t just about having warm fuzzy feelings. Being Spirit-led is all about sticking to the purpose for which God placed us here. It’s about being disciplined, obedient, sacrificial and a flexible instrument in the hands of God, being willing to change and become transformed to accomplish His will. It’s all about hard work and commitment with no personal agenda, other than being the best servant we can be. It’s all about being in union with Christ and having unconditional loyalty to Him. It’s about sharing our life with Christ here, so that we may share life with Him in His eternal kingdom. May we diligently and faithfully follow the Spirit of God which was poured forth upon us at our Chrismation, through the guidance of our Mother—the Church.


Mission Monthly – July 2006

“It is no longer the moral, religious, spiritual condition of the people that is our concern, but their physical, practical economic conditions, as regulated by public laws. Thus is the Body-political more than ever worshipped and tendered; but the Soul-political less than ever.”

Thomas Carlyle, Signs of the Times, 1829

Look carefully at the date of this quote! It is almost two hundred years old and I am perplexed by what societal decline may have occurred in the early 19th century to call for such a report. I am also wondering what Thomas Carlyle would say about the world today!? What began with the Renaissance of the 13th century and intensified with the Enlightenment of the 18th century led to this early 19th century social commentary—of people becoming less concerned about their spiritual lives and more anxious about their physical lives. Sound familiar?

I was recently shown a new [to us] picture of my great-grandfather, the priest Anthony. It amazes me to look at this 100 year old picture. I am his descendent. His blood is in me. I am an inheritor of his life, yet I never knew this man. As a society we too can look at excerpts and pictures of history to catch a glimpse of our forefathers, their examples and what they stood for. We do this all time in the life of the Church as we are given the opportunity to remember each day a multitude of great and holy Saints! It would also be very good for us to study the history of social architects and the development of our Western society. We are inheritors of many things, not the least of which being how we have been formed as a society and how as individuals we think and act concerning “political” interests (meaning the policies of how things are done).

What is being discussed here are the policies of the soul and the policies of the body. Since our Lord Jesus Christ’s final words from the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30), life on earth has never been the same. Since the witness of the twelve Apostles has been preached, right believing followers of Jesus throughout the course of time have had a universal understanding of what “life in Christ” means. Simply put, Jesus came and established His Church which spread in a beautiful and influential fashion throughout the known world. This “Way” of life was intended to be the pathway leading all men to the Kingdom of God. The apostles and their successors were ordained for this purpose, and for the establishment of a conciliar voice witnessing to God’s continuing revelation and care for the souls of men. Prior to the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, for over a thousand years, society was built upon this foundation of God’s love for His creation and through His Church “policies” were made to lead man in a heavenly direction.

These Christian policies included standards of belief and moral conduct which, by the 13th century and ever increasingly by the 18th century, were seen more and more as artificial restraints that only interfered with man’s pursuit of his own rational interests (and glory!). The first time I read the above quote a chill went through my body. It was a reminder of the [old] fire that rages in our society, raising what seems to be insurmountable forces and ideas that care virtually nothing for the soul and everything for the impulses of the body: what we eat, what we wear, what we feel, what tomorrow may bring. I am reminded of a telling bumper sticker I saw on our recent trip, “Religion ruled the world—it was called the dark ages.” Beloved, we have decisions to make—today. We all have been drawn into the policies of the body and are guilty of a great neglect of the policies of the soul. Today, with eyes wide open, it is easy to see how little societal care there is for the soul. The irony is that this lie has not brought us the physical, emotional, economic or legal freedom or security it has promised. It has only resulted in great confusion and, with a most profound sadness, a real loss of faith. What is needed is a renewed and urgent concern for the policies of the soul; and patience, with ourselves and each other, as we fight the good and necessary fight to restore our “soul” concern to its proper place.


Mission Monthly – June 2006

“When the Spirit of God descends upon a man and overshadows him with the fullness of His outpouring, then his soul overflows with a joy not to be described, for the Holy Spirit turns to joy whatever He touches. The kingdom of heaven is peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Acquire inward peace, and thousands around you will find their salvation.”

St. Seraphim of Sarov

Many of us recognize the ending of this month’s meditation quote. Those who are familiar with St. Seraphim of Sarov have seen this statement (maybe with a slightly different translation) written on a scroll on many of his icons. It is often quoted by Orthodox priests and lay people when explaining the Orthodox view of evangelism—that is, evangelism begins with the witness of personal transformation. If I am trying to share my faith with someone and yet my life seems undistinguished and unaffected by the practice of that faith why would anyone care to listen to what I have to say?

Recently I came across this extended quote. It is the first time I recall seeing the greater context of St. Seraphim’s famous holy words. What is most striking is how “charismatic” this quote is. It is as charismatic as anything in Orthodox Christianity, and in fact I would argue that it is what true “charism” is! Most “cradle” Orthodox have no idea what (Protestant) “charismatic” Christianity teaches. I cannot say with any real certainty that I know much about this rather curious Christian denomination. One basic tenet I believe to be central to (Protestant) charismatic Christianity is the requirement of certain “spiritual gifts” as main indicators of one’s salvation, especially the “gift” of speaking in “tongues.” While I do not wish to raise more questions than I have answers for in this meditation this minimal background may help us to define words such as “charism” and “charismatic” in an Orthodox context.

This month we will be celebrating the Great Feast of Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit in the fulfillment of our Lord’s promise, fifty days after His Holy Resurrection. What was the purpose of this “coming?” Jesus Himself answered this question before it was even asked. The Holy Spirit will come to 1) bear witness to Jesus; 2) teach the disciples all things while bringing to remembrance all that Jesus said; 3) guide the disciples into all truth; 4) live IN His disciples (see St. John’s Gospel chapters 14-16). Nowhere in Jesus’ words do we hear anything about particular (or peculiar) gifts, especially as being “necessary” for one’s salvation.

St. Seraphim’s words provide great guidance and balance to what it means to be “charismatic.” Essentially every Orthodox Christian is a “charismatic” Christian! Anyone who has been to an Orthodox baptism or chrismation service knows that when anointing with Holy Chrism the priest proclaims, “The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit!” and the people answer back, “Sealed!” This “coming” of the Holy Spirit is the very same fulfilled promise which Jesus made to His disciples that the Holy Spirit will come and “be in you” (St. John 14:17). According to Apostolic Tradition, and according to Orthodox sacramental teaching, this formal act of God isthe act which begins the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in man. In Apostolic times the formal act was completed through the laying on of hands. In our day it is through the Sacrament of Chrismation that the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in men. The Gospel of St. John affirms the presence of the Holy Spirit with Jesus’ disciples prior to the indwelling at Pentecost, “you know him, for he dwells WITH you (St. John 14:17). In this way any follower of Jesus is justified in claiming the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Indeed the Holy Spirit is with them, but for the Holy Spirit to be IN a man he would need to submit to the formal mystery of Holy Tradition.

In so doing, however, there must be a real response to this great gift of God: our lives should be filled with joy in all things! And here is the true “connection” with one who has submitted his life to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit AND is actively pursuing a life transformed by forgiveness and repentance:the Kingdom of Heaven is peace and joy in the Holy Spirit! This is not the drama of the “gift of tongues” or any highly emotional acts of charismatic Christianity, it is the simple and settled conviction that Christ and His Kingdom are among us—in our homes, our families, our jobs, our activities, our choices, our humility, our virtue, our struggles. This is true charismatic Christianity and, indeed, if we ever “acquire” it, it will be our salvation and the salvation of many around us!


Mission Monthly – May 2006

“One great characteristic of holiness, is never to be exacting—never to complain. Each complaint drags us down a degree, in our upward course. By complaining, I do not mean the simple imparting of our troubles to others. Complaint savors always of a little bad temper, and a slightly vindictive spirit. The saints were never exacting. Contented with their lot, they never desired anything that was withheld from them.”

Charlotte M. Yonge

Holiness is often misunderstood, though it need not be. Simply put, holiness is that which reflects Him Who is Holy. We call God “Holy”—in Greek, “Agios” – which simply means “set apart” or “other than.” God as eternal, divine and uncreated certainly is set apart and other than man and the whole of creation which is temporal, material and created. He and His Word and His Spirit are therefore the Standards by which we are governed, taught and judged. Man becomes “holy” when by grace and action he reflects Him Who is Holy.

Sadly, holiness is often cynically perceived as self-righteous and judgmental because the world around us may not see the witness of love and “otherness” that should be reflected in the lives of Christians; especially in a society where there is —more and more—little differentiation between Christians and non-believers, and an active participation by many Christians in the dishonorable, immodest and immoral practices of the world. There is also a false notion that to have any sort of absolute conviction as to morality and the value of life is “politically incorrect,” wrong and even unloving. As Christians we must face these unfortunate realities of today’s social insanity, while standing firm in living and proclaiming Who we believe in and what we believe.

Having just ended what may very well have been the most beautiful Lent, Holy Week and Pascha of my life, I must admit to maybe being the most tired I have ever been following this season of our Church’s year. The many beautiful but long services, together with a growing congregation leading to longer Communion lines and more time dedicated to confessions, could potentially leave a priest feeling overwhelmed and discontented. Yes, even the priest is beset with temptations!

The inner life of every man must be vigilant, wise and discerning in order to recognize temptation and resist it! The inner life of every man must be convicted that his life in Christ is fully and completely subject to the will and providence of God: every commandment he is asked to follow, every teaching he is asked to believe, every word he is asked to pray, every discipline he is asked to undergo, every situation he is asked to face, every help he is asked to give, every exhaustion he is asked to endure.

What is often lacking is contentment. True contentedness is founded only in one source: thankfulness. While thankfulness can be an emotion, more importantly it is an attitude and an action. Man CAN choose to be thankful in any situation. Therefore we can conclude that any discontent one may feel is a direct result of one’s failure to choose to be thankful.

The Church’s journey to Holy Pascha is not just a guided tour through the tragic events of history surrounding the life of Jesus of Nazareth. For the true believer it is a holy time—a time “set apart”—to face the same human frailty and evil, and enter into the same victory and ascent as that of our Lord Jesus Christ: to die with Him and to rise with Him!This is what our Church, God’s Church, gives us and asks of us, in a special way surrounding the commemoration of our Lord’s Pascha and throughout the entirety of our lives as we are called to immerse ourselves in the Godly call of being saved. It is not a game or a performance. It is not a punishment or a carrot on a stick leading to a festive banquet. It is a chance for each of us to gain control of our lives in the context of all that is true and good and right and holy! And here we see holiness in the truest of forms: simply entering into that which is “set apart,” choosing to be thankful, joyfully entering into the faithfulness of each moment, and ascending to love God and serve our neighbor. May our successes and our failures be more than mementos of the time that has past, but rather building blocks to the character of holiness to which each of are called in our Lord’s Resurrection. Beloved, Christ is Risen! Indeed, He is Risen!