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Fr. Patrick’s Meditation from Aug/Sept 2014 Parish Newsletter

     “Do not ask for love from your neighbor, for if you ask and he does not respond you will be troubled.  Instead show your love for your neighbor and you will be at rest, and so will bring your neighbor to love.”

St. Dorotheos of Gaza

       Are we living in apocalyptic times?  I’m sure many would at least be willing to reflect on the thought, as foreboding as it might be.  I think about this as news updates are brought to us daily of the escalating tensions and violence between the nation of Israel and Hamas Islamic Resistance in Gaza.  St. Dorotheos is said to be from Gaza.  I do not know if the Gaza of his time is the same Gaza of today but I suspect it is at least similar.  How we all wish that this great Desert Father could have even the smallest of influence on all those involved in this deeply troubled area of the world.

Having just returned from the 2014 Antiochian Clergy Symposium I can share with you that especially – though not exclusively – our clergy from the Middle East are deeply concerned about what is happening in Gaza, Syria, Iraq and the entire region.  There was even the option of a daily seminar on this subject as part of our afternoon continuing clergy education.  All three afternoons had maximum attendance!  Obviously everyone is concerned.  While there is incomprehensible complexity to Middle East politics and relations, nevertheless my simple (Dr. Seuss) “Who” brain looks at the above quote from St. Dorotheos and wonders, “Why not, why not, end the juggernaut?”

War!  How utopian it is to think (fallen) humanity could actually be free from this horrific inhumanity!  (I seem to remember on Star Trek’s “The Next Generation” Captain Jean-Luc Picard once announced that earth had ridden itself of war and greed alike.  Gotta love TV, right?!) When considering the REAL state of the world, however, and the regular uprisings of conflict between peoples and nations, I often revisit the 4th chapter of the Letter of St. James: What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you?  Is it not your passions that are at war in your members?  You desire and do not have; so you kill.  And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war.  You do not have, because you do not ask.  You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.  Unfaithful creatures!”

I have a good friend from Palestine who grew up in the village of Nazareth.  Years ago she told me that when she was young (the early 1960’s) Christians, Jews and Muslims all lived together in relative peace and harmony.  From what I remember she also said it was after the Six Day Arab-Israeli war of 1967 when things began to change.  I also recall a serious conversation with a Christian Lebanese man about the virtue of humility and the act of forgiveness, especially in relation to Israeli aggression.  Like many from the region his family and town had been battered and gutted by war.  In essence he would have nothing to do with the “weakness” of humility or forgiveness.  Sadly, it’s a response I’ve heard many times since.

How can I comment on the experiences of others?  I certainly will not judge or criticize while I sit comfortable and protected from the wages of war.  It is also most difficult to defend these virtues – at least in worldly terms.  Even two of the world’s greatest leaders of non-violence, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ghandi, were violently murdered.  What are we to conclude?  The example and sacrifice of Jesus and the principles of Christianity are as critically necessary and relevant as ever!  And as we bring the discussion home from the horror of war to the conflicts within our own families, communities, workplaces, government, etc., what are we to do when facing the great demand for virtue?

The above teaching of St. Dorotheos is representative of the beauty and mystery of Christianity, which always instructs believers to be FIRST in showing honor to others – regardless what the other might deserve or respond.  There is no question that each of us in our lives will face this most difficult of challenges.  Let us pray that God help us to be ready when virtue demands – that we may choose the best of responses and witness to Love, and the Faith by which we name ourselves: Christian!

I will leave you with some lyrics from a current Contemporary Christian song entitled, “Forgiveness.”

It’s the hardest thing to give away, and the last thing on your mind today.  It always goes to those that don’t deserve.
It’s the opposite of how you feel, when the pain they caused is just too real.  It takes everything you have just to say the word.

Show me how to love the unlovable, show me how to reach the unreachable.  Help me now to do the impossible… Forgiveness.

It’ll clear the bitterness away, it can even set a prisoner free.  There is no end to what it’s power can do.
So, let it go and be amazed, by what you see through eyes of grace.  THE PRISONER THAT IT REALLY FREES IS YOU.

I want to finally set it free, so show me how to see what Your mercy sees.  Help me now to give what You gave to me. Forgiveness.

Matthew West

 

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Fr. Patrick’s ’14 Pascha Sermon

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: Christ is Risen!  Every year as we read this Gospel, the Prologue of St. John, the first chapter, verses 1-17, I’m always struck by the fact that we’re not reading a Resurrection Gospel.  You’d think tonight we’d read a Resurrection Gospel.  Tonight, however, we celebrate something, in a way, before the Resurrection in order that we might understand the Resurrection, and have the reason to live the Resurrection; because if we do not understand who Jesus is then none of (what we do) makes sense at all.  Isn’t that right?  So in today’s Gospel we hear of the Word: the Word who was from the beginning; the Word who was with the Father; the Word who became flesh.  The Word who came to fulfill the law and to give us grace and truth in order that we would follow Him in the way we must go if we want to attain life with Him – in this world and in eternity.  When we understand this Word as the eternal Word of God, Jesus Christ incarnate, what we do here makes sense.  What we do all year round makes sense.  And what we do especially in our Lenten journey leading up to tonight makes sense!  If we aren’t thinking about this on a regular basis it will be very easy to slip away: to slip away from faith; to slip away from the practice of the faith and to become confused.

We see in the world today a lot of confusion.  Even in our churches there are people who don’t fully understand the life of the Church; and why?  Because of not living it.  When we’re not (in church) praying regularly, and in our homes praying, fasting, being charitable, reading the Scripture; when we don’t do these things we end up getting stuck in our own heads and often end up making Jesus after our own image, defining Him in a way that will make life more convenient.  Well let me say this, life in Christ is not convenient!  I think we all know this.  It’s beautiful, but it’s certainly not convenient.  There are boundaries.  There are decisions to be made.  There are protocols.  There is truth; truth for one reason: to save us and to lead us to the Kingdom of God.  Truth has lead us to this day, to this Resurrection: the one Resurrection for all time.  This life is a life that compares to no other when we follow “the rules.”  We have grace and we have truth, and we also have our weaknesses which may not allow us to follow the rules as well as we should; but let’s not deny the fact that there are those things that are given to us to guide us into the way that we should go.  We should rejoice in them instead of often fleeing from them.  They’re not scary.  In fact I contend, and any priest who would stand here would tell you, if you follow the guidelines of the Holy Spirit given in the Church you are going to find a life unlike anything you can imagine for yourself.  Shall I say that again?  You are going to find a life for yourself greater than anything you can imagine for yourself!  We have to trust it.  We have to trust God: trust Him that He has given us His Church, His standards of life, His morality, His ethics, His theology, His praxis, His application of faith.  Trust Him.  If we do these things, as St. Nikolai Velomirovic said, “If you follow the commandments of God you will never doubt because there will be fruit on the tree, and it will taste beautiful.”  We have to trust God.  And when we do that what do we find?  We find our true selves.

Recently I read to the parish a small section from Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s “Great Lent,” called “A Lenten ‘Style of Life,’” where he described beautifully the discipline of fasting.  I recommend it for everyone.  It’s very short, maybe 20 minutes of reading.  I’m not going to go through it all now but let me sum it up.  He said, “The reason why we deny ourselves food is so that we can learn to live without it.  When Jesus was tempted by the Devil in the wilderness after He had fasted forty days, the Devil said “Turn these stones to bread.”  How did Jesus respond?  “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”  How beautiful it is for us to know that man does not live by bread alone!  For this reason alone we should fast.  But even beyond this Fr. Schmemann adds “… and when we deny ourselves – especially the things we love the most – how much sweeter they will taste when we allow ourselves to partake of them again?”  Fasting allows us to gain an appreciation for things.  We gain an appreciation for life.  We gain an appreciation for God.  And in quieting ourselves: turning down the television and maybe off for a while, turning down the radio or not even turning it on in the car, turning off the computer and staying off the internet, staying off the Facebook, staying off theTwitter (we don’t have to tell everybody what we’re thinking – not everybody cares!) we quiet the inner man.  This is a very difficult but important thing.  I remember a woman I knew years ago.  She was a “go to it” person.  She was lovely and one of the best women I’ve ever met.  She’s probably in her late 70’s now.  Boy could she work – all day!  She had her job, then she’d come home to clean, cook, serve, and then do more stuff—every day!  One time I asked her, “Why don’t you just sit down for a minute and enjoy the day?”  All she said was, “I just can’t stop because when I do I have to listen to my own thoughts.”  She was very honest with me.   All I could say was, “Well, I’m sure those thoughts aren’t too bad.  You should go ahead and try it sometime because you might just enjoy life a little bit more.”  It’s essential for us to understand silence.  We even have a tradition of silent prayer in the Church.   It’s so important for us to be able to hear other things than the noise of the world and the noise that’s going on in our own heads.  And between these two actions (fasting and silence) Fr. Schmemann said, “If we’re lucky and with God’s grace we might even come to know ourselves a little bit better; and, even more important, we might even come to know God a little bit better too.”  What a blessing.

Well, here we are.  We’re celebrating the Feast of Feasts.  And while we can’t regret what we may have missed (this past Lent,) we can reflect on what we can do next.  Tonight we’re going to celebrate.  Whether we came from the first or the eleventh hour, it’s time to celebrate.  There will be time to work again.  I say these things tonight as a note of encouragement because when we have the Word of God in our midst and we know Him and He really makes a difference in our lives; and we take that difference and apply it in the life of His Church, doing the things He asks us to do: following the commandments and following the disciplines of the Church, we’re going to find something.  We’re going to find something great.  We will find life in this world unlike anything we can imagine, and most importantly we will find the resurrected Christ and we will live with Him forever.  Christ is Risen!

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Fr. Patrick’s Meditation from Mar/Apr 2014 Parish Newsletter

Fr. Patrick’s eulogy for his mother, + Lenna Katherine Kinder (Baba Jo),   8-24-1928 — 3-3-2014

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     “God bless you, God watch over you, God protect you from any harm, and God love you.  And I know He does – and so do I!”                                           - Baba’s bedtime prayer for her children and grandchildren

From all the notes I’ve received since the announcement of Baba’s stroke on Saturday morning and her death on Monday (there are more than you can imagine – all pretty much saying the same thing) I wish to share with you the following:

“Dear Father Patrick, Kh. Vanessa and Anthony – we feel Baba’s loss deep in our hearts, and are so grateful for the privilege of having known her.  She was a holy woman.  It was easy to see Jesus in her face when we looked at her – and, as Maya said this morning, she always saw Jesus in us.”

I apologize to everyone (else) who sent words of love and kindness to me and my family at this time of our “bright sadness,” I apologize for not choosing your words to open my homily today honoring my mother, our mother, our Baba.  These chosen words came from Jenya (Bowker) – and more specifically from (her daughter) 10 year old Maya – on Tuesday morning after Baba died, and after the tears stopped flowing from my eyes I shared Maya’s words with Kh. Vanessa; and after her tears stopped she promptly said, “There’s your sermon.”

There have been many memories and thoughts passing through my mind and heart over the last many weeks and months as I’ve watched Baba’s physical decline.  The question asked and the answer received has been the same for quite some time now: “How are you today Baba?”  “Tired! Tired!  Tired!”  This woman of great power had – at least physically – become a mere shadow of who she once was.

I do not wish to trouble you today with many personal memories, though we as her family certainly have the most stories to tell, it is my guess that each one of us here have similar, rich stories of times spent with Baba.  God-willing there will be opportunities in the days and weeks ahead to share those memories – maybe even a little later today there will be time to share over a Brandy Manhattan, or as Baba would say, “a little hooch.”  Today I do want to trouble you, however, with a few thoughts on the greatness of a woman whom I can only say that I was lucky enough – blessed enough – to call “Mom.”

As a child, as a teenager, as a young man, as a newly married man, as a priest, as a father, and even now into middle age (gulp!), it has taken me this long to finally figure out what it was that Baba tried and tried to teach me over the years: this one thing that absolutely came so natural to her.  It wasn’t her love for food and a good celebration.  Her family easily picked up on that!  It wasn’t the cultivation of a good work ethic.  Admittedly as the spoiled youngest child of four I’m certain that some might still wonder if I’ve learned that.  It wasn’t the need for public praise or prestige, money or material possessions; the urgent need for a great education or to know the “right” people.  None of our family have to my knowledge ever felt that way, and certainly not Baba.  What was that one thing Mom sought to teach me?  Let me illuminate with one story:

In our house growing up the kitchen waste basket was kept in a doorway corner that led to our bedrooms and the bathroom, just to the right of the basement stairs.  In other words, it was pretty much right on the way to everything and always in sight.  I do not recall it ever being “set” whose job it was to empty the trash.  A turn would be taken, and then another and then the next.  A paper grocery bag would line the waste basket and when it was full it would be taken out.  There were times, however, when bag would be full and a second bag would appear on the floor next to the basket.  I remember more than one time when the second bag would be full and a third bag would also appear, at which time – at least for me – I would find myself walking all the way around the inside of the house just to avoid passing by the growing mess – especially if Mom was in the kitchen, or anywhere nearby.

For those of us who know Mom, this was a recipe for an unpleasant moment.  She would take the mess for a while, maybe even a day or two, after which, if nothing was done, her wrath would come uncorked!  It might start with the slamming of a cupboard door (or two) or it might start out with a little expletive: “Can’t anybody see that the trash needs to be taken out?”  Well, you can imagine where it went from there.  Let me just say, no matter how much I/we may have pushed back, Mom always won!

“Can’t you see?” are the words that have been ringing in my ears for many, many years; even recently in the priesthood she would point things out to me that needed to be done, things I just didn’t see: from my family to my church, to many other things.  I hope one day to be able to see what Baba saw, and not only that, to have even a small portion of her second great gift: an ever-readiness to respond.  From being available to talk when anyone needed her, to being ready to serve when the sleeves needed to be rolled up, to obsessing over buying goofy little Christmas PEZ dispensers for the parish children on St. Nicholas day.  For the rest of my life I will always need reminders to ask myself in any situation, I do not at all mean to be flippant: WWBD – What Would Baba Do?

Here I need to acknowledge that I do not doubt there are many unseen heroes in the world who have gifts similar to Mom, I just don’t know of many of them.  Bishop ANTHONY’s mother, Gospova, was another rare woman of untold dignity and wisdom.  Maybe it’s one of many reasons why we became brothers and best friends.  The one thing that distinguishes women like Lena and Gospova, even in their mistakes and imperfections, is that their dignity is based in true faith and a deep love for God.  In the prayers we prayed at Baba’s bedside after she died we heard the following words: “The course has ended, and having run to you, O Lord, (she) who is reposed now cries out: ‘Remit my transgressions, O Christ God, and do not judge me when you come to judge all, for faithfully I have called to you: All the works of the Lord, sing the praises of the Lord and highly extol him forever!’”  And also, “Grant to your servant, O Lord, communion and enjoyment of your eternal good things, prepared for those loving you.  For although she has sinned, yet she has not turned away from you, and without doubt has believed in you: in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, God glorified in the Trinity, and has confessed in an Orthodox manner unity in Trinity and Trinity in unity, even to her final breath.”

Recognition of this ardent conviction and unwavering faith is absolutely essential for all of us who have known and benefited from the blessing of Lena: Mom’s children, Baba’s grandchildren, Nonie’s nieces and nephews, Jo’s friends, Baba’s spiritual children, all of us who praise this woman lying here lifeless before us, to know that all the good that we praise in her, and all the love we’ve received from her, and all the stability that has sprung from in her, came from one and only one source: from God Himself, and her resolute belief in Him.  To Mom, anything short of this understanding would be a wanting at best.  Some called her “old fashioned;” I simply call her, “Christian.”  In an age where morality no longer seems to matter Mom held fast to the Truth – to her final breath – even when some of those around her laughed.  This great faith aroused in Mom the great love that radiated from her; as well as her joy, her simplicity, her childlike silliness, her unpretentiousness, (except possibly when I was ordained to the priesthood and she approached Bishop DEMETRI and asked him, “Your Grace, you have a title, and now my son has a title, don’t you think it’s fair that I have a title too?”  He thought for a moment and then answered, “You do have a title, you are ‘Im‘el Khouri’ which in Arabic means, “Mother of the priest.”  He made her as happy as a little girl, who just got a bowl of her favorite ice cream; and we know, without ever mentioning it, she took her title very seriously).  Mom was always and urgently ready to welcome anyone, especially in the most tender and needful of moments, even those with whom she may have disagreed, and always without self-righteous judgment!

Simply put, Mom had a way of seeing the best in everyone.  And everyone who knew her, even just a little bit, felt her acceptance: unconditional and massive!  Here are several examples of words of praise from many of you about your beloved Baba Jo:

- Baba Jo was such a great person and we loved her so much.  She was shining from the inside…

- Your mother was a very special person.  Her dedication and generosity were exemplary.  Her love was matched by her self-respect.  Her smile is imprinted in my memory.

- I’m very sad to hear about the passing of Baba. She was kind and loving beyond words.

- It is with bittersweet emotion I read of Baba’s passing. Just looking at her beautiful smile how can we not be touched! As I need not tell you, she was an amazing lady who touched so many lives with her love, readiness to listen and sincere care for all of those around her. But most of all it was her humor, openness and willingness to be vulnerable that made her so approachable and a Confidante for many!

- We are so sorry to hear this!  Such a wonderful and caring person who reached out to all around her, making us feel welcomed and loved.

- She was far to present to ever be absent.

- I’m very sorry to hear about Baba Jo.  She possessed the sweetest and kindest soul imaginable.  I have many fond memories of her.  The world lost a very tender heart.  We will all miss her dearly.

- Please except my condolences.  I am sorry for your loss.  We all lost her.  You lost your mother.  We lost our Baba Jo.  We all loved her…

- Memory Eternal!  Baba Jo was the Baba of all of St. Ignatius.

- ..we have all along considered (Baba) the Matriarch of our Church family, so too we are a part of this blessed family…

- She just took people into her heart and there was always room for more.

- One said of Baba, “She was the kind of person you feel like you knew for your entire life,” and the other replied, “yes . . . and you wish you actually had!”

- And finally, how can we not repeat Maya’s words which began this moment of joyous reflection: “She always saw Jesus in us.”

I am overwhelmed by the sentiment of those who love my mother.  Thank you!  And on behalf of my family Jake & Charlie, Mary & Wayne, Jody & Ed, Kh. Vanessa, and all of Mom’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren, please accept our deepest gratitude.  For love is always a two-way street; and you all gave to Mom as much as she gave to you.  In this little corner of the world God’s Light has shown brightly, and while it may be just a shade dimmer today as we say goodbye in the flesh to this luminous woman, the way we carry forward in life, lighting the world around us, will always validate the faithfulness and love of the newly departed servant of God, Lena Katherine.

If you would indulge me just a bit more I would like to share with you one story from last Saturday at the hospital.  I kicked my family out of Ma’s room under the guise of wanting to spend some “priestly” time with one of my “parishioners.”  Selfishly I really wanted to spend some alone time with my Mother.  It was only 20 minutes, or maybe 30, where I had the chance to say some things that I’ve said many times, and some things I wish I would have said while she was still well.  Mom was still responsive with smiling movements on her lips, at times seeming as though she were trying to speak, raising her eye brows, opening her eyes slightly to see who was there or maybe who was standing, waiting on the horizon, and squeezing with her left hand to let us know she was still with us and understanding what was being said to her.  I told her that I loved her and that she should not be afraid to leave us.  I told her that her work was complete and that she is leaving a life and legacy of a job well done.  Her family is united and she has taught us – so very many of us – how to love God and how love each other.  I told her that in Christ and His resurrection we will never be separated and that soon she would be reunited with her loved ones, with her mother, my Grandma Jo, and especially with Dad, her one husband – now of 65 years.  I asked her to pray for us and assured her of our prayers for her.  And finally I said, “Soon, Mom, you will be reunited with Dad, and the two of you will be singing together again in the choir, worshipping God with all the Angels and Saints.”  I paused for a moment and squeezed her hand; and then I leaned forward and whispered somewhat loudly, “Mom, just be sure not to complain if there aren’t any pews.”  Her eyebrows jumped and the left side of her mouth grinned and she gagged out one laugh.  In that moment we laughed together for the last time.

Thank you for everything, Mom.  I love you so much!  God be praised!  I (we) will miss you more than can be imagined.

 

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Fr. Patrick’s Meditation from Jan/Feb 2014 Parish Newsletter

   “The Holy Church of God is an image of God because it realizes the same union of the faithful with God.  As different as they [we] are by language, place, and custom, they [we] are made one by it [in the Church] through faith.  God realizes this union among the natures of things without confusing them but in bringing together their distinction… in a relationship and union with Himself as cause, principle, and end.”

St. Maximus the Confessor

On Thursday, December 19, 2013, the New Mexico State Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to deny a marriage license to same-sex couples, thereby making New Mexico the latest of 17 states to legalize gay marriage.  I will leave the ethicists and moralists to argue the finer points of this growing, moral concern.  What I hope to meditate on here is the concept of diversity – true diversity – and give a Faith framework to this and other similar debates.

I am amazed again and again by the narrowness of modern thought coming from our institutions of government, law and higher education, often defining and distributing “one-size fits all” standards of rights and responsibilities to the public, while at the same time waving the banner of “diversity.”

How are we as Christians to understand the proclamations of the “enlightened” who at this time in world history have, for example, been given virtual free-reign to re-define marriage, the most fundamental human relationship outside of man’s relationship with God?  How are we as Orthodox Christians to understand our Church’s teaching concerning this morality when there are tremendous influences, even from those who call themselves Christian, sanctioning the belief that homosexual “marriage” is somehow the same as heterosexual marriage?  How will we as Orthodox Christians be able to find the courage to face the accusations of hate and discrimination when we simply and lovingly defend what we’ve always known to be true?

These kinds questions may reflect only the tip of the iceberg of issues that will arise both in the immediate and long-term futures.  I am not confident that Orthodoxy (Right-Belief) will any more be able to influence public debate (if it even has up to this point).  First of all, Orthodox Christian believers are small in number.  Second of all, there is a growing number of this already small number who are abandoning their Orthodoxy to the persuasive pressures of modern thought.  Finally, and maybe most importantly, is what appears to be a dulling and erosion – for whatever reason – of prayer in the Church: both public and private.  It is here that I will turn the corner of thought to the topic of diversity and how we as Orthodox Christians can ever have hope for true discernment… and TRUE diversity.

If I could sum up St. Maximus the Confessor’s thoughts from above I would simply say this: “Union without confusion, distinction without division.”  I am sure we all agree that gay marriage and other such issues are delicate matters involving the lives of real human beings.  Thus their importance demands that we as Orthodox Christians address them only under the guidance of the active rudders of our Faith: prayer, fasting and the practice of virtue – especially humility and obedience.  How are we to understand a word such as “diversity” when our main influences come from the 24 hour news cycle, entertainment media, and bumper sticker slogans?  Interestingly enough, slogans such as “Celebrate Diversity” and “Coexist” do not advance diversity but rather tyrannize it.  This type of “diversity” is outside our knowledge and experience of God.  Yes, God wants people of mercy, justice, equality, but He also wants people of Truth and conviction.  Amalgamating society by espousing as equal any moral or theological ideology – the hallmarks of relativism and the image of the world – is exactly the opposite of the image of God and His Church!

The problem comes for us is when we have to address the issue of sin as an exclusionary principle of the Church.  The focus of God’s Church is His altar and the Eucharist (Holy Communion) which comes from it.  It is not anyone’s place but the Bishop’s to determine who and who is not blessed to receive the Eucharist from God’s Holy Altar; and the Bishop’s authority is determined by the teachings of the Church.  [This is why we pray so often for our bishops, especially in the Divine Liturgy, “to rightly divide the word of truth.”]  We can have no part in advocating for diversity if it means advocating for sin (and any bishop or priest who does so will lose his position pretty quick!).  Diversity can only have meaning when it leads to union with God – and union with His Church!

I say with full confidence and conviction that God loves diversity, true diversity, which celebrates distinction – first between His nature and ours, and secondly among men in gender, age, race, interest, talent, education, “language, place, and custom.”  I also say with full confidence and conviction that God will not bless any diversity which sanctions sin or any evil.  The beauty of God’s Church is revealed in the strength of the union between God and man, between heaven and earth – without confusion – as THE place to find freedom from sin and entrance into Life—the life of the Holy Trinity.  The Church is union with God: “as cause, principle and end.”  The Church is where men find the place to offer their lives – not affirm their inclinations.  The Church is the place where we learn to pray, to fast, and what it means to love, truly love, not as a means of self-validation in making God after our own image, but rather as a means of divine forgiveness and reconciliation where through metonia (repentance) men turn towards God with the hope of making their lives after His image.  The Church is the place where we learn discernment, unconfused discernment, for the clear preservation of the Truth, and the Way which leads to eternity with God.

 

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Fr. Patrick’s Meditation from Oct/Nov 2013 Parish Newsletter

     “For man, the earthly life, life in the body, serves only as a preparation for eternal life, which will begin after the death of the body.  Therefore we must avail ourselves without delay of the present life as a preparation for the other life; and as we chiefly work during the weekdays for the earthly life, we must work on Sundays and other holidays wholly for the Lord God, devoting them to attendance at Divine service, to reading the Word of God, to pious meditation, to edifying conversation, good works, and especially to works of mercy.”

                                                                                                St. John of Kronstadt

     St. John of Kronstadt is sometimes called “the priest’s priest.”  It is because of his total dedication to the priesthood and his boundless love for his flock as a fearless shepherd that he is afforded this honor.  For me there is one characteristic of his life that absolutely impresses, inspires and intimidates, as I suspect it does any priest who takes his vocation even halfway seriously.  It is said that Fr. John never took any “personal time.”  He was a true pastor who utilized every moment of his day (generally having slept very little) for prayer, liturgy, and serving the needs of his congregation and town.  He was a man who truly lived the proverb profoundly authored by the philosopher Khalil Gibran, “Love is the only treasure that increases the more you give it away.”  I say these things by way of introduction because even though the quote presented here for meditation will undoubtedly be received well by the reader, I am also certain that there will be those who respond, many without even realizing it, with the thought, “How quaint.  Fr. John certainly is inspired.  But he was writing for another time and another place.  These things really don’t apply to me.  He would never understand the demands of the modern world.”

You may think me cynical.  And yet I have heard such things spoken, both directly and indirectly, more than once, as a worker in the Church both before and after being ordained a priest.  And I wonder what people really believe about what it means to be a Christian?  St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote, “We have not only to be called Christians, but to be Christians.”  St. John of Kronstadt answers the question of what it means to “be a Christian” – an Orthodox Christian.

It is not my intention to further define the characteristics of a faithful Orthodox Christian.  In some ways St. John has given instruction here with enough “necessaries” for a lifetime.  What I would like to say, however, is that St. John’s words are not simply quaint musings of an out-of-touch saint.  I am saying, and I believe many will heartily agree, that these words may be more important today than ever before.

What has become of man’s awareness of the purpose of his earthly life?  How can one answer this question when layer upon layer of worldly care has been heaped upon men immersed in the pursuit of one gratification after another?  In a recent sermon I recounted the following liturgical description of the Venerable Kyriakos of Palestine: “Thou hast clothed thyself in the radiant garment of dispassion, uncovering all the malice of him who stripped our first parents naked in days of old.”  St. Kyriakos recognized the layers of materialism that hindered men from knowing God and their true selves, and he sought every means to detach himself from all passionate attachments which the Devil uses to strip men of their God-given glory.  So I ask the question again: What has become of man’s awareness of the purpose of his earthly life?  It does not require great insight to find the right answer.  Men have not just lost but rather abandoned this awareness, preferring those very things which men like St. Kyriakos cast off for the sake of their eternal souls.

St. John exhorts us: “Avail yourself without delay” in preparation for eternity.  He also says that we do indeed have weekdays to work responsibly for the sake of our “earthly lives.”  But what about Sunday morning?  What about Saturday evening Great Vespers or making an earlier start to Sunday morning by attending Matins?  What about Great Feasts and weekday evenings when the Church gathers to pray?  What about reading the Bible?  What about taking time for other devotional reading?  What about the disciplines of prayer and fasting and spending quiet time in “pious meditation?”  What about having conversation about theology, spiritual knowledge and experience, and the lives and writings of the Saints?  And of no less importance, what about taking time to serve those in need through good works and acts of mercy?  Is it any wonder that St. John never took any personal time and barely slept?

Beloved, I am not suggesting that any one of us believe we can become St. John of Kronstadt over night.  Even St. John did not become St. John over night!  Yet “without delay” here presented to us is essential truth gleaned from the life and thoughts of a great saint.  It seems there are two “chiefs” in our lives: first to care for the needs of our eternal souls and second to care for needs of our earthly lives.  I would hope that we are all in agreement that the first is more important than the second; and I also hope that I will never hear anyone say, “How quaint, Fr. Patrick; but ‘I have bought a field and I must go out and see it’ or, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen and I must examine them’ or, ‘I have married a wife therefore I cannot…’” (Luke 14:15-24).  This may indeed be one of the greatest challenges against which we contend today and I pray God help us properly establish our priorities; and it is with boundless love and fearlessness as your father and shepherd in Christ that I say: Now is the time for us to do so!

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