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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Fr. Patrick’s Meditation from Aug/Sept 2013 Parish Newsletter

On Monday evening July 22, 2013, His Eminence Metropolitan PHILIP met with Archdiocesan and Diocesan SOYO leaders during their summer leadership training at the Antiochian National Convention in Houston.  His visit once again showed how much he cares for his teens as a most loving father-in-Christ.

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     After expressing his deep love and his pride over the dedication and hard work of these teens as leaders amongst their peers, he shared his sincere empathy and encouragement over the cultural challenges facing Christians – especially Christian youth – in today’s world.

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     In particular Saidna brought to their attention the recent “unfortunate” Supreme Court decision declaring the unconstitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, leading the way to further legal recognition of same-sex marriage.  One of the teens asked Saidna how we can make a difference, how are we to face the open and subtle persecution from militant supporters of such immoral laws?  Saidna’s answer was inspiring and clear: “We have the Bible and we have the Church.  Just because a government declares something ‘legal’ doesn’t mean it is right.  Live boldly, and when necessary speak boldly.  We must and always will stand for morality.  The times in which we live may at times seem dark, but this is not new and we are not alone in the history of darkness.  We have the pure Church of early Christianity and the witness of faithful martyrs who refused to bow to any immoral decree of Caesar.”  Saidna continued, “St. Peter told us that we are all priests.  And we as priests, each one of us, are called to be lights to the world AND to bring the world to God.”

One could hear a pin drop as the youth sat transfixed, listening to their beloved father-in-Christ speak to them not as children but as young men and women, as Christians equal in the priesthood of believers fighting for what is true.

Of course the Q&A couldn’t end without one of the teens asking Saidna, “How are we to discern God’s will for our lives?”  Knowing the genuine desire of these young men and women to live God-pleasing lives, he lovingly reminded them that they should never feel confused or fearful over God’s leading in their lives.  He said, “We as Orthodox Christians will always have two ‘points of reference’ upon which the foundation of our lives is built.  The foundation upon which we stand and from where we live and move is the Bible and the Church.  When we strive first to immerse ourselves in the Word of God and the life of His Body we will eventually embody this one most important point: Jesus said, ‘I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.’  The more we have this firmly rooted within us the clearer will become God’s leading in our lives in the choices we face and the decisions we make.”

Finally, His Eminence asked the teens to always take seriously their call and election as Christians.  Growing in Christ and in faith will always be the most important priority of our lives.  He also reminded them that their SOYO leadership is not the end of their service to the Church.  He encouraged them to remain faithful and engaged during  their college years, participating in local parish life and the OCF whenever possible.  Eventually he hopes to see them involved in the Fellowship of St. John in their local parish, their Diocese and even the Archdiocese – breathing new life into the good work of the Fellowship and continuing to offer their outstanding leadership in service to the Church.

Before departing Saidna asked the clergy present to join him in singing, “God grant you many years!” to the teens.  The teens followed by singing the same to him.  Many years, Master!

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Fr. Patrick’s Meditation from March 2013 Parish Newsletter

   “Through contemplation one comes to understand the changeable nature of visible created things: how they derive from the earth and return again to the earth.  All human affairs, all that does not exist after death, are vanity.  Riches vanish.  Glory leaves us.  When death comes, all such things disappear.”                                                                                                                           – St. Peter of Damascus

     There is never a wrong time to set our minds on eternity.  Often I find myself wondering if I’m prepared, wondering what I need to do to be prepared, or if I’m ready to do what it takes to be prepared.  I think about it for others, especially those whom God has put in my care as their priest, father confessor and friend.

     For a long time now I’ve been aware of just how impermanent life is.  “For a long time now,” means that there was also a good portion of my life when I was either ignorant of or in denial of life’s impermanence.  I would partially attribute my naïveté to a beautiful family upbringing and the sense I was given that, “the way things are is the way things would always be.”  I lived in the same house for my entire youth, (where my mother still lives – even now, just a few blocks away), I attended one grade school and one high school, our extended family gathered weekly for “any ol’ reason,” my father worked at the same job for 37 years, my parents were married for 42 years when my father died and they maintained many childhood friendships, with Mom still holding dear her friends of 60-70 years.  Truthfully, I would consider it a blessing to be able to give my own son at least some sense of this blessed permanence.

     Reality does set in, inevitably, when change occurs, coloring the construct of our thoughts.  But I have to admit that sometimes my earlier formations, though in so many ways were blessed, are even still today difficult to overcome.

     I consider this topic because of the approaching Great Lent and the journey we as Orthodox Christians are preparing to make, entering again into our Lord’s death and resurrection; more than just a symbol of eternity this journey is the encapsulation of Truth – the Truth that our eternal God has created for nothing less than eternity, and we, His beloved, were created for it.

     What compelled St. Peter of Damascus to write the above?  According to the Prologue of Ochrid, this St. Peter (commemorated Feb. 9) spoke out strongly against Islam as well as the Manichean heresy.  For this the Arabs cut out his tongue and exiled him, where it is said God continued to give him the power of speech and the blessing of bringing many to the Christian faith before dying as a confessor and martyr.  St. Peter’s entire life exhibits urgency for faith and the readiness to abandon all worldly cares – even life itself – for the sake of the eternal Kingdom of God.

     Shakespeare’s “Me thinks thou doth protest too much” often comes to mind when I discuss (more often argue) the world’s influence upon our lives, especially but not exclusively with our youth.  It may not be easy to hear but I have no doubt that we are as “frogs in the pot” while the temperature of the culture heats up around us.  Excessive political correctness, affirming alternate lifestyles, muddied moral standards, infatuation with entertainment and pop-culture, supporting the choice to kill the innocent, and an increasing dependence on politicians to define fairness are just a few of the issues of our time that confuse (distract) even Christians.

     My point in all of this is that (post) modern life is filled with distractions that no longer inspire a beautiful sense of permanence but rather provoke a perilous attachment to the impermanent vanity of the world.  What can we do to see this clearly and be men and women of heavenly minds?  Men like Peter of Damascus model for us exactly what we need: desire for God, faith, prayer, self-denial, contemplation, and even exile!  In a way Great Lent is a voluntary, mini-exile, as we do what we can for a season to live in a “Lenten” manner.  More than anything we ask God that on Pascha we might “Behold Thy glorious Resurrection.”  But to behold the eternal we must also strongly desire the eternal, which begins every time we “exile” ourselves (in and out of Lent) from vain and vanishing “human affairs.”

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St. Ignatius Youth Fellowship Sledding Night

The St. Ignatius Youth Fellowship gathered at Fr. Patrick & Kh. Vanessa's house on Friday, January 4, for an evening of holiday fellowship and fun.  The evening began with hors d'oeuvres and a Greek chicken dinner, and was followed by a fun time of sledding behind the school across the street from the Kinder's.  The evening ended with a White Elephant gift exchange and lots of laughs!

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