Sun, 21 April 2019
Palm Sunday Homily.
Where do we get our spiritual strength? What is the source? Is our spiritual health fragile and dependent on the circumstances, or is it robust?
The default setting is for our calm to be defined by the state of our ego; our pride.
This really is a litmus test for our spiritual maturity: how do we respond to insults and a lack of appreciation; and how do we respond to praise.
If deepest state of being is offset by these things, then we have work to do.
The easy way: surround ourselves with the right kind of people! (safe places?)
A bit harder: mental games. Learn to write off or ignore criticism and look for positive things to cling to. This can include using theological ideas: “If God be for me, then who can be against me”; “I am a child of God; it's not my fault if these sinners don't see that.” Also games for praise. Another way is to just check out - lots of ways to protect our ego.
But learning to hear criticism and praise objectively (and not through the needs of our ego) is necessary for our improvement!
God wants to have joy, and to have that joy in abundance; irrespective of our situation.
The God-man Jesus Christ demonstrated this in the events we are now celebrating:
In neither case was He altered by them. His emotions were affected, but His sense of self and His sense of purpose was unchanged. Because He was never separated Himself from the Light and Truth that are themselves unchanging.
AND THAT IS THE ANSWER FOR US TO. To have Christ in us and us in Him; because no matter how much we work on them and no matter how we change our environment to make it easier for us to be content and happy, there is one even that our ego's can NEVER be strong enough to overcome...
Death. It faces us all. It faced Jesus. But He overcame it and through Him we can overcome it, too.
But only if we rely on Him and not our egos. And we can test how we are doing by looking at how our joy is affected by criticism and praise.
May God give us the courage to live in Him and Him in us so that we may overcome death and sin.
Sun, 14 April 2019
St. Mark 10:32-45. In this homily, Fr. Anthony shared three lessons from the life of St. Mary: the distinction between worldly happiness and an anti-fragile joy; how our sin alienates us from knowing and loving God and neighbor; and the difficult need to trust God with our transformation into divine children through and in His grace. Enjoy the show!
Sun, 31 March 2019
Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross.
“Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” Matthew 16:24
Christ is talking as if “coming after” or “following” Him is something good. What is that all about? Where is He going? Where is He leading us?
Christ talks about “denying” ourselves. In the next verse He ties that to being willing to die.
This sounds important. We need to get it right.
Great lie: all religions are the same – but the devil himself can appear as an angel of light! (2 Corinthians 11:14).
We need to get this cross thing right.
Is it just about perseverance? Everyone has their own cross to bear? Kind of, but even that needs to be grounded. We aren't just stoics, we are stoics of a certain type.
What is the cross? Pain. But just any pain?
Look to the prototype: we are Christians, and He is our standard. His cross was painful, but it was pain put to a certain use. It was sacrificial. He gave Himself as a sacrifice. All sacrifice is of something valuable, something hard. Pain is like that.
The cross was Christ's sacrifice on behalf of the people and world that He loved.
This gives us enough to work on: taking up our cross means doing things that are hard on behalf of others. It means denying what we might prefer so that others can thrive.
For Christ, that meant leaving the place where He was given the glory and honor that was His due to go live in a place where He would be disrespected, misunderstood, and even tortured; and He did it so that we – the ones He loves – could join Him in eternal glory.
When we voluntarily sacrifice our time, putting up with people who may misunderstand us, who may not value us, and who may never really appreciate what we are doing; and we do it out of a desire for their health and salvation...
Then we are taking up our cross and following Christ into glory.
So be patient when your ego tells you to lash out; be courageous when your instincts tell you to hide; figure out what love requires in each moment – and then dedicate yourself to it. THAT requires listening to the needs of the moment.
That is the cup that our Lord accepted in the Garden of Gethsemene that led to the salvation of the world – and drinking of that cup unites us to Him through His passion on the Cross into everlasting life with all the saints.
Sun, 24 March 2019
Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas
So, when the saints contemplate this divine light within themselves, seeing it by the divinising communion of the Spirit, through the mysterious visitation of perfecting illuminations—then they behold the garment of their deification, their mind being glorified and filled by the grace of the Word, beautiful beyond measure in His splendour; just as the divinity of the Word on the mountain glorified with divine light the body conjoined to it. For “the glory which the Father gave Him”, He Himself has given to those obedient to Him, as the Gospel says, and “He willed that they should be with Him and contemplate His glory” (John 17:22,24). St. Gregory Palamas, The Triads, I, iii, 5.
The problem with words.
The problem with words about God.
Go in and meet God as He really is
Go out and meet our neighbor
There is another way that is related to the way of silence, and that is the way of service. Whenever we serve someone, we are serving Christ. Whenever we gather in His name – and this includes anything we do in the name of sacrificial Love – He is there. Christ God Himself told us this.
Here, the way of meeting is different, but the same discipline is required. We talked about this some last week; about how we need to transform the absurd theater of our mind – populated by terrible caricatures of our enemies and ridiculously over-wrought images of ourselves and our friends – and turn it into a fitting temple; adorned by icons that show the people in our lives in the light of Christ rather than in the light of our own biases and brokenness.
Note how much this picture of our mind fits with what we do here: we have this Church, a place designed for us to meet God – and we have it adorned with the images of men and women, and these images are intentionally done in a way that shows the way God loves and blesses them. We don't portray them in their sin, nor to we overdo or romanticize their beauty – it's not about them, it's about the Christ in them. Our minds can be the same. We go there to meet God and we bring the images of our loved ones – both friends and enemies – into His presence so that they can shine in His love.
And surely this is an act of love on our behalf. But if we really love our neighbor, this can only be part of the way we serve him. Just as we have to go out of this temple to take the Gospel to the world, so to do we have to take the love that we experience in the temple of our heart and mind to the people in our lives.
But remember how St. Gregory spent years tearing down the words and ideas and requests and demands and disappointments that were the bricks in the wall keeping Him from seeing and meeting God as He really was in the altar of the temple of our mind?
We have to do the same thing so that we can see and love the people in our lives as they really are. Even the best words we use to describe them; “wife”, “husband”, “son”, “daughter”, “father”, “mother”, and “friend” carry so much baggage and extra accumulated meaning and emotion that they distract us from the truth of the child of God before our eyes.
And so, just as we work to approach God in simplicity and awe and reverence; without words, and without judgment and without wanting anything but all that He is waiting and willing to give; let us do the same for our neighbor. And then the grace will transform us into holy images of His glory.
Sun, 17 March 2019
Turning the Absurd Theater of our Mind into a Temple of God
Triumph of Orthodoxy. Yay Church (back from oppression)! Yay Theology (protected from heresy)! It's good, but to what end? They allow us to experience the love of God – and through it the salvation of our souls – in its purest form. Undiluted by lies and corruption.
We don't accept lies when it comes to the food we eat or the medicine we take. If a company put a good label on bad food or medicine, we would be outraged; whether they did it out of greed or ignorance. Why? Because we value our health AND because we value the truth. Everything breaks down once everyone gets to have their own version of truth. The wrong labels get put on things and we lose sight that there is even a reality to be known. When this happens, we cannot tell good from bad, right from wrong, healthy from disease, food from rubbish, medicine from snake oil. We fall prey to the chaos of our divisions.
The Irish poet Yeats nailed it when he wrote in his poem “The Second Coming”; “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,”
The Sunday of Orthodoxy is a celebration of the bulwark against that anarchy: there is a Truth; there is a Unity, there is sanity and goodness in the world. We celebrate the victory of the Church because it is there to restore the pattern of love and unity; we celebrate the victory of Orthodox theology because it describes that pattern – it tells us The Way that the source of all goodness and health and power can work within our lives to bring healing and salvation.
The Truth is one as God is One; The Truth is One as He desires us to be One. This Truth has a label. That label is the Gospel. That label is Holy Orthodoxy.
But what does that all mean for us? We can mouth the words of perfect theology, we can surround ourselves with the images of perfect iconography, but how does that help us to live? How does it help us work out our salvation with fear and trembling? (Philippians 2:12) How does it help us to love God and our neighbor as ourselves? How does it help our bodies and souls become temples of the Living God, with His grace perfecting and enlivening us?
It comes down to love – for without that, even the best theology and best iconography is noise and corruption, but in order to love, there is some work to be done. Today I want to continue on the theme of discernment, using today's theme of iconography to help us.
The Absurd Theater of our Mind.
The relationship between what goes on in our minds and the actual state of the world is a bit dodgy.
This is true when it comes to the puppets of our neighbors that populate the theater of our mind. Think about how we create the images of people. Get data. Add data. But we don't do it well. It's always filtered and shaped by the story we are telling ourselves.
Over time, the play that goes on in our mind ends up bearing little resemblance to what is really going on. We end up hating and loving images, not the people they are supposed to represent. This is true even of the people that are closest to us. It's like in the art world: we often learn more about the artist than we do about the thing being portrayed. But it isn't even a good way to understand the artist, because the image he has of himself – that is shaping the image he is painting – is also distorted.
We cannot love others if we cannot know them. We cannot love ourselves if we do not know ourselves.
The practice of iconography: everything in the light of Christ. We have icons of Christ because God became human and we can paint him as the perfect human. We have icons of saints because they have been transformed in Christ. Love became man in Jesus Christ; and now love becomes in incarnate in all the saints.
We restore Truth and sanity to the theater of our mind when we paint the icons of our neighbor using the light of love. This requires charity. It requires patience. It requires continually adjusting the lines and the colors through forgiveness and humility.
When we retouch the image of ourselves so that they better match reality – and through this participate in our transformation from broken creatures into sons and daughters of God - we call it repentance. We repaint repainting the image of ourselves in our mind and the way we project ourselves in the world so that the reality, light, and love of Christ shines through us.
Matthew 6:22-23. The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, our whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
When we continually improve the images in our minds according to the light of Christ and away from the chaos of our pride and brokenness, we transform our minds from a theater of the absurd into a temple of God, adorned with icons of His beloved children rather than puppets of our own madness.
The celebration of the triumph of Orthodoxy is a celebration of just this thing. And this is something we can all proclaim with gladness.
Sun, 10 March 2019
he 2019 Great Lent Epistle of the Permanent Conference of Ukrainian Orthodox Bishops Beyond the Borders of Ukraine
To the God-beloved Pastors, Monastics, and all Faithful Children of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the Diaspora and Ukraine,
Beloved in the Lord: CHRIST IS AMONG US!
The Holy and Sacred Season of Great Lent is upon us! Each year, the Church offers us the Lenten season as a time of repentance and renewal. As for us, Orthodox Christians, the contemplation on this beautiful season of the Church year is a cause for much of spiritual joy!
There is real confusion in today’s world about the meaning of joy. Like happiness, joy is often seen as something that we can physically buy. We may be able to buy something that brings temporary pleasure: but we cannot buy joy. They must not be confused. Joy is a free gift from God.
This surreal and joyful season of Great Lent is an opportunity to be graced afresh by contemplating the presence of Christ in our lives. All our efforts to evangelize in our new millennium here in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in North America, Western Europe, Australia, South America and throughout Diaspora would be fruitless unless we ourselves have first contemplated on the presence of Christ in our relationship with the world around us. It is the presence of the One who has suffered, died and risen from the dead out of love for us. To be so loved by the God of love in the midst of all our sinfulness and human limitations, indeed, is a joyful experience. This is surely the starting point for the Lenten season and the key point in our reflection upon our path to salvation. It is all summarized in one word: conversion.
It resonates with a deep yearning and recognition within us. As we make our first prostrations, we are reminded of our own sinfulness. Throughout the next 40 days we are called to repent and believe the Good News: God loves us. He sent His Beloved Son to suffer and die for us. He has risen from the dead and shares his new life with us. This is the heart of the Gospel. Lent refocuses our attention on this message of salvation, this good news through our ability to recognize and consider our identity as children of God.
Searching for our identity is part of life. We identify our “self” as a family member, spouse, sibling, clergyman, carpenter, farmer, doctor, entertainer or clerk. We also identify ourselves as Orthodox Christians, or as members of a parish. Identity involves discovering who we are as persons and what our role is by answering these questions: who am I, and why am I here? Growth in the awareness of our Christian identity is a lifelong process that shifts as we change. It is rooted in our Baptism, where we are transformed into our true identity as sons and daughters of the God. Holy Apostle Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians (“You should put away the old self of your former way of life . . . and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth” (Eph 4:22, 24), challenges us to put away our former life and put on a new self. In other words, he tells us to turn from sinful ways and take on our new life in Christ. In so doing, we become one with Christ, where we find our true identity. We accept this challenge during the Great Lent, as we journey with Christ through life’s difficulties to eternal life.
In the Church’s Tradition the season of Great and Holy Lent has always been accompanied by the Lenten efforts of prayer, fasting and acts of charity. We know that parishes will be providing many extra opportunities for prayer over the days of Lenten journey. We call upon you to greater attendance at liturgical services of the season. We hope that the participation in the Holy Mystery of Repentance over this time will be a real priority in your lives and in all parishes. We hope that the prayers of the Church will offer people an invitation to be touched, healed, forgiven, comforted and strengthened by our Lord. Also, at home we recommend a closer attention to times of prayer and fasting and moments of genuine devotion in family life.
Secondly, our journey through Lent and preparation to more fitting celebration of Pascha – the Resurrection of our Lord - includes “willing service to our neighbor”. All Christian true conversion starts in the heart but never stays there. True spiritual conversion always seeks out acts of charity to give practical help to our neighbor in need. This is a vital aspect of who we are as children of God.
We also encourage practical gestures of prayerful compassion to children. In this Lenten period, we must remember that our children are so often victims of human selfishness in today’s world and deserve special attention.During this Lent, perhaps we could find ways in our neighborhoods to share something of the importance of Christ Jesus to those who do not believe in Him. Such efforts can start so simply: with a kind word and gentle smile in His Name.
As we embark upon this Lenten journey, it is the time to renew ourselves as Orthodox Christians. Upon baptism we assumed the obligation of sharing the Good News of Christ with others, of defending the Holy Orthodox faith from persecution and of living a Christ-centered life of love for others. This six-week journey entails striving for humility and contrition before God in our repentance, seeking mutual forgiveness from others and contemplating our renewal in our prayers. Let us open our hearts to let in that, which is eternal, that which is Truth and not be blinded by the temporal world around us. Where there is light there is hope. Through His life and suffering for our salvation, we gain renewed hope in the light of Christ’s glorious victory over death and in eternal life.
May our All-Merciful and Almighty Lord assist us on our journey through this Great Fast with humility and reverence so that we may be worthy to greet the glorious Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
With Hierarchical Blessings,
† YURIJ, Metropolitan, Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada
† ANTONY, Metropolitan, Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and in the Diaspora
† JEREMIAH, Archbishop, Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Brazil and South America
† DANIEL, Archbishop, Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and Western Europe
† ILARION, Bishop, Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada
†ANDRIY, Bishop, Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada
Sun, 3 March 2019
March's "Spiritually Speaking" was on how we, as Orthodox Christians - called to be God's imagers in the world - can solve the problems of the world and end its pain. In this talk, Fr. Anthony looks at three strategies Christians use: the cultural warrior, the virtuous warrior, and the relationship builder. Enjoy the talk!
Sun, 3 March 2019
Homily on the Sunday of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46). How do we miss seeing the need of the people around us? How do we not respond to them with love? It's tragic. But in Christ we CAN see them and we CAN respond to their need... with the One Thing Needful. [Want to know what a homily given right after a 12 hour (overnight) shift as part of the Trauma Team at the local hospital? This is it..]
Thu, 28 February 2019
Class covers Tito Colliander’s Way of the Ascetics, chapter 6. Enjoy the show!
Sun, 24 February 2019
Sunday of the Prodigal Son
We are called to live a life of love; to bring healing, reconciliation, and harmonious joy to the world. This is the goal of every good person, and the reason we gather here every Sunday.
So why is it that the world is still broken? Even harder, why do we – who are committed to this way of life – still find our own lives so troubling and chaotic; often devoid of the peace we crave?
We are devoted to Christ, to His Gospel of light and love; why do we not enjoy the resilient joy that God promised to us, His children? We can understand why the people outside these doors are troubled by chaos, but us? We are not like them. They do not go to Church the way we do, they do not honor marriage the way we do, they do not work hard the way we do. They bring the chaos into their lives through the bad choices they make; but us? We have chosen a different way.
Yes, that is right, as we discussed last week: we are the Pharisee. Because we have grown up with the parable of the Publican and Pharisee, we often dress our self-righteous piety up in the clothes of the Publican (“Lord have mercy on me, a sinner!”, we say as we wear our long phylacteries - I mean prayer ropes - so everyone can note our holiness). And when we reject the accusation that we are Pharisees (“I am not like them; I do this, I do that”!), we are sincere; we are not acting.
Our egos are protesting in earnest, defending us from the kind of painful introspection and sacrifice that is required for true repentance. Unfortunately, that same painful introspection, hard work, and repentance have to happen in order for the grace of God to stay with us, to bring us lasting peace, and to allow us to bring that peace to others.
Until then, even our words of peace are just more weapons that cause damage to those around us; they are clanging gongs that bring even more noise and spiritual pollution to a world that is already so heavy with it.
Last week, the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee challenged us to look at all our actions and reactions so that we can begin to see the way we are the Pharisee. I challenged us to look at how our egos work to blind us to the truth about ourselves. Today I encourage us to continue that work, but I want to add another discipline: to notice how our pride (our brokenness) blinds us to the truth about the people around us. The people we are called to serve. The people we are called to love and harmonize with.
Last week, the Pharisee's pride allowed him only to focus on the Publican's profession and miss the most important part of his constitution – his humility – and what was going on in his life – he was in the midst of such a profound change that he left “justified” and open to God's grace. How could he miss that? The same way we miss such things every moment of every day. And as a result, we are closed off to really enjoying – much less spreading – God's grace.
This week we have the same lesson; the Older Brother could only see his brother – the brother being saved! - through his own self-righteousness, for what it meant to him.
We are the Pharisee in last week's Gospel. We are the Older Brother in today's.
We aren't alone. This parable is part of a series of lessons Jesus gave after he heard the people of his day complaining that; He – Jesus Christ; “receives sinners and eats with them.” Looking back, we find it hard to believe that these people would be so selfish that they would not want God – or anyone who claimed to act in His name - to bring His love to people who they knew darn well did not deserve it.
We see that and, knowing that we are the ones He came to eat with, thank Him for sharing His meal with us. We see the grumbling of the scribes and Pharisees for what it is; self-satisfying judgment designed to prop up their own sense of holiness. Lord have mercy, how could they be so blind? Thank you, Jesus, that we are not like them!
Oh wait. We've done it again.
Christ used to parables of searching out and finding the lost sheep and the lost coin; as well as the parables of the Publican and the Pharisee and the parable of the Prodigal Son to teach the Scribes and Pharisees to see the people they were complaining about with new eyes and to see – and celebrated and help with - what He was trying to accomplish in their lives. We saw them as they were. He knew them. He loved them. And He worked for their salvation.
He is now trying to do the same thing for us.
We have accepted Christ. We have lived the life of the Prodigal and come back home. We are so thankful that He has forgiven us and given us a new life. This is the story of our lives, right? Well, it is ... but as soon as we are back our egos try to come back and we become the older brother. The one who feels at home in his father's house and is so selfish that he cannot see his own bitterness or celebrate the return of his lost brother, much less participate in his continuing salvation now that he was back. A sane and loving brother would have run out with the father and shared in the joy of their reunion and would have sacrificed to make him welcome.
We notice all the times that we are not welcomed, but do we notice the way that we judge and reject people in need? We notice the times that the world is hard and how much joy we have when we ourselves find comfort in the Lord, but do we notice the suffering of our brother and celebrate when he finds similar comfort? Do we offer that same comfort to him? If we only think of ourselves as the Prodigal, we will be stuck in an endless cycle of falling down and getting up. There is a sense in which this is the essence of the life in Christ, but it is not the goal. The goal is not to be the Prodigal Son; the goal isn't even to stop being a Pharisee or the older brother. The goal is – through the tears of the Publican and the repentance of Prodigal - to become like the Father.
To become like the Father who is so secure in Grace that He is constantly looks for opportunities to share that grace with others. Who sees everyone as a person to be loved and gently but persistently works for their good and He is the one who celebrates every time that good is achieved.
The religious people of Christ's day had a hard time getting this message. They continued to see themselves as righteous and thus keeping their hearts closed to the changes they needed to make. We are like that, too. And until we recognize that, until we see ourselves as being the Pharisee as much as we are the Publican, and as much Older Brother as Prodigal Son, we deceive ourselves and miss the opportunity to live and share a life of joy.
The Lord is here now. He sees us as we really are. He knows us, and He loves us. He wants to eat with us and all the other sinners here; so that we may be saved.
Despite the fact that we have been like the Publican by cooperating with the fallen powers of this world to oppress others; and like the Prodigal by squandering so many opportunities; and like the Publican and Older Brother in our selfishness and willful blindness;
He is here and He is running out to us, celebrating our willingness to reject our sins, our blindness, and our self-righteousness and our desire to live the kind of perfect life that our Father – His Father does; the kind of life that is made possible through Christ our Lord.
Thu, 21 February 2019
Class covers Tito Colliander's Way of the Ascetics, chapters 1-5. Enjoy the show!
Sun, 17 February 2019
The Publican and the Pharisee
The theme of Great Lent is repentance.
This is hard work, it takes more than just a desire to “do better”. Our psychology: our ego – pride – digs in to defend itself and resist meaningful change.
Great Lent – and here I would include these preperatory weeks – is the “boot camp” system to jump start the process of healing and rebuilding our brokenness.
Today: the example of what we look like – a pharisee. Completely prey to his ego. It justifies himself and degrades the other. Classic. Almost as if Christ understood how our psychology worked!
Turns prayer – and religion itself – into blasphemy. It works directly against its original intent:
We need to get out of our own way. Trust the process. Buy into it. The “You” you get back will be worth the effort.
Sun, 10 February 2019
Homily on Zacchaeus Sunday (St. Luke 19:1-10). Christ brought salvation to Zachaeus "and his house"; He wants to do the same for us. How can we get Him there - and how can we get Him to stay? Enjoy the show!
Sun, 3 February 2019
Homily on St. Luke 18:35-43, the healing of the blind man. How does faith in Christ heal our blindness? Enjoy the show!
Sun, 27 January 2019
Homily on St. Luke 18:18-27. What would you do for eternal life? Transhumanists and quantified selfers are willing to sacrifice A LOT in hopes of living a few extra decades. Fr. Anthony discusses this and why the option Christ offers works (i.e. the mechanism) and why it is the best option. Enjoy the show!
Sun, 20 January 2019
Matthew 4:12-17; Ephesians 4:7-13
The Baptism of John was the Baptism of repentance; we tend to distinguish his ministry from the ministry of Christ. But today we are reminded that Christ – the God who is love – also preached repentance. Why would He do this? Yes, for the forgiveness of sins. But there is more. Start over ... for what?
Today's epistle (Ephesians 4:7-13) reminds us of our goal: to become as Christ (i.e. “until we come... to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”). This certainly requires a lot of growth, but first it requires undoing, re-examining, and then re-building a lot of the habits that we have acquired. Especially the habits of our mind.
Love? How can we love without knowing? How can we love when our understand is imperfect? We may have the impulse of love – to help, to serve – but we are likely to make things worse. The advice of Hippocrates is vital: FIRST, DO NOT HARM.
Some of us are so strong in our desire to help that we impose ourself – and our ignorance – on others at every opportunity. This is so wrong.
It takes real effort – beginning and constantly sustained by repentance – to gain discernment.
Discernment isn't a fruit of reading books or taking classes or even of Chrismation or ordination. Nor does it come through a force of will, but through quieting the mind and learning to listen. Discernment is the fruit of a particular kind of attentiveness, a peaceful attentiveness that listens not to judge or to offer advice or even to help, but first to understand. When we work on this skill, and when we pay attention to the workings of our mind as we do this, we will soon learn how our misconceptions and prejudiced assumptions distort our understanding, how mistaken our diagnoses often are, and how much damage we can do when we follow our instincts. Moreover, as we work on this kenotic and peaceful attentiveness, we are likely to learn that even our desires to assist are the result of mixed motives that themselves need to be evaluated and re-created.
Al of this, this process of discovery and the purification of our senses and mind – is what is meant by this deeper kind of repentance or change of heart.
The result of it is a great patience and calm and the ability to love without reservation.
It also brings humility and the recognition that often times the best action is no action at all (other than prayer) and that the best judgment is to reserve judgment.
So this is the challenge that we get today: repent!
So let's pause before offering judgment or advice. Let us be humble enough to realize that the world will continue to spin without us sharing our wisdom or immediately rolling up our sleeves to fix someone. Let's spend time questioning our motives and intent.
And as we do this action of repentance, let's notice the way the Kingdom of Heaven Christ promises today opens up to us.
“Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!”
Sun, 13 January 2019
Sunday after Nativity - Matthew 2:13-23
Many of us are still glowing from the joyous celebration of our Lord’s Nativity this past week. And for good reason! It is a time to celebrate with family, sharing stories, laughter, good food, and gifts. But mainly we celebrate the Incarnation - the Nativity of Christ - the birth of God in the flesh as a newborn child. The results of this event are enormous for us and a great cause for elation. Our Redeemer, the One who has come to save us from death, has been born. What could possibly be more worthy of celebration? There is a Romanian priest back in Rhode Island who, upon entering any gathering at any time of year will sing: Joy to the world!! We share his joy at the coming of Our Lord at Christmas.
On the day of Nativity, during the Divine Liturgy, the Gospel tells us about the wise men bringing gifts and offering them to the Christ child. We understand this as the proper way to respond to our Savior’s birth. We continue the tradition of giving each other gifts to this very day.
Yet today, on the first Sunday after Nativity, the Gospel strikes a very different tone. Herod doesn’t respond to Christ’s birth in quite the same way as the Magi, or as we do today. Instead of elation and joy, his response to the news of the Christ child’s birth is jealousy and murder. We hear of Rachel weeping inconsolably because her children are no more. Many of us are parents and can, or possibly can’t, imagine how Rachel felt. And let’s face it, you don’t have to be a parent to feel the gut-wrenching horror of this event. This is a devastating story.
Why, after celebrating one of the most sacred and joyous feasts of the year, and of all human history, does the church give us this story today?
The answer may be found in some of the names we use to refer to Christ:
One of the hymns we sing during the Nativity season describes Christ’s birth poetically:
“Our Savior, the Dayspring from the east, has visited us from on high. And we who were in darkness have found the truth.”
Christ is the light that reveals what was once shrouded in darkness.
Now then, how many of us are afraid of the dark? Maybe when we were kids… It’s not hard to figure out why. Darkness conceals. It hides the unknown. Darkness is where scary things can lurk. Even if no actual evil is present, we imagine the worst when we are surrounded by darkness: the monster that lives under the bed, the mugger that waits near the ATM at night, and the judgment that we keep hidden within ourselves or that we fear others secretly hide from us.
And when you shine a light on the dark places it can be a harsh awakening for those who desired to remain concealed. Think of the way interrogators shine bright lights into the eyes of their suspects. That light can be blinding. For Herod, the light of Christ entering into the world had the same effect - the darkness within Herod was revealed in his murderous jealousy, and resulted in the slaughter of thousands of innocent children.
You might being thinking, “I am not Herod!” Indeed, we would never murder thousands of children in a jealous rage to preserve our own authority and power. But as with everything in Scripture, we are challenged to discern how this story DOES apply to us. In what ways do we act like Herod, rebelling against the light which would reveal the darkness within us?
Met Anthony Bloom once said “God can save the sinner that you are, but not the saint you pretend to be.”
Allowing the light of Christ into the deepest, darkest crevices of our hearts and minds, into our very souls, is hard. Making ourselves vulnerable by admitting our failings can be painful. But that pain is only the result of God’s healing energy. As with the stinging antiseptic we spray onto our fleshly wounds to clean them and prevent infection, God’s healing can initially feel even worse than the spiritual disease that has metastasized within us: our jealousy, our judgment, our hatred of people who disagree with us politically, the way we belittle people and gossip about them, our lack of patience, our covetousness, our lust, our greed, and our pride. And it is only through repentance and confession that we can be made well.
If we are truly open to receiving that light, this can’t only be done secretly in our own private prayer. While this is a good start, it is not enough to secretly acknowledge our fears and sins. Confession with a priest we trust is where we can truly open the doors to our heart and welcome Christ and His forgiveness in, and be restored to spiritual health! Even opening ourselves just a little bit can let enough of that light in to dispel the darkness lurking in our hearts.
St Porphyrios famously said, “Do not fight to expel the darkness from the chamber of your soul. Instead open a tiny aperture for light to enter and the darkness will disappear”
But we must be willing to open that door and acknowledge our brokenness, the ways in which we, like all, have fallen short of the glory of God. We must allow Christ’s birth to reveal the effects of sin and death in our hearts, just as His birth revealed the broken and distorted effects of sin and death in the world.
The Dayspring from the east is not just an infant who has the potential to grow into our Lord Jesus Christ. He IS Our Lord, and his incarnation sent shockwaves through the world. We often attribute the beginning of Christ’s earthly ministry to His baptism, which we will celebrate this coming Saturday. However, His incarnation, His appearing on earth, in every way possible announced the beginning of an assault on sin and death. The coming of the Christ child is at once a cause for celebration by those who wish for salvation, and a call to arms against the forces of evil. When we hear of a “call to arms” we likely picture soldiers heading to the armory to grab their swords, bows and arrows, shields, rifles, and cannons. But how can this possibly relate to our celebration of Christmas?
Think about the names we heard for Christ earlier: they revolved around the theme of Christ being the Light of the world. There is another time of year when we here a Gospel message that describes Christ, the God-man, as the light that shines in the darkness. Does anyone remember when we hear this?
From the beginning of the Gospel of St John, on Pascha.
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not [a]comprehend it.
This is the Gospel the church puts at the center of our Liturgical celebration on Pascha, the feast of feasts. The culmination of our Liturgical worship for the entire year occurs on Pascha. The culmination of our entire understanding of salvation is revealed at Pascha. And the culmination of God’s plan for all of us and for each of us is made a reality on Pascha.
Christmas is ONLY relevant because of Pascha. All the feasts of the church, all of the events of Christ’s life, of Mary, the Birthgiver of God’s life, of the saints’ lives, and of OUR lives, derive their ultimate meaning from Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. And herein lies the answer to the question of how Christmas is a call to arms: it is not the call to equip ourselves with physical metal and fire. Instead, Christ calls us to sacrifice ourselves, as He did. The call to arms is a call to surrender myself, my ego, my fear, my self-justification, my lustful desires, my pride, NOT to double-down on those things in the vain hope that they will protect me from losing my identity. If I am a Christian, my identity is contained within Christ, who destroyed death by His death. Christmas is a declaration of war against death. And we already know who wins!
So, my brothers and sisters. I don’t know where each of you are on your spiritual journey. But I encourage you - if you go to confession frequently, God bless you! If you haven’t been to confession in the last year, make a point to go before Pascha. If you have gone to confession and been afraid or embarrassed to admit something that has been weighing on your heart, allow yourself to be vulnerable - trust your priest and trust in God - that by surrendering your pride and letting the light shine into your heart, you will not be destroyed, but instead you will destroy your sin.
Let us have the courage to emulate Christ, surrender ourselves to the warmth of His healing light, confess our sins, receive His forgiveness, and rejoice in His birth, baptism, and ultimate Resurrection as we proclaim CHRIST IS BORN! Xhristos Razhdayetsya!
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sun, 13 January 2019
Paper presented at the International Orthodox Theological Association on 9-12 January 2019 in Iasi, Romania., 2019.
What is the relationship between ritual actions and moral development? How does Orthopraxis mold believers into virtuous people? More specifically, what role do common Orthodox practices like prostrations, prayer rules, fasting, and kissing the hands of priests and bishops play in the strengthening of certain "conservative" moral instincts (i.e. sanctity, respect for authority/tradition, and loyalty)? Answering these questions is of more than just academic interest: it can help us more successfully foster a parish and family life that creates authentic and well-rounded saints. This paper uses findings from the field of psychology and examples from parish life to discern the link between Orthodox rituals and Orthodox morality, making the case that Orthodox rituals play a role in training all three parts of the mind, but that it plays a special role in training the instincts or gut.