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..]