OrthoAnalytika

On Fostering and Defending a Culture of Cheerful Giving

St. Paul says today that we should not give grudgingly or out of coercion, but out of his heart – because God loves a cheerful giver.

It is tempting to think of this in purely utilitarian terms: if we do this, more money will be given to charity, whether that is in support of the poor, in support of evangelism, or whatever.

And it is true that this would have an effect.  But this is NOT the only – or even the main – purpose of St. Paul's teaching.

St. John Chrysostom (a great friend of the poor and admonisher of the rich);  “God appointed almsgiving not only for the nourishment of the needy but also for the benefit of the providers, and much more so for the latter than for the former.”

And it is certainly true that this will improve the disposition of the giver. Attitude may not be everything, but it is a lot; especially when it is tied to actions that benefit others.  This turns an excuse for grumbling into the exercise of virtue; of an opportunity to just dig a deeper grave to a chance to climb up just a little higher on the ladder towards perfection and lasting joy.

But even that doesn't exhaust the great benefit of cheerful giving; you see this virtue of cheerful action is generalizable past the giving of money into every action of our lives. MOREOVER, it's benefits go beyond the individuals directly involved to the culture they are a part of.

Robert Putnum: Making Democracy Work:  Culture of Trust vs. Culture of Patronage.

What would happen if we could relax and just be good to one another? If we gave without thinking of what we might get in return? If we could sacrifice without having to worry about being cheated or taken advantage of. If we could give knowing that everyone else was doing the same; and that our attitude as much as our efforts were creating an icon of the Kingdom of God here on earth?

Compare that to the opposite: Giving out of coercion, knowing that if I gave selflessly it would just disappear because others were too lazy; that …

Families and parishes are designed to be icons of the Kingdom; not of tyranny, but of cheerful giving in all things. But it can only work if there is a critical mass of people who are willing to live this way.

Axelrod “The Evolution of Cooperation” How many predators and shirkers to transform a trusting culture into the broken one?

The equivalent in parish life? A few trying to sustain everything. The temptation? USE COERSION!  Higher dues, shaming, exhaustion, “checking out”.

The real answer: cheerful giving. As individuals – always (it's the winning stragtegy no matter what – martyr or evangelist). As a parish? Coercive parishes die. Joyful parishes live. Which one?

Direct download: Homily_on_the_Culture_of_Cheerful_Giving.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 7:49pm EST

Bible Study #38 – Hannah and the Cost of Bad Priests
St. Mary's Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Allentown PA
Fr. Anthony Perkins, 27 September 2018

Opening Prayer: Make the pure light of Your divine knowledge shine in our hearts, Loving Master, and open the eyes of our minds that we may understand the message of Your Gospel. Instill also in us reverence for Your blessed commandments, so that overcoming all worldly desires, we may pursue a spiritual life, both thinking and doing all things pleasing to You. For You, Christ our God, are the Light of our souls and bodies, and to You we give the glory, together with Your Father, without beginning, and Your All Holy, Good, and Life- Creating Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen. (From the Prayer before the Gospel in the Divine Liturgy; see 2 Corinthians 6:6; Ephesians 1:18; 2 Peter 2:11)

Intro on Bad Priests – why is it so terrible, who is to blame, and how do we fix it?

1 Kingdoms (aka 1 Samuel). Written by the Prophet Samuel around 1000 BC.

On Hannah. She is barren. She promises to dedicate a son to the Lord (1 Kingdoms 1:11). Note that the Hebrew version is different.

Here is the Great Canon on this episode (from the Beatitudes on the Thursday of the Fifth Week):

Chaste Hannah when praying moved her lips in praise, while her voice was not yet heard; but yet, though barren, she bears a son her prayer deserved.

Remember us, O Lord, when Thou comest in Thy Kingdom.

Hannah's child, the great Samuel, was reckoned among the Judges, and he was brought up in Arimathea and in the House of the Lord. Imitate him, my soul, and before judging others, judge your own actions. (I Kings 16:13. )

Remember us, O Master, when Thou comest in Thy Kingdom.

She is granted a son (Samuel) whom she takes to Eli when he is weaned. Her hymn of thanksgiving and dedication is wonderful (1 Kingdoms 2:1-10).

St. Augustine says this of her hymn;

Are these words going to be regarded as simply the words of one mere woman giving thanks for the birth of her son? Are people’s minds so turned away from the light of truth that they do not feel that the words poured out by this woman transcend the limit of her own thoughts? Surely, anyone who is appropriately moved by the events whose fulfillment has already begun, even in this earthly pilgrimage, must listen to these words and observe and recognize that through this woman (whose very name, Hannah, means “God’s grace”), there speaks, by the spirit of prophecy, the Christian religion itself, the City of God itself, whose king and founder is Christ.

Samuel really is a man of God from his youth up. Even when he is young, his purity and piety is contrasted with the wickedness of the “Priests of the Lord” (who “did not know the Lord”) Hophni and Phinehas, Eli's sons. Their doom, along with that of their father, is proclaimed by “a man of God” (1 Samuel 2:27-36).

The Canon says this about Eli and his sons, Hophni and Phinehas (Beatitudes & Song 5);

You, my soul, for lack of understanding have drawn upon yourself the priest Eli's condemnation, by allowing the passions to act sinfully in you, as he allowed his children.

Blessed are you when men revile you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely and on My account.

Aaron offered to God the fire pure and undefiled; but Hophni and Phinehas, like you, my soul, offered to God a foul and rebellious life.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Note the comparison with Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-2).

Eli was a prophet and Hophni and Phinehas were priests. The priests were wicked, but Eli shares their condemnation. What was his sin?

St. Chrysostom describes one of the reasons bad priests are such a burden.

When rulers are honored by their people, this too is reckoned against them; as in the case of Eli it is said, “Did I not choose him out of his father’s house?” But when they are insulted, as in the instance of Samuel, God said, “They have not rejected you, but they have rejected me.” Therefore insult is their gain, honor their burden. What I say, therefore, is for your sakes, not for theirs. He that honors the priest will honor God also; and he who has learned to despise the priest will sooner or later insult God.

St. John Chrysostom recognizes the danger of following Eli's example of excessive lenience;

Hence I beg you to offer a hand to our children lest we ourselves become liable for what is committed by them. Are you not aware of what happened to old Eli for not properly correcting his sons’ shortcomings? I mean, when a disease requires surgery, it rapidly becomes incurable if the physician is bent on treating it with skin ointments and does not apply the appropriate remedy. In just the same way it behooved that old man to take appropriate action regarding his sons’ failing, but by being guilty of excessive tolerance he too shared in their punishment.

St. Basil the Great puts it all into perspective and sets the stage for next week:

Because their father [Eli] did not chastise them with enough severity … he moved the forbearance of God to wrath so great that foreign peoples rose up against them and killed those sons of his in war in one day. His entire nation, furthermore, was vanquished, and a considerable number of his people fell. Now, this happened even with the ark of the holy covenant of God nearby—an unheard of thing—so that the ark, which it was not lawful at any time for the Israelites or even for all their priests themselves to touch and which was kept in a special place, was carried hither and yon by impious hands and was put in the shrines of idols instead of the holy temples. Under such circumstances one can readily conjecture the amount of laughter and mockery that was inflicted upon the very name of God by these foreigners. Add to this, also, that Eli himself is recorded to have met a most pitiable end after hearing the threat that his seed would be removed from the priestly dignity; and so it happened.

Such, then, were the disasters which befell that nation. Such griefs did the father suffer because of the iniquity of his sons, even though no accusation was ever made against Eli’s personal life. Moreover, he did not bear with those sons of his silence, but he earnestly exhorted them not to persist longer in those same wicked deeds, saying, “Do not act this way, my sons; for I hear no good report concerning you.” And to stress the enormity of their sin, he confronted them with an alarming view of their perilous state. “If one man shall sin against another,” he said, “they will pray for him to the Lord; but if a man shall sin against God, who shall pray for him?” Yet, as I said, because he did not exercise a suitable rigor of zeal in their regard, the disaster recounted above took place. And so I find throughout the Old Testament a great many instances of this kind illustrating the condemnation of all disobedience.

Bibliography

St. Andrew of Crete. The Great Canon.

Franke, J. R. (Ed.). (2005). Old Testament IV: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1–2 Samuel (p. 209). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Direct download: BS-20180927-HannahandBadPriests.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 12:00pm EST

Homily on St. John 3:13-17 (Sunday before the Cross).

Are we open to an experience of God in the Holy Liturgy? Much of our dissatisfaction with “Church” comes from the fact that we are not. But this is what we were made for. The movements, ritual, music, and theology are all perfectly designed to make the Divine Liturgy the perfect medium for us to experience God. But it's not automatic. It takes preparation: is there anything worth having that doesn't?

We are used to an easy fix. Quick entertainment. Quick results. “Hard work? No! We're entitled to easy! In fact, we don't even need Church. It's too hard and boring.” But if that is what we think, then it is a sure sign that either the parish is not offering the fullness of the faith (which is rare but does happen) or that we ourselves have all but lost – through our own neglect - our ability to experience God at all.

So how do we prepare?

It's not really about being “good”, at least not in the way that we think about about it. That's like taking a test. “How did I do this week”. “I had a good week”. Go through the list. It's not about that kind of evaluation, it's about holiness (being “perfect as God is perfect” - Matthew 5:48). Holiness is not an attribute that we can ever have on our own. It only comes from our proximity to God, from the extent we have allowed his uncreated energies, his Grace, to reside in us and change us.

This requires that we refuse to have dealings with things, ideas, and actions that would distance us from God AND that we continually renew our connection with him through attentiveness, gratitude, and prayer.

If we have worked on this all week, then when we come to Liturgy on Sunday, we are ready to really experience Him in and with us; we will be transported to heaven just as He comes to us on earth; and we will truly have become his sons and daughters.

This is the requirement of belief in today's Gospel and this is how God works through that belief to save us.

Direct download: Homily_on_Holiness_and_the_Experience_of_God.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 12:46pm EST

In this, the first class of the new Liturgical Year (given on the Eve of the Nativity of the Birthgiver of God), Fr. Anthony talks about the need to keep everything, to include Scripture, connected to God through the Church.  He also shares a reflection Fr. Harry Linsenbigler wrote on the Wisdom of Solomon and Autocephaly in Ukraine.

Direct download: BS-20180920-ContextisEverything.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 1:49pm EST

Fr. Anthony interviews Fr. Harry Linsenbigler (Canonist for the UOC-USA) about the Ukrainian Autocephaly and whether the Ecumenical Patriarchate has a legitimate role in it.
Direct download: 20180913-FrHarry-EPCanonsUK.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 2:19pm EST

Parish Politics Threaten Evangelism – A Parable

It was a long Summer. 

It all started when I got an e-mail from someone asking if he could come to Liturgy.  He also asked about membership and taking Communion.  I did my usual thing, underscoring that everyone was welcome to experience God and fellowship here, and explaining what I would do to help him prepare for Communion and membership.

A great start, right?  Well, it ended well, but it wasn’t easy.

Come to find out, Tom (not his real name) was born and baptized at our parish.  However, as with many urban parishes, ours went through some serious problems.  I won’t go through all of them, but for about a decade the neighborhood was dangerous (no parking lot, cars broken into, people threatened on the street even during Pascha and Nativity) and membership dropped.  For a while we even went without regular priestly coverage.  During that time, his family joined a parish in the Northern suburbs that was safe, was growing, and offered regular access to the Mysteries.  Still, it wasn’t easy.  Tom’s family never fit in.  When, as an adult, he finally got sick of people making fun of his accent and calling his family racists (they were originally from the South), he left and worshipped on his own.  That was fine until he had kids.  As with many in this situation, he wanted his children to be brought up in the tradition of their family.  His wife was up for it, too.

He went once, by himself, to the suburban church and was attacked by the priest (the priest confirmed that Tom was excommunicated according to the Canons of the Church because he had voluntarily refused to come to Communion for more than three weeks and had worshipped for so many years on his own) and the laity (the lay leaders of the parish reminded him that he was twenty years in arrears on his dues and he was not welcome until he paid up; they also made fun of his pickup truck).  They all wanted their pound of flesh.  I’d love to say that this was out of character, but that is the culture of that parish.  I guess it works if you’re on the inside.

Tom did some research and found out that our neighborhood was now safe and that our parish was thriving (we haven’t done great about getting our neighbors to come, but we have attracted many families from various other areas of the city and Western suburbs) and that’s when he decided to get in touch.

I invited Tom and his family to start worshipping with us and we worked out a program of individualized catachesis/preparation to bring him back into Communion and to prepare his wife and children for Baptism and Chrismation.  I’ve done this before, and it’s awesome to be a part of.  So awesome.  It went better than you can even imagine.

However, when the other priest heard about it, he started a smear campaign against me, against my parish, and against Tom and his family.  This was very painful, but that pain was completely trumped and transformed by the joy of bringing a family into such a deep relationship with God through Christ and the Holy Orthodox Church (Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia)!

Due to the way they demonized us and the many walls they built between us (Canons!  Propriety!  Parish Order!  Pound of Flesh!), I doubt that the relations between that priest and me and between our parishes will heal any time soon, but who knows?  I look forward to the restoration of our brotherhood.  Until then, they do their thing and we do ours.

Looking back, I don’t see how I could have acted any differently.  This was a family that needed Christ and there were just too many stumbling blocks put in their way at the other parish (and remember, he was baptized here!).  And they have really thrived and we with them, Glory to God!

Direct download: 20180914-AParableonUkraine.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 4:38pm EST

Homily Notes: Being Nice is NOT Enough
[These notes probably bear little resemblance to what was actually preached as they spent all Sunday morning at home on the printer - rookie mistake!!!] 

Gospel Lesson:  St. Matthew 22:35-46 (The Great Commandment)

Great lesson for the start of the school year: “what is the most important thing ever?” Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind!

CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA: To love God with the whole heart is the cause of every good. The second commandment includes the righteous acts we do toward other people. The first commandment prepares the way for the second and in turn is established by the second. For the person who is grounded in the love of God clearly also loves his neighbor in all things himself. The kind of person who fulfills these two commandments experiences all the commandments.  Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (pp. 157–158). InterVarsity Press.

Why is it so important? What can't we just skip to the second one, as the non-believers do? Isn't it enough just to love?

No. We have to be intentionally connected to the SOURCE of love. It's like how our homes need to be connected to the generators through the power grid. We might be able to create enough energy “off-grid” to power some things some of the time, but in order for it to be consistent, we need to be on the grid, and that grid needs to be connected to the generators.

Without that, our “love” of your neighbor is going to be based on how we are feeling, and that is a terrible way to love. We can see how well this works just by looking around. Everyone can be nice and sacrificial and patient when it feels right; but who is willing to do it when it is hard and unpleasant?

Loving God with complete openness, humility, and awe allows His love to strengthen us; it also grants the ability to see God in our neighbor – even our enemy – so that when we are serving Him we are also serving Him and thus remain “hooked up to the grid”, so to speak.

There is another point worth making because our context hides it from us: this openness, humility, and awe – this love of God with the whole heart, soul, and mind – needs to be done in community. It is made to be done within the Church. The Church is not just for us; it is the place where the conduit of love connecting us with God and one another is the purest and strongest.

Of course we can create connections without God, playing with institutions and laws and the distribution of power in hopes of finding an optimal solution [and we've done a pretty good job of that in our country because we have tried to create a system where the drive to take care of the self and the family requires one to find ways to serve the needs of others and where the earnest desire to serve others is rewarded with the ability to care for oneself and one's family]... but even so, this can only go so far.

Without the connection to God and the ability to see the image of God in all our neighbors, we are still governed and limited by our own power and our own feelings and motivations. Without reliable access to the source of Goodness, Patience, Love, and Courage, even our system will either break down into an anarchy of competing feelings or calcify into a totalitarianism where one group's idea of love – rooted in fallen ideologies and tribal egoism – will create a hell on earth.

It is not enough to be connected to one another and to try to “be nice.” Let me give one more example before I conclude. Many of us are connected to zillions of neighbors through social media. And when it works well, it is wonderful. But have you noticed how often it sours? How, even those we love and know to be good post things that create pain and division? Even groups that are explicitly Christian can dissolve into into hellish pits of division, hurt feelings, and wickedness. We've all seen it, it isn't good, and there has to be a better way.

There is, and what we are called to do, that thing we called “Orthodox Christianity” is it.

Being nice is not enough. Being “Christian” is not enough. That niceness and that “Christianity” need to be continually reinforced by the grace of God. This is only done through love, and this love is meant to be cultivated, experience, and shared within the Church and from the Church to the world.

The fullness of that Church is meant to be found here at St. Mary's. If we open our hearts and our community to God through sincere worship and immersion in the sacraments; if we open our hearts to and serve one another and the hurting neighbors in our community; the conduit of love will be opened to maximum throttle and the grace of God will light us up and turn us into a beacon of hope and security to the world.

May our light so shine among men that they will see our good deeds and be drawn to worship the God who is in heaven.

 

Direct download: 20180909-Homily_on_Why_We_Need_to_Love_God.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 4:03pm EST

Homily Notes on the Wedding Feast (St. Matthew 22:1-14)

Invitation to the Wedding Feast: we don't intuit the context (why not just RSVP? – gnashing of teeth for wearing the wrong clothes!?). What is missing? Mutual obligation! Respect! Duty! Love! Wear the garment – the uniform – the king gave you!

Speaking of uniform: reword the parable with a more familiar context.

The kingdom has been invaded so the king mobilized the elite forces. They refused. Killed their officers. Result? Treason. Death. Is that okay? Next? Mobilized the National Guard. Gave them everything they needed. Sent them to the front to do their duty and exercise their love. One soldier refused to take up his weapon and wear his uniform. This was not a mistake or simple laziness and it was more than mere cowardice; it was a deliberate act of rebellion. Against his sworn duty, against the legitimate authority, against his home and the homes of his neighbors. During a time of war. Doesn't such a one deserve to go where there will be gnashing of teeth?

We have a duty to God. He has mobilized us to bring peace. Are we committed? How does our uniform – baptismal garment – look? Sinless, blameless life? No? Wash that uniform!

Is our weapon – the sword of truth – clean? Do we know how to use it? It is a weapon of love, its slashes are the exercise of patience and its thrusts are acts of service and its counter-thrusts are the movements of forgiveness.

Is our armor strong? It is the combination of humility – humility makes the fragile ego invulnerable – and God's grace.

The Lord has mobilized us here. We have a duty and obligation to do His will. It is His will that all be saved and come to the knowledge of the Truth. Let us now pray and work towards the accomplishment of that very thing.

 

Direct download: 20180902-Homily_on_Obligation.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 5:04pm EST

The Parable of the Wicked Tenants
St. Matthew 21:33-42

The primary purpose of this parable at the time it was given was to warn God's chosen people that God had sent His Son – who was now among them – to see how the stewards of his vineyards were doing; to remind them what they had done to the prophets, and to ensure them that if they mistreated the Son of God was in their midst, there would be a terrible accounting.

We need to understand this lesson, but less because of what was going on then and much more because of what is going on now. The primary purpose of this parable NOW is to warn US. We – the tenants and stewards of St. Mary's and of the Church at large - are the Jews in this parable and this parish and the Church is the vineyard.

We see from the structure of the parable that there is a great temptation for tenants and stewards to misbehave; to think of the leased property as their own. We also know from experience that, just as in the parable, evil men will take advantage of the lack of transparency and oversight in situations like this to abuse the innocent and destroy those who question their actions and the illegitimacy of their claim of authority.

It is our calling to manage the vineyard properly, according to the Commands of God. To see that all of its fruits are offered both to the glory of God and to the service of our neighbor... NOT for our own glory.

How are we doing in this? As your pastor I can honestly tell you that there is much here that is done absolutely in accordance with those Commandments: glorify God and serve your neighbor. In fact, right now we are taking the best moments of the week and offering up the very fruit of the vine and wheat of the harvest so that the hungry and thirsty in our midst can be fed. This is the first calling of the parish, and while we could do a better job of inviting our hungry and thirsty neighbors to come and join us, we are completely dedicated to this thing.

This dedication is also seen in our charitable ministries and outreach, and in the way that we care for one another and for every former stranger that comes into our lives. Glory to God. I am sure that we have entertained many angels unawares.

But we must admit that there are things for which we must answer. The harming of innocents in our midst is an abomination and, because of where it occurs and in Whose Name we work, a blasphemy. It would be better for those who harm the innocent that a millstone where hung around their neck and they were thrown in the midst of the sea. These are the words of our Master and He is deadly serious.

It is easy for us to say; “no, Lord – not us.” And it is true that this parish has been protected from the sorts of things that have been occurring in so many of the parishes around us. Thank God.

But we have to take the challenge seriously. It is not enough for us to be blameless. We are running the vineyard and we are responsible for what happens here. As Paschal Psalm 81 proclaims, we must:

Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

This is not just a passive protection, although that is part of it, but a call to hold one another accountable and to bring justice.

Christ is in our midst – we are gathered here in His name, we called Him here! And there will be an accounting.

  • Are we running our lives, our families, our parish, and the Church according to God's will?

  • Do we protect the innocent from physical predation?

  • Do we protect the innocent from spiritual predation, to include all the lies that our society tells them about themselves, about God; and especially when it denies the reality of sin and our need for the salvation that Christ alone offers?

  • Do we protect, honor, and listen to the prophets who come into our midst to point out our failings and who call us to rededicate ourselves to Christ, His Church, and the Gospel?

  • Do we protect, honor, and serve God's Son when He comes into our midst as the hungry, the thirsty, the powerless, and the afflicted?

We are blessed to have been leased a beautiful vineyard. We repent of the times we have shirked our duties and used it for our own glory and against the will of God.

As we celebrate this Liturgy, offering “Thine own of Thine own”, we rededicate ourselves to working to the Glory of God and to the love of our neighbor.





Direct download: 20180826-Homily_on_the_Vinyard.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 2:19pm EST

One of the most important questions: Who is Jesus the Christ (Joshua the Messiah)?

1.  Man (prophet) who lived 2000 years ago. Very wise. Set an example of love, sacrifice, and a commitment to virtue that we should all emulate.

Better than nothing (but not enough).

But wait there is more – and this is the best part:

2.  That He is also God. The God who was God before the world began; the one “through Whom all things are made.”

This feast – and the historical event it commemorates – forces us to move beyond a purely human Jesus to begin understanding the Mystery of him being both fully man (in fact, the ideal man) and fully God.

The unbearable light? The cloud? The voice? When you study the history in the Old Testament, you have to notice that these are all things that only happen around encounters with THE GOD.

3.  But here's the payoff. It's not just about who Jesus is: it is a celebration of WHY Jesus is. This event on Mount Tabor happened on the way to the Passion and Resurrection of Christ.

Jesus isn't just 100% human and 100% God – He is the One who came to set us free from sin, to give us the power that protects us from death itself. He is the one that will be our protector and our deliverer.

If we repent of our sins and accept Him – the One who is both God and man – as our God, our deliverer, and our protector; He adopts us as His sons and daughters and delivers us into the kingdom of His glory.

Like the seeds of the spring blossomed into the fruit we see here before us, so will we be transformed from what we are today into radiant children of God.

We have accepted Him as Lord and Master – let us now celebrate this Transfiguration.

Direct download: Transfiguration_Homily_-_Who_is_the_Christ.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 2:44pm EST