Sun, 29 December 2019
On the Sunday after Nativity we commemorate the slaughter of the innocents by Herod. Fr. Anthony challenges us to think - and repent of - the sacrifices we would be willing to sacrifice for our own sin. Oh, and yes, he really did blank on the place of Christ's birth (bless his heart)! He forgot his recorder, so this was recorded on his new iPhone SE.
Sun, 22 December 2019
Among other things, in this homily Fr. Anthony demonstrates why it is so difficult to preach well on sex (it's hard to say anything useful without saying something that offends liturgical sensibility).
Sun, 15 December 2019
Homily on Ephesians 5:18-19 and St Luke 18:18-27. Christ loved the Rich Young Ruler. He wasn't manipulating him (e.g. for money or control), but was trying to get him to rise above his feelings and find freedom to that he could enjoy eternal life.
Sun, 8 December 2019
Homily on Luke 13:10-17.
What does Duran Duran (and Monty Python) have to do with the Feast and evangelism? In Fr. Anthony's finals-addled mind: it's all part of the pattern.
Gospel: St. Luke (14: 16-24). Then He said to him, “A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, ‘Come, for all things are now ready.’ But they all with one accord began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.’ Still another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So that servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.’ And the servant said, ‘Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.’ Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.’”
Sun, 1 December 2019
St Luke 18:35-43. The healing of the blind beggar.
Jesus Christ is and was God. It is fitting that He reside in the throne room of God, surrounded by the cherubim and seraphim, with His holiness reflecting off all the angels and archangels around Him. But as the being of perfect love, He had to act on behalf of his beloved children (US!). So He took flesh and became man.
Some would have expected Him to take up residence in the Temple or in the Governor’s House. But instead He lived among common men and women and, for the last three years of His life, went from town to town so that everyone would know the Good News of salvation. His body was the temple and He took His holiness, His healing love, and the truth of the Gospel everywhere He went.
We must do the same. God resides within us. We are called to love others as God loves us. We are more than just disciples, we are Christ to the world– we are members of His body, the Church. Others expect us to keep the reason for our joy and hope here in this building, but that is not how to love! Yes, we invite the world to be transformed by joining us here, but love requires that we share the reason for joy and hope in the world. We don’t hide it under a bushel (no!) we let it shine!
The Lord was traveling in today’s lesson, and we give a glimpse at what happened as He did. We see that it isn’t always neat.
The world is a messy place. Look what happened in today’s lesson: Christ and His entourage are almost to Jericho, and a beggar disrupts their travel. This comes on the heels of other messy encounters: people having the nerve to bring their children up to Him to be blessed … a Rich Young Man questioning Jesus, and now this beggar! I am willing to guess that, in their weaker moments, the disciples would have preferred Jesus stay in a place where they could control Him. Then He could teach them – and anyone else who knew how to behave and knew what kind of questions were appropriate.
But that would have been a different God, the God of Ivan Karamazov’s “Grand Inquisitor”. Life is messy. People have real problems, questions, and needs that do not fit into neat little categories. And God goes out to meet them where they are. As with the Rich Man, He may not always tell them what they want to hear, but there is the real sense that love required meeting people where they are (out in the world)… and then leading them to the cross and, through that, to the Resurrection and life eternal.
We have to recognize the way our desire to control and mediate grace is more often a result of our own totalitarian pathology than a genuine desire to do God’s will. Yes, grace leads to harmony; but demanding harmony before offering grace is like withholding medicine until a patient is well enough to deserve it.
My final point may seem obvious, but it demands attention. How did the people respond to the blind man’s healing? Did they attack Jesus (they did in other places, as when He healed on the Sabbath)? Were they upset that He wasted His time and power on a simple beggar when He could have done something more important? Were they upset that they did not get their fair share of Jesus’ miracles on their own body (I bet all of them suffered from something!)?
No, the Gospel says; “And immediately he received his sight, and followed Him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.”
This is the proper response to God’s love and power no matter how it matches our desires or expectations: glorification! When we glorify God, we become more human, more happy, more resilient. And when others see us glorifying God, not just here in the temple, but everywhere we see Him and His miraculous action in this world, they are naturally drawn to worship Him as well.
Yes, let’s continue to praise God and enjoy His miracles here within these walls, but let’s be like Jesus Himself and take the Good News out into the world and let our friends and neighbors – even our enemies – feel the healing grace that flows through our love for them. Yes, it’s going to be messy and it may well mean that more unworthy beggars than kings feel the benefit of this grace; and it may end up meaning that we bring more grace to the lives of the people in our humble community of Anderson than to those in the great halls of Washington D.C. (that may seem to need it more).
But Christ cured the blindness of the beggar on the way to Jericho despite the all terrible things the powerful were doing in Rome. Evangelism is local; it begins with the transformation of our hearts into overflowing fountains of grace that pour out to bless everyone we meet. May the Lord strengthen us as we spread His grace in a messy world.
Sat, 30 November 2019
Nativity Bible Study
Review: What is the Bible? What isn’t it?
Like the Ethiopian Eunuch, we need the Church to interpret the Scriptures for us. The services of the Church are celebratory and poetic interpretations of the events described in Scripture. Historical narratives speak to the head while musical poetry speaks to the heart.
Let’s warm up with some of the hymns from the Matins (Vigil) service of the Nativity.
From the Kathisma. The first is purely descriptive.
Come, ye faithful, let us see * where Christ the Savior hath been born; * let us follow with the kings, * even the Magi from the East, * unto the place where the star doth direct their journey. * For there, the Angels’ hosts * sing praises ceaselessly; * shepherds in the field * offer a fitting song, * while saying, Glory in the highest * to Him this day born within the cave * from the pure Virgin and Theotokos * in Bethlehem of Judea.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
The second is descriptive, but is told from Mary’s view.
Why, O Mary, marv’lest thou, * amazed at that which is in thee? * Because I have given birth * in time unto the timeless Son, * yet none hath taught me concerning my Child’s conception: * without a man am I, * how shall I bear a Son? * Who hath ever seen * a birth without man’s seed? * But, as is written, where God willeth, * the order of nature is overcome. * Lo, Christ is born now of the pure Virgin * in Bethlehem of Judea.
Both now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
The third is a theological meditation on the unity of God and man in Christ Jesus.
He Whom nothing can contain, * how is He held within a womb? * And while in His Father’s arms, * how in His Mother’s pure embrace? * Such is His will and good pleasure, and as He knoweth. * For being without flesh, * He took flesh willingly; * for us, He Who Is * became what He was not. * Without forsaking His own nature, * He hath partaken of what we are. * For Christ is born now, twofold in nature, * to fill Heaven with mankind.
And another gem, from Ode 9:
I behold a strange and wonderful mystery: the cave a heaven, the Virgin a cherubic throne, and the manger a noble place in which hath lain Christ the uncontained God. Let us, therefore, praise and magnify Him.
The most concentrated alternation of scripture and hymnographic commentary occurs during the Royal Hours (and the Vesperal Liturgy).
Direct download: Class_-_Interpreting_Nativity_Scripture_with_Hymnography.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT
Sun, 24 November 2019
Enjoy the show!
Direct download: Talk_-_Sdn_John_Cummings_on_the_St_Moses_the_Black_Retreat_2019.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 1:00pm EDT
Sun, 24 November 2019
St. Luke 10: 25-37. Homily on the Parable of the Good Samaritan. How does discipline lead to the freedom to love? Enjoy the show!
Direct download: Homily_-_The_Good_Samaritan_Discipline_and_Freedom.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT
Sun, 17 November 2019
St. LUKE 12:16-21. The Lord said this parable: "The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, 'What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?' And he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." As he said these things, he cried out: "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."
Sun, 10 November 2019
In this homily on St. Luke 8:26-39, Fr. Anthony shows how easy it is to place our enemies as the villains of Gospel lessons... and reminds us that this is only because we see them through the log (pride!) in our own eyes. This recording also includes the Liturgy of the Faithful. Enjoy the show!
Sat, 9 November 2019
Our Faith: Church Architecture and the Movement of the Faithful
Opening Scripture: Psalm 29:1-2; Exodus 24:9-18; John 12: 3-8
Today’s Lesson: Beauty will Save the World
Questions for consideration:
Basic Orthodox Architecture
Discussion: The role of beauty in our lives. Do we really need all this stuff?
Next time (11/23 and 11/30): Nativity (Incarnation) Prophecies
Sun, 3 November 2019
Why did Christ pick a Samaritan as the Hero in this story?Homily on St. Luke 10:25-37
We know this lesson; we’ve heard it so many times! Perhaps you want to “test out of” this homily? We know that the Parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us that we need to have the courage and compassion to love all people that are in need; even those who are different than ourselves. We even get extra points for knowing the symbols in the story that point to the salvific power of the Church. This lesson on compassion for all provides a necessary corrective! Our instincts betray us. Our fallen post-Babel psychology is tribal, with many of our moral standards defined by differences between “us” and “them” rather than need.
But if that was the main point, why not make the Samaritan the one on the roadside and an ordinary Jew the one that helps him? Then the Jews listening to him would have known that they should love and help Samaritans, not just other Jews. Surely that would have been a more effective way to teach compassion towards the “other.” But Christ is the Great Teacher and scripture is a reliable guide to His teaching. Whenever we read something in the Bible that seems off, it is time for us to learn something new and unexpected. After all, as St. Paul wrote to Timothy;
All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
So let’s look a little deeper and see if we can learn why it was that the Lord Jesus has a Samaritan saving a Jew, rather than the other way around.
1) First off, this parable continued a theme that Jesus returned to often. He had a lot of patience for everyone but the hypocritical leaders of the Jews, those who knew what the greatest commandments of the Law were (love God and love your neighbor), but refused to follow them. Contrasting the men that were held up as the “best of the best” with a lowly Samaritan showed that much of their behavior was was ungodly and to shame them towards repentance.
2) But wait, there’s more: the parable was designed to do more than shame the religious leaders, it was designed to shame all of the listeners; to point out that their own behavior would have been just as despicable as that of the priest and the Levite. Jesus was basically saying; “this is what your leaders would have done in this situation ... and you would have been tempted to do the same.” It wasn't necessary to put an ordinary Jew in the parable; two points make a line. They themselves were part of that line. Jesus had already described the line by describing the usual behavior of the men who were supposed to be the “best of the best.” These are the two points that make that line. The Jews would have seen that they are part of that line.
But Christ is not just bringing attention to the immorality of the Jews; He was describing the fallen psychology of all mankind (the “old man”, “Adam”) in general. Mankind (the “old man”, Adam) was caught in a rut – he was not virtuous. He was not courageous. He was too willing to define virtue based on what other people did or expected rather than on what virtue actually requires. It would take something jarring to get them to see this and to change. This parable is jarring. It goes against expectations.
The Samaritan in the parable is virtuous not because of who he is (i.e. the box society put in) but because of what he does; just as the priest and the Levite are cowardly and mean not because of who they are (i.e. the box society has put them in) but because of their actions. For a tribal people, this undermined the natural and expected order. And that disruption was necessary because that natural and expected order was ungodly and wrong.
3) There is a more subtle theological point that the Church would have us remember. The Samaritan is an outsider. It is an outsider, one who is only half-Jew – or half-man, as it were – that heals the dying man. The Orthodox Church teaches that the Samaritan in the parable represents Christ. He is counter-posed to the Jewish priest and Levite in the parable not just because He is also different – He is both fully man and fully God – but because He is the only one who can bring healing to the brokenness of humanity. As a good and virtuous man, He – unlike the Jewish leaders of His time – had the will to save all mankind; and as the All-Powerful God, He also had the power to do it. The Jewish law and temple worship that the Priest and Levite offer and lead cannot heal the wounds of mankind the way that Christ can. He is more than our High Priest, He is Christ our God, the Savior of the world.
[This theological point becomes even more powerful when we add in the fact that Christ is the New Adam, the new "mankind" if you will; and we are to climb out of our rut by joining Him as part of the new mankind, as part of the new Adam, the new mankind, the Church with Him as its head (for these are all the same thing) with all the grace, responsibility, and power that this represents].
In Conclusion, our psychology is the same as that of Christ's audience. We are called to be virtuous; to be courageous and caring, even when the world is not. But we have more than parables and Christ's example and teaching to help us. He is the source of all virtue and healing, and we are His body. If we accept Him as our God, then it is His virtue that defines us and His healing power that flows through our loving actions. But there is even more: we are still fallen and our psychology is still the same: for instance, we still look to others to see what the right behavior is. The parish, like the family, is called to be a community that is defined by its virtue and charity; the examples that we set for one another naturally create a community that is good. Moreover, our community then sets the example – becomes the leaven for – the entire nation and the world itself.
May God strengthen us as we live virtuous lives in Christ; for the good of our families, our parish, our nation, and the world.
Sat, 2 November 2019
Our Faith: Orthodox Christianity
Asceticism III: on Mysteries, Love, and Silence
Review. We have been called to a great purpose. In Christ it is possible. We need Him to be saved; we need Him to live the kind of lives we were meant to live. Lives of meaning and contented peace. Lives free of spiritual disease. Christ has the medicine that heals what truly ails us, but we need to have a relationship with Him to receive it. In the case of normal doctors, the mechanisms are things like conversation, prescriptions, and a healing touch. Through these, our relationship with our doctor gives us the opportunity for greater health. Christ is our Great Physician; what does a relationship with Him bring to us? What is the medicine He shares with us? Is it “work” to take the medicine?
We are sick. Our minds have become warped. We confuse our will with God’s and make an idol of our pride. We need to heal our minds. We cannot do this by reading books, even the right ones (although we can certainly make things worse by reading the wrong ones). Nor can we simply “try harder” to be good. Both of these simply act as offerings to our pride, trying to make it stronger so that it can overcome everything else. What we need to do is to quiet that pride and lower the mind to Christ. Hesychasm. God in us. Quiet. Peace. Restores truth and beauty to the center of our lives with the mind in its proper place as the executive of this beauty and truth.
So how do we achieve this peace? First, we have to immerse yourself in the Mysteries of the Church and you have to dedicate yourself to selfless love of and service to your neighbor (to include you spouses, your parents, your children, and even those people who unjustly seek to do you wrong). Next, you have to develop and follow a prayer rule. Spending five-ten minutes each evening and morning in prayer over an extended period of time is a prelude or warm-up for the way of silence.
The problem of thoughts – and the difficulty of finding silence. It’s hard, but you certainly won’t find it if you don’t try! And if you don’t, there is a real risk that the other two modes – being religious and being nice – will become distractions, taking us right back to where we were at the beginning of the story.
Which is why, my dear brothers and sisters, we need to develop the tools to bring peace to our lives and to those around us. “The creation waits with eager longing for the sons of God… because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.” (Romans 8:19&21)
“Suppose you read about a pill that you could take once a day to reduce anxiety and increase your contentment. Would you take it? Suppose further that the pill has a great variety of side effects, all of them good: increased self-esteem, empathy, and trust; it even improves memory. Suppose, finally, that the pill is all natural and costs nothing. Now would you take it? The pill exists. It’s called meditation.”~ Jonathan Haidt from The Happiness Hypothesis
How do you meditate?
Don’t get frustrated or upset or worry if you cannot keep focused on these prayers for very long. If you make this a regular part of your daily ritual, you will train your mind for peace. In times when you are losing your calm, a couple of deep breaths will be enough to bring you back to yourself.
Next Week: The Rhythms of Life and Worship
Sun, 27 October 2019
A homily on the Parable of the Sower (St. Luke 8: 5-15). Fr. Anthony encourages us to cultivate habits that sustain and our relationships. Enjoy the show!
Direct download: Homily_-_Habits_for_Sustaining_Strong_Connections.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 8:17pm EDT
Sat, 26 October 2019
Our Faith: Orthodox Christianity
Asceticism II: on fasting
Review. Last week we talked about Christ’s prayer and use of Psalmody (Psalms 21-30); remember that we can also imitate His fasting. We also talked about kenosis (self-emptying) and that doing good is not just a sign of grace, but the way we open ourselves to it. Lastly, we talked about why we work; what is work’s purpose?
Warm-up I. We are made to worship God and serve others. Learning humility, patience, and the other virtues are necessary for us to do that well. But in kenosis, we do not disappear. We are not joining the Borg or some Universal Consciousness. Nor are we becoming possessed, like puppets; that is NOT what St. Paul meant when he said that it was no longer he who lived but Christ who lived in him.
Warm-up II. Who is our neighbor? Whom are we to love as much as him? Asceticism doesn’t just allow us to love and serve others well, it allows us to love and serve ourselves. If this is selfish, then we are doing it wrong (although self-care can feel selfish, especially if we are not well balanced). Self-care is NOT just about maintaining the tool so that it can serve (it is that and more).
Do Not Fast
What You’ve Been Waiting For: THE RULES FOR FASTING
Outside of Lents and Feasts
Additional Fasting Periods (Lents and Fasting Days)
Special Fast-Free Periods
Next Week: Asceticism III – the work of silence
Sun, 20 October 2019
Homily on the Demoniac at Gadarenes (St. Luke 8:26-39). Enjoy the show!
Sun, 13 October 2019
Homily on 2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1.
Sat, 12 October 2019
Our Faith: Orthodox Christianity
Prayer as a Mystery and Medicine for Pride
Questions for consideration: what happens when we pray? What is the purpose of prayer? How does pride (noetic effect of the fall!) affect our prayer?
An Apology for Prayer… and for using a Prayer Book
Final point for tonight. We begin prayers; “In the Name…” This is scriptural, but what does it mean? We are God’s imagers. We re-present Him. We act in His name. Done with confident humility. Here’s a mind-bender: the Logos prayed to the Father (a witness of them being “One” as we should be one)!
Next week: Asceticism as training for perfection.
Sun, 6 October 2019
Homily on St. Luke 7:11-16.
Sat, 5 October 2019
Adult Education, Class Two: Pride
Some Scripture to get us started:
Proverbs 16:18. Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.
Romans 12:3. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.
1 Corinthians 13:4. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
Galatians 6:1-3. Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves.
Philippians 2:3. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,
James 4:6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”
James 4:10. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
Pride: A Noetic Effect of the Fall.
What effect do we have on others? Is it like St. Peter’s? Do we walk in the midst of broken people bringing them healing? Do others, recognizing the potency of our peace, go out of their way just to be in our shadow? Have we achieved any degree of the kind of purity and goodness – the kind of peaceful spirit – that will, as St. Seraphim of Sarov intimates, lead to the salvation of thousands?
I have to be honest with you, even when that honesty might be troubling: when it comes to everything that is important on this earth, when it comes to the things that really matter in our daily lives, in the life of our families, this parish and this community, and in the entire course of cosmic history, there are only two types of people in this world:
Saint Peter was part of the solution (healing of Aeneas; raising of Dorcas; his shadow!). That wasn’t always the case. There was a time when he was more affected by his own pride and the expectations of others than a commitment to do what was good and right; but by the time the events described in Acts 5 & 9 roll around, he wasn’t just occasionally doing what was good and right (as he had before), he had become good and right. So good that Christ and the Holy Spirit worked amazing miracles through him.
Don’t we want to be part of what Peter had? To bring hope to the hopeless, healing to the hurt, and life to the dead?
If so, then we must give our lives to Christ. We must open our hearts to the Holy Spirit. We must train our feelings, our minds, and our wills to want only those things that are holy and good. All other things will pollute us and make unsuitable for salvation – much less for the salvation of the creatures and creation around us.
The polluted person is not part of the solution. Pollution is the thing we need to end. The polluted person is part of the problem. Pollution comes in many forms (here I speak not of factories and cars and the like, but of the soul); and the great difficulty of living in this world is that it celebrates impurity, makes it seem normal, even good.
We have to keep ourselves pure. We have to keep our families pure. We especially have to keep our parish pure. The Church is where people come to be healed. But what good is a hospital that is full of germs? Whose doctors and nurses and orderlies have not washed their hands? The Church is where people come to be cleansed, but what kind of cleansing comes when the parish water has been fouled? The Church is the palace of the Prince of Peace, where people come to calm their souls and bring an end to divisions, but what kind of peace can we offer if we war among ourselves?
It is so easy to become part of the problem. Our pride is set up for it. The brilliance of our minds works overtime justifying our selfish motivations and excusing our bad behavior. Our minds are the best PR guys we could ever get, the kind of salesman that could sell snow to eskimos. The kind of guy that every elected official wants around to explain why his policies and actions are the very best. The problem is that our minds use this skill to convince us that we are saints, that our every motivation is noble, and our every action was required by the situation at hand.
Psychologists and neuroscientists have found that this is the default setting for our moral “decision making”: we instinctively do things, then our minds kick in to explain why we do (or rather, should do!) them. Very few moral decisions are the result of choice or discernment – no matter what the PR guy in our head tells us. This is bad because our instincts are often flawed. They must be trained. This requires humility and effort. It’s a lot easier to just let the cheerleader in our brains tell us how great we already are.
But if we take the easy way, we will be part of the problem and we will make it harder for those who are actually trying to help (the ones who, unlike us, are not part of the problem) to do their job.
This can even happen in our parishes. The description of the power of St. Peter’s shadow came right after the condemnation of Ananias and Sapphira, the two who threatened to contaminate the Apostolic Church with their selfishness. The indicator of the problem in their hearts was that they gave some money to the church, but held more back (unnecessarily). Today’s reading comes right after Simon Magus tried to buy the Holy Spirit so that he could do the same kind of wonders that the apostles did.
Can you imagine the way the PR people in their heads spun their motivations and actions? Ananias and Sapphira probably considered themselves so generous! I am sure they had all kinds of sweet-sounding justifications for not supporting the ministry of the Church with all their time, talents and treasures. Don’t we all? And yet the truth condemned them and they died in their sin. Simon Magus’s mind may have told him that he only wanted this power to help others; that he would use it to ease people’s pain. Don’t we all? And yet the truth condemned him. His error was so great that he is one of the greatest arch-villians in the history of salvation. He even has an entire category of sin – Simony – named after him.
We have good intentions. We want to be part of the solution. We want to do good. That is why we are here. But we cannot trust our instincts – even if we call them beautiful names like “my conscious” or “my heart” or “my feelings” (we cannot trust your instincts!) – to guide us. Nor can we trust our brains to discern what is right. Our instincts will point us in the wrong direction and our minds will convince us we are exactly where we should be and right around the corner from where we are going. The PR guy in our brains will tell us how good we are and provide all kinds of infallible evidence to support this claim.
But we are not good. There is only one that is good, and that is Christ. We must trust Him (not ourselves). We have to let go of our instincts and justifications and start over. Let the Holy Spirit – found so powerfully not in our feelings but actually manifested in the teachings of the Church – strengthen and guide us.
This is important. You are here today, and that is a good beginning. But it is not enough. Through humility, let the Lord’s peace and power replace your pride. Through your prayer rule and study, let the wisdom of God retrain your mind to be an advocate for truth rather than a cheerleader for sin (and not just a way to learn new words to write your own hagiography), and then, let the peace and power that passes all understanding transform your life, and from there to transform this world.
If we do this, then we will become – as St. Peter was - a part of the solution.
Sun, 29 September 2019
Homily: Why We Need to Love God to Really Love Our Neighbor
Great lesson from The Teacher: “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 them 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. It is where we learn through experience how to have that source in us and connecting us; one pure love uniting, healing, empowering, and guiding us together.
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 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, experienced, and shared within the Church and from the Church to the world.
The fullness of that Church is meant to be found here in this, our parish home. 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.
Sat, 28 September 2019
Our Faith: Orthodox Christianity
Questions for consideration: does God just work through ideas and the heart, or does He work in the physical world, too? How about mankind? Is there such a thing as a blessing? A curse? How do they work?
Mysteries (not as in “strange”, but as in the way the ineffable God is made known and accessible.
An Apology for Orthodoxy: It is radically Incarnational. It takes God’s call for us to be stewards - and annointed ones - seriously. It also takes our own incarnation (psycho-somaticism) seriously. It also takes our pride seriously.
Next week: Orthodoxy as the medicine for pride.
Sun, 22 September 2019
Homily on the first Sunday of Luke (5:1-11). The Gospel is on Christ calling the disciples to become "fishers of men." This account at the beginning of Christ's earthly ministry bookends with a similar one that occurs after His Resurrection. Fr. Anthony reminds us in this homily that we live in the joy of that second account (even when our nets seem empty). Keep fishing!
Sat, 21 September 2019
This is a recording of the talk I gave for the “Ukrainian Historical Encounters Series” special event "Celebrating the 125th Anniversary of the Organized Ukrainian American Community" on 21 September 2019 at the Princeton Club of New York. I represented the UOC-USA on the panel on "The Ukrainian American Community and Religious Life". The moderator was Dr. Andrew Sorokowski [Religious Information Service of Ukraine]. The other presenters were the o. Ivan Kasczak (The Ukrainian Catholic Church) and Rev. Mykhailo Cherenkov (Ukrainian Evangelic Community).
Direct download: Talk_-_Ukrainian_Organization_and_Identity_-_the_role_of_the_UOC-USA.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT
Sun, 15 September 2019
Every time we do this, it is different. This time, the focus is on the spiritual peace and harmony offered through the Divine Liturgy. Sorry about the audio quality; enjoy the show!
Direct download: Excerpts_from_a_Teaching_Liturgy_-_A_Meditation_on_Being_One.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT
Sun, 8 September 2019
Homily on St. John 3:13-17. "The Lord said... as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up ... " What's that all about? Snakes and salvation. Enjoy the show!
Sun, 1 September 2019
The Gospel is St. Matthew 18:23-35 (the wicked servant who was forgiven but refused to forgive). The Divine Liturgy was our first in our new location. Enjoy the show!
Sun, 1 September 2019
The Gospel is St. Matthew 18:23-35 (the wicked servant who was forgiven but refused to forgive). God desires that we be one as He is One; forgiveness are essential for both the vertical and horizontal dimensions of this unity. Enjoy the show!
Sun, 18 August 2019
1 Corinthians 3:9-17; St. Matthew 14:22-34. In this homily, given at the first "official" Divine Liturgy with the Holy Resurrection mission in Waynesville, NC, Fr. Anthony focuses on the hand that Jesus Christ gives to Peter when he called out "Lord save me!" as he sank into the water. Enjoy the show!
Sun, 11 August 2019
In this, his last homily as the priest of St. Mary's in Allentown, Fr. Anthony describes how the multiplication of the loaves is a model for all the good work we do in the world, to the glory of God and the serving of our neighbors. Enjoy the show!
Sun, 4 August 2019
A world of violence, of division, of demonization, of sinful self-righteousness. Surely we have to do something.
And so we try. We come up with policies, but because we are so damaged and divided, these just polarize us more. Gun control? Assimilation? Immigration? The reaction each of us have to these words; the defensiveness, the anger, the argumentativeness... these demonstrate the need for something stronger, something that goes deeper.
We need a new start. A way to allow us to approach ourselves, one another, and our problems with new eyes.
The Gospel is that the Lord has seen our divisions and our pain, and so He has sent His Son. Through His Son, we can all be given a new start.
But we are so divided! And becoming more so every day. We are coming up with new identities that show how different we are from one another, and then we rally around those differences and use them to puff ourselves up and degrade all those who oppose us. Worse yet, these differences are put within a context of power, where the only worthwhile goal is to destroy the ways of the other and replace them with our own. How can we break out of this downward spiral of division and hate?
The Gospel is that the Lord has seen our divisions and our pain, and so He has sent His Son. Through His Son and the Unity that is His essence, we can become One as God is one. In Him, we are called to become a new humanity, a humanity that is not divided by nation – no Greek nor Jew, or sex – no male nor female-, or power – no master nor slave – but is all one in a joyful unity. All made more of themselves without causing that to put him against others who are actualized differently from themselves.
Rebirth? Yes, we need a new start; and the Lord offers it to us every day. A world without division? Yes; and that is what we are doing here today.
So what do we need to do? We need to give ourselves over to Christ; allow Him to continually remake us in His image and allow His love to heal the divisions that are destroying our families, our country, and our world.
Today St. Paul gives some simple advice on how to work towards peace.Be patient with one another, especially when they are weak. Bear their burdens. Know their pain. Comfort them.
Kindness can seem too hard. “What if people use me”. If you hold true to yourself, if you maintain your integrity and virtue, you cannot run out of kindness. It isn't like money or food. If people use you? Don't let them. If people are mean? If they respond poorly? Then they are starving for it: give them more. Kill them with kindness? Yes, kill their demons with kindness. Not out of spite, but out of a desire for their healing, because you have come to know them and to love them and to desire their salvation.
Kindness: weak soup for a starving world? No. Unity. Love. Redemption. These are the things the world needs. And this is the Gospel: that God has seen our pain and He offers this unity, this love, this redemption to heal our wounds, silence our hatred and division, and draw us into an eternity of joyful perfection.
We spread this love not through shouting or stressing how we are different, but by patiently drawing them into love.
Sun, 28 July 2019
Homily on Romans 12:6-14, St. Volodymyr (it was his day), and Fr. Richard Jendras' ordination (which took place the previous day). He shares the relationship of culture to virtue to the spread of all things good, focusing on the pivotal role of kindness.
Sun, 14 July 2019
Christ sent his disciples out to heal. Today (7/14) we celebrate Sts. Cosmos and Damion, the Unmercenary Healers. In this homily, Fr. Anthony reminds us that is our calling - not just that of clergy and medical professionals - to heal the brokenness of those around us. Enjoy the show!
Sun, 7 July 2019
This Liturgy was celebrated in Waynesville, NC as an outreach of St. Mary's (Pokrova) in Allentown, PA and in anticipation of the mission (Holy Resurrection) that is scheduled to begin services in Waynesville on 18 August 2019. The audio of the homily is not all that great (it was a small room, so Fr. Anthony kept his voice down as was a distance from the microphone, so we supplemented it with some of the music from the service. Enjoy the show!
Sun, 16 June 2019
Acts 2:1-11; John 7:37-52; 8:12.
God is love; the Father is love when He creates us and the world we are called to serve; the Son is love when He sacrifices Himself for our salvation; the Holy Spirit is love when He comforts, sustains, and strengthens us so that we can live in imitation of and in participation with them in this unifying love.
In our tradition, Pentecost is also known as Trinity Sunday, and it is important that we celebrate not just the coming of the Holy Spirit, but the way that all three persons of the Holy Trinity act out of one will, one essence, one “love” if you will. It is this love, variously referred to as grace or energy or gifts or living water, that allows us to grow beyond our fallen nature and selfishness and become vessels of that grace so that can unify ourselves with and in it and then share it with others. We acquire that grace not for ourselves only – for selfishness and the hoarding of love separates us from its source – but rather so that we can share it with others and draw them into this same transformation; the transformation of fallen and separated humanity, divided by passions and greed, into the family of God, the Christian nation, people who have become one in love as God is One in love. Not losing our individuality, but with all our blessed gifts directed efficiently towards their proper purposes.
Looking at the Epistle reading for today, it is worth asking what languages have to do with any of this. In general, a common language represents the healing of Babel.
But what is that language? Is it Hebrew? English? Binary code? Enochian? None of these are good enough. It isn't about the language, it is about the unity it allows. The pre-Babel language united the people, but it did not make them holy. That is the whole point: their unity was evil so God divided them so that the would have to work their evil separately, thus limited the damage it could do.
But there is something more we can learn from the focus on language and the ability of the Apostles to speak in ways that their hearers could understand.
Understanding is more than grammar. It's more than vocabulary. It's even more than learning the stories of the people who speak it. Understanding requires quieting our own minds and learning to hear the things people say. Listening is hard thing, it requires incredible humility. Without that, we hear only enough to manipulate, to demonize, to justify, to argue; but never enough to really know. Never enough to really love.
And this is why the Holy Spirit is tied into this process. We acquire the Holy Spirit when we empty ourselves of our passions and completely give our lives over to knowing and loving the other. And when we do that, we are able to communicate – commune! - with them at the deepest level.
In that love, we can share the source of love. This is what the apostles did at Pentecost. And because grace motivated and sustained their efforts, they were able to share the most important thing of all to the people around them: the Gospel. The words of transformation. The words of redemption. The words of love.
And when they heard it – when they were loved and drawn into its source, they separated themselves form all the things in their lives that were not good and holy, and joined themselves to the new humanity – the family of God (also known as the Church) – through through Baptism and the Holy Eucharist (the mysteries of union!).
37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.” 40 And he testified with many other words and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
It is hard to really listen. It is hard to really know someone else. It is so hard to love. One day, it will come naturally, through the grace of God.
But for now, we have some rules to guide us, most especially, the golden rule; “love your neighbor as yourself”. When we recognize that this call to imagine ourselves as not just our neighbor, but our enemies as well, and then treat them the way we want to be treated, then we have a guide to behavior that will allow us to live the life of love as we are being perfected by God's grace through the mysteries of repentance, and Eucharist.
May God strengthen us as we learn to love through the grace of God.
Sun, 2 June 2019
Sunday of the Man Born Blind
I strongly encourage you to spend time studying scripture. Not just reading it; it's not like a novel that is easy to follow or a textbook that lays everything out and then footnotes the hard stuff; it requires effort. And part of the effort is asking questions. We've talked about this before: the Bible, like Orthodoxy and everything else worthwhile, can handle scrutiny. Asking questions - not out of a desire to attack or discredit, but out of a desire to understand and even test – is the way our rational mind learns. Our subconscious mind learns through the repetition of ritual and story, but the rational part of our mind learns best from active and continuous dialogue. And here at St. Mary's we are creating a culture of safe, loving, and productive dialogue; so that we can fulfill the desire of God “that all be saved and come to the knowledge of God.”
I love this Gospel, because one of the obvious questions is asked straightaway; “why was this man born blind, is it because of his sin or his parents?”
Awesome. And our great teacher gives the answer, and he does it by stepping outside of their worldview and shifting it from sin to the power of God. It's a beautiful thing.
But there are other questions that come up to. And one of the most pressing and most obvious is; “if God has that power, and he used it on this random blind guy, why didn't he use it on …; why doesn't he use it on ….” And so on.
These are great questions. They are questions motivated by hearts that are broken with grief and a desire to bring comfort to people who are hurt and suffering.
There is an answer, but in order to give it, I need to come at it sideways, with a parable.
Why a parable? … Why make one up?
From our own experiences: the melt down on aisle four.
Hungry child. Knows what is required to end that hunger. Demands that the parent end the hunger. Now. There is food in the shopping cart; it is there so that dinner can be made. No; the demand is more insistent. In a toddler, it takes on the form of the melt-down. But what if the toddler had words? What would they look like? Love! Where is the love? A child in need! Feed the child! If you love, you must feed the child!
Some in the store may even support this: “please feed the child!!!”
But what happens if the parent gives in to the tantrum?
Greater long term success and and satisfaction is found in learning about self-control and deferred gratification (not to mention the fact that bad behavior has negative consequences) than in satisfying cravings and hunger pain as soon at they show up.
The good parent will soldier on, make dinner with the child (or while he sits in time out watching it being made), and then be reminded – at dinner – about the regular cycles of the household rhythm. Eventually, when the child is hungry, he will not need to be reminded that dinner will come, that the love of the parent is real and that she really will take care of the child. It will all be automatic. The refusal to disrupt the plan and rhythm of the good household around the short-term desires of the child will be understood as necessary, or at least, acceptable.
The parable isn't perfect, but it provides a good start to understanding why good healed this blind man, but doesn't answer every request immediately and in the way we demand. Even when we insist that love requires such a response.
God healed the blind man for the same reason he accomplished all of his miraculous healings: so that we would know that we could trust Him that dinner really would be shared with all who desired to eat once it was actually time for that dinner to be held.
God has healed our diseases; God has granted us all immortal life.
Right now, we're in Aisle Four and hungry; we seem a long way from home and forever away from dinner time.
That doesn't give us license for us to have a melt-down on aisle four.
Christ is Risen, He is ascended into glory, and we will join Him there when it is time.
Sun, 26 May 2019
Homily on the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman; St. John 4:5-42. What are we to learn about water that is more than water and the secret food that sustained Jesus? Listen and find out!
Sun, 19 May 2019
St. John 5:1-15; Acts 9:32-42. Three lessons: A Life lesson from St. John Chrysostom: We must persevere, even when there is no clear solution. A moral lesson from St. Augustine: There is a time for being cared for and healed, but there is also a time for healing others. A theological lesson from St. John Chrysostom: God set it up this strange way to prepare us to understand the real healing that would come through baptism. Enjoy the show!
Sun, 5 May 2019
Homily on Belief
Does God hate doubt? Did he shame doubters? No, He had a different approach.
He wants us to know the truth; but this is MUCH less about facts than it is about us knowing Him as the God. In St. John 14:6, He says “I am the Truth...”
He does not want us to remain in doubt about Him, His power, or His redeeming love for us. He wants us to believe in Him. Again, in John (11:26), He describes how important this belief is: it is the only way to have real life. But He is patient and will draw the earnest seeker into belief.
But what does it mean to believe in someone? It means that you can trust that person, trust their intentions, and trust their power to do what it is they are saying they will do.
In a healthy marriage, a husband believes in his wife and the wife believes in her husband. In a healthy home, children grow up believing in their parents; they trust them, their intentions, and their power.
When that belief is gone, no actions are going to be able to save the relationship. A spouse that is convinced their partner is going to find evidence – even if the mind has to make it up – to support that. And so the whole dynamic changes; without belief their can be no connection; no blessed unity; no harmony; no “life”.
Christ is worthy of our Trust. His intentions towards us are clear: He loves us and desires us to have eternal joy with Him and each other. His power to do what He has promised is similarly clear: He has risen from the dead. And He has given us reminders of all this: we share in His Body and Blood in part to keep the reality of His promise alive in us. To help us drive away the doubt.
You have united yourself to Christ. You believe in His love and you have accepted that love. You believe in His power and you have accepted that power.
The mind will still come up with doubts; but that is what the mind does. It comes up with ideas. Over time, as we learn to really trust Him, these doubt will trouble us less. But in the meantime, don't be afraid of your doubts. As in any good relationship, bring them out into the open. This is the safe place to do that; not here during worship, but here in this community. I guarantee you that you won't be the first to express the ideas your mind has come up with; incredibly intelligent and well-educated people and experienced people have thought those thoughts.
If those thoughts were generated out of love and a genuine desire to know, then working out the answers here in God's presence will be a holy act. History shows this without exception. The answers may be hard to hear, but being good isn't always easy.
History also shows that if we use questions out of malice or a desire to mock God or His children, that we will learn nothing from our dialogue with Him. But malice is a poison; the only way to cure it is by pulling out the poison. Facts don't help at all.
One last note about doubt. When you believe, do it gently, patiently, and with love as you share it with others. God did not mind people who came to Him with questions because He knew the connection of honest dialogue would bring them into a relationship – that is to say, a belief – in Him.
But He had no patience with people who believed so strongly in the wrong things that they hurt others for it, especially when they did this in His name. (Pharisees)
So believe in Christ; believe in His love for you, and His power to bring you into the only life worth living.
Sat, 27 April 2019
The Lamentations/Praises from the Matins service of Holy Saturday. Rdr. Nicholas Perkins sang the verses; Fr. Anthony Perkins (his father) sang the Psalm verses. Enjoy the show!
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.