Traveling to Bethlehem (18 December 2010)

The Seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit

The Seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit

Question: Do I know what the Church is? This might at first appear to be a foolish questions to ask, but I do not ask it lightly.  Most of us adults in the Church are too embarrassed to admit we don’t understand. What don’t we understand? We don’t know what the Church is! Perhaps, the most basic question we should ask is: “Do we have a personal relationship with Christ?”  Ours is a personal God who came to earth, being born in a manger, so that each of us could enjoy a personal relationship with Him.  After His crucifixion and resurrection, He sent His Holy Spirit to empower us; so that we could truly live.  With our Baptism, we become new creatures in Christ, free of sin. With our Chrismation, we are given, as a free gift, His Spirit to allow us to grow in Him.  By partaking in Holy Communion, we become united to Christ. The added dimension is that we are also united to everyone who participates in His Body and His Blood. The Church is actualised when we, as the faithful, come together and become the Body of Christ.

Through God’s Holy Spirit, we are no longer lonely individuals. We become personally united with Christ and through Him with each other.  The Church transcends time and space. It has a cosmic dimension that connects us withHim and all Christians.  This bond is not limited by physical death, time or place. The Church is Christ and all who are joined with him.  This miracle is a mystery of faith.  As St. Paul explains in his Letter to the Hebrews: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen” (Hebrews 11, 1).  We cannot see the Church, yet it is! It is for us the ultimate reality; the Kingdom of God on earth and a foretaste of heaven. This is as personal a relationship that we could ever experience. Once again, St. Paul says it best, “ I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

“With Fear of God with Faith and Love… ”

The Cup of Faith

The Cup of Faith

During the Divine Liturgy we are called to partake of Christ with the “Fear of God, Faith and Love… ” The fear of God is not the type of fear that means we are petrified and so terrified of God that we quake and live in horror; instead this “fear” is awe, reverence and veneration.  We know the holiness of God as Trinity and our separation from Him caused by our own sinfulness. This awe requires us to look at ourselves honestly and to understand the great gulf between us and Our Lord.  But, there is more to the invitation to the Chalice than fear. There are two more phrases that we need to consider.

With faith!  How can we approach God without faith?  We understand the great gulf between us, but faith can overcome this separation.  Faith in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, Our Lord becoming one of us; truly God and truly Man.  His love for His Creation is so great that  He put on our humanity through the Theotokos by the Holy Spirit to allow us to relate to Him. He assumed our nature to decrease the separation between us.  This mystery is beyond our understanding. The result of His love for us is to lessen the “fear” we have for Him. How can we fear one of our own?  Can we live in dread of someone who is there waiting for us to reach out so that His strength supports us in our weakness? With faith, we are certain that he is the gentle shepherd who will search us out when we’re lost and carry us on His shoulders when we’re too tired to walk to Him. This faith is a faith in God’s love for us. This faith is an assurance of Christ’s continued presence among us, His People.

When we realise Christ is there in the Chalice waiting for us, there is only one response – Love.  Love for God, a burning desire for Him to be the centre of our life.  By the invitation of the Church, we are called to partake and become one with Him. Not only are we summoned to join with Christ, but also to become one with all who share in this Cup. This is true love, to become part of each other. Christ became one of us and shared our nature because of His love. By sharing Him, we share each other. It is a miracle of His love that we enter into an intimate relationship with each other as a community.  As we partake of Holy Communion “with the fear of God, Faith and Love,” not only do we draw near to Christ; but equally to each other. The closeness of this bond is the unity that makes us the Body of Christ with one head – Our Lord God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Answer the invitation!  Let us meet Christ and each other at His Cup of Love.

DISTANCE

LORD, SAVE ME !

LORD, SAVE ME !

What do you do when you lose faith?  How do we move from that abstract question to the reality of life? Frankly, I don’t have all the answers.  Sometimes I am full of questions, many of which don’t have easy solutions.  There is a distance between God and us that at times seems to grow even further. Yet, we are assured God is always available, awaiting us.  It would seem, we’re the ones who move away from God. For me this is very problematic.  When life deals you difficulties; whether illness, the death of a loved one or as in my case unemployment your faith is tested and you don’t know why. The Church tells us we should trust in God and surrender to His will. For me this is very hard. Trust is one thing, but knowing His will for your life is sometimes very confusing.   We are told not to fear, this is extremely hard to do when your life seems to be in such turmoil and you make choices that appear to be the correct ones only to turn out poorly. How do we know God’s will for our life? There are so many examples of faith in the scriptures, but how do we get from doubt to certainty. One of my problems is that I can relate to the theoretical, I can quote chapter and verse and I usually know the right things to say.  But, the application to life, is a struggle. Like most of us, I want to have faith and to be confident in that faith.  Why to we question our own heart and create such a turmoil in our spirit?  Seeking God is our natural state, yet we make it so hard.  I try to find answers for these questions in Scriptures or in the Lives of the Saints.  As I mull over these thoughts, I am sure that I am not the only person to have asked these questions. As I have tried to search out a path, I have found that the Church talks of two types of faith. The first is based on knowledge, understanding and leads to quiet and complete trust in God. This level of faith is the higher faith for which we all yearn.  Perhaps, the first step of faith is realising that we all question. I believe that prayer is a powerful weapon, so I ask for your prayers. I will pray that God strengthens our faith and gives us insight and understanding which leads to an unshakeable faith.

Lord Jesus Christ Son of God Have Mercy on Me a Sinner.

The Invitation

The Servant of God

The Servant of God

“Faith is a dialogue, but the voice of God is almost silent. It exerts a pressure that is infinitely delicate and never irresistible. God does not give orders He issues invitations.” This beautiful quote is taken from a lovely book by Paul Evdokimov, Ages of the Spiritual Life. This is a thought provoking statement, which really should be considered in these thoughts about faith.  We have spoken about teaching faith to children and learning faith from our elderly.  But, what is faith? The beginning phrase “faith is a dialogue”  is at once a simple yet complex idea.  With whom do we dialogue? What can we say? How does God answer our questions about faith?   As Christ tells us in the book of the Apocalypse (Revelation) 3, 20:

Behold, I stand at the door and knock;

if anyone hears my voice and opens

the door, I will come to him and eat with

him, and he with me.

Isn’t this quite an invitation?  Christ is waiting for us. His response to our faith is assured. So like a child whose first steps are tentative, our first faith steps may be shaky. God is there waiting for us no matter how weak our faith. He has promised us that if we reach out, as did St. Peter, he will grab us by the hand.  The invitation from Christ is offered more often than we realise.  At each Divine Liturgy we are issued an invitation.  The call to the Chalice allows us to reaffirm our Baptism.  It is our adult response to eat with Christ and to partake of him. Our God stands in waiting. No matter how far we have wandered or how long it has been. The invitation is prepared and personal.  Our faith is not an exercise by which we test God, but rather an opportunity to engage God in our life. Faith depends on our attitude. Do we realise that we have move away from God? Is there faith, however weak? More importantly, do we love God? Our invitation awaits us.  The invitation reads:

With the fear of God, with Faith and Love

Draw near!

The Church of the Home

...with Faith and Love

…with Faith and Love

Teach Your Children Well

You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good bye.

I saw this beautiful photograph and immediately thought of this song from my youth by Crosby Stills and Nash. Now that I am a grandfather, the sentiment means so much more to me than it did in the sixties. The lesson you learn as a clergy man who is privileged to offer the Body and Blood of Our Lord to the faithful is that children show if they have been taught well. How children approach the Holy Chalice says worlds about their first Church, the Church of the Home. I have heard many opinions and arguments concerning frequent communion, but none are as powerful as a child approaching the Holy Cup with love and joy. Please, don’t misunderstand me all of us, even children, will have an off day. Perhaps, they’re tired or restless or it’s just one of those days. But, you can always tell a little one who comes to Church often and receives Christ in their life often. They show the love in their hearts with their eyes.

Teach your children well…All of us parents, grandparents and Godparents should teach well. There are many of us who teach, even if we don’t have children. Yes, we are all on a road and for a short time we carry little ones, until they walk on their own. Instilling a code they can live by is our responsibility. The community of faith is all of us; and we all have a duty to pass on this faith. We live in a world that at best ignores faith. Even worse, it can ridicule and denigrate faith. We cannot teach faith only on a Sunday morning. We must live our faith each day and reflect the love of Christ in our hearts with joy. Carefully answer questions of the young putting Christ first. We have all heard the expression, “We teach by example.” The lyric says: “so become yourself,” becoming your genuine self is living in Christ each day. Do this and with God’s help, you will teach your children well!

WHAT IS OUR CHURCH’S TEACHING CONCERNING CREMATION?

Taking Down from The Cross

Taking Down from The Cross

Last week, I was asked about the Orthodox Church’s views of cremation. News from Greece is that there is a push to authorize cremation. The real story is that the push is coming from the secular government and it is being opposed by the Church. The teaching of the Church is clear, cremation is not allowed. We hear the argument that it is more economical and that the environment will be helped. These are just excuses. It is true that in Japan, where the state mandates cremation, the Church reluctantly has to accept the practice. But, it happens after the funeral service has taken place, with the body in the Church.

What is the theology of the Church’s teaching? The mystery of death has many facets, not the least being the attitude concerning the body. The earliest and most vital aspect of this teaching is the story of creation itself. Genesis 1, 26 clearly teaches that humanity is made in the “image and likeness of God.” This creation is not only our spirit, but our physical body as well. Christ with His Incarnation assumed our physical body. St. Gregory the Theologian states in his first letter to Cledonios: “The unassumed is unhealed, but that which is united with God is also being saved.” We also read in the prologue to St. John’s Gospel. ” The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1, 14) At the Resurrection and again at the Ascension, we believe that the Glorified Body of the Lord rose and ascended to sit at the right hand of God the Father. With this act of salvation our body is united to Christ. The Church teaches at the Second Coming our Glorified bodies will rise to meet the Lord.

We read in Genesis 3, 19, “…till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust and to dust you shall return.” The Holy Church believes that we are holistic creatures and that our bodies should be allowed to decay naturally. Respect for the natural order is strongly upheld in the Church’s teachings. The question comes to mind, what about times when out bodies are burned or lost at sea, or blown up? These are not wilful acts. Cremation is the choice of humans and intervenes in the natural order, because it is the direction of our will not God’s. St. Paul teaches ” Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor. 6, 19 – 20). Our bodies are anointed with the Holy Spirit at Chrismation and are Spirit filled! They belong to God.

It is the Orthodox doctrine that to consider the material world sinful is wrong. We believe that the material world can be sanctified by God’s grace. The Holy Spirit consecrates wine and bread into the Body and Blood of Christ. The Church sanctifies water, wheat, oil, food and our bodies. The witness of the saints is a convincing illustration of this glorification of the body. Many saints’ bodies, after their falling asleep in the Lord, do not corrupt. Their bodies testify to their glorification by God in Christ and His victory over death. The holy relics of the saints become Spirit bearing and many miracles are associated with them. Our consecrated temples, altars and antimensia contain relics of the saints. Additionally, the reverence given to Christ’s body at the Crucifixion by St. Joseph, St. Nicodemus and the Myrrh-bearing Women is a prime example of the reverence we Orthodox have for the body. The hymns and services of the Holy Passion are replete with references to the body and the respect which the Church affords it. The act of cremation is a violation against the body and is not allowed by the Church. Your questions can be asked by E- mailing me. Thank you.
Dn. George

Now that I found it what do I do with it?

Today is the feast day of Sts. Constantine and Eleni.  I was thinking about the event that we relate with St. Eleni (I like this better than Helen).  St. Eleni is remembered for not only being the mother of the Emperor Constantine, but in British folklore she is thought to be the spouse of “Old King Cole.”  That’s right the same King Cole as in the nursery rhyme.  Well, that shows you how much useless dribble fills my mind.  Back to the subject at hand, we remember St. Eleni because her search for and discovery of The True Cross of Christ.

The True Cross   The True Cross

 We all know the account of her discovering a mound with sweet basil growing among the weeds and stones of Golgotha, digging and uncovering several old crosses.  Subsequently, to determine the True Life-giving Cross from the crosses of the thieves she had a corpse placed on the wood. The dead person was brought back to life when he was placed on the True Cross. The recounting of this tale caused me to ponder a very significant point.  It occurred to me that at one time or another in our life’s journey we all lose faith. Perhaps, it is a great disappointment, or the death of someone we love, an illness, depression or a myriad of other reasons. We just lose it.  If we are fortunate to find our way again, either by struggle, the help of a friend, time’s healing passage or by the guidance of a spiritual guide, then we are faced with an ultimate decision.   Now that I found it what do I do with it?  St. Eleni can be a guide to our future  action.  What did she do?  What she didn’t do was sit back on her laurels and just take the “applause” of the assembled throngs, the people and her son.  She did what we all should do!  She put her faith into action.  She built churches all over the Holy Lands.  What can we do when we discover or rediscover our faith?  When we join Christ and His Body as a result of our embracing the faith or returning to the fold, our ultimate choice is what to do now.  The example of St. Eleni is – do something with your faith.  Let it light a fire in our heart and inspire us to put our faith to work. Feed the hungry, teach the uninformed, visit the sick, help the helpless, comfort the downhearted, be there for someone, reach out and encourage the timid.  The bottom-line is to become Christ to someone and make your faith a living faith!

 

 

Enlightenment

We remember the Samaritan woman on the fourth Sunday after Pascha and on February 26 each year.  The Holy Gospel has not given us the name of the Samaritan woman, but the Tradition of the Church remembers, and calls her in Greek – Photini, in Russian – Svetlana, in the Celtic languages – Fiona, in Western languages – Claire, all these names speak to us of one thing – of light.  Again light, we spoke of light only two weeks ago! There is not a mention of light in the Gospel story of the Samaritan woman but, the light is there in the person of Our Lord. As in many encounters with Jesus, there is light or rather enlightenment.

St. Photini and XC 

       St. Photini and XC

The Apolitikion for St. Photini begins with these words, “All illumined by the Holy Spirit…,” once again, light. The constant mention of this phenomenon should cause us to stop and wonder. In this meeting with Jesus, the woman at the well gained insight into her own life and into salvation history.  Enlightenment can be defined as: the action or state of attaining or having attained spiritual knowledge or insight.  OK, what insight did she gain.  She understood the relationship of Jews and Samaritans.  She knew she was living with this guy who wasn’t her husband. She well knew her marriage history.  What is left?  It seems to me that Photini still had doubts as to Jesus’ identity. We read her question to the city dwellers, “Can this be the Christ?” She did peak the people’s interest so that they went out to meet Jesus.  After they came face to face with him and listened to him they believed.

 The tradition of the Church tells us that Photini and her family were present at Pentecost. We read that St. Peter addressed the crowd by saying,”Repent and by baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2, 38) Her enlightenment was linked to her baptism, which the Church refers to as illumination.  She sought forgiveness for a life away from God. This was a process beginning with her meeting with Jesus and His coming into her life and her receiving the Holy Spirit, her empowerment at Pentecost. She was on fire with Christ, but the flame had to be nurtured and fanned from a spark lit by the Light and the warmth of the Holy Spirit.

Paralyzed

This week our Church commemorates the Sunday of the Paralytic.  The Gospel reading is taken from St. John 5, 1 – 15.  One thing struck me after I read this passage.  Aren’t all of us paralyzed in one way or the other?  The young man in the Gospel account was physically impaired for many years, but he never gave up on the possibility of being healed.  He waited by the pool for thirty-eight years for his deliverance.

Christ and the Paralytic

Christ and the Paralytic

Many of us who are paralyzed spiritually, emotionally or psychologically sit by the side of life.  There may be limitations to our understanding, we may not be able to move past a scar on our heart, perhaps we cannot forgive some hurt we have experienced.  Do we live our life trying to be healed or trying to ignore our malady?  The question that Christ asked the young man is very pertinent to our own circumstances or powerlessness, “Do you want to be healed?”  At first, the obvious response would be an indignant, “of course,” but many of us wear our debilitation as a badge of identity.  Not too many weeks ago, we were anointed with the sacrament Holy Unction.  While we were being anointed, the invocation reminded us that Christ is the physician of our souls and bodies. Souls and bodies, we are told that the young man needed physical healing. Nonetheless, waiting next to the pool for thirty-eight years to be healed must have left emotional scars on the young man. As we analyze all the miracles of Christ, He heals each person whom He encounters; provided that the person turns him in faith.  The healing always restores the person to wholeness.  So, it is understood that all aspects of this paralyzed man was healed.

Turning to Christ in faith is not a magic formula.  Wholeness involves the restoration of our spirit. This restoration may impart to us the capacity to recognize our paralysis, to understand its cause and to start on a path to wellness.  Its possible physical limitations remain with us to illumine our heart to overcome the deeper emotional weakness. The healing of Christ is a mystery as is the opportunity to witness His love in our life.  Our witness, like the young man’s in the temple, is the acknowledgement that God is working to transform our heart.

Light

 

It’s funny how much the theme of light comes up during Great Lent and Holy Week. I was looking at an icon just a few days ago. The icon was in a dark corner with a vigil light placed in front of it and the light danced on the image making the image shimmer. The effect  

vigil-light
  catalyzed my thinking about light.  In modern times most of us, who are urban dwellers, really don’t understand darkness. The ambient light somehow prevents us from experiencing true darkness. Since it is difficult to experience true darkness, can we really understand the power of light? Many times you read or better still, speak to someone about their experience of the Easter Vigil, the first thing they mention is the light and how it seems to come rolling through the Church at ‘Come Receive the Light.’ 
The dictionary on my computer defines light in two ways. First, it gives a very precise definition of the physics of light, photons, electromagnetic waves and energy quanta; then it uses this phrase to describe light for the rest of us “the natural agent that stimulates sight and makes things visible”. It was this definition that I’d like to explore theologically, stimulating sight and making things visible, in what way? In the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy, celebrated during Great Lent, the phrase we hear is “The Light of Christ”. It occurs to me that there is a lens by which we should filter the light we see…Christ! If our light is seen through this lens then how should we perceive it? But, Christ doesn’t say: “I am the lens” he says; “I am the LIght.” He is the source of what is visible, but what are the implications of being the source of the visible? We should define our world by His perception not our own. We see in icons and hear in hymns that Christ shatters the darkness. Does he shatter our darkness? Do we allow His Light to illumine our heart and mind? St. John states quite succinctly in the Gospel reading read during the Paschal Liturgy, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1, 5). The most difficult surrender is the surrender of our fears. These fears are our greatest darkness.  

Christ is Risen!   

Christ is Risen!
Christ stands ready to be the Light in our darkness. Our task is to permit the Light to enter, to roll back the great stone of our own tomb to let the power of the Light penetrate our private darkness.
The Light has overcome the darkness.