Traveling to Bethlehem (17 December 2010)

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Let Christ be born in our hearts!

Question: Are we the Church of Christ or the church or Baklava and Kibbeh? This is a serious question. The reality is what started as a way to share our culture and to expose our ethnic heritage to the American public has now become something else.  It was a really good purpose, but somewhere along the way we got hooked.  What do I mean?  The festivals that our Churches sponsor each year have become an income stream for many parishes.  They have become a necessity and not icing on the cake.  How many parishes dedicate 100% of the receipts to charity, civic endeavours or philanthropy?  Just like a narcotic our parishes have learned to depend upon these yearly events, while allowing us, the parishioners, to avoid our personal responsibility to our parish. Stewardship should be the support for our Churches, yet as we rely on outsiders to fund our Churches: we deny our own duty and let the guests support of our parishes.

If we provide according to our means and responsibility then our festivals should be bonuses. There is a deeper question. Are we mature in our faith? Are able to look at our Parish as ours and as given to us by Christ to care for and support.  If are faith is centred on Christ, then the parish is Christ and never a burden. The problem is our attitude towards Christ.  Are we committed to His Church and to Incarnate Him in the world? During this Nativity season are we prepared to care for Christ out of love or are we content to let others meet our obligations?

Traveling to Bethlehem (29 November 2010)

Checking it Twice

Checking it Twice

Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, the focus naturally turns toward Christmas.  In the language of the Church, turns to the Nativity of Our Lord in the Flesh. Even though, we are beginning to concentrate on Christmas; what does it take to be really ready. This question doesn’t have anything to do with trees, decorations, gifts or menus. Are we really ready? It seems to me we are overwhelmed with things and we neglect to get our interior self ready.  The Christmas carol says Santa has a list and he is checking it twice.  What about a spiritual list:

CHARITY – are we concerned so much with ourselves that we forget our brothers and sisters?

LOVE – do we express Christian Love to our neighbours or strangers? Christ told us it is easy to love those who love us.

PATIENCE – with others and with ourselves.

HUMILITY – do we try to consciously check our ego, to be less prideful and understand our own sinfulness.

A PEACEFUL SPIRIT – do we seek to control our anger or rage?

FORGIVENESS – are we willing to forgive and FORGET?

SILENCE – are we able to shut out the hustle and bustle and seek tranquility of spirit?

FAITH – do we trust in GOD as we encounter our daily challenges?

Perhaps, we should make our list and check it twice!

TRAVELING TO BETHLEHEM (20 November 2010)

Sts. Joachim and Anna with the Theotokos

Sts. Joachim and Anna with the Theotokos

Today is the Forefeast of the Presentation of the Theotokos to the Temple. I am constantly amazed by how the Church gets ready for a celebration and then “unwinds” after a feast.  Today in the Apolytikion of this day we hear:

By blossoming forth the only Ever-virgin as fruit, today holy Anna doth betroth us all unto joy, instead of our former grief; on this day she doth fulfil her vows to the Most High, leading her with joy into the Lord’s holy temple, who truly is the temple and pure Mother of God the Word.

We hymn speaks to us about St. Anna. How her pledge to God was to be fulfilled She was preparing to take her little girl to the Temple.  Yes, had promised God; but it must have been very hard.  After all she was only three.  What faith and trust in God.  For a mom to know that her little girl was going to be cared for and nurtured. The hymn says that She is “betrothing us to joy.” We are joined to the Theotokos even at such a young age.  Joy is how she is described. Sts. Joachim and Anna had been enlightened by God’s Holy Spirit to realise that something special was going to happen to their little girl, but they didn’t know what was in her future.  They had promised God and their focus was to fulfil their pledge.  They thought that the temple was a holy place for their child, little did they understand she was to be the Temple herself.  St. Gregory Palamas describes this event in this way: ”in a strange manner the Mother of God changes her dwelling from the house of her father to the house of God while still an infant.”  She who is the Holy one enters the Holy of Holies.

“I believe; help my unbelief” – Mark 9, 24

Simple Faith

Simple Faith

Last week, I wrote about children and the Church. We often hear children are the Church of tomorrow. What dribble.  Children and the youth are the Church today; but they are not alone. We all assemble as the Church. I have a problem that many of you who know me can confirm, I tend to approach faith intellectually. I read, study and search out answers. The photo that I use today illustrates that which I envy, YiaYia’s simple faith.

We read in the Gospels, Our Lord says many times: “your faith has made you well.” (Mark 10, 52.) What is faith? In the 11th chapter of his Letter to the Hebrews, St. Paul has a beautiful chapter on faith. Parts of the chapter are read as Epistle readings on the Sunday of the Holy Fathers (the Sunday before The Nativity of Christ in the Flesh – Christmas) and on the Sunday of Orthodoxy (the first Sunday of Great Lent). But, I believe one of the most touching thoughts is captured in the very first sentence of the chapter:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence

of things not seen. (Hebrews 11, 1)

One of the strengths of the Church is that each of us learn from the other. Last week, I said we are all responsible for teaching children. The beauty is that we can learn from everyone in the Church. If we stop and try to quietly follow the examples of faith around us; it will help our own spiritual growth.  Бабушка can teach all of us.  Grandma’s faith is born from years of prayer. Sittie’s trust in God gives us all an example, which will guide us.  Last Saturday, we celebrated the Dormition of the Theotokos, the Panagia is the model of the Church; remember her words: “Behold I am the handmaiden of the Lord; let it be according to your word.” ( Luke, 1, 38)  Trust in God, by putting things in His hands. YiaYia has learned her simple faith; and she shows us this in her unbounded love.  As we approach faith, we must learn both from YiaYia and from our children. They share a simple trust in God.  Yiayia’s trust is born from prayer, and a child’s trust is born from innocence. They are two examples from different ages, but are they really that dissimilar? Putting faith in God give both, YiaYia and a child, a serene confidence and a peaceful reliance on His Love. Knowing that God loves us no matter who we are should allow us to put our hearts at ease. We have children, YiaYia and what is more important the example of the Most Holy Theotokos to guide us. Let us declare, as did the father of the epileptic boy: “I believe; help my disbelief!” (Mark 9, 24).

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!