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 (13 December 2010)

The Northern Lights

The Northern Lights

Northern lights – the Aurora Borealis, this phenomenon has longed amazed us. As we look into the northern skies, we Orthodox should remember that we have our own northern luminaries.  Today is a great day to reflect  on our own stars from the North. Today, Orthodoxy commemorates the first North American to be canonised a Saint. St Herman (Germanos) of Alaska was one of the trailblazers of the faith, who came to these shore not to find treasure, but to bring a treasure, the Holy Orthodox faith.  Yesterday, the Church commemorated a spiritual descendant of St. Herman, a martyr for the faith, St. Peter the Aleut.  In these two days, we look at labour and its fruit. St. Herman was the labourer and St. Peter the fruit of the labour. How can we Orthodox faithful in America not rejoice today?  No matter what our own backgrounds, how can we not express admiration and ask for the blessing of St. Herman? As the Enlightener of the Aleuts, Herman worked to save souls and to bring Christ to the Native peoples of Russian Alaska. The light by which he enlightened is brighter today because of the seeds St. Herman planted.  Orthodoxy is no longer a strange faith from a foreign land, but part of the fabric of life on this continent.  As we see in the news, a raging blizzard is blowing across the Midwest.  We hear of travel delays, snow and ice paralysing the country, but think how it was in the early nineteenth century in the small hut of St. Herman. He had the warmth of God’s Holy Spirit and the brightness within his heart to warm his hut. He has become an adornment in the northern sky.  Even though the Aurora Borealis is a natural occurrence; perhaps, it is God’s way of focusing our spiritual eyes on the great northern lights of Orthodoxy.

The Lights of the North

The Lights of the North

Traveling to Bethlehem (08 December 2010)

Prayer  of St. Anna

Prayer of St. Anna

Today is one of those days of preparation that the Church provides us to get ready for a holiday.  Tomorrow, we commemorate the Conception of the Theotokos.  Today, we get ready.  We have an opportunity to pause and consider the importance of the coming event.  Where should we look for a better understanding of the feast?  Like many feasts of the Church this occurrence is not documented “in the Bible,” yet it is a significant happening in salvation history.  Where does one go to learn about this festival? Where do you start? I decided to ask this question out loud; so that we could learn from each other. We know that the hymns of the Church describe the theology of a feast. What do they say? The Troparion sung at the Vespers for tomorrow speaks of the “bonds of barrenness being loosed” and of the “prayers” of Joachim and Anna asking for “birth beyond hope.”  What do these clues tell us?  If we read closely, we see that this couple was without children and beyond the hope of having children, they prayed for God to change their life.

In an earlier post, we stated that many of our hymnographers got inspiration from the other writings, from the Christian Apocrypha.  The book, the Protevagelium of James, (The Infancy Gospel of James) tells us the story of the birth of the Virgin Mary. We read in the first part of this book about the “prayer of St. Anna.” In her garden, Anna turns to God in her prayer. She describes her barren womb as contrasted to the fruitfulness of the natural creation. Anna begs Our Lord to bless her and allow to “bring forth fruit in her season.” An angel of the Lord appears to St. Anna and informs her that God has heard her prayer. He tells her that she would conceive and give birth to a child. In gratitude, Anna pledges to dedicate her child as a gift to God, since it would be a gift from God.  Not only are these ancient sources inspiration for hymnographers; but also for iconographers (as we can see above). The child, which the angel announces is conceived as every child is, as a blessing from God; but this child is a blessing for all of humanity.

Traveling to Bethlehem (22 November 2010)

First Steps of Christ

First Steps of Christ

The gaps…Have you ever wondered about the gaps?  What I mean by the gaps is our understanding or even our description of the years which are missing in the accounts of the lives of the Theotokos and Christ.  Yesterday, we celebrated to Presentation of the Theotokos. What happened from age three until the mid-teenage years when we know that the Annunciation took place?  In the life of Jesus, we experience the Nativity, the flight to Egypt and his teaching in the Temple at age twelve. Afterwards, we have a gap until His public ministry begins at age thirty. Does anyone, besides me, wonder about the gaps?

We know that some material concerning these years can be found in ancient writings, which have always been known to the Church.  These are materials that were not placed in the canonical sources.  Some non-Orthodox “experts” have called these writings the “lost books” or “new sources” They were never lost, nor are they new. Orthodox monastics and theologians have used these sources to expand our understanding of the lives of the saints and events in salvation history. The Protevangelium Jacobi (The Infancy Gospel of James) states: “Now Mary was in the Temple of the Lord like a dove being fed and she received food from the hand of an angel.” The hymnographers, iconographers and poets of the Church have drawn on these writings to enrich our liturgical and faith experience.  As we Travel to Bethlehem, perhaps reading some of these books could expand your understanding. We must know that the Church has not endorsed these writings as inspired by God, but looks on them as resources to expand and enhance our faith journey.

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.

TRAVELING TO BETHLEHEM (19 November 2010)

Prophet Obadiah

Prophet Obadiah

Feast of the Prophet Obadiah – Obi..who? This might well be the reaction to this Old Testament prophet. Obadiah was a post exilic prophet, that is a prophet who spoke to the Israelites after the Babylonian Captivity.  You might also hear of Obadiah being one of the “Twelve Minor” prophets.  Minor? This needs an explanation.  These prophets include Hosea, Joel, Amos, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zachariah and Malachi as well as Obadiah. Why are they “minor”?   The are grouped in this way because their writings are short in length.  Actually, The Vision of Obadiah is the shortest book in the Old Testament – only one chapter. Why should we care?

To find the answer to this question we need to look in one of the Eothina (Dawn) Gospels.  It is a familiar scene after the Resurrection, which is related by St. Luke in chapter 24, 13 – 53.  The resurrected Christ encounters some of his disciples on the road to Emmaus. Here we read: “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” (v. 27); not all the major prophets but all the prophets.  This is the what the Orthodox teaching tells us about the road to Bethlehem.  God prepared the world and most especially his people, the people of Israel.  This is the significance of Obadiah, he is one of the voices God chose to prepare for the Coming of Christ. Obadiah tells of the coming of a King to save his people.  The King is coming…are you preparing?

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.

Note to My Readers in Russia

Sts. Boris and Gleb - Beloved Saints of the Russian Peoples

Sts. Boris and Gleb
Beloved Saints of the Russian Peoples

Greetings in the Lord !

I wish to thank my readers in the Orthodox Lands of Russia and all Orthodox Slavic Countries. You are appreciated, loved and I continue to pray for you.  I read all your comments, but I must depend on a translating software by Apple to translate them. Regrettably, I do not speak Russian.  All comments are screened. I approve those which can be translated.  I will spam all improper  or lewd comments, but will try my best to translate, read and approve all of them; even the critical ones. I will answer all questions that are proper.

May God strengthen Orthodoxy and your faith journey. Thank you for visiting my site. вы и Бог благословляет!

Dn. George

Abba Sisoes the Great

Abba Sisoes the Great

Abba Sisoes the Great

On July 6th, the Holy Church commemorates Abba Sisoes the Great. We are so far removed from the desert fathers and mothers, the abbas and ammas, perhaps we should speak a little about these desert dwellers and their lives. Why did they flee from society and what was the call of these wilderness places? Names like Anthony, Arsenios, Pambo, Syncletica, and Macarios evoke a life of self denial and hardship.  Places like Nitria, Rhaithou, Scetis and Eleutheropoulos as well as other isolated locales sound strange and distant. Nonetheless, they are part of our Orthodox identity and Tradition.  These men and women sought to “follow Christ” and renounced a life in the world.  They had as their model St. John the Forerunner and took to heart the call to Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand! They sought to be like angels, to confront evil face to face and to constantly praise and glorify God. Most were lay persons and many were uneducated simple peasants. They saw themselves as sinners, tried to know themselves and to treat all with love and humility. Many came to listen to their counsel even though they sought solitude. Their short sayings have come down to us as beacons of spiritual light. These short sayings are available in books like The Philokalia, The Apophthegmata Patrum, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers and other works. Modern scholars like Fr. John Chryssavgis, Benedicta Ward and Dermas Chitty and many more have made their words accessible. Today, we can sit at their feet for a few minutes as did the pilgrims who travelled to deserted places.  We too can benefit from their wisdom. In our age of cult celebrity and “me first” attitudes; don’t the words of spiritual guides such as Sisoes the Great echo in our hearts.  In the early fifth century on Anthony’s Mountain, a monk asked Sisoes: “How can I attain humility?” The saint replied: “When a person learns to see themselves as inferior to all creatures, with that he attains humility.” (Ward, Benedicta, ed. 1984. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection. Revised ed. Kalamazoo MI: Cistercian Publications, p. 214.) The Venerable Sisoes the Great fell asleep in the Lord in 429 AD.

Apolytikion of the Venerable Sisoes the Great

“You proved to be a citizen of the desert, an angel in the flesh, and a wonder-worker, O Sisoes, our God-bearing Father. By fasting, vigil, and prayer obtained heavenly gifts, and you healed the sick and the souls of them that have recourse to thee with faith. Glory to Him that has given you strength. Glory to him that has crowned you. Glory to Him that works healings for all through you.”

Holy Abba Sisoes: Pray for us sinners.


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