DO WE SPEAK OUT ENOUGH?

The Protection of the Theotokos

Earlier in the week the “March for Life” rally as held in Washington, D.C. It is held to coincide with the anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision.  This year marked the 38th. anniversary of that court ruling. The question I would like to pose does not have direct bearing on the issue of abortion, as disturbing as it is; but the general topic of the Church and social consciousness.  Do we, as an Orthodox community, speak out as often as we should or with a loud enough voice on pressing social issues and moral concerns in this country?

Looking below the surface of this question, what the real question that underlies this concern is; are we comfortable in this country, yet? Have we grown comfortable and confident enough to freely comment on the pressing issues of our society or that confront our nation?  This question has bearing on the degree, which we now view ourselves as fully American. Is this country home; or do we still feel like the Diaspora? If we answer by declaring this home, then we absolutely have an obligation to speak with a loud voice of moral guidance based on an Orthodox ethos and ethics.

There is part of me that looks at our reticence to speak with a loud voice as a consequence of our immigrant background.  As an immigrant Church, we did not speak out due to our own sense of isolation and insecurity. Our community and even our leadership, both clergy and laity, felt isolated, inferior and was focused introspectively.  We looked inward. Fortunately, these days are behind us; or are they?   It is fitting to raise our voices in the event of a catastrophe or a difficulty befalling a sister Orthodox community anywhere in the world.  This is our duty and our responsibility, to focus the American society and leadership on the difficulties our fellow Orthodox face.  But, do we not also have a responsibility to speak to issues that our country faces.  Please, encourage our leadership to speak out. Hierarch, clergy and knowledgable lay leadership need to speak out and to attempt to positively influence the course of our nation.  The Orthodox social conscious can be that new perspective that the American society needs to make better choices in these crucial times. May Our Lord Guide us all and may the Theotokos ever protect this great country.

A New Year’s Challenge

The Saints of January

The Saints of January

If you take a quick look at January’s ecclesiastical calendar you notice that it is dominated by big events.  Christ’s Circumcision, St Basil, Epiphany and its associated feast days, St. John the Forerunner, St. Anthony, Sts. Athanasios and Cyril and the Three Hierarchs (together and separately).  Goodness, it’s enough to make you tired. With this post, I would like to look at some of the other commemoration; lest they slip by us.  January has a great number of saints that are not featured in bold type, but are extremely interesting in their diversity and their spiritual examples to us.  From the very first day, we see the unfolding of families of holiness with Gregory of Nanzianzos (Sr.), father of Gregory the Theologian, to the last day Sts. Cyrus and John the Unmercinaries. We see examples of piety, sacrifice, people who defended the faith and ascetics.  There really isn’t enough space to write concerning each saint, but needless to say  the variety and diversity are a little mind boggling.

Perhaps, it is more beneficial to think a moment of the intent of the Church to commemorate saints at all. Why do we bother?  What good do all these strange names and strange sounding places do us?  Most of the people held up for our consideration are literally strangers. We might know someone named Gregory or Tatiana, but few of us know a Hermylos or a Kalogeras.  What good do all these historical figures do us?  It would seem to me that we can all acknowledge that we live in an age of celebrity.  All over television, radio, newsstands and the internet we can not get away from what some “personality” wore last night, said inappropriately, or with whom they were seen.  From film stars, to sports’ figures, politicians or the new name of the week; we are constantly inundated by useless prattle about someone who is looking for their fifteen minutes of fame.  The sad truth is that many times, we stop and pay attention; only, so that we are “in the know”.  What a sad commentary!  When confronted by the Church calendar, do we think that these people, who are commemorated, have been held up as examples for hundreds or even thousands of years?  How many present day celebrities will have that kind of staying power? The answers to these rhetorical questions truly challenge us to put our priorities straight.  Who do we wish to understand, some temporary here today gone tomorrow plastic celebrity or a saint who has been remembered by Christians throughout the ages.  Perhaps, we should put a little effort in getting to know a new saint a month. Pick one, choose a new name and look them up.  You can even Google most of them.  Make this a project this year. Less fluff and more substance; it might be fun and think of how edifying it will be when we know twelve new saints.  Within these saints there very well might be a new friend or someone who catches our imagination with the way they brought Christ alive in their time. If you would like refer to Prologue of Ohrid for information on the saints. (http://www.westsrbdio.org/prolog/my.html.)

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.

Traveling to Bethlehem (12 December 2010)

St. Spyridon of Trimythous

St. Spyridon of Trimythous

All these icons look alike! How many time have we Orthodox heard this comment about icons.  The reality is that there are subtle differences, often with great theological meaning.  Today, is one of these times.  The saint who we commemorate today is St Spyridon of Thymithous. Look closely, what is different about this icon?  We see the familiar icon of a hierarch of the Church with his ecclesial vestments and carrying the Gospel book.  Not much different from many icons we see in the Church.  But, when we look closely we notice a strange hat on the figure.  Most icons of the hierarchs are bare headed, what is the meaning of this strange triangular hat.  By reading a bit, we discover that St. Spyridon had been a shepherd and was elected bishop because of his great piety.  What did Spyridon do then? According to the Prologue of Ohrid, he continued to live simply and care for his livestock.  He also shepherded his spiritual flock the people of his diocese.  He was devoted to being a shepherd of souls. As we know, St. Spyridon was present at the first Ecumenical Council. A country bishop from a backwater diocese, really an unsophisticated, uneducated delegate.  As his story tells us, the Holy Spirit enlightened Spyridon to expound the true theology of Christ, fully man and fully God.  While he preached the truth, Arian one of the most erudite scholars in the Empire was put to shame.  A shepherd and a bishop; perhaps our modern hierarchs can remember that they are at their hearts – simple shepherds.

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 (28 November 2010)

The Cosmic Liturgy

The Cosmic Liturgy
The Blood of the Lamb

The Blood of the Lamb

** Continued from Nov. 26 Post…

Let’s consider the words: “Thine own of thine Own.”  What does this mean?  With these words, we acknowledge that all is God’s. He has give us the bounty, but there is an even more basic dimension.  God has given man wheat, water, salt and yeast. He has given us sugar and grapes. These are the raw materials for the bread and the wine, but it is not complete.  We have to add something, something only we can, our effort.  We must take God’s gifts and add our human effort to create bread and wine. We must work with the raw materials plus our effort.  But, now they are just plain bread and plain wine. What is the missing ingredient? …PRAYER.

As we include this essential ingredient, we also add our intention to dedicating this effort and these gifts to God.  This is symbolised by the Seal which we stamp on the bread. With this dedication and our prayers we bring the offering to the Church. Then God begins to interact with man, just as he did with His Incarnation.  He takes our offering and adds His Blessing.  Before, it can come to the altar as an offering; it must become more than the self centred gift of one person or one family. In the Service of the Oblation (the Proskomidi) our offering is expanded to include the entire cosmic reality of God’s world, this is what is on the Paten which will be brought to the Altar with the Chalice in the Great Entrance and offered to God.  “Thine own of Thine Own,” but what is the rest of it?  For all,  that is all of God’s creation and on behalf of all, each and every one of us. This is the ultimate Thanksgiving, this is the connection we have with all of God’s created world, the entire Christian family, both living and departed and the with  the Cosmos.  Ultimately, these gifts are not only blessed, they are consecrated by God’s Holy Spirit; which is send down upon ‘us and upon these Gifts here presented’  in  an Universal Thanksgiving for Salvation of the world by Christ Jesus. AMEN

Traveling to Bethlehem (26 November 2010)

Road to Emmaus

Road to Emmaus

** the next few posts are taken from a Homily given:

Nov. 28, 2010

In the Name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit…..

So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, but they constrained him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognised him; and he vanished out of their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?”  Luke 24, 28 – 32.

This quote was taken from this morning’s Eothinon Gospel, the 5th. Dawn Gospel which was the reading in the Orthros (Matins) service.  I thought to myself what an interesting coincidence that on the week of Thanksgiving, we should be hearing of Christ sitting down to eat with some of his disciples.  We even read what was on the menu – bread.

Our own tables last Thursday were so different, all of us had such abundance.  No doubt, at most Thanksgiving Tables, there were the traditional foods: turkey, dressing, potatoes, cranberry and all types of pies.  We in North America, the US and Canada, are the only countries which officially celebrate Thanksgiving. But, let’s look at our customs.  Thanksgiving tables in our homes do have similarities.  We gather as families or with a few close invited friends.  The people we invite are like ourselves and they are carefully selected.  Each Thanksgiving table is surrounded by the familiar: familiar foods and familiar people. This is the comfort of the holiday, the fact that we can be with the people close to us.

But there is another Thanksgiving Table, one older than the table by which we remember the Pilgrims.  It is the table, we gather around each time this family comes to give thanks.  This table is open to all races, nationalities and peoples. It too is surrounded by a group of chosen friends, chosen by Christ to share in His bounty, His love and His life.  Let’s examine the word’s St. John Chrysostomos uses to focus on the Gifts brought for God’s Holy Spirit bless and sanctify: “Thine Own of Thine Own in all and for all”

This centres all of us on what? A piece of Bread? A Cup of Wine? Not these things, but the ultimate Thanksgiving, the body and blood of the lamb of God.

Traveling to Bethlehem (23 November 2010)

Protecting the Theotokos

Protecting the Theotokos

As I related last week, the hardest aspect of the forty days of blogging is not the writing, but the thinking about what to write. In today’s Wall Street Journal (online) there is a comment on a blog written by theologian Stephen Prothero decrying the lengthening of the Christmas season.  If you’re like me you noticed Christmas creeping into September. Very subtly, there were isolated aisles of decorations and Christmas “glitch” right next to Halloween costumes.

Why – to sell things, of course!  I don’t want to pound a dead horse, but it seems to get earlier each year. I don’t want to be trite and pound the “put the Christ back in Christmas” jingle, but the shorter Christmas season might not be a bad idea. Say forty days…oh goodness, the Church already figured that out.  Isn’t it amazing how attuned to human nature the Church is? We do need preparation and time to recover, so it is build into the ecclesiastical calendar.  Even the Gospel lessons, offer us an opportunity to think over concepts so that we can prepare for the coming Feasts.  Lessons concerning the glory of the Theotokos, the correct perspective towards money, charity to our neighbors, then the fullness of Christ within the “Law and the Prophets” and God’s preparation of humanity for coming of the Christ; all  provide spiritual and intellectual opportunities for us to prepare.  Do we look at these weeks as a time to spiritually prepare?  Or, are we too bogged down with the hype allowing that cynicism to overshadow every chance we have to block out the commercialism and focus on the real gift?

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

Bethlehem

It is a strange feeling blogging again.  I got fairly used to the idea of “blowing it off.”  The sad thing is that when you get out of the habit, part of you turns off the creative juices.  The issue is not writing, but figuring out what to write.  That is where I was – then I looked on the calendar to see if there were any saints on which I could reflect.   The week of November 8th – 15th looks like who’s who of “saintdom.” If you wished, you could pick just about any Church era and talk about a saint who’s memory was commemorated in the last week. The question arises, which of these saints should I choose to blog about, but maybe that is the wrong question. What is the thread that all these saints, from the bodiless powers to a modern bishop, have in common? The Holy Archangels, St. Nectarios, St. Menas, St. John Chrysostomos, St. John the Merciful, St Phillip the Apostle all in one week, can they all have something in common? It seems to me that this is the only valid question.

Today is the beginning of the Nativity fast. Again, we begin to centre our thinking the miracle of the Incarnation.  Superficially, this should be helped by the nonstop barrage of Christmas decorations and reminders that are everywhere around us.  Reflecting on the real essential message of Christmas gets more difficult each year as the commercial hype gets louder and more shrill.  Over the next forty days, that is what this blog will focus its attention, the essential message.

Returning to the question of the day, what do these saints have in common? They allowed Christ to be born in their lives. They welcomed Him and allowed Him to live in them, so that the people of their time could see Christ alive.  It is fitting to start our journey to Bethlehem guided by not one star, but a galaxy of bright stars.  Saints point the way even when the fog of our everyday life clouds the road. Hopefully over the next forty days, we will help to point the way. Please join in the journey; visit often and comment. Thank you.