Wednesday, April 22, 2009


As we come to the mid point of Bright Week, I must apologize for not blogging for so long. As can be imagined, Holy Week and Pascha are a busy time. But in any event, we now revel in the joy and glory that is the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Bishop's Archpastoral letter for this Pascha talked about a beautiful concept, the concept of Divine Friendship and human recognition. The idea is that if we can keep the idea of friendship with God in our hearts, it will become easier for us to recognize God in the world around us, especially in the people that we deal with. This is one of the great challenges of the Christian life, to see and recognize, however hidden it may be, the image and likeness of God in those around us, and to nurture that image and likeness.

During the reading of the 12 Passion Gospels, at one point Jesus says to his disciples that He speaks to them plainly now because they are His friends. As we listened to those Gospels, as we witnessed the Passion of our Lord, as we stood beneath His Cross and He looked up to heaven and said "Father, forgive them for them know not what they do", we too have become friends of Jesus Christ. And as friends, we recognize Him not only in the joy of this Resurrection, but in all the world around.

In Pascha, all things have been made new, all things have been redeemed, all things now rejoice. Christ is Risen and death is overthrown, the demons are fallen, the angels rejoice and life reigns.*  Let our hearts burn as the hearts of Cleopas and Luke burned as they talked with the Risen Lord on the road to Emmaus for Christ being risen from the dead has become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto the ages of ages. Amen.*

* Taken from the Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Passion Week Begins

Last night we celebrated the second to the last Pre-Sanctified of this Lenten season. I know it seems silly to mark that occasion, but it always encourages me when we get to the "last" of certain services as we approach Pascha. last Friday we celebrated the last Paraklis service, a beloved service and a favorite of mine, but its end marks the final march to the Resurrection of our Lord.

These first two days of Holy Week speak to us about watchfulness and preparedness. On Monday and Tuesday evening, in the Gospels at Pre-Sanctified Liturgy, our Lord speaks plainly to his disciples about what is to come to pass. He explains to them the need to be ready for what lies ahead. And He speaks to them about things that are going to take place shortly and also about this that have yet to come to pass, things that we still wait for today.

It is a powerful message as we begin this journey of Holy Week to the Resurrection of Christ. This week is like a microcosm of our entire life. We are called to a lifetime of repentance, a lifetime of watchfulness, a lifetime of preparation for those things that Christ speaks about: The tribulations to come and His final coming in glory.

Yes, Holy Week is a preparation for celebrating Pascha but it is also a preparation for our life, a life in Christ, a life in the Risen Lord. Let us learn from these lessons placed before us each day this week and in so doing, let us embrace this life, a life that leads to salvation and the kingdom of heaven.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Lights, Camera, ACTION

We have talked repeatedly about the fact that prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the pillars by which we sustain a good and focused Lenten effort as well as a good and focused spiritual life. These three good works call us to action in our lives, they call us to be active.

I am sure we can all agree that we each lead active, if not frenzied lives. One of the goals of the Lenten season is to take a moment to look at our lives, look at the action in our lives and see if that action is worthy of God, worthy of salvation. How often are our actions needless, inconsequential or even selfish? Have we allowed the frenetic pace of society to cause us to simply do things without thinking? On the other hand, does this mean that anything that we do that is not directly related to God is bad? Of course not.

The key here is that what we do is not as important as how we do it, assuming what we do is not sinful. If we make God a part of our daily life then our everyday activities become infused with God and with holiness. If we live a life full of the love of God then our actions, in their many forms, become worthy of God. In essence, we are called to do all things for the glory of God. This is action of which we can be assured will benefit us, will bring us closer to God. This is action that will do more than provide a meaningful Lenten season for us, this is action that will transform our lives and show us the path of salvation.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Good News

Yesterday, on the Julian Calendar, we celebrated the Annunciation of the Mother of God. This Feast day commemorates the announcement by the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she is to become the Mother of God. 

The fact that this Feast usually falls during the season of Lent holds special significance for us. Certainly we see and understand that the Feast must occur now, nine months prior to the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord. However, the fact that it occurs during these days of ascetic struggle is equally important.

As we come near the end of our Lenten journey, the temptations will certainly increase for us. As we get closer to the moment of celebrating Christ's victory over death, the devil desperately wants to dampen that celebration with sin. The Annunciation of the Mother of God becomes a way point for us, a safe harbor in this storm of temptation. We see in this Feast the promise of salvation and the we realize that the moment that we have been preparing for, Pascha, has at this moment become a reality.

As the Tropar of the Feast says to us: Today is the beginning of our salvation and the revelation of the mystery that was planned from all eternity. Let us celebrate this reality and embrace it and allow it to help us and lift us up in these concluding days of Great Lent. As Moses says in one of the Old Testament readings for the Feast, as he beholds a bush burning but not being consumed: I will now turn aside and see this great sight. Let us turn aside from this world and behold the sight of the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

But I have prayed for you

Tonight, at our Adult Education class, we concluded the class with a look at the following Gospel passage:

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.” And he said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” He said, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you three times deny that you know me.” Luke 22:31-34 

While we are used to hearing about the moment when Peter denied our Lord three times, especially during Holy Week, we don't necessarily hear the passage in full as quoted above. It is a very powerful passage as it speaks to the power of our Lord Jesus Christ and to His ability to see what was to come.

In some ways, it is as if He is talking to us today, telling us that He has prayed for us that our faith may not fail. I think we often feel that our faith has failed when we give in to temptation, but isn't that exactly what Peter did, give in to temptation? And yet, in the end he returned to Christ and gave strength to those around him.

Every time we realize our sinfulness, every time we ask forgiveness or apologize, every time we go to confession, it is God praying for us, strengthening us. When we do these things our faith has not failed, but it has strengthened through God's infinite mercy and love. While we may fall to temptation, while the passions may get the best of us, if we repent, we become stronger and we grow closer to God.

May God give each of us the courage to be sorry, the courage to repent. May we grow strong in our faith and our relationship to God.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Run the good race

As we come to the midpoint of the fifth week of our Lenten journey, it is important for us to "keep our eye on the prize" as they say. In a short time we will once again celebrate the triumphal entry of our Lord into Jerusalem and begin our solemn walk with our Lord through His passion, death and resurrection.

It is now that we must remain vigilant, now that we must remain alert. We must not become complacent concerning the good spiritual work we have done so far. We must keep to it, working harder and harder each day. Already we can see, off in the distance, the Cross of our Lord on the hill of Golgatha. It is that prize that we must remain fixed on.

On goal has not been reached. We have not yet come to the end of our travel. It is close, to be sure, but the true reward comes on that Holy Saturday evening when we shout "Christ is Risen!" Then we will know that we have done our part, if we can shout that greeting with sincerity and a new found understanding of Jesus Christ and the mystery of His Resurrection.

This is what the fast offers us. The is what is just beyond our reach right now. God bless us with success these final days of the fast and bring us to His glorious triumph over death.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Ladder of Divine Ascent

Yesterday, the fourth Sunday of Lent, we remembered St. John Climacus,a a great monastic of the Orthodox Church. On of his most important works was his book "The Ladder of Divine Ascent". This powerful writing speaks to us about the steps of the spiritual life, and how easy it is to fall away from the path of righteousness. It can be a difficult book to read and understand, especially if we are just starting out on our spiritual journey. But no matter what level we are at spiritually, there are certainly aspects of the book that we can all use at any time.

In his book, St. John shows the spiritual life as a ladder reaching to heaven. The ladder is composed of 30 rungs, one for each year of the hidden life of Jesus Christ. The first rung, the first step on this ladder, St. John tells us, is the turning of our backs to this world. Sounds a bit harsh, doesn't to? In a monastic setting this is certainly the goal, but can we have the same goal outside of a monastic setting? Without a doubt!

For us outside of the monastic life, turning our backs on this world means, in essence, turning our backs on ourselves. In society today, we are encouraged to always put ourselves first, seeking what we want, as opposed to what we need. Our world is a world that values pride, arrogance and self-love. 

St. John tells that the the first step in the path to the kingdom of heaven is to reject these passion of this world and instead, search for humility and repentance. Our "feelings" and our "rights" have to be replaced by the love of God. Sadly, we even let this pride and ego often flow into the Church: "Liturgy too long", "Church is too far away"; "It is too hot/cold"; "We have other commitments". When we decide that the Church, that Jesus Christ, the salvation are less important than us, then we have not even begun to walk the path of salvation.

I would like to end today with a quote from St. John's book concerning who is a wise and faithful Christian: 

"It is the man who has kept unquenched the warmth of his vocation, who adds fire each day to fire, fervor to fervor, zeal to zeal, love to love, and this to the end of his life. This is the first step. Let him who has set foot on it never turn back.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Fastin with the whole body

Lastly, St. John tells us to fast with our hands and feet, with all parts of our bodies. Again, this concept is not a difficult one. Of we truly examine ourselves, I am certain there are times when we can see our hands and feet doing things that are contrary to the Word of God. But I would like to take this just a bit further.

Often times, people who are unfamiliar with Orthodox Iconography are put off by what they see as poor proportions and exaggerated proportions in an Icon. When we look at true Byzantine Iconography we see hands and feet that are much larger than they should be. Eyes and ears that seem to be too large, even elongated noses. We may ask ourselves why. 

The answer is easy. The iconographers of the Church were not bad artists. They wrote, in their icons, a truth about Saints and about the human person. They wrote icons that showed the Saint transfigured, as they are in the Kingdom of heaven, as we strive to be here.

The hands are large because they do the work of God, not mischievous things. The feet are large because they walk the path of salvation and not the road to damnation. The eyes are big because they behold the Kingdom of Heaven and not the mundane things of this earth. The ears are large because they hear the angels sing the thrice holy hymn that is sung on high, not the dark sounds of this world. The nose is large because it smells the sweet smelling incense that burns at the Altar in heaven.

This is what we need to strive for, this is fasting with all parts of our body. God give us the strength to go out into this world while at the same time, living and experiencing the world that is to come.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Fasting with our ears

As we continue this look at fasting with our whole body, we come to our ears. St. John tells us that we must fast with our ears.

This is an easy one! We all know that dangers of gossip and judgment. We know that we are called to refrain from these things, yet it seems that these two sins almost always crop up in our lives, they are almost always a part of our confession.

While the understanding of what it means to fast with our ears is somewhat easy, to understand how to do this is a bit different. But isn't it this way with almost any sin. We know the difference between right and wrong. We know what is sinful and what is not. We certainly know what it good and righteous and what is not.

Sadly, as human beings, we have an infinite capacity to rationalize away our sins. We find every excuse for our sins, from our actions being just to our actions not really being sinful at all. We deceive ourselves on all accounts.

For the remainder of this Lenten season, let our hears hear the words of prayer, let our ears hear the thrice holy hymn that is sung on high, let our ears hear the still small voice of God. This is fasting with our ears.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Fasting with our eyes

As we saw yesterday, St. John Chrysostom tells us that we have to fast with more than just our mouths, we must also fast with our whole bodies. He tells us first to fast with our eyes. So how do we fast with our eyes?

Think, look back over the past week. What have we looked at during the course of a day. As we "cruise" the Internet, where has our mouse taken us? When we interact with others at work or out and about, where do our eyes fall? What are we reading during this Lenten season? Spiritual books? The Bible? Have we used our eyes at all, even for a few moments, during this Lenten season for spiritual things? 
These are just a small sample of the things that we must think about as we progress through Great Lent. Fasting from certain foods means nothing if we continue in our normal, sinful ways.

As Christians, our eyes should be ever heavenward. They should be looking for the salvation of our God. Our eyes should read the words of Scripture or other spiritual books along with our favorite novels. Our eyes should look for those we can lend a hand to. Our eyes should look for purpose, meaning and usefulness in the technologies that God has made available in this world.

In short, our eyes must look for the Kingdom of Heaven. The Church does not ask us to stop looking at the good and proper things of this world that we enjoy, but it does ask us to seek first God's Kingdom, then all things shall find their proper place.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

True Fasting

All this week we are reminded that we have come to the midpoint of Great Lent. It is a milestone as such and an important time for us to look at our efforts, at our progress or lack thereof. But it is equally important to look at the quality and type of fasting we have done. Have we followed the guidelines set before us, or even a bit more? Have we been able to perhaps stay away from that one thing we gave up that we enjoy so much? Yet, in truth, there is much more to fasting that giving up food or pleasure.

St. John Chrysostom, in one of his homilies, tells us the following: "For a true fast, you cannot fast only with your mouth. You must fast with your eyes, your ears, your feet, your hands, and all parts of your body.

What powerful words for us during this Lenten struggle. If we have been truly making the effort to follow our fast over these last few weeks, we have certainly begun to see a change in our lives. No, with the power of fasting with us, we can begin to effect this change in our daily habits, of what we look at, of what we listen to, of where we go, of what we do. The Christian life is lived by our whole bodies, not simply by our minds or our hearts. We must fast, pray and worship with all of our being. Over the next few days we will examine each of these things in St. John's words more fully to help us understand the true nature of fasting. For today, let us try to pay attention and really understand what we do, what we say, what we hear and where we go.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The power of the Cross

This fourth week of Great Lent is imbued with the ideas, images and symbolism of the Cross. This past Sunday we saw the Cross placed in prominence in our Church and we bowed down to this same Cross as we will throughout this week. On one hand the Church gives us this Cross to strengthen us for the remainder of our Lenten journey, but there is more. The Church also uses the Cross to show us the possibility and power of transformation.

During the time of Jesus, the Cross was a hated thing. It was an instrument of torture and of death. It was something that was greatly feared. But with Christ's Death and Resurrection, the Cross has been transformed into something wholly and completely different. What was once despair and now turned into hope. What was once sorrow has been transformed into joy. What was once suffering has become happiness. What was once hatred has now turned into joy. What was once death has now become life.

In this same vain, we too can be transformed. Our Lenten journey gives us the opportunity to change our lives. It gives us the power to make ourselves different, better than we were, closer to God. For us, living a Christian life transforms us and remakes us once again in the image and likeness of God. Where once we had hatred, we have forgiveness. Where once we had anger, we now have joy. Where once we had judgment, we now have humility. Where once we had passions, we now have peace. Where once we had sins, we now have virtues. This is the powerful message of the Cross.

As we move into the second half of the Lenten season, let us take this Cross with us, holding it high and allowing the transforming power of it, and of our Lenten journey to transform us, to change us, to save us.

Friday, March 20, 2009


Your Body and Blood, O Word, You have offered at Your crucifixion for the salvation of all: Your Body to refashion me, Your Blood to wash me clean; and You have given up Your spirit, O Christ, to bring me to the Father.

These words, taken from the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, offer a powerful reminder of why we find ourselves in the midst of Great Lent. The events of the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are so powerful that we must take the time to fully prepare ourselves to remember and to experience them each year.

Your Body to refashion me: Jesus Christ came to this earth as fully man and fully God. By doing so He showed us how we were meant to be, how we were meant to live. By offering His body on the Cross, His sinless Body, His perfect Body, He makes it possible for us to experience, even if only for a moment, what it must have been like in paradise. He allows us to be refashioned.

Your Blood to wash me clean: In His death He offers His precious and pure Blood as a means of cleansing us from our sins. His sacrifice, in the pouring out of His Blood on the Cross, washes from us sinfulness. It cleanses us and purifies us. Again, He makes it possible for us to experience, even if only for a moment, what it must have been like to reside in Eden forever, walking and talking with God.

and You have given up Your spirit, O Christ, to bring me to the Father: Jesus Christ's ultimate sacrifice of dying on that Cross, makes salvation possible. It is not a magical moment that throws open the gates of Paradise for everyone to simply enter. Rather, it is the possibility of the beginning of a journey, a lifetime of moving towards Christ and towards salvation. We must participate in that journey, doing the things we are doing now: fasting, prayer, alms giving. Most importantly, we must participate in this sacrifice as often as possible in the Holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ. Do not let this incredible sacrifice be in vain. Do not hold it up on a pedestal, only to be used once or twice a year.

This sacrifice of Jesus Christ was personal. It was for you, it was for me. Let our response be personal by partaking of this Body and Blood that was sacrificed for us at every opportunity we have. Let us embrace the opportunity to come close to God, to reach for salvation and to walk the path that leads to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Darkness and Light

We talked a bit the other day about the fear of the Lord and its necessity for us as God's creatures. It in interesting to note that there are many instances when God is referred to in a sense of darkness instead of Light. We are, in some ways, conditioned to think of God as light. This is in part because of Jesus Christ, The Sun of Righteousness, and yes, I use Sun instead of Son on purpose as many hymnographers of the Church do. We don't often think of God or salvation in terms of darkness, but listen to the following:

Be watchful, O my soul, be full of courage like Jacob the great patriarch, that you may acquire action with knowledge, and be named Israel, "the mind that sees God"; so shall you reach by contemplation the innermost darkness, and gain great merchandise. Ode 157 St. Andrew's Canon

He bowed the heavens, and came down; thick darkness was under his feet. He rode on a cherub, and flew; he came swiftly upon the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering around him, his canopy thick clouds dark with water. Psalm 18:9-11

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9

During Great Lent let us contemplate on a God who is, in his essence, beyond our comprehension and understanding. Let us set aside our preconceived notions about God and let us truly begin to put our faith and trust in God. Let us realize that we cannot contain God, or box Him in. We can simply open ourselves to Him, trusting that He will fill us with the indescribable knowledge of Him as much has we can take. Not being able to understand or completely know God may be scary, but remember, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Fear of the Lord

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.  Proverbs 9:10

This verse, taken from the scripture reading for today, speaks volumes for us during our Lenten journey. I think that one of the main reasons that we read from the book of Proverbs during this time is because of this idea, fear. The book of Proverbs speaks about fear throughout its entirety. In fact, the word fear occurs 20 times in Proverbs and all but one speak about the "fear of the Lord'. So what is this fear of the Lord? 

In truth, we don't like to fear things. Oh, we liked to be scared by scary movies and things like that, but to truly fear something is uncomfortable for us. So this idea of fearing God is uncomfortable. There are those who will go so far as to say that it is not a correct teaching, that we should love God, our loving God, that there is no reason to fear Him.

I think Proverbs teaches us differently. The fear of the Lord is not that tingle of fear we get when we see that silly teenager get out of the car on a deserted road, even though they know no one is around. This is the fear of movies.

The fear of the Lord is reverence. It is a knowledge that God is the Creator of everything we see. It is the acceptance that all things exist through God. It is the understanding that there is judgement, salvation and damnation. The fear of the Lord then becomes reverent obedience that we express in humility and obedient submissiveness to God. As proverbs tells us: this is the beginning of wisdom. Why? Because this is also the beginning of salvation.

Monday, March 16, 2009

A slave to sinfulness

One of the most prominent themes of the Lenten season that we hear often in its hymns is the idea of our slavery to sin and the need for us to make an effort to overcome this slavery. Yesterday at the sermon during Divine Liturgy I spoke a bit about Moses and what he stood for. Most of us remember that he brought us the 10 commandments but sometimes we forget that he led Israel from the bonds of slavery to the promised land. We forget all of the things he accomplished and sacrificed so that his people could be free.

For us, today, Jesus Christ is our own Moses. It is the sacrifice of the Cross, the event for which we are preparing ourselves, that opens to us the promised land, the kingdom of heaven.

The Israelites understood their slavery. They felt it every day as the Egyptians lorded it over them. Today, we don't necessarily see or understand that we are slaves. We are unable, or even unwilling, to see the grip that sinfulness and the passions have on our lives. We are oblivious to the sinful way of life that has become the norm for us.

Our goal in this Lenten season is to be able to see and understand that we are sinful. We fast and we pray so that we can learn discernment, the ability to see how we truly live, to see ourselves how we truly are.  As human beings we have an infinite capacity to rationalize away all of our thoughts, words and deeds, even the things that we don't do, but we should. We need to pray and to fast so that we can stop ignoring our own sinfulness and see it for what it is and begin making the effort to better our lives. The most dangerous thing we can do in our spiritual life is to decide that we are doing just fine, to stop making an effort to get closer to God. Then we are truly lost. Then we abandon all hope.

I ended my sermon yesterday with 5 points that I said were a road map for a successful Lenten season. I think they also make a fine road map for a successful spiritual life so I would like to share them again here:

1. Live simply.
2. Live generously.
3. Care deeply
4. Speak kindly
5. Leave the rest to God.

God bless you.

Friday, March 13, 2009


There is perhaps no more poignant story in the Bible than that of Abraham's sacrifice of his son Issac. 

After these things God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; and he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. (Genesis 22:1-3)

We can only imagine the feelings that Abraham had as he heard these words from God, or can we? As we read this story we see that at no time did Abraham complain, at no time did he hesitate, at no time did he refuse to do what God had commanded him. Abraham accepted the will of God and did it: 

When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. Then Abraham put forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. (Genesis 22:9-10)

Would we have enough faith and trust in God to do as Abraham had? Do we have enough faith and trust in God to do the simple things that God commands us even today. Can we love our neighbor? Can we help those less fortunate that us? Can we have mercy, compassion and humility. These things pale in comparison to the command given to Abraham, yet while he willingly did the will of God, we most often rebel. 

But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. (Genesis 22:11-13)

Abraham's fear of God and his faith in God enabled him to willingly obey God's commands. His reward was the sparing of his son and a blessing upon his and his descendants. Today, we rarely fear anything. In fact, society encourages us not to be afraid of anything. But the fear of the Lord is something that is necessary for our salvation and eternal life. We are commanded during this Lenten period to do certain things: fast, prayer, give alms, attend services. Lest us have the fear, the fear of judgment, and the faith, the faith of love, so that we too can be like Abraham and willingly do the things commanded us by God.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

And he was not...

In one of the scripture readings for today (Genesis 5:1-24) we hear of Enoch. The Bible doesn't really tell us much about Enoch. We know that he was the father of Methuselah. We also know that he was the son of Jared, who was the son of Mahalaleel, who was the son of Cainan, who was the son of Enos, who was the son of Seth, who was the son of Adam.  We also know that he lived 365 years on this earth. This point is strange in that others of his time were living 800 to 900 years. But the reason that Enoch only lived 365 years on this earth was not because he died, but because he was no more.

Thus all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him. Genesis 5:23-24

What does it mean to walk with God? Obviously Enoch was pleasing in the sight of God. He must certainly have lived a holy life, doing the things that God commanded and that God wanted. Much in the same way we are called to walk with God, even in our everyday lives. We are asked to live a life of virtues, a life of mercy, compassion and love. 

In the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, one of the canticles recalls the a story from Noah's life. This story, in Genesis 9:20-23)  tells us of the time when after the flood Noah had planted a vineyard, harvested the fruit, made wine and became drunk. Noah's son Ham, seeing his father naked and passed out in his tent, thought it was funny and went to tell his brothers. His brothers, Shem and Japeth, had concern and covered their father, walking backwards with a garment. They did not look at him and did not acknowledge his drunkenness or his nakedness. The simply looked away from his sin.

During this Lenten season we took should be as Shem and Japeth. We should not acknowledge others sinfulness, we should conceal it. We should not make fun of others sinfulness or shortcomings, we should look away from them. We should be careful of exposing others sin in our own false "concern" when we find ourselves gossiping about others. Let us instead walk with God, praying for others and looking at sinfulness only in ourselves.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Wednesday = hump day

Although you do not hear it much any more, when I was growing up Wednesdays were often referred to as hump days, the middle, or hump of the week. People always looked forward to Wednesdays because the week was more than half over. Mondays were hated because we had to go back to work, Tuesdays were simply tolerated, but Wednesdays were looked forward to because we were then on the downhill side of the week heading towards Friday, the end of the work week and the beginning of the weekend.

For us as Orthodox Christians, lent changes our attitudes towards Wednesdays. We still look forward to Wednesday but not as something to get past to get to the weekend, but we look at Wednesday as a focus, as an anchor point in our Lenten struggle. Why? Because Wednesdays bring us face to face with our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist of the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy.

The Pre-Sanctified Liturgy is a hybrid service if you will, that combines parts of the Vesper Service with the Divine Liturgy. One of the highlights of this service is the entrance with the censer by the Priest after the sing of Psalm 140 and its verses. At this entrance the Priest comes before the Royal Doors and exclaims "Wisdom!" and the lights in the church, which before have been dim, are now brightened as the Priest censes the altar and the people. This movement from dark to light signifies the entrance of Christ into the world..

Pre-Sanctified Liturgy then becomes a movement from dark to light for us during our Lenten journey. This is why it is so important for us in our Lenten efforts to attend this service, to receive the Body and Blood of Christ and to let this light of Christ shine in and through us. The Wednesday Pre-Sanctified Liturgy must be a way point for us in our Lenten travels, a refreshing  pause in our journey where we regain our strength and then go out and continue our good fight, our good race, a fight and race that leads to an empty tomb and salvation for each and every one of us.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


As we move forward in this second week of Lent, today is a good opportunity to reflect on our efforts so far. We talked yesterday about our priorities and about the fact that we may encounter the first difficulties of our fast this week. The first week was new and exciting, an adventure waiting to be had. This week, the newness begins to wear off and we see that we have a long road ahead of us.

But this knowledge presents its own gist, the opportunity to step up our efforts. Certainly we made some type of promise to ourselves, to God, of what we were going to accomplish this Lent. Most likely we did accomplish it that first week. This week, this second week, we need to add a bit to it, to make this week new as well, to challenge ourselves to even more of an effort. We may need to spend a bit more time in prayer. We may need to attend more weekday services. We may need to make a better effort to show love to those around us. Whatever the case is, we must not "rest on the laurels" of the effort of our first week.

St. Paul says to us in Ephesians that no man ever hates his own flesh, but cherishes and nourishes it. Now is the time to nourish not our flesh, but our soul. Let us feed and water our soul with words of prayer, with acts of worship and with moments of love and compassion towards our fellow man. In this way, each week of the Lenten season will begins anew, as a challenge, exciting in its possibilities and opportunities.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Second Week

And so we begin the second week of Great Lent. Yesterday afternoon Orthodoxy Sunday Vesper Service was held at our Church. There were 13 Priests and close to 200 people in attendance. It was a very impressive service!

As we settle in to this second week of Lent, the fast will most likely begin to get a little more difficult. As I talked about in my sermon yesterday, it seems like Lent truly beings sometime this second week, when we face perhaps our first true test of our resolve to hold to our fast. Hopefully at that moment we will realize that Great Lent is not so much about what we are giving up, or fasting from, or even the sacrifice we make. Great Lent becomes an opportunity, an opportunity to examine the priorities in our life.

All of us have priorities in our lives. Mostly likely we would list them as family, job, friend and so on. Lent allows us to think about where God fits in that list, if He is even on it in the first place. Oftentimes, people say to me that they don't understand why the Church wants to take up so much of our time, that it is hard to find time to balance our regular life with Church. First, Church has to be a part of our regular life. It can't be something outside of our lives that we just participate in once in a while. And second, the Church doesn't really ask all that much of us.

Lets look at time for a moment. Studies suggest that most people sleep 6-8 hours a night. That leaves at least 16 hours of time awake. Out of that we can eliminate 9 hours for work (adding in travel) so we are left with 7 hours. Take another 2 hours out for dinner preparation and eating together as a family (a vital practice of family life!) Now we have 5 hours left. Probably one of those hours was in the morning before work and the other 4 are in the evening before bed. We might even eliminate another 2 hours in the evening for those who have children and need to spend time with them and put them to bed. 

So, what does the Church ask of us? That we pray, morning and night. A light rule of prayer to begin a prayer life with might take us 10-15 minutes in the morning and evening. That is only 20-30 minutes out of the 5 hours we have left over after all is said and done in our day. If we could simply find the time to set aside 10-15 minutes each morning and evening, we could truly begin to prioritize our lives the way they should be.

The Church also asks us to make an effort to avoid sin, to be kind and compassionate to those around us. This takes no time at all, in fact it probably takes more time for us to figure out how to be mad at people and get back at them than it does to simply pray.

The Church doesn't ask much of us, just that we live a Christian way of life, a life of love and prayer. Let this week of Great Lent be about priorities for you. Examine you life and see where God fits. If we can pray, if we can make the effort life a Christian life, the God will find a place at the top of our list of priorities.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Sunshine and Clouds

As I begin to write today, it is overcast outside. Over the last week or so we have had a large swing in our weather. We went from relatively warm sunny days, to overcast but still a bit warm, to 12-14 inches of snow and bitter cold and finally to what promises to be warm and sunny again! IT has been a roller coaster of a ride!

This difference between between cloudy and sunny days reminds me of our Lenten journey. We travel this world in darkness, the darkness of sin and in reality, the darkness of the absence of God. Society has and continues to make every effort to minimize or even remove the idea of God from itself. Without God we walk in darkness and we struggle to find our way. 

Jesus Christ brings light to this darkness. It is through His Death, Resurrection and Ascension that light blooms anew into the world. Think about that first really sunny and warm day that comes after a long winter. The snow is melting, the birds are singing, we can even smell spring in the air. This is just how our Lenten journey should be. It should be a gradual warming in our lives and our hearts, our lives getting a little bit brighter each and every day that we make the Lenten effort. And this will culminate in the brightest of days, Pascha, and all the joy that the Resurrected Lord brings.

We may struggle each day, with our Lenten efforts, with temptation, with our own frustrations, angers and fears. But if we struggle, if we truly struggle and make the effort to walk the path of Christ, the bright Light of His triumph over death will help us chase away the difficulties, the temptations, the frustrations and the fear. Trust in God.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.   John 1:1-5 

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Looking ahead

I want to go back for a moment, back to this past Sunday, the Sunday of Forgiveness. The Vesper service that evening is a beautiful beginning to the Lenten season. To actually come before our fellow church members and ask for forgiveness is a powerful and cleansing thing to do. But there is something that we may not be aware of about this service, usually because it doesn't always happen in a parish.

The Lenten Triodion, the Lenten service book of the Church, prescribes that the Easter Canon be sung quietly while the the faithful are exchanging the kiss of peace and offering forgiveness. It seems strange, no, that here as Great Lent has just begun, we are already hearing the words of the Canon sung at the Resurrection Service, the Matins of Pasha. But you see, that is the beauty of the Church. In her wisdom, she gives us a glimpse of the reward that will come at the end of this journey. It is as if we can look off in the distance and already see the hill of Golgatha, already see the blinding white light of the Resurrected Christ, already see His glorious Ascension into heaven. What a gift the Church gives to us to bolster our effort for the Lenten Season.

The whole season of Great Lent is a constant movement towards the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a step by step, day by day journey of making the effort to turn ourselves back to God. Hopefully we learn and realize how far we have strayed from God, the Church even our own spiritual lives. And we do this not to make ourselves guilty, but simple to know, so that we can make a new effort to get back to where we are supposed to be, under the shelter of His wings.

In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:6)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Light in the Darkness

This first Wednesday of Great Lent brings with it a bright spot during our travels through the fast, a bright spot indeed. Today we will celebrate the first Pre-Sanctified Divine Liturgy of this Lenten season. And so, in the midst of our struggles this week, our prayers, our fasting, our efforts to avoid sinfulness, we see a hand reach out to us, in the form of the precious Body and Blood our our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.

What a powerful thing to be able to receive this precious gift at this time. Surely, by midweek, temptation has come calling, if not sooner. But here we are given something remarkable. In the middle of a fast we are given food. This is not normal food, but it is food from heaven, manna if you will, given to us by Jesus Christ to strengthen us and lift us up.

Fasting during the Lenten season is meant to set us free, to loose us from the bonds of this world. Fasting causes us to think about what we are eating, or not eating. Fasting causes us to stay hungry, to leave the table before we are full. In this way, fasting makes us remember what is truly important, God, salvation and eternal life. So you see, fasting does set us free.

With the beautiful Pre-Sanctified Liturgy, we are able to refocus our efforts to fast, refocus our efforts to keep God first in our lives. Jesus said to us:

John 10:10  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

The life of our Lord was sacrificed on the Cross for us and it continues to be sacrificed at every Divine Liturgy that is served. It is our job, perhaps even responsibility, to embrace and partake of this life that has been given to us. Witness the beauty of the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy, receive the Body and Blood of Christ. Fill that which has been emptied through fasting with that which is good, holy and righteous.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Second Day of Great Lent

Clean Monday has come and gone and we are now quickly into the Lenten Season. I was inspired at the service of the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete last night for two reasons.

1. 13 people came and celebrated the Canon on a day when we had over 12 inches of snow. Truthfully, I did not expect anyone to be there and it was so uplifting to have people to pray with that first day of Lent.

2. I think for the first time I really heard the words of Psalm 69/70  (read during the Canon service):

Be pleased, O God, to deliver me! O Lord, make haste to help me! Let them be put to shame and confusion who seek my life! Let them be turned back and brought to dishonor who desire my hurt! Let them be appalled because of their shame who say, “Aha, Aha!” May all who seek thee rejoice and be glad in thee! May those who love thy salvation say evermore, “God is great!” But I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God! Thou art my help and my deliverer; O Lord, do not tarry!

The time of Great Lent is about many different things...prayer, fasting, services, alms-giving, compassion, forgiveness etc., but I think that the foundation of Lent, its bedrock, is the knowledge of the necessity of our reliance on God, our unworthiness if you will, and the need to have God as our defender. This Psalm speaks directly to this as a cry to God to protect us and accept us as we are, our sins and all. do we acknowledge our sinfulness, our need for God, our need for deliverance? The simplest way is through the disciplines of Lent, prayer and fasting.

Prayer is, in its simplest sense, a conversation with God, a relationship with Him. It is the opportunity to talk with a friend, a confidant, a willing listener, a helper and deliverer. We pray to God as a cry for help in this desolate land of "society" that we live in. If we can truly pray, if we can truly shut out the world around us and concentrate on God, then we acknowledge our need for Him.

Fasting allows us the same opportunity. Make no mistake, fasting is not easy. If it was easy, everyone would do it. But the effort to set aside all of the gluttony and overindulgence of society and live a simpler life draws us closer to God and once again highlights for us our need for Him. We need to fast and pray so that we can shut out all of the noise of this world and hear that still small voice of God.

It is that still small voice that will defend us, that will stand by us, that will save us.