Tuesday, March 16, 2010


A strange thing happened to me the other day, well, sadly, it is something that really isn't all that strange....

I had stopped to get gas for my car. As I stood and waited for the pump to fill my car, I noticed that another gentleman who was filling his car on the other side of the pump I was on began to stroll around the area where we were. His strolling eventually took him over to where the air and vacuum machines were. Needing air in my tires, I hoped he would soon return to his car. Alas, this was not the case.

As I began t take the caps off of the valve stems of my tires, the man approached me and made a comment about having to pay for the air for my tires. (It was .75 cents). I smiled and said that I was in a hurry and did not want to run into the store to be able to get the air for free. The man, a total stranger, then began a tirade of explicatives and racial epitaphs against the people who ran the store.

Now, you may think, and rightly so, how terrible it was for someone to just come out and say things like that to another person, especially a stranger. However, I feel that the greater sadness here is that this person saw nothing wrong with how he was speaking. He saw nothing wrong with judging a person based on their race. He saw nothing wrong with using words that would make most of us cringe. Now, I am not naive, no will I sit here and type that I have never sworn of judged another person. I do not want God to strike me down for lying!!! But....I can say that when I have done those things I have known they were wrong and usually done out of anger or frustration. The very sad point here is that this man felt and spoke like this as if were normal.

I think maybe one of the harder things that is asked of us as Christians is to recognize when we sin. In a world that has certainly lost its moral compass, there doesn't ever seem to be much that is "wrong" or "off limits". Therefore it can be hard some times to know when our behavior has moved away from the path of salvation. This can most especially be true with our children.

So, how do we fix this? The simple answer is to practice a spiritual life, that is, a life of prayer, fasting and worship. If all we see and hear is the sinfulness of this world, then this is what we will imitate. If however, we try to balance or overcome the sinfulness of this world with words of prayer, sounds of Liturgy and the discipline of fasting, then we can distinguish between what is right or wrong. We may not always make the right choice, but when we make the wrong one, we will, without a doubt, know it.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

An Olympic ending

Well, the winter Olympics came to a spectacular conclusion this past weekend. The pageantry of the opening and closing ceremonies always amazes me. What also amazes me is the effort put in by the athletes. It is hard to imagine spending four years of your life training for shot at the Olympic games. Not to mention that most events are over in a matter of seconds or minutes.

I would imagine it is safe to says the all of the athletes, medalists and non-medalists alike, find themselves changed by the event and by the training. Most, if not all, of those athletes are different people by the time the games come to a close.

I think that in many ways, Great Lent is much the same. Lent is almost like a training ground. It is the training to make us ready to celebrate Pascha, that moment of the Resurrection of Christ. The same way that Olympic athletes train four years for that spit second of competition, we train 40 days for that split moment when we see the church clothed in white, the bells ringing and the refrains of "Christ is Risen" filling the Church.

The challenge of all of this is that we too must find ourselves changed by this "olympic" event. We cannot allow ourselves to go through Lent, the additional services, the added prayer life, the adult education opportunities and not be changed. We cannot experience the beauty and majesty of the Resurrection of Christ and not be changed. If we do, then we have not truly put in any effort into the Lenten season.

Certainly, we can go through Great Lent as we go through the rest of the year, doing whatever it is we want to do. Or, we can make a truly Olympic effort in our Lenten journey and experience what the true joy and meaning of Pascha really is. God give each of us the strength to shoot for the gold medal of prayer, fasting and worship as we journey towards the Resurrection of Christ.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Bringing Haiti Home

We all remember the devastating earthquake that rocked the nation of Haiti a few weeks ago. And while the appeals for help have faded and the news stations have moved on to to what they consider more important or relevant information, we must remember that our help, financial, physical and spiritual, is still needed. And not only in Haiti, but in other areas of the world.

One of the hardest things sometimes to do is to put a face on a need. Certainly the pictures of the devastation in Haiti were effective in helping us to realize how terrible the earthquake must have been. But I think the above pictures tells an even more compelling story, because it tells the story of humanity.

The contrast of the pictures above of the destruction of the earthquake against an Orthodox community receiving the Body and Blood of Christ can be seen as a story of our Christian life. Original sin destroyed our relationship with God. It broke down that bond with God that we were created to have. It was a devastating event for humanity.

But, with the advent of Jesus Christ, His death and Resurrection, that relationship, that bond is offered to us once again, most notably in the reception of the Body and Blood of Christ. Just as the overwhelming donations and the thousands of volunteer hours will rebuild this poor nation, so too, our spiritual life rebuilds our relationship with God.

There is no better time to concentrate our efforts on this rebuilding that during this Lenten season. Let us take advantage of the things that are offered to us: Confession, Communion, Lenten Services, Additional Prayers, Alms-giving, to reestablish that bond that we were meant to have with God.

We here at St. John's made a sizable donation of funds and necessities to help with Haiti. If you were unable to contribute as of yet, do so now. And all of us, as part of our Lenten effort, should continue to remember the people of Haiti, and most notably, the Orthodox Mission churches there, in our prayers. Let us pray for them every day of Great Lent that God will give them the strength and courage to completely recover from this terrible event.

For more information on the Orthodox Church in Haiti, please click here or here.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

What is in an Apology?

I wasn't sure that I really wanted to write about this, but it seems that I cannot get past the "apology" of Tiger Woods. We all know what he did, you can't really escape it. And I don't necessarily want to talk about the quality or lack thereof in his apology. But what I do want to talk about is why?

I find it entirely ironic that a society that willingly accepts and even promotes behavior from its celebrities, sports stars and music stars that most of us consider wrong (at best) and downright horrible (at worst), would feel that it is owed an apology from this man. Is it because we allowed him to make so much money? Is it because we made him a star? Why is it that a society that is essentially devoid of God and bristles at the notion of "right" and "wrong" feels itself so wronged by what he did?

There may not be a really good answers to these questions but I think there is a lesson for us to learn here. Christ says in scripture that we must not be concerned about the sliver of wood in our neighbor's eye when we have a log in our own eye. During our Lenten journey we are called to introspection, of looking within ourselves, at our thoughts and desires, and seeing them for what they truly are. We are not called to do that to others. As we saw in the story of Ham, we are called to look away from the sins and faults of others.

The media certainly did not look away this past week, nor did most of society. I think that if we could be half as concerned about our own actions as so many were about the actions of a man who is essentially a stranger, we might truly begin to practice introspection. Perhaps the media frenzy that was Tiger's apology was a wake up call for us to refocus our own attention and get back to the work of Lent: prayers, fasting, humility and repentance.

If there is an apology to be concerned about, it should be ours to God in contrite humility at our confession.

Friday, February 19, 2010


Last night in the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, one word keep coming up over and over: compunction. The dictionary tells us that compunction means a feeling of uneasiness or anxiety of the conscience caused by regret for doing wrong or causing pain.

What a powerful word to contemplate during our Lenten struggle. Often during Lent we tend to focus on the ideas of repentance and confession. We sometimes see them as obligations that are necessary for the Lenten season. But what the Church tries to teach us is that repentance is not so much and obligation as it is a way of life.

Think about the definition above. When was the last time that you felt uneasy or had anxiety over something you had done that you knew was wrong or that hurt someone? Surely we are uneasy over many things: paying our bills, our jobs, or family and more. But have we ever taken the time to see how or words, our deeds, our actions affect those around us.

I think the reason that St. Andrew uses the term compunction so often is that compunction is a necessary component of repentance. We cannot truly repent of something unless we see and understand how it was wrong or hurt others. And we certainly can't be repentant over it if it doesn't bother us. In that case our confession is not truly a confession, but simply an act that we perform. And most importantly, if we don't truly repent, we cannot be forgiven.

This Lenten season let us struggle and work for the tears of compunction that St. Andrew speaks of. Let these truly show us the path to true repentance and therefore true forgiveness. Let us truly live and spiritual life and not just act out a spiritual life.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ham, the son of Noah

In today's service of the Great Canon, there is a verse that mentions Ham, one of the three sons of Noah. The verse in the service says:

You have imitated Ham, that spurner of his father, my soul. You have not concealed your neighbor's shame by returning to him looking backwards.

I do not know how many are familiar with this story from the life of Noah and his sons. After the flood, Noah became a tiller of the soil and planted a vineyard. When it was harvested and made into wine, Noah drank and became drunk and lay in his tent naked. Ham, seeing his father, went and told his brothers. His brothers then came and, walking backwards as not to see their father in his moment of weakness, covered him. When Noah woke and found out what Ham had done, he cursed Ham and Ham's son Canaan.

There is a lesson her for us, one about judgement I think. St. Andrew says that our soul had imitated Ham in that we have not concealed our neighbor's shame. Most of us do our best to stay away from judging others, but often times we fall to this sins without even realizing, much as Ham fell to his sin. When we say or hear things such as "Well, I really didn't want to say anything but..." or "Well you know it is the truth..." we can be sure that we are falling into judging others, and sadly, trying to justify it.

We are told to return to our neighbor backwards, concealing his shame. So what does this mean? It tells us that when we see the faults or failings of those around us, we are not to comment on them, or point them out. We are called to turn our eyes away from them so as not to highlight their shame. This is the beginning of humility and a lesson that is hard earned but one that is vital to our Lenten experience and our spiritual life as a whole.

God give us the strength to be like Shem and Japheth, Noah's other sons, and turn our eyes from the sinfulness of others, simply embracing and loving them as fellow travelers on the path of salvation and eternal life.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Clean Monday

It is interesting that during this first week of Great Lent, the world is watching a sporting spectacle that only happens every four years, the Winter Olympic Games. It is hard not to get caught up in the spirit of competition, the effort to achieve greatness and national pride. While we watch or read about the spectacular achievements and the stunning disappointments that these games bring, we can be reminded of the effort that is asked of us during this penitential season.

St. Paul in his Epistles often compares the Christian life and its struggle to the athletic struggle. The ancient Olympic games were a part of the culture that the Church developed in and that St. Paul and the Apostles lived in. In his first Epistle to the Corinthians, St. Paul says that in a race, all runners compete but only one receives the prize. He then encourages the Christians of Corinth to run the race, not to receive a perishable wreath, but an imperishable one, that is, salvation and eternal life.

Perhaps one of St. Paul's most famous passages also refers to athletic competition. He says near the end of his second Epistle to Timothy, speaking about his impending martyrdom, that he has "...I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."

Olympic athletes are expected to train and sacrifice and give their best effort in competition. As we can see from St. Paul, we are expected to do the same in our spiritual lives. The Lenten season gives us the opportunity to make this effort. Great Lent is a 40 day race, a 40 day fight in which we are asked to keep the faith through prayer and fasting. It is an exciting opportunity that we are given. God give us the strength and courage to embrace this opportunity and make the most of this moment. Just as the athletes do, let us seize the moment.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Great Lent 2010

Well, it has been a long time since I have posted to this blog. I guess in a sense, coming back to it at the start of Great Lent is a little but of what the Lenten season is all about...that is...getting back to the things that are important.

There are so many aspects to Great Lent that sometimes it may seem difficult to know exactly where to start or even what to concentrate on. However, I think the simple idea of getting back to what is important is a great start.

So...what is important to you? It is an interesting question to ask yourself. It is especially interesting if you give yourself an honest answer. If we could take a moment and step back from our every day lives and watch ourselves go through our daily routine, we might be surprised by what we see. I would hazard a guess that for most of us, the thoughts of God, prayer and spiritual life will not be things that we see. This is not an accusation, but simply a necessary thing for us to do as we begin this Lenten journey. The first step in a successful Lenten journey is being able to acknowledge our spiritual shortcomings and making the decision to overcome them.

One of the stichera from the Vespers of Forgiveness Sunday say: "Let us set out with joy upon the season of the Fast and prepare ourselves for spiritual combat. Let us purify our soul and cleanse our flesh, and as we fast from food, let us also abstain from every passion..."

What powerful words to keep in our hearts as we begin our own season of the Fast. It is with these words of encouragement that we can truly examine our lives, see where we fall short of what God hopes for us and begin to make the most of this Great Lent, purifying our soul, cleansing our flesh, and as the above stichera concludes "...be counted worthy to see the solemn Passion of Christ our God, and with great spiritual gladness to behold His holy Passover."

A blessed and beneficial Lenten season to each and every one of us.