Sunday, April 12, 2015

We Are God's Children Through His Resurrection




Imagine what a great event has taken place. Humankind once enjoyed the ideal place to live but lost it and became subject to the passions of a physical life where death always looms in our mind. Losing a perfect life in Paradise humans became self-centered and sinful unable to fulfill the ideals God planned for them. We are all made in His image and called to love our neighbor as we love ourselves and to love God with our whole heart and soul. But fearful of death and sinful, we struggle to fulfill this ideal. We may appear rich on the outside, we have a large house, fine clothes, a beautiful automobile, but on the inside our souls are unclean.

After a long period of time from the event of our creation, and after many attempts to prod us to reclaim our place in Paradise, a great day came. A king came, not an earthly king, but the true king of the universe, He who created all we know out of nothing and Who directs the universe. This king we lovingly know a Jesus Christ.

Christ is the king who saw our unclean state of our soul and our suffering and self-centered way of life. He had compassion for His creation and cleansed us with His priceless blood He shed for us on the Cross and clothed us anew with the robe of resurrection, and made us His children.

A good child is one who loves his parents and who obeys their instruction. A good parent loves and cares for His children. Christ and His Father, who is our father, are the perfect parents and want to raise us as their perfect children. In this way, God is glorified.

When Christ was resurrected after His cruel crucifixion we were raised from darkness to light and from a miserable state to paradise. Here is how Holy Scripture describes th effect of His Crucifixion and Resurrection: "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe" (John 1:12).

Christ seeks all of us. He does not want to discriminate. When we believe in Christ and are baptized we become true children of God. We are transformed and protected by His grace. We are nurtured in His Church as we strive to become like Him, to become good children and glorify His name. This is a path that is open to everyone no matter what their nationality, no matter what time they live, no matter what their language, nor their sex. All can become His adopted children.

With the Resurrection and our faith we become a Child of God! We no longer have the fear of death which most people in the world fear. Knowing the future of our resurrection if we follow Him, death offers no fear. Christ has conquered death by His death and Resurrection. We have become a blessed child of God. Now, we too can have eternal life with Him and return to Paradise.

Let's give thanks for this great blessing that has been given to us through His death on the Cross and His glorious Resurrection. We worship and we glorify Him now and forever unto the ages of ages.

Christ is Risen! Truly He has Risen!

Friday, April 3, 2015

30 Steps to Heaven

The 30 Steps to Heaven as outlined by saint John Climacus provides a powerful way to examine your spiritual state. The last two steps provide a beautiful vision of what is possible for all of us if we are able to master the previous rungs on the ladder he describes.

This Lent we conducted a series of discussions based on the commentary by Archimandrite Vassilios Papavassiliou: Thirty steps to Heaven.

Here is a link to the slides used in our discussion series:



Monday, March 30, 2015

Is Christianity Just Another Religion of the World?


Orthodox Christianity fulfills the search of all peoples for meaning in life. It is based on the revelation of God and His truth. As Bishop Augoustinos says, it is the end all of all religions as human constructions. We do not follow the creation or teachings of any human being, but God Himself. This is the essence of the Gospel. Orthodox Christianity is not just another religion.

Bishop Augoustinos writes,
“In the Orthodox view, Christian Faith is not a “religion” (except in the conventional everyday use of the word). It is the fulfillment of all religions in their search for divine truth and human meaning as inspired by God’s law written on human hearts. In this understanding, God’s Gospel in Jesus is the end of all religions as human constructions, however good and inevitable they are in their desire to deal with life’s mysteries and to comprehend the ways of God (or the gods) and creatures in a demon-riddled, death-bound world.”
Our faith is not in conflict with reason and nature but is beyond. It is about the mystery that is behind all reason and nature. Bishop Augoustinos writes,
“Christian faith and life, as witnessed in apostolic Scripture and the lives and teachings of the saints, belongs to a “new creation” (Gal 6:15 ; 2 Cor 6:17). It does not belong to “this age” whose “form is passing away” (1 Cor 7:31). It is “from above” and leads always to what is “beyond.” It is not from human beings, and it transcends human history. It is not contrary to nature and reason, but surpasses their limitations. It discloses the original nature and purposes of things, reveals their ultimate destiny, and illumines human minds and hearts to “the knowledge of the truth” about God and all things in Him. As such, Christian faith and life is God’s gift of divine truth, light, wisdom, and power given to creatures as completely and perfectly as is now possible within the conditions of the corrupted cosmos.”
To think of the Gospel as no more than one of many books or many religions destroys the truth of the Gospel. It is the recording of the revelation of God's Son who came to earth taking on flesh from a virgin whom God prepared and who voluntarily accepted her role. It is not a story book or a myth. It is about the revelation of God in history.

Fr. Thomas Hopko writes,
“When Christians understand Christ’s Gospel to be but one of humankind’s many religions, even the first, best, and greatest, the Gospel ceases to be what it is. It becomes but another product of sinful humanity in its fallen form: good, true, and beautiful in many ways, yet incomplete and dangerously deceptive. As such, it is inevitably deformed into an ideological mythology, or mythological ideology, employed to promote and defend the “merely human” and, inevitable, sinful persons and societies that use it for this deplorable purpose. This is so whether this Christian religion is fundamentalist and sectarian, or whether it is relativistic and inclusive, seeing itself as no better or worse, and essentially no different from any other.”
Christians are blessed with the record of God's revelation to His chosen people.  It has been revealed not to compete with other religions, but to lead people to unity with God, to show them the way to Paradise. The Son of God had no political power yet He had all the power of the world and more. He lived as a human being and was able to show us the life that is possible if we follow His example and unite our will with His. The Gospel and the events recorded in it are unique in human history. They point us towards the truth that underlies all life.

Reference: Follow Me by Bishop Augoustinos of Florina, Gr.  pp 46-47

Monday, March 23, 2015

Orthodox Christian Stewardship: What do Jesus, the Bible, and the Church Fathers Say about Tithing and Giving to God?


“Where your treasure is there will your heart be also.”1 These words of Jesus have resonated within the hearts of people for two thousand years. What was Jesus talking about? What do Jesus, the Bible, and the Church Fathers have to say about tithing and giving to God? 

The Scriptures have no less than 2,350 verses having to do with money and money management. Jesus speaks about money and money management more than any other topic including heaven, hell, salvation etc. The topic is very important for the Christian life. 

In an often misquoted verse, St. Paul the Apostle writes, “the love of money is the root of all evil”.2 St. Paul teaches that our Lord realizes that we have needs to meet in order to live and to carry out His work. God is, however, a jealous God and demands our full commitment with nothing else taking precedence over His Lordship in our lives. That is why the Apostle Paul warns his first century Greek congregation that the love of money is evil. 

All that we have is on loan from God. It is all gift. What we do with our time, talent, and treasures will have to be given account of on the last day. This was the great sin of disobedience by Adam in the Garden of Eden. He abused his gift of stewardship. King Solomon who was the richest and wisest man of all time, expressed his feeling of the emptiness of materialism apart from God when he said, “vanity of vanities, it is all a bubble that bursts”

In the book of Genesis, the mysterious paradigmatic priest of priests Melchizedek appears to perform one task alone: to collect the tithe from Abraham and to thus confer a blessing upon him on behalf of the Lord.3 This clearly shows that Abraham in his righteousness before God gave of his first fruits (his best fruits) unto the Lord and in turn was blessed. This is precisely what God is calling us to do. We as believers are each called upon to give sacrificially of our best resources first and God will take care of the rest as He did with Father Abraham. 

As individuals, when we become burdened with a mindset of materialism (i.e. non-stewardship focused giving) we become slaves to our wealth instead of our wealth becoming our servants for the promotion of God’s Kingdom. This clearly is not the way that God intended it to be. Inevitably, we squanderer the gifts of our resources. Then a multitude of other problems emerge namely the bondage of debt. For truly, as the Preacher teaches in Ecclesiastes and Proverbs, “the borrower is a slave to the lender”.4 

All of these principles not only apply to the individual Christian, but to the life of a congregation as well. Jesus is clear in the New Testament when He says that He would build and grow the Church and that the task at hand for believers is to make disciples who are followers of Jesus amongst the nations. That is what the core culture of a parish and diocese should be all about. That is what the ultimate focus of any and all monetary collections should be about. As the late great Russian theologian Georges Florovsky would write on the matter
The primary task of the historical Church is the proclamation of another world “to come.” The Church bears witness to the New Life, disclosed and revealed in Christ Jesus, the Lord and Saviour. This it does both by word and deed. The true proclamation of the Gospel would be precisely the practice of this New Life: to show faith by deeds (cf. Matt. 5:16). The Church is more than a company of preachers, or a teaching society, or a missionary board. It has not only to invite people, but also to introduce them into this New Life, to which it bears witness. 
 It is a missionary body indeed, and its mission field is the whole world. But the aim of its missionary activity is not merely to convey to people certain convictions or ideas, not even to impose on then a definite discipline or a rule of life, but first of all to introduce them into the New Reality, to convert them, to bring them through their faith and repentance to Christ Himself, that they should be born anew in Him and into Him by water and the Spirit. Thus the ministry of the Word is completed in the ministry of the Sacraments.5 
If you want to know the spiritual state and strength of a church, just look at its stewardship report. Invariably, it tells it all because what people do with their money speaks volumes. We make disciples by giving people Jesus through preaching, teaching, the sacramental life, the liturgical life and outreach ministries. It is to this end that our giving should be focused. If the ekklesia will do its job, Jesus has promised to be faithful and do His. Sacrificial giving for the Christian is not an option, but a joyful obligation. St. John Chrysostom in the 4th century speaks of this joyful obligation in his book On Wealth and Poverty when he writes that the Christian owns nothing because God owns everything.6 

The ecclesial ministry in its essence is not about buildings, budgets, and bodies. The model that we ought to follow is that the Church should be viewed first and foremost as the family of God, not just as another corporation or business. When that happens, the Bible tells us that inevitably God’s presence and blessing can be seen manifest in the local eucharistic community because its focus is on Jesus the Author of our salvation. It is then when we see the fullness of the Faith express itself, not only in the transformation of the elements into the Body and Blood of Christ, but when the celebrant and those worshipers present are transfigured into the Body of Christ as well. 

With these things in mind, proper Christian stewardship for individuals and congregations should include the following four principles: 1) the glorification of God should be the focus; 2) giving should be sacrificial; 3) giving should be of the best of the first fruits of one’s resources; and 4) debt has no place in this paradigm. If you would incorporate these four principles of economics into your lives and the life of your congregation, the Lord has promised to do mighty, mighty works in your life and in the lives of all around you. A proper understanding of stewardship is not a luxury in our private life as a Christian and in our collective life as the Ekklesia. For us to be be truly “called out from the world” as the word ekklesia connotes, is to take up the mantle and responsibility of stewardship and all that it entails. 

byJohn G. Panagiotou – March 2015 

ENDNOTES 
1 Matthew 6:21 
2 1st Timothy 6:10 
3 Genesis 14:18-20 
4 Proverbs 22:7 
5 Florovsky, Georges, “The Church: Her Nature and Task” appeared in volume 1 of the Universal Church in God’s Design (S.C.M. Press, 1948). 
6 Chrysostom, Saint John, On Wealth and Poverty [trans.] (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1984). 

 John G. Panagiotou is a graduate of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary and Wheeling Jesuit University. He can be reached at johnpan777@gmail.com

Monday, March 16, 2015

How Can I Become an Apostle?


Christ called His disciples,  "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." When He called them they gave up their profession and their families and left everything to devote themselves to His work. Are we not also called to follow Him? Does this mean we are to give up our livelihood and leave our family's? No! Only a few are called in such a manner, but we are still called to become His Apostles. How can we do this if we are not able to pack up and head for a mission somewhere I the world?

How about the needs in our own Church? Attendance to church services is not so great. Less than 25% of our members will be found in the church on Sunday's. We are lucky if we see them on Christmas or Easter.  How about ourselves. Do we regularly attend and live the principles of an Orthodox Life? Let's ask ourselves, Are we responsible for this lack of participation in the Sacramental life of the Church? What effort have we made to urge others to come and participate? How effective are you on Sunday at rousing all your family members to get up and get ready to get to Chirch before the service begins? Do you just satisfy yourself with getting yourself to Church on time? Fulfilling your duty. Can you say you are a leader for Christ?

When you are moved by a sermon do you share it with others? When you are cleansed ans spiritually uplifted by participation in the Sacraments do you encourage others to do the same? Do you think the job of spreading th message of the Gospel is the work of the cry of the Chuch alone? This in not the correct view as from the earliest days of the church all His followers were active in Spreading the Gospel message. Every Christian is called and capable of being a preacher do the Gospel message. It's not necessary to go to Africa or some other exotic place to be a missionary. You can become one in your own home, your neighborhood and parish community.

Bishop Augoustinos writes,
Every Christian should consider himself a little apostle in the world. No legitimate cause can interfere with a missionay endeavor. If he is a fervent Christian, wherever he is, he will find an opportunity to speak about Christ. At home, at school, at college, on boats, and everyplace there are souls who seek light and salvation, the believer can throw out his net. Even if he does not achieve much--even if he saves one sinner from the brink of destruction--he will be considered great in the eyes of the Lord.

Reference: Follow Me by Bishop Augoustinos of Florina Gr. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Difference Between How Buddha and Christians Handle Suffering


Buddha lived and taught in the fifth century before Christ. He came from a royal family and when he came of age he left the palace and immediately saw the deplorable living condition of those outside the palace. From this is learned that the main problem of life is suffering, and, if he were to help others, this would have to be eliminated. He became an ascetic and gave up his royal life. He went into the forest and contemplated the purpose of life. He determined that suffering was caused by selfish desire (tanha). This desire creates a gap between what we desire and what we have. This he concluded was the cause our suffering. To eliminate suffering this gap had to be eliminated. To do this, one only had to give up what they desire. The ultimate was to desire nothing. If one were able to do this it would lead to what he called Nirvana.

Jesus Christ shows us a different path. It does not involve trying to get what we desire or giving up all our desires. He showed us how to change our desires. By changing what we desire we change our world and how we experience life. He taught us to desire one thing, to do the will of God, our Father in heaven, instead of our own will. This is known as having a pure heart. By controlling how we use our free-will we learn to only desire what God wills. We unite our will with His. This is done based on faith and our love of God. Jesus provides the example and instructs us in the Way. He shows by His life what it means to desire only God's will. Since He was fully human as well as God, He lived by uniting His will with His divine will. When we form this intimate relationship with God, then we experience pure joy no matter what is happening to us or around us. We know that God is good and loves all His creation. When we put to death our self-will and offer our life to Christ, we discover His unlimited love. We have hope in eternal life in His kingdom. We know there is more than the strife of this world in the life to come. Through our faith and His grace we learn to love others as ourselves. As we are able to do this our love of God become perfect and we live in union with Him.

If we always accept whatever comes to us as God's will, knowing that He is a God of love, then there is nothing that will cause us to experience suffering. We will always experience the joy of being united with God.

Neither of these paths are easy as they both require effort on our part. Buddha's path is the most difficult because it is based exclusively on our self-will and ends in nothingness. The Christian path involves our faith in the Gospel and our cooperation with God by learning to control our bodily passions so that our soul is in control directing us to follow God's will. As we go down this path we receive God's grace. It is through His grace, His help, that we are able to overcome suffering and live in union with Him. It is not something we can do through our own will. It is only by giving up our own will to God, learning self-discipline, that we can follow the Christian path which ends in eternal life in His Kingdom.

Christians have help in God. They have hope in an eternal life in God's Kingdom. They have the comfort of a loving God. The Gospel records for us that Jesus was born of a virgin, He healed the sick, and taught about the Kingdom of God. He was killed unjustly by crucifixion, a voluntary sacrifice He made for our benefit. He was resurrected after being three days in a tomb and forty days later, after teaching his disciples the mysteries, ascended into heaven opening the gates to Paradise for all humankind. He then sent the Holy Spirit to empower His disciples so they could spread the good news about God's kingdom and establish faith communities called churches, where all mankind could come to receive the Holy Spirit, to be healed and united with Him. Follow Him and you will find eternal joy. Have only one desire, to unite your will with His. 

Reference: Making Sense Out of Suffering by Peter Kreeft, pp 147-148

Monday, March 2, 2015

Does Evil and Suffering Prove there is no God?

Listen to John Lennox deal with this question and provide a beautiful explanation of what Christianity is all about.
John Lennox is Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, Fellow in Mathematics and the Philosophy of Science, and Pastoral Advisor at Green Templeton College, Oxford. He is also an Adjunct Lecturer at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University and at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics and is a Senior Fellow of the Trinity Forum.

Books by John Lennox