Monday, March 28, 2016

Are You Attending Church Just in Case God is Real?

I saw this headline the other day and thought how common this view is today. The story was about the many people who find themselves in Church on Easter and Christmas and other times who are not real belivers. They say they go, "Just in case God is Real." It seems there are so many Orthodox Christians who appear to share this way of thinking. They come to church on Sunday,"Just in Case!" They don't follow the practices taught by the Church. They don't participate regularly in the Sacraments. They don't have a true faith. They only come to Church periodically "just in case!"

Why have so many lost sight of the reality of our existence? Why have they lost sight of the wisdom of the ages? Why do they ignore the wisdom of our elders? Why is there so much hatred around us? Why are we so angry in our political arena? Why do we expose our hatreds on social media? Has religion become something we now do "just in case"?

The current period in the Orthodox Church is a sober fasting period, Great Lent. It is a period set aside by the Church for spiritual renewal, repentance and introspection. Yet when I look on social media I see so many engaging in great feasts, seeking pleasure where there is is but temporary relief from the realities of our worldly life, totally ignoring the traditional practices taught by the Church for our betterment during this special period. It seems there is too much ignorance of the teachings of the Church and its proven path. Only a few attend the special services we have during this period. Most do not even fast in any way. I want to scream, Wake Up! 

I must admit that there were times in my life that I did not have a clue what life was about. I too was a continual pleasure seeker. I was not aware of the benefits of the fasting periods like Great Lent. Church was just another obligation. I know well the pitfalls of this way of life. I traveled the world seeking pleasures in fancy resorts. I've been to Bora Bora, to Hawaii, to remote African beaches, to Mediterranean spas, Greek islands, to the resorts along our ocean coasts, and on and on. What for? Seeking relief from a frantic way of life that seemed to have no other purpose but self-gratification. 

Then, while I was working on a PhD, the reality of life suddenly became clear to me. I realized that there is hope of an eternal life. I realized that Jesus Christ cannot be denied. Fortunately, I had married into a Greek family who was tied to the Orthodox Christian faith. This became a center, a rock, a foundation that is unshakable. It is a form of the Christian faith that has not changed over time. When I surrendered to its teachings and practices my life began to change. My purpose was redirected to one of seeking a unity with God, to become united with Him. My heart had hardened and needed to be renewed with love. I gave up such esoteric practices like Eastern meditation and instead sought the Triune God that is within each of us. Yes, I am still a sinner, but I am now working on the well being of my soul.

The Church is filled with storehouses of wisdom. Please, pay attention! Not only is there the documentation of the Incarnation of the Son of God for our salvation, His life, His suffering, Crucifixion, Resurrection and then the establishment of His Church through the miraculous work of His disciples who were empowered by the Holy Spirit, but there is much more. There is an simpler and easier way of life that Jesus taught us. The Orthodox Church emphasizes this and shows us how to gain true joy step by step. Not the temporary joy we get from our pleasure excursions to a local bar or restaurant or seaside villa, but the joy that comes from an inner peace where one is in communion with a most merciful and loving God. It is the joy of a unity with the source of our life and the understanding of the eternal nature of our life. It comes with he realization that our earthly life is a time to prepare for what is to come. This wisdom is a gift from an ever merciful God who loves us and forgives.

I cry out, Wake up! Seek out the teachings of the Scriptures and the way of life taught by the Church! Learn how to pray in ernest daily, morning and night. Follow the fasting guidelines to develop an inner discipline. Attend the worship services out of a love and a desire to be united with Him in Holy Communion, not just to listen to the beautiful hymns or hear a good sermon. Read a little Scripture each day seeking to know Him and his teaching. Read some of the commentaries of the Church Fathers. Fill your home and work area with icons that help you remember all that He teaches. Form social groups of those who are true believers, not just social cliques or ties to ethnic traditions or old school buddies. Seek out a spiritual father who can guide you in a deep spiritual nature, someone who you will trust to guide you in the way of life that leads to true joy.

The path is simple. It's outlined in the ten principles of the Orthodox Way of life.  If you want your life renewed and fulfilled just follow it. You will not feel like you have given up anything and instead will feel like you have gained everything.  Try It!

Attend Church because you know God is real! Develop your love for Him! Work on it. Don't participate "Just in Case."

Ten Point Program for an Orthodox Way of Life.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Don't Cause Offense Over What Does not Harm You

This message is particularly important in this political season where tempers fly even over political rhetoric.

Saint Theophylact writes,
We should not take offense to anyone over things that do not harm us.
He wrote this commenting on a lesson Jesus taught His disciples when someone came to Peter and craftily asked if Jesus had paid the temple tax. (Matthew 17:24-27)
Jesus answered Peter, Of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? Of their own sons, or of strangers? Peter answers, Of strangers. Jesus continues, Then indeed sons are free.
What He was saying was that as the son of God, the King, He should not have to pay the temple tax. 

But he continued saying that even though He shouldn't have to pay this tax, least He should offend them, He performs a miracle where the fish have coins in their mouth, and He tells Peter to use them and pay the tax. 

Even though He did not owe the tax He thought it more important to make allowance for their misunderstanding and to not cause any offense.

Our lesson from this event, according to Blessed Theophylact, is that we must not cause unnecessary offense when others ask us to do something that will not cause us harm, even though we may not agree with or like it. They may not even be asking us to do something but merely offering their idea or assessment of a situation. We don't have to answer in a way that will only raise tempers.

Think about all the times you have gotten angry, upsetting yourself, causing stress in yourself because of actions or words of others. How did that feel? Then think of the times when you responded and caused the same reaction in the body of someone else. How did that make them feel? Always keep in mind the well being of others. Don't be always insistent on your view or your way of doing things. Don't get upset when others do things differently than how you would do them. If you follow this advice, you will find a growing peace within and then you will find you are more able to interact in helpful ways where all grow in Christ.

We make ours and others lives stressful and difficult by insisting that everyone behave according to our expectations, our rules and resist going along with others when there is no harm to us.

Learning to love one another requires that we learn to be very careful about what we object to in what others ask of or say to us. If we are careful we can make this world one that is more peaceful with less stress. Remember how Jesus did not insist on His right not to be taxed, but chose instead to pay the tax so He would not create an issue.

Respond always with kindness and love with Christ ever in your mind.

Monday, March 14, 2016

One Necessity - Humility

Jesus tells us,
“Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3-4)
As we enter the Lenten Fast that is a gift of the Church to help us grow spiritually, it's good to reflect on this simple passage that Jesus spoke to His disciple when asked who is the greatest. But what does it mean to be humble and how does one humble oneself?

The Orthodox Study Bible defines humility as follows:
Humility, without which there is no virtue at all, is the acknowledgement of divine grace, and the constant denial of man's achievement.
This reminds us that whenever we are feeling like we have made an achievement by our own effort we have lost humility. We must acknowledge that divine grace is operating in all our actions. This means we must learn to live in constant prayer.

Worldly events move very quickly and we act instinctively most of the time. When things go the way we intended them, and we have the feeling of pride, we need to acknowledge the source of our achievement, His grace. Our pride should be in our willingness to follow God's grace in all our actions.

Of course this demands faith, a deep belief in God and that all that is good and beneficial only comes from Him, His grace working through us. Faith is always the foundation for a spiritual life. When it is weak we will easily succumb to ego-centered pride and will not have true humility.

This does not mean we do not work to develop our skills or to encourage our children to develop their talents. We just always remember that God gave us these talents and we are expected to develop them so we can do His will as we carry on with our daily life.

Let's examine ourselves during this Lenten period and observe how well we acknowledge the work of divine grace in our lives. Let's ask, how close to we come to living a life with continual prayer were God is in our mind at all times? How often do we acknowledge God's grace in our actions? What is our level of humility? What can we do to become more humble yet not neglect any of our duties nor fully use our talents?

One discipline to help us in this is the Jesus Prayer. It is a prayer of humility and one that when practiced like the Fathers instruct us will lead us to a mind where this prayer going continually no matter what we are doing.

For more on the Jesus Prayer