Saturday, July 24, 2021

Letters to My Children - Final Letter

In these twelve Letters, I have tried to give you the benefit of what I have learned about life and the glory of our Triune God. It took me many years to understand the real purpose of this worldly life that seems to come to an abrupt and unfair end in death, but in fact is one that is eternal. As I told you earlier, my faith in Jesus Christ, and obedience to the teachings and practices of the Orthodox Church, developed over many years. What I have shared does not come from some ideological belief or philosophy, but from a faith in the Gospels and on experience clarified by the teachings of the Church over the last 2000 years.

I know these letters may not have been of much interest to you now, because the worldly life in these days is devoid of true spirituality and filled with so many temptations that pull all of us away from a God-fearing life. I am confident that there will come a time when you will want to go back and read these letters because you received an awakening through a spiritual experience of some kind. God is always present, and, when the time is right, He will poke you in a way you cannot forget. Then you will have a desire to live a true Orthodox life, and you will want to learn more than is contained in these letters and share them with others. Here is the link to all of them:

I love you dearly and pray for your awakening always.


Saturday, July 17, 2021

Letters to my children - Letter 12: Death and Afterlife

In today’s world we try to avoid talking about death. To often, when someone dies there isn’t even a funeral. The body is quickly disposed by burning and grinding up the bones in a process called cremation. Then sometime later the family and friends come together in what is called a celebration of life. This gathering usually involves speeches like in a retirement party, and may not have a paster present.

Death is treated much differently in the Orthodox Church, as you have already experienced with the death of my mother and father. Death for Orthodox Christians is a most important event. It is a transition from a worldly life to an eternal one. It is when the soul separates from the body. The soul immediately goes to a place awaiting the Second Coming of Christ to be reunited to a new spiritualized body, and then face the Final Judgement. The body is treated as something sacred, because it was the temple of God. It is buried, and there is a beautiful funeral service in the church with an open casket. 

When the soul separates there is what is called a Particular Judgment. Everything that was done in our earthly life is exposed for all to see. Nothing is hidden. The souls of those who lived a God-seeking life will find great joy, anticipating the future life in heaven. Those who have not been seeking God will be separated from God, and will be tormented, living in anticipation of their life to come separated from God. After death there is no possibility of repentance. The character we die with is the character of the soul after death. When Christ comes again the process of transition is completed and we are given a renewed immortal body. Then, we face the Final Judgment by Christ. This is not an arbitrary judgment, but is based on how we lived our earthly life. Because all has already been exposed to you and others, there will be no surprises at this judgment.

The important thing to remember is that death and this coming transition is what determines the purpose of our earthly life. Our current life is intended to be a process of perfection, to develop a love of God, and to learn to become like Him. Christ came, God incarnate, to show us the way to full union with Him with eternal life in His kingdom. How we live our life will determine what takes place in this transition after death.

While the Church always places the emphasis on God’s mercy and supports the faithful to live a life of repentance, we must not forget that in our death there are consequences based on how we have lived, and the nature of the relationship we have developed with God. Because of this, there should be an element of fear of God. This is why in the Liturgy, when the communion cup is presented, the priest or the deacon exclaims, “With the fear of God, faith and love draw near.”

My advice to you is to never forget that your aim is your death and resurrection. Your true purpose is to live to become united with Him, and to do His will. Being close to God will enable you overcome the fear of death, knowing there is a future life in Paradise. Once you have mastered the fear of death your life will be filled with love and joy of God’s presence.

With Love,

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Letters to My Children - Letter 11: Confession

My dear children, I hope you have kept up with me on these letters. I know there will come a time, as it did for me, when you will have an intense desire to know God and to have communion with Him.  Then, you will surely find these letters useful. This one is about confession.

Let’s start with the idea of sin. This was a word that I did not want to hear for many years because it had a negative connotation. I saw sin as something to be punished for. But this is an error in thinking. Sin is when we have failed to live up to the teaching and example of Christ. Christ loves us and only wants us to love Him. He is not in the business of handing out punishments to hurt us. The word “sin’’ literally means, in Greek, missing the mark. In this sense it is a positive thing, because when you discover sin in your life, you have recognized an event or pattern of action that does not conform with your faith and separates you from God. When you know your sin, you can improve and come closer to Him. Beware if you think you are not a sinner. Everyone is a sinner, and the closer you come to being united with God the more sinful actions you will recognize.

Confession is a process of overcoming our sinful nature. You begin by asking God for his forgiveness, making a commitment to change in how you think and act, and seeking the help of the Holy Spirt to do so.

Every night in your prayers you should review what happened during the day and acknowledge where you missed the mark. Then ask God for forgiveness and for His help to change how you act in the future. In addition to this daily activity there is a sacramental act that Christ has given us to totally cleanse our soul and conscience and erase any heavenly record of errant actions. It is the sacrament of Confession. It is like the renewal of our baptism. The Greek Orthodox Church teaches that you should participate in this sacrament whenever you feel burdened by your sinfulness and at least once or twice each year.

The sacrament is normally done in the church, or a chapel of the church, with a priest who has been given the office of confessor by the bishop. When the time appointed comes to do this with a priest, you will meet with him in the church and stand in front of an icon of Christ, often on the solea facing the iconostasis and in front of the icon of Christ to the right of the royal doors. The priest is by your side as your witness, and it is with joy that he hears your confession. He knows how important this is for your spiritual progress. He is not there to punish you, reprimand you, or judge you. He is there to help you become reconciled with God. He will ask you, while facing the icon of Christ, to say out loud looking while at the icon of Christ, "what is the sin you have committed that you want to eliminate from your life?" Then, after you have made a sincere confession, if moved by the Holy Spirit, the priest will ask you to kneel, place his stole over your head, and read the Prayer of Absolution. Afterward he may give you some guidance to help you overcome this type of sin. Remember he is doing this with love, all for your benefit. 

When you are finished he will remind you that God has forgiven you these sins and will help you in your efforts to change. You must then be sure to forgive yourself. If you don’t, you are making another error, because you are taking upon yourself the role of God. If you brought a paper with notes to assist you, he will ask you to respectfully burn it. Walking out of the Church, you are at that moment sinless. But you must remember that you still harbor passions and desires that give you the tendency to miss the mark again. Remembering this will help you stay focused on the work you need to do with God’s help.

Repentance through confession is central for life as an Orthodox Christian. When the time comes for us to leave this world we may not be perfect, but if we have sincerely and continually sought, through repentance and confession, to become more like Christ, we will be embraced by a merciful and loving God. This process must be more than a ritual or obligation. It must be done out of our love of God and combined with a dedicated effort to follow everything He has taught.

If it’s been a while since you have participated in this sacrament, talk with your priest or spiritual father, and arrange for a time to do this. You will be surprised how it will benefit you.

With much love,

Your Father