Thursday, August 31, 2006


Homosexuality is at the forefront of debates all across the nation today, from Same-Sex Marriage legislation and litigation, to Christian denominations agonizing and exploding over homosexual marriage and ordination of practicing homosexuals. There is even a group that travels around the country carrying signs that read, “God hates fags.”

The reason this touches us so deeply and arouses so much energy on both sides of the issue is that we are talking about fundamentally what it means to be a human person. The issue of homosexuality elicits a deep response from most of us because it calls into question our very identity.

Some view the current argument over the acceptance of homosexuality and “same-sex marriage” as just a continuation of the unraveling of the social order and loss of a strong moral foundation begun in the sixties with the “equal rights” feminist movement. Others hope society is finally accepting of everyone regardless of their chosen lifestyle. Still others say, “It’s all biological. We can’t help what we were born to be.”

Regardless of our position on this or that social issue, we must never forget that the Church is meant to be the place of sanctuary and healing for those who are hurting and seeking salvation. There are people, probably in every parish, that struggle with their sexuality and their sexual identity.

As a Church, how do we minister both Truth and Healing in a way that allows those who are hurting to find help in our midst? As a Church, how do we authentically hate the sin but love the sinner? How do we maintain a welcoming atmosphere for everyone (because all of us are sinners and need the grace of God found in the Church) AND be clear that sinful behavior must be confronted and challenged?

First, Truth is a Person. We must never forget that God did not just give us a Book, He came to us Himself in the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ. It is simply too easy to fall back on cold rhetoric and impersonal rules when we are discussing issues, but we cannot lose sight of the truth that God lives as Persons in communion. That means that dehumanizing or demonizing those with whom we disagree is sinful. As St. Paul told the Ephesians: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:12 ). In other words, we have no human enemies! To those who struggle, to those who suffer, to those who seek healing, we in the Orthodox Church bring them hope found in only One, Our Lord Jesus Christ. He alone is their hope and salvation.

Second, Truth is Liberating. You can always tell whether someone is really interested in truth – he or she will do anything to apprehend it. People really interested in truth want to be free from the lie which enslaves them. The measure of a man’s honest desire for truth is his desire for authentic freedom. Here the Church lovingly declares the wisdom of the ages when She directs those gripped by a self-destructive pattern of behavior , to allow Christ to set them free from the lifestyle that is killing them. As Jesus said: “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:31b-32) It is no sin to warn those who are destroying themselves by selfish rebellion, but we Christians do this with love and mercy, not with hatred and malice.

Finally, Truth is Eternal. Our theology and our morality are not dependent on the times we live in (see Psalms 119:89). We do not “adjust” our faith to be popular or to “fit in” with the modern age. Some may see this as being hopelessly enslaved to the past. But we do no favors to our society by reformulating our beliefs every time our faith falls into disfavor of the spirit of the age. We aren’t called to be popular. We are called to be faithful. And this faithfulness to the Orthodox Christian faith is the most loving gift we can give our children, our community, our nation, and our world. By doing this, we run the risk of being rejected and even hated, but our Lord Himself said to His disciples, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” (John 15:18)

A wise man once said, “be gentle with everyone you meet, because everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Today, you and I will meet face to face with others who are hurting, who are confused, and who don’t know which way to go. We will be given the opportunity to show Christ in our own lives to those hurting people. By God’s grace, let us commit ourselves to sharing the Truth of Jesus with everyone we meet. Some will reject this truth, but others will find the path to freedom because of our loving witness to the timeless faith in Christ.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


Aunt May is speaking to Peter Parker in the last Spiderman movie and she says “I believe there’s a hero in all of us.” Little does she know her precious nephew is the real Spiderman, the hero who’s saving the lives of so many in the city all the while sacrificing his own private life so he won’t place those he loves in danger.

Our society is mesmerized by the idea of a hero. Most heroes in our comic book world have super powers, but many of them started out as some regular person who discover a hidden talent and use that talent for the good of the community.

What is it about heroes that fire our imagination?

Is it the incredible abilities, the superhuman strength, or the tragic sense of loneliness that mark most of these comic book champions? Perhaps, but there is a lesson here for we Orthodox Christians.

I believe what should capture us is the lessons of ability and responsibility. Most of these super heroes come face to face with the inescapable truth that with great gifts come great responsibility.

Jesus confronted this truth long before Spiderman when He told His disciples that “…everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required…” (Luke 12:48). Christ makes it plain to those whom God has blessed bear the additional responsibility to use these gifts for good. Consider the blessings each of us possess. Many of us were born with a spiritual “head start” in life. By a happy accident of our birth, we were born under the influence of the fullness of the Christian faith – Holy Orthodoxy. We also have the privilege of living in the freest, most educated, and most economically successful nation that have ever existed on earth. The opportunities in this country drew families from far and wide across the globe to the United States knowing that here anyone can achieve what their hard work produces. So both spiritually and physically, we have received abundant blessings.

But to whom much is given, much will be required. Why, because we who have so much are challenged by the very life of Jesus Christ to confront our deepest motivations and priorities. If we hoard these blessings to ourselves we will watch as those things that were meant to be blessings, the very same things, become a private curse and cancer on our own souls.

Here are three insights we can learn and apply to our daily lives concerning our abilities and responsibilities.

First, Our Abilities are Gifts. St. James said “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights…” (James 1:17). When we are tempted to think we have achieved what we have in life by our own cunning and our own strength, we fall into a terrible trap of pride that eventually will rob us of those very blessings we enjoy. A wise man confesses that his achievements were not had alone, but the very air he breathes, the strength of his mind and body were ultimately a gift to him by a loving God. When we humbly confess our dependence on the mercy of God, we are free to share our blessings with others.

Second, Our Gifts are meant to be Shared. Jesus taught “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). Only a foolish man believes his achievements, his wealth, or his wisdom is for himself alone. All the gifts and blessings we’ve received are ultimately meant to be shared with those around us. It is the hallmark of a mature Christian faith that a man’s possessions, his talents, and his priorities include a willingness to share his blessings. Conversely, a man who is unwilling to share his blessings is a man who has lost the ability to believe in “the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come.”

Finally, Our Sharing is meant to Draw others to Christ. Jesus again taught that you should “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). While all of us are gratified by the acknowledgment of our peers when we do a good deed, gifts or actions that are solely motivated by a community “pat on the back” lack the true virtue of authentic Christian motivation. The truth is that we share from our blessings to draw attention, not to our name or our person, but to draw men and women to the Source of our generosity – Jesus Christ. I give because I have received a Great Gift. I have been given eternal life by the Lord Who loves me beyond all I have ever known or expected. I give because He first gave to me.

Some may expect this message to be primarily about money. Well, the truth is you show me what a man spends his money on and I’ll tell you what he truly values. But this is about much more than money. This is about how the truth of the Gospel has transformed our actions and attitudes about our possessions and our multitudes of blessings we each enjoy today. What is your attitude about your possessions? Do you see your blessings as gifts? And does this produce a heart of gratitude toward God for all He has blessed you with? Does this grateful heart in turn lead you to hunger to worship and adore God? And does this hunger in turn cause your behavior and choices to reflect a desire for holiness and intimacy with God? If it does then your heart has matured spiritually and your life will be a source of blessing for others.

If not, then perhaps the wisdom of the Church in teaching us to pray "Lord, have mercy" will make more sense to you now.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


Imagine that you are the leader of a burgeoning movement that is being persecuted by the government. You have an important message to convey to the whole group – a message from the very Leader of the organization. You must be sure that the members understand what you are saying, but those outside the group don’t. You were sitting in a cave on a small island where the government has banished you. You got this message from the Leader in a vision while you were praying, and he showed you the future. How would you write the letter to your people?

If you were St. John the Beloved, you’d have penned one of the most misunderstood portions of the New Testament – The Book of Revelation.

Let me set this up for you. St. John is the bishop serving several churches in Asia Minor. He is the last living Apostle of the original twelve, the others having been martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ. St. John has been exiled to the island of Patmos and from his prison he sends a message of encouragement, correction, and hope to the seven churches under his care. He shares with the faithful under his loving care the images of his vision, which certainly contain some very disturbing pictures, as well as some pointed correction. But the most important message is that regardless of the present persecution, Christ will conquer and His Church will prevail in the end.

Whole, new, Christian denominations have formed from a (mis)reading of the Book of Revelation. Books have been written trying to “explain” St. John’s visions recorded there, and religious speakers have made a career out of expounding their own private interpretations about what is recorded in this portion of the Bible. A recent popular fiction series about end of time that followed one of these novel interpretations of the Book of Revelation even made it to the New York Times Best Sellers list.

Modern Christian movements and denominations, untethered from the wise and balanced understanding of the Book of Revelation proclaimed by the timeless Church, have both sensationalized and confused the message of St. John to the Church. And this has lead to particularly slanderous and harmful teachings about Christ, and His loving desire that the whole world come to a loving relationship with the Holy Trinity. Foolish teachings that depict Christ literally slaughtering His “enemies” on a literal battlefield have more in common with the pre-Christian paganism of our infantile past than the glorious vision of St. John of the victory of the Christian faith over all error because of the Words of Christ and the Truth He embodies for all humanity.

So, how are we to read and understand this very powerful book in our New Testament? Here are three guiding principles that will help us avoid the sensational and get to the meaningful truth St. John penned in his last letter to his flock.

First, Read Revelation as a Letter. Don’t forget that much of the New Testament consists of letters written to real people, and the Book of Revelation is no exception. But it is no ordinary letter. It is part of what scholars call “apocalyptic” literature. That means that the Book of Revelation uses symbolism and metaphor to communicate cosmic ideas in ways the reader can understand. St. John was shown a vision of the end times, but his real message wasn’t to satisfy the curiosity of people about just when the end of the world was coming. His goal was to encourage his people to keep the faith, because the enemies of Jesus and His Church will ultimately fail.

Second, Read Revelation with the Church. As with any scripture, we don’t read the Bible by ourselves. We Orthodox are part of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. In other words, we are a part of the Church, and the Bible is the Church’s Book. It should be read from the Church’s perspective. We always allow the deep wisdom of the Church to inform our understanding of the scriptures. That way we don’t fall prey to the whim and whimsy of this or that rumor or fanciful notion. We want the wise insight of the Fathers and the whole Church through the centuries to protect us from narrow misunderstandings of the Word of God that lead away from Christ rather than towards Him.

Finally, Read Revelation while focused on Christ. The Book of Revelation begins with these words: “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants what must soon take place.” (Revelation 1:1) This is the revelation of Jesus Christ. The book’s message is that Jesus Christ is Who He says He is, and that He will prevail over all those who may reject Him. St. John records this glorious revelation from Christ to encourage beleaguered Christians to not give up hope and to ultimately rest in Christ’s victory over all His enemies, especially sin, death and Satan. This victory is sure, eternal, and irrevocable. Christ is the Master of the whole universe.

Far from being intended to create a cottage industry for fiction writers, God’s revelation of Himself, given to Christ and revealed by Him to us through St. John, is meant to encourage us to persevere in spite of those who may mock or persecute us for our devotion to Jesus. While the whole world may reject the message of Christ, we Christians should heed the message of the Book of Revelation and say with the Apostle John, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people. Amen.” (Revelation 22:20-21)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


A convert to Orthodoxy was approached by a precious Orthodox lady at coffee hour. She commented that his last name on his name tag wasn’t common in the ethnicity of that parish. My friend told her that he wasn’t of that ethnic background. This dear lady got a puzzled look on her face and innocently asked, “Then what are you doing here? Don’t you have your own church to go to?”

Now before you are too harsh with this lady, please understand she was genuinely confused, not malicious. It never dawned on her that someone who did not have an ethnic connection to Orthodoxy would ever want to enter the Orthodox Church. But the truth is that thousands of converts stream into the Church every year, and not just from mixed marriages. American Christians are coming to Orthodoxy for its depth of faith, stability of theology, and beauty of worship. In fact, some of our Orthodox seminaries are filled with converts who have no ethnic connection to the countries that are traditionally Orthodox, and these men are becoming priests in our churches.

Some may see this as a bad thing, but they would be wrong. The truth is that Orthodoxy is doing what it has always done. It is baptizing the country where it finds itself, and in that respect twenty-first century America is no different from fourth-century Greece or tenth-century Russia.

How do we face honestly the inevitable “culture shock” that comes from this infusion of “new faces”? We could fight against it and attempt to keep our churches little more than “foreign embassies” of other countries, but that is a recipe for irrelevance in just a few generations. We could attempt to “fit in” so much in this country that we look just like every other religious group in the nation, but that would mean we would lose the very “distinctives” that make Orthodoxy the original Church founded by the Apostles.

No, there is another way. There is the Orthodox Way (as opposed to the Greek way, or the Russian way, or the Serbian way etc.), and that is the way of transformation. This way is slower, wiser, and lasting. This way preserves the riches, with which we have been entrusted, the wisdom we have learned through the centuries, the cultural traditions that underpin deep theological truths, and the irreplaceable theology that sets Orthodoxy apart from the spiritual confusion all too often evident in today’s world.

Here are three aspects of this Orthodox Way that will help us both welcome others with traditional Orthodox hospitality and preserve that which is truly foundational to our faith.

First, this Orthodox Way Reveals. Orthodoxy is the fullness of the Christian faith, period. It is the spiritual hospital where the full potency of the Christian Gospel is preserved. An authentic Orthodox faith reveals both the divinely inspired parts of a culture and its weaknesses. Orthodoxy serves a nation best when it honestly critiques the culture of a nation. That is the blessing the faith brings to this nation. But it just doesn’t criticize, it also baptizes. There are parts of our culture that can be transformed by the faith into a vehicle of Orthodox faith. The culture offers us an unprecedented amount of freedom to practice our faith, and unparalleled economic and educational opportunities that allow us to both educate our young people and be philanthropic like no other people in the world.

Second, this Orthodox Way Restores. Orthodoxy changes people and nations. It always has. In fact, one of the marks of authentic Orthodox faith is the changed behavior of people and governments. Orthodoxy calls men and women to a serious and sober Christian faith that restores them to what they were created to be – the sons and daughters of God. Orthodoxy uniquely gives men and women a tried and true path to spiritual maturity. This faith challenges us to mimic the life of Jesus Christ in actions and attitudes. This faith produces saints! No wonder spiritually weary Americans are seeking out and finding the mature and stable theology of Orthodoxy. Our challenge as a Church is to help them find “home,” be ready to receive them, and to integrate them into our growing family.

Finally, this Orthodox Way Relates. Orthodoxy is about relationships - Our family, our nation, and our faith in God. Orthodoxy does not build walls but bridges. When this doesn't happen, it isn't a failure of Orthodoxy, it's a failure of the Orthodox. We are to seek out the lost, just like our Lord sought us out so we could enjoy right relationship with Himself and His Father. Orthodoxy always actively seeks out ways to bring this salvific message to friends and neighbors wherever the Church finds Herself. And Orthodoxy is no different in America than it is in any other nation. An authentic Orthodoxy works to make the faith available to “whosoever wills” to enter the faith. That’s why Jesus described the Church as a city set on a hill that cannot be hid. Orthodoxy is meant to be found by anyone who longs for the fullness of the Christian faith, even people who might not have had the happy accident of being born in a traditional Orthodox country.

Our Orthodox faith is drawing the spiritually seeking people of this nation. This is a trend that will only increase. It isn’t going away and it isn’t something we will be able to stop. Thank God! God loves all people and He is drawing men and women to Himself from every ethnic background, even average Americans who really don’t know what their ethnic backgrounds are anyway. Orthodoxy is becoming part of the fabric of America, and we rejoice in this exciting time to be alive and serving His Church.

Still, this growth and influx of converts is going to cause some real trauma for those who are not ready for it. That's why I hope you'll order the new book by Fr. Joseph Huneycutt called "One Flew Over the Onion Dome" published by Regina Orthodox Press. In this book, Fr. Huneycutt talks about converts, reverts (Orthodox who've left the faith and come back), and retreads (Protestant clergy who have converted and then entered the Orthodox clergy). He does a good job in spurring on the necessary conversation between us "newbies" and the folks who've been here all their lives.

Order the book. I don't get any commissions but I am grateful to Fr. Joseph for giving a voice to this increasingly important subject.

Friday, August 04, 2006


“Now let us have a little talk with Jesus, let us tell Him all about our troubles. He will hear us when we cry and He will answer by and by…” This old spiritual written by Clevant Derricks strikes a chord in my heart with it simple emphasis on prayer – “a little talk with Jesus.”

And that’s just what prayer is, a conversation between you and God. But it is so much more than that!

You see, the goal of the Christian life is to become like Christ. Orthodoxy calls this process of spiritual growth and maturity “theosis.” This recalls the words of St. Athanasius when he taught that God had become flesh so that we might become like God. This wisdom, this insight, is what enlivens all of Orthodox theology.

It is the driving force behind all the words of wisdom of the fathers and the underlying theme of all the scriptures: Making humanity into a fit companion for the Divine – becoming like Christ!

So now you can see why prayer is so important. Prayer is one of the most central paths to intimacy with God, and intimacy leads to the knowing of God that makes a man a “new creature.” A man who prays is a theologian in Orthodox Christian understanding, because unceasing prayer is the greatest spiritual education any human can ever receive.

That’s why St. Paul said that Christians should “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). But how do we do this and what lessons can we learn from this wisdom concerning prayer?

First, prayer Creates Intimacy. And you won’t get to know God without praying. Knowing God in a personal and intimate way requires me to speak to Him and let Him speak to me. Prayer isn’t a laundry list of your requests directed to the Divine. It is the natural communication of a child to her Father. So, talking and listening to God (praying) should become as natural and matter of fact to your life as breathing. It is the very heart of any authentic spiritual progress and growth. Prayer brings us close to the Divine Fire and begins now to burn away all that is unlike God in our lives so that on the Last Day we will already be use to the unquenchable Fire of the Love of God. Just like the Three Youths in the Flames, we will find our true home within God’s Loving Fire.

Second, prayer Combats Forgetfulness. One of the quickest ways for my life to slide into sloppy living is when I allow my thoughts to wander from God. When I practice a daily rule of prayer, I am constantly and consistently confronted with God and His presence in my life. God never really is distant from me. He only seems to be absent when I’ve forgotten that He is as close as my knees are to the floor. He is as near as the sweet words of the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me.” When God seems far away from me, it isn’t because He is far away. It is because I have allowed the cares of this world to numb me to His constant Presence. Prayer keeps me aware of God and that directs my life.

Thirdly, prayer Conquers Pride. When I learn to pray, I learn to focus on my dependence on God and His mercy. God is not in heaven just waiting for you to mess up so He can punish you. Regardless of the repeated attempts of the Evil one to impugn the character of our loving Father, the truth is that danger lies in my own foolish notion of self sufficiency, not God’s wrath. It’s when I believe I can do this living thing all by myself that I get myself into trouble. This prideful notion feeds every vice a man has. Soon even if he is culturally a Christian, the faith begins to be more of an afterthought than the central theme of this man’s life. Worship is reduced to a habit or worse yet, a social gathering, and intimate prayer is the very last thing on this man’s mind. His life begins to reflect this self-centered attitude, but in his delusion it is only obvious to those around him. No, prayer is my constant reminder that I need God every moment of every day.

So, how do I pray without ceasing? Well, one answer is to allow your very life to become a prayer. In other words, your actions and your words and your thoughts all reflect your devotion to Christ. Your life, by God’s grace and the work of the Holy Spirit in your heart, imitates the life of Jesus. When this is true of you, your every action reflects your intimate relationship with Christ and your love for God.

It is as we allow the love of Christ to shape our lives, as we submit in humble obedience to His work in our hearts, that our life is transfigured into a prayer of praise to God.

I want to leave you with the words of an Arab Christian from many centuries ago:

How lovely is prayer and how radiant are its works. Prayer is acceptable to God when it is accompanied by good deeds, and it is heard when it rises out of a spirit of forgiveness. Prayer is always answered when it is pure and sincere. Prayer is powerful when it is suffused with God's vigor. — Aphrahat the Persian

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


Well,what can I say? A few weeks away attending the Clergy/Laity Congress of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese was both encouraging and challenging.

Encouraging because I met so many faithful Orthodox priests and laypeople who are so passionate about and for the Faith. Priests who really see the need to reach out beyond the comfort zones of particular ethnicities to offer this timeless faith to others, and laypeople who are so committed to a life of piety and service. It was a wonderful experience.

Plus we had the opportunity to talk about a new ministry tool we are launching at OCN. We will be starting a 24 hour online media outreach called "The Ark" in January 2007 (Lord willing). The Ark will be 24 hours of Orthodox Christian music and more. We will feature the budding contemporary Orthodox Christian music from the likes of Fr. Peter Jon Gilquist and others who are producing contemporary music for our Orthodox youth. We will also have mainline contemporary Christian music that has passed theological muster. All of this is to provide an alternative listening environment for our young people.

We will also feature Orthodox talk programming meant to enhance the education of our Orthodox faithful and to provide an outreach for the growing number of people who are consuming media from the internet.

A recent study reported on in the New York Times said that, for the first time since they have been measuring this, the 18-24 age demographic now consumed media more from the internet than from TV.

The future of media consumption is increasingly moving to end user control. People are going to consume media when and where they want. The days of network schedules dictating when you will watch your favorite show or listen to your favorite radio program are numbered, and we Orthodox program producers need to be ready for this change.

The greatest challenge is going to become how we introduce media products to new consumers. How do we build an audience for our media products? But I digress.

The challenge of this year's Clergy/Laity also came from clergy and laity. I was still saddened by the narrow minded and insular mindset of hierarchs, priests, and laypeople who seemed much more interested in preserving the status quo or some small and shortsighted notion of nationalism and a pure "ethnos" than actually taking Christ seriously when He offered His life and salvation to "whosoever will."

For the life of me, I cannot understand the mentality that reduces the "faith once for all delivered to the saints" to some hoarded ethnic treasure that cannot be shared lest it weaken the ties of the Omogenia to the "mother country." Do these folks really value "outsider's" souls so little? Perhaps they simply don't see it that way. Perhaps they feel that God will take care of those "outsiders" in His own way.

But God has chosen His people to minister His message to the world. If those who have the happy accident of being born in an Orthodox home never come to appreciate the priceless spiritual treasure they have or the spiritual "head start" they have been blessed to receive, no doubt God will raise up the "gentiles" to make His chosen people jealous! May God grant it to be so!