Thursday, May 31, 2007

CHRIST BECAME MAN... that man might also become man.

This interesting take on an old Orthodox saying by Bishop KALLISTOS Ware of Britain came home to me today more than ever as I listened to a popular radio program host lament the sad state of a sense of connectedness between people in this modern age.

The radio host/commentator went on and on about how we moderns don't know our neighbors. We don't know how to wait for anything. We want everything instantly. On and on he went about how we moderns have lost something valuable.

To some extent I agree with this assessment. But I don't think this is a problem only for we modern people. This is a human problem stretching back to the beginning of time.

It is the problem of our "forgetting ourselves."

Adam "forgot" who he was and fell, infecting the rest of us with this same tendency to "forget" who we are. St. James states "But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does." (James 1:22-25)

Our greatest need is to finally "come to ourselves" and wake from the stupor of self-centered ignorance and to finally become man as Christ has shown us.

This is not to reduce Jesus to simply our example, but to fully embrace the mystery of the Incarnation as a revelation of the true stature of humanity and the true nature of our creation. We were made for eternal things!

C.S. Lewis described it as sitting outside the palace, making mud pies while all along belonging inside the palace in the royal Presence of the King.

This contemplation of Christ as the new Adam, as the "new Man" is meant to shake me to the awareness that when I submit my dignity to ridicule through sin and rebellion, I mar that which was meant for eternity. Could there be any greater tragedy and loss than the potential of each man, created in the image of God, to either never realize his dignity or to waste this dignity on so base a "pottage" as temporary pleasure?

It is true that we moderns have tons of technological places to hide and separate ourselves from one another, but this is simply the continuation of the delusion humanity has been enslaved by since that fateful day in the Garden.

Christ has come, the Church has perpetuated, and the Orthodox faith demands, an awakening of the soul to the dignity each person possesses. A dignity give, not earned. A dignity that should draw from us grateful words and acts to a God Who became man so that I could become as He is and finally become what I was always meant to be.

Precious reader, now it is high time to awake from our slumber for our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. You, today, at this moment, were made for eternal things. Do not sell your birthright for anything less.

Friday, May 25, 2007


It took me becoming Eastern Orthodox for me to appreciate the Feast of Pentecost. As a former Pentecostal pastor, I never gave much thought to the actual Feast of Pentecost, even though it was the Pentecostal event in the life of the Early Church that we, as Pentecostals, looked back on as the foundation for our particular brand of religious experiences.

But as an Orthodox Christian, I now see the Feast as much more than an excuse for ecstatic religious experiences.

Now the Feast takes on its escatalogical dimension as the continuation of God's divine redemption of His creation, His continual work in untieing the knots of the Fall.

It is no mistake that the Pentecostal Feast marks a time of harvest. The words of Jesus to his disciples before His ascension that they would be witnesses to the whole world tie right in to His teaching that the fields are "white unto harvest" and we are to pray that the Lord of the harvest would send laborers into the ready field of souls. (see John 4) In this manifestation of the Holy Spirit coming upon the disciples of Christ and constituting the "ecclesia," the Lord of the harvest is empowering His laborers to do exactly that, reap the harvest of ready souls for the eternal kingdom of God.

The Feast also manifests again God graciously undoing the tangle of sin and rebellion. Just as the tongues of men were confused as they pridefully built the Tower of Babel, so God undoes the confusion at Pentecost and every man heard the Good News in his own language (Acts 2:7). The prideful men were thrown into confusion, and the humble men were given the ability to communicate with everyone. Another knot untied, another sad result of sin and rebellion overturned.

The Feast also empowers the fearful. St. Peter clearly ties this unusual event to the prophesies of Joel and the coming of the "terrible" Day of the Lord. Yes, the same Peter who was coward in front of the woman at the fire outside the house of the high priest, the same Peter who hid himself along with the other disciples after the Crucifixion, and the same Peter who, when he saw the risen Lord repented and was restored, that same Peter standing up with the other disciples on Pentecost shows no fear as he declares both the foolish guilt of the people of the day who with "lawless hands" crucified Christ, but God raised Him up again. This same Peter, infused with the Presence of the Risen Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit preaches to the city and sees 3000 repent and receive the new Christian Gospel. What a difference the Holy Spirit makes!

As we approach this wonderful Feast, we Orthodox need to do more than just remember a dusty, ancient event. We need to appreciate and enter into our own personal Pentecost, given to each of us at our Chrismation, and allow that same Spirit to enliven us and empower us to be witnesses to our families, our communities, and our world.

The Spirit Descends and the World will never be the same again. Come, Holy Spirit!

Monday, May 21, 2007


In studying the Old Testament, one reads many stories of heroism, courage, and honor, but one also reads of murder, rape and revenge. One of the most moving stories is the story of King David and his son, Absalom. While we could deal with the story in depth, suffice it to say that the brilliant and gifted son of King David dies, and the king, when he learns of the death of his son, gives us one of the most moving spectacles of a father mourning the death of his child when he cries out “O my son Absalom—my son, my son Absalom—if only I had died in your place! O Absalom my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33)

I recently commented to a friend that there really is no pain like that a parent feels when he sees his child suffering. And there really is no way to describe it to someone else unless that person has faced the same pain. There’s something about experiencing the sorrow of the suffering or even death of a child that tests and strengthens our most deeply held faith.

Our faith declares that suffering can be an aid to becoming a mature believer, but it isn’t the suffering itself that is the difference. It is how one handles suffering and pain that transforms the sad event into a stepping stone of faith and love. I’ve seen as many people react badly to suffering, and agonized myself as they descend into bitterness and despair, to a loss of faith and even into madness.

So, what makes the difference? There are at least three principles that will help us transform tragedy into triumph if only we will have the courage to believe the Truth taught by our Church.

First is the Power of Perspective. There’s a great old saying that “it doesn’t rain everyday.” One of the greatest temptations in the midst of tragedy and pain is to get spiritual “tunnel vision.” The only thing your heart sees is the pain or the tragedy or the sad event, but this “tunnel vision” is false. Very rarely is our life totally defined by sadness. Even during the most difficult times in our lives, good things happen and joy still finds its way into our lives.

By understanding the power of perspective, we will be able to break out of the “tunnel vision” of seeing only the pain, to also see the joy that is all around us. St. Paul understood this when he said, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (I Corinthians 15:19,20)

Second is the Presence of the Paraclete. In St. John’s Gospel Jesus promises: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16,17) Jesus promises that He will send His disciples the “Counselor,” or in some other translations, the “Comforter,” meaning the Holy Spirit. The Greek word here is parakletos and is used in St. John’s gospel to refer to the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

It is the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer that provides us with an inexhaustible Source of strength and peace in the face of sad times and difficult circumstances. This resource, given to us by God’s grace, is available to every believer in the wisdom of the prayers of the Church and the divine mysteries of the faith, as well as within the soul of every believer who calls on God in times of pain and loss.

Finally is the Promise of Peace. Jesus told His disciples, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27) We are Children of the Promise, the promise that not even death can separate us from each other in Christ. Because He has overcome death, and has now granted to all who would receive it the promise of eternal life and salvation, we live in the peace that Jesus has given to those who love Him, the assurance of oneness with God through Christ and His Body, the Church. This peace will confuse those who don’t possess it. They will ask you how you can face such tragedy and sorrow with such grace and peace, and you can say to them, “It is the gift of my dearest Friend.”

Tragedy and difficult times come to us all. Persons of faith (contrary to some popular Christian teachings of the "name it and claim it" crowd) are not immune from hard times. The man or woman of faith simply face difficult circumstances in radically different ways than those who lack faith. The paths could not be more different. One leads to hope. The other to despair. There is no "magic" here. Only the mystery of love for Another, and being loved by Another.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Today marks a milestone in the life of the Orthodox Christina faith here in America and around the world. After 80 years of schism the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia based mainly in the United States, sign a reunion document restoring eucharistic communion between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Church Abroad.

Some see this as the last healing of the Russian Civil War that occurred after the Communist Revolution in Russian at the beginning of the 20th Century.

In any event, all authentic Orthodox Christians have to rejoice at the healing of this schism in the Russian Church. The sad and lasting effects of the terrible times of persecution of the Church under communist oppression can still be seen in the jurisdictional chaos here in America as well as the perpetuation of ethnic Orthodox ghettos that seemed to have thrived since the revolution in Russia.

The truth is that before the Russian revolution, the Russian Church was moving her American mission toward unity and mature ecclesial and pastoral service for the Orthodox faith here in America. Under the leadership of St. Tikhon, before he was chosen as the Patriarch of Moscow, this wise and loving pastoral hierarch was putting into place an ecclesial structure that would allow for the pastoral needs of all the ethnic Orthodox immigrants under a common and united ecclesial structure here in America.

But all of that was short circuited by the communist revolution and the following civil war between the White and Red Russians.

In its wake we find the weakened Orthodox witness of today's jurisdictional chaos.

Now, in light of the reunion of ROCOR and the Moscow Patriarchate, ROCOR parishes all over the world (most of which are in America, but a few in other countries) return to full canonical communion with world Orthodoxy. Thanks be to God!

However, this reunion raises as many questions as it answers.

First and foremost is the status and meaning of the granting of autocephelous status of the Orthodox Church in America. In 1971 the Moscow Patriarch granted autocephelousy to the (then known as) Metropolia which became the Orthodox Church in America. If Moscow has granted this status to the OCA and now will have parishes here in America who are in full communion with Herself as the highest ecclesial covering, then how does that affect the Patriarch's understanding of the Tomos of autocephelousy of 1971?

It seems that this increases the chaotic nature of the jurisdictional problem in America.

But this may not be a bad thing.

In fact, this may be just what we need to throw into stark relief the administrative poverty of our current Orthodox witness in America. This additional "complication" just may allow the faithful in America to say "ENOUGH." The waste of duplicated agencies and commissions each trying to "serve" their respective "jurisdictions" continue to impoverish the limited resources of our Orthodox jurisdictions in the country. Imagine if we were able to pool our resources and administrative functions. We might actually see our faith begin to show up on the religious radar of America.

I, as a convert to Orthodoxy, am absolutely thrilled at the events in Moscow today. While I don't have the history of the communist revolution or the nationalistic pride of a Russian seeing compatriots reunited, I do have a love of the Orthodox faith and seeing this sad division healed is another witness of the work of the Holy Spirit in our midst.

I am also thrilled at ANOTHER Spirit-led opportunity to deal with our own situation here in America.

So, to ROCOR: Thank God that your gifts and abilities are now added to our own. To Moscow: As you welcome these separated brethren back into your communion, please don't forget the brethren that stood with you during those years under communist oppression. If you are the leaders in the footsteps of blessed St. Tikhon, then renew his efforts to strengthen the witness of Orthodoxy in America.

May God add His blessings to our work toward unity and faithfulness to the One, holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church!

Sunday, May 13, 2007


In a recent report a study showed that gambling has become a $40 billion dollar a year industry in the United States. With the rise of State sponsored lotteries, Indian tribes building casinos, and more and more money being wagered on sporting events, the National Institute of Mental Health concluded 4.2 million Americans are addicted to gambling, 60 percent of whom have yearly incomes under $25,000.

All of this is harmless fun, right? After all, churches have been sponsoring raffles and bingo nights and even “casino nights” to raise money for years. So there’s really nothing wrong with a little gambling now and then, is there?

As usual, the answer is both yes and no. To occupy the extreme on either end of the issue is to both miss the point and to avoid the real dangers. The extremes represent the “easy” way out.

The real danger is the weakness of the human soul, not the gambling itself. The sad reality is that many times those who can afford it least are gambling in hopes of “hitting the jackpot” and “getting rich.” But the stories of big lottery winner ruining their lives are by now old news and getting “rich” quick is many times a recipe for disaster. But Father, I’ll give a big check to the Church if I win! O, well, in that case it’s OK.

Seriously, there are three Christian principles that should govern our choices and behavior when it comes to betting and games of chance. They are:

Work is more Valuable than Chance. St. Paul told the Thessalonians that "If a man will not work, he shall not eat." (2 Thessalonians 3:10). The fact is since the Fall of humanity in the Garden so many years ago, humanity has been commanded by God to work the earth to gain a living. This gift of work is another way God has blesses humanity with the means of our salvation. It is in working with our own hands that we, like our Creator, bring out of the earth our sustenance and livelihood. Work breaks the power of both pride and laziness that robs a man of his worth and his talent.

Faith is Stronger than “Luck.” No matter what the pay off in a game of chance, our ultimate security and our future can never be satisfied with the roll of the dice. Listen to the words of our Lord Jesus to His disciples (that includes you and me): "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:28-33) God loves us. He knows what we need. He is more reliable than any bet.

Finally, Eternal Wealth is not measured in Money. In that same chapter in Matthew, Jesus tells us all to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:20, 21) After all, we Christians believe in “the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come”, don’t we? If eternity is really at home in our hearts then we can never reduce our wealth to simple possessions or even the temporary comforts of today. No, our “riches” also include the wealth of spiritual blessings we have been given in our precious faith and in our eternal salvation. That’s what is truly valuable to us. A wise man invests in eternal things and doesn’t pin his hopes on cards and ponies.

Enjoying an entertaining weekend in Vegas is one thing, and wasting precious financial resources hoping to “hit it big” is another. My faith rests on a Savior Who loves me more than I, myself, know how to love, and it is that faith that is a “sure thing!”

Monday, May 07, 2007


In a letter to the editor of the New York Times in July of 2005, a reader was commenting about how the Irish people supported America after the events of 9/11/2001.

She writes: On Friday, Sept. 14, the national day of mourning, we expected to see a few dozen people at the memorial Mass in Kanturk, Cork. To our surprise, hundreds, perhaps the entire town, streamed in. I asked a freckled-faced girl for the church's name. "I don't know, ma'am," she answered, surprised by my American accent. "We call it The Church."

“We call it The Church.” What a statement! In an age and culture where even religion is a consumer product, where religious leaders shape worship services, ministry services, and even sermons and ultimately their own theology to fit the spirit of the age to attract more “consumers,” it is nice to know that there are still places where The Church is the center of life as well as the center of town.

You see, there is real wisdom in giving some thought to The Church. We can see the fruit of the “designer spirituality” so popular in our nation today. It seems there is a new religious fad starting every day. From Madonna’s interest in Kabbalah to the latest religious fiction book hitting #1 on the New York Times best sellers list, we are a nation “tossed about with ever whim and wind of doctrine.” We truly are a religious people, but we demand that this religion be on our own terms and “designed” to meet “our needs” just like the other products we “buy” at our local Super Store.

But does this “designer religion” really just salve our souls instead of save our souls? Does this individualistic faith truly transform us?

In other words, is the “new and improved” Christianity being “sold” to us and our children on TV, on radio, in magazines, and in mega-churches all across the country a transforming, saving faith?

Do we really expect to be transformed by a religion that actually feeds the self-centeredness that got us into trouble in the Garden in the first place? No, the religion of self-help isn’t strong enough spiritual medicine to overcome the poverty of our souls. We need something more substantial. We need the timeless, tested, transfiguring faith of the Apostles, and so do our children.

That faith is a faith that allows me to say to a stranger in town “we just call it The Church.”

Here are four characteristics of “The Church:”

The Church is ONE. Just as there is no division in the Person of Jesus Christ, there is no division in His Body, the Church. The Church CANNOT be “denominated” and if CANNOT be divided. If it is divided then it isn’t the Church. Find the body of believers who’ve hung together since the beginning and you’ll find the Church the Holy Spirit has protected and led for 20 centuries.

The Church is HOLY. That doesn’t mean it is pure. No, the word “holy” means “set apart for a specific use” and that is exactly what the Body of Christ is. She is a new society set apart to be used by God to show the world what it’s like to live with God in harmony and peace. The Church understands Herself to be set apart by God for a specific work in the world.

The Church is CATHOLIC. This means so much more than “universal” in a geographical sense, and it isn’t reduced to some national expression of the faith. No, the word “catholic” is brought directly over into both Latin and English from the original Greek “katholikos” and it means “according to the whole. The Church is meant to be whole, complete, mature, healthy, and everywhere. In fact, that’s why we don’t try to translate “catholic.” It’s jus too big.

Finally, The Church is APOLSTOLIC. That means that the authentic Church of Jesus Christ has an unbroken communion with the Apostles chosen by Jesus to found the Church. This isn’t just a religious “pedigree” I’m talking about. This also means that we hold the same “faith” as well as succession from the Apostles.

These characteristics of The Church aren't meant to do anything but enshrine the unshakable tradition that The Church isn't some phantom of the imagination or, worse yet, left to the individual sensibilities of each "religious" person. No, The Church is a visible, identifiable Community. This is how She has known Herself from the very beginning, and no matter what the whim of the current philosophical fashion may be, She is still as visible and as present as She ever has been.

So, when someone asks you where The Church is, the answer is not "Well which kind of Church are you looking for?" There is only ONE Church and you will be able to identify it as such by the reflection of Jesus in Her people. Otherwise, it is just as legitimate to say "I'm sorry, we have no Church here."

Friday, May 04, 2007


“If I knew then what I know now…” ever said that? Have you ever wondered if you knew the hurdles you’d have to overcome to achieve certain goals if you’d do it again? Are some victories worth any price?

As an Orthodox convert, and knowing many other Orthodox converts, many converts faced unbelievable challenges since converting to Orthodoxy and I have asked myself, more than once, if I thought it had been worth the effort to actually leave the church I was pastoring, deal with the misunderstanding of friends and family, and answer all those questions over and over again. The answer is “yes” it was worth it. Why?

Well, the scripture occurs to me: “Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” John 6:68

Jesus had just finished telling the crowd gathered around Him "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. (John 6:53)

The crowd gathered around Jesus because He had just fed them miraculously. They were drawn to Him because their bellies were full, not because they were spiritually hungry. And when Jesus confronted them with a “hard saying” they left Him. As the crowd dispersed, Jesus asked His disciples if they too would leave Him and Peter answer "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)

I am continuing to learn a lesson about truth, and about being a true disciple of Jesus: Truth doesn’t mean ease, but it does mean peace.

The fact of the matter is that we are all really converts. All of us, especially those of us blessed by God to have been raised in an Orthodox home, have to make the faith our own. We have to come to grips with the claims of Jesus to be the Lord of our lives and not just a cultural security blanket.

We have to learn the lessons of converts.

First, conversion isn’t a one time event. To be sure, there are times in our lives when we make that first committed step of faith, but I pray it won’t be our last step. In our own lives, there are times when we have made a strong commitment to develop our faith and those times are precious to us, but we can’t sit on past events. Our spiritual journey is to be an ongoing growth in the life God has given us in His Son. As St. Paul said, we are to move from “glory to glory.”(2 Cor. 3:18)

Second, conversion costs. Nothing worthwhile comes easy, and that is especially true of spiritual growth. We live in a world where it is easy to live a selfish life and hard to swim against the tide of “me first.” Jesus told His disciples “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it-- lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, "This man began to build and was not able to finish.' (Luke 14:27-30)

If we place value on our spiritual maturing and spiritual growth, we’ll come to expect that our growth probably will cost us in time, effort, and even hardship. When we commit to growing in our faith, we face the opposition of the Evil One, the world around us, and even our own laziness.

Finally, conversion is worth it. You’ve heard me quote over and over again that we will “reap if we do not faint.” There are so many things in this life that try to draw your energy, things that, in light of eternity, just don’t deserve the attention and time we give them. But this is never true of the efforts we expend to grow in our faith and develop our spiritual selves. With all the wisdom and beauty preserved for us and available to us as Orthodox Christians, we can see our lives truly “converted” to that new life Christ gave the whole world on that first Pascha morning. It’s your birth right. Don’t forsake it for that which can rust and turn to dust.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Have you ever thought about the difference between “I believe” and “I know?”

Many today prefer “I know” to “I believe.” They want to know beyond a doubt that something is “true” and they will discount any opinion that may not be able to be “proven” to their satisfaction.

But faith isn’t like that. Faith says “I believe,” and its belief isn’t dependent on empirical proof. Faith doesn’t require proof; it requires love and trust. It is like a father asking a son to jump into his arms. At that moment the son decides what he believes about his father. Will my father catch me or let me fall? If there is love and trust, the son jumps.

That’s why so many arguments about the truthfulness of the Christian faith leave me a little hollow. It seems many even within the Christian community have accepted the notion that “I know” is more powerful than “I believe.” Books have been written about how this fact proves Christianity and that fact proves Christianity. They even offer some “evidence that demands a verdict” to show beyond a doubt that Christ rose from the dead. Right now there is a team of explorers planning another trip to Mt. Ararat in Turkey to “find” Noah’s Ark. And these so-called proofs of the faith simply create more opportunities for folks to disagree over the interpretation of these same “facts.”

Do I discount the importance of this evidence? No, not at all. But while it is encouraging to see these facts brought to light, even if this “evidence” didn’t exist, I would still believe. I believe because I love and know God. In fact, much to the chagrin of many modern day “thinkers,” the ancient path to understanding and true knowledge is to believe so that I might understand.

I know this attitude toward belief and faith frustrates some who feel more comfortable with indisputable facts, but how many truly indisputable facts do you really know?

The truth is that all of us “look through a glass darkly” and much of the things we think we know are really strongly held beliefs. That’s OK. It doesn’t diminish the truth or power of those beliefs at all. It is only when we believers capitulate to the spirit of the age – “unless I can see it I won’t believe it” – that we give up the most powerful proof of all, our faith.

It was in the arena where the martyrs for our faith proved to the world that what they believed was more important than their own comfort and safety – that their hope of eternity took priority over the beasts they could see and feel.

What is our belief based on? What is the foundation of our belief?

Is it the Scriptures, perhaps? Maybe, but what about the myriad of interpretations about the meaning of the Scriptures? Is it tradition? That would be fine, but which tradition?

No, our faith is based not on ideas, like the other world religions, but on a Person Who said “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life…” Our faith is centered on and focused on Jesus Christ, the Author and Finisher of our faith.

That’s why the Creed we recite each week at Liturgy is called “The Symbol of Faith.” The Creed accurately reflects the Face of Jesus Christ back to us. The Creed (the word itself means “I believe”) is the embodiment of what we hold to be true and what we declare as the foundation of our lives and our actions. This Creed helps us make visible what we believe about Jesus Christ and His Church.

"I believe" is actually more powerful than "I know..."