Orthodox on Purpose

Practicing the Orthodox Christian Faith on purpose one day at a time!

The Promise

April 24th, 2014


“I promise!” And with that my daughter assured me she would really clean her room. A few hours later, her room was indeed clean, with some snack breaks along the way!

The word “promise” is such a wonderful word. But the value of the word always lies in the character of the person using it. I guess that’s true of all words, isn’t it? For instance, my daughter’s promise holds more weight with me that say a politician’s promise or a stranger’s promise.

So, a promise made by someone I know and love has greater influence on me that a promise made to me by a stranger. At the very heart of of the value of a promise is a relationship.

But that cuts both ways, doesn’t it? How many times have we struggled with the pain of someone close to us becoming so unreliable that their promises are always treated as empty and untrustworthy. In my own life, I watched as an addiction and a mental illness stole someone close to me and made all their promises to seek help and to “get better” ring so hollow and empty that every successive promise was more a wound than a source of hope. There again, the context of the relationship was key to everything.

And this is why these saving days of Bright Week are filled with the challenge to relationship, growing relationships, establishing healthy relationships, and maturing relationships. This is the central work of faith and salvation and not the foolish and shallow notion of some contractual agreement between me and God to keep me out of “hell.” No, in fact all of the Orthodox Christian faith is from stem to stern about relationships; my relationship with God and my neighbor. And the very central truth that my relationships with others will reflect and directly image my relationship with God. It is this primary relationship that informs, effects, and strengthens (or weakens) all other relationships in my life.

And it all starts with a promise!

In our Scripture Lesson today, we are taken to the Day of Pentecost just after the Resurrection of the Lord and the empowering of the Apostles and disciples of Jesus to fulfill the command of the Lord to them to “make disciples” of all nations.

St. Peter is preaching his Pentecost homily in the Acts of the Apostles 2:38-43, and here he makes a powerful statement. In verse 39 of Acts 2 he declares to the thousands listening “For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.” The “promise” is for you, your children, and even those who are “far off,” every one!

The Promise St. Peter is talking about is the promise, not of escaping hell or getting God to let you into heaven, but the promise of God made to us that He will reorder our lives and banish the disorder of our lives. The Promise is that God Himself will so transfigure your life that you will be both a suitable habitation for Him in your life and you will become so much like Him you will enjoy His Presence forever.

Pretty big promise, if you asked me.

So, today, the question to be settled in our hearts is two-fold.

Do you trust the Person Who made this promise to you? Of course, your ability to trust this Promise is anchored in your relationship with the One Who made the Promise. The great truth is the more you know Him, the more you will be able to embrace His promise to you. The stronger your faith, the more purposeful your practice of that faith and the more attention you give to your faith, the stronger the bond between you and your Promise Giver!

And, do you want the promise to be fulfilled in your life? Every promise made depends on an assumption that you want the promise fulfilled. If you embrace this Promise for your own life, the life of your family, and your community, then the Promise of a new life in Christ not only holds a priority in your life, your choices, and your behaviors, but this Promise informs all other aspects of your life as well.

As we bask in this Bright Week, let us constantly renew the embrace of God’s Promise to make us like Himself. Let us be so close to Him that His Promise not only makes me new, but “infects” those around me with a hunger to see the same for their lives. Abandoning the sterile and empty concepts of salvation as mere contract and faith as merely a collection of precepts to be intellectually assented to or a philosophy to be thought about; and embracing a life-long purposeful exploration of this beautiful theology of love and relationships as well as doing this faith daily, let’s not only be promise believers, but promise sharers with all around us, even those who are “far off.”

Christ is risen!

What Do You Seek?

April 23rd, 2014


“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

This startling quote from the great American poet Henry David Thoreau captures an insight into the challenge of our human lives. All too much of the time I find myself asleep to the true dignity and purpose of these years granted me by my Creator. And what’s worse, there are moments of clarity about this situation that terrify me.

How many men have reached that “middle aged” point in life and seemingly “lose their minds” with behavior that seems so self destructive? We call it a “midlife crisis.” How many women do you know who reach those early “empty nest” years and have a crisis of identity that causes either crushing depression or other reckless choices? The truth is unless we struggle with our identity and purpose in a purposeful way, we will usually struggle with these issues in a destructive way. But we will struggle with them and they will rear their ugly heads in our lives in one form or another.

Did you know that the number one prescription medication in America is an antidepressant? This crisis of the human soul struggling with our own mortality and the unstoppable ticking of the clock will simply not be ignored.

So, how do we struggle with our mortality, our fears, our purpose, and our true dignity in a way that brings peace and contentment rather than the knee-jerk destructive behavior that leads to broken lives, disappointment, and ultimately an unsatisfying race toward meaninglessness?

In our Gospel Lesson this morning on this Bright Wednesday we see our Lord Jesus asking the very question and providing the very answer that will be our path to purpose and peace with our own mortality.

In St. John 1:35-52 our Lord Jesus is declared by His cousin John, the Forerunner, to be the “Lamb of God.” No Jewish person hearing this could mistake John’s declaration for anything else but a public statement that Jesus is the Messiah. In the Temple days of the Jewish people all faithful Jews knew what lambs were for. They were the perfect sacrifice for sin. And God’s Lamb certainly would become that very sacrifice for us just as we have experienced in last week’s Holy Week liturgies and prayers. And this “Lamb” will deal with the problem of mortality in an eternal way. He deals mortality a mortal blow!

But He also reveals how we are to embrace this victory over mortality by the situation that arises as two of John’s disciples start to follow Jesus. Our Lord noticed these men following Him and He turns and confronts them with the question that makes all the difference: “What do you seek?” (John 1:37).

If I am ever going to struggle in a healthy way over my purpose in life and my own fear of mortality, I have to struggle with that question, “What do you Seek?” Notice Jesus doesn’t ask them “Who do you seek?” No, He asks them a much deeper question, “What do you seek?” Stripping away all the delusions and self satisfying and self serving narcissism of my life, what do I seek? What do I really want? What is my purpose? These are the questions that have to be explored if I am ever going to know myself well enough to truly know who I am. And it is in the context of knowing Who God is that will reveal who I really am.

These disciples answered well! “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” (John 1:37). You won’t find answers to this fundamental question by yourself. You have to come, in humility, to the place where you honestly admit “I won’t learn about myself by myself. I have to go where He is to find myself.”

The Lord gives us the second half of our healthy and life-giving spiritual journey when He tells these men “Come and See.” (John 1:38) No answers. No philosophy. No high minded “head in the clouds” concepts. Only the path of following in trust and hope.

My life will find its purpose; my life will find peace; my life will find the strength to embrace mortality transformed into eternal life as I do what I must to follow Him Who is Life Himself.

Today, what do you seek? Can you hear the Lord’s offer to “come and see” so you will know Him? After all, He is the image of God, and we are created in the image of God, so to know myself, I must know Him. On this Bright Wednesday, hear the words of the Faith that “Christ is risen” and know that it isn’t in following a philosophy or an idea or religious concepts that set the human heart at peace with our own mortality. It is in knowing Him and being with Him that answers the most fundamental question of the human heart. If I am ever to escape a life of “quiet desperation,” it will be by embracing my true purpose in life – following Him Who has destroyed death and granted the world eternal life.

Christ is Risen!

A Parish Name Day

April 22nd, 2014


Christ is risen!

In honor of our parish name day, I offer you a wonderful rendering of the martyrdom of Saints Raphael, Nicholas, and Irene of the island of Mitilene in Greece. There are only two parishes in America named after these saints and Bright Tuesday is the day they are remembered.

Holy, martyred saints, pray for us!


The Afterglow of Glory

April 21st, 2014


Christ is risen!

The week following Pascha (the ancient and venerable name of the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ) is called Bright Week. This week launches us into the 40 day celebration of the Resurrection. It is a week of light, laughter, celebration, feasting, and joy. It truly is a Bright Week!

But, there is caution in this Week as well. The caution rises from our human weakness to allow both despondency and euphoria to “intoxicate” us into delusion. The “bright sadness” of Great Lent is followed by the “bright joy” of Pascha, and both seasons of the Church year bring us to the same conclusion: both difficult times and celebratory times are a call to faith and action, not the mindless slavery of sadness and happiness.

The reason we humans are so susceptible to these extremes is because we fear death. The fear of death permeates our lives in both subtle and not so subtle ways. We fear death and our own mortality so very much that we are easily captured by the circumstances of our lives, whether good or bad. And in that slavery we discover all sorts of spiritual poverty about ourselves. The glorious wisdom of our Orthodox faith asks us to not ignore this insight into our own souls, but to face this with the Good News that death has been overcome by Him Who is Life Himself. As the great Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom declares:
“It took a body and came upon God!
It took earth and encountered Ηeaven!
It took what it saw, but crumbled before what it had not seen!
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!”

Our Scripture Lesson today shows us the path to both sober joy and sober sadness. This sobriety is the key to a mature Christian life!

In the Acts of the Apostles 1:12-17, 21-26 we see the disciples getting down to business after they experienced the Resurrected Christ. They had just spent 40 days with Christ after His resurrection. They had watched Him ascend into heaven. And now they are returning to Jerusalem in obedience to Christ’s command that they stay in Jerusalem until the coming of the Holy Spirit. Look how they deal with the afterglow of the glory of these amazing days.

First, they obey. The Lord told them to go back to Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit to comes and that is exactly what they did. If we are ever going to reach that place of sober joy and sober sadness, we are going to have to prioritize obedience as the number one reaction to both good times and bad times. Any police officer will tell you that in stressful situation, training kicks in and you almost go on “automatic pilot.” This is our path as well. When both good times and bad times come to us, we must be so well versed and well practiced in our faith that neither of these life circumstances tempt us to intoxication with the moment.

Second, they devoted themselves to prayer. But not just any prayer – corporate prayer. They were together, about 120 of the Lord’s disciples and they stayed together to strengthen one another and to pray together while they waited for the promised Comforter to come. Our communion together holds the key to our mature sobriety as believers. It is learning how to be “Church” together that sets us free from “me” mentality that so paralyzes us during times of difficulty and elation. It’s the hard work of communion that sobers our souls to stay awake and aware in both good times and bad. And it is that very wakefulness, awareness, that makes it impossible for the evil one to trick us into the slavery of the moment.

Finally, they got to work. The disciples had a missing member of the apostolic band. Judas, unlike Peter, just couldn’t bring himself out of the despondency of his betrayal and it cost him his life. Both men betrayed Christ, but Peter’s sorrow turned to joy as his repentance led to freedom. But, the apostles didn’t just sit around together and sing kumbaya. No. They looked among their company and found another to take the place of Judas in the apostolic band. And they chose Matthias as the 12th Apostle. The great danger in both difficult times and happy times is the temptation to lethargy. Either you’re too sad to do anything or you’re too happy to bother. Both places are traps. They key to a sober sadness or a sober joy is to be so awake that you keep doing what you are called to do no matter what the circumstances of your life. Keep going!

Today, dearest, we bask in the afterglow of that wonderful Holy Week and the amazing events of Pascha. We are stuffed with the good food. We look at the pictures of our celebrations and smile and cry and rejoice. Our emotions have been on a rollercoaster ride from the sadness of Good Friday to the elation of Pascha. We greet each other with “Christ is risen!” and we rejoice. Good. This is how it should be.

But, in the midst of our joy, let us make sure we aren’t setting ourselves up for the “crash” of the end of these celebratory days by being joyful with sobriety and staying on course to spiritual maturity.

Christ is risen!

He IS Risen!

April 19th, 2014


A Reflection for Holy and Great Saturday

O Lord, our God: In their ignorance and audacity, your own creatures put your only Son to death. But Joseph, in his faith and love, took him down from the cross and buried him in his own tomb. The high priests, true to their suspicious nature, posted their guard. As your eternal word lies in the grave, bathed in the fragrance of these funeral flowers, we bring our praise and spiritual worship to him who receives from all believers hymns and prayers in every tongue. From your infinite treasury of gifts, give us hearts that believe in the face of every doubt, minds that rise above cynicism and despair, and spirits that escape the stranglehold of uncontrolled and selfish inclinations. Pardon all our sins and let us all rejoice in the resurrection of your Christ.

By the grace and mercy and love for us of your only Son, with whom you are blest, together with your all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit: now and forever, and unto ages of ages. Amen. (A prayer of Fr. Laurence)

My dearest, may the Lord Who lives and IS Life Himself; Who has trampled down and defeated death for our sake by His universe-creating Resurrection from the dead, grant you to embrace the freedom He purchased for you and to live in the glory of His Resurrection.

Tonight is the night “brighter than the day.” The whole creation breaks forth in songs of praise to our God Who has conquered death and granted life to all in the tombs!

Blessed Pascha to you all and thank you for the blessings you have extended to me in your love and encouragement. May we truly be Orthodox on Purpose especially on this wonderful day!

A Reflection on this Holy Friday

April 18th, 2014


O God and Father: How can the light of the sun pierce the terrible darkness of this day and its events? Your only Son, the true light, in the darkness of his ordeal, was pleased to embrace in his humanity the sufferings he could not endure in his divinity. And to what purpose, if not to prove that he considered us worthy of salvation! The crowds that had so admired him at first, were now overcome with aversion for him, in spite of the good he had done. In their outrage that the master of the sabbath should break the sabbath, they sneered at him and derided him. He suffered all sorts of indignities for us: He was spat upon and slapped and ridiculed. He was scourged by the soldiers and, finally, he was hanged on that tree of shame. And we, as usual, remain vacillating and ambivalent. Without your help, O Father, we can never see the honor that is ours in his voluntary shame.

By the grace and mercy and love for us of your only Son, with whom you are blest, together with your all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit: now and forever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

(A prayer of Fr. Laurence)

God considers you so worthy of salvation that He goes willingly to His voluntary and life-giving death. And not a quick death, but a death that embraces all of the fallenness of our human rebellion.

At this hour, O Lord, as even nature hides it’s face from the spectacle of Life being swallowed by death, let us creatures enslaved by death rejoice in Your marvels. For You are the Only Lover of Mankind, and You are the Savior of our souls.

Blessed Great and Holy Friday to you all, and l pray that we once again embrace the journey to become Orthodox on Purpose.

Taken and Given to Another

April 14th, 2014


I love the old horror movies in black and white. The building of suspense where you’re screaming at the screen “Run” or “Don’t go in there!” Vincent Price was my favorite, and my most favorite horror movie of his is “The Oblong Box” by Edgar Allen Poe.

What I never cared for is the “slasher” movies. Grotesque violence and mere titillation left me both cold and not really scared. More nauseous than scared!

What was brilliant about those old movies was their ability to build tension and excitement before the big scare! Kinda like riding a roller coaster at the amusement park.

There are other scary things that don’t thrill; they just terrify. And this is what I want to talk about today on this Holy Monday.

Our Gospel Lesson comes to us from Matthew 21:18-43, and here our Lord is preparing His disciples for the end of His ministry among them before His Crucifixion. And, as usual, He is having to deal with the “religious” crowd about just who does “He think He is” saying the things He is saying and doing the things He is doing. His words and His actions are really upsetting the “religious” crowd and they are, frankly, sick of this “preacher” from Galilee.

In dealing with these folks the Lord tells several stories; one is about two brothers and a dad. The Dad asks one brother to go work in the field that day and the boy refuses, but later he repents and goes to the field to work for his Dad. The Dad asks the other son to go and work in the field and that son says “Sure dad, I’ll go.” But that son doesn’t do what he said he’d do. So the Lord asks these religious people “which son obeyed his Father?” Of course they answer the first son who, even hough he initially refused, repented and obeyed his dad’s request.

The Lord tells another story as well. And this one is about a land owner who plants a vineyard, digs a wine press, and then lets out the vineyard to tenants to work the land and produce the wine. When it comes harvesting time, the owner sends servants and even His Son, but the evil tenants beat the servants, and kill the Son.

Looking these religious leaders straight in the eye, He asks them “What will the landowner do to these wicked tenants?” And they all responded “He will put those wretches to a miserable death!” Little did these religious people realize that they had just judged themselves!

You see, the Lord tells these stories to reach those who have hearts that can grasp what He’s trying to say AND to reveal the hearts of the others who simply can’t see past their own self righteousness. The Lord’s clear teaching is that these Jewish people had had centuries of spiritual advantages and instruction and liturgy and wisdom and prophets and preachers and on and on and on. And STILL they miss the Messiah.

Here’s where it gets absolutely terrifying. Look at His response to their own words: “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it.” Matthew 21:43

“The Kingdom of God will BE TAKEN AWAY from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it.” (Emphasis mine) And this did happen, dear ones. The Message of Christ was offered to the Kinsmen of Jesus and they rejected it (not all), and then the Message of Jesus was offered to another nation who took it and changed the world! But let me ask you, what do you believe will happen to the Message of Jesus if that nation comes to a place where they aren’t producing fruit anymore? Do you think that if the Lord didn’t stop the Kingdom from being taken from His Own Kinsmen, He will stop another unfaithful nation from losing the very same Message? And then the Message of Jesus will then go looking for another nation still who WILL embrace it, be faithful to it, and live this life so as to “produce the fruits of it!”

Today, as we journey with the Lord to His life-giving and voluntary death; as we hear His clear teachings and frank sermons on true faith and fruitful spiritual lives; let us face squarely the hard words of the Lord and refuse to make the same mistakes of generations before us. Let us be a “nation” that produces fruit for the Vineyard Owner and give Him the Harvest He rightly expects from those who claim with their mouths to love Him and His Church.

To do less is to risk watching our people have this kingdom “taken” and given to those who will appreciate it and cherish it as more than mere decoration! Live the faith or lose it. This is the scary declaration of the Lord to us on this Holy Monday. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!

Orthodox on Purpose

Practicing the Orthodox Christian Faith on purpose one day at a time!

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