Orthodox on Purpose

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

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!

Holy Week Devotionals

April 14th, 2014

Dear Faithful,

Holy Week Devotionals will appear later in the day due to our very full Holy Week schedule.

Do your soul a favor, love your own salvation enough, to attend as many Holy Week services you can.

And please remember a portion of the Scripture Lesson from last night’s Bridegroom Service:

“Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.” Matthew 21:43

If the Lord made this promise to His own kinsman, what makes you think we are immune to this fate as well if we fail to produce the fruit of faithfulness?

God Sees Further than You!

April 11th, 2014

 

I never will forget the first time I was in an airplane. I was barely a teenager when I took my first flight from Central Florida to Atlanta. What struck me most was the perspective of being so far above my home town. I could see all kinds of places that I had seen from ground level and the change in perspective changed how I thought of those places.

That’s the advantage of perspective. You can see things you would have missed up close.

No, imagine you could see time in the same way. What if you were able to “see” clearly the results, the consequences, of every choice you made before you made them? That would be really cool! Now, what if I told you there was Someone Who could do that for you? Hey, it’s not fair if you guess what I’m going to say next!

Seriously, we all have heard that the Christian faith teaches that our God is omniscient. Big word with a big meaning. It means He knows everything. He sees further, and knows the end from the beginning. It’s why St. John can write in the Book of the Revelation that Christ is the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” (Revelation 13:8) Especially as we approach Holy Week and the tragic days of the Lord’s Sacrifice on the Cross; we are challenged to embrace the truth that God sees past the momentary terror of the dark days for His Son to the very end of human history and the glory of the Resurrection AND the Final Judgement! God sees all this and He continues His Work to redeem His creation.

No wonder the writer of Hebrews says of the Lord as He faced the horrors of the Cross “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2

Our Scripture Lesson gives us another powerful insight to this magnificent truth. In Genesis 49:33-50:26 we read the story of the Patriarch Jacob’s death in Egypt after Joseph had become the “right hand” man to the Pharaoh in Egypt. Joseph, Jacob’s youngest son, had been treated badly by his brothers years before and sold into slavery by his own brothers because they were jealous of him. Now, years later, Joseph has risen to the place of power and authority and was in a great position to help his family when a famine struck the area. He brought his family down to Egypt where they had prepared for this famine because God had told Joseph it was coming. Now, the very brothers who treated Joseph so badly are at his mercy. And their father is dead.

So the brothers are terrified that now their father is dead, Joseph will exact his revenge on his older brothers for what they had done to him all those years ago. They thought that way because, in their hearts, that’s the way they would have reacted! And isn’t that always the way? We fear that others will treat us as we would treat them if we were in their shoes!

But Joseph’s heart was different. He had developed, through his faithfulness to God and his Love for God, a different attitude; a different way of life. His response to his older brothers fears teaches us as well. He tells his brothers “Fear not, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Genesis 50:19-20

Joseph believed so strongly in God’s knowledge and provision for what was best for him that he was FREE; free to forgive AND free to do good even to those who had done evil to him.

Today, we are days away from Holy Week, when the Lord of all will be mistreated, rejected, and even killed unjustly. But He saw beyond the momentary pain to the powerful glory and the wonderful redemption His work would produce. In other words, He saw what His momentary suffering would do for you! So, let us not lose heart in the middle of our challenging times, being confident that the Lord of Time (not Doctor Who!) knows our end from the beginning and has our best in His heart for us. Let us approach the labors of these saving days with confidence and faith and allow that reality to strengthen us for the spiritual labors of our lives. After all, He sees further than you! AND, He loves you.

That Stove is Hot!

April 10th, 2014

 

“Why do you hate me?” I can’t ever seem to get over the shock of someone assuming that, because I disagree with him, I must then, therefore, hate him.

“Hey buddy, all I said was the stove was hot. If you touch it, you’ll get burned.” “See, you do hate me. You just want to deprive me of my freedom. If I want to touch the stove, I should be free to touch the stove! You’re just trying to control me! I can do whatever I want to do!”

Oh well, OK, I guess you are free to do whatever you want. But none of us are free from the consequences of our choices.

“Hey, that stove is hot! I just burned my hand! That’s not fair, and you better do something to make me feel better or that will prove you really do hate me!”

This is a pretty ridiculous conversation, isn’t it? And yet, how far off the mark is the underlying thought process of so many of us in our quest to achieve freedom from consequences? Over and over again, I have been “burned” by my shortsighted thinking in choosing some immediate gratification with little or no thought of the consequences of my choices. And then, in my immediate, emotional response to these consequences, I look up in the sky and ask God why He hates me to put me through all these troubles.

And a Voice comes from heaven and say “I told you the stove was hot!”

In our Scripture Lesson today, we get to read about just such a situation. In Isaiah 65:8-16 The Lord confronts people whose choices are exactly opposite to their own best interests and now they are being told the consequences of these shortsighted choices, and it ain’t pretty.

The Lord recites the consequences to these people and then He tells them why all this is happening to them when He says “because, when I called, you did not answer, when I spoke, you did not listen, but you did what was evil in my eyes, and chose what I did not delight in.” Isaiah 65:12

That’s the bad news. Fortunately, there is also Good News, and the Good News is it’s never too late to turn from those self centered choices to chose what God delights in (and, by the way, the reason God delights in certain choices is because it leads not to His happiness but yours!).

We approach the raising of Lazarus this Saturday as Great Lent comes to an end again this year. And the message of the raising of Lazarus is it is never too late to undo the mistakes of the past. Our great enemies, Death and Mortality, are simply no match for God’s grace and His redeeming Power.

So, today, regardless of the mistakes of your past, the path to that Resurrected Life lavished on humanity by God’s Victory over Death and Mortality, lie in the dual revelations of Honest Repentance and Joyous Embrace. Honest Repentance has little to do with mere regret and everything to do with a transformed way of thinking about your life. This repentance moves you from a self centered lifestyle and the childing slavery to some notion of your own autonomy, and more towards the wise path of choices meant to make you truly free, not to do anything you want (that usually leads to addiction) but to the freedom and strength to choose wisely. And the Joyous Embrace of the path of taming your passions through the wise stewardship of your gifts and abilities through the spiritual labors of the faith created specifically to be your spiritual “exercise routine” to make your soul strong enough to master your body!

This is the whole purpose of the wisdom of our Orthodox theology and practice. And this is why this season of the year is central to our labors, our true repentance, and our focus. As you embark on the Holy Days of Holy Week, don’t miss one opportunity to embark on the transforming journey of true freedom found in Honest Repentance and Joyous Embrace! Be the free person you were created to be and don’t forget “that stove is hot!”

Fasting Like Yours

April 9th, 2014

 

“He was doing all the right things for all the wrong reasons.” Frankly, when I heard that, I didn’t even realize that was even possible. But it is. You really can do all the right things for all the wrong reasons, and then you’re amazed when the “right doing” doesn’t produce the “happiness” you were aiming for.

In fact, I’ve seen something even more amazing to me. I’ve watched as some have actually been very strict with their observance of this or that religious or “traditional” instruction and turn out to be really mean people, even disrespectful people, all the while being very strict with their “obedience” to this or that ritual.

What’s going on here? If we follow all the “rules,” aren’t we suppose to win the “game?” If we obey all the “requirements,” aren’t we suppose to get the “prize?”

There is a man I know who spends most of his time angry. He’s angry at life. He’s angry at others around him. He’s angry that others aren’t angry. He’s angry! AND he sees himself as the only one really interested in keeping all the “old ways!”

But aren’t the “old ways” suppose to create joy and peace? Aren’t the “old ways” suppose to bring love and service to everyone around us? If all this obedience is producing anger and disquiet, aren’t those “fruits” a sign of trouble?

They sure were in our Scripture Lesson this morning! In Isaiah 58:1-11, the Prophet reports God’s words to the people of Israel and the Lord comments about their strict obedience to the fasting times of the Jewish faith. And what He says to the people may surprise you.

Look at this powerful section of our lesson today: “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God. ‘Why have we fasted, and thou seest it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and thou takest no knowledge of it?’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a rush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD?”

The people who are being strict with their obedience are wondering out loud “Hey, how come God isn’t answering our prayers? We’re doing all the stuff we’re suppose to! Where’s the payoff?” And God answers with a clarity that cuts right to the heart of the problem. They are fasting for themselves and their selfish desires, not to turn their hearts from the spiritual sickness of their souls. In fact, these folks don’t see themselves as spiritually sick at all. They are just “following the rules” to get a “reward.” And that, my precious one, is the heart of doing the right things for the wrong reasons.

The Lord goes on to describe a “real” fast that produces the results that were intended by the fasting wisdom in the first place. The REAL RESULTS were meant to be a real change in the person fasting, not in getting a reward from God for “doing” the right thing. The fast the Lord expects is “to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’”

Today, as we approach the completion of Great Lent, and as we come to the even more rigorous spiritual disciplines of Holy Week, it’s time for a spiritual inventory of your focused obedience to the wisdom of the fasting of this time. Has your religious observances changed you? Has your religious observances made you more tender to others? Has your religious observances caused you to ignore yourself and give to those who cannot repay you?

My dearest, honest assessment of your spiritual labors makes you a real and purposeful Orthodox Christian. And it invites you to the deeper repentance that actually changes you into a more Christ-like follower of the faith. And that is the intent of the fast; of the prayers; of the almsgiving. It isn’t about “obeying the rules” so you will “get a reward.” The real reward of a purposeful Orthodoxy is your own transformed life. Until that starts happening, we simply aren’t doing it right. But when it does start happening, you will discover a sense of purpose, a sense of peace, a sense of joy that makes impotent all the other circumstances around you and places your life in proper order. And that is what all this is a bout in the first place.

Great Lent draws to its annual conclusion with our prayers and liturgy on Lazarus Saturday, and then we place our feet on the dusty road to Jerusalem with our Lord on Palm Sunday to walk with Him all the way to the Tomb. Stop, right now, and take 10 minutes to inventory your labors this Great Lent, and pray, and square your shoulders for the labors ahead! Go into Holy Week ready to be changed!

Do I Love Him?

April 8th, 2014

 

Why does a church exist? What is the purpose that drives a church community to continue from generation to generation? What is the motivating force that causes people to adhere and perpetuate this or that ideology, theology, practice, and behavior? And, why does a faith community survive from one generation to another?

Big questions. And I caution you against quick answers, because they are usually too shallow to actually answer the questions mentioned above.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately as I prepare to speak to a national group this summer concerning this very topic. And I’ve been doing some reading on the topic that builds on the central, driving, force behind why Orthodox on Purpose exists. Here’s a startling quote from an article on www,goarch.org: “…statistics disclose over 60% of Greek Orthodox families of the last generation and 90% of Americans with Greek roots are no longer in communion with the Church.” (http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/marriage/interfaith/guest-writers/challengeforGOC)

Demographic studies of similar groups suggest this is far from only a Greek American reality. It is the norm among most religious bodies in the West.

This suggests that the vivifying power behind a faith community’s success and perpetual existence doesn’t lie in merely perpetuating a strong connection to ethnic identity. To be sure, these strong connections can be very helpful, but they tend to run out of steam as ethnic identity passes into the third and fourth generation and so on. This has been the common experience of every defined ethnic group here in the USA.

So, what are the elements that transcend both time and place to perpetuate the faith “once, for all, delivered to the saints?” More and more it is clear that the key to passing on a robust faith lies in the faith itself, and not merely in the nostalgic attachments to memories of “how we use to be” and “what we use to do.”

Look at our Scripture Lesson today from Isaiah, the prophet. In Isaiah 49:6-10 the Lord declares that the People of God will be “…a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Listen to the Lord as He continues telling the People of God what they are to be to the whole world: “In a time of favor I have answered you, in a day of salvation I have helped you; I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages; saying to the prisoners, ‘Come forth,’ to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear.’ They shall feed along the ways, on all bare heights shall be their pasture; they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall smite them, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them.”

What drives a faith forward is what makes our faith deep and substantial. What motivates us to do the hard work of purposeful Orthodoxy and overcome the constant temptation to reduce our faith to mere “window dressing” is the reality of our foundational purpose: We are meant to participate with God in the redemption of the whole creation. We are called to be the LIGHT that helps all humanity “see” clearly the path to peace and freedom and true eternal joy. We are meant to know God so well that we are comfortable enough being with Him we invite others by our simple existence in this world to Him!

Nothing less than this cosmic vision of our purpose will ever be strong enough to break the stranglehold of mediocrity so easily and hypnotically experienced by far too many of those who wear the name “Christian.” And we will never be able to see this cosmic vision of our true calling without first being in love. In love with Him Who first loved us.

And there is no time of year more powerfully designed by the Holy Spirit led wisdom of our Orthodox faith than this time of year to both create and renew that passionate love for God than now. We approach the Holy Week of our loving Lord where He will not just talk about His love for us, but dramatically display through His determination, courage, focus, and vision, just to what extent He is willing to go to heal the sickness in my heart and restore me to Him.

Today, my dearest, we can either turn a blind eye to reality, become angry that someone has brought our challenging demographics to light, or we can abandon that which enslaves the teeming power of our Faith to transform our lives and thereby transform the world. It all begins with a confrontation with myself: Do I love Him?

Orthodox on Purpose

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

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