Friday, November 21, 2014

Come and See … CHRIST in our midst

It seems hardly possible that we are already in December, 2014, in the midst of the Nativity Fast. I’ve been pondering our world, which is most certainly not much in the way of peaceful these days.  And I’ve been thinking about Nativity and the fact that Christ is born, and how that it so often barely mentioned in the large scheme of things.  And, being in retail, the pace, the noise, the hype are increasing all around.

In fact, in spite of the romantic themes that also abound, and the fact that “baby Jesus” is mentioned right in there with all the rest, a season that is often thought of as the time for love and peace and joy is more often than not,  not so much what we want it to be. Peace and good will, joy, and even “time with the family” are lost in all the rest.
Quite apart from the Christmas (or is it “Holiday”) themes are the tensions that abound.  Wars and rumors of war abound around the globe – and the angry cries of many come out in our own communities.


What to do?  Where to turn?

I don’t think it would be to worry.  Nor do I think that we should readily ‘choose up sides.”  But how to quell the tensions, the angers, the resentment, the fear, the passions that so often seek to consume us?

                                                            In Christ.

Think about it:  three greetings that are very much Orthodox.

Christ is in our midst!  He is and ever shall be.
Christ is born!  Glorify Him!
Christ is risen!  Truly He is risen!

Christ is our life!  We die to live in Him!  We deny self to follow Him!  Without Christ, there is no meaning, there is no life or light or peace, for in Him, all things find their meaning! It isn’t so much about us “inviting  Jesus into our lives” (on our terms), is it?   Rather it is that we are joined in Christ, grafted into His Body (the Church)!  He takes us into Himself! 

Whatever is going on in this world with its madness, He is in our midst.  He is here!  We are in Him. In Him we live and move and have our being.

And this is His promise:  “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” What we exclaim in those greetings speaks the truth and is the evidence of His grace, His mercy, His peace and the salvation that He works in us.

During the Nativity Fast, He needs be our focus, whatever else is going on in this season.  It is important that we make and take time to be silent before Him, to hear Him in His Temple, to receive Him in His Body and Blood, to hear His absolution and to receive His anointing. Let’s greet one another, “Christ is born! Glorify Him” reminding and proclaiming His presence, for He is indeed the peace that is so necessary for life now and to the ages.

It is so easy to become wrapped up in the rush of things, to be driven by selfish motivations, to be caught up in the tensions around us!  We so easily take up sides, or lash out at one another, hold hurts and grudges, seeking our own selfish desires.  The Evil One is hard at work and has many accomplices, not to mention the weakness of our sinful flesh.

But Christ is in our midst!  He is born!  He is risen!  And in Him we have died in Baptism and been raised up in Him.  That’s why we pray in our prayer corners, why we prostrate ourselves or lift our hands in prayer. That’s why we are joined in this community.  He joins us together.  He gives us life!  He forgives us.  And the life that He gives will not end.

During this Nativity Fast, this Winter Pascha, we can be joined as we do join in the Temple for its services!  We can be joined as we walk together, encouraging and loving one another not with some sentimental self-created love, but with the love of Christ our God.

When you are ready to give up, remember: Christ is born! Christ is risen!  Christ is in our midst!

When you are ready to give up on someone else, remember that we are joined in Christ, the One Who is born, Who is risen, and Who is in our midst – He joins us together, we can forgive as we have been forgiven.

And when you are feeling shame, guilt, despair, remember His Promise, “I am with you always!”

We do live in hectic times, to be sure!

But Christ is in our midst!
  He gathers us to share His strength, His love and His forgiveness. His presence is lived as we are present for one another, whatever the circumstance of our lives.

It is 2014.  It is the year of our Lord 2014, almost 2015.  But salvation is upon us!  

Rejoice!

                  Christ is born!  Christ is Risen!  Christ in in our midst!

Now and ever and to the ages of ages!

Glory to God for all things in this joyous season!


Ezekiel

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

One of the Great Joys of Orthodoxy

Earlier this afternoon, I received a notice from All Saints Orthodox Church in Raleigh, NC.  It was very simple: Deacon David was notifying people that due to the priest's absence, a Divine Liturgy for Prophet Elias would not be served at All Saints on that date.  BUT -- the Deacon could note that Liturgies were being served on that date at at least two Greek Orthodox Churches nearby! 

It occurred to me that you really don't find that too often amongst other church bodies.

Over these last years, we experienced the hospitality of Orthodoxy in many ways -- but it is most certainly a joy to be able to go to a neighboring Orthodoxy if, for some reason, you can't go to your own.

Of course, we've experienced the same joy on regular Sundays when traveling.  This summer, we visited St. George Greek Orthodox Church in St. Paul, MN one Sunday.  The next we were at my brother's house about 40 miles from there, but a search found an Orthodox mission of the Orthodox Church in America only six miles from my brother's house  -- and we were welcome!  When we travel to North Carolina, we have gone to Greek Orthodox communities, and to a growing community of the Antiochian jurisdiction! 

In every place, we are Orthodox!  In each place, we join with other Orthodox in receiving the Mysteries!  In every church we participate in the same Divine Liturgy!  And major events such as ground breakings, patronal feast days, consecrations celebrated across jurisdictional lines as we are all joined in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church -- not merely in word, but in practice!

   Thanks be to God for such a great joy!

   Glory to God for all things!

   Christ is in our  midst!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

"Not going away from any place"

The Kontakion for Ascension, and particularly the words "not going away from any place" struck me today in Orthros.  How different from those who think or teach that Jesus went "somewhere else" and is somehow no longer with us!  And how different from those that might think in terms of Jesus being "sort of" with us after the Ascension!

The promise echoed at the end of the Kontakion (and its Eikos) is powerful for us in this age, is it not?

I am with you, and there is, therefore, none against you!

When you had fulfilled the dispensation
for our sake, and united things on
earth with the things in heaven, You were
taken up thither in glory, O Christ our
God, going not away from any place, but
continuing inseparable, and to them that
love You crying out, “I am with you, and
there is, therefore, none against you.”
Glory to God for All Things!

Blessed Ascension to all!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Around the world ....

Once again this year, Pascha brought great joy!

This Pascha, Bishop DEMETRIOS of Mokissos, Chancellor of the Metropolis of Chicago presided! Hierarchical Liturgies are always unique, but on Pascha, this Pascha, it was indeed a blessing! Although His Grace wanted services from the books (Papadeas), the Liturgy, though shorter, was longer!  His Grace also brought a marvelous Psalti who was visiting from Greece.  This young man was truly a blessing, although more was done in Greek than English.

The Divine Liturgy was followed by dinner with Lamb and "all the fixings."  There were were, quite a gathering feasting at 3 am!!  We all pitched in and the clean up was done in short order.  In bed by 5 am, in enough time to get some rest before Agape Vespers at noon.

This year I was pleased to chant much more as I grow in this office in the church ... According to Vasili, our Protopsalti, I did very well at Agape Vespers (he told the lovely bride this!). 

Now, all of those thing are indeed wonderful, but Katherine and I once again pondered the marvel that the whole world was "wrapped" in the Paschal Liturgy and prayers.  This proclamation, truth and testimony went "round the world" as essentially the same liturgy, the same prayers, the same hymnody were prayed in many languages as each time zone was crossed.  Think of it:  where else would find such a thing?  Add to that the fact that is proclamation is carried from generation to generation, and you begin to get a sense of what it means that the "deposit of truth" is guarded throughout the ages!

We are joined in Christ in a worldwide family!  And, we, joined in that family do live for the life of the world in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Christ is risen!
Christos Anesti!

     Ezekiel

Thursday, December 1, 2011


Come and See
Nativity


At a store meeting where I work, the manager asked what "tradition" people had for giving and the like as Christmas approached.  Now, remember, this is a retail store -- and in retail, the ultimate goal is sales, whatever else may be added in in terms of customer service and the like.  During this brief exchange, one of our associates said that their "gift exchange" is actually "buy whatever you want."  That is to say, there is no real gift exchange at all -- when they get together, they just all share how happy they were to have, well, whatever it was that they wanted.

Now THAT sort of dampened my spirits.  Although I enjoy my job, the whole frenzy at this time encourages greed, I think.  But to not even "give" -- well, now that is a secularization of the season.

That got me to thinking about the Nativity and the Fast the precedes it.  Perhaps these observations will be helpful.  Keep in mind that when you keep the Fast, and then the Feast, in the tradition of the Church, you may well have opportunity to speak to people of Christ and invite them to "Come and See!"

As Christians, as Orthodox Christians, something much different is going on.  Our focus is on the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus -- when the LOGOS took on our flesh, when the Creator indeed became as one of the created.  Over the centuries the great feast of the Incarnation has been preceded by a Fast.  During the Fast we deny the passions that so often get out of control in order that in silence we may ponder the Mystery of the Incarnation.

That Mystery is so much more than a cute baby in a manger.  And it is much more than  gifts and shopping and spending large amounts of money, perhaps exceeding what we can afford.

So it is that we are faced with a challenge that may often cause us to go "against the grain."  Rather than partying more, we pray more.  Rather than get so caught up in all the "stuff" that has become traditional, we go to the ancient hymnody, the simple chants that turn our eyes and ears to the fact that Christ in born, and we glorify Him.

Rather than watching all the things that are on TV that claim to be "Christmas", we can shut off the TV, and read together the Fathers, the Scriptures, and in the silence of that time together be joined in Christ.

In our times, it is very important to observe this Nativity Fast!  It is all too easy to be caught up in the so-called "holiday cheer" and "Seasons Greetings" and to be swept away from the Nativity instead of coming close and pondering the great and awesome mystery.  It is all too easy in our day to lose salvation in our watered down, Christless, celebrations.

When you quietly observe the Fast, even when attending the occasional party,  you may well have the opportunity to invite someone to come and see Jesus. You may be asked why you didn't take this offering or drink that beverage!

When you as a family, intentionally pray together the prayers of the Church, perhaps the Paraklesis together, the Holy Spirit works to calm the passions and direct you from the  "spirit of this season" to eternity in Christ.

When the music in your home is that of the Church, more than merely the traditions of our times, your visitors may see Jesus!

Send cards and greetings that reflect that Christ is Born!

Joined in Christ and preparing to celebrate again the Incarnation, shut out the noises that distract and wear you out:  then you can see Jesus in those around and truly enjoy His blessings.

Pray daily and constantly as you journey toward Nativity -- so that you are not merely trying to get through another Christmas, or outdo the gifts that weregiven last year!  Look to Jesus, author and perfector of faith.  He will send the Spirit to guide you in such a way that the giving and gathering, will strengthen and give true joy, rather than having you arrive at Christmas, the Feast of the Nativity, worn out and secretly looking forward to it being all over.

And  when the Feast arrives, schedule around the Divine Liturgy and other services and vigils!  When this happens, you say with words and actions, "Come and See!  Christ is Born!  Glorify Him!

The Fast and the Feast find meaning only in Christ God, the Lover of Mankind. Everything else is secondary.  Receive Him! He is your Salvation!

Christ is in our midst!  Christ is born --glorify Him.

Give Glory to God for all Things!

      Ezekiel

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Focus

This morning as I prayed Morning Prayers in front of the icons, I was taken by the fact that in the midst of all the varying things going on around me, Christ Pantokrator is always there, the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. The Blessed Theotokos hold Christ our God and directs us to Him, Savior and Lover of Mankind. Sts Constantine and Helen, patron saints of our parish, maintain their guard, interceding for us.

All of this is contrasted with the cacophany of sounds, images, thoughts, opinions and ideas that bombard us, especially through the media every day. Sound bites and half thought out commentary appeal to the passions, seeking to throw us off course and even into worry and despair. It is so easy to take our eyes off Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith as the Evil One seeks to lure us elsewhere. We find ourselves torn apart as the passions we seek to control by the blessing of the Holy Spirit seek to control us.

During this Great and Holy Lent (and throughout our lives) we would do well to fast from other images in our lives. It would do us well to limit the use of TV, Internet, radio, that we might indeed look to Jesus, our Salvation, to Christ our God. It would be better to spend more time in our icon corner, and less time glued to the TV.

In my own life, I've taken to a different discipline when driving the 28 miles to work. I may check the radio for traffic, but then I listen to a pray the hours as they are prayed in abbreviated form on Ancient Faith Radio. On the way to work, it is Matins through 9th Hour. On the way home it is Vespers and Compline ... and perhaps some practice of chant with the CD I have burned. My spirit is calmed -- and the constant panic about this or that in the world are moved to the background.

In the midst of all the changes and chances in our lives, Christ God is the same yesterday, today and forever. God the Father continues to love us and bless us with the Holy Spirit!

Just some thoughts from one lately come ...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

SOME THOUGHTS ON THEOPHANY BY ONE LATELY COME

During the Great Blessing of the Waters, the rich beauty of the prayers was overwhelming to me! At the Baptism of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, we not only celebrate this glorious event, but we see the wondrous intervention of God, “the Lover of Mankind” throughout history! That prayer ties together so many things from the Biblical account!

And as I listened, it struck me that we really knew nothing of this at all in my Lutheran background. Only as one lately come to Holy Orthodoxy has this ancient tradition been revealed to me, and with it, another opportunity to celebrate the presence of God in our world today.

Holy Orthodoxy has a way of seeing that God the Father is NOT “out there” somewhere, but that He is here and now involved in His creation, His world. Holy Orthodoxy celebrates the involvement of Christ our God and His union with us here and now in the Divine Liturgy. Neither of these is built on some symbolism of something “out there” or of a hope of something that could come in the future. This is present reality!

After the Priest begins the prayer, “Trinity beyond all being, beyond all goodness, beyond all godhead ….
We glorify you, only begotten Son of God, without father from your Mother, without mother from your Father. For in the preceding feast we saw you as a babe, but in the present one we see you full and perfect man, our God, made manifest as perfect God from perfect God.”

Then a recitation of a present reality:

“Today the moment of the feast is her for us and the choir of saints assembles with us, and Angels keep festival with mortals. Today the grace of the Holy Spirit … . Today the Sun that never sets … . Today the Moon with its radiant beams … . Today the stars formed of light … . Today the clouds rain down from heaven … . “ And the list goes on as we see the presents of God with us in this world at this time. The Great Blessing is a “timeless” feast as all things are come together in the mystery of the Baptism of our Lord and Savior and blessing of all waters of all times.

Throughout the remaining prayers, the verbs are in the present tense!

Frankly, none of this is regularly found in the those of the Reformation. It was, as my protopsalti said, “jettisoned!”

Not only do we give high praise for all these blessings, we pray:

Incline your ear and hear us, Lord, who accepted to be baptized in Jordan and to sanctify the waters, and bless us all who signify our calling as servants by bending of our necks. And count us worthy to be filled with your sanctification through the partaking and sprinkling of the water. And let be for us Lord, for healing of our soul and body.

For you are the sanctification of our souls and bodies and to you we give glory, thanksgiving and worship, with your Father who is without beginning, and our All-hoy, good and life=giving Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.

It is so easy to let words that we may have heard time and again to “slip by.” The Evil One is always present to distract us in the little ways from that which our God gives! It is so easy to take these things for granted!

Still, God Father, Son and Holy Spirit continues to come to us in this world, in our day, and would fill all things with His grace, mercy and light! Rejoice! Glory to God for all things!