Saturday, November 30, 2013

Regaining our Spiritual Vision During Advent: Orthodox Christian Homily on the Healing of the Blind Beggar (14th Sunday of Luke)

 Ephesians 2:4-10
St. Luke 18:35-43

           If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that there have been times when all that we could do was to ask from the depths of our hearts for God’s mercy.  When we have lost loved ones, when we or our family members have been sick or in danger, or when we have not seen a way out of a very difficult situation, our spiritual vision became focused.  Then we called upon the Lord for help, not as a reward for our merits, but because He alone is our salvation and our hope.  
As we continue preparing to celebrate the Nativity of Jesus Christ at Christmas, we are reminded by today’s gospel text of how we all stand before Him:  blind, weak, and in need of blessing beyond our own power or ability.  For our Lord was not born as a reward for humanity’s good behavior, but purely out of the divine love and mercy for human beings, and the rest of creation, deformed and suffering from our sins.   
That is why St. Paul taught that we are saved by grace through faith “and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, lest anyone should boast.” The blind beggar performed no good work that earned the Savior’s mercy.  Instead, he simply called out persistently, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” as the Lord passed by.  Even though others told the man to be quiet and not to cause a scene, he continued to plead for healing.  He succeeded in getting the Savior’s attention, and He asked the beggar only a simple question:  “What do you want me to do for you?”  The blind man responded, “Lord, that I may receive my sight.”  Christ said, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.”  Immediately he could see again and began to follow the Lord and to glorify God.
One of the reasons that we practice intensified prayer, fasting, and almsgiving during Advent is to become more like that blind beggar, for we want to long from the depths of our being for our spiritual eyes to be opened by the healing presence of Jesus Christ.  We want our vision to be focused.  It is hard to cultivate that attitude, however, in such a busy time of year, when we are often surrounded by rich food and a cultural obsession with spending money.  So much in the media tells us that the season is about simply indulging ourselves in whatever we want.  Unless we are careful, we can easily be so distracted by our decadent culture that we will not even notice our spiritual blindness, much less want to be healed from it.  Like too many today, we will forget that Christmas is fundamentally about Jesus Christ and not about money, pleasure, or good times with our friends and family. Yes, we will celebrate Christmas as a season that begins on December 25 and leads to Epiphany, but unless we prepare by spiritual disciplines in these weeks of Advent to welcome the Incarnate Son of God into our lives in a new way at His Nativity, we will not have the spiritual eyes to behold the glory of His birth.   We will risk being blind to the salvation that He came to bring the world.
 Nothing that we could possibly do could ever earn or deserve the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, but we must all do our part if we want to open ourselves to His healing presence, if we want to participate personally in His salvation.  For example, the blind beggar kept crying out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  He did nothing other than to persist in calling for Christ’s help, even when others told him to be quiet.  We do not know about this man’s beliefs concerning the Savior.  As a Jew, he probably thought that Jesus was the kind of messiah expected by his people:  a righteous teacher and leader who would bring God’s blessings upon the Jews, but not the Incarnate Son of God.  Christ does not require an elaborate confession from him, however, but took his persistent cries as evidence of his faith.  That is how the man regained his sight.
 On the one hand, we have great advantages over the blind beggar, because we have already put on Christ in the waters of baptism, been sealed with the Holy Spirit in chrismation, and nourished with the Body and Blood of the Lord in the Eucharist.  We have entered into His Body, the Church, and confessed Him in the words of the Creed. We are able at any moment of the day to show the humble faith of the blind beggar through the words of the Jesus Prayer.  
These advantages, however, may tempt us to laziness, for it is easy simply to take the Lord’s mercy for granted.  Remember that Christ said, “To whom much is given, from him much will be required.”  Our spiritual blindness deepens when we allow our faith to be merely a collection of abstract ideas or beliefs and not personal participation in the Divine Energies such that we become like an iron left in a fire that takes on the heat and light of the fire.  In other words, religious doctrines, practices, and traditions do us no good if we do not grow in holiness through them, if they do not become paths to our partaking of the Divine Nature.  Our souls, bodies, and minds must actually be sanctified by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Our spiritual blindness must be overcome.  Otherwise, we simply judge and condemn ourselves by claiming the spiritual advantages of Orthodox Christians without actually embracing them or being transformed by them.    
The more we participate by grace in the life of the Holy Trinity, however, the more we will develop the deep spiritual insight and focus of that blind beggar.  He was certainly aware that he was blind and could not heal himself.  He had no illusions about where he stood before God or in relation to others.  But when he had his chance, he took it and no one could stop him. He zeroed in on the one thing needful; and then the mercy of the Lord healed him and transformed his life.     I wonder if the same can be said of us?  Given the teachings of our Church and the examples set by so many Saints, we should all be clear on the kind of faith and faithfulness that bring us more fully into the life of Christ.  Orthodox Christianity is not a Gnostic sect with secret teachings for an elect few, but a public witness for the salvation of the world.  As hard as it is to believe, we are all called to become holy.  Christ’s mercy is for you, me, and our neighbors just as much as it was for that blind beggar.
That is why we all need to use the disciplines of this season to help us become more aware of our spiritual blindness so that we will be able to regain our spiritual sight.  In other words, the first step in receiving the Lord’s mercy and growing in holiness is to recognize our sinfulness, as we do in Confession. Prayer, fasting, and generosity to the poor and needy are good teachers of our own spiritual sickness because we usually find them so hard to do and, when we actually do them, we often do them so poorly.  Of course, it is prideful to think that we should be the judges of our spiritual disciplines.  Better to follow this advice from St. Macarius of Optina, “Pray simply.  Do not expect to find in your heart any remarkable gift of prayer.  Consider yourself unworthy of it.  Then you will find peace.  Use the empty cold dryness of your prayer as food for your humility.  Repeat constantly:  I am not worthy:  Lord, I am not worthy!  But say it calmly, without agitation.”

In other words, be like that blind beggar who knew that his only hope was in Jesus Christ.  Refuse to give up in prayer for the Lord’s mercy, as well as in whatever types of fasting and almsgiving you are able to do at this point your life.  Use your weakness in all of these endeavors as food for your humility, and get on with the daily life of faith and faithfulness as the Lord strengthens and focuses your spiritual sight as He sees fit.  Surely, there is no better way to prepare to behold the glory of our Savior when He is born at Christmas.  

Friday, November 29, 2013

New Book Makes Eastern Othodoxy More Understandable

Contributed Photo
McMurry University professor Philip LeMasters’ book, The Forgotten Faith: Ancient Insights for Contemporary Believers from Eastern Christianity,” was published recently by Cascade Books.
Contributed Photo McMurry University professor Philip LeMasters’ book, The Forgotten Faith: Ancient Insights for Contemporary Believers from Eastern Christianity,” was published recently by Cascade Books.
A glance at the table of contents tips readers off that what they are about to read isn’t a stuffy book on the history of Eastern Orthodoxy.
McMurry University religion professor Philip LeMasters, who also is a local Orthodox priest, set out to write a popular book about his religion that would be appealing to those with little or no background in the faith.
With chapter headings such as, “Salvation, Sex, and Food,” and “Football, Liturgical Worship, and Real Life,” he no doubt accomplished his goal.
LeMasters’ book is titled, “The Forgotten Faith: Ancient Insights for Contemporary Believers from Eastern Christianity.” It recently was published by Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers.
During the academic year, LeMasters takes art and religion majors from McMurry, Hardin-Simmons and Abilene Christian universities on tours of his church, St. Luke’s Orthodox, explaining the faith as he goes.
He points out the icons, incense and other features that may be foreign to students at United Methodist, Baptist, and Church of Christ universities.
“The book grows from those talks,” LeMasters said.
But the book isn’t just a transcription of those talks. It contains a section on how LeMasters came into the Orthodox faith after growing up Baptist and attending an Episcopal church. And, LeMasters’ academic background comes through in tracing the faith’s roots and practices. A foreword by Everett Ferguson, a retired professor of church history at ACU, says it best.
“He writes with the fervor of a convert and the balance of a scholar,” Ferguson wrote.
LeMasters said the point of his talks to students and the book is not to make converts but to explain the ancient faith and its practices that may seem odd to outsiders.
LeMasters wears several hats at McMurry. He is a professor or religion and dean of the School of Social Sciences and Religion. He also directs the university’s Honors Program.
Even with all those opportunities, LeMasters said he will resist the temptation to require students to buy his book as a textbook supplement. He didn’t rule out colleagues doing that, however.
“If some of my friends at ACU and Hardin-Simmons want to use it,” he joked, “that would be great.”

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Holiness Instead of Legalism: Homily on the Rich Young Ruler in the Orthodox Church

            Though we may not have appreciated it at the time, many of us are surely thankful to have had people in our lives who set us straight, told it like it was, and challenged us to not to accept mediocrity.  At times, we can all fall into a fool’s paradise of thinking that all is well and we are fine just as we are.  It is so easy to rest on our laurels and sell ourselves short.   
            The rich young ruler who asked Jesus Christ what he had to do in order to find eternal life must have thought that he had already met all God’s requirements.  So when the Lord told him to keep the commandments of the Old Testament, the man said that he had checked them all off, that he had kept them his entire life. This is where the story gets really interesting, for the Lord then gives him a commandment that he could not imagine following:  Sell all that you have, give to the poor, and come follow me.  This fellow was rich and powerful and loved his comfortable lifestyle, so he became very sad and apparently walked away.  The Lord knew how hard it was for people who have it all in this life to enter the kingdom of heaven, for they are tempted strongly to love their possessions and status more than God and neighbor.  Still, as the Lord said His stunned disciples, “the things which are impossible with men are possible with God.”
            What did Christ mean by speaking in this way?  He certainly was not simply adding another law that the Jews had to obey.  Instead, he challenged this man to stop thinking about his relationship with God as a set of requirements which he could master.  Someone who responds to the Old Testament laws by saying, “Oh, I’ve always followed them since I was a child” has a very shallow understanding of what God requires of us.  That would be like someone saying, “I’ve always been a perfectly faithful Christian since childhood.”  Oh, please.  Get real.  We know that is not true of any one of us.
            The spiritual life is never that simple.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ showed us the true meaning of God’s requirements.  He said that we are guilty of murder if we are angry with others, if we hate and insult them.  He taught that we are guilty of adultery if we lust in our hearts.  And if we do not love God with every ounce of our being and our neighbors as ourselves, we have broken the greatest of the commandments.  By these standards, none of us has anything to brag about before God, for we are all the chief of sinners and need God’s mercy and healing in our lives.  
            Christ jolted this man out of his delusion, of his false self-confidence, by giving him a commandment that He knew he could not keep:  giving away all his beloved money, possessions, and power.  Perhaps for the first time, this fellow was challenged to see that eternal life is not something that we can accomplish by our own ability.  If we cannot offer to God that which we love most in this life, then we obviously have not fulfilled all that the Lord expects of us.
            And since Christ came to unite our fallen humanity with divinity and to conquer sin and death, it is pretty clear that even the most law-abiding person still needs the mercy, grace, and love of our Lord in order to inherit eternal life.  By our own power, it is not possible to share in the life of heaven.  That is why St. Paul wrote that he boasted in nothing “except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  With Him, all things are possible.   
            As we continue to prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas, we do well to remember that this great feast is not about the birth of a mere teacher, law-giver, or example.  Were our Lord simply another prophet with a strict teaching, we would not rejoice at His coming.  Instead, we would—like the rich young ruler—become sad and dejected, for the last thing we need is another law to fail to obey and make us feel guilty.
The eternal Son of God was not born at Christmas to add to the burden of the law or to give us the impression that all will be well if we obey a new set of teachings.  To the contrary, He became a human being to do what a mere law never could, to bring us into His holiness, to make us partakers of the divine nature, to heal and fulfill our fallen, corrupt humanity, to make it possible for us mortals to put on immortality.
            The Lord’s shocking statement about giving everything away challenged the rich young ruler to stop thinking of his life before God in legalistic terms.  Likewise, we should use prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and other spiritual disciplines of   the Nativity Fast, of Advent, to be shocked out of our conventional and shallow assumptions about what it means to share in the eternal life of the Holy Trinity.  For Christ was not born to bring us what the world calls success. Neither did He come to make us strict legalists who think that holiness can be reduced to a list of “do’s” and “don’ts.”  And He certainly did not put on flesh in order to make His followers the self-righteous judges of others. 
            The eternal Son of God became one of us for completely different reasons.  Out of unfathomable love, He wanted to make possible for us to do what is impossible by our own power.   We may take pride in what we accomplish, but which of us can claim credit for the Incarnation?  There is no earthly prestige in a Virgin Mother giving birth in a cave to a baby who whose cradle was a manger, a feeding trough for animals.  The rich young rulers of the world cannot understand a Messiah whose human life begins in such lowly circumstances and ended on a cross.  Jesus Christ’s birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension are not simple human accomplishments or rewards, but truly miraculous manifestations of God’s eternal life in our world of sin, death, and corruption.  As St. Paul said, “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails for anything, but a new creation.”  
             A religion that simply provides more laws to obey could never make us a new creation:  a new, holy people who love and serve God and neighbor with every ounce of our being.   Laws simply make things worse by giving us more opportunities to judge ourselves and others.  It is often when we are ashamed of not measuring up that we are most likely to shift our attention to putting down other people in order to make ourselves feel better.  Whenever we do that, we become like the Pharisees who rejected our Lord.
            The God-Man Jesus Christ operates in a completely different way, of course, making it possible for everyone, no matter their struggles or failures or social standing, to find true peace through faith, humility, and growth in holiness--In other words, through our ongoing acceptance of His mercy and healing in our lives.    
            We prepare to receive Christ at Christmas by opening our hearts and souls to His salvation—not by mastering laws—but by true repentance.  Both in our private prayers and in the sacrament of Confession which we should all take during Advent, we repent by honestly confessing our sins and asking for the Lord’s mercy, even as we resolve to make a new beginning in the Christian life.  Yes, we must cooperate with our Lord’s mercy and grace by doing what we can to live faithfully.  But even the best life does not somehow deserve heaven.  In fact, the more we grow in holiness, the more we will begin to see clearly the gravity of our sins and how far we are from the full stature of Christ.  The closer we grow to Him, the less we will think of salvation as a reward for good behavior according to a legal standard.      
            So let this Advent be marked for each of us by humility, repentance, and spiritual disciplines, not as punishment because we have broken a law, but because we all have room to grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ.  Our hearts and souls are not worthy of Him.  We do not serve Him in every poor and suffering person.  We do not seek first His kingdom and righteousness.   We are not perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect.  But unlike the rich young ruler, we must not give up and walk away in despair. Instead, we should say, “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” as we press forward in the Christian life as best we can. For what is impossible with men is possible with the Incarnation of the God-Man Jesus Christ.  He is not a law, but our Savior.    

Friday, November 22, 2013


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The Forgotten Faith: Ancient Insights for Contemporary Believers from Eastern Christianity [Kindle Edition]

Philip LeMasters Everett Ferguson 

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Book Description

 November 7, 2013
There's more to Eastern Christianity than ethnic food bazaars, enclaves of immigrants, and clergy with beards. The mystical theology, spiritual disciplines, and rich liturgical worship of the Orthodox Church provide sustenance for anyone seeking resources for growth in the Christian life. Ancient teachings and practices persist in Eastern Christianity that hold together much of what Catholics and Protestants have separated. Believers of all stripes increasingly resonate with Orthodoxy's healthy synthesis of prayer, doctrine, liturgy, asceticism, and call to holiness in all areas of life. This ancient faith speaks with refreshing clarity to contemporary Christians who want to learn from a living tradition that is too little known in Western culture. This volume presents profound insights that will enrich, challenge, and inspire readers of all backgrounds. It invites everyone to encounter a spiritual tradition that is ancient, contemporary, and fascinatingly different.

"If you ever wondered what Christianity looked like in its early centuries and still looks like in the Orthodox Church of the twenty-first century, it would be hard to find a better starting point than Philip LeMasters' The Forgotten Faith."
--Jim Forest, author of Praying with Icons

"Drawing on his conversion to Orthodoxy, LeMasters introduces the mysteries that make Orthodoxy what it is with a gentle clarity befitting the great church. For anyone wanting to learn about the Orthodox faith there is no better place to begin than with The Forgotten Faith."
--Stanley Hauerwas, Professor of Theological Studies, Duke University

"Gracefully and without apology, LeMasters combines autobiography with evangelism in his review of ancient Orthodox teachings and their contemporary belonging. To say that this is popular and not serious theology does injustice to a narrative that is both scholarly and accessible. Buy it, read it, and give it to someone curious about Orthodoxy as an alternative in American Christianity."
--Harmon L. Smith, Emeritus Professor of Moral Theology, Duke University

"LeMasters knows both his subject and his readers intimately; yet there is not a hint of condescension. Written from heart to heart, there is a wonderful combination of telling anecdote and insightful commentary. The outcome is a book worthy of both prayerful pondering and critical appreciation."
--William J. Abraham, Professor of Wesley Studies, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University

"This fine primer on the moral and spiritual life is no venture in ecumenical neutrality. Simply, clearly, personally, but never polemically, LeMasters lays out the basic doctrines and practices of the Orthodox East. Thus does he demonstrate why, especially here in the West, it should not become a forgotten [form] but a vital form of Christian faith."
--Ralph C. Wood, Professor of Theology and Literature, Baylor University

Philip LeMasters is Dean of the School of Social Sciences and Religion at McMurry University and the Corporate Secretary of the Board of Trustees of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary. A priest of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, he is the author of Toward a Eucharistic Vision of Church, Family, Marriage, and Sex (2004) and The Goodness of God's Creation: How to Live as an Orthodox Christian (2008).

Product Details

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  • Publisher: Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers (November 7, 2013)
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  • Language: English
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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Parable of the Rich Fool in Contrast to the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple: Homily for the First Sunday of Advent in the Orthodox Church (2013)

               Visiting New York City always makes me wonder how people who are not fabulously wealthy can actually live there.  Everything seems very expensive and just getting around must be complicated and stressful with so many people in such a relatively small area.  In such a setting, I imagine that it is easy to be so focused on daily practical matters that deeper spiritual concerns get ignored, for people have only so much time and energy.  Of course, the same is true in Abilene or even out in the country.  We can so easily turn our attention away from God by fixating on the daily grind, no matter where we live.
            As we begin this season of Advent, of the Nativity Fast that prepares us to welcome Christ at Christmas, we all need to be on guard against being so distracted by worldly cares that we fail to  prepare ourselves to become living temples of the Lord when we receive the good news of the Incarnation. Later this week, we commemorate the most powerful example of what it means to welcome the Savior into our lives when we celebrate the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple.  The elderly Joachim and Anna had miraculously conceived a child in old age as answer to their prayers.  They dedicated her to God and took her to live in the Temple at the age of three.  The Virgin Mary’s life was not focused on laying up treasures for herself, indulging in passing pleasures, or otherwise being distracted. Instead, she chose the one thing needful:  hearing and obeying the word of God.  Indeed, she accepted personally into her own life in a totally unique way the Incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ.  And through her pure obedience, the Savior has come to us all.  
            The Theotokos is certainly entirely different from the rich fool in today’s gospel lesson.  His life revolved around his wealth, around his business; and when he had acquired enough to meet his needs, he was ready to eat, drink, and be merry.  His life was totally dedicated to money and pleasure; that was all he cared about.  And when his soul was required of him, he had nothing of eternal significance, for he apparently loved neither God nor his neighbors.
            We must remember that the Lord did not create us in the divine image and likeness for a life dominated by worldly ambition or unrestrained self-indulgence; instead, He wants us to become ever more like Him in holiness.  But if we refuse to do that and try to find peace in worldly accomplishments and satisfying every self-centered inclination, we will become less than human.  We will become slaves to our desires and pleasures, which soon become addictions, and which will soon make us miserable and separate us even from those we love most in this life.  How easy it is for people to gain the whole world and lose their souls.  
            Of course, money, food, drink, comfort, wealth, relationships, and other blessings have their place in life, but they are not to become what life is about.  If we make them false gods, we will destroy ourselves and lose them also because only God is God.  No part of creation finds peace or fulfillment unless it is offered to Him for blessing in accordance with His purposes for it.  And that includes you and me.  There is no path to the richness of the Kingdom apart from obedience.  At the end of the day, our choice is clear and stark:  either to serve ourselves or our Lord.  The rich fool made one choice, while the Theotokos made another.
            We follow the Virgin Mary’s example not only when fast, pray, and give generously to the needy in the weeks leading up to Christmas, but also when we are on guard for even the most subtle temptations to place the world before God.  For example, even those who devote their lives to the service of others for little money and social standing can make a false god out of their work.  We can do the same thing even with our families or our devotion to worthwhile projects or activities of any kind.  Especially dangerous is the common temptation to use God for worldly power, as if Christ were somehow useful to us in getting what we want and putting down others.  We all need to be very careful not make God in own image, for that is simply idolatry as much as would be worshiping a golden calf.    
            If we want to enter into the Temple with the Theotokos, if we wish to follow her example in becoming a living temple of the Lord, we must be very careful not to confuse even the best things of this life with the Lord Himself.  The problem is not with our many blessings, but with us.  We do not yet have the spiritual strength to discern perfectly how to offer the world to God, how to play our role in sanctifying every dimension of who we are and what we do. 
            Unfortunately, none of can say with the perfect spiritual clarity of St. Paul that “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me…”  St. Paul reminded the Galatians that observance of the Jewish law did not make them right with God, for it is only by faith in our Savior’s victory over sin and death that we participate fully in the joy of His resurrection.  We must die to sin and corruption in all the forms that they take in our lives.  We must become our true selves by living a life of participation in the divine nature such that His life is present and active through ours.  
            That is precisely why we need fasting periods like Advent. If you are like me, it is usually more appealing to stay in the same old sinful ruts than to take the challenging path to holiness.   Like the rich fool, we would prefer to rest content right where we are on our own terms.  The problem, of course, is that “eat, drink, and be merry” is not good advice for how to grow in faithfulness to Jesus Christ or to welcome Him more fully into our lives.  Just taking it easy usually does not clarify our spiritual vision or increase our strength to turn away from habitual sins that have become second nature to us.  No, we need to wake up.  We need to enter into the temple of God’s holiness in a new way in the coming weeks by giving less time and energy to our usual distractions and more to the things of God.   We need to participate more fully in the peace of the Kingdom by taking active steps to fight our passions and reject ways of acting, speaking, and thinking that simply lead us further into our delusions.   We need to do our best to mend our broken relationships with others, asking for and granting forgiveness to those with whom we have become estranged.
            Unfortunately, our world and society are filled with people who embrace the darkness in one way or the other.  Too often, you and I are among them.  It is so easy to be shaped by what is popular, easy, and convenient in our culture.  It is so appealing to be lulled into a spiritual and moral slumber by everything from entertainment to our family responsibilities, from our work to our hobbies to our health.  Even if we have no money at all, we may follow the rich fool into eternal despair by making the measure of our lives something other than the Lord and His Kingdom.  Anything that distracts us from attending to the most fundamental questions of loving God and neighbor is potentially dangerous and may become a road block to our participation in the life of our Lord, both now and for eternity.

            So it is time to come to our senses and follow the Mother of God into eternal joy.  We will do that in the coming weeks by rejecting the lies that we have let take root in our souls about what is most important in life.  Turning away from worldly obsessions and distractions, let us turn to Christ as we prepare to receive Him at Christmas.  The peace that He brought to the world is available to us, if we will only receive Him as His mother did in purity and obedience.  Now is the time to follow the Theotokos into the Temple as we get ready to become living temples of the Lord when the incarnate Son of God becomes one of us at His Nativity.  For He alone is our peace, our hope, and our joy.  It is time to get ready for Him and to turn away from everything in our lives that is not holy, pure, and blessed.     

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Introducing Eastern Orthodox Christianity to a Contemporary Audience

The Forgotten Faith
Retail Price: $19.00
Web Price: $15.20
ISBN 13: 978-1-62032-867-5
Pages: 164
Binding: Paperback
Publication Date: 11/08/2003
Street Date: 11/08/2013
Division: Cascade Books
Category: Theology
The Forgotten Faith
Ancient Insights for Contemporary Believers from Eastern Christianity 
By Philip LeMasters

 Book Description
There's more to Eastern Christianity than ethnic food bazaars, enclaves of immigrants, and clergy with beards. The mystical theology, spiritual disciplines, and rich liturgical worship of the Orthodox Church provide sustenance for anyone seeking resources for growth in the Christian life. Ancient teachings and practices persist in Eastern Christianity that hold together much of what Catholics and Protestants have separated. Believers of all stripes increasingly resonate with Orthodoxy's healthy synthesis of prayer, doctrine, liturgy, asceticism, and call to holiness in all areas of life. This ancient faith speaks with refreshing clarity to contemporary Christians who want to learn from a living tradition that is too little known in Western culture. This volume presents profound insights that will enrich, challenge, and inspire readers of all backgrounds. It invites everyone to encounter a spiritual tradition that is ancient, contemporary, and fascinatingly different.
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Saturday, November 2, 2013

Orthodox Homily on the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus with Insights from C.S. Lewis

            Most of us have heard of C. S. Lewis, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia and one of the most creative and insightful Christian authors of the twentieth century.  In one of Lewis’s books, The Great Divorce, he describes a fictional visit to heaven by the souls of various people from hell.  They then have the opportunity to turn away from the sins that led them to hell in the first place.  Not all take advantage of this second chance, however, because some were shaped to the core of their being by ways of thinking and acting that turned them away from God, other people, and their own true selves. Their damnation was not the result of an arbitrary judgment; instead, it was a reflection of the reality of who they had become by their own choices.
            The rich man in today’s gospel text reminds me of those poor souls in The Great Divorce, for his habit of indulging himself and totally disregarding a miserable beggar on his door step shaped him so decisively. He wore only outrageously expensive clothes and had a great feast every day.  He must have known about the poor beggar Lazarus.  He probably stepped over or around him every time he went in or out of his house.   Here was a desperately poor man, lying on the ground, whose only comfort was the stray dogs who would lick his open sores.  All that Lazarus wanted were the crumbs that fell from the man’s table, you might say his garbage. But the rich man was so greedy and thoughtless that he apparently denied him even that.   Our Lord is quite clear about what such a life does to human beings. This man showed no mercy; compassion and love had no place in his life.  Consequently, he cut himself off from the mercy, compassion, and love of God.
            His eternal suffering shows the reality of what it means to refuse to respond to our calling to live as those created in God’s image and likeness.  This man would not be like God in any way.  He showed what he thought of God by treating his neighbor, surely one of “the least of these” who also bore the divine image and likeness, literally like trash.  And when he called for mercy from Father Abraham, he made no confession and did no repentance.  He cared only for himself and his brothers, and obviously had no concern for obeying Moses and prophets who had made clear the obligation of the Jews to care for the poor. Like the sick souls described in The Great Divorce, this man would surely run in terror from the presence of an infinitely righteous God.  As Lewis suggested, perhaps we may think of the gates of hell as being locked on the inside.
            As we say in the prayers of the Church, we will all need mercy before the judgment seat of Christ.  We err, however, if we think of the Lord’s mercy as being available only in some arbitrary way at some point in eternity.  For we encounter Him every day in our neighbors, especially the poor, wretched, and inconvenient:  the widow, the orphan, and the stranger.  We participate in His mercy by showing mercy to them.  The rich man in the parable shaped himself decisively in unholy ways by his behavior; in contrast, we may shape ourselves decisively in holy ways by our behavior.  We never earn God’s mercy, but we will ultimately make offerings of our lives to God or to something else.  We will either worship and serve Him or ourselves.  Perhaps the Lord’s eternal judgment will be more a confirmation of who we have become than a shocking decree from out of the blue.
            God knows our hearts and we can hide nothing from Him, either today or at any point in the future.  Our faith as Orthodox Christians goes to the heart, to the depths of who we are, but also reminds us that we are always in relationship with other people who are also the children of God.  We encounter Him in them.  Who we are in relation to Jesus Christ is shown each day of our lives in how we treat others, especially those who need our help, attention, and friendship, as well as our enemies.  A Christianity that ignores “the least of these” is not worthy of the name.  Every human being is created in the image and likeness of God.  We bring judgment upon ourselves whenever we treat our neighbors, no matter who they are or how they have offended us, in ways that do not manifest the divine love and compassion.
            No, the point is not that the rich will be damned and the poor will be saved.  Instead, it is that there are strong and deep temptations associated with focusing on ourselves, especially our wealth, possessions, and success in this world. For if we love ourselves, our pleasures, and our status more than God and neighbor, no matter how much or little we have, we have already shut ourselves out of the kingdom.  The name Lazarus means “One who has been helped,” and those whose miserable life circumstances do not encourage them to trust in money, power, or success are in a good position to learn that their help is in the Lord, in His mercy and love.
            The rich man never learned that lesson, however.  Quite different from this selfish man are the saints we commemorated on Friday, the Holy Unmercenary Healers Cosmas and Damian.  They used the money they inherited from their parents to provide medical care without charge to the sick and needy.  God worked many miracles through them, for they became channels of the Lord’s mercy and love to those with whom the Lord identified Himself:  the sick, the weak, the stranger, “the least of these my brethren.” 
            St. Paul’s famous words about love to 1 Corinthians 13 were lived out by these great saints.  We remember them precisely because of their love.  The Lord said that the greatest commandments are to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength and our neighbors as ourselves.  And what greater sign of love is there than patiently and selflessly to ease the pain of others, to lighten their burdens, to heal their bodies, and restore them to health.  No, these men did not take credit for their work or think that they healed by their own power.   Instead, their lives were transformed by the healing energies of the Holy Spirit; thereby they became channels of God’s mercy to suffering, desperate people.
            Saints Cosmas and Damian were completely different from the rich man who disregarded Lazarus.  They would have provided him their best care free of charge and done everything possible to nurse him back to health.  Their selfless love for Lazarus would have been an icon of the Kingdom of God in which those who wait humbly upon the Lord will not be disappointed.  No wonder they are great saints of the Church.  
            But we have to go beyond merely praising the memory of Sts. Cosmas and Damian.  We must venerate them not only with our words, but also with our deeds; namely, by following in their footsteps for the Lazaruses of our world and of our lives.  No, we are not all called to become physicians or to give everything away to the poor; we ourselves may face illness and need.  Nonetheless, we are all called to live out the selfless love that Jesus Christ has brought to the world, the love that is patient and kind and free of envy; that rejoices in the truth and endures all things for the salvation of the world.  That kind of love never fails, for it has already conquered death through our Lord’s crucifixion and glorious resurrection.

            Such love is not a feeling, an emotion, or a sentiment.  It is a commitment, a sacrifice, and an offering of ourselves to God in the service of the living icons of Christ whom we encounter every day, namely every human being with whom we come in contact.  So let us be Christians not merely in name, but also in how we live, even when it is inconvenient.  Then we will be shaped decisively by the same divine mercy that we ask for ourselves and we will participate already in the eternal joy that Jesus Christ has brought to the world.