Thursday, November 29, 2012

Life or Death?

Once, a monk asked St Macarius of Egypt how one could be saved. He instructed the monk to go to the graves and curse the dead buried there. The monk went and cursed and stoned the dead's graves. St. Macarius then asked him, "Did they answer you back?" The monk answered "no." He told the monk, "Go tomorrow and praise the dead instead." Again the monk went and highly praised the dead. St. Macarius again asked the monk if they answered him back, he replied "no." Then St Macarius told him, "If you have really died with Christ and were buried with Him, be like those dead people, because curses or praises do not affect the dead. This is how you can be saved."

Sound kinda weird, huh? A few friends of mine were having a discussion about monasticism the other day, and whether the same 'rules' apply to us who are not called to that life. It was interesting to see where each person was coming from. I didn't know where I stood exactly. I'm more of a people-person, I like social gatherings, and FIFA '13 of course - so I thought "No way!" Then I started to think about it a little more, and two major things hit me that made me realize we MUST have in common with the monastic life.

First, the basic rules of monasticism are - poverty, chastity, and obedience. Are these rules that can only be followed by isolating myself in the middle of the desert? Of course not. There are many ways we can practice this in our every day lives. From not being money-obsessed and lust-driven to listening to our parents. The list goes on and on.

Secondly, going back to the story of St Macarius, there is much we can take away from 'being like those dead people'. There is a great mystery we can learn from death, particularly the death of Jesus. Wanna know what it is?... LIFE. There it is - mysteriously hidden in the tombs..LIFE. Not to say we have to die to the world just as they did and leave it, but we have to 'die' to it in a sense where we can really experience life. If we become so tied down to what is here where "moth and rust destroy" Matthew 6:19, then we can hardly see what all the hype is about.

Fr Thomas Hopko always says that, "Orthodoxy in its fullness is evident when we fully live life". Who said its boring? Who said its for when we get old? Who said its not for the young college kid tryin' to have fun? If we have no sense of our humanity, the parts we want fully alive and the parts we have to put to 'death', then we will never have a sense of God's divinity.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Is that your final answer?

Today was one of those days. Actually, its been like this the past few days.  If you're from the Northeast region of the United States, you know what I'm talking about.

You know when you wake up in the morning, look outside your window to see how the weather is - you see a little bit of frost on your car, slight wind, remember that its September - you tell yourself its going to be a cold day. So what do you do? You wear a sweater, or a light jacket, bring an umbrella, and head off to work or school. You go through your morning, and when you step out for lunch, its 85 degrees all of a sudden, and you are sweating in your winter clothes! I dont know about you guys, but that always annoyed me! Just like that guy you see walking around campus - every university has one, when its snowing outside and you have a hat and gloves on, and that kid.. that annoying kid who wears shorts no matter what! He didn't do anything to me personally, but I just get so annoyed with him!

Every time the weather gets like that, one thing comes to my mind - me letting down Jesus. Why? "O Ephraim, what shall I do to you? O Judah, what shall I do to you? For your faithfulness is like a morning cloud, and like the early dew it goes away." Hosea 6:4b. This verse hits home for me. Usually I put in my name in the verse to really take something from it. Imagine God telling me "Sam, what shall I do to you?.." Its a little more meaningful, no? It is as if God is sighing and is like that parent who after several times we've messed up, doesn't know what else to do.

Along the same lines as my last post, this topic has been on my mind lately. Am I in or am I out - I just need to make a decision. No more of "I'm in!" followed by actions opposing that idea. God took a firm stand for us, and we should do the same for him. There are many, many temptations out there - but we need to put one thing in front of us only, so we can see everything else through it - Jesus giving up His life for us.

On giving commentary on the book of Ephesians, St John Chrysostom says "this being His will, we are the object of His earnest wish". Christ set His eyes on the prize, which was us. Everything He did and said was for us - everything! Can we say the same for Him?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

To be or not to be?

"I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day" E.B. White

One of my good friends and I were talking about different ways to serve those around us, and she said this quote above. Once I read it, BAM! It just sunk in really quick, and made things so clear.

Normally, we like things to be in the gray area. We don't like the "If you're not with us you're against us" mentality.  We like to play both sides of the spectrum at times, and we think it helps us out in the long run - but we are only hurting ourselves! Speaking from personal experience, learn from my mistakes, please! I used to 'enjoy the world' and then try to 'improve' it - thinking I'm cancelling out the stuff I did wrong, and boy was that a wrong mentality! I managed to get myself into thinking that it was true, imagine that? A conscience that I forced to give in to the checks and balances idea, and more harmfully, got me thinking God was like that too. "Let me just do more good than bad, and I'll be alright" - WRONG!

Many of us heard the verse from the book of Revelation about being lukewarm, here is it from the Message translation to give a little different perspective, "I know you inside and out, and find little to my liking. You're not cold, you're not hot - far better to be either cold or hot! You're stale. You're stagnant. You make me want to vomit." Rev 3:15. Sounds a bit harsh right? We need to hear this sometimes because we get into the trap of telling ourselves something to ease our consciences and in the long run end up confused when we find ourselves in a ditch.

We need to realize this, and make a clear cut decision. Are we going to improve the world, or enjoy it? We CANNOT do both, plain and simple. Make up as many excuses as we want, and they will be just that - excuses. I will be the first to publicly admit my fault in this, and I need to keep reminding myself of this quote to make it a reality. We need to be a little harder on ourselves and tell ourselves "if we are not with God, we are against Him" - while always keeping in mind but not taking advantage of the fact that we see God's love for us when He says "For he who is not against us, is on our side" Mark 9:40

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Is Orthodoxy too old?

"There exists today the transformation of the fathers into 'authorities' simply to be quoted for a formal justification of ideas, affirmations, and even 'theologies' whose roots and presuppositions may have very little, if anything, to do with the Orthodox faith. There exists today manuals of Orthodox systematic theology with Patristic references and quotations on virtually every page and which, in spite of this, contain the most 'western' and 'scholastic' type of theology I can think of." - Alexander Schmemann

Wow.. that's a bit rough, huh? This quote jumped out at me in a book I'm reading now called Church World Mission by Alexander Schmemann. The main idea behind this book is to answer the question he poses, "What is the destiny of the Orthodox Church in this second half of the twentieth century, in a world and culture radically different from those that shaped the Orthodox mentality, thought-forms, and lifestyles of the past?" I think that many of us today are quickly resorting to the "oh but that's so old" excuse.  Whether it be Tradition of how things are done, rites in the Church, keeping fasting and prayer times, etc. There are so many things that this generation can point out and quickly discredit, that people in the past have dedicated their lives to protecting, and dying for it - isn't that wrong?

I find myself feeling saddened and encouraged at the same time. Saddened, by people feeling that they are disconnected from the Orthodox faith because of its ancientness - and encouraged to find people believing the exact opposite. Some may think that Orthodoxy cannot be applied to this era because of how old it is, but on the contrary, BECAUSE of how old it is, it SHOULD most definitely be more apparent now - because it gives us a more clear authentic view on who God is, and who the Church is.

The reason for the initial quote above, is because I feel many of us today have a skewed view on Orthodoxy. There are two sides to this problem, I feel. First, sadly disregarding so quickly thoughts and beliefs and Traditions from the past, for the sole reason of its age. Secondly, those who like Fr Schmemann stated, think Orthodoxy is a bunch of quotations from people before us. You will hear it and have probably heard it a million times, Orthodoxy is a way of life - not for us to hide behind quotes or knowledge or books (those are there for us to know and have a better understanding of many things in the past that the church fathers were enlightened and wrote down for us) but to actually live in this way of clarity of who God is and the Church and the Sacraments - and the best way is continual study of books written by these great people before us known as church fathers.

Don't be fooled by the quick fixes and emotional spikes the world may offer - this can lead to our relationship with God in sync with our emotions, up when things are good and down when things are bad. Rather, like St  John of Kronstadt says - Orthodoxy is like a garden that we cultivate and work at and water and see the beautiful pasture and fruits that it will bring.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

    I love watching remakes of old movies! I got to see Snow White and the Huntsman this past week with my brother and cousins. The cool part is when they look at the story from a different angle, or another character’s perspective. Of course there is always a little love story in there, but what really stood out to me was the Queen. I’m not evil or siding with her, but she interested me the most. 
     We've all heard the famous quote from the movie that says “Mirror Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?” – The Queen only wants to hear one answer "You, my Queen, are fairest of all". If she'd ever hear anything else, it wouldn't be a happy day - like when she found out that Snow White was 'fairer' than her. 
     I do this ALL the time... well, I don't quite talk directly to my mirror, but you know what I mean =). We just hate to hear the reality of things nowadays. Whether it be a loved one in a rough situation, or a truth about someone that we just don't want to believe - but I want to focus more on ourselves. I heard a great quote that said "Irresponsibility is the hardest thing to see in the mirror". I had to think about this one for a while, and it's very very true. People can come down on themselves and say things like 'I need to work harder at this' or 'I keep procrastinating, but I'll get it done', but we seldom tell ourselves, 'I know what it is, I'm just irresponsible".  Now, if you know me, I wasn't the most responsible person just some years ago (some will argue that I still am not, and Dad - I can hear you in the back of my head right now!) 
     There just comes a point in our lives where we have to realize what we do affects the people around us. Unless we live in a cave and interact with absolutely nobody, everything we do has somewhat an effect on those around us - our irresponsibility usually becomes another's responsibility. I tried to find who to point the finger at, but it always ended up being directed back to me. I learned this the hard way throughout college, and am still learning throughout the workforce. 
     Buoyancy - remember that word from physics? I heard a great analogy of a biblical principle that can be seen easily here. St Paul says in Galatians 6:7 ".. a man reaps what he sows". I don't need to be all-knowing to understand that if I don't study for an exam, that I probably won't do that well, or if I smoke cigarettes that it can cause damage to my body. If bad things come across our lives, we usually look up to God right away and blame Him, or better yet - question Him. Why does God do this or allow me to lose my job - He probably hates me. On the contrary, its because He LOVES us so much, that He gave us this principle beforehand so we can abide by it! Now what does this have to do with buoyancy? That's the principle in physics that determines whether something will float or sink. Some things in our life either sink, or they float - we don't necessarily have to correlate them to bad and good, but it's just a principle. Just like when people build boats and ships, they have to abide by that rule. God isn't sitting up in heaven and pointing saying "you can float, you sink, sink sink, float, etc" It is just a principle - if the builder adheres to it, it will float every time. Sometimes we need to just take responsibility for certain things and quit playing the blame game with God.
     The last thing I just want to touch on is something that we may not have thought as a responsibility, but is very essential as a Christian - and that is sharing the Good News with others. Understood, some people are meant to be in the spotlight on stage, some hold the lights, some do the backstage work - but that does not excuse any of them from having the same goal, which is to be a part of sharing a great show. St John Chrysostom says, "Each one is responsible for the salvation of his neighbor" If we look at it like our salvation depends on the salvation of others, then it is our full responsibility as sons and daughters of Christ, to share Him with everyone we encounter. After all, who would enjoy a wedding feast if they were all alone?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Making your misery your ministry

Have you ever watched those infomercials late at night that seem so genius, and applicable to the problems you have? Whether it be weight loss pills, a new blender, the SHAM-WOW!, or a snuggie - to me (and I know many will disagree, especially about the snuggie) its great advertising! Seriously, they get a Vanna White-esque person to tell you about a new pen with a voice recorder and a camera... and you buy it! (Because for some reason that night, you think you work undercover in the CIA). In the end, they all end up in a drawer somewhere.

I can't fall for those anymore - they never seem to do what they tell you they are for! To us, it is one of those "Man, I've been saying we should come out with one of those for the past ten years!" And the reason we are dissatisfied at the end, is that on the outside, it looks like something its not - yet we are so convinced that it is.

Sadly, no matter how much we try - we fall for things like this every single day on the other side of the spectrum. We see a fight in a marriage, a lost job, a sickness, a rape, a death of a loved one, as the worst things in the world. Rightly so, they can be the worst things in the world. Do you think God settles for the worst things to happen to us? Or more accurately, would God just leave us to our misery when we need Him the most? One of the many reasons I love God - is that no matter of a bad situation, or good situation, He can make the best out of anything. We hear Joseph telling his brothers "What you meant for evil, God intended for good." Gen 50:20. Did God want him to get thrown into a pit, sold, imprisoned, etc? Maybe or maybe not, but what we do know is that no matter what situation Joseph was in, God tried to make the best out of it.

People reciprocate better when they know how they are viewed. The same way we see something on TV and buy it, and it comes in ten times smaller than it actually is, is the same way we see a lay-off from a job as a financial chaos, while God sees it as an opportunity to work. If we understand how God looks at situations rather than how we look at it, our perspective on life will completely change. Two things I heard that I wont forget - "Turn your prison into a pulpit" and "Make your misery your ministry". If we see that God can make good out of us, we wont be throwing any more pity parties and then wonder why God isn't doing anything.

I PROMISE you that if we get this point, then our relationship with God will go to a new level. A priest told me once that I should desire to go from LOVE to LIKE. You know how if a guy or a girl has a crush on each other, in the beginning stages when you like them, and they like you, but you didn't formally tell each other yet - but you both kinda know anyway - there is always a little more thrill to that than seeing 40 years of marriage 'in love' and just going through the motions. The 'liking' stage can seem more lively than the 'loving' stage. I think its for this exact reason, St John reminds us that we have left our first love - losing our excitement or zeal. Sometimes we need to go 'backwards' to go forwards. Why else would God tell us that if we want to go to heaven we must go back to being like a child?

Finally, I read a great quote that if you think about, will get us to change our perspective and start seeing things for what they actually are.

"One day we will be old enough to read fairy tales again" C.S. Lewis

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Holy Spirit is here!! - now what?

“The Saviour and the Comforter, two Persons of the Godhead: the One ever saves from sins, and the Other comforts him who is saved. Their very names are taken from their deeds, and are always actually justified. He comforts! The Holy Spirit comforts the believing soul, as a mother comforts her child.”
St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ

One of my favorite feasts, Pentecost! Comfort is one of most needed feelings this day and age. We had a great weekend serving in "Pentecost 3000" which you can read more about this week on my friend Mena Mirhom's blog. Anyway - everyone needs comfort in their lives. Whether it be because they lost a job, lost a loved one, going through a rough time, or need some encouragement - comfort is the greatest support. God knew this and for that very reason, sent us the Comforter (Paraclete), as St John of Kronstadt says that after Christ saves us from sin and death, the Holy Spirit comforts him who is saved - (not 'saved in a moment' - rather the Orthodox concept of 'was saved, being saved, and will be saved'). So I am thankful that Christ said "It is good for you that I am going away"-John 16:7

So now that the Holy 50 days are over - now what? We were all on our spiritual high during lent, and even more so in Holy Pascha Week, and celebrated new life with Christ during the Joyous 50 days of Resurrection and we're all kinda back to our normal grind, right? Are we the same person we were on Good Friday? or Resurrection Feast? I'm not - and Christ knew that also. I think that's why He waited almost 2 months and then wanted to send us a reminder.  We read in the 3rd hour of the Agbeya "renew Him within us" - and I think the Church in Her wisdom did it exactly for that. Some of us may have fell off that peak we hit during Holy Week and Resurrection, and we needed to be reminded - and the Holy Spirit did just that.

We need the Holy Spirit to renew our zeal so we see He is just as alive as He was in the book of Acts. Christ says that He wont leave us orphans - and says "because I am alive and you're about to come alive" (John 14:20, MSG). About to come alive! I love that translation. The Holy Spirit is come to make us alive and renewed - which is why St Paul says in Acts 20 (my FAVORITE passage in Acts) Speaking about him being compelled by the Spirit - to be crazy. He says "being led by the Spirit not knowing the things that will happen to me there. except that the Holy Spirit testifies that in every city chains and tribulations await me. But none of these things move me" vs 22-24.

That is the renewed Spirit I'm praying for - to be able to be so confident that the Holy Spirit is with us, comforting us, and on our side. So we can be just as bold as St Paul and not care whether trials or tribulations await us - and go big. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Why I didn't blog on Monday

I love my YouVersion Bible App! It's like that little angel that sits on your shoulder telling you what you should and shouldn't do - in an app! I get to pick a reading plan that's good for me, check off when I'm done - and get reminders when I fall behind!

And that's why I didn't blog on Monday, as I normally do.  I've been very behind on my reading. I'm not talking about just reading to check off a list - but real, sit down, one on one with God, quiet time kinda reading.  You wanna know what the worst part is? The distractions are not big outside issues, they are more 'busybody' type distractions. I think this goes back to the Mary vs Martha discussion.

I just picked up a book a few weeks ago called Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World.  It's a great read so far - (Yes, i'm behind on that as well!). It talks about the misconception many people have with running around and doing services here and there, and also talks about the other side where God doesn't want someone just sitting in their room their whole life praying about things and changes, when we could be the ones doing it!

One of the best things I've heard a great man say before was, "Don't let prayer be a scapegoat". At first, I said to myself "Heathen!!" - then I came to my senses and realized there is much more behind this phrase. We can sit and pray and read and pray and read and fast about things and look for answers, when God is telling us to get up and do it! Bishop Paul of Mission Affairs in Africa said this to a few people - when they were inquiring about going to Africa.  They had the time off, the money, the group, everything - but they said "Lets pray about it". Now don't get me wrong, I'm NOT saying that is wrong - but when that is given as an answer too much, it may appear to be a 'scapegoat' from doing what God is asking us to do, no?

On the other side, serving too much without down-time is not beneficial either. We can be blinded by the fact we are doing so much that we may think we're okay. When all we are doing is forgetting about the inside of the cup.

Balance is very imporant, which is one of the key principles this book talks about.  It was said of St Gregory of Nazianzus that "His ideal of Christian perfection was a balance between action and contemplation. He sought to embody this ideal by alternating between periods of active ministry and solitary, prayerful, scholarly contemplation."

I need to focus on not overloading one side of the scale - do you feel this way as well? Is there one side of the scale that is taking over?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Pentecost - 3000!

Pentecost is supposed to be a big huge deal in the Christian faith, but more often than not, all we see is a longer liturgical service...and that's all. Well, it looks like The Holy Spirit wants to stir things up a bit through connecting the Coptic Orthodox Church all around the world.

What if, in addition to the powerful liturgical re-experiencing of the first Pentecost, we also invite the world around us to meet the God we love and cherish? Crazy things are bound to happen. We might even have some mass conversions on our hands and get a nice case of Pentecost deja vu.

The best thing about this idea is that it seems to have the best of both worlds; the legitimacy and backing of our Fathers, the Clergy (as His Grace Bishop David is fully backing this idea) and also the excitement of a grass roots movement that will be executed by dedicated youth all over the world.

The possibilities are endless here as we band together to make this Pentecost weekend the most special one since the one in the first century. We'll declare with our actions that famous line of the Orthodox Creed "Yes, we believe in the Holy Spirit." We believe in His divine ability to change the world. We believe in His transformational Presence in our lives and hearts. And we believe that He can stir hearts and lead seekers to be able to be able to declare the divinity of Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:3)

Join God in this incredible work! Visit, download the starter kit, and take steps to making it happen in your community! He's been planning this for a very long time...let's join Him. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Community - that's where it all started.

     One week after celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.. how do you feel?! All churched out? Giving yourself the extra notch on your belt from all the food? Yes, I feel a little similar as well :) How should we really feel? The whole pinnacle of our faith is based on this event. St Paul says, "And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins" 1 Cor 15:17.  St Gregory of Nazianzus calls it the "Feast of Feasts". What do you call it? Or better yet, how do you live it?
     A big emphasis I keep trying to focus on is living the true Christian life.  The reason I'm doing so, is to help remind myself of things I need to do and focus on, as well as help my brothers and sisters who are in the same boat.  St Athanasius emphasizes that a spiritual life without a liturgical life is lacking much, and a liturgical life without a spiritual life is just rituals.  They can't be separated, and the Orthodox Church really puts a big emphasis on this in many aspects - liturgical worship, communal prayer, fellowship, and community.  Community is something that seems so easy to have, but if not taken care of, will reveal the opposite of what it should be!
     I am really excited about the new St. Timothy and St. Athanasius Church starting this weekend in Arlington, VA - Fr Anthony Messeh discusses it here. This church, as well as every other, should be a welcoming home for any person.  I'm not talking about the building, I'm talking about the 'Church' that Christ is the head of - yes, us. We must be able to really represent the body of Christ, which He gave for all. My favorite contemplation on the Cross is that Christ was nailed with His arms wide open, just to emphasize the fact that everyone is welcome, unable to pull it closed.
     St Athanasius in one of his Festal Letters that is sent out every Resurrection Feast, says "For this is the marvel of His loving-kindess, that He should gather together in the same place those who are at a distance; and make those who appear to be far off in the body, to be near together in unity of spirit." I love that! We all know the CEO Christians (Christmas Easter only), so did St Athanasius.  That is exactly why he chose this to be part of the message to be delivered on the Feast of Resurrection - to emphasize that community is an essential part of the Feast. It all started when Christ took our flesh to be among us, it all started with community.
     With that being said, let's do something about it. I function well with having deadlines and goals, so maybe it will help a few others, too.  During these Joyous Fifty Days of Resurrection, let's put an emphasis on the Community in our Church (whether it be actual church or yourselves), to make us more welcoming and loving to all, which will in turn create a whole new congregation - and even generation of a place where anyone can look to us and say "I want what they have." - because we have Christ in us. And the best thing about it, is we can give what we've freely received.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Too old for Dr. Seuss?

"UNLESS, someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not." Dr Seuss, The Lorax

So last week, I got a chance to see Dr Seuss' The Lorax.  I am a sucker for these kinds of movies - and I'm not ashamed! Once on a plane ride, I was watching Dr Seuss' Horton hears a who - only to find a 10 year old girl next to me crawling up to tell me she didn't know 'old people' liked Dr Seuss. (I am NOT old!)

The quote that was the foundation of the movie should not be overlooked.  We've all heard a million times that one person can make a difference, and we even tell it to our young ones - but do we believe it? "I'm not gonna vote, one vote won't make a difference." "It won't matter if I attend this youth meeting, or go to this liturgy, or just stay home". Guess what? It matters.

In the course of history we've seen many people leave big impacts, yet we still find it hard to be one of those people, why? History doesn't remember groups of people, but rather the individuals behind certain movements or regimes.  We hear of both good and bad, Ghandi and Hitler, Martin Luther King Jr, Michael Jordan, the list goes on. Also in the Orthodox Church, we have great Saints like St Athanasius and St Cyril who helped shape Christianity for almost every Christian denomination today.  Billy Graham said it best, "Jesus Christ is the only person who walked across time and history." Can you believe that? We hear these great names, and sometimes may forget the ones from a few hundred years ago, but the only name that has resonated through history with such great effect, is that of Jesus.

Can we do the same? Of course we can! St Basil, in Gateway to Paradise, writes "He heals the sick and revives the dead.. if He finds a tax-collector He makes a disciple; if He meets a fisherman He produces a theologian; if He find a persecutor He makes an apostle who can spread the faith.  Through the working of the Spirit, the weak can escape the strong, the poor become rich and the ignorant surpass the wise."

That's what I love about God, He takes what we think can be worthless and non-contributing (like ourselves) and does crazy things and wonders with it. All He needs is a little sign of approval from our part to be willing to allow Him in. Do you ever feel a burden inside you towards a certain group that needs help, or a cause, or something? That's God hinting at you to tell you, "Hey, that's where you can make a difference!" All we have to do is recognize it, and allow God to turn us from water into wine... are you willing?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Are you in a pit?

Wow! What a weekend! I had the opportunity to attend the St Mark's Passion Retreat - boy was it great!

The theme was getting out of the pit, for more info, check out Fr Anthony Messeh's blog posts this week.  What a great topic to choose! We've all felt down in the ruts in certain times in our life, when everything just going wrong, and it doesn't seem like there is much hope for us - that nothing will change and that we're stuck in the situation we're in.  Everyone has felt that right?

I experienced something else this weekend when I sat with myself in quiet thinking about the 'pit' I was in and how I was to start getting out.  You wanna know what I found out? That I wasn't in a pit - that was my pit.  I was so stuck in one, that I didn't even realize it anymore! After sitting in quiet time and thinking "Man, these talks are great - God help me out of my pit.. Umm, just let me figure out what it is" Has this ever happened to you?

Sometimes we are so deep in, that we completely forgot what it was like to be outside! That was the situation I was in.  I thought I had everything in control, nothing was majorly wrong in my life, I could handle the small struggles that I was going through, and that I should just focus on helping others get out of their pit - wrong! What was I thinking? After speaking to a few other people, I found that I wasn't alone in this boat.  Many others have so casually 'decorated' their pit and not been able to recognize it from the outside.  "We were created to live in a palace, not a pit," Fr Anthony urged.  I don't want to forget what the palace was like! My pit was that I was in control of everything. My life wasn't in such a mess or anything, that I thought I could handle it on my own - and I think that is worse than any other pit out there.  The moment I thought I didn't need God that much in my life, is the worst feeling in the world.

In Way of the Ascetics by Tito Colliander, he states "To let in fresh air, we have to open a window - achieving hope is no different.. However weighed down and tangled in earthly fetters you might be, it can never be too late. Not without reason is it written that Abraham was 75 when he set forth, and the laborer who comes in the eleventh hour gets the same wages as the one who comes in the first."

Never lose hope! God tells us that the only unforgivable sin is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit - and thinking that we are too 'gone' that the Holy Spirit can't save us any more, is that sin. Are you with me? Most pits we get in, we feel that God has abandoned us. In mine, I had abandoned God - and yet, His love is so great that He will run to us no matter what..

I'll finish off with my favorite quote from this past weekend.  "You are a much better person healed than you are if you had been well"

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Who Are You?

Again, I don't normally write more than once a week, but who's counting?

Who are you? Seems like such a simple question, right? We have a basic answer, but does it change depending who is asking? Yes, St Paul says "to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" 1 Cor 9:22.

This is not the change I'm speaking about.  What St Paul is teaching us to do here is very very important, and may be the only way to share the message of Christ with everyone.  As stated in my earlier post, HH Pope Shenouda had this ''I'm on the same level as you" mentality, but brought with it much wisdom.

So again, I ask, who are you? The answer I fear to hear (that I myself give many times) does sadly depend on who is asking me.  Do I change my morals or standards or beliefs around others? Am I embarrassed of things I normally do behind closed doors? Is my faith, a 'personal' relationship with Jesus that I don't need to share? Am I two completely different people?

The Coptic Synaxarium, a compilation of the commemoration of events, for today was very interesting.  It is a short and nice read.  Basically, St Macarius the great and St Macarius of Alexandria, were exiled to an island by an Arian emperor.  We may not hear it as often now, but it may be a common idea to us - being exiled that is.  It is pretty rough! Imagine being forced out of your home, city, country - and shipped to a foreign land.  These two saints weren't just shipped off to a deserted island or anything, they were sent to an island of idol worshipers.  What would you do? I would probably hide under a rock until I'd be allowed back home. What did they do? They dealt with love to the people and used the power of the Lord to heal a sick person. Later they preached and ended up turning the whole island into believers of Jesus! How awesome is that?!

Two things I take away from this. First, being true to my beliefs and faith, no matter what.  Second, like Christ does with us, they made the best out of the situation they were in.  They didn't pout or cry or give up.. they simply said, "Hmm.. well lets make this our new home".

Just like the wise words of HH Pope Shenouda after his exilehe was asked "Are you happy that you are back?" Our response, "You better believe it! Woohoo!!". HH response, "I am happy everywhere. Gladness and happiness depends on the relation between man and God - not outside circumstances"

Monday, March 19, 2012

What is a Leader?

There are leaders, and there are those who lead.

We are all saddened to hear of the departure of our Great Patriarch, Pope Shenouda III.  Truly the life of this Holy man will not be forgotten. My friend, Mena Mirhom, gives a great account of when we presented FTFT! to HH in a clergy seminar in Boston - to focus on his evangelistic nature. 

I would like to focus on the leadership of HH that we all have experienced, and something I would yearn to have one day.  This past Saturday I was attending a spiritual day with Fr Athanasius Farag, where the topic was diakonia, the greek word for service/ministry.  We focused on a few points, until we had learned of the unfortunate news.  What caught my eye was a verse he chose from the gospel according to St Luke.  The Church, in her wisdom, also appointed this passage to be read at a funeral service for a Patriarch, Metropolitan, or Bishop.  Coincidence? I think not - this goes to show how they truly, particularly HH, lived the true meaning of diakonia - as a leader!

"For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves." Luke 22:27 (emphasis, mine). I had to read that a few times. Christ is talking to his disciples here, asking a rhetorical question that the obvious answer seems to be right there.  He even answers it for them - but then throws a curveball, "Yet I am among you as the One who serves" - diakonia.  A more precise definition would be to serve out of one's own will.  Just as Christ says, "I did not come to be served, but to serve", a true leader reflects this characteristic.

HH Pope Shenouda III really showed this type of leadership.  As Fr Antonios Kaldas, in a guest post on Fr Anthony Messeh's blog, "He had a way of making an unimportant stranger feel important, a way of giving you his attention in a way that said, 'At this moment in time you are more important to me than anything else.'" Always caring for what the people and youth want, choosing clergy to better serve them, building churches, allowing services to go on, blessing ministries. I remember one time walking into a meeting where HH met with roughly 30 youth from a church, to see their needs and opinion - to help choose the best priest.  His care for an individual and the future of the church was great.  I don't know another man who has affected so many youth in the Coptic Church like I've seen with HH. He wasn't just a figurehead in a far away place, he was caring, involved, responsive, and loving.  A wise leader and servant.

One quote I read in a book truly defines HH. Ever see him get asked a question or in a conversation? Every word he speaks is chosen carefully, and there is no regret after it is released from his mouth.

"A priest [clergy member] ought to be sober minded, and penetrating in discernment, and possessed of innumerable eyes in every direction, as one who lives not for himself but for so great a multitude." On Priesthood, St John Chrysostom

May the Lord grant to us a good shepherd, like His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, to shepherd His people in purity and righteousness.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Angels got nothin' on me!

I don't usually blog more than once a week, but this topic (as seen in my past few posts) has been on my heart for a while.

It really gets to me, when people try to assume they know how God thinks of them - because we only have a limited mind. God doesn't love like we love, nor forgives like we forgive. God IS love, and St Paul writes "when we remain faithless, He is faithful - He cannot deny Himself" 2 Tim 2:13. If someone hasn't forgiven you, or hates you, or thinks you're a lost cause - DO NOT translate this to how God thinks! Like I mentioned in my last post, for you to feel that God thinks you are the most important person in the world, you have to believe it first, then you'll feel it!

Don't believe me? St Macarius the great, of the early 4th century found this out! Truly believing this helped him lead a great life which he was able to feel the love of God and never lose hope, no matter what situation around him or whatever people said to him.  St Macarius writes, in Homily 15,

"See how great are the heavens and the earth, the sun and the moon. 
But the Lord was not pleased to find His rest in them, but in humanity alone.  
Man, therefore, is of greater value than all other creatures, and perhaps
I will not hesitate to say, not only visible creatures, but also those 
invisible namely, the ministering spirits. For it was not of Michael or Gabriel the archangels that God said 'let Us make man in Our image',  but concerning the spiritual makeup of the human"

Oh yes he did! He just said we are held higher than angels! He is reminding us how much God loves us and puts us on a pedestal, no matter what the world thinks of us.  "If God is for us, who can be against us!?" Rom 8:31. St Paul continues to emphasize that NOTHING can separate us from the love of God. 

We've all been in our pit and felt down and unwanted and it seems like nothing is going our way - trust in God! Where would the resurrection of Christ be, if there were no suffering on the cross? We commonly tend to focus on the cross and suffering in our own life, but neglect to see past it to the glorious resurrection that awaits us! 

God is like no one else! Again, God = Love. Your friends may leave you, your parents may think poorly of you, strangers may ridicule you - but please always remember that God holds you above all else, and to Him you are not just one in a zillion, you are THE ONE in a zillion.

Please feel free to contact me privately if you are struggling with this, or comment to encourage others.

Monday, March 12, 2012

YOLO - so start living!

#yolo (you only live once) has been trending on twitter like crazy recently, and has been the motto of many people at many points in our lives.  Sadly, it has been used as a vice of doing something irrational, and justifying it to your friends, parents, and worse - yourself.

To me, this is actually a very biblical principle gone wrong.  It can be looked at two ways, I think.  "Ah, its only marijuana, you only live once". And the second, "Maybe I should start taking things a little more serious, I can't lose any more opportunities, you only live once." This can either shape our lives into working for a focused purpose, or completely tear us down. I would like to focus on the latter, which may show us why the former may not be such a good idea after all.

The way I like to picture God's plan is like a big puzzle, with roughly 7 billion pieces (estimated world population).  Each piece uniquely shaped to fit somewhere that no other piece can take. YOU are that one special piece that NOBODY else can fill.  God's divine plan is not like a job fulfillment, where if you don't get the job, the employer will find somebody else to fill the position. On the contrary, if you don't do what you were designed to do on earth, it won't be done! So if you go back to the puzzle analogy, you may be able to see the general picture, but its not complete, and that is the key. St Paul says in Ephesians, that "we are God's workmanship". Original Greek word for workmanship is poiema, the same word used for a poem.  How beautifully crafted and thought out and touched up and perfected are poems? God did that with you.

Okay, we've heard that God cares about us and we are special to Him and that if we were the only ones on Earth, He would've come to be crucified anyway.  Do we really believe that? Do we really believe that God sees us differently than the rest of the 7 billion people here? The answer is you better believe it! It is not until you believe it, that you will actually start experiencing it! Think about that again.  St Athansius says that one must believe first, then understanding will come.  You wont understand what sky diving feels like until you jump, you wont understand what an in-n-out burger tastes like until you get that double double, and you sure won't experience the fact that you are the most important person in the world to God, unless you believe it.

So its true, you only live once - but God can give us new life that will be like nothing we've ever experienced before, both here and in heaven.  "No eye has seen, nor ear heard, neither have come upon the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those who love Him" - 1 Cor 2:9

Monday, March 5, 2012

Does God ask too much of us?

Have you ever had one of those moments? Ever wonder why some people are just nice, for absolutely no reason? After wondering, have you ever gotten mad or annoyed at them - like they shouldn't be that way?

     St Paul says, "But God demonstrates His own love towards us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ DIED for us"  - Romans 5:8 (emphasis mine). Lets read that again, while we were still living in lust, chasing after material things, stabbing our friends in the back, Christ was thinking "you know what, they'll come around - I'm going to die for them in case they ever do". Wow!

     That is some crazy love, right? What's the craziest love out there? "There is no greater love, than for a man to lay down his life for his friends" - John 15:13. Taking a bullet for someone? - man that is some pretty crazy stuff.  Did Jesus actually live by this motto? I don't think so.  Who do we know that is labeled as the friend of God - Abraham.  He lived a great life and was probably going to heaven, we can somewhat say.  Did Christ die for Him? Well, yes He died for everyone.  What do you think shows greater love, for Christ to die for Abraham or the soldier that was flogging him? We could easily say, "I would do anything for my mom!", but would we be able to say "I would do anything for my boss - who fired me" (Come to think of it, we would probably say, I would do anything to kill my boss - who fired me! - not really kill, but you understand)

     God knows we are weak, so He didn't set the same standard for us and Himself.  He died for His enemies, but asked us to do so for our friends.  He suffered for us, but asked us to just turn the other cheek.  He fasted for 40 days, but asked us to remember that we don't live by bread alone.  You wanna know the 'crazy love' thing, though? He still promised us the same things as Him! "...we are children of God, and if children, then heirs - heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ" Romans 8:16b,17a.

     Isn't that something? That's like telling me "All you have to do is watch the show 'House', and you can get the salary of a great doctor" - but times a zillion. We'd be foolish to pass up on this offer.  God didn't have a reason to do anything for us, but still gave up His only Son for us.  Are we willing to live so carelessly, that it would seem as if Christ died for nothing? I can't live with that, can you?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Want to turn water into wine?

"Water You turned into wine, opened the eyes of the blind.  There's no one like You, none like You" - Our God, Chris Tomlin

Yes, the good ol' miracle that we've heard of that seems so beyond us and our abilities.  As recorded by the Gospel according to St John, this was the first miracle performed by Jesus Christ.  A small summary of the story - Jesus was at a wedding in Galilee and they had run out of wine. His mother, St Mary, kinda put Him on the spot to do something about it.  He had people bring jars of water, He turned it into wine, and the people loved it - asking "Why didn't you bring out this good stuff before?!"

     According to the customs, the 'good' wine was always brought out first so people can be impressed with the wine.  Then, when people had a little too much to drink, the host would replace it with 'bad' wine because the guests were already getting a little buzz, so they wouldn't be able to tell the difference. There was something about this 'transformed' wine that was like no other they've tasted before.

     Now, I have a question for you.  When was the last time YOU had that impact on someone? As an Orthodox Christian, we believe in the sacraments to allow us a more complete, clear, and true understanding of the Fullness of Christ. In each of the 7 sacraments, or mysteries, something cool happens.  There is a divine power from God that 'transforms' something.  In the celebration of the Eucharist, bread and wine become Body and Blood, in a wedding the 'two become one flesh', etc.  There is a transformation.

     Fr Alexander Schmemann, in his book Liturgy and Life, emphasizes the fact that we should integrate 'Liturgy' (symbolizing all the sacraments) and Life.  That we should live a Sacramental Life to live to our fullest potential, that Christ has designed for us.  So, we understood that in a sacrament, there is a transformation going on. Mother Teresa understood this, and said "Let no one ever come to you without leaving better or happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness"

When is the last time your life transformed somebody's? When is the last time YOU turned water into wine?

Monday, February 20, 2012

"I want real food" - Peter Pan on Lent


"Lent is fasting for the body, but feasting for the soul." - another good quote I read that one of my friends tweeted.

Do you guys remember the movie "Hook" with Robin Williams? For some reason, the beginning of this lent, this scene popped into my head and wouldn't get out! If you don't remember, check out the clip up top before you continue to read.

I never thought I would say this, but for this lent season, we should all be like the 'lost boys'.  They had it right! In this little clip from the movie, we see the 'lost boys' eating like they've never seen food before.  'Peter Pan', is looking around all confused, because he doesn't see any food on the plates or in their hands, but he sees them pigging out and enjoying everything around them! He seems to be the only one missing out.

Does this happen a little too often to us? In our spiritual lives, do we see others partaking of something great, and we feel like we are missing out? We can try so hard to 'get in the zone' by reading more, praying more, fasting more, etc., but at the end it seems like we're grabbing for bread out of an empty bowl.

It seems ironic to take an approach to lent from a Peter Pan movie, but that's the way I'm going! I really want to FEAST during this FAST. I want to be able to pig out on things that don't seem visible to the common eye. I want to be in a focused mind set, where regardless of the food we abstain from, I see the opportunity for a huge feast in front of me, that I only would have seen by putting the other things away! Take a minute to think of how much of your time is spent eating, thinking of where to eat, or having the -itis from eating, its a lot of time! Minimizing this time will allow us to focus on other aspects of our life, that God is ready to take to the next level, if you allow Him!

So, join me this Lent season to be able to put down the common things to us - food, idle time, entertainment (except the NBA and March Madness, of course) - so we can start to elevate those great things - prayer time, spending time in the Bible, service, things we maybe didn't see before! Are you ready to feast during this long period of fasting?.. I AM!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Want to be as strong as God?

" I wouldn't get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan's angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty!... My grace is enough; it's all you need. My strength is made perfect in your weakness" -2 Cor 12:7-10 (MSG)

I read a really nice quote the other day that one of my friends retweeted - "He who kneels before God can stand before anyone".  This is a great motto and sounds very nice and we would highly recommend it to others, but is it something we would do?

St Paul understood this idea, and the moment he finally did, God responded to his cry and said, "My strength is made perfect in your weakness".  Its so easy for us nowadays to talk about doing things and and ways to live life, but thats all thats happening - talking! How many times have we heard friends say 'A healthy way to eat is..' or 'A good way to fix this problem is..' or 'you know what we should really do about..', and then it stops there.

The problem is that we have an image of ourselves as the know-it-all who thinks we can sit back and 'tell' others what to do, when we're sitting in our own misery.  It is only when we, like St Paul, realize what is going on, that something is stopping us from going further, and that there is a God who loves me and has me in the palm of His hands, that we will fix ourselves.

It is a very thin line to tread on, and the devil seizes the opportunity right away! He loves to blow our head up, thinking we can do it all - rely on our strength, social status, income, etc. Let's make sure we catch ourselves before he does!

The devil loves to make strong people weak, and God loves to make weak people strong.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Thoughts down - Spirits up!

In light of following many blogs recently, I've decided to revive my own! As you can tell, my last post hasn't been for about two and a half years - but i plan to be a little more consistent!

A lot has happened in my life since then, from graduating college with no direction, to having a God-sent job which does not hinder me from serving Him at all.

Blogs are a great thing to have! Like i mentioned in my first post, I am not sure that anything I share will be of much value, but it helps me in many ways.  If I put my "thoughts down" it brings my "spirits up"! It is a great way to express what has been going on in my life and the world around me. (It also helps prioritize, especially after realizing many thoughts are just about me, myself, and I). 

If you don't know me - I'm usually not the most organized, structured, future-planner-er there is.  I'm more of a "lets figure it out when we get there" kinda guy.  I'm hoping this blog will help me to organize myself a little more, in my spiritual reading, my daily routine, and my alone time.

So here goes to a fresh start - if you're coming along the journey... hold on tight!

Special thanks to a few bloggers who have inspired and encouraged me back: