Monday, September 2, 2019

Don't be afraid to be Orthodox

Restored icon of Abbot Menas and Christ

"And as we have received the soul as a deposit, let us preserve it for the Lord, that He may recognize His work as being the same as He made it" - St Athanasius, Life of St Antony

Recently, and throughout Church history, people have been getting caught up on words. Words are important. In our Orthodox Church, we were at odds with each other because of a single letter that changed what we believed. You know what’s just as important? The meaning behind those words. If someone uses a toothbrush to clean their tires, does that change the original purpose of the toothbrush? It works for them, but it’s original purpose was to clean teeth. Just because someone uses it for something else, does that mean you will stop using it? No. So why do we do this when it comes to the Church. Don’t be afraid and put the toothbrush away. Use it for its purpose and reaffirm it.

Grace - Growing up, I have not heard about the grace of God nearly as much as the 'works' part. Yes, St James says "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also" (James 2:26). It's true, faith without works IS dead, but does that mean we ignore the faith part? Let's use his example, the body without the spirit is dead, but can the spirit (not soul, but the spirit which gives the body actual life and movement) do anything without the body? No. Why are we scared to talk about God's grace?! We're so scared of how other religions or people have used the term, that sadly we are afraid to speak on it. Yes, we need works, but as Acts 15:11 says "But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.”

Don't be afraid, talk about God's Grace.

Praise and Worship - If you attend an orthodox church in America, you probably get a few eye rolls if you use this term. Again, just like 'grace', it doesn't matter how other people or religions use the term. PRAISE AND WORSHIP IS A GOOD THING! What Christian does not offer up praise to God? We talk about "a mercy of peace, a sacrifice of praise"

Fr Thomas Hopko writes:

In addition to being the perfect peace offering, Jesus is also the only adequate sacrifice of praise that men can offer to God. There is nothing comparable in men to the graciousness of God. There is nothing with which men can worthily thank and praise the Creator. This is so even if men would not be sinners. Thus God himself provides men with their own most perfect sacrifice of praise. The Son of God becomes genuinely human so that human persons could have one of their own nature sufficiently adequate to the holiness and graciousness of God. Again this is Christ, the sacrifice of praise.

Praise is God-centric. Worship is God-centric.

Also, Fr Alexander Schmemmann refers to humans as 'doxological and eucharistic beings'. It's an innate character of us to offer 'doxa' or 'praise'. What is a eucharistic being? Coming directly from the Eucharist, and the table of thanksgiving where the Lord shows us that true worship is Eucharistic, from the sacrament of the Eucharist. We are called to live sacramentally, how are we to do this if we separate worship from everything we do? Yes our primary worship is in the Eucharist, but once we partake of it, it fills our whole being and then we, through the Eucharist, are able to go into the world and express our worship to God in everything that we do.

Don't be afraid, we all offer up praise and worship God.

Theosis - Now really, if you even think of this word in our church, you better pack your bags because you're outta here! Again, the common problem we have today is how other people may have started to use and define the word, and we forget what it originally meant.

St Athanasius writes:

...but rather let him recognize the fact and marvel that things divine have been revealed to us by such humble means, that through death deathlessness has been made known to us, and through the Incarnation of the Word the mind whence all things proceed has been declared, and its Agent an Ordainer, the Word of God Himself. He, indeed, assumed humanity that we might become God.

At first, as Coptic Christians, we have a tendency to just dismiss this because of how it was used. I am not taking a stance. I am no scholar, have no formal Christian education, and I'm not trying to make any statements - but I was taught from a young age that the Christian life is a process of restoration. We are to be restored to God's image. This is why the initial quote from St Athanasius is very important. Let's look back at the meaning of what our fathers have taught us, rather than what some may make of it.

Let us preserve it, he writes, so that God may recognize it as being the same as He made it.

Let's not be so quick to dismiss an idea or terminology just because it's used a different way. Let's use everything as God had intended it and created it. Don't let the world or others take away what is ours. Take back what is yours. Terminology, phrases, art, music, whatever it may be. But know this, God's grace is for us. He took flesh and suffered death in the flesh for us, and we offer up praise and worship that is due to Him. All this so that one day we may reunite with Him.

Don't be afraid, God wants us to commune with Him and be one with Him. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Is Jesus asleep on your boat?

"Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him. And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with waves. But He was asleep. Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, 'Lord, save us! We are perishing!'" Matthew 8:23-25

There are times in our lives where things are going so hectic and not according to our plans and just ruin everything, and all we want to do is say "Jesus, where are you!?" Haven't we all felt at times that Jesus was asleep on a pillow in the midst of our problems? Ever feel like you're boat was 'covered with waves'? If you think the ideal Christian life is one where there are no problems and no feeling of abandonment, I would have to disagree. If you've ever felt struggles, isolation, or deserted - you're in good company. Jesus, St Paul, Mother Teresa, and many others have felt like that - and its absolutely normal!

A great story I heard once illustrates the sense of the peace and calm I'm trying to focus on.  There was once a king who asked his countrymen to draw what 'peace' really meant. Many people brought to him many paintings - doves, rainbows, beaches, flowers.. but it just didn't settle with him.  Then he saw one drawing - it looked like a mess. There wasn't a single blank space on the painting. It was a mixture of colors and storms and wars and earthquakes and everything. Just in the center of all this chaos was a small tree, with a small branch, with a small nest, with a mother bird covering her egg. This was the image he chose to hang in his palace. He knew that the real sense of peace and comfort came along with the storm, not apart from it.

"There was such a terrible darkness within me, as if everything was dead" Mother Teresa writes in Come Be My Light. At times, she may not have felt God's presence in her life, but others surely have. This is a great reflection of the true Apostolic Faith - service to others and obedience to God, no matter how we feel. If God only loved us when we were 'good' to Him, boy would that story be short.

I pray I can understand and really live according to this mentality. If we were faithful only during the times we had a reason to be, then it wouldn't be faith at all - it would be logic. Its those dark times which when we would be faithful, is when we can move mountains and stir the hearts of others - they wouldn't understand why we feel this way in the tough situation we may be faced with, which is all the more reason to believe.

"If my separation from You brings others to You, and in their love and company You find joy and pleasure, why , Jesus, I am willing with all my heart to suffer all that I suffer - not only for now but for eternity - if this was possible." Mother Teresa

If God uses the bad in our life for good, then why can't we?

Monday, September 12, 2016

Breaking Bread

"If we are to be what Christ is, and Christ is the bread of life whose body is broken and blood spilled for the food of the faithful, that’s what we must become ourselves." - Mother Teresa

"We need to do more." These words have been ringing in my ear for a few days now. One of the people I look up to recently told me this, after the passing of one of our friends at a young age. This really got me to re-evaluate everything I'm doing - not just in church or at home or at work, but in every aspect of my life. 

I was listening to a lecture series by Fr Thomas Hopko, called the Word of the Cross, and it really opened my eyes to the above quote by Mother Teresa. Fr Thomas had mentioned that in a recording, he heard Mother Teresa say this to her novices, "If you’re here cause you want to help people, you want to be a do-gooder, you want to feel good about your life — don’t come, we’re not here for that. If you’re here for social improvement, or recreating the planet — don’t come here, we’re not for that. We’re here for one thing: to show the love of God in Christ to people, in the way Christ did. Period" Sounds simple, right? How did Christ show love? 

It's an old commandment to love one another or to love your neighbor as yourself, but when Christ came - he suggested something else. "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another" - John 13:34. So, did you catch what the 'new' part of the commandment was? Jesus commands us to do it one way, the same way He did. Again, sounds simple, right? God did this one way, by dying for us on the cross. He broke himself like bread and spilled out his blood for all of us to be redeemed, and it's about time we do the same.

In the Orthodox Liturgy, at one particular part where all the congregants are bowing their heads, the priest prays "that Your Holy Spirit may descend upon US and upon these gifts set forth, and purify them, change them, and manifest them as a sanctification of Your saints" Not only is the Holy Spirit called to turn the bread and wine into Body and Blood, but also to transform you and me! For what reason? I assume the same as the the Body and Blood of Christ.. to be a sanctification for others and to be broken for others

Break yourselves for others. What does that mean? We all like to do things for others when it's convenient, change that. We give money when we have extra, we give time when we're bored, we choose to serve when there is a spotlight on us. That expression "give until it hurts" is what we need to do. When is the last time we gave money when we didn't know how the bills were going to be paid? When was the last time we sacrificed our comfortable 9 hour sleep to stay up and help someone. When was the last time we drove an hour out of the way to give someone a ride. No pain, no gain, right? Break yourselves for others..

"I am the wheat of God, and am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of God"- St Ignatius of Antioch 

I'm speaking mainly to myself here, but enough is enough. Enough sermons, blogs, ministries, and any other distraction hindering us to be the changing agent for others, with Christ inside us to do so. The world around us is full of despair and hurt; it is thirsting and hungering for something it can't find. We need to provide the Bread of Life to fulfill its needs.. but to do so we are not only supposed to give bread, but to become ourselves bread, broken for others.