Time for Nativity

8orthodox0108Nativity is just around the corner.  I cannot believe it is almost here.   It seems like it has been forever in coming.  At the same time the last month has just flown by.  In the busyness of everything I have been trying to take time to reflect on just what is happening.

For some time now I have really been meditating on the incarnation.  A deep reality has set in that honestly words fail.  Words can only describe this great mystery.  The iconography of the Theotokos has been a big part of this unfolding.  The reality of God in flesh is so beautiful .  Not only did God embrace humanity it was elevated.  We are of one flesh.  one spirit, and through faith and the sacraments one nature.

The Nativity of our Lord takes up real time.  It is a real event that really happened.  The birth of Jesus to his and our blessed mother Mary.  This was a timeless event.  Not just a map pin on the timeline of history.  What happened in the natural is equally timely and yet timeless.  The reality of God coming to humanity has always been.  His mercy and grace fill all time.  We can see this in sacred scripture.

The Nativity of our Lord takes up future time.  I am reminded of the words from the Eucharistic cannon “Christ has died Christ has risen Christ will come again”.  Yes Christ will come again.  Like the 10 virgins waiting for the bridegroom.  Nativity is a reminder that Christ will come again.  It is in the Nativity we wait, hope, and prepare.  So I will say it again Christ will come again!

The Nativity of our Lord takes up present time.  We know not time when Jesus returns.  We heard these words from his mouth.  St. Paul also believed Christ would return during his lifetime.  Most of the Early saints did.  Throughout history people have thought the return of Christ was imminent.  Rightfully we all need to live as if Christ could return at any time.  The reality is that we will most likely be reunited with Christ through our natural death.

We are called to pray, fast, and give alms.  We are to live like every moment counts.  We are to live like there is no tomorrow.  The truth is we do not know what tomorrow will bring.  We are to rest and take comfort in the promises left to us by our Lord.  Have faith dear ones.  Keep up the good fight of faith.  Enjoy the Nativity liturgies.  Mostly try to be present in the moment.  Be it at church or at home.

 

Have a blessed Nativity!

Holy Week

photo_verybig_127402Holy week is finally here! I am so excited I just cannot contain it! My first Holy week at an Orthodox Church.  Tuesday night (Wednesday morning) was my first experience attending Bridegroom Matins.  I had no idea what to expect.  Actually that isn’t true.  I am very familiar with Western Christianity, and the richness within her.  With Ash Wednesday kicking off Lent.  To powerful Holy Week services. 

Somehow I had it in my mind that things were not so with the Eastern Orthodox.  Sure Pascha is wonderful.  That’s just it.  You always hear about Pascha, but rarely hear about the buildup before Pascha. 

Needless to say Tuesday night I was not disappointed.  The liturgy was beautiful.  The “theme” if you will was thought provoking.  The comparison was with the harlot who washed the feet of Jesus and Judas the betrayer. 

An all around unworthiness swept over me.  It was not something I would consider negative.  I would say it was a realization of the destructive nature of sin.  Not just sin generally, but my own personal sin. Like the harlot we take responsibility for our sin.  We acknowledge our place, and cry out for mercy!

Likewise we see this same story in the publican and the publican and the pharisee. Sometimes I liken myself to the woman at the feet of Jesus.  Crying and offering sacrifice (myrrh).  Other times I am self righteous and like Judas I sell Jesus out for a multitude of sins. 

Today is good friday, and as I type we are ever slowly marching towards 3 o’clock.  I was unable to make any other services this week.  Wednesdays Bridegroom Matins still echo through me.  I anxiously wait for Pascha.  Still I do not want to rush through this time.  As we enter into the darkness of the death of our Christ.

4th Sunday of Great Lent

SONY DSCSo yesterday was the 4th Sunday of Great Lent.  I was very pleased to be there. Part of that was I am always pleased to be in the Lords house.  Also I have been down with pneumonia for about a week.  I feel that I am of the fast track to health now.

Sunday was marked for St. John Climacus. Or often called St. John of the Ladder.  Father shared with us about the saints life and witness.  As usual the readings tied into this ongoing theme in our common liturgical life.  What Father shared was a homily that for me was very personal.

I have briefly shared on this blog my struggles with feeling worthy of salvation.  I tend to focus on my sins and shortcomings.  Thoughts of heaven and hell come to me daily.  Sunday was no different.  Reflecting on the Gospel readings and homily has given me some new perspective.

I am not a sum of my sins.  My sins will not and cannot define me.  I am a created in the image of God. Lord, I believe; help my unbelief! Some things in life cannot be changed by will.  They change by prayer and fasting.

It is time for me to take my Lenten journey more serious.  This year I have been a bit tepid with my practice.  Now is the time for me to allow Jesus to come in and do the work only he can do.  I see this more clearly now.  I see the path, and in this moment understand what I need to do.

Glory to Jesus Christ!

I’m back! Did you miss me?

St NektariosSo I have been away from my blog for about a month.  I have started a new job.  Not with a new company but in a new group within the company I work for.  I love my new job, but it has kept me very busy.

Much has also happened in the church hunt.  We went to vespers at a mission church a few weeks back. Then back for Divine Liturgy.  This is the first parish I can say I feel at home.  My children have expressed the same feelings.  This Parish is small, but the care given to the liturgy.  Basically everything they set to do is done in excellence.

Like the saying goes all dogs have fleas.  No parish is perfect   I think we are going to stick around at this one for a while.  I sort of feel like a broken record when visiting a new church.  The first few visits and you never want to leave.  The one difference in this church then the previous churches is a strong sense of community.  After liturgy when we eat it is like a family around the table.  This is what we have been looking for in a parish.  It is all about long term.  I am hopeful in a few weeks the feelings will be the same.

The Prodigal Son and Lenten Preparations

Prodigal-Son-(Rembrandt)-779197

And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.And he said to him: Thy brother is come, and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe.

And he was angry, and would not go in. His father therefore coming out began to entreat him.And he answering, said to his father: Behold, for so many years do I serve thee, and I have never transgressed thy commandment, and yet thou hast never given me a kid to make merry with my friends:But as soon as this thy son is come, who hath devoured his substance with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.

But he said to him: Son, thou art always with me, and all I have is thine.But it was fit that we should make merry and be glad, for this thy brother was dead and is come to life again; he was lost, and is found. -Luke 15:26-32

 

I often wounder why I love this story so much.  I think it has to do with what I see as insight into the nature of God.  At times I liken myself to the prodigal son.  Other times like the faithful son.  In all of my struggles with scrupulosity, and fearful thoughts of infinite damnation.  I see hope.

It does not matter if one is the faithful or the prodigal son.  God is there for us.  Rewards are abundant to the faithful son.  Great celebration and reunification for the one who was lost.   Not only does the wayward son receives his inheritance.  He partakes in the storehouses and treasures of his father.  A true image of mercy and grace.

God will not forsake any child who calls upon him.  Such great hope in this story.  So why do I have such great struggle in my heart? Why do I fear damnation? Where does this unworthy disposition come from? I love the Lord with all my heart.  In my prayers and lectio divina I have reached heavenly places.  Experienced things I am unable to write for I know not the words to describe it.

Still I feel that I am a retched sinner.  The sins of my past that are great and burdensome  weigh heavy on my heart.  If only I truly understood the ramification of these sins.  I was but a wretched fool.  I have confessed these sins to God.  Not publicly with a priest for I was a protestant.  Such practices were not done.  I hope they are forgiven.  I hope there is hope for me.

So this year I am coming to Lent as the prodigal son.  I will come to my priest in humility and seek peace.  I will fast, and pray and surrender to our Lord this lent.  That I will arise anew with Jesus our Christ.

Peace be to you all.

 

Could I really be legalistic?

pharisees2Recently I was reading a post from a Roman Catholic who was discussing being legalistic, and the objection from Catholic converts from Protestantism.  My first thought was why on earth is he supporting legalism.  After reading what he had to say I quickly realized his understanding of the word legalism, and mine was completely different.  Or is it?

In the dictionary being legalistic is described as: “1. Strict, literal adherence to the law or to a particular code, as of religion or morality.” This definition I can live with.  Religion in itself is not bad.  Sure many Protestants give people grief about religion.  The even criticize the person who has turned their ‘non conforming” church into religion and not relationship.

It seems the definition Wikipedia offers on being legalistic is much closer to what the average Protestant would understand it to be. “Legalism, in Christian theology, is a usually-pejorative term referring to an over-emphasis on discipline of conduct, or legal ideas, usually implying an allegation of misguided rigour, pride, superficiality, the neglect of mercy, and ignorance of the grace of God or emphasizing the letter of law over the spirit. Legalism is alleged against any view that obedience to law, not faith in God’s grace, is the pre-eminent principle of redemption.”

This obviously is something I am not in support of.  I think we can all agree on the importance of knowing the Good Shepherd as a lamb knows his shepherd.  So then what do we do with religion?  It has always been my understanding of religion as a means to be drawn us closer to God.  Growing up whenever someone would mention the Catholic church, Presbyterians, ect.  They would always turn it to some sinister plot to separate the faithful and to get them intrenched in religion.

I never understood this notion.  I still don’t understand this line of thinking.  I do believe that most of the Protestant founders were misguided, but sinister?  I doubt it.  There is a sense of sincerity in their writings.  The same goes for what I have read from Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox writers.

So am I legalistic?  I guess in one sense you can say that I am.  Honestly I can say I am better for it.  Shifting from a Roman Catholic legal understanding of faith to an Orthodox understanding has been interesting.  As a Roman Catholic sees obligation an Eastern Orthodox does not see obligation, but necessity.  Eastern Orthodox are not obligated to go to church and partake in the sacraments.  They need these things like the body needs food and oxygen.  I heard someone once say the an Eastern Orthodox person does not read the bible.  They live it.

I want my faith to be something I live.  Yet I still want to know where I stand in my faith.  I like defining things like sin and confession.  I find comfort in Romish practices.  Am I leaving this way of thinking?  Yes I am.  But I am not leaving the laws of the Roman Catholic Church to define my own set of laws.  No sir.  I am taking on something that I have no word to describe.  It is the law, but more.

I no longer am obliged to be a certain way.  I am that way so that I can live fully alive.  Like the disciples we must leave what is familiar.  What is comfortable. Step out into the unknown.  To find that place of unity with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen!

Nativity Fast

So this year November 15 marks the start of the Nativity fast.  Fasting will continue till December 24th.  This is something somewhat new to me.  Every year at my Episcopal parish our priest would explain sometime in November that this would normally begin a time of fasting within the church similar to lent.  He would add that is why our readings mid November take on an apocalyptic tone.  This will continue into advent and up to Christmas.  He would also point out that the Nativity fast was something found in antiquity.  That in modern times we understand this time of preparation in a much different way.

With all respect to my former priest I say to following.  I find it curious how groups often refer to a practice they no longer partake in as antiquated or an old tradition.  Sometimes it is said we understand the faith differently now, and this particular practice is no longer needed.

I will say this I do understand that one can fast food and make this season a penitential time.  Like all things if it becomes a means to itself or not to God then it is a loss effort.  In the Episcopal church Advent is a joyous time.  Nevertheless it is like lent a time of preparation.  The season is meant to be taken with a light heart, and an anticipation of the coming of the Lord.

In many ways I still understand this time as such.  I will still be breaking out my advent wreath.  On Sundays we will be lighting the candles in preparation of the coming of the Lord.  Will I be fasting?  You bet I will be, but not just food.  I will begin to prepare my heart for the coming of the Lord.  My attention will be on this as well.  Fasting for me is not necessarily about food.  Even though I do fast food.  It is about drawing near to God, and allowing the Holy Spirit to do a work within our hearts.

I am reminded of what St. John Chrysostom teaches us:

… the eye and the ear and the feet and the hands and all the members of our bodies.

Let the hands fast, by being free of avarice.
Let the feet fast, by ceasing to run after sin.

Let the eyes fast, by disciplining them not to glare at that which is sinful.
Let the ear fast, by not listening to evil talk and gossip.
Let the mouth fast from foul words and unjust criticism.

For what good is it if we abstain from birds and fishes, but bite and devour our brothers?

 

Happy fasting to you all!