All Earthly Cares…

To realize that your cares are earthly, and that they will not and cannot accompany you into eternity is already a revelation. “Dust you are, and to dust you return” the priest will pronounce at your burial. All that is earthly shall remain in the earth. That includes cares you consider so momentous that your entire focus is on them. But like everything on earth, they will change, dry up and disintegrate in time. They are not of paramount importance—salvation is. Let your cares go the way of the world. You are among the people of God reaching upward to be with the Lord in the air. Your soul wants to rise like a helium-filled balloon; but your cares are weighing you down—all around you are ascending, but you are still on the ground. Why is that?

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Welcome Chreasters…

About this time of year (Orthodox Holy Week) we start seeing people in church who seem unfamiliar. Some, of course, are people looking in to Orthodoxy. Because the Western and Eastern Holy Weeks are often on a different  calendar people from other Christian communities interested in the Faith will take advantage of the opportunity to visit and learn.

Others, though, will be people who’s connection to our Faith is only partial, those who occasionally visit especially on days like Christmas and Easter (Pascha). Some of these “Chreasters,” the Christmas and Easter attenders, learned this from their own less than fully engaged families. Some have been hurt in the Church and can only bear to be present a few times a year. Others may have a hidden guilt or sense of unworthiness that contributes to a feeling of not being good enough. There are as many reasons as there are people who only come to church on Christmas and Easter.

As a Priest who sees these unfamiliar faces around this time of year I have only one thing to say. “Welcome!” I’m glad that you’ve  come to be with us even for these few holidays. Of course I’d  like you to be with us more often, there is a great blessing in regularly being with people seeking God, but however and whenever and in whatever place you are in I’m  glad you’ve chosen to be with us and we are blessed by your presence.

Something inside inspired you to come to church and you listened to it. That’s a beautiful start. Keep on listening to that still, small, voice calling you to seek God because that’s  the voice that’s been at the beginning  of many powerful human transformations. It can be the voice of Love calling you to discover love. It can be the greatest need of your heart seeking to find the only One who can help you find rest.

Whether you come a few times or often, from devotion or curiosity, in brokenness or vitality, God loves you and welcomes you to a journey of being taken from wherever you are to the good place He wants you to be. Our doors will be open as often as possible and our hearts as well. If the Easter service is your first of the year you are invited. If you only come to church when there’s  trouble, the invitation still stands. Of course we’re  open throughout the year but whenever you come you are still God’s, and our, honored guest.

Don’t  be ashamed. Don’t  be frightened. Don’t  worry about being perfect. Just come, and know that some of the greatest and most blessed things happen when you take walk in to an Orthodox church.

I Was Hoping…

for a perfect Lent, you know, the kind where everything lined up just as it was supposed to be, the food, the services, the plans for doing this and that.

Then life intervened.

There was family to take care of, extra hours at work, health issues of my own, snow storms, the list goes on. In the face of it all it wasn’t long before my well thought out plans to make all the services, read all the ingredients on the food boxes, and spend hours in spiritual reading sort of fell away. Whatever it is I thought I was going to accomplish came with a big stamp on the box that now reads “Not This Year”.

In looking back at it, as I try to make of Lent what I can in the swirl of things, the operative thing seems to be “My” plans. Now I’m not saying that it’s not good to plan for Lent. One of the great gifts of our Faith is the two Sundays prior to Lent when we can ponder the time to come and ease into its life. What I have discovered, again, is, however, that if it’s about “My” plans then it’s probably not going to work out so well.

There are two errors, perhaps, in observing Lent. The first is to simply ignore it as some kind of anachronistic ritual with little meaning in the real world. The reality is our American culture is a gluttonous culture, gluttonous for everything, and we and I need the spirit and reality of Lent now more than ever. The second trap may be just the opposite, that is to make Lent an end in itself, to keep its technicalities and miss the larger picture.

In my case I wanted a Lent with no “mistakes” where all the required observances were met with precision and I could look back on things with a sense of accomplishment. What I got was a busy, crazy, world of people who just needed someone to help them, tired days and nights, swirls of events beyond my control, and the reality that I’m going to be one of those “11th hour” people mentioned in the Paschal Homily.

What I had hoped for, the “ideal” Lent, isn’t going to happen. What I didn’t want to happen, namely that I would fall into Pascha all banged up, tired, and in tatters, seems to be the current trajectory. Yet since God’s power is manifest in my time of weakness and His grace is sufficient for me I still long for the banquet to come and the joy of saying, as frazzled as I am, “Christ is Risen”.

A Prayer…

Prayer at Daybreak

Eternal King without beginning, You who are before all worlds, my Maker, Who have summoned all things from non-being into this life: bless this day that You, in Your inscrutable goodness, give to me. By the power of Your blessing enable me at all times in this coming day to speak and act for You, to Your glory, in Your fear, according to Your will, with a pure spirit, with humility, patience, love, gentleness, peace, courage, wisdom and prayer, aware everywhere of Your presence.

Yes, Lord, in Your immense mercy, lead me by Your Holy Spirit into every good work and word, and grant me to walk all my life long in Your sight without stumbling, according to Your righteousness that You have revealed to us, that I may not add to my transgressions.

O Lord, great in mercy, spare me who am perishing in wickedness; do not hide Your face from me. And when my perverted will would lead me down other paths, do not forsake me, my Savior, but force me back to Your holy path.

O You Who are good, to Whom all hearts are open, You know my poverty and my foolishness, my blindness and my uselessness, but the sufferings of my soul are also before You. Wherefore I beseech You: hear me in my affliction and fill me with Your strength from above. Raise me up who am paralyzed with sin, and deliver me who am enslaved to the passions. Heal me from every hidden wound. Purify me from all taint of flesh and spirit. Preserve me from every inward and outward impulse that is unpleasing in Your sight and hurtful to my brother.

I beseech You: establish me in the path of Your commandments and to my last breath do not let me stray from the light of Your ordinances, so that Your commandments may become the sole law of my being in this life and in all eternity.

O God, my God, I plead with You for many and great things: do not disregard me. Do not cast me away from Your presence because of my presumption and boldness, but by the power of Your love lead me in the path of Your will. Grant me to love You as You have commanded, with all my heart, and with all my soul, and with all my mind, and with all my strength: with my whole being. For You alone are the holy protection and all-powerful defender of my life, and to You I ascribe glory and offer my prayer.

Grant me to know Your truth before I depart this life. Maintain my life in this world until I may offer You true repentance. Do not take me away in the midst of my days, and when You are pleased to bring my life to an end, forewarn me of my death, so that I may prepare my soul to come before You.

Be with me then, O Lord, on my great and sacred day, and grant me the joy of Your salvation. Cleanse me from manifest and secret sins, from all iniquity hidden in me; and give me a right answer before Your dread judgment-seat.

The World We Live In…

is not the real world. Don’t get me wrong, its not an illusion its just not the world as God intends it. There is a brokenness in it that has distorted it from its original design, purpose, and reality and so there is a kind of unreality, a sense of it being skewed, that permeates it. There are markers of the real world in this world but the fullness seems always just out of our grasp.

The Kingdom of God is the real world, the world as it should be, a world restored to its design, purpose, and destiny by the One who created it in the first place. It is also real and can be experienced in time. The difference between the Kingdom of God and the world we experience is that the Kingdom of God, its values, its Faith, its vision, embody the fullness of what God intends and the fullness of what it means to be a human.

This creates a tension for the observant Christian. We live in a world that has an unreality to it because it is good, because it was created by God, but broken because it is tarnished by human sin and mortality. We experience this brokenness in so many ways and the power of it can often be overwhelming. Even if we are truly convinced there is more and better that more and better can seem far away and extraordinarily difficult to achieve. We also live in a another world, as it is, a world we call the Kingdom of God the reality of which sometimes intersects the world we experience every day but also has the potential to alienate us from it as well.

The result is that we are travelers in time. We live in places and share the common lot of those who share this time and place with us yet we also know that even in its best moments our experience is touched with the sadness, sin, and death that has been horribly inserted into this realm. And its hard to live that way, caught between two worlds, the world we were born into and the world we called to. Choices have to be made. Loyalties need to be discerned. Where, in the end, do we belong? To what world will our final allegiance be given? Jesus was so right when He said our heart would be where our treasure is.

In these times, when the veneer of respect for our Faith is rapidly wearing off in the public arena, where the times are growing dark as people in greater numbers seem to have cast their lot with this world, and where even people who were entered the Kingdom are now looking over their shoulders at the world they left behind, we will all be tested. What realm can lay claim to our true citizenship? What storehouse holds our true treasure? Which world’s thoughts will become our thoughts? And the stakes may be eternal.

The answer? All I know to do is to stay as close as possible to Jesus and together we’ll ride out the storm and make it safely home.