Sunday, July 17

Homily – July 17, 2022

As I was writing this the rain was falling, drops of wet from a featureless gray sky. They said it was supposed to be this way for most of the day, and the temptation was strong to just go back to bed, pull the covers over my head, and escape into sleep.

I do admit that sometimes I feel the same way about the world. I’m tired of the fighting, the quarreling, the scandal, the silly games, the circus, the immaturity of those in charge of it and the prefabricated emotions of those who follow. There are times when I just want to find a little town somewhere or a place in the country, pull the covers over my head, and escape into sleep.

I miss the world I lived in as a child. Not because it was perfect, but because looking back it seemed at least better. There were certainties. There were constants. There was an underlying rhythm that people, even if they didn’t always practice it, at least paid lip service. Of course, I was a child then, with a child’s view of the world. I’ve learned so much more now, most of it I wish I didn’t know, but at least it helped me understand why Jesus said we must become like the children we were to enter the Kingdom.

So, what to do?

The past is unchangeable, we are where we are, and as much as I’d sometimes like to go back to being a kid without much more care than finding time to ride my bike, that option is off the table. The present world is upon me, upon us, and it will eventually catch up with me, with us no matter how powerful our fantasies.

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in heaven…”

When faced with a dark, strange, and uncomfortable reality, the only way out is through and the only way through is to transform it beginning from within. We may become upset, we may despair, we may become angry, we may look for someone to rescue us, but the light we need is inside of us.

Now that light isn’t our own conscience, our intellectual capacity, or the power of human reasoning. These things should not be despised in and of themselves, but they need to be understood and valued in the context of the reality of our human frailty and brokenness. Even the best of our intentions can, if not carefully guided, descend into madness and at the core of our contemporary dilemma lies knowledge without wisdom, emotion without thoughtfulness, technology without humanity, and all of it without any sense of transcendence.

The light we do need is the Light, that as the Apostle John says, existed even before the creation, the Light that is the life all humanity, the Light that shines in the darkness and before which that same darkness is powerless.

It is the Light we were given by the grace of the Holy Spirit in our baptism and chrismation. “Thou art illumined…” our Priest said, and at that word Light was given to us by God, light to see, light to understand, light to cleanse, light to make whole, light to perceive, light to shine in our own and the world’s darkness as well.

This is the light for the transformation of ourselves and the whole creation into that for which it was originally made. This is the light that saves people and cultures from not only a hell to come but the present hells of our own making. This light points out the path, gives wisdom to the thoughtless, makes the simple eloquent, and destroys great powers while saving the helpless. It is Christ within, shining so brightly that even our bodies are changed. It is Christ lived in this dark world to the extent that our own shadows and those around as well disappear.

When the faithful Christian prays that Light shines. When they worship that Light becomes a joyous song in a world of desperate chant. Their righteousness illumines the night. As they reach out to serve the other, the broken, the needy, those whom life has trampled, it uplifts cultures. When it is allowed to fill a person, body, and soul, they become glorious even while here on Earth, Saints among us.

The power of this light is profound beyond imagination. Demons flee from its presence and our wise elders have reminded us that we need not so much to fight against their evil as to open ourselves up to the Light from which they, and their temptations, must flee.

The glorious Caesars of this Earth are not ultimately a match for the light of God. They come and go but it remains. They fight against it for a time, but they fade away in its eternity. They wish to remind you they’re a powerful wind, but they can’t extinguish a single holy candle.

To be illumined by the Light is not to be unaware of the darkness around us, but rather to have the quiet confidence that each of us can, by the grace of God and in our own way, pierce it with hope. It doesn’t have to great, newspaper worthy things, every little bit of light shining from us makes a difference, every prayer, every act of worship, every righteous deed, every bit of holy love shared, all of it matters, all of it is powerful, all of it has the power to transform the place where it matters most, the world immediately around us. Collectively each little light can transform nations, societies, and cultures.

I know, I get tired sometimes. Each little bit of news or information from the world around me has become like a tiny bit of poison, slowly trying to kill my soul. Yet I am also convinced that the Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never overpowered it and I want to share that with you as well so that no matter where the world is at at any given moment you can live in that Light and never be overcome.

It’s time to shine.   

A Prayer…

My Lord, I know not what I ought to ask of Thee. Thou and Thou alone knowest my needs. Thou lovest me more than I am able to love Thee. O Father, grant unto me, Thy servant, all which I cannot ask. For a cross I dare not ask, nor for consolation; I dare only to stand in Thy presence. My heart is open to Thee. Thou seest my needs of which I myself am unaware. Behold and lift me up! In Thy presence I stand, awed and silenced by Thy will and Thy judgments, into which my mind cannot penetrate. To Thee I offer myself as a sacrifice. No other desire is mine but to fulfill Thy will. Teach me how to pray. Do Thyself pray within me. Amen.
– Prayer of St. Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow

In Recent Days…

the efficiency and beauty of the Lord’s Prayer have been brought to mind.

Life is busy, full of stimuli, things to do, places to go, and work to be done. Prayer can be like just one more thing swirling around waiting to be grasped. But how to pray? How to know what to say, what to ponder, what to remember in the 24 hour news and information world? There can be simultaneously too many things and things that escape memory all at the same time.

Enter the Lord’s Prayer, beautiful, poetic, and restful. Simple and direct it can, by itself, contain in broad strokes all that the faithful person wants to say, all they need.  If time and the craziness of life rise up it provides a moment of peace, a place where the words themselves point to the deep longings of our heart and God is able to both hear the prayer and those longings between the lines.

Yes, I have wishes and specifics but those are already known to God. I inform Him of nothing in expressing them. Mostly it seems in these days what I need to do is not fill God’s ear with my endless words but simply put myself in His care and the Lord’s Prayer is, above all else, an act by which this is done. Short on specifics and long on the broadest human needs it says, simply, “You are my heavenly Father, help me to want what you want and trust you for everything else.” There is great peace in that, the freedom of not worrying about every little thing that God already knows and releasing the worry of the details to the One who knows and loves me more than I know or love myself.

Truly, the God who knows my longings also knows what, in the end, is first, best, and most conducive to my greatest good. I’m not to that point of total reliance and peace yet, but this prayer, this Lord’s Prayer is increasingly my friend on the journey there.

You Should Be at Matins (Orthros)

Sometime around 9 tomorrow morning a handful, just a handful, will be in Church. That’s a shame.

Busy with what a Sunday morning brings, much of which could have been handled on another day, it’s a mad rush to get things together and everyone packed in to the car.  Many, maybe most, will find themselves skidding into the nave just seconds behind the beginning of Divine Liturgy and more than a few will try to sneak in the doors while the Priest’s back is turned during the Epistle.

So before you tell me about kids and stuff and getting everyone up in the morning please know that I’m not angry and I don’t have to judge. I’m just sorry you’re missing one of the best services of the Orthodox Church, a treasure right underneath your nose. A treasure which, for most Orthodox in this country, remains unclaimed.

Matins, Orthros, or morning prayer is a service that proceeds the Divine Liturgy. For the person outside the iconostasis there’s actually not much to do. You come in, take your place, and listen. There’s one procession to venerate the Gospel and in many parishes there is also time to make a good confession. For the most part its quiet an uneventful. Sit, stand, listen.

And that’s the beauty, the treasure of it. The world is busy, challenging, fragmented, and noisy. It’s nearly impossible for a person to come rushing in from that kind of world into the Divine Liturgy and, as the service asks us, “Lay aside all earthly cares.” The Orthodox Liturgy is not mindless, it requires thought, engagement, and time to instill the sacred in hearts that have been immersed in the world for most of the past week. There is no “microwave” version of this recipe and the Liturgy refuses to trade a quick sentimentality for lasting and deep transformation.

In Matins (Orthros) a person is given the gift of time. Time to be bathed in holy hymns, prayers, scripture, and most of all the presence of God. It’s a kind of decompression from everything outside the walls of the church, a time to slough off everything out there and prepare yourself to taste of heaven. This is crucial time, time of value to prepare yourself for the Divine Liturgy, time to reflect, confess, pray, get the noise out of your head, and be ready when the presence of the Kingdom is announced.

It takes, like many things in Orthodoxy, effort. You have to rearrange your schedule on Sunday morning to focus on the services of the Church. You’ll need to get the kids set up for Sunday on Saturday and make sure you don’t hit the snooze button either. Let Martha fuss over Sunday dinner, Mary has chosen the better part and so should you.

When you get there it might take some getting used to everything. We’re so used to constant noise and busy work that we’re often stunned, sometimes even traumatized, by holy peace. Give yourself time to adjust. Yet,  when, over time you “get” it you’ll probably never want to go back. Because as the holy words, holy space, and holy Presence begin to find their way into your heart during the service of Matins you’ll understand why your fathers and mothers in the Faith took time to let the world fade away before they stepped into the light of the Kingdom of God.

I know, you’re busy, the whole world is busy. Yet no time in the presence of God is ever wasted, either now or in all the time to come. Come to Matins (Orthros) and begin to understand.


Liturgy Today…

It was a Hierarchical Liturgy today. For those who aren’t Orthodox it means that our Bishop was at the service and because of that the service was longer, more involved, and had added dimensions. These kinds of liturgies don’t occur very often in the life of a parish simply because Orthodox Bishops, in our current state of things, are often far away from their parishes and live their lives out of their cars as they go to one parish or another. Our Bishop for Minnesota actually lives in Ohio and being hours away from a Bishop is fairly normal for American Orthodox. Because of that your Bishop might visit your parish, barring any kind of trouble, once every year or so. Still, these occasions are a special time and often there are significant preparations made for such a visit and the liturgies with a Bishop.

Some people, of course, view these visits with a certain kind of dread. A Priest and parish can sometimes be overwhelmed by the work and resources needed to make an episcopal visit a reality. There is the pressure many Priests feel to make a good impression in front of the person who literally can change your life with a phone call. Your whole routine as a parish changes when the Bishop comes and any or all of the prior items, by themselves or combined, can make the Bishop’s visit a challenge.

There is a benefit, though, to these visits that might not always be apparent. Because the liturgy is changed for at least the services where a Bishop is present, the Priests and people have to possess a kind of intentionality about the services. In normal Parish life the worship can become routine because people, over time, have settled in to an understanding of what they can, or should, do and what the celebrants are also most likely to do as well. A Bishop’s presence changes that. People can’t sleepwalk through the rubrics and they need to think about what they’re doing. It’s a teachable moment coming to a parish wearing an omophorion.

For that alone its good to have the Bishop visit. If there is no other liturgical education offered at a parish his presence will at least prompt a crash course and its amazing what people can learn when they have to.

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.

People Have Forgotten…

I think, that the Liturgy is a most powerful weapon in the cause of good in the world. In the Divine Liturgy we gather and collectively pray for welfare of the entire Church and the world. These collective prayers are powerful forces of good.  The worship of God releases tremendous grace not just for us but for all that ails the world. When people worship God the powers of evil tremble and darkness is destroyed. When people share in the Eucharist, the very reality of Christ, they are profoundly and deeply transformed from darkness to light. The worship of God is perhaps the most revolutionary act a person can do in this sad, broken, world. No one who truly worships is left unchanged and no darkness can last forever in any place where there is worship. There are many tasks to accomplish in this world, there is much work to be done, but the most profound and powerful thing we can do, the root of all the other good things we are charged with, is the worship of God in the Liturgy and in our lives.

A Response…

to an article in Patheos regarding why men don’t sing in Church.

In the Eastern Orthodox Churches people have been and are encouraged to sing as they can and have done so since day one (which for us is over 2000 years ago). We do, as well, have trained choirs and often those who lead the worship can be quite talented in music, although this doesn’t have to be the case. I think the problem in some parts of American Christianity these days is a flawed theology of worship. Worship is “liturgy”, from a Greek word whose forms are found in the Bible and translated “The work of the people”. What this has historically meant is that the worship service is a joint task of all the people gathered, with leaders and participants of various kinds, and the focus is a corporate effort to worship God. The various forms and structures, including the music, are to be designed to fulfill this end and the beauty, or the beauty of simplicity, they possess are to draw the hearts of those who worship towards the One who is beauty, namely God. The goal of this worship, however, in our contemporary culture, has too often been directed towards producing an emotional or conversion experience rather than being understood as purely an offering of praise to God. Worship, in the proper historic Christian sense, is not about us, our feelings, or whatever we may get out of it at all, it is about the fact that God is worthy to be worshiped and that we as human beings are called upon to do this. Interestingly enough when a Christian takes themselves, their needs, or their desires, out of worship, they bring themselves to a depth of the sense of the presence of the Holy One that can be quite profound.  The antidote to spectator worship should begin with a correct theology of worship. Teach this and  implement it and in time people will understand and take place among the active worshiping faithful.

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