ACCEPTING OUR SIMILARITIES

“Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him... One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’” (Lk 23: 32, 39-43) On that Friday almost two millennia ago, the repentant criminal accepted “the same sentence” of

PROCRASTINATION & ANXIETY

“...Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors...“ (Mt 6: 11-12) How very helpful is our Lord’s prayer, when I happen to have an important work-deadline, am procrastinating about it for some reason, and feeling anxious because of the crippling procrastination. That was, in fact, my situation just recently. But I kept repeating these particular verses of our Lord’s prayer, which, somehow to my surprise (O ye of little faith!), remove what is blocking me from doing what I need to do for my “daily bread,“ and help me walk through my responsibilities. So, why these verses, if I’m dealing with procrastination? Because, first of all, these verses help me

A RELATIONSHIP, NOT A SYSTEM

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” (Jn 1: 14) Are we divinizing a text, when we say that “the Word” became flesh? No. We’re talking about a Person, “the only Son,” and His relationship with Another, “the Father.” He is “begotten” or “born” of the Father, like a word is “born” of an intelligent being; It is conceived within, and brought forth when spoken. Do I entirely “understand” this and “know” God’s eternal, mysterious Being? No. And that’s OK. It is OK, specifically because God is not an idea I construct in my mind so that I have someone to pray to, nor a philosophical system I map o

A NEW WAY FORWARD

“As You were voluntarily raised upon the cross for our sake, / Grant mercy to those who are called by Your Name, O Christ God; / Make all Orthodox Christians glad by Your power, / Granting them victories over their adversaries, / By bestowing on them the Invincible trophy, Your weapon of Peace.” (Byzantine Kontakion-hymn of the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross) As those of us on the Older Calendar celebrate the Exaltation of the Cross today, I am reminded that He didn’t “have to” die on the cross. His Father did not have unresolved “issues” of anger or resentment, with which He needed help. No. He was fine. We were the ones with the “issues.” We had broken our relationship with Him, havi

THE OLD IN LIGHT OF THE NEW

“…And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him…” (Jn 3: 14-17) So here our Lord is “reading” an Old Testament-passage in light of the New; in light of His cross. He is referring to an event in the Book of Numbers: When the people had spoken against God and against Moses in the wilderness, grumbling about the food-situation, God sent “fiery serpents” that bit them, “s

A VERY STRANGE STORY

“Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went out and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them. Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they sat at table; and he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.” (Mk 16: 9-14) What a “messy” story

FREED FROM THE FORCE OF CIRCUMSTANCES

“But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace. For though in the sight of others they were punished, their hope is full of immortality. Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good, because God tested them and found them worthy of himself; like gold in the furnace he tried them… Those who trust in him will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with him in love, because grace and mercy are upon his holy ones, and he watches over his chosen ones.” (Wi

THE MARTYRDOM OF MARRIAGE

"O holy martyrs, who fought the good fight and have received your crowns, entreat the Lord, that He will have mercy on our souls.” (Hymn of the Byzantine Rite of Crowning, or Holy Matrimony) This hymn is sung during a triple procession, around a table in the center of the church, at the “Crowning” or Marriage-Rite of my church. It is also sung at the Rite of Ordination (to ecclesiastical orders). It is sung in anticipation of the “martyrdom” or “witness” of self-offering and self-sacrifice inherent to the life of ministers of my church – including married people, who are called to minister to each other and to others in their “domestic church.” Why am I reflecting on this today? Because one

TOO MUCH INFORMATION

"(The serpent) said to the woman, ‘Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?’ And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her

WHAT “CURSE”?

“Your Nativity, O Virgin, / Has proclaimed joy to the whole universe! / The Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God, / Has shone from You, O Theotokos! / Having annulled the curse (καὶ λύσας τὴν κατάραν, и разрушив клятву), / He bestowed a blessing. / By destroying death, He has granted us eternal Life.” (Byzantine Troparion-Hymn of the Nativity of the Theotokos) What is meant here by the unpleasant word, “curse” (κατάρα, клятва)? It refers to our human state of affairs before the stepping into our shoes of God’s Only-Begotten Son. Now, according to Merriam-Webster, a “curse” is: “misfortune or evil that comes as if in response to imprecation (a malediction) or as retribution.“ But the abov

YOU WILL NOT FEAR

“He who dwells in the help of the Most High shall abide in the shelter of the God of heaven. He will say to the Lord: You are my helper and my refuge. He is my God, and I will hope in him… With a shield will his truth encompass you; you will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day…” (Ps 90: 1-2, 5, Septuagint-translation) This Psalm promises me freedom from fear. If I “dwell in the help” of God. If I am God-centered and God-reliant, rather than self-centered and self-reliant. It is really a counter-cultural promise today, when so much of our politics and news call me to embrace self-centered fear, and to be motivated by it. I am told to fear for the future of “my”

EVERYONE WHO ASKS RECEIVES

"Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Mt 7: 7-10) It should have been enough, one might think, simply to say, “Ask, and it will be given to you.” But apparently we need more convincing, on this point. So the Lord elaborates: “Seek…,” He implores us, “knock…,”

SURPRISED AGAIN

"And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week they went to the tomb when the sun had risen (ἀνατείλαντος τοῦ ἡλίου). And they were saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?’ And looking up, they saw that the stone was rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe; and they were alarmed (ἐξεθαμβήθησαν). And he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the plac

DECORATING THE GRAVES

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you testify against yourselves that you are descendents of those who murdered the prophets. And you filll up/complete the measure of your ancestors.” (Mt 23: 29-31) The Pharisees have this ostentatious fidelity to prophetic authorities of the distant past, while murderously plotting against One speaking to them in the here and now. It’s easy, isn’t it, to profess loyalty to “patristic Tradition” and to the Fathers no longe

DOES GOD “LEAD US" INTO TEMPTATION?

“…and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.” (Mt 6: 13) I know, I’ve reflected on these verses several times already. But I need to write about them again. Because yesterday I was at the Danube River here in Vienna, and I witnessed something quite ordinary, which suddenly explained the whole concept of “lead us not into temptation” better than all my explanations, heretofore attempted in these daily reflections: It was a man leading his small child to the river, holding both the small hands of the toddler. As the toddler pushed forward, baby-step by baby-step, I thought, Who is leading whom? So now

ENCOUNTERING DOUBT IN FAITH

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning / my transgressions? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.” (Ps 21/22: 1-2) There is nothing new about having “doubt” in the whole business of our relationship with God. After all, it is in the Psalms, as quoted above. And it is in the words of this precise Psalm that our Lord gave voice to the human experience of doubt, when He cried out from the cross: “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (Mt 27: 46). The word “doubt” comes from the Latin “dubitare,” which means “to hesitate, to question, to waver in opinion…” It is part, really, of all my relations

WHERE IS THE DEBATER OF THIS AGE?

“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.” (1 Cor 1: 18-21) Don’t I know the “wisdom of the world”? I do. It tells me things like, it’s important to be “right,” debating with the “debaters of this age”

JUST LET IT GO

“For if you forgive (ἀφῆτε) others their trespasses (παραπτώματα), your heavenly Father will also forgive (ἀφήσει) you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Mt 6: 14-15) The verb used here for “forgive,” ἀφίημι, literally means “to let loose, to let go, to set free from (a thing).” I am told here, simply, to “let it go,” when confronted with another person’s “trespasses” (παραπτώματα, fallings aside, false steps). It’s divinely simple. It’s also liberating for all the “trespassers,” including me. But of course I am tempted to say what I just said, at the beginning of this sentence: “But…”. I am tempted to build a case against the “trespasser,”

GROWTH IN OLD AGE

“Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, ‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation…” (Lk 2: 25-30) Old age is often thought of as a time for looking backwards; or even a time of r

REVENGE

“But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company, and pleased Herod, so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, ‘Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.’ And the king was sorry; but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given; he sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. And his disciples came and took the body and buried it; and they went and told Jesus.” (Mt 14: 6-12) So, the girl’s mother has her revenge on the Greatest Among the Prophets. And yet, he is not the vict

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