ON PEOPLE-PLEASING

“Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear their fear (τὸν δὲ φόβον αὐτῶν μὴ φοβηθῆτε), and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear…” (1 Pet 3: 13-16) Now why would I “fear” or “be intimidated,” if I’m doing “what is right”? Because of people-pleasing. I easily get all entangled in the fears and expectations of other people, if in my heart I lose sight of my One, primary authority; if I cease a

A NEW PURPOSE

“He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector, and rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not, on account of the crowd, because he was small of stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, make haste (σπεύσας) and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ So he made haste (σπεύσας) and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it they all murmured, ‘He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.’ And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord

PHYSICAL EXERCISE

“Have nothing to do with profane and silly myths. Train yourself rather in godliness (πρὸς εὐσέβειαν); for while physical exercise is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.” (1 Tim 4: 7-9) In our culture, often obsessed with “physical fitness” (and related issues like “body image”), it is easy to lose sight of its proper place in one’s daily life in Christ. So I love that here St. Paul mentions ”physical exercise” (

ONLY BEGOTTEN SON

“Only begotten Son and Logos (Word) of God, being immortal, You condescended (καταδεξάμενος) for our salvation to take flesh from the holy Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary and, without change, became man. Christ, our God, You were crucified and conquered death by death. Being one with the Holy Trinity; glorified with the Father and the Holy Spirit: save us.“ (Hymn of Byzantine Divine Liturgy) The Byzantine Divine Liturgy is not watered-down when it comes to dogmatic theology. And this hymn, attributed to Byzantine Emperor Justinian (+565), gives me, in a nutshell, pretty much everything I need to know and carry with me, about the great mystery of our Lord’s Incarnation. So let me reflect on th

OUR SENSE OF IDENTITY & BELONGING

“Lord, our God, save Your people and bless Your inheritance. Protect the fullness of Your Church. Sanctify those who love the beauty of Your house. Glorify them in return by Your divine power, and forsake us not who have set our hope in You.“ (Prayer of the Second Antiphon, Byzantine Divine Liturgy) This prayer speaks to our basic human needs for identity and belonging, which find true fulfilment in our being God’s and of God; in belonging to “the fullness (pleroma) of the Church (ekklesia).“ We might also foster our sense of identity and belonging elsewhere, in associations online or offline; cultural, political, sports-related, and so on. But none of these offer us unity with, and belongin

IT’S ALRIGHT, MA

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber; but he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens; the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” (Jn 10: 1-5) There are many “voices of strangers” in positions of leadership today, or so it seems to me anyway. But that’s no cause for fear, as Bob Dylan prophetically no

ON SACRED SPACES

“And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons; and he would not allow any one to carry anything through the temple. And he taught, and said to them, ‘Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.’” (Mk 11: 15-17) In an episode of “The Walking Dead,” there’s a scene in a church, where a priest says, “This is the house of the Lord,” and another character replies, “No, it’s just four walls and a roof.” It made me think of this well-known passage i

SURRENDER IN PRAYER

“And they came to Jericho; and as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great multitude, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent; but he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ And Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; rise, he is calling you.’ And throwing off his mantle he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ And the blind man said to him, ‘Rabbi, let me r

PRAYER OF THE FIRST ANTIPHON

“Lord, our God, Whose dominion is incomparable and glory incomprehensible; Whose mercy is immeasurable, and love for mankind ineffable: Look upon us and upon this holy house in Your loving-kindness, and grant to us and to those who pray with us Your abundant mercy and compassion.“ (Prayer of the First Antiphon, usually read silently by the priest at Byzantine Divine Liturgy) There are many things about God that are expressed, in traditional theological terms, in the negative: He is “in-comparable,“ “in-comprehensible,“ “im-measurable,“ and so on. Because there are many things in Him and in our relationship with Him that we do not know or understand. Just like there are many things in my huma

THE LITANY OF PEACE

“Deacon: In peace let us pray to the Lord. People/Choir: Lord, have mercy. Deacon: For the peace from above and for the salvation of our souls, let us pray to the Lord. People/Choir: Lord, have mercy. Deacon: For the peace of the whole world, for the stability of the holy churches of God, and for the unity of all, let us pray to the Lord. People/Choir: Lord, have mercy...“ (Litany of Peace, Byzantine Divine Liturgy) In this very first litany of Divine Liturgy, we are called to pray “in peace“ and “for peace,“ specifically the kind “from above.“ It is the kind we cannot muster up or negotiate on our own, just amidst ourselves. In fact we have never done very well, when it comes to “peac

BLESSING THE KINGDOM

(The beginning of Byzantine Divine Liturgy): Deacon: Bless, Master. Priest: Blessed is the kingdom (Εὐλογημένη ἡ βασιλεία) of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. (The priest intones these words as he stands before the holy Table, raises the Holy Gospel, and makes with it the sign of the Cross.) People/Choir: Amen. Let me reflect on our “Amen“ (“so be it“) to the priest’s proclamation at the very beginning of Divine Liturgy. What is it we are affirming, or saying “Yes“ to? We are saying Yes to the “blessing“ (ev-logia in Greek, meaning “good word“) of God’s “kingdom,“ or His primary authority and power in our lives. We “bless“ or say a “

THE BAPTISM IN THE JORDAN

“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.’ Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” (Mt 3: 13-17) Was this our Lord’s only “baptism” or “immersion,” – the one in the Jordan? No. He was yet to “immerse” Himself into the v

HOLY WATER

“Draw therefore water with joy out of the wells of salvation. And in that day you shall say, sing to the Lord, call aloud upon his name, proclaim his glorious deeds among the Gentiles; make mention that his name is exalted. Sing praise to the name of the Lord; for he has done great things: declare this in all the earth. Exalt and rejoice, you that dwell in Sion: for the Holy One of Israel is exalted in the midst of her.” (Is 12: 3-6, Septuagint-translation) As those of us on the Older Calendar enter the great feast of The Baptism of the Lord or Theophany, when we have the great blessing of water in our churches, we also hear this prophecy, among the many Old-Testament readings included in th

COURAGE IN RELATIONSHIPS

“Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, ‘Children, have you any fish?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ He said to them, ‘Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, for the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his clothes, for he was naked, and sprang into the sea.” (Jn 21: 4-7) A few more thoughts on “courage.” St. Peter, who recently thrice denied the Lord at His trial, literally jumps to greet Him. I believe this took courage, which

ON WOMEN & COURAGE

“And a woman who had had a flow of blood for twelve years and could not be healed by any one, came up behind him, and touched the fringe of his garment; and immediately her flow of blood ceased. And Jesus said, ‘Who was it that touched me?’ When all denied it, Peter said, ‘Master, the multitudes surround you and press upon you!’ But Jesus said, ‘Some one touched me; for I perceive that power has gone forth from me.’ And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. And he said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.’”

HALLOWED BE THY NAME

“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be (ἁγιασθήτω, sanctified) thy name…” (Mt 6: 9) Is “hallowed be thy name” a request? No. It is a proclamation. We are saying, Let Your name (i.e. You Yourself), God, be recognized and embraced, by us, as “holy.” We are not asking for God’s “name” or God to be made holy, because He already is that. God is in fact the very Source of “holiness,” and we need to recognize and affirm that, again and again, in order to participate in His holiness, rather than seek betterment or divinization (“theosis”) from within ourselves. We do not become “like God” by doing things our own way, without Him, as the serpent suggested to us in the garden (Gen 3: 5). We recogn

CIRCUMCISION vs. BAPTISM

“See to it that no one makes a prey of you through philosophy (διὰ τῆς φιλοσοφίας) and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fulness of life in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ; and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.” (Col 2: 8-12) The “philo-sophy” or “love of wisdom” talked about here is

REMEMBER ME, LORD

“One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? 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 justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said to Jesus, ‘Remember me, Lord, when you come into your kingdom.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’” (Lk 23: 39-43) So the penitent thief – a grave sinner and a criminal, – is capable of speaking the truth to another criminal, and even of a profession of faith, connected with a prayerful request. He is not sil

THE FAITH OF THE ATHEIST

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old received divine approval. By faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear.” (Hebr 11: 1-3) I’m thinking that the atheist view is also a faith, because it is a “conviction of things not seen.” Because the atheist has “not seen” that God does not, indeed, exist. The atheist “faith” is not, however, an “assurance of things hoped for.” It is a choice, rather, to close the door on hope and on the ambivalences of mystery. Hence atheism tends to be sad, because it lacks hope, and it tends to be dull, becaus

KILL YOUR DARLINGS

“Wretched daughter of Babylon! ...Blessed shall he be who shall seize and dash your infants against the rock.” (Ps 136/137: 8a, 9, Septuagint-translation) In his little book “On Writing,” the great novelist Stephen King uses a similar image to advise the inexperienced writer about the painful editing process: “Kill your darlings,” he says. He means that the writer should not hesitate to cross out (or delete) all unnecessary details, no matter how much he or she loves them. The Psalm is also talking about “infants” that I tend to love, within myself. They are sinful thoughts, at first small and weak, of various types of wishful thinking, lustful thinking, fearful thinking, resentful thinking,

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