FOLLOWING GOD’S VOICE

“For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it; and I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusale

THE CROSS OF LOVE

“Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt have I called my son.’ Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time whic

AS GOD FORGAVE YOU

“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Eph 4: 30 – 5: 2) It’s simple, even if it isn’t easy: Forgive one another, “as God in Christ forgave you.” Why isn’t it easy? Because deep inside we often don’t believe, or don’t accept, the simple fact that God already forgave us, in Christ. But l

CHOOSING TO SEE, IN FAITH

“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 not visible. By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he received approval as righteous, God bearing witness by accepting his gifts; he died, but through his faith he is still speaking. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was attested as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him. F

GREAT MERCY

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your great mercy; and according to the multitude of your compassions blot out my transgression. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my iniquity, and my sin is ever before me. Against you only have I sinned and done this evil before you, that you might be justified in your words, and prevail when you judge.” (Ps 50: 1-4, Septuagint-translation) This Psalm opens me up to seeing my “transgressions” and “sins” and “iniquities” as God sees them, according to His “great mercy.” In God’s light, in the grace of His humility, that is to say, honesty, my “sin” can be both “ever before me,” and “cleansed” from me thoroughly,

PEACE AMONG PEOPLE OF GOOD WILL

“And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, ’Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people of go

HERE I AM

“For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have all one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, ‘I will proclaim your name to my brethren, in the midst of the congregation (ἐν μέσῳ ἐκκλησίας) I will praise you.’ And again, ‘I will put my trust in him.’ And again, ‘Here I am, and the children God has given me.’ Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same (τῶν αὐτῶν), that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage. For surely it is not with angels that he is concerned but with the desce

HE’S “WILLING” TO APPEAR

“Today the Virgin comes to the cave / to give birth to the Eternal Word. / Hear the glad tidings and rejoice, O universe! / Glorify with the angels and the shepherds / the Eternal God, who is willing to appear as a little child!” (Byzantine Kontakion-hymn of the Forefeast of Nativity) The “Eternal God” is “willing to appear as a little child.” He enters into our history, with all its changeability, and as one of us, with all our vulnerability to the phenomenon called “change,” to which He had not been exposed in His unchanging Being as the eternal Word of God. This is a mind-blowing fact of world history. Now, in Bethlehem, He “suits up and shows up” to us, into the messiness of our “time.”

THE PROPHECY OF MICAH

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his brethren shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.” (Micah 5: 2-4) This passage from the Book of Micah, who prophesied from ca. 737 to 696 BC, is read in our churches at Vespers of Christmas Eve. It po

FOREFEAST OF THE NATIVITY

“O people, let us celebrate the Forefeast of Christ's Nativity! Let us raise our minds on high, as we go up to Bethlehem in spirit! With spiritual thoughts, let us contemplate the Virgin as she hastens to the cave to give birth to the Lord and God of all! Joseph, as he contemplated the greatness of the wonders, thought that he saw only a human Child wrapped in swaddling clothes, but from all that came to pass he discovered the Child to be the true God, Who grants the world great mercy.” (Stichera-hymn of Byzantine Vespers, December 20) Today is the first day of the “Forefeast” (Προεόρτια, Предпразднство) of the Nativity, for those of us on the “New” Calendar. The five days of the Nativity-Fo

THE CROSS OF THE THEOTOKOS

“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Lk 2: 1-7) What was the Most Ble

JUST FOR TODAY

”Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we share in Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end, while it is said, ‘Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.’” (Hebr 3: 12-15) “The” rebellion, to which this passage refers, is the one of the chosen people against Moses, in the wilderness (Num 16). But what is important for me just for “today,” as the author of Hebrews points out, is what was important to, and yet not recognize

LETTING GOD BE GOD

“But he said to him, ‘A man once gave a great banquet, and invited (ἐκάλεσεν) many; and at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for all is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it; I pray you, have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them; I pray you, have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported this to his master. Then the householder in anger said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and lead

LOVE and SUFFERING

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Rom 8: 35-37) Love somehow always involves suffering, in this world. Why? Because love is a God-given gift and power, a divine force or will, which strives toward oneness (with the beloved). So it comes up against, and is invariably opposed by, “other” wills and drives in this world, which strive for division and separateness. These “other” wills seek to destro

CHRISTIANITY & “SACRIFICE”

“I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice (θυσίαν ζῶσαν), holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (λογικὴν λατρείαν). Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed (μεταμορφοῦσθε) by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12: 1-2) The term “sacrifice” is often misunderstood in Christian theology in general, and in liturgical theology in particular. Here St. Paul characterizes not only our liturgy (“logike latreia,” a term that the Byzantine tradition refers to the Divine Liturgy), but Christian life in general, as sacrificial

TRAINING IN RIGHTEOUSNESS

“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message! Be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.” (2 Tim 3: 16 – 4: 2) I want to be “equipped” today, “for every good work,” – and for that I need more than just a cup of coffee and a workout on the treadmill. (The coffee and the wor

STUPID, SENSELESS CONTROVERSIES

“In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and earthenware, and some for honor, some for dishonor. If any one purifies himself from the latter, then he will be a vessel for honor, consecrated and useful to the master of the house, ready for any good work. So shun youthful passions and aim at righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with stupid, senseless controversies/speculations (ζητήσεις); you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to every one, an apt teacher, forbearing, correcting his opponents in meekness (ἐν πραΰτητι). God

AND THE WORD BECAME FLESH

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” (Jn 1: 14) What is the point of this great “earthquake” in Salvation History, as Gregory the Theologian calls it, of the Word becoming flesh, and dwelling among us, “full of grace and truth”? It is that we, through communion with Him both “in the flesh” and in the Spirit, Who continues to dwell among us, also become “full of grace and truth.” Just as we have “seen” His glory, we are called to manifest it, rather than obscure it, and to “see” it in one another, both “in the flesh” and in the Spirit. But in our Internet Age, in the “virtual” reality we have

HEALED BY UNORTHODOX FAITH

“As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. ThenJesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’” (Lk 17: 12-19) How surprising that

TRUE LIFE & THE SHOPPING SEASON

”As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share (κοινωνικούς), thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life (τῆς ὄντως ζωῆς).” (1 Tim 6: 17-19) During this season of sometimes-unwise spending, I’d like to carry with me the final words quoted above, which remind me of the whole point of having money or any other God-given “riches.” It is to use those resources 1. to “s

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