THE “SHAME” OF THE CROSS

“And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’” (Mk 8: 34-38) Which part of Christ’s “words” would one be “ashamed” of? It’s the part about the Cr

IT’S OK TO BE "NOT WELL"

“As he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office. And he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ So he arose and followed him. Now it happened, as he was dining in Levi’s house, that many tax collectors and sinners also sat together with Jesus and his disciples; for there were many, and they followed him. And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to his disciples, ‘How is it that he eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?’ When Jesus heard it, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.’ ” (Mk 2: 14-17) So

“I AM YOURS, SAVE ME!“

“I am yours, save me (Σός εἰμι ἐγώ, σωσόν με / Твой есмь аз, спаси мя); for I have sought after your statutes.” (Ps 118/119: 94) How simple and bold, to say to God: I am Yours! (So) save me! And we can all say that, indeed we are all invited to say that, in the words of this beautiful Psalm, handed down to us from ancient times. It has been a cry from the heart of so many children of God, struggling like us, and praying these words in their ups and downs of “seeking after His statutes,” throughout the ages. Let me join them today, and ask God to “save” me, that is, to “bring me home,” from my wanderings-off outside of Him, if for no other reason than the fact that I am His. And I have “sough

BAPTIZED WITH FIRE

“When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem he will punish the arrogant boasting of the king of Assyria and his haughty pride. For he says: ‘By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom, for I have understanding…’ Therefore the Lord, the Lord of hosts, will send wasting sickness among his stout warriors, and under his glory a burning will be kindled, like the burning of fire. The Light of Israel will become a fire, and his Holy One a flame; and it will burn and devour his thorns and briers in one day… In that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean upon him that smote them, but will lean upon the Lord, the

LENT HUMBLES US

“The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day. For the day of the Lord of hosts shall come upon everything proud and lofty, upon everything lifted up, and it shall be brought low…” (Is 2: 11-12) How unusual and refreshing, to have these readings from the ancient Prophet Isaiah on the weekdays of Lent! (Just FYI, the Prophet Isaiah is read at “The Sixth Hour” or “Sext” on the weekdays of Byzantine Lent). In the reading for this Thursday, quoted above, we learn that all our “lofty looks,” “haughtiness,” and other masks with which we might present one another, and torment one another, will be “bowed down” in

PHYSICAL & SPIRITUAL FASTING

“Come, O wretched soul, together with your body/flesh (σὺν τῇ σαρκί σου), and confess to the Creator of all (τῷ πάντων κτίστῃ ἐξομολογοῦ), so that henceforth, you shall abstain from the past foolishness/meaninglessness (τῆς πρὶν ἀλογίας) and offer tears of repentance to God.” (Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, Ode 1) We “come” into the “repentance” (change of mind / change of focus) of the Lenten season not only with/in our “soul,” but also with/in our “flesh.” Hence all the dietary restrictions, the longer church-services and the great prostrations connected to Lenten prayer(s), which draw also our bodies into our communal effort to re-focus on “the Creator of all,” – the Creator of “all

BEGINNING LENT

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.” (Gen 1: 1-5) Lent (re)-introduces us to the “basics” of our faith, like a catechetical program. So today, as those of us on the Orthodox church-calendar begin Lent, at Vespers we have this reading from the very beginning of the Bible. It

ADAM & EVE’S “EXILE”

“And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ So he said, ‘I heard your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.’” (Gen 3: 8-10) In “The Fall,” Adam and Eve changed their focus; they turned away from God’s Way of doing and knowing things, and decided to pursue their own. And this decision, to rely and focus on themselves, in pursuit of a way and a knowledge without God, leads them to fear. Self-reliance leads us to fear, because in self-reliance, we

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Behold, I will save my people from the land of the east and from the land of the west; I will bring them back, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. They shall be my people and I will be their God, in truth and righteousness.’ Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Let your hands be strong… For before these days there were no wages for man nor any hire for beast; There was no peace from the enemy for whoever went out or came in; For I set all men, everyone, against his neighbor. But now I will not treat the remnant of this people as in the former days,’ says the Lord of hosts.” (Zechariah 8: 7-9a, 10-11) How interesting, that this Scripture-reading (for

WHEN WE ARE DIVISIVE

“…These are sensual people, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.” (Jude 17-23) There are troublesome people, “not having the Spirit” and “causing divisions,” both inside our immediate communities and outside them, as we might be troubled to hear every day in the news. But the Apostle Jude is talking about those “inside” our immediate surroun

ASH WEDNESDAY & CHEESEFARE WEDNESDAY

“Lord and Master of my life, grant me not the spirit of idleness, despondency, love of power, and idle talk.” (Lenten Prayer of St. Ephrem, Part One) Today Lent begins for many Christians, while for those of us in (most of) the Orthodox Churches, it will only begin next Monday. Nonetheless, (little-known “fun fact”), even we Orthodox Christians have Lenten-style services on this Wednesday and Friday of the pre-Lenten “Cheesefare Week,” although dairy-products and fish are allowed. By “Lenten-style services” I mean that this Wednesday and Friday no Divine Liturgy is celebrated (as it is not on weekdays of Lent); and along with other hymns and prayers from the Lenten Triodion, the Lenten Praye

GRATITUDE LIFTS UP OUR HEARTS

Priest: Let us lift up our hearts! (Ἄνω σχῶμεν τὰς καρδίας. / Sursum corda. / Горе имеим сердца.) People: We have them (lifted up) to the Lord. (Ἔχομεν πρὸς τὸν Κύριον. / Habemus ad dominum. / Имамы ко Господу.) Priest: Let us give thanks to the Lord! (Εὐχαριστήσωμεν τῷ Κυρίῳ. / Gratias agamus domino. / Благодарим Господа.) People: It is meet and right. (Ἄξιον καὶ δίκαιον. / Dignum et iustum est. / Достойно и праведно есть...) This part of the Pre-Anaphoral Dialogue is common to the traditional Eucharistic Prayers of both East and West. And it reminds me of a vital aspect of any Christian prayer, or of any prayerful life, – that when we “lift up our hearts to the Lord,” we do so “in to,” and

WHEN STONES CRY OUT

“As he was now drawing near, at the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’ And some of the Pharisees in the multitude said to him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.’” (Lk 19: 37-40) The Pharisees can’t stand the simple folk rejoicing and praising God, when Christ “draws near” to Jerusalem seated on a donkey, like the Messiah (Zech. 9: 9). But when they try to get Jesus to silence His di

THE LAST JUDGEMENT & ORTHODOXY

“When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’” (Mt 25: 3

SPEAKING FACE TO FACE

“Having many things to write to you, I did not wish to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face (στόμα πρὸς στόμα, mouth to mouth), that our joy may be full.” (2 Jn 1: 12) In the first century, the Holy Apostle John is not entirely happy about communicating with his flock just “with paper and ink.” The “joy” he takes in communicating with his people will only be “full,” when he comes and speaks to them “face to face” (or “mouth to mouth,” as it says in the Greek). Why? Because encountering other human beings in their entirety, which includes their physicality, created in the image and likeness of God, is always a revelation of God Himself. A human being is a

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