"IMAGINE THERE'S NO HEAVEN"

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Mk 13: 31) Which “heaven” will “pass away”? The sky we see above us. It’s not the “no heaven” that John Lennon called us to “imagine,” with “above us, only sky,” no. In fact this sky, this earth, along with the words of John Lennon, will pass away. “But according to his (the Lord’s) promise,” as St. Peter explains, “we wait for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Pet 3: 13) All this will pass, to be fully made over, and made “new” by our One Creator, by His life-creating Word. Let me also be made new this morning, once again, by the ever-life-creating words of our Lord, which will not pass away. I

BEING "FRUITFUL" IN GOD

“On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, ’May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard it.” (Mk 11: 12-14) Is our Lord being “unreasonable” here, with regard to the fig tree? I mean, it’s not even “the season for figs”! And yet He curses this tree, for not having any figs, out-of-season! So yes, He’s being unreasonable, with regard to the tree. But the fig tree is a tree, after all, and is not informed or affected by what the Lord says. So He is say

GIVE, AND IT WILL BE GIVEN TO YOU

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Lk 6: 37-38) …But I can’t give what I haven’t first received, from God. When I allow the “good” of God into my heart (like forgiveness, mercy, gratitude, humility, and so on), and then pass it on to others, I find it comes back to me. When I’m embracing gratitude, patience, humility, compassion, and perceiving the world in God’s light, I find that this light is reflected back onto me, as people,

TO SHARE OR NOT TO SHARE

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” (Proverbs 18: 21) Ouch! Yes, my words can spread “life,” or my words can spread “death.” Not only by way “of the tongue,” as it was when Proverbs were written. Today my sharing of words happens increasingly online, in what I choose to “forward” or “share” via text-message, tweet, email, or otherwise. I’m thinking about this today, because yesterday I received a nasty email, and then forwarded it to a close friend, saying something to the effect of, Look, she’s at it again, this one. I shouldn’t have done that. I could have “stopped the madness,” so to say, by just keeping it to myself. Simple abstinen

SLOWED DOWN BY ILLNESS

“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh for us, arm yourselves with the same thought, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer by human passions but by the will of God. Let the time that is past suffice for doing what the Gentiles like to do, living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry.” (1 Pet 4: 1-3) There’s this hidden blessing of falling ill “in the flesh”; that I am slowed down against my will, and compelled at least to press “pause” on my usual sinful patterns or “passions.” I don’t, however, necessarily “arm myself with the same thought” as the one Christ

GOD OF THE LIVING

“And Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection; and they asked him a question, saying, ‘Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife, but leaves no child, the man must take the wife, and raise up children for his brother. There were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and when he died left no children; and the second took her, and died, leaving no children; and the third likewise; and the seven left no children. Last of all the woman also died. In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Is not this why you err, not knowing (μὴ εἰδότες) either the scriptures or the power of God? For when

FOLLOWING, NOT STRAYING

“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.” (1 Pet 2: 21-25) St. Peter reminds me that I have a choice this morning, between “straying like (a) sheep,” or “following in His steps.” The lat

THE THINGS WE DO NOT KNOW

“It is proper and right to hymn You, to bless You, to praise You, to give thanks to You, and to worship You in every place of Your dominion. For You, O God, are ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, existing forever, forever the same (ἀεὶ ὤν, ὡσαύτως ὤν), You and Your only begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit. You brought us out of nothing into being, and when we had fallen away, You raised us up again. You left nothing undone until You had led us up to heaven and granted us Your kingdom, which is to come. For all these things, we thank You and Your only begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit: for all things we know and do not know, for blessings manifest and hidden that have been b

THEOPHANY

“When You, O Lord were baptized in the Jordan / The worship of the Trinity was revealed, / For the voice of the Father bore witness to You / And called You His beloved Son. / And the Spirit, in the form of a dove, / Confirmed the truthfulness of His word. / O Christ, our God, You have revealed Yourself / And have enlightened the world, glory to You!” (Byzantine Troparion-hymn of Theophany) The Lord “reveals” Himself; He appears unto us. That’s what He does, on this great feast of Theo-phany (θεο-φάνεια, Бого-явление, or «appearance/revelation of God»), celebrated today by those of us on the Older Calendar. He doesn’t hide Himself from us, but exposes Himself, immersing Himself into, and givi

SANCTIFYING THE WATERS

“Of old, the river Jordan / turned back before Elisha’s mantle at Elijah’s ascension. / The waters were parted in two / and the waterway became a dry path. / This is truly a symbol of baptism / by which we pass through this mortal life. / Christ has appeared in the Jordan to sanctify the waters!” (Troparion-hymn, Forefeast of Theophany) Today those of us on the Older Calendar begin the third day of the “Forefeast” (προεόρτια, предпразднство) of the great feast of Theophany, or the important moment in Salvation History, of the Baptism of the Lord in the river Jordan. So now the texts of our church-services are explaining to us, and bringing to life, some of the “hints“ that God “dropped“ thro

FAITH in ACTION

“What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (James 2: 14-17) I’m grateful to come across the above-quoted passage on this chilly Thursday morning in Vienna, just before I go out for my power-walk. I’m reminded that my faith in God, however Orthodox, does not “clothe” or nurture me merely by the words I profess on Sundays; nor does it simply ensure that I speak the “right” words, on the

PEACEMAKING IN DIVISIVE TIMES

“Acquire a peaceful spirit, and thousands around you will be saved.” (St. Serafim of Sarov, +1833) These well-known words of St. Serafim of Sarov, whose repose we celebrate today, help me to keep things simple in complicated times. In this particularly-divisive year of the US-presidential election, I find it more helpful to focus on peacemaking, first and foremost within myself, rather than defend vocally whatever decision I make at the voting-booth. Why? 1. Because the political “race” going on is not a contest of Good vs. Evil (“pace” the claims of both sides that it is); and 2. As a Christian, even as I vote my conscience, I am not obliged to “wrestle” with other Christians about it, unle

ON (NOT) COMPARING OURSELVES TO OTHERS

“Peter began to say to him, ‘Lo, we have left everything and followed you.’ Jesus said, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions (μετὰ διωγμῶν), and in the age to come eternal life. But many that are first will be last, and the last first.’” (Mk 10: 28-31) Indeed, we receive “a hundredfold“ of whatever we have had to let go of, or have had to “leave,“ for the sake of Christ and for the gospel, already “now in this time.“ But we also receive “pe

SERVING GOD in FINANCIAL MATTERS

“He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous (ἄδικος) in a very little is unrighteous also in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will entrust to you the true (riches)? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Lk 16: 10-13) I am called to be “faithful” and God-focused in all areas of life, including the unrighteous “mammon” (a Semitic word meaning money or riches). So, wherever

EMBRACING CHANGE

“And leaving Nazareth he went and dwelt in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, toward the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.’ From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent (Μετανοεῖτε, Change your mind/focus), for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” (Mt 4: 13-17) This is the very first word spoken to us by our Lord Jesus Christ: “Repent! (Μετανοεῖτε)” He says, which means “Change your mind” or your “focus.”

RECEIVING LIKE A CHILD

”And they were bringing children to him, that he might touch them; and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it he was indignant, and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’ And taking them in his arms (ἐναγκαλισάμενος αὐτὰ, hugging them) he blessed them, laying his hands upon them.” (Mk 10: 13-16) What does it mean, to “receive” a gift “like a child”? For one thing, it means not asking whether “I” am “worthy” of the gift being offered to me; whether I’ve been “naughty” or “nice.” Small children jump to open their Christma

THE GOSPEL & PROSPERITY

”When the men had come to him, they said, ’John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, Are you the Coming One (ὁ ἐρχόμενος), or do we look for (προσδοκῶμεν) another?’ And that very hour he healed many of infirmities, afflictions, and evil spirits; and to many blind he gave sight. Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of me.” (Lk 7: 20-23) Jesus Christ, “the Coming One,” was “coming” into the lives of many, and healing their afflictions. So the blind could “see,

GO AND MEET HIM

“Christ is born; glorify him! Christ is from heaven; go and meet him! Christ is on earth; be exalted! O All the earth, sing unto the Lord, and people, sing with joy. For He is glorified.” (Ode 1, Canon of Nativity) Once again, Christ is born in our hearts; Once again, He gives of Himself as “Bread for the whole world,” as it says in the Byzantine Prayer of the Prothesis, or Preparation of the Gifts, a rite celebrated in the altar by the priest before Divine Liturgy begins. Christ’s coming to us in “Beth-lehem,” meaning in Hebrew “the house of bread,” is thus celebrated and remembered at this “Prothesis Rite” before each Divine Liturgy, which is why an icon or fresco of the Nativity often ado

PREPARING OUR “BETHLEHEM”

“Prepare, O Bethlehem, for Eden has been opened to all! / Adorn yourself, O Ephratha, for the tree of life blossoms forth from the Virgin in the cave! / Her womb is a spiritual paradise planted with the Divine Fruit: / If we eat of it, we shall live forever and not die like Adam. / Christ is coming/being born (γεννᾶται) to restore (ἀναστήσων) the image/icon (εἰκόνα) which He made in the beginning!” (Troparion-hymn, Forefeast of Nativity) As those of us on the Older Calendar celebrate Christmas Eve today, (and our New Calendar friends celebrate Theophany), I’m thinking: Christ comes into our world to turn things around; to transfigure the previously death-bringing into the life-bringing. He c

WATER BURSTS FORTH IN THE DESERT

”Be glad, thirsty desert: let the wilderness exult, and flower as the lily. And the desert places of Jordan shall blossom and rejoice; the glory of Libanus has been given to it, and the honour of Carmel; and my people shall see the glory of the Lord, and the majesty of God. Be strong, weakened hands and feeble knees. Comfort one another, fainthearted ones; be strong, fear not; behold, our God renders judgment, and he will render it; he will come and save us. Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall hear. Then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the stammerers shall speak plainly; for water has burst forth in the desert, and a channel of wa

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