Spiritual Renewal and the Healing of the Blind

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Sunday of the Blind Man, May 25, 2014
Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. Christ is risen!

On this sixth and final Sunday during the forty days we celebrate Christ’s resurrection, we begin to contemplate the completion of this celebration with the account from John’s Gospel of the healing of the man born blind.

Having fasted and prayed our way through Great Lent, perhaps with not as much success as we had hoped, we came to Holy Pascha and rejoiced, not just in our lamb and hamburgers and kielbasi and chocolate milk and cheese, but in the resurrection of our God, in the resurrection of ourselves. Even if it was only a little, we died during Lent, and we have been raised to life again with our Lord Jesus.

And soon, those who remain in Him will also experience His ascension and the great gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Our hearts therefore naturally turn to the question of what we are to do now, what we will be doing when we come to that “ordinary” time, when in a few weeks our Sundays are named by counting their distance from Pentecost. What did I retain from Lent and Pascha and the Ascension and Pentecost?

This greatest season in the Church year, which lasts for nearly three months altogether, is fundamentally about spiritual renewal. It is about taking a fresh look at myself and asking not just “What can I stop doing wrong?” or even “What can I do to try harder to do good?” but rather something much more profound and even more accessible: “What do I see?”

What I can see comes to my mind when I think about this blind man whom Jesus heals today. He is blind from birth. He had no accident that made him blind. He has always been this way. It is not his fault he is blind. It is also not his parents’ fault. He does not know any other way of living. Seeing is something he hears people talk about, but he has no experience of it. So it may seem to him like a secret that everyone around him is in on but that he just cannot understand. They talk about things like color and light and darkness, but he doesn’t know any of these things. He doesn’t even know darkness. His sight is not darkened. It’s just not there.

But of course he has always lived this way. He knows that he stumbles sometimes and that he has to beg in order to find food, but that is his life. It is normal. It is his routine. It may not even be that big of a deal. He doesn’t have the sensation of having lost anything, so he may not really feel that he lacks something except that people tell him that he does.

And that is how I sometimes come to Lent and Pascha. I do not always arrive there with the sense that I have to accomplish something, that I really need any kind of spiritual renewal. I’m plugging along in my routine, and it’s normal for me. It’s my life. Yes, people say that I could be holy, that I could have a life filled with more spiritual energy and awareness and vision, but I’ve never really needed that before. So what’s the big deal?

This question of spiritual renewal has been on my mind recently, and not only because of this holy season, but also because of the transition that our Archdiocese now finds itself in—we have lost our Father in Christ Metropolitan Philip, and we are waiting expectantly for our new Father to be revealed. God knows who he will be, and He is preparing his heart. God is at work preparing the hearts of those who will participate in our nominating convention, and He is at work preparing the hearts of the metropolitans of the Holy Synod of Antioch who will elect our metropolitan.

And there is one purpose in God’s mind for us in choosing our chief shepherd—spiritual renewal. It is not so much that we have all been spiritually dead and useless, though perhaps that may be true for some. Rather, it is that we have come so far in the routine that we have had, and it is time now for something new to be brought to us. It is time that we receive a new kind of sight, a kind of sight which God knows and is preparing but we perhaps cannot quite yet imagine. But let us try to imagine some of what spiritual renewal might mean.

For some who are in church, it is not that they have no faith or do not care or are nominal Christians. But they often relate to the Church in a primarily institutional way or surface kind of way. They may be touched or impressed by the aesthetic of what they experience in church—the sounds and the sights and smells—but not penetrate very deeply into the spiritual significance of the liturgy and other services. There may be a strong private piety even, and even an emotional engagement, yet not much in the way of a deeper sense of what the purpose of church services is beyond experiencing a quiet or inspiring place to withdraw from the world for a while.

One of the results of this approach is that the bond between the individual believer and the liturgical community as a whole is not very strong. This manifests itself not only in that some folks do not really know other parishioners who are not their family but also in that there is less draw for services other than the Sunday liturgy. It is not so much that people are shunning fellow parishioners or shunning Saturday Vespers, but that there is not that personal bond of love and spiritual connection that would draw them together as the worshiping community.

For many parishioners, this really is normal. It is the routine. It’s spiritual life, even “faithful” church life. Yet like the blind man, there is something they do not see, something that perhaps they are not aware is even available to be seen. They are not turning away from it, because they don’t even know that it’s there.

But there could be a bond, a much deeper bond between us. I know that many of us pray for one another, but are all of us doing so? Is every name in the parish directory being prayed for? Are we praying for one another at home? Do we rejoice with all in the parish who rejoice and weep with all those who weep? At coffee hour and outside of these walls, do we connect in love with more than just our accustomed family or friends?

God has brought all of us here together in this place to pray together because, as St. Ignatius of Antioch once wrote in one of his epistles, “When you frequently come together, the powers of Satan are destroyed and his destructive force is annihilated by the concord of your faith.” What we do here together has great power, especially as we do it together. Do we have a sense when we are here praying together that we are indeed praying not alone but together, that our combined prayers have a powerful effect? Do we know that we are indeed a spiritual force?

So you see that there is much room for spiritual renewal for us—for both me and you, for us together. And I hope that you will join me in seeking this renewal. We will not merely expect it from our new chief shepherd and high priest when God reveals his name to us in a few weeks, but we will expect it from ourselves. We will pray. We will call upon God to bring us that renewal.

Yes, in many ways, we have come far, and we have much to be thankful for and even to be humbly proud of. At the same time, we have come through Lent. We have celebrated Pascha. And we are now awaiting the Ascension of our Lord and His sending to us the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. When the Holy Spirit comes upon me, what will I be? Will I receive that fiery Spirit, that divine Wind and be filled with renewal, with love for you, with love for the God Who brought us together? Will I join my prayers together with yours so that we may annihilate the powers of Satan together? Will I be drawn to be with you in every way, to pour myself out for you and make this holy community not just an important part of my life, but my whole life?

Our Lord Jesus came to give sight to the blind. He came to give resurrection to all and ascension to those who would follow Him. And He returned from whence He came to give us the Holy Spirit. How will I be renewed? How will we be renewed? When our eyes are opened by the touch of Christ, what will we see?

To the Lord Jesus Christ, be all glory, honor and worship, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen. Christ is risen!

Becoming a Bridge: Christ and the Woman at the Well

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Note: An audio recording of this sermon is also available via Ancient Faith Radio.

Sunday of the Samaritan Woman, May 18, 2014
Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. Christ is risen!

Today on this fifth Sunday of the great feast of all feasts, Holy Pascha, we meditate on the mystery of the Lord’s approach of the Samaritan Woman, the Woman at the Well. This woman comes to this well that had been founded by Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, so many centuries before, that she may draw water to bring home for her thirsty household. And there at the well, she finds Jesus sitting there.

She could immediately tell from His clothing and bearing that she had met a Jew Who followed the Law of Moses, because when he asked her to get Him something to drink, she responded, “How is it that Thou, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” For as the Scriptures tell us, the Jews did not speak with Samaritans, and as is even now in the case in many places in that region, it was not proper that a man should address a woman alone. So she is taken aback when he speaks to her.

What I wish especially to emphasize today in this encounter between the Samaritan Woman and our Savior Jesus Christ is how He does not emphasize their difference but instead makes Himself into a bridge for her.

He becomes a bridge for her in that He chooses to reach out to her as a man to a woman. Even now, men and women, while we may be attracted to one another, often find each other almost impossible to understand and even sometimes we may think that the other is impossible to live with. This can be true even outside of romantic relationships. Men tend to group with other men, and women with women. And there is nothing wrong with connecting with people who are like you. But there is something wrong with shunning people who are not like you. Jesus here becomes a bridge for her and overcomes this opposition of men with women by taking the initiative and by addressing her with kindness and love, beginning by making a request of her: “Give Me a drink.”

He also becomes a bridge for her between peoples. He is a Jew, and Jews have traditionally treated the Samaritans with disdain. They are regarded as heretics who only have some of the Law of Moses, and they are also looked upon as miscegenated half-breeds whose forebears had inter-married with the surrounding pagan peoples. But He reaches out to her, becoming a bridge and connecting her to their father Abraham through their common reverence for Jacob at his well.

Christ also becomes a bridge for her between righteousness and unrighteousness. She had sinned and had been with many men, marrying many times and even at that moment, living sinfully with a man who was not her husband. Yet He still offered to her His own presence, His own words of wisdom and love. He did not turn away from her because she was an “undesirable” who did things that were not fitting for someone righteous like Him, someone Who followed the Law of Moses perfectly.

The Lord Jesus also becomes a bridge for her in the matter of worship. She knows only one kind of worship, and that is the worship of the Samaritans which took place on their holy mountain that Jacob had set apart many centuries before. She also knows that Jews say that worship is to take place in the Temple in Jerusalem. But of course no Samaritan could enter that Temple and offer worship there. And He offers her a solution, becoming a bridge not just for her as a Samaritan but indeed for the whole world—His Father is seeking true worshipers, who will worship in spirit and truth, not just on the Samaritan mountain nor in the Temple, but indeed in every place. The old boundaries were being taken down, and forgiveness and communion can happen anywhere.

He also becomes a bridge for her to hope. She knows of the Messiah, the One coming into the world Who will tell her all things, but as a Samaritan, as a sinful woman, as one separated, she has no hope for access to the Messiah—the Messiah of the Jews. And the Messiah is a figure of legend and ancient prophecy. That she would find that figure sitting at the well of her fathers would not have occurred to her. But here He is, the hope of all, the promised Anointed One, the Christ, bringing hope to her even in the midst of her separation and hopelessness.

And ultimately, He becomes a bridge for her to God. For in Himself, He is both God and man. He is the God Who is man and the man Who is God. She met a divine Person, but she was able to meet Him because He is man. She saw His human body which is an element of His human nature, yet she accessed His divine wisdom, His divine clairvoyance, His divine love, which are the energies and the actions possible because of His divine nature. In Him, she becomes a partaker of the divine nature.

And in all these same ways, He has become a bridge also for us. We who are at odds with one another because of differences of gender and race and culture and class and wealth can become one because of how He has bridged all of mankind together in Himself, giving us all to eat and drink of His glorified flesh and blood. We who are not born into the chosen people of God, not naturally of Israel, have been brought into that people because He has bridged the way for us. He has become the New Jacob, the New Israel into Whom all the nations of the earth may gather as one chosen people, the new race of Christians.

He also is the bridge for us to righteousness, something we could never accomplish on our own. Try being truly kind and loving for just one day! Yet He gives us His own holiness so that we can be transformed, released from the drudgery of merely “trying hard” on our own strength, given access to divine strength. And He also is the bridge for us to true worship. He not only provides for us the possibility of worship in spirit and in truth in every place, but He is Himself the priest Who offers the sacrifice, the One Who is sacrificed and the One Who receives the sacrifice. And He also is the One Who distributes the sacrifice, which is Himself. He is everywhere and become everything for us.

And in all this, He is the bridge between God and man, being Himself both God and man. We touch His humanity and so access His divinity. There is no other such bridge, no other way to contact our God except through His Christ, His Son, this Jesus Who is the God-man. And thus the ancient boundary of our sin is torn down, and we are set free to celebrate in the vast beauty of divine grace.

Having received all this, the Samaritan Woman—who soon takes the name Photini, meaning “the enlightened one,” for she had received light—she herself becomes a bridge. For she bridges the way between Jesus and her own people. She goes and tells them about Him, and then He is invited to come and stay with them. And when they meet Him, they believe.

In this beautiful account of how Jesus becomes a bridge for Photini and then how she does the same for her people, we should find ourselves in that same story. We should not, of course, be as the disciples, who stood to the side questioning the whole thing, even if mostly in their hearts.

Rather, we first see ourselves as the woman, who encounters Christ and is connected by Him to so many things she had been lacking, most especially to the very presence of God Himself.

But we also try in whatever ways we can to see ourselves in Christ, that we may also become bridges to other people. We cannot allow the old boundaries to persist, the boundaries that keep us from each other, that keep us from righteousness, that keep us from worship, that keep us from God Himself. We become bridges so that those whom God brings us will be able to connect not just with one another, but in all these ways and in all these things to Jesus Christ.

And we again see ourselves as the woman, who herself becomes a bridge, connecting those whom she loves and who know her best to the Messiah Who has come into the world to save us and give us that living water that will never dry up and never run out.

To our Lord Jesus Christ therefore be all glory, honor and worship, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen. Christ is risen!

On the Altar of the Cross

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The Hill of Crosses, Šiauliai, Lithuania
Sunday of the Adoration of the Holy Cross, 2012

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.

In today’s reading from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Hebrews, we read his further elaboration of the dominant theme of the work, namely, the priesthood of Christ. The book, being written to the Hebrew people, that is, to the Jews, is at pains to express to them that the ancient priesthood of the Jewish faith, which offered up sacrifices in the Temple in Jerusalem, was now being fulfilled in Christ.

Jesus, in His coming to Earth, had instituted a new order of priests, not one descended from Moses’ brother Aaron and the Jewish Tribe of Levi, as the old priesthood had been, but rather a priesthood that is not defined by fleshly descent, but by spiritual participation in Christ. And this meditation on the priesthood is what is brought before us in Orthodox tradition as appropriate to hear on this, the Sunday of the Adoration of the Cross.

It is no secret that the central dynamic of true Christian life is one that is bizarre and unattractive to this world—crucifixion. Not only is the Christian Church the only religion in the world whose defining moment is the martyrdom of God, but we also make the unpopular appeal to those who would follow after Christ to come and be crucified with Him. If we are going to be identified with Christ, then we must be martyred with Christ, whether literally through physical death on account of our faith or in a more metaphorical sense through life-long death to the passions and foolishness of this world.

The Lord Himself says this in today’s Gospel: “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” That’s the Christian life: Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Christ. Follow His life. Follow His actions. Do what He did. Deny yourself. Be crucified. Do that, and you are a Christian.

Well, to be honest, that doesn’t sound so nice. We’re not interested in denying ourselves and taking up our crosses. We’d prefer to indulge ourselves and take up, well, just about anything but a cross. Take up golfing. Take up fancy restaurants. Take up collecting stamps. Take up expensive cars and houses. Take up video games. No cross, please, thanks.

So that leaves us the question as to why anyone would actually choose to be a Christian. A life of self-denial? Of crucifixion? Really?

In the face of these very clear words from Christ, to understand why anyone would actually want to live as a true Christian, and not merely as a Christian in name only, we have to understand what motivates people. There are many things in human life for which people will practice self-denial and even choose a very difficult way of living. Someone may strive arduously to be an excellent athlete, with all the training, sacrifice, change in diet, and rearrangement of schedule that requires. Someone may consistently and carefully woo someone for marriage, caring and serving, embarrassing themselves with romantic gestures, changing jobs, friends or place of residence. Someone may also go through the rigors of boot camp or basic training and enter into the separation from family, danger and risk that are required in order to be in the military. Or they may do whatever it takes to have and to raise children.

There are many difficult things that we as human beings will do in order to gain something more important, in order to serve an ideal or to achieve a goal that we regard as being higher and better than what we could have gained from the things we give up, from the self-denial and even pain we endure. In all of these things, we have to have a clear sense of what the goal actually is, that it is actually worth the struggle and pain. In the context of meditating today on the Cross of Christ, in the words we hear from Paul he explains to us what this is.

Christ’s offering on the cross is not as a victim. He was not involuntarily crucified. He was not overcome by His creatures and put to death, as though He never had any say in the matter. The whole thing was voluntary. No, it was not His own hand that killed Him—He did not commit suicide. But He could have stopped it at any point. So it was by His will that the crucifixion happened. Therefore, this act is an act of deliberate sacrifice. And if it is a sacrifice, then there must be a sacrificer. And what is a sacrificer? That is a priest.

Remember, the Epistle to the Hebrews is about the priesthood of Christ. And today’s reading is precisely about Christ as our great High Priest, the One Who offers up sacrifices on behalf of the people. Paul says here that He is “taken from among the people, is appointed on behalf of the people in things pertaining to God, that He may offer up both gifts and sacrifices for sins; Who can have compassion on the ignorant and on those who are erring, since He Himself also is encompassed with infirmity.”

Jesus Christ is one of us, “taken from among the people.” But we could say that He is also “taken” from God, since He is God. He is the only being in existence Who can identify with both God and man, because He is both God and man. It is this God-man, this High Priest, Who offers up the ultimate and final sacrifice on the cross. That is the altar on which His sacrifice is given, and it is there that we join with Him, if we also take up our crosses and live in self-denial. It is there that we, too, become priests, participating in the one priesthood of Christ.

So why would we want to do that? What’s the point in also becoming sacrificers and, indeed, becoming the sacrificed? Why would we want to deny ourselves and take up our crosses? Jesus explains this to us in the Gospel: “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 soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and 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.”

On its face, the words of the God-man, the High Priest, clearly indicate that our eternal salvation depends on being crucified ourselves. If we are ashamed of Christ and will not truly follow Him, then He will be ashamed of us when He comes in His glory at the end of time. In stark terms, we risk eternity in Hell if we do not take up the cross.

But there is also something else going on here: We lose our lives in order to save them. What does this mean? It is part of the nature of sacrifice. When something is truly sacrificed to God, it is not traded to Him. It is not merely “given up.” That is not what sacrifice is. Sacrifice is rather to offer something to God, upon which He takes it and transforms it by His touch, and then He offers it back, now changed, made holy and transformed.

So that means that being sacrificed, living a life of self-denial and crucifixion, is not merely the door to eternity in Heaven, though it certainly is that. That’s what Christ said. It’s also the key to becoming something more than we are, to becoming truly holy, truly human—that is, becoming what God created us to be. He made us to be saints. The pursuit of being a saint is the only thing that will last into eternity, but even more than that, it is the only thing truly worth man’s time and struggle. It is the only thing truly worth giving your heart to unreservedly.

Don’t you yearn to be something higher, something nobler? Don’t you long for glory? Doesn’t your heart burn within you not just to know about what is good, what is holy, what is filled with light and perfection, but actually to participate in it? Don’t you want, in the midst of this broken, fallen, darkened world, to see wholeness, beauty and light?

Come, then, deny yourself and be crucified with Christ. Take up this glorious struggle, this holy fight, this noblest and best of all human callings. He has called us all to be a holy people, a nation of priests. If we follow the way of the Cross, we will know true glory and power and joy for all eternity.

To the crucified and risen Jesus Christ, with His eternal Father and His all-holy and good and life-giving Spirit, be all glory, honor and worship, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

The Return to God

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"Der verlorene Sohn hütet die Schweine," Sebald Beham, 1538

Sunday of the Prodigal Son, 2012

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.

One of the principal themes that we meditate upon during these weeks that precede Great Lent and during the Fast itself is forgiveness. And it’s no wonder, because the Christian Church is really the only place in which forgiveness makes any sense, the only place where forgiveness is actually possible.

If you’re standing in front of a judge who is about to sentence you for a crime, try saying, “Please forgive me!” Or imagine Richard Nixon, during the announcement of his resignation from the presidency in 1974, saying, “Please forgive me!” Or what if you get an “F” on an exam in school—can you say to your teacher, “Please forgive me”? Forgiveness is not really how our society operates. And yet we think about it a great deal here in the Church.

So what does it mean? And what can we learn about forgiveness from the Gospel theme for today, the parable of the Prodigal Son?

I think a lot of people think of forgiveness as a sort of deal we do with God. We come to church every so often (perhaps even regularly), give a certain amount toward our pledge, or even just say, “God, forgive me,” and God will of course forgive us—right? Actually—wrong. In fact, that sort of approach to Christian faith indicates that we don’t even understand what forgiveness really is.

So first let’s talk about what it’s not. Forgiveness is not a ticket to Heaven. Forgiveness is not for God to look at our sins and say, “Oh, I guess that’s all right. Just don’t do it again. Here, have some eternal life.” Forgiveness is not having some big mystical debt or punishment just wiped away.

To get inside what forgiveness actually is, consider your own experience. Have you ever had anyone say to you “I’m sorry,” but you just knew that they weren’t really sorry? You knew that there was no real change on their part, that they just wanted whatever had happened to be over with, that what had happened had not really affected them inside. They just wanted to get out of whatever bad experience awaited them, even if it was just the experience of continuing to be confronted with their failing. Or perhaps you were that person—not really sorry for what you did, but just sorry you got caught or sorry that something uncomfortable happened because of what you did.

But have you ever had someone who had failed you, who had betrayed you, who had hurt you, and who then came to you with genuine sorrow, not because they feared bad things happening to them, but because they could not bear to be separated from you? Their sorrow for their sin came out of the brokenness of the relationship with you, not from concern for their own comfort. That’s the basis for real forgiveness, because there is real repentance there, a real desire to be reunited, to be reconciled.

So, now think for a moment about your real relationship with Christ. When you say to Him, “Lord, have mercy,” are you saying it merely out of habit? Are you saying it out of a sense of obligation? Are you saying it just because it sounds nice when the choir sings it? Or are you actually aware that you need, well, mercy?

Are you aware of your separation from your Creator? If not, there are two possibilities: You are a saint and have a constant and unbroken awareness of God’s presence with you or you do not actually care to have a real relationship with your God, and so the separation doesn’t matter to you.

If you come and listen to the hymns of the Sunday Matins service leading up to and during Great Lent, you will hear a hymn sung shortly after the Gospel reading in which the writer says that he “tremble[s] for the terrible day of judgment.” Why would anyone tremble, though? Didn’t the writer of that hymn—probably a saint—have his ticket to Heaven? Even in his holiness, a saint is aware that he still has separation from God, and his thirst for God’s presence is so strong and his awareness of his inability to be perfect is so strong that he cries out to God, “Lord, have mercy!”

I think this is a real problem for many of us—we do not know that we are separated from God, and probably worse yet, we may not even care. But probably all of us do care for how we will spend eternity. But we may be deceived, thinking that all we need to do is to fulfill some religious “obligation,” and that ticket to Heaven will be ours. If we believe that—no matter how we may define our “obligation”—then we have believed a lie, and it is a lie whispered to us by the demons.

The truth behind all this is to be found in today’s Parable of the Prodigal Son. In this story, which we all know well, an ungrateful son takes what belongs to his father and wastes it all in a far-off country, eventually finding himself in total shame, total filthiness, total rejection from society.

We know how the story ends, but let’s imagine an alternate ending for this parable. Instead of the Prodigal “coming to himself” and going back to his father, he sends him a letter:

Dear Dad,

As you may have heard, I am now living in a far-off country and am forced to feed pigs for a living. I’ve even gotten so hungry that the pigs’ food is starting to look pretty good to me. I messed up, and I’m sorry. I was hoping you might send over one of your servants with a bag of gold so I could pay off my debts and maybe buy something to eat. I’d appreciate it.

The Prodigal

That’s ridiculous, of course. But that’s basically the approach a lot of us take. We send God the occasional prayer-letter and want Him to bail us out in exchange. But that’s not what forgiveness is about. It’s not a bail-out from the Big Banker in the Sky.

What really happens in this parable is what forgiveness is all about. The Prodigal “comes to himself,” meaning that he really realizes what he has done, meaning that he really has become aware of his separation from his father, from his home, from his family. And then he goes home. And he makes no request other than “Please take me back.” He doesn’t even expect to be treated as a son. He just asks to be treated as a servant.

Ask yourself today whether you’re aware of the separation that exists between you and God. Really ask yourself that. If you don’t think there is one at all, well as much as it may be hard to hear, there actually is. If you think there isn’t one, ask yourself whether you have yet become perfect as the Heavenly Father is perfect, because that’s the only way there’s no separation.

If you’re not there yet, then that means you have some work to do. And if you can at least acknowledge that intellectually, but you have no idea where to start, no idea how to actually “come to yourself” and start heading toward the Father, then please, come to confession and let’s talk. It’s true: No one is perfect. But if we’re satisfied with that, then that means we are satisfied with living with the pigs, satisfied with the temporary pleasure and success the world has to offer, satisfied with forgetting about living with God and all our family in Heaven at the end of our lives. But if you’re not satisfied with that, if you want to know what you can do about overcoming that separation, then Christ and His Church stand ready to take you by the hand and lead you, step by step, back to the Father.

As ever, our forgiveness depends on our hearts. We cannot be forgiven if our hearts are not really set on drawing close to Christ. We cannot only set our minds or our sense of religious “obligation” on the forgiveness of God. We have to give our hearts. And you know when you’ve given your heart to something—it’s when you can never answer the question, “How much is enough?” There is no “enough” when it comes to the heart.

So what is forgiveness? It is to be received back by our Father. And how do we get there? We “come to ourselves,” return to Him, and open our hearts. Then we will gain not only the glory and beauty of His presence in this life, but eternity with Him, as well. As the great Christian writer C. S. Lewis once wrote, “Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth ‘thrown in’: aim at Earth and you will get neither” (from The Joyful Christian).

So which way are you aiming?

May the God of peace, forgiveness and restoration, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, be therefore glorified always, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

“Foundations of the Orthodox Faith” series fully online

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My Foundations of the Orthodox Faith series is now fully online at Ancient Faith Radio. This series represents an attempt at a sort of catechism—approaching the faith from four foundational angles: the revelation of God to man, authority in the spiritual life, worship, and morality.

As with most of my work, I attempted to keep these talks fairly free of religious jargon, approaching the subjects with only a minimum of assumptions shared with the listeners. My hope is that these will be digestible not only to Orthodox Christians, but to other Christians, members of other religions, those who are “spiritual but not religious,” and even unbelievers.

There’s something of a progression here, so skipping ahead is advisable only at your own risk. The progression makes some sense to me: God reveals Himself (1), leading us to ask what we should trust as authoritative (2), propelling us into acts of worship (3) and ethics/morality (4).

Here’s the full series with all the links:

Whatever assumptions you may have, this series is probably not quite what you might be thinking. (But, hey! Maybe it is.)

Scripture and Tradition

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Ancient Faith Radio now has both parts of my talk “Scripture and Tradition” available for download here and here as part of the Roads From Emmaus podcast.

This talk is the second installment in the four-part Foundations of the Orthodox Faith series and was originally delivered on May 23, 2010.

Those interested in a particular aspect of this talk, namely, the formation of the New Testament canon as a question for apologetics, may find the post and comments here (from This Is Life!: Revolutions Around the Cruciform Axis) to be of some interest.

The Voice

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Today’s saintly commemoration is the conception of John the Forerunner, known to most English speakers as John the Baptist, which is narrated for us, along with his birth, in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel.

A major thematic element for today is the Voice. Zachariah, not believing the archangel, is made bereft of his voice until such time as he participates in the naming of his son. Some might see in this a curiously arbitrary punishment, but for one who is a priest, as Zachariah was, losing one’s voice is no small thing. And this was not merely laryngitis, either. Zachariah could not function as a priest without his voice, and so for nine months, he is made to fast from his priestly office, and his voice is held fast and in check until his wife Elizabeth should give birth.

And then the one to whom Elizabeth gives birth is the Voice par excellence. He is the Voice crying in the wilderness, prophesied by Isaiah so many centuries before. And this Voice speaks only one Word, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the Word of God.

Yes, we may say that Zachariah was “punished” for his lack of faith when the archangel spoke to him, but may we not also look deeper? Was it not appropriate that the priesthood of the Old Covenant, the Aaronic priesthood, should fall silent at the coming of the one who introduces us to the true, fulfilled priesthood of the New Covenant? Before, there was a priesthood of the flesh, a priesthood of Levites, but now there is a priesthood into which all mankind may be initiated, the priesthood of Christ, which lasts forever, after the order of Melchizedek. Zachariah himself was ordained in this new priesthood when he named his son.

And so we too must all lift our voices with the Voice, proclaiming that same Word.