Friday, March 27, 2009

Living the Faith

One of the great joys of Orthodoxy for me lies in the fact that God is here with us. Orthodoxy speaks of a living faith now -- and is not focussed only on some distant place or time. It is meant to be lived daily at home, at work, at Church, well -- in every moment.

Fr Stephen Freeman (Glory to God for All Things), speaking of this very topic, came up with a short list of very practical, down-to-earth "things" one can do. It is a sort of "devotional action list" that deals with all of life. I think it is a very worthwhile list, and so, here it is:

1. Recognize that though “God is everywhere present and filling all things,” you often go through the world as if He were not particularly present at all and that things are just empty things. When you see this, make it a matter of confession.

2. Always approach the Church and the sacraments (where we have an even more specific promise of His presence) with awe. Never treat the building or things that have been set aside as holy as though they were common or empty. Do not divide your life into two - now He’s here, now He’s not. Syrian Christians traditionally believed that the Shekinah presence of God left the Temple and took up abode in the cross - every cross - and thus had extraordinary devotion to each and every cross. We should never be indifferent to the icon corner in our home. Cross yourself whenever you pass it or come into its presence.

3. Make careful preparation for communion. Always read the pre-communion prayers if you are going to receive communion (and perhaps even if you are not); pray Akathists that particularly focus on Christ and His presence, such as the Akathist to the Sweetest Lord Jesus. The traditional Western hymn, written by St. Patrick, known as his “breastplate” is also a very fine hymn to know. Find it and keep it with you and learn it.

4. Lay to heart Psalms of presence, such as Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd,” and Psalm 91, “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High,” and any others that strike you. Repeat them frequently through the day.

5. Throughout the day - search for God. He is everywhere present, and yet our searching helps us to be more properly aware. In searching, expect to find Him. He delights in sharing His presence.

6. More than anything else, give thanks to God for all things. There is no better way to acknowledge His presence. I Thess. 5:18 (a much neglected verse) says: “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”

Fr. Stephen is well worth reading in many areas. Read "Glory to God for All Things".

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Forgiveness Sunday, 2009

"Forgiveness" and those words related to it are often, in the "Christian" world, "throw aways." It is great to talk about forgiving and forgiveness – as long as it doesn't get too personal. "I forgive you" is often shortened to an "It is OK" kind of thing that really doesn't deal with the fact that "it" is NOT OK at all. How often are grudges carried on and on and on, or hurts not admitted, all the time being "kept" deep within?

It is also very easy to "forgive" but to harbor thoughts of revenge, or being justified in one's own sin. Again, we really don't want to get up close and personal – so forgiveness becomes a "too" of sorts to not look into one's self, only looking at the other guy.

Forgiveness, the act of forgiving is at the heart of being in Christ. In fact, not to forgive results in not being forgiven. That's not in some "tit for tat" kind of thinking – Christ our God is the lover of mankind all the time – how can anyone receive forgiveness if one is not willing to repent of the sin of not forgiving?

One of my Greek brothers points to the "Our Father" in the New Testament, pointing out that the text says, "Forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors." Indeed, the willingness to forgive, to let go of the past, to not let it rule our present, is born only of the Spirit, a part of metania, repentance, being transformed, turned around.

As we prepare to enter Great and Holy Lent, then, we, realizing the depth of our sin ("voluntary and involuntary, known and unknown) we literally confess and ask forgiveness of our brothers and sisters for even the things we might have been aware of as we end the forgiveness Vespers. Beginning with the priest and any other clergy all those present at Vespers, ask and give forgiveness to all present, one by one. That is to say, "forgiveness" moves from something we talk about to something that is practiced.

And it is strangely emotional to take the hand of another and ask forgiveness for any sin – to hear and give the word of forgiveness, and too embrace and share the kiss of peace. The depth of the sin in our lives is driven home as you realize that it includes the inadvertent snubs, the misspoken word, the action that may have caused unrealized hurt. The love that is ours in Christ is "driven home" on this day as, in that moment at least, we don't take one another for granted, but see that we are joined in Christ.

Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother, for thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.
(from the Prayer of St. Ephraim)