Tuesday, September 29, 2009

"orthodox" or "Orthodox"

Over the years, I've come to learn that one can call oneself by a name, but in all actuality not really be what they say they are.

Of course, sinful humans find that happening all the time for themselves, thus we pray "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner."

That doesn't mean that we get a pass, though.

In my former life it was just as apparent as it is now. I'd visit a parishioner, one whose name was "on the books," so to speak. They were "Lutheran." And they would loudly proclaim it. But, they had no clue what a Lutheran was or was supposed to be. Often I'd hear, "I'm a Lutheran, even though I don't go to church, because my Uncle was .... (change the family relationship, it doesn't matter) an elder, (or it could be pastor, or teacher, or whatever). That is to say, in all reality, they were "lutheran" but not "Lutheran."

That can be said for many who claim to be "Christian." They are "christian" but not "Christian." Over my six plus decades, I've met all kinds of people who tell me they are "Christian." "I'm a Christian because I am not Jewish." "I'm a Christian because all Americans are Christians." The list goes on, and you get the point.

However, the fact remains: calling oneself something doesn't really mean that one IS what one says one is.

And that is serious business.

We can and do proclaim that we are Orthodox, don't we? We are baptized, chrismated, and perhaps we even attend the Divine Liturgy on a fairly regular basis. We may even give some money and serve on this or that committee. All of those things are indeed part of what it is to be Orthodox, to be Christian.

However, the larger question might be phrased this way: Have we indeed denied self, taken up our cross, and our we following Jesus, every moment of every day?

That's a question that makes me nervous, as it probably does you. Truth is, we do NOT always deny self, and we'd just as soon NOT take up that cross ... and more often than not Jesus, and our life in Him, is "fit in" where it can be between work, home, sports, TV, and the list goes on.

Confessing these things doesn't mean that we can merely continue on doing things as we have.

What to do?

Seek God! Pray daily, regularly, in the disciplines of the Church. Speak to your Priest and receive his direction. Make these things a priority -- it may well mean that we don't watch as much TV, and it may mean that the party invitation is sometimes refused, or we say that we have to be late. Get up in the morning, Pray, make the sign of the holy cross, do your prostrations, venerate the Holy Cross and your icons.

Fast! Actually, our Lord didn't make this an option, a nice, quaint religious practice to be used when convenient. Fasting and prayer go together. The fasts and feasts of the Church Year guide us in living in such a way that we go give glory to God for all things ... and that we receive them with His blessing, using them and enjoying them in His blessing. The gifts are NOT the gods (although it is very easy to live that way). Fasting should be done with the direction of a spiritual father, but I dare say that we often don't seek the guidance of our spiritual father because then we reason that we don't have to fast. Fasting is part of taking up one's cross, by the way.

Give Alms! Almsgiving is part of loving one's neighbor as oneself. It is part of taking up the cross. It is part of self denial. It means that when we look at our neighbor or our neighbor in need, we see Crhist and would serve Him. It isn't about the recognition, or the rewards, or the payback (Let's see: if I give $10 then eventually I'll get $100 back!)

To be Orthodox is to be Christian. It is to give glory to God in all things and for all things. It is to seek Him and to live in the power and blessing of the Holy Spirit, as we give not only lip service but life service in the name of Jesus within Holy Mother Church.

In an interview on Ancient Faith Radio, Mother Gabriella of Holy Dormition Monastery in Rives Junction, MI was speaking of her childhood in Romania. She commented on how her family lived the fasts and feasts of the Church Year -- as a matter of course, from the heart. She speaks also of growing up under Father Paisios. In her school years, she sought his direction. He told her to pray the Jesus Prayer during the day when she thought of it, and morning and evening to pray the Our Father and to make 12 prostrations. It was a simple direction, but in her words, not so easy to do, and often she would report to Father that she had failed. But, that didn't mean that she should stop working at it.

Living in Christ isn't an easy thing. We will often fall and fail. And we go to Him for forgiveness and blessing that comes from the Holy Trinity. But failing and falling doesn't mean that we ignore or make excuses. It doesn't mean that we have a pass, that we can just claim the name and let everything else rule in our lives. We pray and live with St. Paul: It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

When what we claim with our lips is lived in our lives we will indeed say "Glory to God for all things!"

And, we will be on the path from being "orthodox" to being "Orthodox!"

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Greek Fest -- the curse

My last post was indeed a truthful one, putting the best construction on Greek Fests (and the various other celebrations and offerings of various Orthodox). It seemed to be that this past weekend, and for that I am heartily thankful.

However, the curse of such events lies in just what was posted in the comments. All too often, the Greek Fest, or Evening in Athens, or whatever it might be called becomes the source of income to operate/continue the given community. That is to say, a proper stewardship has given way to something else.

The monetary support for the local community -- paying the bills, paying the priest, etc -- is actually to come from the generous proportionate weekly first fruits giving of the members of that community. This was underscored at a recent Stewardship seminar given in our Metropolis -- and that seminar indicated strongly and correctly that proper Stewardship isn't merely giving a few bucks in the tray every so often.

It is truly a sad commentary when any parish or community relies on the "world out there" to support it through services paid for at the Greek Fest or whatever else it might be. When this happens, it is, more often than not, because the parishioners are NOT giving first fruits -- tithing is ten percent -- but letting everything else in their lives come first. And this is truly a curse!

It might come also because various programs, be they building or otherwise, however well intended, are entered without truly counting the cost, or with a lack of patience that results in suddenly being saddled with a debt that is almost unmanageable.

God does provide! And He has provided richly and abundantly in every parish. The complaining and negative talk that often crop up are the result of lack of faith, and lack of living commitment.

We must not hold the various festivals primarily to support the necessary and essential expense of the parish -- so that they become absolutely necessary for survival. They can do all that I previously mentioned, with their income perhaps supporting a special project or outreach or ministry.

God calls us to welcome the stranger into our midst: He does not call us to get that stranger to do what we are called to do!

So that which can be a blessing -- a Greek Fest -- can also become a curse when it becomes a god, something the consumes and drives us to the point that we put aside that which is needful as we work out our salvation, seeking to be joined in the communion of the blessed and Holy Trinity!

Have the events -- but in their proper place and perspective!

Glory to God for all things!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Greek Fest -- a blessing

Traditional in many Greek Orthodox churches is the Greek Fest, which usually takes place once or twice a year. Now, this is a major undertaking, to be sure, and at times it generates a bit of complaining about the amount of work, who WAS there working, and who WASN'T there, etc. etc.

But all in all, I think it can be a great blessing, and opportunity to meet the community in which the Community lives.

It is amazing to see how so many people can work so well together for two and one half or three days cooking, cleaning, baking, making salads, serving people, all the time with (for the most part) a smile on the face! And, for all the work, it is FUN to work together, a bit sad when it ends, but a bit glad, too!

It is a great opportunity to share with the larger community the cultural heritage of the Greek (or Russian, or Serbian, or ... ) forefathers -- people for whom Church and life in the State were NOT so far separate. The music, with its intricate melodies rings in one's ears long after it has ceased, and the dance is unique and wonderful. After all, the Hellenic Culture is part of the American foundation!

It is a great time to just meet and talk with people about anything at all, but it is also a marvelous time to speak the truth in love, answering questions about the Ancient Faith, sharing the living heritage of the Faith. Some are more than a little taken aback to hear that the Divine Liturgy lives through history and is not subject to the whims of a priest or a committee ... and that it is held in common across jurisdictional lines. Others are very thoughtful when I suggest that my children's children will stand in this line and this teaching and this faith long after I leave this earth.

So, in spite of all the work, the sore feet, the sweat and toil, the Greek Fest is a blessing. As one lately come to the faith, I truly appreciate that part of my community's life!

Oh ... the food is marvelous!