Stirring Things Up

We heard in the Gospel reading this morning that passage in St. John: “For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.”(John 5:4) And so it seems in life that it takes “stirring up” for change to come about or maybe we need to stir up our efforts or maybe stir up our thirst for recovery. In every effort we make, we are anticipating some type of change, something moved, something cleaner, something different from the way things were before we exerted our physical and mental effort!

You and I have to make an effort to change or take some form of action. No change, no gain! Yes there are some things in our life that are supposed to be constant, but letting time slip by without making a difference in someone’s else’s life or not caring enough about ourselves to want to be more like Christ is being stagnate or dead! Life is action! Life, is stirring things up!   

St. Moses of Optina tells us about stirring up our actions: If at some time you show mercy to someone, mercy will be shown to you. If you show compassion to one who is suffering (and of course, this is not a great deed) you will be numbered among the martyrs. If you forgive one who has insulted you, then not only will all your sins be forgiven, but you will be a child of the Heavenly Father. If you pray from all your heart for salvation – even a little – you will be saved. If you rebuke yourself, accuse yourself, and judge yourself before God for your sins, with a sensitive conscience, even for this you will be justified. If you are sorrowful for your sins, or you weep, or sigh, your sigh will not be hidden from Him and, as St. John Chrysostom says, “If you only lament for your sins, then He will receive this for your salvation.” (St. Moses of Optina)

We can also take negative actions that separate us from God or to distance ourselves from His teachings! These choices do not bring true happiness or help us achieve the life in the age to come. We do not want our hopes and dreams to be shaped by lies and deception. These negative choices come from a lack of trust from our wounded past experiences or we are hiding our sinfulness because we think we are unlovable and beyond repair! Christ Is Risen! He is Risen so that you and I can become whole by surrendering every nook and cranny of all that we are or have let ourselves become, for all that He is. We don’t want to settle for being broken. We do not want to be bonded to death! Our Lord asks us: “Do you want to be made well?” (John 5:5) I hope your answer is yes and you are going to stir things up a bit, again and again!  

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller 5-10-2020

Holy Myrrhbearers

The Holy Myrrhbearers: Saints Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Salome (daughter of Joseph), Mary (Joseph’s sister) the wife of Cleopas, Susanna, Mary and Martha (Lazarus’s sisters), Obedient to the observance of the Sabbath, the women waited until very early in the morning after the Sabbath to launch their plan into action. They were going to do something costly, something dangerous, something maybe even foolish in the eyes of others, but they knew in their hearts that it was the right thing to do.

The Holy Myrrhbearers were poor peasant housewives with the exception of St. Joanna, who was the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza. Yet the Evangelist Mark tells us they purchased large amounts of pricey myrrh, ointments, and perfumes with which to anoint the body of the Lord. These humble servants sacrificed the little they had saved up for their own families for ‘a rainy day’ because they realized they needed to tend to the body of our Lord. Jesus’ presence in their lives had been priceless and they were not going to spare any expense to anoint the body of the One who loves without measure.

The Holy Myrrhbearers literally put their lives at risk to accomplish their goal. Cities in the ancient city were walled for good reason – the territory outside the walls was an unsafe area and the domain of wild animals and thieves, especially after dark. Since our Savior’s tomb was in the garden near Golgotha, it was beyond the safety of the city walls. The women deliberately and knowingly stepped out into this vulnerability in order to express their love, in order to do what their heart commanded of them. Even more, assuming if they made it safely to the tomb, the Roman guards would certainly have used any force necessary to prevent them from entering the tomb. But they were not paralyzed with the danger and risk, and they took action!

There is a powerful lesson here for all of us. For all of us profess our faith in Christ, but do we possess the fearless, trusting, unhesitating faith of the Holy Myrrhbearers? Too often, despite our initial good intentions, we allow ourselves to be hindered from expressing or acting out our faith. We fear the COST of living as Christians, whether in actual financial terms, or in terms of the time and energy or emotion it takes to sacrificially offer ourselves to others! We fear the DANGER of living as Christians – it always seems so much easier to maintain the status quo, so much safer to keep doing the same old things in the same old way, even if it means passing up the opportunities to allow Christ to manifest in our little corner of the world. We fear looking FOOLISH by living as Christians, in a world that holds values and priorities that too often are very different from the Gospel. Pride, Vainglory and Perversion of our created sexuality have been the demise of many great civilizations and have seemed to be the most sought out activities here in this once great nation. No, the love of Christ is not always a yes with total acceptance! It is a yes we love you but we must separate ourselves from warped teachings. We cannot marinate in sewage and place our youth on a path of self-destruction and emptiness. We need to speak out loudly and we need to speak out now, and we must take action!

And in this time of pandemic, we need to put our prayer time first and foremost. Even if we can’t be at church, we can be the church where we are. Don’t get lazy or allow this to be the new norm, it is a time when we must increase, we must deliberately make time to separate us from the goats. And we must remember how precious our time here is, as one family, seeking the Kingdom of heaven!

Pray to God for us, Holy Myrrhbearers!

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller 5-3-2020

Palm Sunday

Cease fearing, O daughter of Sion, behold, thy King cometh, sitting on a colt of an ass.” [Jn. 12:15] Today we here the prophecy repeated from Zechariah written over 400 years before our Lord’s entrance into the holy city.

The great kings of the earth come and bring destruction and devastation riding on an experienced war horse amongst a parade of solders. Our Great King comes riding alone into the holy city on a colt of an ass, an animal of peace, one never before ridden. And this is only meet and right, for the name ‘Jerusalem’ means ‘the City of Peace’; Christ alone, the King of Peace, is therefore Jerusalem’s rightful King.

People line the street and children greet Him with palm branches, the symbols of victory, and they cry ‘Hosanna’, meaning ‘Save, we pray’. Their cry and their action are greater than they know, for in their innocence they speak the truth, for Christ alone saves us. The palm branches are indeed tokens of victory, for Victory comes through the Tree of the Cross and the surrendering of our life to the One who gives us life.

This is not just an historic event and a great day in the church, but an event that can be repeated at every communion. For whenever we seek peace and humility as if seated on a colt, and come as innocent children crying ‘Save, we pray’, then Christ enters our souls and makes our souls into Jerusalem’s, ‘Cities of Peace’ within us.

The entry into Jerusalem upon an unbroken colt is also a repetition of Moses’ prophecy that the Gentiles would rejoice in the Lord, but the Jews would be rejected. Here, the unbroken colt, “whereon yet never man sat” (Lk. 19:30), is an image of the Gentiles. The Apostles’ garments that were placed on the colt are Christ’s teachings by which the Apostles would instruct the Gentiles, and the Lord Himself seated spiritually upon the Gentiles loving them and guiding them as His own. He led his people into Jerusalem to the city of salvation and blessedness, a city not made by the hands of men, to the bosom of the Church. The rejected Jews were also present there. With their lips they cried, “The King of Israel”, but in their hearts they had already decided to kill our Savior. Listen to the words written by Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy: They have corrupted themselves, their spot is not the spot of his children: they are a perverse and crooked generation. Do ye thus requite the Lord, O foolish people and unwise? Is not he thy father that hath bought thee? Hath he not made thee, and established thee?’ (Deut. 32:5–6).

Today, as we receive our blessed Palm branches, let us take them to our homes and place them somewhere where we can always see them. Let the Palms remind us that Christ is the King of our families and the King of our hearts, and that Christ is the only True answer to happiness and meaning in our lives. And if we do proclaim Christ as our King, let us try and make time for Him in our daily life, let us be reminded that He is the one with whom we will be spending eternity. Let us be reminded that our careers, our education, our finances, our homes, all of the basic material needs in our lives are only temporary. Let us prioritize and place Christ the King as the primary concern in our lives. It is only when we have done this that we will find True peace and happiness in such a puzzled and complex world. Come, won’t you follow Christ? Be rejoicing in the Lord always; again I will say, be rejoicing. [Phil. 4:4] Glory to Thee, O Lord, Glory to Thee who has shown us the Light!

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller 4-12-2020-13

Quiver Full of Excuses

“A kiss thou gavest Me not, but she from the time that I entered did not cease from ardently kissing My feet. With oil thou didst not anoint My head, but she anointed My feet with perfumed ointment. For which reason I say to thee, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.”  [Lk. 7:45-47]

 

Are you right with the Lord? We read that even in the Gospel of Saint Luke this morning, not even the Apostles were zealously attending to our Lord. Perhaps at that time, they too had not surrendered all that they were to the Lord of lords. (Deuteronomy 10:17) Perhaps they were distracted with some things in this life. Perhaps they too had taken for granted what Jesus is offering. Excuses are like flies at a summer picnic; they are plentiful and only eat a little. Of course, I have never been fond of eating food after a fly claimed his share, and so my food is wasted. Research published in Science Reports in November 2017 shows that houseflies and blowflies carry several bacteria on their bodies that are harmful to humans. If you don’t swat away those flies, you will be a food basket short of a picnic.

 

Excuses and wasted opportunities are what separate me from salvation! If you are like me, there is always tomorrow or another picnic! I fail to make the most out of my opportunities with a quiver full of excuses. I, just like the Apostles, am failing to attend to my Saviors needs. I too seem to be more about life on Earth and not attentive enough to the health of my soul. I too am less concerned about by sinfulness and more concerned about my stomach, or my bills, or my schedule. Or as Saint Mary of Egypt stated it: “May God protect us from the Evil One and his schemes, for fierce is his struggle against us.” (St. Mary of Egypt)

 

When I was younger I always figured I had plenty of time to make things right with the Lord. Once I had things figured out and established a safe haven and steady income, I knew there would be plenty of opportunities available to me later, when I had time. That was my plan, but not His! It takes quite an effort to quit being a piddly demigod and ingest the triune God deep into my soul.

Rather than letting myself blow to and fro with the great infectious gusts of life, instead safely anchoring my ship of salvation to the very Rock that does not waiver and does not hate me or thirst for my destruction, but yearns for my surrender and yearns for my repentance and for my attention, for with my attention He can teach me salvation! We only have one life of choices to make for the next life will be decided for us. Won’t you come? Won’t you surrender all the dark waters you are sailing through and let down your anchor and willingly secure your future and your salvation on the Rock of Golgotha? No more excuses, there just isn’t time!   

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller 4-5-2020

CAST OUT

We heard in the Gospel reading this morning: And after He entered into a house, His disciples were questioning Him privately, “Why were we not able to cast it out?” And He said to them, “This kind can come forth by nothing, except by prayer and fasting.” [Mk. 9:28-29]

Faith can only be understood when one is in communion with God. Saint Symeon the New Theologian writes: The soul cannot live unless it is ineffably and without confusion united to God, who is truly the life eternal (cf. 1 John 5:20).” (Saint Symeon the New Theologian Source : The Discourses, pp. 182-184) We are all born outside of Paradise. Because of Adam and Eve’s choices, we struggle daily to have that life supporting connection with our Creator. When we chose to miss church, hate our neighbor, be stingy with our money, and live for the world and all of its rust and stench, we have closed the doors to paradise and cast ourselves out into the darkness of death. We remember the words recorded by Moses: And He cast out Adam and caused him to dwell over against the garden of Delight, and stationed the cherubs and the fiery sword that turns about to keep the way of the tree of life. (Gen 3:24)

St. John Climacus writes on renunciation of the world: “Some people living carelessly in the world have asked me: ‘We have wives and are beset with social cares, and how can we lead the solitary life?’ I replied to them: ‘Do all the good you can; do not speak evil of anyone; do not steal from anyone; do not lie to anyone; do not be arrogant towards anyone; do not hate any one; be sure you go to church; be compassionate to the needy; do not offend anyone; do not wreck another man’s domestic happiness; and be content with what your own wives can give you. If you behave in this way you will not be far from the Kingdom of Heaven.”’(THE LADDER OF DIVINE ASCENT by St. John Climacus, page 4)

We all possess the very tools necessary to overcome death! St. John Climacus reminds us: “The Fathers have laid down that psalmody is a weapon, and prayer is a wall, and honest tears are a bath; but blessed obedience in their judgment is confession of faith, without which no one subject to passions will see the Lord.” (THE LADDER OF DIVINE ASCENT by St. John Climacus, page 12)

Now, In the midst of this Corona virus epidemic, many Christians are feeling “cast out” and separated from God. At this point in Virginia, only a handful of worshippers can attend services and this number is likely to decline at anytime. Gov. Northam, in his executive order, declared: “Violations of paragraph 1” — which states that “all public and private in person gatherings of 10 or more individuals are prohibited” Thus, under Virginia law, they are Class 1 misdemeanors. The Code of Virginia spells out the punishment in § 18.2-11. It says: “The authorized punishments for conviction of a misdemeanor are: (a) For Class 1 misdemeanors, confinement in jail for not more than twelve months and a fine of not more than $2,500, either or both.” Holy Liturgy will continue, in some form. So maybe we will be shut out of church and shut up in the jailhouse.

Did you ever think you would see the day that here in the USA you were being prohibited to attend a Christian worship service? Perhaps it is a violation of our Constitutional right under the 1st Amendment but it is of a greater authority that we should love our neighbors more than ourselves. Those that are more susceptible to catch this new virus are of greater value than our momentary loss of freedom. What a great example of what lent is supposed to be about! But rather a spirit of humble-mindedness, patience, and love bestow upon me Thy servant.

You may currently be “cast out” of the celebration of the resurrection of Christ but rest assured you are with us in our preparatory prayers at the table of oblation. You are with us in the many litanies chanted on your behalf of all and for all. You are with us through your Holy Baptism in which the door that had been shut by the sin of Adam is opened and we become true children of God.

Fr. Gabriel Weller 3-29-2020

THE PROWLER

When I read St. John’s scripture today (John 10:9-16), I heard the word “thief”, it sprang out at me! Being an electronic security professional, I immediately thought of our slogan “We’ll keep an eye on the creeps, so you can get your sleep”! The word “thief” aroused a tangible sense of vulnerability within me. We for the most part, have no control over what a creep or a thief will do. Our defense is to merely protect our families and belongings by adding obstacles to the freewill of the bandit. We lock our doors, we plant sticker bushes in front of our accessible windows, we install timers on our lights, we hide our valuables, we install electronic security systems with protection signs on our mailboxes, we keep guard dogs, and so on and so on. In our great country today, there are some people that chose to steal, rather than work.

When someone experiences a break-in, they normally have a story that falls into the category of surprise. A business owner will tell us that they normally don’t keep extra cash overnight, but…. A homeowner will struggle with the violation of their sanctuary. What they deemed a safe-haven has been torn-asunder. In the Gospel this morning, we too find Christ reminding us of our salvation and its fragility. Our salvation is of great value and should not be left to chance!

We need to keep our lampadas burning, for light deters a prowling bandit. Our prayer closets need to show continual signs of wear and tear for they will act as sticker bushes, deterring the prowling creeps’ attention. We need to keep our doors locked by attending church services and receiving the Holy Communion which will protect our hearts. We need to place a barrier of protection around our homes by having our priests come and bless are homes annually. And finally, we must not store up treasures on this earth. Our treasure must only be God.

We must protect and maintain what belongs to God. You are what belongs to God! “The thief cometh not, except that he might steal, and slay, and destroy. I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly. [Jn. 10:10)  St. Gregory Palamas writes: “Adam chose the treason of the serpent, the originator of evil, in preference to God’s commandment and counsel, and broke the decreed fast. Instead of eternal life he received death and instead of the place of unsullied joy he received this sinful place full of passions and misfortunes, or rather, he was sentenced to Hades and nether darkness. Our nature would have stayed in the infernal regions below the lurking places of the serpent who initially beguiled it, had not Christ come. He started off by fasting (cf. Mk. 1:13) and in the end abolished the serpent’s tyranny, set us free and brought us back to life.” (St. Gregory Palamas, The Homilies Vol. II)

The remainder of the Lenten fast is yet before us, although with the threat of the virus it will change our normal routines. We don’t know the extent or the severity of this prowling threat, but perhaps this is the time that you will get your life right with the Lord! This can be the greatest climax for you as we travel to Jerusalem and to the most precious Holy Pascha. Most of us have new opportunities and ways we can increase our faith which will keep our vigil lamps burning brightly. The only thing that will keep us from the warm love of God is our failure to repent and our failure to forgive! Our President can’t save us, our Congress can’t save us, the CDC (Centers for disease control and prevention) can’t save us, CVS and Walgreens pharmacies can’t save us! For it is only His grace and love that saves us! And that salvation is eternity, not here! For our bodies can be very ill but our souls can be very much alive and healthy!

Let us commit ourselves, and one another, and surrender all of our life unto the Alpha and the Omega. And through the prayers of St. Gregory Palamas and all the Saints, O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us, and save us! Amen

Fr. Gabriel Weller 3-15-2020

NO TRESPASSING

The sign at the corner of my neighbor’s yard reads “No Trespassing”! In the past, my neighbors had some problems with thugs coming to visit and threatening their family’s safety, so they posted the sign so if the need arose, they could have unwanted visitors arrested and hauled away!

The sign seems a quite unfriendly to passers by that don’t know the whole story. It is definitely not a warm welcome or a “let’s sit down and have a glass of ice tea” invitation, but the sign is effective and is easy to read with its’ big reflective letters! Signs provide for us information. Even here in our church we use signs. We have a street sign, donation sign and an infant care sign, just to name a few!  And at times here at the church we all wear a “No Trespassing” sign around our necks! When we are hurt and offended when someone crosses our property line of safety or if someone hurls insults at us with their slingshot tongue of oppression, we become less hospitable and tolerant! We immediately put up our “No Trespassing” sign and close and lock the door

Here in this hospital of Orthodoxy, we all fall short of perfection. We are all here because we are sick, injured and hurt. Sin can be an immobilizing life-threatening infection. But we are called to try to nurture and love others despite our bleeding wounds. We do not want to seem unwelcoming to passer-bys on this road to salvation! Saint Nikolaj Velimirovic, a former bishop in Serbia said: “He who has no patience with us when we sin does not love us.”  He further states, “Patience, forgiveness and joy are the three greatest characteristics of divine love … Without these three characteristics love is not love. If you give the name love to anything else, it is as though you were giving the name sheep to a goat or a pig.” 

All of mankind needs the forgiveness of our loving God and we must seek it! Our God is a merciful God and we must offer thanksgiving and praise and make a healthy salvific attempt to live a righteous lifestyle!  Suffering and dying on the cross, Christ says these words: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” [Lk. 23:34]  What better example do we need? Why do we delay when it comes to forgiveness?

Elder Paisios of Mount Athos says it like this: “When we are wronged and accept this injustice, then in fact we gain. For example, am I wrongfully accused of having committed a crime and imprisoned unjustly? That’s fine. My conscience is clear since I have not committed that crime, and on top of that, I have a heavenly reward. Is there a greater benevolence? I don’t complain to God; instead, I glorify God, “How can I thank you, my Lord, that I didn’t commit that crime? If I had, I wouldn’t have been able to bear pangs (painful emotion) of remorse.” That’s when jail can become Paradise. Has someone struck me unjustly? “Glory be to you, O lord! Perhaps I may be able to pay off a sin; I, too, had once struck someone.” Have I been insulted unjustly? “Glory be to Thee, O Lord! I accept out of love for You, for You. Too, were struck and slandered for me.”“(Spiritual Struggle pg 88, Elder Paisios of Mount Athos, Spiritual Counsels III)

Forgive those armed with double-barrel tongues of malice and may the aching blood seeping from your wounds be the healing blood of Christ to all humanity. And hopefully the reflective letters on our sign will no longer read “No Trespassing” but will read a hearty “WELCOME”.

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller revisited 2/2020

Gladiator Bowl

This weekend is the mega weekend of sports for football fans as Super bowl 54 kicks off Sunday afternoon. We humans like to be entertained and we are willing to pay for it!  Super Bowl LIV is expected to have a 500 million dollar economic impact to the region that will pour into South Florida restaurants, hotels, airports, transportation services and small businesses as over 100, 000 visitors go to experience the game. However there is an expense involved as well. Miami-Dade County is expected to spend more than $14 million of taxpayer funds to subsidize expenses tied to hosting the game. That includes $10 million for event preparations, police and fire department expenses, and a $4 million payment to the Miami Dolphins for attracting the sporting event to South Florida.

What is this great thing they call the Super-Bowl? I often reflect on this one game which is the highlight of the NFL season as the gladiator bowl, drawing a comparison to the bloody entertainment of the ancient Romans and a remembrance of the great slave Spartacus fighting for his freedom!  And then I ponder about how much of my time and energy are invested in this type of behavior while people are still cold and hungry, and yet I am easily distracted by this form of entertainment, just like the Romans. Sometimes I must admit it is just about me as I distract myself into my comfortable shell, oblivious of my neighbor!  

I saw a meme this week that stated: “Church should be your excuse for missing things, not vice versa! We heard in the Gospel reading this morning: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which hath been lost.” [Lk. 19:10] Currently 40 million people struggle with hunger in our nation and 15 million folks live in homes that are identified as food insecure, meaning that they do not always have access to adequate amounts of food to maintain an active, healthy lifestyle, according to data released by the USDA in September 2017. The USDA found 1 in 6 American children may not know where their next meal is coming from. 

Yet in this Nation, sixty-five percent of Americans still identify themselves as Christians. (https://www.pewforum.org/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline-of-christianity-continues-at-rapid-pace/) Have we as “Christians” become removed and distant from our fellow man or as Christ phrased it, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ [Mt. 19:19]  Is this why Christianity is on the decline? I know for a fact that This-self is not hungry or in need, but I am no so confident about you which is exactly my point!? Have we become accustomed to letting our government and it’s failing social programs that just do not encompass all those ta are in need, replace our responsibility from embracing the poor and separating us from our neighbor? We don’t care enough to communicate and pride disables some folks from seeking help. Are we family?

When Jesus goes to the home of Zacchaeus, Zacchaeus who had not been living a Godly life promised he would give half of all his goods to the poor and make right anyone he had cheated fulfilling the beatitude: “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.[Mt. 5:6] Through the love of Christ a transformation of a self-seeking heart into someone that will no longer be a spectator in life, but fully invested in the super-bowl of Christianity, not just for one great game or the last game at the end of the season, but every day and every hour! Dearest Lord, may we hunger to be more like Zacchaeus!

Fr. Gabriel Weller 2/2/2020

GIFT CARD

 

My recent birthday presented me with some plastic money or gift cards. Gift cards have become popular as they allow the giftee the chance to pick out exactly how and when they will spend the value of the precious plastic gift.

After all when it comes to gifts of clothing, there are some folks who have a slightly different taste than mine and try to make me more urban than my fertile country roots want to allow! And of course there is always the obstacle of size variations differing from manufacturers. Although some believe the plastic gift card is too impersonal and rather a cold birthdays embrace, it has become an ever so popular convenient prize.

In the past, I have misplaced a gift card or two; maybe my value of them was not as high as it should have been. When I eventually remember where I stashed them or stumble upon them as I perhaps look for something else I safely put away; when I go to use that found gift card It still has the same value or same amount of worth as it did when I received it.

A thoughtful gift is always of great value but honestly, the greatest gift I have ever received is the gift of grace. We heard in the Epistle this morning, “But to each of us was given grace according to the measure of the gift of the Christ.”[Eph. 4:7] Grace is not a manmade textile nor can it be corralled upon a plastic card. Grace is an energy mediated to mankind by a loving God through the works of the Holy Spirit. We say in the Trisagion prayer: “O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things, the Treasury of good things and Giver of life…” The Holy Spirit’s general ministry towards all of creation in which He fills all things with the energies of God in His role as the Divine Agent of Him by Whom “all things have come into existence”. (Col. 1:17)

We know that sin entered into the world with the first-made, Adam. In Romans 5:17 we read: “For if, by the offense of the one, death reigned through the one, much more they who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.” [Rom. 5:17] Saint John Chrysostom describes it this way: “He does not here say ‘grace,’ but ‘abundance of grace’ (perisseivan th“~ cavrito~). For it was not as much as we must have to do away the sin only, that we received of His grace, but even much more….For Christ paid down much more than we owe, even as the boundless sea is much more than a little drop.” [Hom. 10, P.G. 60:522 (cols. 476, 477).]

We put on Christ at our baptism rejecting Satan. It becomes very specifically the act of a person’s death and resurrection in and with Jesus. Christian baptism is man’s participation in the actual event of Pascha. It is a “new birth by water and the Holy Spirit” into the Kingdom of God (Jn 3.5). We then chant the words of the Apostle Paul as the newly-baptized is led in procession around the baptismal font three times as the symbol of his procession to the Kingdom of God and his entrance into eternal life: “For as many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Alleluia” (Gal 3.27).

But just as I misplace my plastic gift card, I can also choose to turn my back on Christ and His grace and allow my baptismal garment to be stained. Saint John Chrysostom writes:“If He “lighteth every man that cometh into the world,” how is it that so many continue unenlightened? For not all have known the Majesty of Christ. How then doth He “light every man”? He lighteth all as far as in Him lies. But if some, willfully closing the eyes of their mind, would not receive the rays of that Light, their, darkness arises not from the nature of the Light, but from their own wickedness, who willfully deprive themselves of the gift. ‘For the grace is shed forth upon all,’ turning itself back neither from Jew, nor Greek, nor Barbarian, nor Scythian, nor free, nor bond, nor male, nor female, nor old, nor young, but admitting all alike, and inviting with an equal regard. And those who are not willing to enjoy this gift, ought in justice to impute their blindness to themselves; for if when the gate is opened to all, and there is none to hinder, any being willfully evil remain without, they perish through none other, but only through their own wickedness.”

The gift of grace is as valuable now as it ever was! With every stain I paint on my baptismal garment, His grace washes it clean with my sinfulness confessed and His Body and Blood ministering to my wounds. St. Clement of Rome states it this way: “Let us fix our eyes on Christ’s Blood and understand how precious it is to His Father, for, poured out for our salvation it has brought to the whole world the grace of repentance.” Even if you have misplaced your faith and turned your back on God, His grace for you is still there, awaiting you. God’s love for you and I is so intense but yet He leaves the gate open, it is your choice to surrender your brokenness and failures and let Him bind your woundedness with His selfish grace that yearns for all of mankind to come home. We need you and want you! He needs you and wants you! We are family!!!

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller 1-26-2020

Birth of Goodness

We often romanticize about the birth of Christ and the Christmas story. We reflect on the angels, the most pure virgin, the obedience of Joseph and the lowly manger. We quickly forget that God took the form of flesh during a time of unrest and persecution. His arrival was not met with parades and shouts of jubilation throughout the world. Parts of the world reacted with evil as we heard in the Gospel reading this morning. (Mathew 2:13-23) His birth story sounds familiar as we remember the birth of Moses and the wicked orders given by Pharaoh from the time before the great Exodus:  “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” (Exodus 1:15-22)

Listen to the horrific recount of today’s Gospel story from our dear saint, Nikolai Velimirovich: This frightening command of the king was carried out to the letter. His soldiers beheaded some of the children with swords, smashed others against stones, trampled others underfoot, and strangled others with their hands. And the cries and wails of the mothers rose to heaven, lamentation, and bitter weeping; “Rachel weeping for her children” (Jeremiah 31:15, Matthew 2:18), as had been prophesied.

Herod asked the High Priest Zacharias about his son John, so that he might kill him, since he naturally thought that John was the new king. As Zacharias did not turn John over, he was slain in the Temple by order of Herod. After murdering the children of Bethlehem, Herod turned against the Jewish elders who had revealed to him where the Messiah would be born. He then killed Hyrcanes, the high priest, and the seventy elders of the Sanhedrin. Thus, they who had agreed with Herod that the new Child-king must be killed came to an evil end. After that, Herod murdered his brother, sister, wife and three sons.

Finally, God’s punishment came to him: he began to tremble, his legs became swollen, the lower part of his body became putrid, and worms came out of the sores; his nose became blocked and an unbearable stench emanated from him. Before his last breath, he remembered that there were many captive Jews in prison, and he ordered that they all be killed so that they would not rejoice in his death. Thus, this terrible ruler gave up his inhuman soul and handed it over to the devil for eternal possession.  (Saint Nikolai Velimirovich)

Listen now to these words, God does not fear evil, it is the other way around. That is why Herod and Pharaoh acted as they did. That is why we today struggle so much to be a Christian nation. Evil reacts to separate us from God, from our salvation. Evil loves power and money but our Lord was born into the flesh poor and humble. It is easy for good people too lose their vision in this walk of life as evil distorts truth, folks identifying as Christians find themselves supporting wickedness or perhaps the lesser choice of evils, abandoning the laws given to mankind by our Creator. Our actions are causing us to react with evil choices!   

After the Nativity, 14,000 innocent children lost their lives as evil reacted to the birth of Goodness. Is it a wonder that we here today struggle along the narrow path with such cunning wickedness always seeking opportunities to cast darkness over our attempts to climb the ladder of divine ascent? Is it a wonder that we still today believe our understanding or our translation of what a Christian is suppose to be instead of submitting to the Almighty’s light of perfection and judgment. Sin is sin, and we are all in need of a Savior and the birth of Goodness in every corner of our lives! Christ is BORN!  Will you glorify Him?

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller 1-12-2020