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

Make Your Christmas Light Brighter!

Here in the Valley, a lot of us begin the season of the Nativity by transforming our homes into a festive reminder. It takes some work, butthat is the point. All transformations take some work! I don’t want to get into the debates over trees, decorations and lights and their origin, I just want to reflect for a minute on our local seasonal tradition that helps us center our life on Christ and His birth!

Now my wife is the driving force to my many hours of decorating. It simply brings us joy. When I say us, as a martyr we are one, but her half does enjoy the results of decorating more! Happy spouse, happy house! In the decorating season, since we celebrate the Nativity on the old calendar, we are able to purchase decoration replacements and such at a heavily discounted price after the Pope celebrates his!! Each year I replace more of the old incandescent lights with more efficient and much brighter led lights and they even now seem to do all kinds of light shows and sequences and they normally stay up till February.

Back in the day we would spend hours troubleshooting our strings and strings of lights to replace the burned out bulbs and reuse them year after year. Now they last longer and are bargain priced at the end of the season so if they are too time consuming to repair, we toss them. I don’t think we have over-done it, but you can actually walk around the outside of our mountain home in the darkest of nights and have your path illuminated by our festive Christmas lights. Maybe the Whos from Whoville would give their approval!

However, there is some darkness in a corner of our home that I am still working on! It needs some festive light! This darkness is somewhere woven into my soul and I have yet to spend the effort to transform it to a brilliant light. We heard in the epistle today: And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. [Eph. 5:11] Saint John Chrysostom says: For just as when a candle is set, all are brought to light, and the robber cannot enter, so if your light shine, the evil being scrutinized shall be easy to capture. So then it is needful to expose them….Paul did not say ‘judge,’ he said ‘reprove’ (ejlevgcete)….What Paul is saying is of this sort. As a wound, so long as it is imbedded and concealed, running beneath the surface, it enjoys not a bit of attention, so also sin, as long as it is hidden, being as it were in darkness, is daringly committed with full license. But as soon as it is made manifest, it becomes light; not indeed the sin itself—for how could that be?—but the sinner. For when he has been brought out to light, when he has been admonished, when he has repented, when he has obtained pardon, hast thou not cleared away all his darkness? Hast thou not then healed his wound? Hast thou not called forth his unfruitfulness into fruit? Either this is the meaning or else what I said above, that your life being manifest is light. For no one hides an irreproachable life; whereas things which are hidden, are hidden by darkness covering them.” [Hom. 18, P.G. 62:127 (col. 122); cf. Bl. Theophylact, P.G. 124:408 CD (col. 1108).]

The Gospel writer John says it this way: “And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness overcome it not.”(John 1:5) We have a choice, to keep our wounds and sinfulness hidden in the dark, forever chained to the chill of death, or we can transform those thorns in our flesh by exposing them to His warm brilliant healing light. St John Chrysostom words it this way: “Since then neither death nor error can overcome it, since it is bright everywhere and shines by its proper strength, he says, ‘The darkness overcame it not.’ For it cannot be overcome, and will not dwell in souls which wish not to be enlightened.” [Hom. 5, P.G. 59:39, 40 (col. 58) A dark soul creates a shadow like a tall wall blocking the light. In this festive season, make your life with Christ brighter by replacing those burned out broken bulbs with His renewing light illumining your path to salvation.

Fr. Gabriel Weller 12-15-2019

Fear Not Little Flock!

Tuesday as we stood in the chilled morning air, facing east awaiting the Son to arise, The Mother of God encouraged us: “Fear not little flock! I am with you and no one is against you!”(Luke 12:32) And what a majestic sunrise it was. Build His Church!

You know, as a good Protestant I struggled with all the emphasis placed on this virgin. I knew the Romans made her divine but I could not find a path to believe in that practice. So where is the truth? Why does the true church hold her in such esteem?  Saint Paul instructs us: “Therefore brethren stand fast and keep the traditions which you have been taught whether by word or our epistle” (2 Thess. 2:15). That is where we find the fullness of faith including the epistles and continuing the traditions as handed down since the Christian church came into existence as they were taught.

The One who walked on water and performed such healings that the Gospel of Saint John records: “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.” (John 21:25)

However, hear the word that was recorded in Scripture! While Christ was teaching “a certain woman out of the crowd lifted up her voice and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore Thee, and the breasts which Thou didst suck.” [Lk. 11:27] And also to her the Archangel Gabriel came to honor and called her full of grace and blessed among women and Mother of my Lord (Luke 1:40-45). Blessed, or made holy is the womb, I often ask my friends, how can this be? Christ, fully divine and fully human, sharing oxygen, blood and nutrients while ever present in the womb with his mother, not somehow change her? Think about it, that which could not be contained was contained, and the Virgin lived to be ripe old age!

We do know when God’s presence was contained in the ark, precautions had to be taken. We certainly remember 2 Samuel Chapter 6, “Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled.  7The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down, and he died there beside the ark of God.” And we also have in Leviticus the instructions to the high priests, the sons of Levi concerning their actions around the Holy of Holies (Leviticus 10:1-7, 16:2-34).

And we read in the Gospels of Mathew and Luke: “If a tree be known of by its fruit, and a good tree beareth good fruit (Mt. 7: 17; Lk. 6: 44)”. Saint Gregory Palamas asks us: “ then is not the Mother of Goodness Itself and the Birth-Giver of Eternal Beauty incomparably more excellent than any good, situated within the world of the natural or the supernatural?” (Saint Gregory Palamas, ArchBishop of Thessalonika)

From my un-orthodox upbringing I assumed our Lord was born unto a woman in the usual way but no, listen to the prophet Ezekiel: “Then said the LORD unto me; This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter in by it; because the LORD, the God of Israel, hath entered in by it, therefore it shall be shut.” (Ezekiel 44:2) How is this possible scientifically? With God, Creator of science, all things are possible!

We read from the psalmist King David foretelling the coming of the Blessed Virgin: “and dressed the All-Pure Virgin in Her finest clothes. Singing sacred songs and with lighted candles in their hands, virgins escorted Her to the Temple (Ps. 44/45:14-15). And it was also prophesied by the profit Jeremiah that it will be the virgin who will be the intercessor for the entry to the world of the Savior Jesus Christ (Jeremiah 31:2-23).

And even much earlier we find in the Book of Genesis that “woman”—a virgin who shall through her Son crush the head of the snake (Gen 3:15). Even in the beginning chapters of Genesis, God puts in place His plan to save us from our sins! This was written carefully to emphasis the role of the Virgin Mary. Saint John Chrysostom writes: And not only this, but “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed.” I’m not even content with this that you slide on the earth: I will make the woman your implacable enemy, and not simply her, but her seed as well I will cause to be perpetually at odds with your seed. “He will watch for your head, and you will watch for his heel.” That is to say, I will supply him with such force that he will constantly threaten your head, whereas you will be trodden under his feet. (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Genesis)

 And the apostolic writer John records her in the Book of Revelation 12:1-9: “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars:  And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” 

That is why we Orthodox place so much emphasis on the Theotokos or “God-Bearer”. This is why we highly respect womanhood, the birth givers and the Holy Ark which contains our salvation. “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord; be it unto Me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38). She is the Mother of all Christians imitating thy Son and God in love! Through her obedience and demeanor, she has delivered us true hope!

Fear not little flock! I am with you and no one is against you!”(Luke 12:32)

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller 12-8-2019

 

 

 

It’s MINE!

 It’s mine, no, I had it first! I can still hear the squabbling sounds of young children not wanting to share. And I can also remember the tug of war battles I have had with my siblings as we each tried to gain dominance over a thing we each wanted and thought we desperately needed or deserved. We heard in the Gospel this morning: “But God said to him, ‘Fool, this night they demand thy soul from thee; and what thou didst prepare, for whom shall it be?’ “Thus is the one who treasureth up for himself, and is not rich toward God.” [Lk. 12:20-21] Perhaps at that age we were too young to understand the gift of sharing!

It’s mine; it is my turn! I hear this at church some too as people become less of a servant and more about demanding that their wants and needs be met. The church is one body, when a part of the body suffers, the whole body in affected! We all need to be here, it is our prescription for healing.

It’s mine; you always get the first pick. So many things sparkle and glitter and after we possess them, they lose that appeal and end up at a yard sale or deep in the closet or thrown up into the attic of our stuff-museum. “The bread you do not use is the bread of the hungry. The garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of the person who is naked. The shoes you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot. The money you keep locked away is the money of the poor. The acts of charity you do not perform are the injustices you commit,” so says Saint Basil the Great!

 

It’s mine, I need all this money for my stuff and its monthly payments, and God will just have to wait! Someone else will take care of the poor; after all they continue to make bad choices that keep them cold, naked and hungry! The celebration of Thanksgiving is about giving alms and sacrificing our time for others. As Saint Maximos the confessor said: “He who gives alms in imitation of God does not discriminate between the wicked and the virtuous, the just and the unjust, when providing for men’s bodily needs.”

 

As we begin this advent journey to Bethlehem, I hope and pray that we all can be less distracted with the mess and stress of stuff and family dynamics, and more open and observant to see those ways we can help our brothers and sisters in our families, here at church, at work, next door, and all those struggling to survive. The Nativity season is about giving through unselfish love and therefore as Saint Clement writes: our “Sins are purged by alms and acts of faith.” (St. Clement of Alexandria)

 

Our Father through His abundant mercy has given us the greatest gift and He was born poor, without stuff, in a barn amongst the animals and laid in a feeding trough or manager where the animals were usually fed their sustenance. And through His birth in a trough we all have been fed the necessities of the most precious everlasting life. May the mercy we have all been shown be an unlimited resource as we transform the world through Christ-like love, one act at a time, one person at a time, with continued repentance and service to all of God’s creation, the wicked and the virtuous. The world is need of a Savior; we simply have less time for stuff and need to spend more time working in His vineyard, being truly thankful for all that we have been given. Everything that is, is HIS!

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller 12-1-2019

Those Who Touch, Believe!

And Jesus said, Who touched me? When all denied, Peter and they that were with him said, Master, the multitude throng thee and press thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me?”  [Lk. 8:45]

We all go about the motions of trying to be a good Orthodox Christian and we may be certainly in the crowd but are we touching Christ? We can say our prayers and practice all the Christian virtues but skillfully neglect that thing that separates us from God. That thing is different for everyone. We have all been sinfully disfigured and wounded and therefore struggle to put all of our faith and trust in the great healer. At times, we seem to get just close enough without total surrender, keeping our options open so we can once again flee, licking our wounds and disappearing into the throng of bystanders, unwilling to change and experience true liberty. And just like the crowd in the Gospel reading today we press up on Christ, while still protecting our injuries and failures, finding comfort in the bondage and chains of slavery of past wrongs, whose memory have become our norm and our thin cold blanket of comfort. As Saint Ambrose writes: “For those who throng do not believe; those who touch believe.” [Saint Ambrose [Ib., Bk. VI, §57.]

Oh Lord, help my unbelief! The wounds of my soul are more life-threatening than any disease or illness but yet I neglect their healing. I settle for mere existence, as the shadow has become comfortable, and days come and go. Loving as Christ loves seems so vulnerable and foreign, maybe I will try harder tomorrow or next week, we’ll see! We then settle for being in the pressing crowd near Jesus but not close enough to touch his garment’s hem and not close enough to heal that part of our hemorrhaging life.  

Oh Lord, heal my unbelief! Is it my lack of courage or distrust of God, or should I say that I seem to trust me more than the Alpha and the Omega? Evangelist Luke instructs us to: “Be of good courage.”(Lk 8:48) Good courage comes from above and only through ascetic struggle as we hear St. John the Theologian say: “Perfect love casts out fear” (I Jn 4,18). How then do we love perfectly while our attention seems to be on our woundedness and then our actions are deeply rooted in pain and brokenness? Is it my shame for my continued sinfulness that cripples me or my lack of true repentance? Where is my faith? Do I still love the world more than my salvation?

That thing that keeps us from being made whole differs for each and every one of us and our Lord will respond to each of us differently in way that will help us individually in our growth towards holiness if we allow Him in, into the cold shadows, into the pain and darkness, into our failures. O Lord, cure my unbelief!

Light overcomes all shadows! Reach out to Christ, the light of the world, for His mercy, forgiveness, strength, and healing as best and as often as you can. Place your feet here, at the chalice, which truly contains the Body and Blood of Christ, where we can all intimately touch His warmth and life. Just like Jarius and the woman with the issue of blood, with faith draw nigh. (Lk 8:41-56) Come out of the shadows and into the Light, for His mercy and love are what you have been longing for and what you really need! Our Savior is merciful! More of Him, less of you!

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller 11-17-2019

GO FISHING!

In the summers when the sun was leaving the open room and the crickets began to chant their praises, Grandma Hazel would get the spade shovel, a small bucket, her catgut thread and some fish hooks and head out to her secret earthworm stash. We kids would gather the worms quickly as Grandma overturned blocks, boards and mulch and after we had gathered enough bait, through the gates and barnyard and down to the fishing pond we would go!

Along the bank of the pond, Grandma had planted towering Weeping Willow trees which danced in the breeze and also supplied us with ample willow fishing poles. The Willow sticks had plenty of flexibility in them just in case we latched onto a big fish. She would tie the catgut thread onto the willow and attach a hook to the thread with a special knot, one that would hold firmly. We always had fun and caught fish, mostly sun perch. I also usually caught a tree branch or two and found that this behavior also continued later in life as I hung many a fishing lure on a tree branch or on the living flesh of a fishing companion. Nothing says you are hooked better than a triple hook attached to somewhere to your hide!  

Maybe there should be a sense of fear or a fair warning to go fishing with me or at least it would it be a good idea to be very alert as my aim of casting has probably become even less accurate. The fishermen in the Gospel reading this morning were not so accurate either (Luke 5:1-11), they had fished all night and not caught a thing but our Lord filled their nets and then asked them to come and fish in His waters for the salvation of the world. And that they did! You too should put away your nets, fishing rods, tools and laptops and spend time casting His nets into the stream of life. There are plenty of hungry souls needing to be fed!

Don’t hesitate do go fishing for our Lord. As He clearly stated: “On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18) St. Barsanuphius writes: Having God, fear nothing, but cast all of your care upon Him, and He will take care of you. Believe undoubtingly, and God will help you according to His mercy. (St. Barsanuphius the Great, Instructions, 166)

Back when I didn’t know our Lord I was skeptical of being caught in the net of church-going folks promising something that seemed not true to me or at least not yet. My life reeked of free-will but finally and after escaping many a hook and net I willingly decided to seek a life in our Lord. Many attempts had been made and folks didn’t give up, they kept fishing. They cared! That’s why Jesus calls it fishing instead of catching! He will provide you with everything you need when you are filling His nets and building His church. And the mighty gates of hell will be plundered by Christ in us. The gates of hell cannot block this army of His fishermen from sharing the Love of Christ. He is Triumphant. “Cease being afraid; from henceforth thou shalt be taking men alive.” [Lk. 5:10]

GO FISHING!

 

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller 10-6-2019