HELL-BENT

The Gospel writer today tells us about the woman that suffered eighteen years and not only suffered but was bent in two from her affliction. The psalmist foretold of this figuratively: “I have been wretched and utterly bowed down until the end [Ps. 37(38):8(6)]” and here in this Gospel we see it literally come to pass.

 

And yet the suffering woman although inflicted or as St. Cyril of Jerusalem remarks: “is said to have suffered this from the cruelty of the devil” continues to come to the Synagogue and worship God! She was said to be a regular churchgoer and on this day the Great Physician sees her and heals her. The One who loves cast out the great hater of mankind and the suffering woman was no longer hell-bent and “immediately she was set straight again, and was glorifying God. [Lk. 13:13]”

 

For those of us that are not folded over and do not have to stare at our feet all the time, whenever we choose to repeat our sins we too are utterly bowed down and hell-bent, choosing to be in fellowship with the evil one instead of the All-Mighty One. Saint Gregory the Great writes: “Our repeated sins bind our hearts, so that we cannot rise to an upright condition.” [Ib., 253, 254.] We then regain our posture when we come with heartfelt repentance to confession and receive absolution. And we are then healed from our infirmities when we touch the Masters Body warmly waiting for us on the communion spoon. The prophet Isaiah writes: “Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged.” [Isaiah 6:6-7]

 

The hell-bent woman could in no way lift herself up on her own, she needed help. We too need help to straighten our selfish immoral temptations that separate us from God. And here in the Orthodox tradition if we choose to practice the spiritual disciplines made available, we can become a more-perfect upright example of a God-seeker.

 

During this season of the Nativity of Christ I challenge you to leave your comfortable routine and increase your quest for salvation by spending just a little more time with God. After all, it tis the season! And the season is about “the Incarnation of the Word was manifested to destroy corruption and death, and the hatred of the devil against us. (St Cyril of Jerusalem) The season is about a loving Creator wanting you to be with Him. Some people have chosen to give their entire lives to Christ after all, what in the world is more authentic and important!

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller 12-9-2018

The Basics Of LOVE

The song “Let’s get back to the basics of love” was blasting out of my triaxial speakers and my 8-track player was humming as I was cruising in my 1970 Camaro many years ago; this was at the beginning of my redneck conversion. In this song, Waylon and Willie were pleading with their love to simplify and refocus their relationship. The distractions of things of this earth had come between them and had separated them from each other. Life had become complicated and the relationship was heading for sure disaster.

 

This relationship each and every one of us has with our Creator is also a love story! Have the complications of life separated you from God; He is longing for you! Although at times we feel God has abandoned us and left us out for the buzzards and every blow that life delivers we land squarely on the chin because we chose to fight alone and not keep our guard up.“Put on the full armor of God, for you to be able to stand against the wiles of the devil; because for us the wrestling is not against blood and flesh, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the cosmic rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of evil on account of the heavenly things.” [Eph. 6:11-12] Saint John Chrysostom writes: “Having said that the enemies are vehement (intense) and violent, he adds further, that they defraud us of great things. What are these? The fight lies in the heavenlies. It is not about riches, nor about glory, but about our being lead to enslavement…. The rivalry and the fight are more intense when great interests are at stake; it is not in order that they may gain anything by the conquest, but that they may defraud us….He is doing his best to cast us out of heaven.” [Hom. 22, P.G. 62:169 (col. 159).]

 

God does not make mistakes, but He allows us to. And most of us tend to repeat our mistakes over and over again like the Pete and Repeat riddles we used to tell! The great deceiver is constantly trying to divorce you from your marriage with Christ! It takes a dedicated person in Love with their Creator to overcome their passions and redirect their life story. And we must never forget that God is a jealous Bridegroom and has provided for us all the tools necessary for us to restore our relationship with Him! It takes some work!

 

Just as Waylon and Willie sang, we need to get back to the basics of love! We can do this each and every day focusing on the following basic priorities: Belief in Jesus Christ as our Lord, God and Savior with His Father and the Holy Spirit; Daily prayer- morning, noon, or night; develop a rule that works for you, pray without ceasing; Weekly worship- Vespers and Divine Liturgy; Love of Neighbor- Everyone is your Neighbor, Almsgiving- sacrificial giving to the needy; Fasting- weekly- Wed and Fri and Sunday before communion and our seasonal fasts; Sacramental- Regular Participation in Confession, Holy Communion and Holy Unction; Reading Scripture- daily, lectionary, study and memorization; Education- study the lives of the saints, bible study, pilgrimages and seminars; Support the Mission of the Church- stewardship of time, talents and treasure; Ethical/Moral- Practice & Purity- transforming our thoughts, words and actions.

 

I pray that our relationship with our Creator grows stronger as we age each and every day and the love in us can be perfected in His light! Glory to Thee!

Fr. Gabriel Weller 11-10-13; 12-2-18

FOLLOW THE BREADCRUMBS

I think I have always been attracted to things that glitter and are brand-spanking new. These were things I did not have in my younger years since I grew up dirt-poor. We made do and fixed the unrepairable to last another day. From that foundation I gained a vantage point that those glimmering things seemed to mean stability, since the absence of wealth proved to be quite an eager struggle. I was determined that while I was young and healthy I needed to secure my retirement years by working hard and taking risks. After all, I had little to lose and the world to gain! I bet on the one thing I knew I could trust; me!

 

I didn’t really know we were poor until I begin to embrace my independence and wanted a car, insurance and money for upkeep. I viewed the car as a means to get on my feet and pounce on the world and all it had to offer. I liked to work hard so I was on my way to stability and freedom! Look out World, here I come!

 

No doubt, we are supposed to work hard and save for our future, but we cannot be selfishly hoarding and not helping the poor and hungry. And please don’t forget your tithe to the church. With everything, we first submit to God, our hearts, families, time, talent and wealth. Blessed Theophylact writes about the Gospel reading this morning: “The Lord, then, fashioned this story to teach those who show no mercy and give no alms what punishments await them, and to teach those who are suffering what good things they will enjoy on account of the sufferings they patiently endure in this life.” (Bl Theophylact, commentary on Luke 16:19-31)

 

In this Gospel reading the rich man thought he had it all but yet God refuses to call his name. God does not know him, or as St. Gregory of Rome says: “Now our Lord mentions the name of the poor, but not the name of the rich, because God knows and approves the humble, but not the proud.” The rich owned the world but failed to know the One who created it and therefore lost everything!

 

It is easy to find the world and lose yourself. It is so easy to get caught up in things that glimmer and miss the life-sustaining crumbs in life. Our Lord has given us a path to follow which offers us wealth not of this world but a richness that cannot be stolen or decay. We just need to follow the path the church has to offer: prayer, fasting, almsgiving, loving our neighbor, forgiveness, humility, tithing, suffering, repentance, attendance, and mercy.

 

As we age we come to realize as our health begins to fail that we must trust in the Creator and not the created. Follow the salvific bread crumbs He has placed for you on your path to salvation and in all things praise the Lord. And I pray that one day you and I will be carried away by the angels into the bosom of Abraham.

Fr. Gabriel Weller 11-4-2018

RIP

And He approached and touched the bier, and those bearing it stood still. And He said, “Young man, I say to thee, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to talk. And He gave him to his mother. [Lk.7:14-15] The young man was lifeless, his very heart had stopped beating. His future plans were now in shambles, his mother was grieving for her considerable loss. And then into the darkness of death walked the brilliance of Eternity. And those members of the young man’s body that were dead were now restored to life.

 

In the future both the mother and son would repose in their mortality because this life that we now struggle with is only temporary. But there is another kind of death that we wrestle with that is even greater than mortality. If we spend our days and hours without Christ we will truly learn what it means to suffer. Venerable St. Bede wrote: “Whoever will not guard his senses, leaves open a way for death to enter!”

 

Our body will one day return to the earth but not be lost, and our soul will embrace judgment. Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believeth in Me, though he die, he shall live; “and everyone who liveth and believeth in Me, in no wise shall ever die. Believest thou this?” [Jn. 11:25,26]  The following ideas are recorded in the Epistle of the Eastern Patriarchs on the Orthodox Faith: “We believe that the souls of the dead are in a state of blessedness or torment according to their deeds. After being separated from the body they immediately pass over either to joy or into sorrow and grief; however, they do not feel either complete blessedness or complete torment. For complete blessedness or complete torment each one receives after the general resurrection, when the soul is reunited with the body in which it lived in virtue or vice.” According to the Eastern Church the soul can exist in only one of two states after the particular judgment; it thus rejects the Roman Catholic teaching of purgatory as a third state. (The Epistle of the Eastern Patriarchs on the Orthodox Faith, paragraph 18)

 

Perhaps there is some deathly darkness in your life and you are needing the Great Healers touch. “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10) Be not afraid for God is working in our lives to save us from our own destruction. His grace is an invisible action in our lives with visible life-changing results. His grace is the love of your Father longing for you to come home. Let go of this world and its death and thirst for the next! Do not be troubled and hold on to Christ who is waiting for you to come home!

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller 10/20/13-18

YOU’RE A KEEPER!

I like fishing! In all the times I have been fishing there have always been rules and guidelines I needed to follow. The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries enforces rules and regulations concerning every aspect of fishing. This includes permits, seasons, limits and sizes for all types of fish. I have never been a great fish catcher but I do enjoy fishing. I love being out in nature and away from noise and the distractions of my smart-phone and the loud and noisy world.

 

In all the fishing adventures I have had, I don’t remember ever catching my limit but I do seem to be gifted in attracting really small fish, you know the ones you have to throw back. Some of these little guys have such small mouths I am really shocked they were even able to swallow the hook. And as I release them I usually give the small fish a few encouraging words like: come back when you’re a little bigger, or go tell your big brothers and sisters to come over for a bite! But even if the fish is too small, I really enjoyed the excitement of catching it.

 

In the Gospel reading today, the professional fisherman had an awful day fishing. The disciples had worked all night and had been unsuccessful. Not only did they not catch any keepers but they did not catch a thing! And then by the grace of our Lord and their obedience, although exhausted, they went right back to work and caught more fish than their nets could hold and just about sank their ships from all the weight of the fish they had caught.

 

I know as for me, when I am exhausted and have had a bad day at work or fed up with life in general, the last thing I want to do is be obedient to my Orthodox lifestyle. I prefer to selfishly set aside my salvific struggle and neglect church and prayer. I turn my back on my fishing net and leave my boat beached without any attempt to be productive in the waters of life. I disappear into the darkness of doubt and seek comfort from the world. Poor ole me!

 

After all, what benefit do I get from being obedient? St. Nikodemos tells us: “If a Christian obeys the commandments of the Lord more, grace acts with him more, while if he obeys them less, grace acts within him less. Just as a spark, when covered in the ashes of fire becomes increasingly manifest as one removes the ashes, and the more firewood you put the more the fire burns, so the grace that has been given to every Christian through Holy Baptism is hidden in the heart and covered up by the passions and sins, and the more a man acts in accordance with the commandments of Christ, the more he is cleansed of the passions and the more the fire of Divine grace lights in his heart, illumines and deifies him.” ~ St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain

 

We pray Thy will be done but you see it takes an effort on our parts. We have to be willing to cast our nets back into the stormy waters even when we are tired or we seem to be losing our battles in life! We have to be ready to work and our nets must be in good repair, ready and able to love our neighbors. We must shove our vessels out into the water trusting in the great commandments that hold our mighty ship afloat! And in the end when the Masters net is cast, we want to measure up and be a keeper! Glory To Thee!!!

And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. (Luke 5:10)

Fr. Gabriel Weller 10-7-2018

GOOD MEDICINE

I can still hear the words from my mother’s mouth “OPEN WIDE”. I was not sure what it was I was going to be receiving but I knew it wasn’t going to be candy, but then I also trusted that my mother wanted what was best for me. In her quest to keep me healthy, I on occasion had to swallow some distasteful medicine, and on occasion some fried liver and cold Brussels sprouts but that is another story! Mom didn’t want me to suffer and trusted the good doctor’s prescription and only needed my cooperation, open wide and swallow!

 

When it comes to suffering, sometimes I feel like a tall lightning rod rising up touching the sky in the midst of a violent electrical storm! Yes, at times my struggles seem to be more than I can possibly bear! But any good lightning rod is well grounded and able to take an enormous amount of violent attacks. And we Christians are to be well grounded anchoring our souls to the Lord of Creation cooperating with His efforts in our salvation. St. John of Kronstadt wrote: “God is always stronger than evil, and therefore always conquers. Everything is possible unto those who believe and trust. We must struggle and conquer.”

 

We pray in our evening prayers: “Help Orthodox Christians to struggle” and what we are really asking for is to be a taller lightning rod amidst our storms with a better connection to ground though our trust in our risen Lord, open wide! We in the Russian church hear the word “podvig” and it is difficult to fully define. But mostly podvig means a spiritual struggle or a battle between our earthly scarred sinful bodies and our salvation seeking souls.

 

Saint Theophan the Recluse defines our total Christian life as αγώνας (agonas) (struggle). He says that the spirit hates sin, while the flesh dwells in it. How is this battle within ourselves to be won? Through αγώνα (agonas-spiritual struggle) of bringing the soul into mastery over the body and according to Saint Theophan “all the Saints accept the only true path to virtue to be pain and hard work…lightness and ease are a sign of a false path. Anyone who is not struggling, not in an agona, is in spiritual delusion” (The Path to Salvation).

 

Sometimes we find the path to being a well grounded lightning rod as a bit distasteful. St. John of Kronstadt reminds us: “Do not fear the conflict, and do not flee from it: where there is no struggle, there is no virtue; where there are no temptations for faithfulness and love, it is uncertain whether there is really any faithfulness and love for the Lord. Our faith, trust, and love are proved and revealed in adversities, that is, in difficult and grievous outward and inward circumstances, during sickness, sorrow, and privations.”

So then we find that in order to stay spiritually healthy we are to open our hearts widely and trustingly swallow the good medicine that God has sent our way. Remembering the Gospel reading we heard this morning; “And Jesus said to him, “‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.’” [Mt. 22:37] Open wide!

Fr. Gabriel Weller 9-9-2018

Autumn Olive (thorn in my flesh)

Up on the mountain we have a thorny bush that grows faster than church gossip. It is the kind of plant that spreads quickly and chokes out all the good vegetation in its path. Their leafy branch shadows the ground and suppresses growth from everything else. Its thorny undergrowth inflicts wounds on those that oppose its path or try to uproot its branches. This wicked bush or weed has many names; Autumn Olive, Japanese Silverberry, and Spreading Oleaster are just a few, and it is akin to the Russian Olive as well. It is even considered to be a noxious plant by the USDA. And every time I try removing one of these wild unwanted plants, besides the thorns digging into my flesh I usually find a blood-sucking tick hanging on to my skin as well!

 

It seems as though this unwanted plant flourishes and the beautiful lush plantings we have made seem to struggle. And then there are the deer that leave the wild olive alone while they buffet-line the flowers and bushes we have planted. Needless to say, it is with great effort and sacrifice that we will hopefully conquer our landscaping up on the mountain and yet the thorny olive will continue to reestablish itself every chance it gets!

 

It takes a tremendous effort to be a good gardener or landscaper. With the battle we wage against rocks, tree roots and that ornery Autumn Olive we find ourselves downtrodden at times! And on our journey to salvation, it also requires a tremendous effort and at times we feel a bit whipped as well. You and I are the workers here in the vineyard of our Lord. We are to remove thorny, noxious weeds of hatred, selfishness and self-righteousness from choking the fruitful life out of His vineyard. The vineyard requires a lot of loving care from willing workers to produce salvific fruit!

 

We all connected in love by the Cornerstone of the vineyard which is Christ, and every Sunday we here the clear-cut method we have been given to care for His precious harvest: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” (Mt 5.2–12; cf. Lk 6.20–26)

 

And each and every day we repeat that process against all obstacles, weather, varmints or thorny bushes! St. Anatoly of Optina writes: “Wherever God is — there is peace. And the opposite is self-evident: where there is envy, hostility, impatience, self-love — there is the devil. Wherever the devil is — there, everything is ruinous, proud and hostile.” + St. Anatoly of Optina, quoted from Living Without Hypocrisy: Spiritual Counsels of the Holy Elders of Optina. Loving each other through action and remembering: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that everyone who believeth in Him should not perish, but may have everlasting life.” [Jn. 3:16] May our work in His vineyard be fruitful and blessed!

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller 8-26-2018

IF ONLY

If Only, I had all the health and material things a man could want, would I make time to know a merciful God or would I place all my hope for eternity on things that rot? If only I could win the lottery and assure my family a comfortable mostly effortless life as well as taking care of as many hurting people as my surplus would allow, would I be at peace, would I come to know true joy? If only we could eliminate all physical and mental suffering, would we still have a need to seek the great Physician to heal our soul or would we allow the evil serpent to separate us once again?

 

And if only everyone was cured, would we completely deny sin from bringing back all forms of illness and suffering to mankind, would we? If only I could hear the voice of God or place my fingers in His pierced side, maybe then I would work harder, sin less and trust Him more! If only I was as loveable to everyone as my dog thinks I am could I bring more people

 to Christ? If Only I would stop dreaming my life away and buckle down on the here and now, after all we all are always one second closer to our Earthly death! How can I change the “If Only” into graciously accepting the gifts I have and long for changing the illness I continue to feed my soul? After all, He has given me more than I need!

Today we bless the transfigured fruit that grew from the vine with the nutrients from the Creator. The fruit lay in the sun and ripened to perfection, just as we “If Only’s” are supposed to change by being nurtured in the traditions and scriptures of the Creator and perfectly ripened by bathing in His Son. On the Feast of Transfiguration we do not bless the rotten or diseased fruits culled by the farmer and left to decay back in the orchard. We Christians are to cull our disease of sin and restore our soul back to health before our earthly harvest time nears. St. Anthony the Great wrote: “If we make every effort to avoid death of the body, still more should it be our endeavor to avoid death of the soul. There is no obstacle for a man who wants to be saved other than negligence and laziness of soul.” + St. Anthony the Great, “On the Character of Men and on the Virtuous Life: One Hundred and Seventy Texts,” Text 45, The Philokalia: The Complete Text (Vol. 1)

 

Back on the farm, Granddad Rufus would always say you had to make hay when the sun was shining, and for us Christians, the Son is always shining!! No excuses, no more “If Only’s” just get busy! St. John of Kronstadt said: “Do not help the Devil to spread his kingdom. Hallow the name of your Heavenly Father by your actions; help Him to spread His Kingdom on earth, for we are laborers together with God.”’ (St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ) Glory to Thee!

Fr. Gabriel Weller 8-19-18

ONE FOR ALL and ALL FOR ONE

One for all and all for One we shouted joyfully as we kids went off on our banana bikes and our very next adventure. Maybe trying to somewhat mimic the Three Musketeers in our time together, but definitely claiming to be inseparable and watching out for each other! We were brothers of some type of order or a secret promise made and solidified with our blood brother hand shake laced with spittle and dirt. We were discovering the unknown and trying to comprehend our existence. And folks knew if you messed with one of us you would be surrounded by all of us!

 

We here at Holy Myrrhbearers are also blood brothers and sisters, minus the spittle! Our group of believers supports each other with service and prayer. Here in the church we all have the same God and it is through the sacrifice of His Blood that we all should be one in love and spirituality through Jesus Christ our Lord. We are in the same mind or the same truth: “If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. (John 14-15-18)

 

We heard in the Epistle reading this morning: “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all be speaking the same thing, and that schisms may not be among you, but that ye be perfected together in the same mind and in the same sentiment.” [1 Cor. 1:10]

 

It is against our blood brother and sister commitment or our promise to the ancient tradition of the church to divide this body of believers by any means as we find in the instructions written to the church in Corinth: “God is not a God of confusion, but of peace” [1 Cor. 14:33]. The Apostle calls us to be about the same purpose and understanding or as St. John Chrysostom says: “united both in mind and in judgment.” We trust our spiritual improvement to the proven tradition given to us, protected by the lives of the martyrs and through the wisdom and teachings of our forefathers and foremothers.  And we follow the proven rubics of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia as our bishops direct. We do not allow or encourage schisms to grow among us as unwanted weeds of conflict sucking away the nutrients that mystically sustain our fellowship.

 

And it is in the practice of all these things that we find oneness and the perfecting of love. It is a sacrifice we make to separate ourselves and our families from the world and to strengthen our bond in spiritual growth and be a valued part of our family here at Holy Myrrhbearers. “For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to Whom be the glory to the ages.”[Rom. 11:36] ONE for all, and all for ONE!

Fr. Gabriel Weller 7-22-18

IT’S A FAMILY TRADITION

I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. (Ex 20:2-5) … for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God.

 

We here that echoed from the Apostle Matthew: “The one who loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and the one who loveth son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” [Mt 10:37] Some of us parents sometime struggle to remember that our kids are His kids first and ours just for a short time and we shouldn’t put them on a king’s throne but instead on a path to righteousness. And by setting God as our true Father, we are to honor our human mother and father with respect but with the realization that we do not belong to this world. And in all of our busyness we and our family need to continue to snuggle closer to God, our refuge and fortress. (Psalm 91:2)

 

We set a tradition for our children by the way we prioritize our faith practice at home and here in the church. They see how we stand fast during the storms of life and how we practice forgiveness and forbearance in all of our relationships with other icons of Christ. They hear how we lift up our brothers and sisters who are struggling and not gossip about them. We take time to sit down and eat as a family and to begin before each meal with a prayer offering of thanksgiving? A family that prays together stays together! We set God as a priority when we study our bible more than our social media devises, and we make time to help our neighbors in need.

 

“Lord, I am not fit that Thou shouldest come under my roof.” [Mt. 8:8] How to we become holy? For me, that is a huge task! A sales person once asked me:”How do you eat an elephant?” And as I contemplated that enormous task, they responded: “One bite at a time!” And so it is with our becoming a saint and a bright reflection of the Christ who showed us how to be saintly. We need to continue moving in the direction of holiness one bite at a time, decreasing in our self-centeredness out of our love for Christ. It is a decision to seek after an eternal life and not the death of sin.

 

 

You and I are sales people for the Kingdom of God! You know I have never purchased anything from a salesperson who did not believe in what they were selling. How convincing are you? It takes practice to close the deal: prayer, fasting, study, attendance, tithing, and loving. It takes us realizing that our time in this body is short lived and we had better get busy!

 

The Maker of heaven and earth puts people on our path every day; close the deal! I am not asking you to drag them to church but I am asking you to love them in a Godly way. That effort will build His church! You don’t need to be a scholar or a people-person but all you need is to take time in your busyness to share a little of your light with another person. You have to care! Love thy neighbor as thyself! It’s our path to becoming a Saint! It’s another one of our Family’s Tradition!

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller 6-20-18