Music-On-Hold

At work and at home as I try to contact manufacturers and customer service folks, they have me press some buttons on the phone for English and some more buttons to try to route my call to the correct person. The computer answering the phone may probe me for more in-depth information about the nature of my call. Most of the time while I try to patiently wait, the companies and organizations play music or some infomercial as I hold the line. After a couple of minutes, I normally get irritated with the wait and began erratically pushing buttons, trying to circumvent the higher level of intelligence processing my call and connect with a human to converse with. Sometimes the silicone creature routing my call hangs up on me and I have to begin the process of pressing the correct buttons and begin my wait all over!

 
Why do people today need to be constantly distracted? After all isn’t that what music-on-hold is? This entertainment is taking my mind off the amount of time I am spending waiting. I remember some 25 years ago when my young son was sitting in the back seat of our Ford Tempo and he began to cry. I asked him what was wrong because he usually would nap while I drove and he said; “I don’t have anything in my hands”! He thought if he could entertain himself he would be able to stay awake! And now today everywhere we go we see things on sale to keep us entertained. I believe the latest distraction is a thing called a spinner and I am sure for folks with kids with very active minds the spinner helps keep them occupied and allows their parents some sanity.

 
Does your mind wander and seek out “music-on-hold”? We Orthodox can use the “Jesus Prayer” as a filler rather than filling that space with junk noise. And as we recite those salvific words, we draw closer to Christ we then remember our brothers and sisters and their struggles, lifting them up in prayer. Are our lives in need of constant entertaining or can we be still and move close to God? Saint Mathew recounted: 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] “All thy mind” seems to be constant battle!

 
The Russian Bishop and Saint, Ignatius Brianchaninov wrote: The distracted person is like a house without doors or gates. No treasure whatsoever can be kept in such a house. It is open for thieves, robbers, and harlots. The distracted life, completely full of earthly cares, gains for a person heaviness just as gluttony and surfeiting do (cf. Luke 21: 34). Such a person is attached to the earth. He is occupied with only the temporary and vain. The service of God becomes for the distracted person an irrelevant subject. The very thought about this service is something for him wild, full of darkness, and unbearably heavy…. Divine Ascent: A Journal of Orthodox Faith, No. 7, Presentation of the Theotokos, November 2001, pp. 123-4

 
Our minds are an empty void waiting to be filled. Feed your mind with spiritual things! Don’t allow your life to breeze by, tolerating music-on-hold and the distractions of life that rot away your pursuit of holiness. And don’t allow your artificially intelligent phone to constantly distract you and fill that void either! Time is precious. Be about your Father’s business!

Fr. Gabriel Weller 7-23-17

Happily Tormented in the Pig Pen

Today we recount the story of the demon possessed men and the swine drowning in the sea. This account from the Gospel of Saint Matthew is also echoed in the Gospels of Mark and Luke as well. Swine have a vivid memory in my life! My aunt and uncle raised hogs and their home was sandwiched between a pig-pen where table scraps were often cast, and the farrowing or birthing house where little piggies played and squealed. I remember the sight and the smell all too well!

 
Let’s dive if we shall into the pig-pen! Raising swine for food is against the Jewish law so the mostly Gentile townsfolk were not welcoming a Jew sent by God. I don’t want You here in my darkness, go away. I do not want to change, go away! We don’t want to abide by the law, go away! The hogs, unlike the possessed men chose to drown themselves in the ocean rather than live with this demon. What a waste of port chops but after all, maybe the swine should not have been there in the first place amongst the Jews.

 
Most of us Christians eat pork with a few exceptions including our Eritrean and Ethiopian friends next door. Old Testament restrictions against eating pork were rules specifically governing ritual cleanliness and were intended to be applied only to the Jews. St. Paul and the Jerusalem council decided this and in Acts 21, St. Paul states that circumcision was not necessary for the Gentiles nor was the restrictions against eating pork and shellfish. Bacon, bacon, bacon!

 
We all have some things in common with the possessed tribesmen. At times we tend to keep our sins in the comfort of darkness, bathing in the rich fertile mud enticed with manure, rather than exposing our temptations to the correction and healing of Christ. St. Theophan writes: “When a man is given over to the passions, he does not see them in himself and does not fight against them, because he lives in them and by them. But when the grace of God becomes active in him, he begins to discern the passionate and sinful in himself, acknowledge them, and to repent and decide to guard against them. A struggle begins. At first, the struggle begins with deeds, but when is released from shameful deeds, then the struggle begins with shameful thoughts and feelings. And here the struggle encounters many steps … The struggle continues. The passions increasingly are torn out of the heart. It even happens that they are entirely torn out … The sign that the passions are torn out of the heart is that the soul begins to feel repulsion and hatred for the passions.” (St. Theophan the Recluse, How the Spiritual Life Proceeds)

 

We come to church with judgment and anger and look for ways to be irritated! Do we really want God or do we want the demons? Do we really want Jesus coming into our home exposing our sins and telling us what to do? Go away! I’ll cozy up to Christ when it is convenient for me.
We all say the prayer: “Forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one!” Saint James writes in his first chapter: “Let no one when he is tempted be saying, “I am tempted of God”; for God is incapable of being tempted of evils, and He Himself tempteth no one. But each is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own desire. Then after he conceiveth the desire, it bringeth forth sin; and sin, after it is fully formed, bringeth forth death. Cease being led astray, my beloved brethren; every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the lights, with Whom is no alternation or a shadow cast by turning. [Jas. 1:13-17]

 
If we chose to continue wallowing in the darkness of sin telling the Lord to Go Away, we must be happily tormented in the pig pen of sin!

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller 7/9/17

NOT-ME

I am sure that we all grew up with someone that usually was blamed when mom or dad recognized a bad behavior or a mess that appeared out of thin air. In early years, it usually is the youngest or most defenseless and then tends to change as we grow older. In my family, we usually blamed NOT-ME. NOT-ME never confessed to any of the malefactions and our authorities were never convinced of his guilt either. But on occasion we, the guilty ones, came clean and accepted the responsibility for our actions.

 
Blaming others for our conduct and transgressions is a very common occurrence, “If they hadn’t….” or “If only….” We certainly are shaped by our environment but we are given the ability to improve and the free-will to move towards the light. We read in Proverbs: “Iniquities ensnare a man, and everyone is bound in the chains of his own sins.” (Prov.5:22) Without an effort to become more like Christ, we chose to die “Where their worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched.” (Mk 9:48)

 
Taking responsibility for our wrongs is part of growing towards the Light. A good many of our prayers are written in a way to help us reflect upon our worldliness and expose opportunities for improvement. Repentance means a true change of heart and life. Saint Ambrose wrote: “What is the outer darkness? Surely, there is not there a prison and stone cells to be endured? By no means. But whoever are outside the promises of the heavenly commandments are in the outer darkness, because God’s ordinances are light, and whoever is without Christ is in darkness, because Christ is the inner light.”

 
NOT-ME has been around since the beginning of time. He was there lurking in the Garden of Eden and he was even there with the disciples at the last supper: “And as they were eating, He said, “Verily I say to you, that one of you shall deliver Me up.” And being exceedingly grieved, they began to say to Him, each of them, “I am not the one, am I, Lord?”[Mt. 26:21-22] NOT-ME LORD, no, NOT-ME!

 

NOT-ME is a part of my programming and still taking the blame in my marriage, at work and even here in the Temple of the Lord! Perhaps I am a better habitat for the worms than a beacon of Theosis! But thanks be to God that He has not given up on me and hopefully I am not the man I used to be. I pray I can stay pliable in the hands of the Great Sculptor of life. And through the powerful prescription implemented by church tradition, release NOT-ME from his contract with the deceiver, and help me to be renewed in the Light of Christ.

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller 7/2/2017

A CHIP OFF THE OLE BLOCK

I wish we could pick and choose what habits and behaviors we pass on to the next generation. We all adapt and mimic our surroundings and we learn behaviors from our parents and mentors. In our formative years we tend to be very keen and aware, observing, adapting and learning. I remember as a young parent my children repeating words and phrases I had said, at times awakening me to the cold hard fact that I needed to make some changes! And I can still hear Grandparents telling my children that they are a “chip off the ole block” not realizing wither they were complimenting or scolding them.

 

In Genesis we remember: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. [Gen 1:26-27] That’s my goal, for folks to see God in me, to be a chip off the Divine Block! Now that would be something I would want my children and grandchildren to imitate!

 

How to we become more like our heavenly Father? We all have the examples set by the saints of the church! And we have these instructions found in the Gospel reading today: “And He saith to them, “Come after Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” [Mt. 4:19] We have the remedy and call to action found in Mathew 5:44-48: “But I say to you, keep on loving your enemies, blessing those who curse you, doing well to those who hate you, and keep on praying for those who despitefully use you and are persecuting you, “so that ye might become sons of your Father Who is in the heavens; for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. “For if ye love those who love you, what reward are ye having? Even the tax collectors are doing the same, are they not? “And if ye greet your brethren only, what extraordinary thing are ye doing? Even the tax collectors are so doing, are they not? “Ye shall be perfect, even as your Father who is in the heavens is perfect.” [Mt. 5:44-48]

 

Today we dedicate the liturgy to the great saints of the church and we hear the words of St. John Chrysostom: “The memory of those saints establishes and recovers the soul, which has been exhausted by ills, as a cloud that provides shade from the most flaming heat of the sun’s rays.” [Hom. 28, P.G. 63:256 (col. 193).] May the teachings given to us by our Heavenly Father help us all be an icon of Christ, and our families will be blessed to be a chip off of the ole block!

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller 6/18/2017

YARD SALE!

This week as we prepared for the church yard sale I tookyard-sale a moment and reflected upon the effort needed to have a successful sale. Scheduling was a big problem for us this year with the many things in our lives we are so busy with. Matushka finally was able to corner me into setting a date and making a space in my hectic schedule.

 
And of course we needed items donated to sell and folks willing to give their precious time to price the items and also to help work the sale. We needed to advertise so we placed a small ad in the newspaper, the bulletin board and even placed yard sale signs on the street in front of the church. Matushka went to the store and found special yard-sale price tags and we had to go to the bank and get some small change to keep on hand.

 
On Saturday in the early morning before the roosters began crowing, we had to set up tables and moved all the donated items out front to the street. It sure took a lot of preparation to get rid of unwanted things we had kept in our lives and then we settled for pennies on the dollar. But the money raised will be put to good use!

 
Matushka was pricing items on Friday when a local woman happened into the church, lured by our new bright yellow yard sale signs. She looked around and quickly realized she was in unfamiliar territory. The church hosting this yard sale was not like any church she been in before. She immediately wanted validation as to why we had icons of the saints and why we honor the Mother of God so much. She wanted proof between the black and white pages of the constantly re-translating solo in the scripture, she believes is the Bible!!

 
This woman had the “I’m not in Kansas anymore look” about her. That saying came from a great musical the-wizard-of-oz-12679entitled The Wizard of Oz and it involves an enormous tornado devastating the farmland in Kansas, and sending Dorothy and her dog Toto to a make-believe dreamland while the untamed winds scattered and lost all the families’ treasures. Interestingly enough, I parallel that imagery to the church in the West, only some of the treasures remain but many have been scattered and picked through or lost. Perhaps that great scattering wind originated in the lungs of the big bad wolf, the evil one.

 
Which brings me to the wedding banquet mentioned in the Gospel reading today, what does it mean to have our wedding garment on? Just like the yard sale, it takes a lot of work. You see it takes a time commitment, our God is a jealous God, keep the Sabbath Day holy! I have heard some people tell me that they are Orthodox but they don’t attend or rarely attend Church. Perhaps they have become OTHER-ODOX? They are just too busy chasing there tail around in circles instead of clinging on to the pursuit of everlasting life. They’re heart has become blind and darkness is looming!

 
And then there is the great wedding banquet which has been prepared. Is there a dress code to attend such a great banquet? Yes, we should wear our best! And how many people have been invited? Everyone has been invited but how many are prepared to receive the Great Feast? It takes preparation. You need confession, repentance and you must take time to say the pre-communion prayers which help us reflect upon our sin thirsty nature!

 
That brings me to the next point, how often should someone receive the Holy Gifts? And the answer is: as often as one can. If you are Orthodox, you need this prescription to heal. You need this Gift to make ready your soul for the life everlasting! It should be at the very least of least once a year! It really should be as often as you can, it should be as though you’re very life depends on it!

 
Some folks have convinced themselves that they are way too unworthy, they are convinced that there worth has diminished to only pennies on the dollar! Some folks may say that they are serving a penance. Here at our church, please come to your priests and let’s have a talk. We want you to receive all the great treasures that the true church has to offer!

 
Every week, you are invited a grand wedding. Jesus desires you in marriage. You are the church! He wants a commitment from you! It will take a great effort and it will not be easy, but you know way down deep in your heart that it will be worth it!

 
Come, won’t you come? Don’t be an OTHER-ODOX!

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller 9/25/16

St. John the Baptist

This week we began bleaching the exterior of our cabin. We applied a special mixture of Trisodium Phosphate, Clorox and water to the exterior and then rinsed with the power of a high pressure washer and this process removed all the oil and stains that have weathered and blemished our logs over the last year. Once dried, this process readies the logs for a protective coat to be installed to defend the wood from the rot, wood boring bugs and hopefully hard-headed woodpeckers.

 
We Christians also use a special mixture to remove our sinful stains and blemishes. We Orthodox use prayer, blessed oil and water and the help of the Holy Spirit. We call this process baptism. Baptism in the Church begins with the rejection of Satan and the acceptance of Christ. Before being baptized, a person, or his sponsors or godparents, officially proclaims the symbol of Christian faith, the Creed. Because the godparent speaks on behalf of the child, sponsors his entrance into the Church and “receives” the child out of the baptismal waters into the Church and cares for his spiritual life, the godparent himself must be an active member of the Church.

 
In the Christian Church the practice of baptism takes on a new and particular significance. It no longer remains merely a sign of moral change and spiritual rebirth. 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 event of Pascha. It is a “new birth by water and the Holy Spirit” into the Kingdom of God (Jn 3.5).

 

john-the-baptist

On this day we remember the patron saint of godparents and his sacrifice paid for his faith in Christ. St. John the Baptist lured people into the river water and by the power of the Almighty removed their stains and through their repentance their lives were changed.

 
St. John’s father, Priest Zacharias was murdered in the temple and his mother Elizabeth (daughter of Aaron and cousin of the blessed Theotokos) took the young lad into the desert where he was raised. Later as a young adult, St. John began to preach about the necessity of repentance and self-sacrifice. He denounced the Sadducees and Pharisees and warned the tax collectors and soldiers against extortion and plunder.

 
St. John baptized thousands of people as a sign of repentance and a preparation for the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus was also baptized by St. John not because he was sinful and needed to repent, but because in allowing himself to be baptized he showed that indeed he was God’s “Beloved Son,” the Saviour and Messiah, the “Lamb of God who takes upon himself the sins of the world” (Mt 3, Mk 1, Lk 3, Jn 1–3).

 
Our baptismal water is prayed over and blessed as the sign of the goodness of God’s creation. The catechumen to be baptized is also prayed over and blessed with sanctified oil as the sign that his creation by God is holy and good. And then, after the solemn proclamation of “Alleluia” (from Hebrew, meaning “God be praised”), the person is immersed three times in the water in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

 
Through the act of immersion, the baptized person dies to this world and is born again in the resurrection of Christ into eternal life. He is clothed with the “garments of salvation” symbolized by the white baptismal robe which is the “new humanity” of Jesus himself who is the new and heavenly Adam (Jn 3, Rom 5, 1 Cor 15). Thus, the words of the Apostle Paul are chanted 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).

 

I pray that your baptismal waters bleached away all your stains and the protective coating of salvation in Jesus Christ shed away all the sinful rot, fungus and the hard-headed woodpeckers of a world which is lost in the desert and in need of a Savior.

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller 9-11-2016

All Saints 2016

Today we celebrate all the Saints of the church. Who are these Saints? Saints are not created by the people of the church, the church recognizes as saints those whom God himself has glorified, seeing in their lives true love for God and their Christ-like love of neighbors. From the Latin word sanctus, a saint is one who is holy or set apart for God’s service. It is a person who has cooperated with God’s grace to the extent that his or her holiness is beyond doubt.

 

From the beginning, the Church recognized the righteous ancestors of Christ, Forefathers, as grace-filled men and women whose lives were pleasing to God. Also the Prophets who predicted Christ’s coming and the Apostles and Evangelists who proclaimed the Gospel were assumed to be saints.
Next the Martyrs and Confessors who risked their lives and shed their blood in witness to Christ were also recognized as saints. And in time, Ascetics who followed Christ through self-denial were numbered among the saints. In more modern times, Bishops and Priests who fought against heresy and proclaimed the true faith are recognized by the Church as saints. And then today, holy people, in all walks of life, can be recognized as saints.
While the glorification of a saint may be initiated because of miracles, it is not an absolute necessity for canonization. The Roman Catholic Church requires three verified miracles in order to recognize someone as a saint; the Orthodox Church does not require this. There are some saints, including Saint Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain and Saint Innocent of Moscow who have not performed any miracles as far as we know. What is required is a virtuous life of obvious holiness. And a saint’s writings and preaching must be “fully Orthodox,” in harmony with the pure faith that we have received from Christ and the Apostles and taught by the Fathers and the Ecumenical Councils.
In the epistle to Corinth, Apostle Paul writes: “to the Church of God which is in Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints, with all those calling upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place, both theirs and ours.” [1 Cor. 1:2] And also, “Do you not know,” Saint Paul asks, “that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:16).
You and I are too called to become Saints! Three times in the Book of Leviticus (Ch 11, 19 and 20) God tells us to be holy, because He is holy. We must consecrate ourselves, for we are His people. Saint Peter reiterates this commandment in the new testament, challenging us to obey God’s commandments and submit our will to His will (1 Pet 1:16). We read about great life story conversions such as St. Mary of Egypt and the Apostle Paul and yes we too by the Grace of God and the structure of His Holy Church can change and become selfless and Christ-like! In the last book of the holy bible we hear: “Here is the patience of the saints, the ones keeping the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.” [Rev. 14:12]
Every Sunday as you walk into this church, I want you to remember the love of Christ shown by the great saints of this church in their sacrifice and service they have made. And then take that mindset back out into the world. And in the ranks of the church faithful, we will leave NO ONE behind. We will surround everyone with the fragrance and peace of Charity, Hope and Faith that is only found in the sweetest love known to mankind, the love of Christ!

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller 6/26/2016

NEXT OF KIN

family2Folks say that blood is thicker than water. I am reminded of this with each feast day or each holiday as we gather with the fruit of our an
cestor’s lineage. As branches of our family tree, we are here today because of the successes and failures of our kinfolk. We are connected and bound to their history and in the old days even our surname identified us as having a skill or a particular lifestyle.

 
And as we near the manger the church reminds us of where this Child, this Messiah, this King, this Great Servant of all came from. Today, the Apostle Matthew traces Jesus’ lineage with a focus on His Jewish heritage. This lineage includes kings, scholars, prophets, warriors, and patriarchs. But His kinfolk also include prostitutes, fornicators, murderers, liars, and charlatans. Much of Jesus’ next of kin loved God and God’s mercy and grace was bestowed upon them.

 
The infant was born in a town named Bethlehem and its’ name was derived from Arabic meaning “house of flesh.” This week, we will travel vividly chanting and reading the Holy Scripture with Joseph and Mary to this town of Bethlehem where once Samuel anointed (1 Sam. 16:1-13) Israel’s first kings, Saul and David, (1 Sam. 9:1; 1 Sam. 16:1-13) who were born there, and this town where Jacob’s wife Rachel was buried.

 
Our Lord Jesus was born in Bethlehem in meekness. His family tree was not one full of nobility but one balanced with folks that struggled in life just like you and me. He was not born in a castle fit for a king but rather in a cave where animals lived. He was bound in swaddling clothes instead of fine silk and laid in a manger, used to feed the animals.

 
An obedient lowly virgin had a temple formed in her womb. This temple encompassed the Alpha and the Omega! Our Creator was contained in the “house of flesh” and then thrust into the darkness of the night and into the world strangling in the darkness of sin. Our Light and our salvation were born unto us!

 
And as for your next of kin, every saint has a past and every sinner has a brighter future! The salvation of mankind cannot happen against our own will. It cannot be forced upon us. But when we allow Christ to dwell in our hearts, He cannot be contained. Just as yeast rises, our hearts overflow with radiance and love oozes out and consumes our surroundings! Our future becomes brighter and the darkness of our past is loosed and by the birth of this little one, we have inexhaustible hope! We are loved! God has chosen you, won’t you chose Him? Glorify Him!!!

Fr. Gabriel Weller 1/3/16