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

Thirsty CaMel

When my wife and I visited the Holy Land in 2010, one of my wife’s favorite moments was when she had the opportunity to ride a camel for a couple of hours as we navigated up Mt. Sinai. Now that is not a normal activity here around Harrisonburg and she seized the opportunity. She rode a one-huMper and I knew he liked Matushka since he kept giving me the eye and spit at me a time or two!

 
Camels are known for being low maintenance transporters in the hot desolate areas. And during winters in the desert, camels have been known to survive six or seven months without actually drinking. Very thirsty camels can drink up to 26 gallons of water during a single visit to the well. The camel seems to be designed both inside and out to hold on to any water it takes in. Its fur prevents the camel from sweating too much. Its blood cells are also tiny enough to keep circulating as the camel’s blood thickens from dehydration but elastic enough to hold lots of water. If a thirsty camel finds an oasis, its red blood cells might balloon to more than twice their size while its’ hump remains unchanged.

 
What do camels have to do with Pentecost? We too spend a lot of time in the desert. We find ourselves being pushed to our max, searching desperately for an oasis. For us modern-day Christians, our desert is the time we spend in between church services. We have all tasted the sweet waters of salvation and we are replenished from the overflowing wells each time we receive the Holy Sacraments of the Church.

 
And then, back out into the burning sands of life we travel taking with us the love that Christ has given us to share with all those thirsting and dehydrated from the storms of life. It is our opportunity as the Gospel writer instructs: “The one who believeth in Me, even as the Scripture said—rivers of living water shall flow out of his belly.” [Jn. 7:38]

 
Living water is the oasis for thirsting people everywhere. Every day we all encounter wandering nomads searching for a home, beaten down by life, awakening each day to only scorch some more. Bring them to the well! The Great Artificer who created the camel to wondersly prosper in desolate areas has created you inside and out to wondersly prosper here, rubbing elbow to elbow with folks that need our prayers and need our love.

 
And here at Pentecost we are reminded of the prophesy from Zechariah 14:8: “ And it shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the eastern sea, and half of them toward the western sea: in summer and in winter shall it be.” We remember the chant: “As many as have been baptized in to Christ have put on Christ. Alleluia.” You and I have been given everything we need to build His church and we remember Jesus’ question to Peter: “Do you love me? …Feed My sheep! (John 21:17) Take time to allow the Living Water to flow from your belly, your salvation depends on it!

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller 6/4/2017

SEEING IS BELIEVING

I like to take people at their word or believe what it is they are saying. Maybe I am a bit too gullible! I have sat through time-share sales presentations and listened in person and on cable to all types of silver-tongued sales folks and even some election minded politicians. Perhaps these folks weren’t totally lying but at times, they sure were stretching the truth a bit. I have heard it said that you can tell if a salesman is lying if you see their mouth moving!

 
A lot of these exaggeration tactics lead us to expect more than we actually receive. We form some level of trust with what we are told and in our belief we become vulnerable and we become a victim. In my profession, I have always tried to be a straight-shooter with no closing pressure trusting more in God to provide than my ability to close the deal. I wanted to be a man of integrity! I wanted the people I was pitching to have a clear understanding of what I recommend and what we would provide. I am sure in all the years and in my different roles; I have inevitably misled a few folks.

 
As for the half-truths I tell myself, I am quite a silver-tongue salesman. After all, being a king is always more attractive than being a servant! It is always easier to find fault in others than it is to thoroughly examine my own inventory. My blindness conveniently hides my faults and I usually don’t stumble around trying to find them! Without the light of eternal vision, darkness encumbers my path to salvation! My soul is blinded by my love for Satan and the death he is promoting! We read in Paul’s letter to the Celtics in Galatia: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also be walking by the Spirit.” [Gal. 5:25] I need more time in reflection, prayer and confession so that I may too wash in the pool of Siloam.

 
Maybe with the loving patience of my Father, I may one day become a great salesman for Christ! “O my plenteously merciful and all merciful God, Lord Jesus Christ, through Thy great love Thou didst come down and become incarnate so that Thou mightest save all. And again, O Saviour. save me by Thy grace, I pray Thee. For if Thou shouldst save me for my works, this would not be grace or a gift, but rather a duty; yea, Thou Who art great in compassion and ineffable in mercy. For he that believeth in Me, Thou hast said, O my Christ, shall live and never see death. If, then, faith in Thee saveth the desperate, behold, I believe, save me, for Thou art my God and Creator. Let faith instead of works be imputed to me, O my God, for Thou wilt find no works which could justify me. But may my faith suffice instead of all works, may it answer for, may it acquit me, may it make me a partaker of Thine eternal glory. And let Satan not seize me and boast, O Word, that he hath torn me from Thy hand and fold. But whether I desire it or not, save me, O Christ my Saviour,! forestall me quickly, quickly, for I perish. Thou art my God from my mother’s womb. Vouchsafe me, O Lord, to love Thee now as fervently as I once loved sin itself, and also to work for Thee without idleness, diligently, as I worked before for deceptive Satan. But supremely shall I work for Thee, my Lord and God, Jesus Christ, all the days of my life, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.” [Morning Prayers from the “Joranville” Prayerbook]

Fr. Gabriel Weller 5/21/17

KEEP THE FIRE BURNING

I recently watched a show about people roughing it deep, deep in the woods of virtually unexplored territory. On a week-long excursion, the folks began to set up camp as darkness closed in around them. One of the men was given the task of gathering enough firewood to cook with

and to add warmth and light to their secluded site. After a meal and some cleanup, the group prepared to get some sleep after a very long and tiring day. One of the men was stoking up the fire as best he could before retiring and as he looked into the camera he said these words: If the fire goes out, the predators come in!”

 
Here in the city, we just experienced the Paschal fire where the great Light crippled the darkness of hell. We had prepared by spending our time fasting and praying before Pascha and reciting the prophecies and Gospel drama leading up to the salvific event. And at midnight, in total darkness, the light of Christ filled the room. We took our candles and went out the door into the city proclaiming the victory of Christ over death! We celebrated that victory by receiving the Body and Blood of our Savior! And then some of us broke the fast at the IHOP.

 
The greatest feast day of the Christian church has come and gone for another year, so now, what? Don’t let your fire go out! The resurrection of Christ is always present! The Book of Revelations says: The gates of hell are shut and locked and Christ holds the key! (Rev 1:17-18)

 
We read in 1 Peter: Be sober, watch; because your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he might devour. [1 Pe. 5:8] You see, the great deceiver is a predator and wants to separate you from God. He tells you that you are doing great and all of these church services are not necessary! You don’t need to come to church Saturday evenings! He tells you your daily prayers are not necessary and it is okay to miss a day or two! He stirs up a cloud of pride as he tries to separate you from other sinners here at the church! He tells you that all of your earnings are yours and you do not need to tithe! He steals away all of our precious time and you are unable to read your bibles! He keeps you away from the confessional and the Great Healing Gifts of Christ! The evil one is hunting for your soul! He is the most ruthless, vicious, flesh-eater on the face of the Earth! Do not listen to that liar, keep the fire burning!

 
The Apostle James states it most clearly: faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:17) Keep you and your family safe by stoking the Pascal campfire by personally increasing the amount of time you spend working on your salvation, and the light of Christ will increase in you and will keep the predator out of your camp and home! Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the tomb bestowing life!

Fr. Gabriel Weller 4/23/17

APRIL FOOLS

Now deep into the season of Lent, are we broken in need of the Great Healer or are we April Fools? King David wrote in Psalms 14:  “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.” (Psalm 14:1)

We too are fools when we go through the motions but forget repentance and we then mirror the Pharisee Simon in the Gospel reading today. At times we all do it! We come to church, we pray, we even serve others but we are deathly distracted!

 
The Pharisee Simon had the Alpha and the Omega reclining at his table and he was distracted. He was distracted about everybody else’s stuff instead of seeking healing for his brokenness and his lack of repentance. Instead of judging others we should be putting ourselves under the broken and lifting them up. Christianity is a team sport! Our faith is only as strong as our weakest member!

 
Loving God is joy! Joy blossoms as we help others and consider no good deed beneath ones dignity. Joy is the true belief that we will one day be kissing His feet and washing them with our tears. And until that day, we need to be on the narrow path too salvation. The sick seek healing! Why are we here? Is it visiting hours or have we come to be admitted to the hospital? Hopefully we will not wait until things get much worse and we need the emergency trauma center? Every person on this Earth has a sickness called sin. But this sickness does not have to be fatal! There is a cure and His name is Jesus!

 
The church shows and instructs us how to be on that narrow path of healing. But we must come with humility. The absence of humility is the deathly cancer called self pride. Sinless humility means that we see ourselves as we really are and according to St. Isaac, it is greater than the raising of the dead. “There is a humility that comes from the fear of God, and there is a humility that comes from the fervent love of God. One man is humbled because of his fear of God, another is humbled because of his joy. The man humbled from fear of God is possessed of modesty in his members, a right ordering of his senses, and a heart contrite at all times. But the man humbled because of joy is possessed of great exuberance and an open and insuppressible heart.” (St. Isaac of Syria)

 

Evening, morning and noonday we praise Thee, we bless Thee, we give thanks unto Thee, and we pray Thee, O Master of all: Direct our prayer as incense before Thee, and incline not our hearts unto words or thoughts of evil, but deliver us from all that hunt after our souls; for unto Thee, O Lord, O Lord, are our eyes, and in Thee have we hoped, let us not be put to shame, O our God. For unto Thee is due all glory, honor and worship: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

 
Fr. Gabriel Weller 4/2/2017

FOLLOW ME

We have this little fluffy dog named Emma and when I take her outside I attach a 10’ retractable leash to her collar. She has a mind of her own and likes to investigate Leashthings in the briar patch so I try to get her to follow me. After all, I am taking her for a walk and not the other way around! Well as soon as we step out the front door we encounter our first hurdle. There is a post holding up our porch roof and Emma goes left and I go right. And then when we step out onto our driveway we start to navigate around our vehicles and again she goes left and I walk to the right. Maybe she is unorthodox!

 
I think in her mind I should follow her. After all she has a much keener ability to smell and therefore knows where she wants to go. I, on the other hand, want to steer her away from water puddles, mud, thorns and briars, and big animals that may have an appetite for small fluffy dogs!

 
When it comes to following, I too struggle. In my pursuit of Theoisis I tend to trust my sense of direction more than God! Like my little fluffy dog, it seems as though I prefer the water and mud puddles of life and even an additional bur in my fur every now and then. Saint Gregory Palamas wrote: “Even when your body does nothing, sin can be active in your mind. When your soul inwardly repulses the evil one’s attack by means of prayer, attention, remembrance of death, godly sorrow and mourning, the body, too, takes its share of holiness, having acquired freedom from evil actions. This is what the Lord meant by saying that someone who cleans the outside of the cup has not cleansed it inside, but clean the inside and the whole cup will be clean.”

 
By following God and His commandments, Saint Gregory insisted that we become united in prayer and holiness with the Lord. The paralytic in the Gospel reading today experienced Christ’s healing and strength and we too can experience the same things if we follow Him by obeying His commandments and move toward a holier life. In this pursuit we will welcome and cooperate with our Lord’s mercy.

 
There is a retractable cord connecting you to the mercy and love of God. It has a long, long cord and we can stretch it as far away from the great Sheppard as we chose too, and stretch it long enough to stick our noses in the briars of life and deep into the mud puddles of a lost world. Stay close and let our Lord lead you in your walk on this Earth the minute you awake, each and every day, and follow Him.

 
Fr. Gabriel Weller 3-12-2017

85 lbs of baggage

I just returned from a week-long trip cross country and I drug 85 lbs of “necessary” luggage with me. It was a trip in which I needed to portray two separate identities, one as an electronic security professional and one as an eternal security clergy member of the Orthodox Church. airport bagBoth of these careers require me to dress in a certain manner and have a different style of work clothes. When I arrived at the airport, the TSA folks x-rayed and sniffed the suitcases for everyone’s safety. My little carry-on roller was free but my large suitcase cost me a twenty-five dollar fee. I took 85 lbs of baggage with me and returned with more stuff than I took!

 
Just as the airline charges me for extra baggage, in life there is a cost for maintaining all of my junk. I always seem to drag along with me scars and soreness from the past. It seems as though wherever I go and whatever I do, I am somewhat entangled with my history. My actions and reactions are mostly based upon my learned survival experiences. Even in my marriage I sometimes enter into my combat mode because a memory of hurt or distrust is still embedded in my heart and usually has nothing to do with my wife but, there it is, overreaction! Fight or flight!

 
Over the years I have been able to be rid of some of my unwanted baggage by means of confession, communion, prayer and forgiveness. But now, a year older and even more snow on my roof I still have a lot more stuff to surrender. I want to be dependent on Jesus but I seem to keep one hand clinging to my carry-on baggage.

 
As we enter into the Lenten season I ask this question, how much baggage are you dragging around? Why do we find comfort in own pity party? When I was younger and stronger, I never gave it a second thought to the amount of extra weight I was dragging around. But now I am beginning to realize how tiring it is and how much precious time I have been wasting. Remembering wrongs only injures my ability to be about my Father’s business. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall affliction, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” [Rom. 8:35]

 
If I continue to choose to limit my understanding of love based upon what I have experienced here on Earth I will be cheating myself of becoming the man God has called me to be. Instead of loving others as Christ does, my choice to treasure and continue to drag the baggage of mine and others sinfulness cripples my salvific attempt to draw near to the One who truly cherishes me. ‘God, be gracious to me the sinner.’ [Lk. 18:13]

Fr. Gabriel Weller 2/5/2017

Leaky Battery

For the safety of our new home, I installed solar lights to illumine the driveway and entry into our cabin. The new lights have a battery that is charged by the rays of the sun during the day and when darkness begins to creep up the mountain, a photocell sends current to the bright LED and it produces light. Now after several months we have noticed that some of the lights do not last all night Leaky-Battery-4and occasionally they all are dark in the wee hours of the morning. I have found several reasons for the differences. A few lights are shaded part of the day, a few lights have inferior batteries and then one or two of the lights are probably lacking in their circuitry. And then if sunshine is sparse one day, the solar collector is incapable of recharging the battery fully which reduces the number of hours of illumination we will see that night.

 
We humans also have batteries. Not the kind that catch fire on airplanes but we definitely have a power grid that energizes our mind, body and soul. We need food and water to regulate our body temperature and produce energy and much needed nutrients to sustain our bodily temple. Our mind, body and soul also need exposure to light. Now our human batteries can only be fully charged when we bathe in the Son, Jesus. Just like those solar lights enlightening my path to safety, sometimes our light burns brightly into the darkness and yet other times the darkness lasts much longer than out light. If we spend our time trying to recharge our batteries by the artificial light of our widescreen TVs, laptops and smart phones, our human battery will not realize a full charge. There are way too many shadows found in those man-made artificial light sources and a host full of demons waiting to befriend you and take you farther away from the pure source of energy, and allowing our batteries to leak and lose their charge. The circuitry of our mind needs to be rewired because time is precious and for our salvation we must seek to be fully recharged in the light of Christ, bathing in Christ-like love with each person we meet. The selfless love we share recharges the batteries of others. And we can only become more like Christ if we seek Him more than we seek the world and its’ darkness!

 
Here in the season of Epiphany, the Uncreated energy enlightened the world with the voice out of the heavens, saying, “This is My Son, the Beloved, in Whom I am well pleased”. The Holy Spirit descends upon Him in the form of a dove. The Father, Son and the Holy Spirit made themselves known. The Light of the world covered Himself in the dark waters of the Jordan liberating us all from the shadows of sin by purifying our souls as we are baptized. St. Basil the Great affirms that the blessing of water came to us as a “mystical tradition” and that the water, through the prayer and blessing of the priest, receives a “quickening power of the Holy Spirit.” Through this heavenly power the water we bless at Theophany receives the power to bless those who drink from it or are sprinkled with it and the water lasts for years without corruption.

 
We mystically enter into the waters of the Jordan here at Theophany and we sing: “as many as were baptized in Christ have put on Christ”. May the great Creator reshape and recharge your leaking batteries into a brilliant source of energy overcoming the shadows and illuminating the world.

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller 1-22-2017