Cheese Quest

CheeseAssortment1When we would come to visit family here in the Valley, we never went home without a trip to the cheese shop. My Mom is a huge lover of cheese and she would sample all the different flavors that were for sale. She could identify the different types of cheese from across the room by its color and appearance and then confirm the identity by its aroma. Sampling for taste was unnecessary but she would indulge herself anyway, after all, my Mom loves cheese. 
Cheese is a food derived from milk that is produced in a wide range of flavors and textures. It contains proteins and fat, and is usually made from the milk of cows, buffalo, goats, or sheep. Cheese contains: Vitamin A, Calcium, Iron, Vitamin D, Vitamin B-12, and Magnesium which are necessary vitamins and nutrients for our health.

We Orthodox enjoy cheese as well, but maybe not as much as my mother. However during our fasting times, we abstain from consuming this animal by-product. We fast in order to gain control of those things that we have allowed to get out of control. This practice is a discipline of the body. Any time something is limited in its freedoms, it becomes subject to whatever force is limiting it. So, when I make my body do what I need instead of what it wants, I become its master. In other words, if I tell my feet to walk and where to go, or if I tell my hands to work and what to do, or if I tell my brain to solve a problem and which one—I gain control over this incredible gift of God called my body. Our fasting must be undertaken willingly and not by compulsion. After all, God doesn’t need our fasting. And as the Apostle Matthew wrote: “And whenever ye are fasting, cease being as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance; for they artificially disfigure their faces”. [Mt. 6:16]

Earlier this week, we heard at bible study: “For I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy” (Lev 11:44). We, whom love God, should want to imitate Him! There is a process to be holy, we call this discipline Theosis. It is man’s union with God, wherein we take part in the uncreated energies of the Trinity. We do not become what God is in his essence, but we are invited to participate in his energies. This is the purpose and goal for which we were created. Theosis can only be attained in Christ, through the working of the Holy Spirit, as we freely cooperate with the Father’s unmerited grace. The nutritional path to Theosis involves participation in the sacraments, involvement in the ascetic struggle, and concludes in the vision of the uncreated light of God.

The Orthodox faith exists to help us find our way to holiness. Just as Swiss cheese can be identified by its holes, may we too be identified as holy by our choices in life, our aroma of love and in our taste of humbleness!

Fr. Gabriel Weller 11-8 15

FISH BAIT

Do you like to go fishing? Have you ever been fishing all day without catching anything? Everybody knows the old slogan “A bad day fishing is better than a good day at work!” When I was a boy, during the summer break from school, Mom would gather up us kids and take us to Grandma’s and Granddad’s for the summer. They had a farm with plenty of fresh air. Now Grandma struggled trying to keep me occupied with something to do. I enjoyed taking things apart and trying to put them back together again, usually with fewer working parts, so she found it best to keep me within eyesight! Grandma Hazel loved the outdoors. She had a garden as big as this church’s parking lot. I am not exaggerating because I knew it well. You see, us kids didn’t have Sponge Bob, text-messaging or Nintendo games to occupy our time with. We snapped beans, shucked corn and pulled weeds. So I knew the garden well!

 
About once a week, after all the farm-hands had been fed their lunch, Grandma Hazel would take us kids fishing. She would put on her wide-brimmed gardening hat, and cut some willow branches from the old tree. She would take a thick black piece of thread and tie it to the willow pole and attach a hook. Grandma kept her hooks in an old baby food jar in a drawer in the kitchen. She would then get a can and a shovel and take us kids out to the compost pile to collect the bait. Fish aren’t stupid; you have got to have good bait! So we only gathered the wiggly worms with a lot of life in them!

 
Young-Boy-Fishing_artOnce we gathered all the necessary items, down to the pond we went, making our way through the gates and barnyard to the big pond. We always caught fish. Grandma had stocked sun perch in her pond and they were thick as flies at a picnic. I always liked to see how many fish I could catch using the same piece of live bait! I discovered that the worms that wiggled more caught more fish! We would release the fish we caught back into the pond except for the ones that were injured; we would feed them to the cats. Farm cats aren’t fancy and they knew a good meal when they saw one!

 
Grandma was wise. She knew she needed a pole, some line, a hook and some bait to catch fish. But she also knew that she had to go to where the fish were. There were no fish in the creek or the small pond. And so it is with Orthodoxy, we need to be amongst the people! “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. “ [Mt. 28:19]

 
The Church has given us the tools we need to catch fish! Our fishing pole is the wisdom of the Holy Scriptures and the guidance of the Holy Fathers. Our fishing line is the lives of the Saints, the order of our church services and the life that we practice in Orthodoxy! Everybody probably can guess what we use for a hook. It is the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ! Now that just leaves the bait, everyone look in the mirror; you are the bait!

 
How do we become good bait? Saint Maximos the Confessor said: “The one who loves Christ thoroughly imitates Him as much as he can.” We must embrace the Orthodox Church fully in all that it has to offer. After all, after 2000 years, Orthodoxy is still vibrant and its teachings are unending and relevant. We just need to make our faith our number one priority in our lives. God first!

 
We need to become the bait that Christ would want dangling from his hook in the waters of life. Quit hiding behind excuses! Jesus said to Simon, “Cease being afraid; from henceforth thou shalt be taking men alive.” [Luke 5:10] Don’t you know that you belong to the team THAT CAN!! Grasp a hold of all that Orthodoxy has to offer, Cling onto Jesus, and jump into the water and be vibrant. We have all been called and we are all needed! Don’t become a piece of dried up smelly bait left behind in the compost pile of life, CATCH FISH!
Glory to Thee, O Lord; Glory to Thee!

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller 10-11-15

Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Sometime before the wooden cross was erected, by the deceit of the devil, man was exiled from the garden. It was in the garden that man dared to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge. Through the fruit of the wood, the Devil subjected us to exile, and through the wood of the cross we were nourished and the Most-High King declared us heirs to his kingdom and freed us from the bondage of sin.
And in ancient times, it was on a piece of wood that Moses lifted up the serpent of bronze when the Lord commanded the people to look upon it and be healed (Numbers 21:4-9). In doing so, Moses gave us a sign to remember when the one true cross would come and heal us of our brokenness; it is a sign that the Lord has promised never to abandon us if we place our trust in Him.
Moses also recounts in Genesis the instructions to Noah: “Make thee an ark of gopher wood.” By following our Lord’s instructions very vigilantly, wood was used to build an ark and sustain mankind from the deep turbulent waters of sin and death.
I have always had a fascination with wood. I have watched since my eyes were opened the use of wood in the construction of furniture, homes, fences, and barns. At an earlbent-naily age, I was given a hammer and some nails and instructed to practice hitting the nail on the head with only the head of the hammer. Of course granddad gave me 10 penny spiral nails to practice with that were hard to bend. And he was wise enough to give me a hammer with a fiberglass handle which was resistant to splitting when I missed the nail head and struck the nail with the hammers’ handle.
I have also spent time in the old barns studying how the huge wooden beams were joined together and attached with wooden pegs. They look strong and more than able to carry the enormous amount of weight from the lofts full of hay and the dead weight of the snow as it gathers in the winter months!
However, those huge beams holding the barn and its’ heavy load are merely toothpicks when compared to the wood of the ancient cross. Of course, the barn beams are more massive in girth and length but you see, the wood of the Holy Cross sustains an enormous amount of weight! Upon our wooden cross rests the weight of all humanities sins.
Just as my Grandfather knew I would on occasion miss the mark and jamb the hammer handle onto the nail head, our Father knows that we too will miss the mark of perfection and through His bountiful love, we can be renewed by means of the Holy Cross. “O taste and see that the Lord is good.”(Psalm 34:8)

Fr. Gabriel Weller 9-27-15

I OWE, I OWE, IT”S OFF TO WORK I GO!

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAInto this world I was born free from debt and when I leave this scorched earth, my debt will cease or in other words, you can’t get blood from a turnip! Now rest assured, as long as I continue to pay my life insurance policies my estate should be settled and my financial debt will be put to rest. But there sure seems to be a lot of “ifs” in life!

I am sure that when I left the hospital in a swaddling diaper there was money owed for my entrance into this world but this was not my debt but that of my parents. But after sometime on this earth I have accumulated debt and the amount owed is increasing every day and with every breath I take. After all, there is a tax burden and a cost to exist, so is death the only thing that will free me from servitude?

There was time in my life when I was overwhelmed with debt. But this particular debt was not the normal monetary type of liability but an even heavier burden that reached far beyond the tomb. I am indebted to others for my sinfulness and I am indebted to God for paying my debt at the cross with love. This debt I preserve in my heart and it makes my heart like an Oreo cookie, it is hard on the outside and soft and yummy in the middle! The outer layer is hardened and frightened and yet by the mercy of God, the inside is soft and slowly moistening the outer calloused layers. It takes a little work to get to the soft center but there is a great reward waiting there.

To be free from debt or blessed by a debt means that we must fully free those whom have harmed us and embrace the image of God that at times is hidden in them and at times is hidden in each and every one of us! Our blessing from God is achieved when we realize that we must forgive in order to be forgiven. The hard layer of our heart must subside and allow the soft creamy yummy part, oozing with love, to embrace others.

If we do not forgive our neighbors and family, our debt builds and increases with every breath we take and the outer shell of our heart grows hard and callus. Carrying this bad-debt is an emotional burden and sin and it only separates us from the loving embrace of Christ. “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not everyone his brother their trespasses.”(Matt 23:35)

Yes, we have all been hurt and mistreated and there is only one excuse for this abuse, it is called sin! And each and every one of us has this sinful ingredient within and each and every one of us must combat these temptations and not allow ourselves to seek comfort on the island of seclusion, where there is no one else to love. We must die to our selfishness to eliminate our debt.

We owe God a debt of love and we owe everyone else that same debt. Since we too have not reached perfection, we must pray that God will forgive them for they know not what they do, and to work daily on freeing ourselves from the enormous yoke of our own sinfulness and pride. And as we remember the love that Christ demonstrated in His short time here on the sands of the earth, we need to chip away at our outer harsh shell and share the soft delicious center with others! I owe, I owe, it’s off to work I go!

Fr. Gabriel Weller 8/16/15

“X” MARKS THE SPOT

old treasure map

As a young lad, I had quite the imagination. Being influenced by stories about “Huckleberry Fin”, “Peter Pan” and “Treasure Island”, you might find me looking for treasure maps and digging holes in the back yard. Although, I think our dog was usually blamed for the holes in my empty searches. But I could easily imagine how my life could be so much greater if I could only uncover the hidden treasure buried somewhere beneath the earth in my numerous searches. And I still today occasionally ponder about all the gold and jewels that were hidden by the pirates and has that plunder been accounted for? I have a shovel; does anybody have a treasure map?

Today I want to speak about a different kind of fortune. It is a treasure from God. It is the story about how our Creator loves us so much, that he sent his Son to show us how we should love by his actions, and then showed us how much our Father loves us by his Son’s death! It is so hard to comprehend that kind of love when our love for each other is so corrupted by vainglory, anger and pride.

Since the fall of Adam, mankind has perfected deception, self-love, sexual perversion in many shades of grey, and hate for all God’s creation. How can a vessel that was created by the very hand of God become so worthless? It is simply by our choice, for it is much easier to be carried down-stream by the flooding rivers of this fallen world than to cling to the olive branch of hope and fight the mighty currents of our perverted humanity.    

We must cling to the mighty words of wisdom found in the arsenal of Orthodoxy. When anger and resentment take root in us, we can look to our great Desert Father, Abba Dorotheus, who says that we can be healed of the sickness of resentment “by prayer right from the heart for the one who has annoyed us. We can pray such words as, ‘O God, help my brother, and me through his prayers.’ In this,” says Abba Dorotheus, “we are interceding for our brother, which is a sure sign of sympathy and love, and we are humiliating ourselves by asking help through our brother’s prayers. [7]”

We alone can only make these changes by seeking assistance from above. And we can find help in these times of fasting as we voluntarily make small sacrifices and spend more time seeking God. By removing ourselves a little bit more from the world, we can spend more time in reflection and prayer, asking forgiveness for the many short-comings we have and “bearing with one another, and graciously forgiving one another,” (Eph 4:32) just as Jesus bore our sins on the wood of the Holy Cross.

St. John of Kronstadt wrote:“Glory, O Lord, to the power of Thy Cross, which never fails! When the enemy oppresses me with a sinful thought or feeling, and I, lacking freedom in my heart, make the sign of the Cross several times with faith, suddenly my sin falls away from me, the compulsion vanishes, and I find myself free… For the faithful, the Cross is a mighty power which delivers from all evils.

Here, on the Cross of Christ lays your life preserver. When the muddy waters of life are consuming you, reach for the Cross. The Cross bears our life-blood. All our passions can be cleansed away at the Precious and Life-Giving Cross. Saint Irenæos wrote: “He destroyed the handwriting of our debt and fastened it to the Cross, so that as by means of a tree we were made debtors to God, so also by means of a tree we may obtain the remission of our debt.”

Fellow treasure hunters, my youthful exploration for hidden treasure has finally come to fruition.  I have followed all the clues and finally found my riches! The precious fortune that I have discovered will not perish and will not waiver in the plunging markets of life. “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]  I have found my treasure, and the “X” of the Cross marks the spot! Glory to Thee; Oh Lord, Glory to Thee!

Fr. Gabriel Weller 3-15-15

Tainted Water

After the heat of the day, my wife instructs me to water the thirsty flowers that surround our deck. The water where we live is known to be some of the best water in the Valley. But on occasion, I like to give these plants a little bit of a boost by adding miracle grow to the watering can, conforming the water to living water or water with nutrients. This added substance increases the flowers blooms which brings joy to my wife! Happy wife, Happy life!

Adding miracle grow to the watering can is easy! And we Americans like big rewards with little effort. I consider us to be the drive-through-remote-control generation. This new found comfort is in contrast with my upbringing of being a paperboy, farm hand and apprentice brick mason! In all that early formation, I learned that with much labor came big rewards.  

In the Gospel reading today, Jesus says: “The one who believeth in Me, even as the Scripture said—rivers of living water shall flow out of his belly.” [Jn. 7:38]  Do I believe enough to have living water flow from my belly? Jesus said: “If ye love Me, keep My commandments.  [Jn. 14:15]  By that measure, water pollutionI know that I fail keeping His commandments and therefore allow tainted water to flow from my belly, poisoning those around me!

And then there is this church thing, sometimes I focus on my needs instead of coming to the worship service to serve, and I find ways to criticize others! “Jesus saith to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonas, hast thou affection for Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Hast thou affection for Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I have affection for Thee.” He saith to him, “Be feeding My sheep.”   [Jn. 21:17]  Again I fail! I water His sheep with tainted water, water that has the stench of sin! And I fail to quench His thirsting fruit because of my polluted selfishness. “Every tree which produceth not good fruit is cut off and cast into the fire. Then surely by their fruits ye shall fully know them.”  [Mt. 7:19-20] Forgive me a sinner!

On this day we remember the birth of the church. It was a time when people risked their lives for their faith! Saint Chrysostom writes: “What is this Pentecost? The time when the sickle was able to be put to the harvest and the in-gathering of fruits was made.” [Hom. 4, P.G. 60:32 (cols. 41, 42).]  What is our mission? By the example set by Christ, it must be service to others first and then our church will be set on a firm foundation!

Well then, how will the church meet my needs? Our Lord answers this very question: For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye need all of these things. But be seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” [Mt. 6:32-33] The comforter has come to perfect our love! So, how do we love?       

Feed My Sheep!”

Fr. Gabriel Weller 6-2014

Exaltation of the Cross

What was used to bring death to a condemned criminal is now used to bring life for us wayward sinners. This piece of wood that held the dead body of our Lord could not consume the Alpha, no; this Holy Cross is our bcrucifix piceginning of life without end, encompassed by the loving embrace of our Originator. Our Creator loves His creation!

We celebrate this feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross at the beginning of the church year and at the beginning of another school year! The Church reminds us that only through humility can we embrace salvation. For the Lamb was slain not to pay our debt but to rescue us from our fallen condition and offer us sinners a relationship with God. How hard it is for this mortal man to understand the kind of love that is perfect and not flawed by our human woundedness. Our Creator loves His creation!

And although I have tasted the sweetness of salvation and felt the warm embrace of God, my habitual frame of mind tends to return me to sin like a dog seeking his vomit, finding destructive rest in the comfortable surroundings of my past frequent worldly choices. And then I fall down at the cross confessing my sinfulness and lack of trust in anything other than myself, regaining my path to eternity, and my Father welcomes me home! “O taste and see that the Lord is good.”( Psalm 34:8) Our Creator loves His creation!

Perhaps you too are feeling overwhelmed by the dark shadows of this world. It is time for a change! You are not alone! You are a member of this family. “Come to Me, all ye who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am meek and humble in heart; and ye shall find rest to your souls. For My yoke is good and My burden is light.” [Mt. 11:28-30] Glory to God who has shown us the Light! Our Creator loves His creation!

Fr.Gabriel Weller
9-28-14