“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

Death of a Salesman

This past week I found myself at a convention for my secular job in electronic security. One of the seminars I attended was taught by Tom Hopkins, a pioneer in training a sales-force with millions of successful folks trained here and abroad. Speaking on various topics including his latest book entitled When Buyers Say No, I began to not only think about how some of his methods could improve sales in my secular business but also how these skills could help us all to increase Christianity in our day to day relationships.

"Hee Haw"Junior Samplescirca 1980© 1980 Marv NewtonA good salesperson works hard practicing their skills and they set a goal for themselves. We as Christians should also continually polish our skills by embracing everyone with love, reading our Bibles, practicing forgiveness, being patient and tolerant of God’s creation, and setting our goal on Christ and His Kingdom.

So, how can we all build the Body of Christ? Tom Hopkins says: “You begin by always expecting good things to happen.” That sounds good for Christians as well! We all need to possess a positive attitude about our relationship with God, don’t we? If we are not happy and rejoicing in our confidence that Christ died for our sins and loves us even though we are all flawed, how can we be positively contagious?

Similar to my secular job in electronic security, our relationship with God is a relationship of trust, security, value, confidence, peace of mind and a better quality of life. These items I am speaking about are not just secular but eternal! I know that I want a better quality of life in Christ, don’t you? Things of this world can only offer temporary pleasure, but true value can only be found in seeking the Kingdom of God first, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matt 6:21)

Another quote from Tom Hopkins is: “Repeat anything often enough and it will start to become you.” That sounds like “Again and Again in Peace” which we continually hear in the litanies and also the many repetitions of prayers we are taught to say at home and in unison here at church. “Repeat anything often enough and it will start to become you!”

Folks, we only have a limited amount of time on this Earth, have we met our quota yet? After all, we have set our goal on salvation haven’t we? Our Lord loves us so much that he became man and taught us how to live and believed in us so much, that he gave His life so that we may live and share His love, just as the father overflowing with joy and love for his son whom was lost in the bowels of the world came home empty handed and repentant. But thou, be watchful in all things, suffer hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill thy ministry. [2 Tim. 4:5] God loves you and wants to spend eternity with you, share His love!

Fr. Gabriel Weller 2-8-15

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

3 Blind Mice

Some years ago when I was a sophomore in high school, my oldest sister was perusing a degree in music at VCU in Richmond. I was the Baritone Saxophone player for my high school concert band, marching band and stage band. The bari-sax for me was the cool factor just like the leather jacket was for the Fonz, Heyyy! One winter break, I was invited to sit in with the VCU pep band for the Christmas Basketball Tournament. The usual bari-sax player had to be away and they were desperate to fill the slot. My sister believed that I could handle the demands of the music and I agreed to spend my Christmas Break on Campus with the VCU pep band!

One of the things I remember most vividly about the tournament was the song the pep band played when the referee’s and umpires were introduced. The band eagerly played the old childhood nursery rhyme: “Three Blind Mice”. Every true sports fan recognizes that the human condition is not 100%accurate and we all have seen the instant replays that sometimes contradict the referees’ vision.3 Blind Refs

Even with what we describe as perfect eyesight, we are deceived at times by differences in lighting, colors, textures, distractions and previous data that our brains have stored from past experiences. Our other senses offer information that travels to our brain and helps us process what we truly perceive. And many of us have some dysfunction in one or more of our senses and thus we learn to overcome those dysfunctions with increased use of our other properly functioning sensors.

For the man born without eyes in the Gospel reading today, he did not know what he was missing having never seen light or darkness. The blind man never saw the beauty of creation but he also never struggled with the passions the eyes can tempt us with. We can choose to fill our eyes with spiritually edifying things or we can let them imprison our soul with debauchery and waste our time on this earth with distractions that separate us from God.

When we travel to monasteries to visit we can surmise that everyone dresses similarly and a separation is present that protects the monastic community from the outside world. This is done so everyone can spend more time with Jesus in His light. Saint Nikolai Velimirovic describes the darkness created by the lack of Christ in the following manner: “The human soul without Him becomes hell; a people without Him becomes a pack of famished and ravening wolves; a school without Him becomes a poison-factory of folly; a workshop without Him becomes a place of grumbling and hatred … hospitals and prisons without Him become dark caverns of despair!”

We tend to take for granted the blessings of our senses and waste too much time in pursuit of worldly treasures. Christ said: “Whenever I may be in the world, I am the light of the world.” [Jn. 9:5] Blessed Theophylact paraphrases Christ’s words in this way, “By healing the blind man’s eyes and giving them light, I shall enlighten the souls of many. I am the light, and I illumine both the senses and the spirit.”

The next time I hear the nursery rhyme “Three Blind Mice”, I will hopefully weigh how blinded by darkness I have allowed my eyes to be and how much more they need the Light of Christ!

Fr. Gabriel Weller 6-9-13

Vestis Facit Virum – Clothes Make The Man

Mark Twain said: “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society!” We here in the Gospel reading this morning that “if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into an oven, shall well dressed manHe not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore do not become anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘With what shall we clothe ourselves?’For all these things the nations seek after; 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. 6:30-33]

As I think back to my 7th grade Latin teacher teaching us the Latin phrase “Vestis facit virum” or clothes make the man. I felt even at that age there was some substance attached to this Latin saying. This motto tells us that people will judge according to the way we dress! And yet we here of very wealthy people dressing as peasants instead of adorning themselves with the latest fashions, maybe hiding their status or perhaps feeling that even with all their wealth, a since of unworthiness.

There are many clothing references in the Bible. I’ll begin with the clothing of a priest. While the priest’s clothes don’t make the man, they symbolize what the man should be. Scripture consistently uses the image of new clothes provided by God to stand for our righteousness in His eyes. Consider first Isaiah 61:10: “I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness.” Salvation and righteousness are clothes that God provides. And he not only provides them but also dresses us in them.

The profit Zechariah has a vision of Joshua, the High Priest, standing in God’s presence, but dressed in filthy clothes. And Satan is at Joshua’s right hand, accusing him. But listen to the verses of Zechariah: “Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and standing before the angel. And the angel spoke and said to those who were standing before him saying, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” Again he said to him, “See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes.” Then I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head. So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments, while the angel of the LORD was standing by.” Zechariah 3:3-5

And then we see in Proverbs the quality’s we should look for in a wife: “Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come. She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness. She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness. Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her. Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all. Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.” Proverbs 31:25-31

Sojourners on the path to salvation, clothes do make the man, not the store-bought kind, but the kind of covering that only comes from seeking God first! So cover yourself fully with the Orthodoxy of God and all your needs will be added to you!

Fr. Gabriel Weller 6-29-14

Digging Thistles

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the greatest enemies of farmers is the increase of weeds amongst their crops. To help fight the infestation of this unwanted vegetation, a lot of time is spent in the preparation of the soil before seeds can be planted. Things have changed over the years and new planting methods have been introduced but still the best soil preparation is done by way of tilling the soil, breaking up the clumps with a disc and dragging the ground to gather rocks and provide a smooth surface for planting.

Tilling the soil is important to eliminate the deep roots of unwanted weeds. The weeds steal all the nutrients from their surroundings and are not a nutritional source for the farmer to feed their animals. However, tilling the soil leaves deep furrows which would not allow a bountiful harvest, so the farmer orders the ground with a disc and harrow to break up large clumps of dirt and eliminate the deep furrows left behind by the plow. And then if necessary, a drag can be pulled over the dirt smoothing out any low spots and catching the surface rocks.

Not all of the farm land is tilled. Some acreage is set aside for pastor and hay. Many times in my youth I was sent out into the pastor and hay fields with a sickle to engage in hand to hand combat with the deep rooted tall weeds called thistles. Since these fields were never plowed, the weedy thistles developed deep roots and became more frequent and multiplied like rabbits in the fence row.

Now my Uncle Bob had another method for eliminating thistles. He would go out to his field with a shovel and a feed sack. Instead of just cutting off the weed at the surface with a sickle, he would dig deep into the soil and pry the root out of the ground eliminating its reoccurrence in the next season. Uncle Bob would place the thistle and its root in the sack and when the sack was full; he placed the sack full of thistles in the burn can and eliminated their very existence by the consumption of the burning fire! “Every tree which produceth not good fruit is cut off and cast into the fire.” [Mt. 7:19]

As Christians we must be good ground” (Lk.8:8) by preparing the soil of our heart with the labor of repentance. Confession of our sins is much needed in eliminating the spread of our sinful thistle seed, but it will take the work of true repentance to thrust sins deep roots from our rich passionate flesh. We need to nourish our seed of love by feeding our hearts with prayer, focusing our mind on God with spiritual reading and the words from our gospel. We want to attend church services regularly as a watchful farmer protecting our crop. We should continue to focus on improving our relationship with God and not allowing the world’s glitter to distract us. And with God’s grace falling down like rain on our dry seed and the warmth of the love from His Son, His harvest will be healthy within us.

FR. Gabriel Weller 10-14

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

Monkey Bars

In the schoolyard playground stood a tall, long metal piece of equipment that looked like someone had taken a long ladder and bent both ends down and stuck it in the ground. The big kids would climb on this thing and swing from bar to bar and try to go as fast as they could from one end to the other. I was too smonkey-barsmall, too weak and uncoordinated. I had to get help to climb the ladder and then have someone support me by holding my waist as I tried to maneuver the bars. I set my goal to one day master this huge piece of equipment known as the monkey bars!

As time went by, I grew taller and built up my strength, I began to improve my eye-hand coordination and slowly began to work my way up the ladder and down the length of the bars. The more I practiced, the faster and faster I became. Eventually I mastered the monkey bars and at times you could even hear me let out a Tarzan yell as I speed through the course! It took years of practice, patience and growth before I became an expert on that device.

Now days since I am physically all grown up, when I embrace a challenge I expect fast results! I am still impatient! I am not in as good physical condition as I once was but I hope my spiritual condition has continued to improve. We all grow spiritually as we gain dependence on our Creator, less of me and more of Him!

Life is just like that set of monkey bars. Some obstacles seem huge and disappointingly unobtainable. We can maneuver well through life if we are in shape, and then we can complete the course. But when we are weak, we need faith to help us hang on and prayers too increase our strength. We need the support of the scriptures and the examples of hope from the lives of the Saints! But most of all, we need the loving hands of our Father holding us steady, as we navigate the monkey bars of life! Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. (Isaiah 41:10)

Fr. Gabriel Weller
8/13

BABY STEPS

Most Sundays as I look out into our nave I can see glimmers of young children wobbling around, well out of arms reach of their Mom and Dad, gaining certainty and stability with their new found skills one baby step at a time. The more they practice, the less they fall down and the more they mature. And not to worry, Mom and Dad are always within eyesight and ready to leap into action with a warm embrace if the need arises!

Baby StepsAs time passes by, baby steps turn into running, bicycling and then into driving. The teenage years seem to help lance the attachment of their umbilical cord and our baby has now developed into a mature adult. Mom and Dad are no longer within eyesight but can still be reached by phone or a visit when needed.

In the Gospel reading today, the man whom was overcome with a legion of demons now was delivered from that torment. The healed man was now safe in the warmth of Christ, sitting at His feet. How I too yearn to feel that warmth, that closeness! We who are on this salvific journey have come to realize that there are times we too feel that warm presence and then there are also times we feel the cold bitter wind of the world, chapping at our skin.

After warming ourselves at the feet of Christ, we too, just like the man in the Gospel reading today, are sent back out into the world sharing the light of Christ in a dry well of darkness, maturing in our faith. My path to mature as a Christian has been one of countless baby steps. Now days I find that I keep a close watch on my Father rather than jumping into the emptiness of the vast ocean of unbelief. Am I salty enough to make a difference within the depths of atheism? Am I warm enough to share the love of Christ with those God has dropped along my walk in life?

And during these cold distant times we may feel alone and unstable just as an infant learning to walk, but just like a watchful parent rest assured Jesus is not far, ready to leap into action and intercede on our behalf. Our willingness to reach out or step up when we are needed is what our Father asks of each of us. Forgetting about our wobbly legs and finding stability in His promise. “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”(Isaiah 41:10) And it is then in times of faithful service that we feel the warm embrace of the great Sheppard and we are reminded of His words of action: “Be feeding My sheep.” [Jn. 21:17]

Fr. Gabriel Weller 11-9-14

Briar Patch

I remember my first time picking blackberries. Uncle Bob rounded up a car full of us youngsters and we headed for Highland County with a trunk full of buckets. And if you know my uncle, we were also loaded up with a wealth of stories about Brer Rabbit and the such; there was no need for the radio, Uncle Bob keep us entertained!Briar Patch

Once arriving at the mountain pasture gate, Uncle Bob parked his Plymouth Fury and popped the trunk, handed us a bucket and pointed us in the direction of the briar patch. I remember that I was a little reluctant being the youngest and hoping not to encounter the bear Uncle Bob had been storying about on the way there.

The patch was loaded with ripe berries and the day was filled with light. I stayed close to my older sisters, thinking I could out run them in case the bear drew near! After an hour or more, Uncle Bob announced that it was time to head home. My bucket was only partially filled since many of the berries I had picked, ended up in my belly instead of in the bucket! This fact was easily recognizable by the berry stains all over my face! Heading home, I entertained thoughts about tasting Aunt Jeans’ blackberry pie and homemade ice cream!

At that young age, I came to realize that in order to obtain the tasty fruit of life; I had to encounter the briar patches thorns. After the berry stains wore off, thanks to lye soap and Aunt Jean’s elbow grease, the evidence of wounds and scratches on my arms, face and hands were obvious. It looked as though I lost a fight with an alley cat, but the fruit I had collected was well worth it.

Obtaining the Fruit of the Spirit is a lot of work as well, and we will have to overcome the thorns and our scars to obtain it, but we must press on! St. John Climacus writes: “Do not be surprised that you fall every day; do not give up, but stand your ground courageously. And assuredly, the angel who guards you will honour your patience.” To be more like Christ means that in our imperfections we must work toward gathering the fruits of love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness and faith. And in this life, the greatest fruit is amongst the thorns: Then Jesus came out, wearing the thorny crown and the purple outer garment. And Pilate saith to them, “Behold, the Man.” [Jn. 19:5] The Fruit of Life has been prepared! Taste and see that the Lord is good, Glory to Thee, O Lord, Glory to Thee!

4-26-13 Fr. Gabriel Weller