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

ONE FIST OF IRON, THE OTHER OF STEEL

baby-fist1“If you see me comin’, better step aside A lotta men didn’t, a lotta men died
One fist of iron, the other of steel If the right one don’t a-get you, then the left one will”

 
In 1994, Tennessee Ernie Ford recorded a song titled Sixteen Tons. This song spoke about becoming hardened and calloused in the rivers of life. With one fist of iron and the other of steel, Tennessee Ernie became tough after being bumped and bruised along the path of life, and fightin’ and trouble became his middle name.

 
Saint Paul gives us a different example to follow than the one Tennessee Ernie spoke of. And let the peace of God be presiding in your hearts, to which also ye were called in one body; and keep on becoming thankful. [Col. 3:15] That is much easier said than done. When the bumps and bruises of life inflict pain and suffering, it usually takes our minds away from being peaceful and thankful. We find ourselves entrenched in a state of panic and despair, gasping for help.

 
How many times I have longed to alleviate the suffering I see other folks going through or I hear of in the confessional. And in my limitations as a man, sometimes the best I think I can offer is a tear or an encouraging word. For alone, we are helpless! But as a family, hand in hand, we are strong! And as God’s church, we are unbreakable!

 
When someone in a family or group catches a cold, everyone gets sick. The sick person spreads their germs just as we the church share our struggles and failures, our dust of the Earth sharing in life with your dust. We do not wish to infect others with our problems but to be reassured that we are not alone. We are thankful that we love people who care, and thankful that they love us enough to care, to share, to remember each other and our families in their prayers. A kind word, a hot meal, a hug or a pat on the back connect us all to the same body.

 
When my left eye is tired, my right eye increases, when my right foot limps, my left foot caries my load. And so it is in the body of Christ. From the dust of this earth we have been wonderfully made and to the dust of this earth we will return and what really matters is what we do in between those dots on our road map of life. Let the peace of God be still the rage of hurt and failure than rise up against us and tries to prevent us from loving His body, and loving our member that has gone limp and is sometimes prickly with pain. Don’t be offended so easily!

 
It takes strength to reach out. And it takes an effort to be a servant like Christ! Take up your cross and follow the great healer, the greatest lover of mankind, and the biggest servant of us all! “Come to Me, all ye who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. [Mt. 11:28] We are family, we are one body, and we are the church! Glory to Thee!

 

Fr. Gabriel Weller 12/20/15

An Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From The Tree

We’ve all heard the phrase “a nut doesn’t fall far from the tree” or “an apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”! I guess you chose which cliché you want depending on if you are dealing with fruits or nuts! This truism means that we often see the fallen-apples-in-grass-112940814212gpsame behaviors and choices in our children as in choices we have made in the past. We have all heard; you’re just like your Father or your Mother because in some way, we remind folks of our parents. Although some fruits and nuts to tend to roll downhill from the tree!
We humans tend to also mimic behaviors of those folks we spend time with. As we socialize, we try to fit in with family, friends and coworkers by our choices and our demeanor. We hear in the Gospel reading today: “All things were delivered to Me by My Father. And no one doth fully know the Son, except the Father; nor doth anyone fully know the Father, except the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son is willing to reveal Him. [Mt. 11:27] Through Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit, we come to know the Father.

 
Coming into the Orthodox Church way to far west of reality, it has been a struggle to reprogram my understanding of God, the Father. We all know the scriptures about the suffering Job was allowed to endure. And let us not forget about Noah and the flood and then the purging of Sodom and Gomorrah. So, is God a parallel to us all being in basic training with God being a punishing Marine Sergeant wanting to kick us out of boot camp?

 
In today’s Gospel reading we hear a contradiction to that western image of God: “And no one doth fully know the Son, except the Father; nor doth anyone fully know the Father, except the Son.” The Father had delivered into Christ’s hands all power, authority, and judgment. God took the form of man to show us how to love each other and how to love our Father. By His actions and His demeanor, mankind with their very own eyes could witness the fruit of God the Father.

 
By this example, we all can become more like our heavenly Father! And Orthodoxy has made for us all a formula with tools to help us become more like Christ. Just as an infant must develop into an adult, we Christians must also mature in our life struggle to choose Him instead of the death the world has to offer.

 
I pray that one day folks will see in us a likeness of God by our choices and actions. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful statement for us if we heard someone comparing us to the examples of Jesus? So, at the foot of the cross, the tree of ever-lasting life, which one are you, a fruit or a nut?

 
Fr. Gabriel Weller 12-6-15

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

Pentecost

white water raftingI have always had a great respect for water. It started at an early age for me at the Boys Club in Norfolk where I was abandoned in the indoor pool in an effort to teach me how to swim. And then about that same time I witnessed Hurricane Camille and Agnes as they swept ashore in Tidewater with their flooding waters and fierce winds, and then even more recently I experienced the great forces of water as I helplessly tumbled around in a hydraulic on a white water rafting trip on the gorge on the New River in West Virginia. Water is a mighty and powerful creation!
We here today on the feast of Pentecost many references to water, “If anyone thirst, let him come to Me and drink” [Jn. 7:37] and “rivers of living water shall flow out of his belly” [Jn. 7:38]. Water is a very universal part of our faith! We are all baptized in water; we consume water with the Blood of Christ, and throughout the year we are sprinkled with water and our homes are even blessed with water. Water is a very important element not only in our worship of a loving God but also in our very earthly existence.
Water is such an important necessity of our lives. Our body is made up of 60% water and our body uses it to regulate our temperature, cushion our brain, spinal cord and fetuses from shock trauma and water helps keep our joints moving. Water is vital to our existence and scientist say that we can only live 3 days without it.
But we cannot live without Living Water as well. The Holy Spirit is our living water. “But whosoever drinketh of the water which I shall give him in no wise shall ever thirst. But the water which I shall give him shall become in him a fountain of water springing into eternal life.” [Jn. 4:14] Our Lord chose to use water as an image because we cannot exist without it. And you see, without the Holy Spirit, we can exist on this earth but not in eternity! We will not live a life in abundance without the outpouring of love flowing from a heart that is full of the Holy Spirit and a life without God is not truly living but merely temporarily existing.
We receive the gift of the Holy Spirit after our Baptism after we put on Christ at our Chrismation. Our forehead is marked signifying the sanctification of the mind and thoughts. The anointing of our chest signifies the sanctification of the heart, or desires. The anointing of our eyes, ears, and lips signifies the sanctification of the senses. The anointing of our hands and feet seals their sanctification to good works and walking in the way of His commandments. We were given all that is necessary to conquer the demon!
May mighty and powerful rivers of living water gush forth from your belly like a white water rapid helplessly entangling everyone you meet in the apostolic fishing net of Divine love!

Fr. Gabriel Weller 5-31-15

The Invisible Man

We recount the story today of Christ healing the blind man. I can only imagine that once the man’s vision was restored, the explosion of beauty must have overwhelmed him, adding another dimension to everything he encountered!
Having lived my life with vision, I struggle trying to fully comprehend what living with blindness is really like. All of my senses work together in everything I stumble upon and if my eyes fail me, I will have to learn how to adapt. Things would now be invisible to me, although I may here a noise or inhale a fragrance that could help me identify who or what I am cautiously approaching!

 
But there are some ways I am already practicing blindness. For instance, I choose to turn my head and ignore my own sinful habits. I choose to rot in the world and all it has to offer instead of sharpening my eyesight in the depths of spiritual fruit. I choose to be invisible to someone in need and focus straight ahead on my own greed. I choose to hide my sins instead of exposing them to the Healers touch.

 

invisible-manAt times in life, I have wished I could be invisible, just like the invisible man. Everybody would not be able to see me and I could hide from a situation or avoid a reprimand for my actions. Of course, I would never choose to be invisible around dinner time!

 
It is certainly a blessing to be able to use our eyesight but we also must be alert and not let our eyes seek unholy things. “The lamp of the body is the eye. Whenever, therefore, thine eye is sound, thy whole body also is full of light; but whenever it is evil, thy body also is full of darkness.” (Luke 11:34) Since all our shortcomings are visible to our Lord, He holds us accountable! May the One who gives us vision intensify in us the quest for holiness and all its’ splendor!

Fr. Gabriel Weller 5\17\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

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