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

Contagious as a Cold

This week as I begin fighting the early stages of a cold that someone shared with me, I reflected on thoughts about how contagious a cold actually is. If someone amongst a group of people is sick, usually someone else in the group is diagnosed with similar symptoms. It may take a day or a week or so, but rest assured, they too will be contagious. The sneezing, coughing and runneth of the nose are visible symptoms that are hard to hide. If my conditions worsen, I will ingest a multi-symptom remedy such as NyQuil and Tylenol Cold formulas to try to overcome this sickness. Hopefully, I will not be infecting you with my germs today!

Sneeze (1)

But there is another kind of sickness that I am battling as well. It is a sickness that always leads to death, it is called sin. If you remember the Gospel reading last Sunday from the Gospel of Luke, Christ has invited everyone into His house to share His Fathers’ love, but those invited made excuses for not attending. Saint Kyril writes: “ God the Father has prepared in Christ for the inhabitants of earth those gifts which are bestowed upon the world through Him, even the forgiveness of sins, the cleansing away of all defilement, the communion of the Holy Spirit, the glorious adoption as sons, and the kingdom of the heavens.” [Ib., 418, 419.] This request is an invitation for you to choose to live and overcome death. What in the world is more important??
Well, we all seem to at times be distracted by the needs of our world. My failure to accept the great invitation is usually surrounded by lack of preparation and laziness. After all, how high a priority is it in our stable of free-will, to even attend church on Saturday Evenings? I wish that I would place more of an emphasis on my salvation and be less distracted! And I wish that I would be a better example of a healthy Christian, oozing with LOVE. Maybe the chemists at NyQuil can develop a multi-symptom relief pill I could pop in my mouth in the morning and would reduce my symptoms of sin and I would seem to be well? But more likely, I would on occasion forget to take it or not go to the store and renew my prescription, and the bottle would be empty. Yes, I am afraid that my freewill at times, enslaves me to the chains of death and I take for granted the great invitation that Christ has given me.
Saint Gregory the Great writes: “Bodily pleasures, when we do not possess them, arouse in us a great desire for them; but as soon as we possess and devour them, our satisfaction turns to distaste. Spiritual pleasures seem distasteful when not possessed, but once we possess them, we desire them.” [Hom. 36, Forty Gospel Homilies, 313; P.L. 76 (col. 1266).]
And on top of all my struggles, we are also expected to invite people to the great banquet. If only my Christianity was healthy enough to be as contagious as the common cold, everyone that I encounter could be infected by it. Whether it is by my release of germs hurled by a sneeze and cough, the things I say; or by the evidence of my runny nose, the physical choices I make to be a Christian. Although many expect Christians to be perfect, but just as battling a cold is an ongoing process, so is our stumbling along the walk of faith in our pursuit of abundant life.
It is always easy to identify someone with a common cold, may it also be easy to recognize us as Christians. Fight the good fight! Accept the invitation that Christ has given you! And as we celebrate to the Nativity of Christ, we must remember that Christ was born so that we may live! Spread the virus of LOVE! Be contagious!

Fr. Gabriel Weller 1-4-15

POCO-BANDITO

frito-bandito.1On Saturday Mornings during the commercial break in between the Road-Runner and Bugs Bunny cartoons, there used to be this little guy trying to convince me to eat a certain kind of corn chip. Now he fought for his time amongst the sugar cereal giants of Count Chocula, Lucky Charms and Fruit Loops but as a true Bandito, he secured his share of the market! This guy was going to steal and eat my corn chips if I didn’t keep a careful watch or a “Hawk Eye” on them. His name was the Frito Bandito, “Ah- Yi- Yi- Yi”!

Now in this New-New Year and on this Eve-Eve of Nativity, I want to warn you about another bandito, known as the Poco-Bandito. This “little bandit” steals your precious time day after day. He distracts you from things that are of great importance to waste away on his fattening treats. He is well invested in cable TV, the internet, pages and pages of books, video games, work, and even sleep!

You see, all that is, is God’s! We were formed from the dust of this earth to worship God. There are no healthy substitutes! We must harness our free-will that is easily deceived and rekindle our relationship with our Creator!

In this New-New Year let us increase our earthly existence as Orthodox Christians! We cannot be healthy giving God what is left-over, giving to God the only time we have available because we are allowing earthly distractions to rob us of our treasure.

Make a commitment to push closer to your tithe, which is supposed to be your first fruit, not what is left over after the rent, cable and cell phone bills are paid! He also needs your time and talent! We need 2 Youth Sunday School classes and an Adult Class as well. We need teachers and substitute teachers to fill in so we can ensure that in this opportunity we do not allow the Poco-Bandito to steal away our precious jewels, our children. Galatians 6:10 “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all [men], especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” We need more room so we can increase this ministry!

There are homeless shelters and soup kitchens needing volunteers. There are people that need someone to care about them enough to take time to call and visit or send a card! We are family!! We need volunteers to head up our trapeza and clean our church and empty the trash and shovel the snow! We need someone to arrive at 9:45 and greet people when they arrive and someone to sell candles as well!

We should also try to read the Bible daily. This is so easy now with the internet and apps for our smart-phones. It only takes a few minutes a day to read the Epistle and Gospel selections. Or you can chose to read the Bible from front to back! You see, we must also tithe our time! You are invited to a wonderful party every week! You see, every time the church doors are open, there is a party! Don’t be a party-pooper!

Matthew 9:37 “Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly [is] plenteous, but the labourers [are] few. “ All you have to do is volunteer, and He will help you love your church through service!

I ask you at the dawn of this Nativity to increase your Orthodoxy! To seek more of what is right and true and not let the world’s Poco-Bandito embezzle the very priceless gift that God gave you, your soul.

Fr. Gabriel Weller 1/5/14