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

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

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

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