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

Fool’s Gold

Granddad Walton was a road-builder. He helped build I-81 and parts of the Skyline Drive. He was a road grader operator. My parents took me one day to visit him at work and actually see him operate that big piece of machinery. After pushing some gravel to grade, he climbed out of the cab, with his Beechnut Chewing Tobacco in his flannel shirt pocket, and with a big grin on his face, handed me a rock. This rock had big specks of glittering gold nuggets in it!grader86sm

As a young boy, my mind began to race with stories of pirates and treasures and such. I then started thinking about a new bicycle and oh my, the many paths my mind began to race down in a mere matter of seconds were countless!

Granddad let me dream for awhile and then brought me back to earth by telling me that he had just given me a worthless rock, a piece of Fool’s Gold. My dreams of treasure had now deflated like a 7 day old birthday balloon. What seemed to be a priceless treasure had no value!

Now many years later, at times I still let my mind race down paths of my imagination and dream of the “what-ifs”! I waste away my life a couple of minutes each hour imagining about the “if only I had” or “if I only could” thoughts. Still not seeming satisfied with what God has blessed me with and still not focusing on that which truly is priceless! How can I become a seeker of this precious treasure? We look to St. Theophan the Recluse for guidance and he gives us some helpful advice on how to be profitable with our time and our thoughts:

One must ensure that the soul does not only make petition to God when standing in prayer, but during the whole day, as much as possible, one must unceasingly ascend to Him and remain with Him.
In order to begin this task, one must first, during the course of the day, cry out to God more often, even if only with a few words, according to need and the work of the day.

Beginning anything, for example, say “Bless, O Lord!” When you finish something, say, “Glory to Thee, O Lord”, and not only with your lips, but with feeling in your heart.
If passions arise, say, “Save me, O Lord, I am perishing”. If the darkness of disturbing thoughts comes up, cry out: “Lead my soul out of prison”. If dishonest deeds present themselves and sin leads you to them, pray, “Set me, O Lord, in the way”, or “do not give up my feet to stumbling”.

If sin takes hold of you and leads you to despair, cry out with the voice of the publican, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner”. 

Do this in every circumstance, or simply say often, “Lord, have mercy”, “Most Holy Theotokos save us”, “Holy Angel, my guardian, protect me”, or other such words.

Say such prayers as often as possible, always making the effort for them comes from your heart, as if squeezed out of it. When we do this, we will frequently ascend to God in our hearts, making frequent petitions and prayers. Such increased frequency will bring about the habit of mental conversation with God.

Glittering things of this world are worthless; they are a fool’s gold! What we should center our life on is the pursuit of the One who gave His life so that we can experience pure love, without omega. Ridding ourselves of all our sin and wanting to be a fool-for-Christ with an eternal value and not settling for the worthless glimmering rocks that this world values!

Glory to Thee, O Lord, Glory to Thee!

Fr. Gabriel Weller

1/23/13

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

Everything That Is, is His!

Many years ago as a struggling young father, I finally came to understand the true meaning of creation. To state it simply, everything that is, is His! Unfortunately due to the density of the space in between my right and left ear, it was not until I almost lost everything before I learned this lesson!
It happened something like this: in the early years of being in business an employee was responsible for a traffic accident in which two people were injured. Those two people hired an attorney and the outlook became severely grim.

The Series 1995 $20 United States Bill
Now this was in my “B.O.” years (Before Orthodoxy) but I was a God seeking man. Every Sunday I would attend church with my family and put my offering envelope in the collection plate. Now at that time, with all the bills a young family incurs, I was giving to God what was left-over. I trusted more in myself than in my Creator, and after all, I had responsibilities!

Now at the verge of losing everything, I finally realized I had been failing Christ’s teachings about tithing. With the lawsuit unsettled for about a year, I was dangling like a piece of red meat in a lion’s cage. My attorney was finally able force a settlement on the lawsuit resulting in the forfeiture of the insurance company’s aggregate limit and a few thousand in attorney’s fees! But now, I was a changed man and my family was safe, warm and fed!
God requires our tithe to be our first fruits, not what was left-over after the bills and meals! If we cannot be faithful with the amount of money we have now, why should God increase us? I changed my pledge by making a monthly budget and placed my church tithe as the first budget item. At that time I was surrendering to God about 1% and over the next couple of years, I increased it each year, little by little until l was giving 10%. Now there were times when we struggled with our bills, but God somehow worked things out for us and with some sacrifice our finances were blessed, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” [Lk. 12:34] It was not long after that where we realized we still had an abundance of income and were now able to give 15%. God truly blessed us!
Over the years I have heard reasons that people have for not tithing. One common argument is that unlike the government at that time, our elected officials help take care of our poor with social programs which we help pay for with our taxes. Of course, even with these programs people still are homeless and slip through the cracks of this enormous helpful system. Those people that slip are our still our responsibility!
Another popular argument is that at times a tither will disagree with the way the priest or church has handled the church finances. We are to give our tithe freely because “freely ye received, freely give.”[Mt. 10:8] And after all God will hold us accountable for our leadership. We need to look no further than 1 Samuel 2:12-26 to see how God dealt with the wicked abuse of the sacrificial offerings by Priest Eli’s sons!
It is our responsibility to support our church and then in abundance we can also support other ministries. “But this I say: The one who soweth sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and the one who soweth with blessing shall also reap with blessing.” [2 Cor. 9:6] Tithing for an Orthodox Christian is just as an important discipline as prayer, fasting, attendance and confession. And let us not forget to tithe our time and talent as well! We must put God first in all aspects of our life!

“ Now the One Who supplieth seed to the sower and bread for eating, may He provide and multiply your seed for sowing, and increase the fruits of your righteousness, being enriched in everything to all bountifulness, which causeth through us thanksgiving to God.” [2 Cor. 9:10,11]
You cannot out give God!! Everything that is, is His! (Psalm 24:1)
Fr. G 10-19-14

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

No Trespassing!


No Trespassing

The sign at the corner of my neighbor’s yard reads “No Trespassing”! In the Past, they had some problems with thugs coming to visit and so my neighbor posted the sign so they could have unwanted visitors arrested and hauled away!

The sign seems a little unfriendly to passers by that don’t know the whole story. It is definitely not a warm welcome or a “let’s sit down and have a glass of tea” invitation, but the sign is effective and is easy to read with its’ big reflective letters! Signs provide for us information. Even here in our church we use signs. We have a street sign, donation sign and an infant care sign, just to name a few! And at times, we all wear a “No Trespassing” sign around our necks! We are hurt and offended when someone crosses our property line of safety or if someone hurls insults at us with their slingshot of oppression and we become less hospitable!

Here in this hospital of Orthodoxy, we all fall short of perfection. We are all here because we are sick and hurt. Sin can be an immobilizing infection. But we are called to try to nurture and love others despite our bleeding wounds. We do not want to seem unwelcoming to passer-byes on this road to salvation! Saint Nikolaj Velimirovic, a former bishop in Serbia said: “He who has no patience with us when we sin does not love us.” He further states, “Patience, forgiveness and joy are the three greatest characteristics of divine love … Without these three characteristics love is not love. If you give the name love to anything else, it is as though you were giving the name sheep to a goat or a pig.”

All of mankind needs the forgiveness of our loving God and we must seek it! Our God is a merciful God and we must offer thanksgiving and praise and make a healthy attempt to live a righteous lifestyle! Suffering and dying on the cross, Christ says these words: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” [Lk. 23:34] What better example do we need?

Forgive those armed with slingshot tongues and may the blood seeping from your wounds be the healing blood of Christ to all humanity. And hopefully the reflective letters on our sign will no longer read “No Trespassing” but will read a hearty “WELCOME”.

Fr. Gabriel Weller 8/8/13

BIRTHING CENTER

Germs, germs, germs! In the past as I visited a newborn baby, I have been asked to wash my hands, put on a gown and even wear a mask! Medical personnel are implementing procedures to help prevent the newborn and mother from any attack by unwanted disease and germs. When people’s immune systems are weak, scientists believe the person’s body is more susceptible to illness.

Now in contrast to these clean environments, I have helped deliver calves in barnyards in the midst of a combination of straw and manure. I was not asked to wash my hands, put on a gown or wear a mask! Straw ads comfort and warmth but it also has mites. Animal manure can contain bacteria, parasites and viruses ready to infect living creatures. Researchers say that over half of all disease-causing germs found in people originate from animals, including livestock. Of course with the exception of my little dog Emma who is pure as snow!

cow feedingAnd then there are theses germ-free cribs that are used in birthing centers. How much in contrast are theses contaminate-free cribs than where our God was laid at His birth? It was not germ-free, it was a feed manger! Feed troughs can contain a wide range of microbes that occur naturally on, or as contaminants of forages, cereal grains, oilseed by-products and compound feeds. Cereal grains and oilseed by-products are regularly contaminated with fungi occurring as plant pathogens or developing during storage. Was this manger fit for a King?

Our God took on the form of man at this birth which we call the Incarnation. The Gospel says:  “And she brought forth her Son, the firstborn, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in the manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” [Lk. 2:7] He was not born encompassed by gold, silver and the finest silk, but in the poorest, most humble of conditions amongst dirt, germs and animal waste in the only place available to folks with a lowly status. This was God’s plan. He chose not to be One of privilege but to be One of meekness.

Christ our God also chooses now to dwell in our unclean hearts, is there room at your Inn? Jesus is searching for a home where He is welcome. He knows we all are fighting a great battle and He is not expecting to find our hearts pure and spotless. All that He needs is for us to be willing and to be humble, acknowledging that we are contagious with sin and in need of a Savior!   

“Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth” [Col. 3:5] by allowing the One who loves you to dwell in the depths of the manger in your heart!

Fr. Gabriel 12-28-14

Pencils, Books, And Dirty Looks

Pencils, Books, and Dirty Looks! Yes, it’s time for our future church leaders to go back to school! And it is also the time of year in which rain storms pass through more frequently and wet are children as they await the bus.

Going to elementary school in Va. Beach this time of year, a student embraces the drenching rains that track through during the tropical storms and hurricanes of August and September.  I was remembering back to the sixth grade during one of those drenching storm rains. In my youth, I was known to be a little mischievous at times. All the kids from the housing complex where we lived were waiting for the school bus and it was raining, it was raining hard. Some the girls in my class were sharing an umbrella and laughing at us guys who were getting drenched. They were remarking how dry they were under the umbrella! After all, the reason why the guys didn’t have an umbrella was that at time it was totally un-cool for a guy to carry an umbrella to school; after all, the “Fonz” was our coolness role model.

Umbrella Girl

So, with lightning quick reflexes, I splashed a big rock into the mud puddle that they were huddled beside. They were splashed and they screamed and hurled some dirty looks at me! As soon as we arrived at school, I was given the privilege of meeting the principal. He gave me some valuable instructions and a two page writing assignment detailing the reasons why I shouldn’t have chosen those actions!  I was also instructed to ask these dirty-lookers for forgiveness!

 Up to that time I think the brunt of my apologies had only been for my sisters who at times probably somewhat deserved my retaliation. After all, I was the youngest and outnumbered. But now, I was being asked to apologize to strangers. This apology I made to my classmates was not from my heart but more because I feared the consequences and remembered the paddle that lay visible on my principal’s desk!

Over the years, my mischievousness has somewhat decreased and I am more concerned about my actions. There are times where I can see I have hurt someone or it has been pointed out to me. And likewise there are also times when I have been hurt and would welcome an apology! So what does it mean to forgive someone from the heart?  

True forgiveness means that we restore the bond of love not forgetting the trespass but remembering that the image of God dwells within that person and just like us, they are imperfect. We must also seek out God in our confession and receive the cleansing of Holy Communion. We must search for forgiveness and mercy and make a sincere effort to change, because our eternity depends on it! “From your hearts forgive his brother their trespasses.” [Mt. 18:35]

St. Tikhon of Zadonsk writes: “Do we forgive our neighbors their trespasses? God also forgives us in His mercy. Do we refuse to forgive? God, too, will refuse to forgive us. As we treat our neighbors, so also does God treat us. The forgiveness, then, of your sins or unforgiveness, and hence also your salvation or destruction, depend on you yourself. For without forgiveness of sins there is no salvation.” (Journey to Heaven)

So even though I have left the elementary years of my formal education, I am still learning to become the kind of pupil my Father expects me to be. Please forgive me a sinner!

Fr. G    8-24-14