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

Holiday Gathering

The holiday season always takes me back to fond memories of gatherings at my grandparents’ home. All of my cousins and aunts and uncles would come to the farm where their young roots were once nourished. We kids keep busy while the vittles were being prepared by playing softball, card games, mother-may-I, carom and checkers, and listening to the family story tellers recap tales of the old days. As one of the youngest in the group, Grandma would often prescribe God’s cure for a young lad with ADHD, which was to go outside and play! Grandad RufusGrandma usually had to repeat this treatment to calm my high energy level. And when the meal was ready we all gathered for a prayer of thanksgiving and then filled our plates with home cooking. The food was so good it made my tongue slap my brain around trying to get at it!

The holiday season has changed for me and reinvented itself over the years. Some of the pillars of the family are now gone and new folks have been added. New memories are being created and the food is just as good, although I now need to limit how much I eat. Some folks say “blood is thicker than water.” Maybe that is based upon a responsibility we feel for our names sake and the love we have for each other. We are family!

Here at Holy Myrrhbearers, we too participate in a holiday gathering. If you think about it, we spend holidays together at Vigil and Liturgy. We share meals together, prayers of thanksgiving, and stories and happenings that are current in our lives. We weep with each other in times of trials and of triumphs. And we count on each other and remember each other in our prayers. This tends to prove the “blood is thicker than water” declaration, for it is by His blood that we share and care for each other.

Our church family is anchored by a genuine love for us all. We here in the book of Psalms: “For every beast of the forest is Mine, And the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the mountains, And the wild beasts of the field are Mine. “If I were hungry, I would not tell you; For the world is Mine, and all its fullness. Will I eat the flesh of bulls, Or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God thanksgiving, And pay your vows to the Most High. Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” (Psalm 50: 10-15)

I am thankful for such a loving Father. In the Gospel of John we read: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were begotten not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” [Jn. 1:12,13] My brothers and sisters in the Lord, we are family!

Fr. Gabriel Weller 12/1/13

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

Mr. Impersonator

This past weekend as my wife and I approached the checkout line at our nearby Costco, out of the corner of our eyes we caught a glimpse of Elvis! I walked over to where Elvis was standing and asked him if my wife couldElvis ay Costco get a picture with him. After all, some people believe that Elvis is dead! He warmly agreed and I thanked him, I thanked him very much!

The gentleman we saw at Costco was only imitating Elvis, or just a small part or a few characteristics of Elvis. He was dressed as Elvis would dress and was sporting a black wig that resembled Elvis’s hair but there were some differences as well. I noticed that his voice was not the same and I doubted that he could muster the energy and vocals needed to convince me of his authenticity. It must take a lot of preparation and practice to imitate Elvis, the king Presley! Some impersonators take years of vocal lessons and a few even have cosmetic surgery to alter their appearance in a more Elvis way.

Well, as far as being an impersonator I don’t know about you, but it is a full time job just being me! I spend all of my time being a husband, parent, boss, businessman, dog walker, mister fix-it, and church servant. But with all the different roles I play, I am supposed to be a reflection of Christ and His teachings all the time!

We here in the Epistle reading this morning that: “Therefore, I beseech you; keep on becoming imitators of me.” [1 Cor. 4:16] At times we all are great imitators of Christ! It is visible in our outpouring of love. Our Epistle instructs us to keep becoming or keep practicing the examples Jesus gave us.

Then, I would have to say that I am a poor impersonator. Like the Elvis we saw, at times I have some characteristics, I wear a cross around my neck and have some Christ-like similarities but find myself missing the mark in my day to day imitation of the One who loves. I constantly fight feelings of anger, resentment and pride, just name a few! It seems though if I truly love myself, I would surrender once and for all these imperfections I take refuge in.

And in looking at my journey thus far, I will certainly continue to fail as I cling to my passions that I have spent years practicing. But I will attempt to be a better imitator of Christ and try to remember to seek first the Kingdom of God. The more I struggle with my thorns, the closer I draw near the Original, for “we are weak, but ye are strong!” [1 Cor. 4:10]

Fr. Gabriel Weller 8/17/14

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

The Stench Of Sin

This past spring, we had a family of groundhogs move into our barn and start tunneling in and around the foundation. Last winter we had repaired all the holes in the lath siding and we had hoped to make this barn a dry and safe place to store things. So I borrowed a live trap to catch the critters and haul them far away. After catching two groundhogs, I reset the trap to ensure all the varmints were removed! Much to my surprise, the next morning as I walked to the barn I noticed the trap was sprung again! As I drew closer I could see that this groundhog had a much darker coat of fur, and I could even see a white stripe down his back.Skunk

Upon arriving at the trap, I concluded that the animal in my live-trap was a skunk, or better known around these parts as a pole-kitty! Oh my, what to do? Well of course I grabbed my smart phone and asked Goggle how to best handle the situation. I then circled the trap, away from his tail, and using a stick, I partially covered the trap with a tarp. After about 10 minutes, I returned to the barn and completely covered the trap with a tarp, placing the stinker in total darkness. An hour later, I gently lifted the cage and leaving the tarp on the trap, carefully placed the rascal on the back of my pickup hoping not to set off the skunk’s detonator.

We then took a ride to an unpopulated area and I removed the critter from my truck and placed him on the ground. I slowly removed part of the tarp and placed a stick in the doorway providing him a clean get-away. After a couple of minutes, I removed the tarp and waited. It did not take long and I felt very relieved as he exited the trap. I then returned to the barn and set the trap one more time. Guess what? The next morning I was surprised to see another black and white animal in the trap. This one was much smaller and seemed nervous; in hindsight I should have been more attentive! I unfortunately was not as smooth with my approach and the little fellow hit one out of the park, landing his vile spray on my face, arm, jeans and right shoe! My nose burned as the smell populated the air! Is there anything more potent then the odor of a polecat? Well, the damage was done but I proceeded to complete the mission of getting him loaded onto the truck.

Before climbing into the cab of my truck I realized that I needed to remove the toxic chemical from my clothes and skin. I needed a bath, and some clean clothes! With my wife’s help and scrubbing my skin with lye soap, I was able to remove most of the smell and then was able to take the little fellow to the same unpopulated place I had taken his kin-folk. After many days, the trap remained empty and the stinky stain diminished over time. It sure takes a lot of effort to eliminate that type of stench!

There is another type of bath that we can take that removes even more vile smells and stains than lye soap. It is the spiritual bath of baptism that restores us to perfection. However, if we then chose to trap the devil in our heart and continually embrace the vile stench of sin, we will need to recleanse ourselves often with confession and the reception of the Holy Gifts.

I pray that our sinful nature be as distasteful as the wicked smell of a skunk and frequently wash ourselves in the blood of the Lamb. And in this season of Theophany, we need to prepare for Great Lent and have our homes cleansed as well!

Fr. Gabriel Weller 1/18/15

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