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

Dancing With The Serpent

800px-SnakehandlingOne of things that seemed really odd to me as I came into the Orthodox Church was the encouragement of prayers for the dead. As a protestant I was taught that the time of life on this earth was either a time I would spend dancing or wrestling with the serpent, of which I have become quite accomplished at both! And then after we draw our last breath, the choice is over, the race is finished, and our judgment day has come!

All Christians discover that the serpent is an easy dancer and I have never once stepped on his toes, because he has none. Sometimes he leads and sometimes I choose too. His dance moves are easy and seem to flow as I waste my life away in the romance of self-gratification. When I choose to set the next dance out, a wrestling match begins. My dancing buddy becomes a poisonous, combative, jealous villain trying to pin me to the mats of eternal loneliness.
We snake handlers are the Church Militant. This wrestling match continues for us in our time on this earth. None of us know when our fight will be finished and the final bell will ring. We, whom are Orthodox in thinking, realize that our bodies will remain and die but our souls will travel to their resting place, not dead, but resting in a temporary condition. Apostle Luke tells us: “And all were weeping and beating their breasts. But He said, “Cease weeping; she did not die, but sleepeth.” [Lk. 8:52]
The Apostle Paul tells us that immediately after the death of the body, God preserves the soul alive: “should our earthly home of our body dissolve, we have a building by God … a house made without hands, eternal in the heavens … for this we also groan, yearning to be clothed with our heavenly house … For we who are in this tabernacle groan, being burdened; not for wishing to be unclothed, but to be clothed, in order that the mortal one be swallowed by that which is life.”(2 Cor. 5:1-4) And in Ecclesiastes we read: “then shall the dust return to the earth, as it was, and the spirit shall return to God, Who gave it.”(Ecclesiastes 12:7) The Apostle Stephen while being stoned to death offers this prayer: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” [Acts 7:59] And even in the Old Testament we find in 3Kings “… and he invoked the Lord with these words: ‘Lord, my God, let the soul of this child return to it’. And it happened thus, and the child cried out.”(3 Kings 17, 21) And also in the Book of Numbers: “The Lord God of the spirits of every flesh.”(Numbers 27:16)
Following our death, a particular judgment is made on where our soul spends its’ time either in the company of those seeking Christ or those who are most comfortable dancing with the serpent. The resurrection of Christ eliminated the separation of the living and the dead and so they pray for us, and we pray for them. And just like all of us, those who have departed require forgiveness of sins, as that they look for a “place of rest” in the bosom of Christ and so we ask God for this and we conclude our supplication with “Lord have mercy”. Since we do not know all the needs and struggles of the departed, we entrust God in His knowledge and say, “Lord have mercy.”
Those whom departed in Christ are resting and are the Church Triumphant! St. Basil the Great said that for us faithful: “death is the blessed rest that God has promised us from our labors, and we can enter it joyfully and not fearfully, because of God’s love.” We believe that this is a temporary place and our final judgment, at the second coming of Christ, will occur when our soul is reunited with our resurrected body, so we must diligently pray for them before that day. And for ourselves with this time we have remaining, we must learn to become better wrestlers than dancers!

Fr. Gabriel 11-16-14

Concussion

Antique Football HelmetIn today’s NFL games, despite the use of scientifically advanced helmets, professional players are suffering from the effects of injuries to their head. We are hearing stories about players and former players that have had life-changing injuries from the game of football. Mark Lovell, PhD, founding director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program says that even injuries from “A minor hit on the field can take a long time to recover.”

What is a concussion? It is trauma to the head that shakes the brain forcefully inside the skull. Symptoms can include loss of consciousness, drowsiness, confusion, headaches, nausea, blurred vision and loss of memory. The head is a very vulnerable area of the body and we see how rightfully so it is protected in the military, sports activities and even on construction sites with the use of some form of head-gear or helmet.

As professional Christians, we who profess the teachings of Jesus also need to wear a helmet, the helmet of salvation. We believers in the battles of this Earth must protect our vulnerable heads and minds from all blows delivered by the evil opponent. We must wear our helmet of salvation to shield us throughout our journey every day.    

Most of us experience a spiritual concussion at times in our lives. When the hairs on your scalp are plummeted by the arrows of negative thoughts and dark memories and cause you to retreat into darkness, put your helmet on and hold the line! When the sadness of depression shakes your brain violently and disables your ability to function, put your helmet on and know that you are not alone and that you are cherished.

There is much work to do but you are on a team that has been guaranteed a victory! We are all called to be linemen on the scrimmage line of Christianity ready to move the game ball of love forward. Despite our injuries and the enormous size of the competition, we find our strength in Christ. Hope is the greatest source of energy in creation and our cup runneth over! You belong to this team of Light, the team of Hope, keep your helmet on and hold the line!  “Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” Ephesians 6:13

Fr. Gabriel 12-14-14