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