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Archive for December, 2010

Does anyone know what time it is? Our student Vanya just got a new watch, he and Dennis both. He might say: 11:04:25 A.M. EST. One holy man said: It is later than you think!

What we do for Christ is not for now but for eternity. What we do for ourselves is for now and passes. Lord it is not that I don’t believe. I just don’t have any concept of eternity and the mansions beyond this world. Why? Maybe because I am united with this world and its fixtures, while God calls and invites me to come to the wedding feast of His eternal Life. Come let us dine together through the Eucharist, through our life together in Christ, through following Him and being in the company of the saints.

The Lord made the invitation, yet by the parable we see how uninterested humanity was and is in it. Who came? Not the people invited, not the guests. The Lord had to scour the highways and byways; He had to drag people in. Even today we see this apathy towards goodness, a yawning before eternity and divinity. God invited us, and what is our excuse—oxen, land, marriage. So God calls the sick—the healthy seem too busy.

We are filled with ideas and good intentions. Your actions speak so loudly, a saying goes, I can’t hear a word you are saying. There is a world of difference between thinking about love and loving, between noble thoughts and noble actions. We have enough talk, enough ideas. We need action. We need deeds; not that deeds buy our ticket to heaven, but talk definitely doesn’t.

St. Nicholas lived what he taught. They say that St. Nicholas, as a priest, increased in virtue day by day. Who is keeping track of our virtue, which is our obedience to the will of God, our adherence to His commandments against our fallen nature or impulses? Who reflects to see each day, did I do better? Am I still angry?

We talked a few weeks ago about our inner attitude, our idealized image, how we really are and who we really are. We spoke of the Good Samaritan and promised to be like him with our fellow human beings. Now we see in the person of St. Nicholas the incarnation of the Good Samaritan—someone who followed the Lord’s words and example. St. Nicholas, they say, imitated the Good Shepherd and was himself a good shepherd. He considered the wealth and possessions in his care just as would a steward for the poor and needy. Later, as a priest, he fasted and prayed and kept vigil. While before he kept the secrets of his life with Christ private, as a priest he shared them with his flock, as a father shares his wealth with his children.

We hear of the ancient miracles of St. Nicholas, saving sailors at sea, providing a dowry for three young maids. He continued his good works even in fourteenth century, when he renewed the eyes of St. Stephan of Decani, who had been blinded by his father. St. Nicholas appeared to him to assure him, showing him a set of eyes and saying, I have your eyes Stephen, don’t worry, they will be restored. And at the translation of St Nicholas’ relics from Lycia to Bari, St. Stephen’s eyes were miraculously healed. Recently in Harbin, St. Nicholas saved a pagan Chinese person who believed in him, and also others who venerated him and looked for his help. In the 1930’s, there was a man whose great grandfather was lost in a storm, and St. Nicholas found him and drove his sleigh back to the road before departing. Also, during the Russian revolution, St. Nicholas came into a prison camp dressed in green Bishop’s vestments, bringing all thirty-five prisoners form one barrack to pray in the middle of the camp, where prisoners were usually executed. They prayed together in the open, and then he walked with them past the guards and out of the camp. St. Nicholas continues to help us to from the realm of eternity, reaching into our lives and circumstances. The whole world loves him. Why? Because he loves us and continues to do so even now.

May we enter the wedding feast of the Lord being united with Him now during this Divine Liturgy and throughout the time of our lives in obedience to Him.

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Steeping oneself in the inner world of the Church

We are not just made up of individual ideas and reactions, but of a coherent or definite mind and attitude that determines our life here and in eternity.

The attitude of the Good Samaritan towards people was that all people are my brother, and I will respond to their needs as my own. The attitude of the rich man whose barns were full was that these are my goods, for my present and future needs, and I will preserve and care for them to make my life easier. There is no indication that he had thoughts for anyone else. We can easily say that this man is selfish and the other generous.

What inner attitude do I have? Let’s think about this and compare it with the attitude of our Lord and what He commands of us. Let’s compare it with the attitude of those we respect and of the saints. If we do, we will probably be disappointed and see that our inner attitude is as selfish and self-serving as the rich man, although at times we are like the Samaritan—on a good day or by chance.

Perhaps we were steeped in a family life that was confused or had a certain attitude or prejudice. Now we have Christ, and we can change.

Perhaps we have a delusion regarding our own goodness, but our inward inventory proves that we are not as good, or as loving towards people, or as forgiving and tolerant of their shortcomings as we think. Elder Simeon talks about this in his book. Popadia read the transcript of the English translation, and told my son and I about it. She described his observations as a spiritual father of thousands of people. He said that we work against the delusion of an idealized image of ourselves. We believe and see ourselves in a certain way, not based on truth, not because this is the way we really are, but because this is what we really wish to be. And we really think of ourselves this way. This is why repentance is so difficult, and why people say that when they became Orthodox things got harder. Of course, if we have to wake up and smell the coffee, as they say, sometimes it is a rude awakening. Popadia’s description of the delusion of our idealized image was so clear and, frankly, disturbingly real, that I told her somewhat jokingly, “Now you’ve really ruined my day.” I’m not the knight in shining armor! I am not generous, am not really pursuing the truth, am really selfish and self-centered, am sinful in some of my thinking, and am short even with people who are sick. My self-generated image is one of the saints, and yet I am acting like Cain, Judas, the Pharisees.  I AM A LITTLE SCROOGE, and yet I am supposed to be a LITTLE CHRIST! What am I to do?

What a wonderful life our Lord has given us. This life is for repentance. We can change now, and now is our time. If I continue to believe, “I’m not so bad. I’m really okay, and there’s not much that I need to change,” when in fact this is true only if I compare my self to a mass murderer, and not to the goal—God became man so that man might become like God—then my life needs to move onto  another horizon and another goal.

Becoming aware of what is going on inside us, in our inner attitude and decisions– this is a good thing. We should steep ourselves in the inner world of the Church: the mind of Christ, the mind of the Fathers, the life of the Church. When we steep our self in the literature of the Fathers, for example, when our mind is steeped in the lives of the Saints, we become aware of entering a different world than we are used to living in. This is a good thing. As our life is steeped in the prayers of the Church, in the Jesus Prayer, we become able to change our inner attitude, and God helps us move these personal mountains.

It all starts with this inner attitude, and we need to align it with God and with our neighbor, caring first for the things of God, valuing them, and pursuing them as our first order of business. In this season of celebrating God’s love for man and His sympathy and compassion for us, let us also show compassion for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Let us show appreciation towards God Who is above all but willingly came to be with us and to dwell among us. I believe that, this year, the Lord has a present for each of us which will transform this inner world and attitude into one that suits us for the Kingdom of Heaven.

Yet if we don’t struggle against selfishness and coldness towards our brother, when we approach God, will He just say, “That’s alright. I said ‘love your neighbor’ but … whatever … come in. You have resentments, you feel better than everyone, you don’t listen to anyone, you gossip. But it’s okay, because pride in something or other has veiled and blinded you … whatever.”

Come let us be simple! Let us be reverent! Let us be changed because we don’t presume our goodness. We are nothing in ourselves, but in Christ and with Him we are like Gods. Let us be little Christs, not little scrooges. Let us be like the Good Samaritan, not like the haughty rich man whom the Lord called FOOL! When our life is taken from us, when our barns are left behind, we will have with us our inner attitude, our virtue, as our substance. The rest will not come with us when we leave this world . The pleasing sacrifice to God: our Christ-like inner attitude, a transformed heart–this is the beautiful sacrifice that Abel presented to the Lord.

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Fruitful Inconvenience

Patience is born often out of situations that require more patience than we expected. Love is born out of the necessity to give more than is comfortable, to sacrifice ourselves. We might produce more virtue if we expect inconvenience and a little suffering, a fruitful inconvenience. Then when the weight of a cross leans on our shoulders we will willingly lift it up and follow in the way of the Lord. My yoke is good and my burden is light.

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