New iPhone this year, upgraded from my previous iPhone 7 Plus. Trying out a different style for my home screen. Main screen consists of the most used daily apps.
The message of today’s gospel from Mark 2:1-12.
Four men are bringing a paralytic to be healed. They couldn’t enter through the door, but that didn’t change their mission. They went to the top of the house, let down their friend through the roof, to finally see our Lord Jesus Christ and be healed.
Desire to see Christ and bring others to Christ regardless of the obstacles ahead.
This is a repost of a recent blog article (original link) written by, Fr. Peter Farrington, a Coptic Orthodox Priest, serving the St. George Orthodox Ministry. The St. George Ministry is supporting the development of the Coptic Orthodox Community of St Chad in Stoke, of St Martin in Swindon and of St Mary and St Moses in Portsmouth. You can find more of his posts at the following link - St. George Ministry.
How will persecution come upon us? At the hands of grey men in suits and carrying clipboards. In the name of health and safety they will prevent us offering incense to God. In the name of equality they will require us to ordain women, and those who follow a lifestyle incompatible with our faith. When we will not comply they will remove the charitable status that many use to receive state benefits. In the name of combating extremism they will require all places of worship to be registered. And when we speak out about moral issues, and on behalf of the most vulnerable, the unborn and the elderly, we will lose our registration under the guise of silencing hate-speech. We will be taken to court for causing offence to those who object to traditional Christian teachings and will face exemplary punitive fines that will lead to church buildings being seized in the name of debt collection. Bishops and priests will face prosecution if they speak out. Some will go to prison. Sunday Schools will be closed in the name of child protection. Faithful Christians will lose their jobs in state industries and organisations because their traditional views will be considered hateful and discriminatory merely by being held.
What should we do? How should we prepare? The only preparation possible is to live out the authentic Orthodox life in its fullness now, while we still may. The only preparation possible is to live as sojourners now, and not as those building an earthly city. The only preparation that might prevent such persecution is to engage in mission, sharing the divine life of transforming love.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
You shall not build a house, sow seed, plant a vineyard, nor have any of these; but all your days you shall dwell in tents, that you may live many days in the land where you are sojourners.
Is this far-fetched? I don’t believe so. At times of social revolution the Church suffers. During the French Revolution the Church was persecuted fiercely by atheistic revolutionaries. During the Protestant Revolution in England the Church was almost destroyed in two generations such that it even lost the memory that England had been Orthodox and Catholic. In Russia the Church was driven into catacombs and forests. In Albania the atheistic Government was proud to proclaim that it had eliminated Christianity.
There are already many means by which the life of the Church can be made difficult. There are many who wish that it be made difficult. But we have allowed society around us to lose that vital connection with the authentic Christian tradition, morality and principles. We have been silent. We have been inward looking. And while we have been busy with our own affairs the world around us has lost the shared appreciation of Christianity and increasingly fails to be even sympathetic to what it sees as a redundant and irrelevant minority religious activity.
What is our hope? It is that by living out our authentic Orthodox Christian life in the power and grace of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and sharing this life with those around us, the tide might yet be turned. If we remain inward looking, if we focus on our own culture and habits, if we spend all we have on building in stone and wood, then the tide will fall upon us. I have no doubt.
If we become sojourners, seekers of another Kingdom, living the life of eternity now, then whether the tide rises or not we will be preserved. Lord have mercy. Prepare your Church.
Who Am I?
In the Coptic Orthodox Church, we are currently in the third week of Great Lent, and the Sunday reading is that of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32). Side note, I recommend reading the whole chapter and to read the other two parables of the lost coin and lost sheep. For those who like to memorize or think of quick facts, think of Luke 15, as the “lost” chapter of the Gospel. The chapter contains the three parables of the lost sheep, lost coin, lost son. A nice easy way to remember and store information.
Today, I want to focus on this reading and who am I in this parable. I want you to read over the parable (below), and imagine yourself in this story. Who are you in this story, are you the younger son, are you the older son, or are you the father” Think about who you are in this story, as we continue discussing.
“11 Then He said: “A certain man had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. 13 And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. 14 But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. 15 Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything. 17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, 19 and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”’ 20 “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. 23 And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; 24 for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry. 25 “Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’ 28 “But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. 29 So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. 30 But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’ 31 “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. 32 It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’”” (Luke 15:11-32)
If you really think about this, this is a tough story! Read the story again through a different lens and perhaps a current culture.
I am tired of living at home. I want to be independent. I want to see the world. I want more than what is being offered to me at home. I have the perfect idea, let me just ask my dad to give me money now. He is going to give it to me regardless, whether dead or alive. I might as well take it now, and enjoy myself. Who knows, I may not live that long to see my inheritance, or I may have too many responsibilities that prevent from enjoying the life I want.
Why my young son, did you leave me? I took care of you. I raised you. I loved you. I know that you and your brother are different people. My older one is always with me. But where did things begin to differ for you? Did you forget how much I provided for you? Did you forget how much I loved you? At which point in your life, did you, my son begin to lose faith and that you would leave me? I am your father. I love you dearly forever. Why did you leave? As much as this burdens my heart, I cannot keep you a prisoner. I will love you wherever you go, even if it is on the wrong path. I don’t think you should be out there, but I can’t force you, that would not be right, that would not be love, that’s not how I raise my children.
Grumble..Grumble..How dare he? Seriously, just getting up and leaving like that. How immature. Doesn’t he know the responsibilties here in this home? Why in the world did dad just let him go?! What has gotten into dad? This is so annyoing, When I was that age, I would have never been allowed to do this!!! Whatever, he wants to leave, that’s his business. I am loyal, always listening, and will always stay next to dad.
So, this is my contemplation on the setting or introduction of this parable, with today’s possible language, and perhaps even the psychological thoughts that may have been running through each person’s mind at the time. I know for sure that if I was placed in that situation, I could easily see myself saying any of those items in my head, if I was in that role.
As the parable continues, we don’t hear much concerning the older son, until the end of the parable, but there is a focus on the youngest son and the father.
“13 And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. 14 But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. 15 Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything. 17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, 19 and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”’” (Luke 15:13-19)
Younger Son Perspective
I really messed up now. All that money dad saved up to give to me. I blew it all away! Were all those extravagant things necessary? You know what, not a big deal, whatever, I am my own person. I will figure something out, maybe I can get a job and work for somebody. This work is not for me, I am still hungry, I am still in need, I don’t remember the last time I ate. Seriously, I don’t mind diving into that garbage can and seeing what I can find, maybe left overs or something. (As he ponders and comes to). HECK NO!! ARE YOU KIDDING ME!! I AM NOT GOING TO EAT THAT!
Dude. I am not doing this anymore. I just realized something my dad feeds the staff at the house better than this. Okay, not a problem, what should I do? How can I show my face at the house? For sure, I will be mocked and laughed at. But, you know what, it doesn’t matter, I messed up, I need to take responsibility for my actions. I am going to go home, tell my dad I messed up, and tell him that because I did things that were not appropriate, please don’t take me back as a son, because a son wouldn’t ask for an inheritance when the dad is alive. I will make it up to him by working for him. At least this way, I can pay back everything I took.
MESSAGE OF REPENTANCE
Do we see this message of repentance? How many of us understand this? How many of us realize that we are that younger son? We think that we don’t need God, we don’t need the Church, or prayer, or the reading of the Bible. We can get along just fine without Him, but usually that doesn’t work out for us. But when we hit the ground, when we hit that spiritual rock bottom, we hit it very hard, and everything comes crashing in and we are left confused, and we start asking why did this happen to me. In this state of nothingness, when we realize that we were created from the dust of the earth, when we realize that we are in fact nothing without our Lord, this is the path of repentance.
As we see in the younger son, when he comes to his senses. He begins to remember the luxury, the honor of living at his father’s home and so desires it again once more. We are the same, when we do these big sins and we move so far away from Christ, we look back and ask ourselves, how did I get this far away from Him? But there is always that yearning to come back, the desire to be restored with our Lord again.
But what about the father? This brings us to the next message.
MESSAGE OF HOPE
Examine the following passage,
“But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20)
When I read this, and I read it through the lens of the father, it brings so much hope and joy. Think about it. This father, in the example I gave was most likely internally asking himself questions of why this happened, questioning his own son and the love of the son for the father, probably contemplating why things went wrong. But the beauty of this verse mentioned, “when he was still a greay way off”. How would the father know he was a great way off? Was he waiting for his son to come back home? I believe that the father with his tremendous love for the son, could not allow for any waking moment to pass without worrying about the return of his son. To me, this verse shows ultimate love, this verse portrays in my mind, a father waiting on the porch every day from sunrise to sunset waiting for his son to come back home. This is true love. The father sees him, HAS COMPASSION, and ran!! He ran for his son, with all the drama, with all the attitude and rejection that his son may have done. The father forgets it all and ignores it, runs to his son and kisses him on the neck! With a kiss, the father tells him I forgive you my son.
Are we that loving? Are we that forgiving towards people? This is a very hard part indeed. Many people leave our lives, or do harmful things, or gossip, or treat us wrongly, or bad-mouth us, but what is our response usually in these cases; sadly, sometimes, if not all the time is to hold a grudge for as long as possible. This is something that many of us, myself included have to work on. We have to learn to be that message of hope, that message of love and compassion. The father had hope, he never gave up. He believed in his heart that his son would return back to him at some point.
I personally wish I could be like the father, when I see someone going on the wrong path. I wish I could learn the capacity to stand at the door having full hope that he will return back and realize his ways. I wish that in that moment, when I see him from a far away that time will freeze and I will forget everything because I am so happy he is home and I will celebrate. I wish, I pray and hope that I can learn to love like the father loves.
So we have repentance, we have love, we still haven’t evaluated the older son. The older son, how many times have I unknowingly in my life been the older son?
MESSAGE OF HUMILITY AND THE EGO
“25 “Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’ 28 “But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. 29 So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. 30 But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’ 31 “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. 32 It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’”” (Luke 15:25-32)
Can you imagine what could be running through the mind of the older son? It’s not hard, all too easy I am afraid. Read over my psychological summary of thoughts in his mind if I were him.
Older Son Perspective
What the heck is that noise? Dude, there’s a party without me!? Let me ask this other staff person here. WHAT THE HECK?! I DON’T GET IT!! I AM SO ANGRY! (His dad walks out, tells him to come inside). Are you serious old man? I busted my rear end doing everything you asked me to do, I jumped through every hoop, followed every command, and this is the thanks I get. Come on dad, I can’t believe you. You never let me do any types of these parties, you never let me do a food gathering or barbecue, hanging out with my friends was never an option. But what happens, all the years of being with you, being your second in command, what did you do? My punk little brother, that’s what you did. You did everything for him, I knew it, he has always been your favorite. Why didn’t you correct him? Why didn’t you discipline him? I don’t want to go inside, I don’t want to see him, because if I do, I am going to give him a piece of my mind!!
How sad is this! The oldest son, what a poor troubled soul. This poor soul unable to recogznie the repentance of his brother, unable to recognize that he has come back. This older brother is so focused on the negative, so focused that his younger brother left, so focused that his dad didn’t do anything, but rather gave him a party when he got home. How dare they! I can probably imagine what the older brother is saying, “they should have asked me”, “they should have asked my opinion”. I know more than many of them, I am the one who is older and still here.
See this wicked heart! See this judgement, this ego, this selfishness. Can you recognize all these items in the older brother? If you can, that’s great, now we need one more thing to do. Stand up and go look in the mirror my friend. All of us are the older brother. We all have an excuse to be judgmental, to be negative, to be “always right” even if we are wrong. How sad, that the older brother who should “know more” since he has been alive more, you would think he would know how to act. But what happens? Ego overtakes the older brother and comes off as very condescending on everyone and anyone.
Reality check. We also are the older brother as well. How many times have we left our egos get out of control. This is the core of the older brother. If someone visited the church today, with crazy tatoos or a bad hairstyle, would you let them stay, or would you begin transitioning them out of the church, becuase they don’t fit that “picture”. This is the problem of the oldest son, rather than rejoice and be happy this his brother who was living in sin, was back again, he focused on the negative aspects of what happened.
I urge you again, when you hear this Sunday reading of the Prodigal Son. Review and meditate on it.
Are you the Father, who is a symbol of God the Father, who loves everyone, and wants everyone to return and come back to Him, no matter what happened?
Are you the younger son, who leaves God, because you think you know better, only to hit rock bottom, and come running back, and repenting of your sin, regardless how many times it happens?
Or, are you the older brother, who with all his stubbornness, just like the Pharisees, cannot recognize the fact that his younger brother who was dead is alive, he who was living sin, has repented and come back! But yet, he is so stuck on his own ego, he is so stuck on his own selfishness that he can’t see the lost sheep that has come back home. His own brother, yet jealousy filled his heart instead.
Take some type for deeper contemplation. Utilize the Great Lent period to truly fast and pray for anything that we need or ask of Him as we continue down this journey. We pray that we may have a heart full of repentance continually. We pray that we have a yearning of hope and love of the father towards us.
Another late blog article. I didn’t realize how writing could be so tough. It’s odd because I usually have so much on my mind, and I can also talk about anything for a very long time. But converting my thoughts and my words into something written, that’s another obstacle. This blog article is a little bit late, but it is based on a reflection of the Gospel reading from John 6:22-27.
22 On the following day, when the people who were standing on the other side of the sea saw that there was no other boat there, except that one which His disciples had entered, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with His disciples, but His disciples had gone away alone— 23 however, other boats came from Tiberias, near the place where they ate bread after the Lord had given thanks—24 when the people therefore saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they also got into boats and came to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. 25 And when they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, “Rabbi, when did You come here?” 26 Jesus answered them and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. 27 Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.” (NKJV, John 6:22-27)
There are many times in my life that I try to push myself to reflect on my actions. My personal goal is to try to do a daily reflection, some days it is easy to remember to do this, other times, I need a digital reminder to do this whether through the use of Evernote or Omnifocus. Two pieces of software that keep me organized and productive (more on that in another post later on). I try to ask myself some basic standard questions.
What did I do today?
What did I accomplish?
What new thing did I learn?
The next question that is the most difficult sometimes for me to answer at times, is Did I Chase After Him today, or Did I Chase After What He Can Give Me?
We all fall into this trap a lot, I myself fall into it many times. We all fall in the trap of asking God, praying to God, for the things that I want from Him.
Dear God…..please I want that new job.
………………please I want that new house.
………………please I need to pass this class.
………………please I want this person to notice me.
………………please I want, I want, i want.
I always want from God, I want, because I know that He can give it to me, He has the power to give it to me. Growing up and looking back at my life, I can see and visualize myself always asking God for the things I want. I remember asking for the job, I remember asking for the good grades and all the things that a typical high school or college student would ask, perhaps even a young adult. But one of the things that scares me, when I look back at my past, I can’t remember the times that I chased after Him myself without wanting anything in return.
Because when I look back at the past, I can see why I asked for certain things. Struggling with a class, so I needed a good grade to pass. Unemployed, and needed a job. The list can go on for this. But I can’t remember, my memory fades here…
Did I pray and say thank you when God granted my requests?
Did I just pray in general without asking for anything?
It’s very tough to remember those details for some reason of our past. Today of course is different, I am older, I am wiser (I hope). But I am still human. I needed to be reminded on a regular basis, so that I don’t fall into that trap again.
To bring it back full circle to the Gospel reading at the beginning of this blog. Many times we say, I can’t relate to the Bible, it was written a long time ago, by old people. But everything is relatable, if you want to learn and read it, that’s the key step. It’s a journey.
The passage in the gospel reading picks up immediately right after the miracle of Feeding of the Five Thousand with the five loaves and two fish.
To summarize the above passage reading here is a very simple outline.
- Imagine that you are a part of this group. (the five thousand)
- You just got fed in a miraculous way. Five loaves, Two fish. Twelve baskets filled afterwards! (What a buffet!)
- Christ ends up in Capernaum somehow (I use the term “somehow” loosely based on how I envision it, if I was there, based on the factual points of 4-7)
- We know that Saint John indicates only 1 boat (the disciples were on it) left and our Lord Jesus Christ, didn’t go with them on the boat.
- Other people are trying to find Him, other boats coming in from Tiberius.
- Finally, this group that you are in get to Capernaum and you’re chasing Him.
- You and the group finally see Christ.
You know what happens? The first words out of the mouth of the group….”When did you get here?”. That reminds of the English modern version that I would use with my friends at a restaurant. “Bro, how in the world did you get here so fast? I didn’t see you on the boat. I looked and I checked, you weren’t there, so uh, when did you get here?”
Can you imagine that mentality? “When did you get here?” Seriously. That’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you see Him? Let’s hold on to this mentality for a bit, as we go deeper into this.
Christ responds to that “group” mentality. In verse 26, Jesus answered them and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.
That is rough! But the TRUTH! It’s like a passive slap on the face. Again, in our “modern” English understanding if this were to happen today with family or friends.
“Guys, you’re not following because you saw the miracle, but because you saw the abundance of food, you’re here because I fed you.”
I often think, how many times do I chase after God, because He fed me. How many times do I do the exact same thing that the multitude did as well? Then, of course, comes the thought, well, why did Christ even answer in this manner to them. My opinion, Christ spoke to them on a blunt level so that they could understand. They spoke from their stomach and their eyes (their needs and wants). So He responded to those needs and wants directly. They were so caught up in everything, they forgot about the miracle. They forgot that 5,000 were fed with five loaves and two fish.
Looking back at it…the thoughts that cross my mind…
Who cares when He got there?!!!!
Who cares how He got there????
He just performed a miracle. He just appeared there. There is more to Him that we can possibly imagine (that should have been the thoughts of these people, but it wasn’t).
Again, His response to them, “You seek me to satisfy the flesh, not the Spirit.”
You are here because you’re not chasing after Me, you’re chasing because what I can give you, and today that’s food.
You came because you wanted something, and that something was not spiritual.
Let’s bring it all back again, now.
Do I Chase After Him or Am I Chasing What He Can Give Me
How many times do I seek Jesus for no other objective than to get some kind of temporal benefit! We all fall into this one…I will do this spiritual item (attend Liturgy early, pray more, fast more) IF, and only IF I get this job, this program, this raise, this item of benefit in the world. Unfortunately, we all do this, all the time, we remember God when we want our belly full. It doesn’t have to be physically with food, but when we “want” things.
Our Lord is scarcely sought after for His own sake.…He says, “you seek me for something else; seek me for my own sake. He insinuates the truth that He Himself is that food … “that endures to eternal life.” We want to make sure that when we seek out our Lord, we seek Him diligently through active prayers, readings, fasting, partaking of the sacraments to bring us closer to our Lord, because our souls yearn to be with Him.
The Fast of Nineveh is coming up tomorrow on February 22 (in the Coptic Calendar), what if we took Nineveh as an example for us. When the message of Jonah the prophet arrived, the city prayed, fasted, and sought after and chased God. Hopefully, we can learn to not just chase after Christ, because there is a “fun” event at church, or some “social” event. Yes, these could be tools to help us get our foot in the door, but what about the days when there is no “fun” event, when there is no “social” activity. We still need to come to church, we still need to chase after Him.
I wish that all of us, myself included, of course, will learn to chase after Him every day of our lives, when we wake up in the morning, when we go to sleep. How amazing would that be? My first thought in the morning would be to give thanks for letting the night pass in peace, and then when I sleep, I can thank Him for all that He gave me today. Baby steps. Works in Progress.
We don’t want to labor for the food that which perishes, We don’t want to do things that are temporary. Our focus should be on the everlasting life, on the eternal life.
-Continuing to sojourn in this place.
Note: this post should have gone out on New Year’s Eve.
There were many events this past year in the world, some good and some bad. I am not going to go into the detail about all the world events, politics, economics, etc. Because honestly, all of that can always be discussed. But what will I learn from that? How will that affect me? Take a step back from the world and see what I am talking about. I will mention just one brief part of story in the world that caught my eye.
“The War On Christmas, The Red Cup.”
Don’t worry, I am not going to rehash all the drama, social media sensation, etc that occurred with all this. But I will use this as a way to gauge, where I am in my life? So, keep the chaos that occurred when Starbucks came out with “red cups” in the back of your mind.
Side-note: I am focusing on Christmas, because the Western Christmas (based on the Gregorian) was just celebrated recently, and we are looking forward to the Coptic Orthodox Christmas (based on the Coptic Calendar / Julian).
Somewhere over the years of my life, Christmas never transitioned. I never grew up. It started out as it does for many of us, gifts under the Christmas tree, looking forward to what Santa would bring me this year. As the years continued, I gradually became more concerned about what gifts Santa would bring me, or how much longer until I could break the fast. I didn’t really focus on the purpose of Christmas.
Even now as I stand before you, I have to remind myself so that the world doesn’t put its claws in to me and drag me back down again. It’s a struggle.
But what is Christmas about? The Red Cup? Social media blasted Starbucks for using a red cup during the Christmas season. They were taking the reason out of the season. I never knew that a cup could affect one’s faith. It’s not like they didn’t have Advent calendars in the store, oh wait they did. Let’s just forget about all the persecutions on the Christians occurring in other countries.
Is Christmas about the gifts? Christmas isn’t about getting gifts, because let’s be honest, how many of us say, I want to “receive a gift”, versus “getting a gift”. Even our own language towards Christmas is inappropriate.
The reality is….the celebration of Christmas, it’s not just about the birth of Christ. We sugar-coat that. But let’s discuss the Orthodox faith. Christmas is about my mistakes.
Our Lord was born in a manager, with no place for his head to rest. The Inn had no room for him, I had no room for Christ in my heart.
I kicked Him out, and the world encouraged me to do so. As we hear in the Divine Liturgy according to Saint Gregory, I plucked for myself the sentence of death. But Christ had other plans, I had done this, I had kicked Him out.
But Christ went looking for a place to rest his head. Because even though I kicked Him out, guess what, He was insistent on being in my heart. We again hear in the beautiful words of the Divine Liturgy according to Saint Gregory, You, O my Master have turned for me the punishment into salvation…..You are He who ministered salvation to me when I disobeyed Your Law.
This is meaning of Christmas. Christmas is for me. Christmas is the celebration that my punishment is now salvation. He is here, He is coming to reconcile me. Christ came to the lowest (the manager, a barn, full of animal dung most likely; yet here we are today and none of us can stand the smell of a dirty diaper) but He came to lowest for the sake of humanity, for me, for you, for all of us, and raised us up to the Heavenly Kingdom.
Now, I know there is a lot of emphasis on Christmas tonight as we approach the New Year. But let’s keep that in mind, as we open the gifts we received, as we eat the food that God has provided for all of us.
We celebrate not just His birth, we are celebrating that salvation has come to the world. All the stories we read in the Old Testament have been building up to this and will continue to build up as we continue in the Church Calendar year.
Now that we have our minds focused on the true purpose of Christmas, does that red cup really matter anymore? do any of those social, controversial, noisy issues matter? They don’t. But what does matter? My spiritual life. 2016 and beyond. I need to focus on my salvation and prepare myself.
Should we focus on resolutions? No, because that’s a setup for failure. A lie we tell ourselves. A resolution if you think about it, according to Psychology Today, they are centered on things that we don’t like about ourselves, or things that make us feel inadequate. I don’t like that I am fat, so I want 2016 to be the year I go to the gym. Be honest, it’s not about the gym, we are unhappy with ourselves.
But do something that is dangerous, that is scary, that we are all afraid of. Admit that we need to change our spiritual life.
It’s time to get serious about your spiritual life. If you don’t do it today, you will struggle tomorrow. If you don’t believe me, think about prayer, fasting, and reading.
“I am going to read today, oh, you know what, it’s late, let me do it tomorrow.”
“I am going to pray today, oh, you know what, it’s late, let me do it tomorrow.”
“I am going to fast today, oh, you know what, I already drank/ate something, let me do it tomorrow.”
You know what happens in all these cases, 99% of the time, the same story repeats itself.
We have to think about today not tomorrow, focus our hearts on today. Change for today, not for tomorrow.
What can I do tonight while in church?
- Pray for yourself, pray for everyone, just pray.
- Sing. Be part of the service. It’s very sad when I go around the church with the censer and it’s silent. We are not watching a movie or a tv-show up here. We are praying and chanting together. One body. Unity.
- Confess to your spiritual father. Many people think it’s okay to go once a year, or never. We are all sinners. We need absolution. Try to be frequent, if possible. If you don’t receive guidance from your spiritual father, then how will you be led on the path for your spiritual life. Schedule an appointment with him.
- Read. Read your Bible first and foremost, read spiritual books, build up yourself with contemplations and meditations.
Good bye to my old self in 2015
Hello to the new person in 2016
Happy New Year to all of you and Glory be to God forever. Amen.
This happens all the time, and many of us consistently forget on how to manage our stress in a healthy manner. We have all had these moments, when we realize we’re running low on time, become impatient, drink coffee or energy drinks, more than what is required to sustain our sanity. It takes a toll on us eventually; physically, mentally, psychologically, socially, and spiritually. Hopefully, today’s post can help you manage future stressful situations, and possibly be a means in helping you help others deal with their own stress.
We must identify what causes our stress. For the most part, it usually falls into the following four categories:
- Lifestyle and Responsibilities
- Handling Situations
These can, of course, be broken down into more sub-levels. For the purpose of the blog, let’s keep it simple and succinct. Each of us have different criteria, different circumstances for each of these categories. It’s important to note two major items.
- Everyone responds to stress differently!
- Stress has several sizes. We don’t all wear the same size or carry the same load!
Remember how I mentioned earlier, “drinking coffee?” That’s my specialty. Other methods people utilize (which is unhealthy) in responding to stress, are the “let’s have a Netflix marathon”, usually prefaced with “I am in the mood to watch several seasons of something. Anything so I don’t have to focus anymore!” It’s also very easy to stress eat; chips, soda, pizza, wings, and a tub of ice cream. No stress here, just some nourishment. NOT.
We each respond to stress differently, and because we do, that means there is no “cure” or “one-answer” for everyone. Each of us requires a different method to combat and manage our stress. That list of four categories that cause stress in our lives – Guess what? You have the ability to manage those categories!
“This is all great. Now tell me, how is this article going to help me manage my stress?” We are getting there, I promise. To understand how to manage your stress, you need to identify the causes and sources. If you walk into the doctor’s office, complaining that you’re sick, he or she will ask you, “What are you feeling? What are your symptoms?” The doctor needs to determine the cause of illness, in order to treat you appropriately. Same with stress.
First Step in Managing Stress – ASK
What are the sources of stress in my life?
Again, I will refer back to those categories. Please don’t ever tell me that you have “tons of stuff” to do, or some extreme number. I have been there, I have tried that, it doesn’t work. That’s called an excuse. Take responsibility for your words and actions. Did I really have “tons of stuff?” Sure. Maybe at some point. Was it continuous? No. Could I have managed those moments in my life in a more organized manner that didn’t cause me to stress with an excuse? Definitely.
Lesson – Don’t take on more than you can complete. I have been down that road before. The “yes” man. There is a line between obedience and being unreliable. Remember it.
It also wouldn’t hurt to keep a diary or journal for yourself, to write your thoughts for the day, especially if you consistently have stressful thoughts. Write about your stress. Use your journal to help you focus on what caused the stress, how you felt, your response, and your action plan. Eventually, you will start to find patterns in your life and notice more about yourself.
Second Step in Managing Stress – EVALUATE (healthy vs unhealthy choices)
How do you currently handle stress?
I will address the healthy options later in this same blog post. Many people deal with stress differently as we discussed – most of the time, in a very unhealthy manner. I knew many people in my previous jobs, and in college days, who would do a variety of unhealthy options. For one, this is where a “social drink” could develop into alcoholism. Many people I know did many of the following: Smoking. Drugs. Binge-Eating. Anger. Violence. Sleep. Couch Potato. Disengaging from any social relations. All of these are unhealthy options. Please, please refrain from doing any of this sort. This list can go on for all the unhealthy things. Yes, even things like repeatedly checking your iPhone, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Sometimes being plugged in too much is a stressor!
Spiritual People Never Stress – FALSE
You know for a while, I had this notion that “the good guys” in the Bible never stressed out. But under the guidance of my spiritual father, with better reading, and more understanding, I realized that almost everyone in the Bible was at some point, stressed out! Each one had their own method of managing stress, but ultimately it always came back to their relationship with God. Let’s take a look at a few examples with very brief summaries.
Adam (Genesis 3:6-10)
– Moment of stress – After disobeying God and eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, Adam hears God in the Garden. His response? He runs, hides from God, and covers himself.
– Coping Skill – Repented and followed God’s commandments by teaching the responsibilities to his children.
Abram (Abraham) and Sarai (Sarah) go to Egypt (Genesis 12:10-20)
– Moment of stress – About to enter Egypt, when he tells his wife that she is so beautiful, he is afraid the Egyptians will kill him and take her.
– Unhealthy Coping Skill – He lied and said she was his sister, not his wife.
– Healthy Coping Skill – Told the truth after God appeared to Pharaoh in a dream.
Joseph, the son of Jacob (Genesis 37:12-36, Genesis 39, Genesis 42-45)
– Moment(s) of stress – 1) Being sold by his brothers 2) Being sent to prison 3) Seeing his brothers after all these years. That’s a lot. Just thinking only about the brother part for now. Imagine being sold by your brothers, and then fast forward several years, you see them again, you recognize them, you have dinner with them. That must have been one difficult dinner! There is much more to the story of Joseph, but just giving a morsel here to chew on for now. But there was much weeping going on with Joseph and inner struggles.
– Healthy Coping Skill – His relationship with God, and God’s abiding presence with him, allowing him to forgive his brothers.
Moses (Exodus 2:11-25, Exodus 3)
– Moment(s) of stress – 1) Left Egypt when two Hebrew people called him out on killing the Egyptian. In a panic, flees to Midian (resides there for 40 years, after having lived 40 years in Egypt). 2) Moses in front of the burning bush. Moses gives excuses, “they will not believe me, or listen to me,” “I am not eloquent, slow to speech.” He witnessed two miracles, one involving his staff, the other his hand, but still had the nerve to create excuses and to avoid responsibility. He eventually submits to the will of God.
– Unhealthy Coping Skill – Making excuses
– Healthy Coping Skill – Moses is in the presence of God, and is being obedient.
Moses / Jethro (Exodus 18:13-27)
– Moment of stress – 1) Jethro (father-in-law) sees Moses from morning until night listening to people’s cases. Jethro in short tells him, you are going to burn-out. You can’t do this alone. He gives him wise advice on how to handle the cases.
– Unhealthy Coping Skill – Attempted to do it by himself
– Healthy Coping Skill – Divided the workload
These are just a few examples from the Old Testament, we can definitely go into more – Gideon, Joseph the Carpenter, St. Peter, St. Paul, and countless others. Each person’s stressful situation was unique. In addition, how they responded to God, and how God responded to them was also unique to their situation as well!
Ways To Mange Your Stress Today (GEAR CAR)
1. Gear Up!
– Do a physical activity. Go on a hike. Go kayaking. Go for a walk. Just GO!
– Do something that helps you focus on your body and not your stressful thoughts.
– Dedicate at least 10 minutes of the day
2. Engage Others!
– Don’t avoid being social – that causes isolation and leads to further depression
– Do confide in someone you feel is safe and trustworthy.
– Speak with your spiritual father or confession father.
3. Avoid It!
– Don’t take on more than you can chew.
– Don’t be a “yes” person to every single action item. Learn to say “no”
– Avoid unnecessary stressful items (including people, places, topics, and things)
– I personally avoid, as much as I can, to state my opinions on politics in a social media forum. I learned that lesson several times. It causes unnecessary chaos and stress. A Facebook wall or Twitter timeline isn’t the right place to discuss a political issue.
4. Rise Up!
– Seek Wisdom (Read Proverbs, it’s only 30 chapters – 1 chapter each day)
– Build your spiritual life – Rise up from your busy life and pray!
– Look for God in the stillness and quietness, not in the noise.
– Go on a spiritual retreat.
– Dedicate time to read and time to pray.
5. Change Yourself!
– Share your feelings. Don’t bottle them up.
– Express yourself. Learn to compromise.
– Change your reactions to situations, people, and places around you
6. Accept It!
– Stuck in traffic? It’s not going to go away. Find an alternative to your anger.
– In the grand scheme of life, is an extra portion of time really that upsetting?
– Be realistic in goal-setting and expectations.
– Don’t try to control points in your life. Let God be in the driver’s seat.
– Learn to forgive.
– Teach yourself how to react and look for positives in people.
– I mentioned I love coffee. This is really hypocritical of me, but minimize how much you drink. I am working on that. I am trying to limit myself to just 2 cups a day. It’s a work-in-progress, so it’s better than what I used to consume in a day.
– We mentioned physical activity earlier on, but again to reiterate, find an activity that is not stressful for you. I play a mean game of Monopoly, and several other board games. I am very competitive. But sometimes, I just need to relax and play a fun board game, and not keep score.
We all have a ball and chain in our lives called stress. I challenge you to lay your burdens on God, and let Him deal with your problems. The next time you pray, the next time you read, or attend a church service, think of how to make that moment different for yourself. Learn how to sit, be present, and wait for God.
This blog-writing is a lot harder than I thought it would be. As I mentioned in my earlier blog post, “The Beginning of the Journey,” I decided to start writing, because I had this inner desire to share my thoughts and I do believe in the positive benefits of it.
So here we are 4 blog posts in…and I recall that I said I would mention why I chose the name “Sojourner In This Place” for the blog. It does have much meaning to me which I will share in this week’s post.
Where do we hear the word “sojourner” in the liturgical services of the church? The two locations that come to my mind quickly are the following:
1) Litany of the Travelers
As for us, too, O Lord, keep our sojourn in this life without harm, without storm, and undisturbed to the end.
2) The Diptych in the Divine Liturgy
And we, too, who are sojourners in this place, keep us in Your faith, and grant us Your peace unto the end.
So, what is a sojourner? Essentially, a sojourner is a stranger in a foreign land. People sojourn all the time and wander from place to place. The root word, “sojourn” usually refers to a temporary stay or temporary dwelling. These two parts of the church services have always resonated with me a lot. Now when I take the wording into the context of my two examples provided, I come out with the following:
It’s clear and understood that the life we live is a temporary one. We live in a foreign land. Examine this excerpt of the Divine Liturgy; “keep us in Your faith.” Being strangers in this foreign land, one could assume, would cause us to question our beliefs, our faith, our hearts. We are praying that while in this foreign land, we are kept in His faith, and granted His peace unto the end.
I want you to think back to how many times you may have moved in your life? Maybe to a different country, a different state, or city, or just next door to another home within the same city. No matter the case, in each situation of your move, you became a stranger in that land, that you were going to live at. There was a period of my life, where I would internally fight myself, because of constant movements in my life. It took lots of praying and growing up to realize, I am just a stranger in this world.
Because I am a stranger in this world, because I go from place to place throughout my life, my constant prayer should be, “to be kept in the faith, to be granted peace.” Can you imagine if your faith fluctuated based on where you lived at? Maybe that already happens for some people. But it doesn’t have to happen to you anymore. Take control of your spirituality with guidance from your spiritual father.
Why? Because there is a purpose and reason that you are in the land you are currently in. What does that even mean? Look at your life, from the perspective of a garden. I love gardening and I hope that one day, I would be able to have a full garden to rely on. Say you have a mint plant, or rosemary, or hydrangeas and you want more of them. What do you do? I will keep it simple. You basically cut a portion of the plant and plant it elsewhere in the garden. Over the course of time, that plant too will grow and be fruitful. This is how I envision being a sojourner in the world. We are here for a purpose in a strange land. As a Christian, with my citizenship in Heaven, the goal is to keep the faith wherever I go.
I am reminded of our father Abraham, when God spoke to him and told him to leave and go somewhere else.
“Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” (Genesis 12:1-2)
How many times did Abraham’s life change? How many places did he sojourn? But no matter what happened, Abraham kept his faith in the Lord.
If we are responsible for a specific service in the church and are asked to serve in another capacity, we are to keep the faith. If we have been relocated due to work or school, and find ourselves in a foreign land, we are to keep the faith. No matter what our role is in the church or in society, or wherever God leads us, we still have to keep the faith. We should do our best to preach the message of our Lord Jesus Christ to each and every single person that we interact with, as best we can.
At the end of the day, I am just a sojourner in this place, awaiting to go home.
]Would you like me to take your picture? That’s how it started, one line, one question, one request. This past weekend, my wife and I were celebrating our five-year wedding anniversary. With all our responsibilities, we decided a small local weekend getaway would suffice this year. We enjoyed a wonderful day at the various parks playing with our son, and then at night, we went out to dinner at a small restaurant in Little Italy, called Buon Appetito followed by Pappalecco for dessert. Both are fantastic places if you are ever down in San Diego.
Moving along with the story. I don’t necessarily believe in accidents or coincidences. I believe that everything happens according to God’s plan. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11). In that sense, no matter where you go in life, or whatever happens, or the interactions you may face, God has a plan.
Would you like me to take your picture?
My wife and I were seated at the restaurant, patiently reviewing our menu and deciding what to order. As we were waiting and reminiscing about our first five years of marriage, an elderly couple were seated adjacent to our table. Side note: The spacing in the outdoor seating between tables is enough for the waiter/waitress to walk through, so your table is fairly close to others. As the two of us continued conversing, we noticed the gentleman trying to take a picture of his wife. Without a second thought, my wife said a line that would change the remainder of our dinner.
“Would you like me to take your picture?”
The amount of joy in the couple’s voices was instantly noticed! They happily smiled for the camera, and even offered to take our picture after. We cheered and enjoyed. That one line sparked a night of conversation about God, religion, faith, and current church issues. The elderly couple (Alton and Loretta) were from the South and were raised in the Roman Catholic Church and discussed how their parish had grown and spun off into sister parishes because of the intense size of the parish. Their current parish size…..8,000 members!
As the night continued, we also discussed baptism, chrismation, and the type of “worship” that is occurring in other denominations. It was refreshing to see someone from another church with such vigor and love concerning the church. One of our fun conversation pieces were about language, and how Alton had learned Latin because he was an altar boy, and everything for him was in Latin until Vatican II changed that. I enjoyed our discussion concerning the different service ideas for children and how it’s important to focus on the youth of a parish.
It was a great night. We exchanged information and they informed us, that they would be visiting Palm Springs earlier next year, and would love to stop by the Coptic church and have dinner with us again. The next time you are outside, whether at a restaurant, or elsewhere, don’t feel shy to spark a conversation… or ask, “Would you like me to take your picture?” You never know what conversations may come up and how much meditation they can provide.
For me personally, there was a spiritual thought that was troubling me that day, and I couldn’t figure out the situation. Throughout the dinner with my wife, and the exchange with Alton and Loretta, the answers that I needed became more apparent to me. Everything happens according to God’s will and timeline.
Continuing with this writing thing. I want to write this week about my experience with meeting His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, Pope and Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church. I honestly did not know what to expect. I had been counting down until his arrival to Los Angeles. He has been a pope for almost 3 years now and had not yet visited the United States. Pope Tawadros II came to be our Pope after the thrice blessed Pope Shenouda III passed away. The late Pope Shenouda in his later years had become increasingly ill and his visits to California became very limited. It has been almost a good 10 years since I last saw the Pope. There was much excitement awaiting to see His Holiness Pope Tawadros II.
Day 1 – Reception at St. Mark
As soon as I arrived to St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church in Los Angeles, the excitement further increased. There were many priests who travelled from the East Coast. I was able to connect with many priests that I had known when I was a child. I won’t forget the moment His Holiness arrived at church that day. I was so full of joy, so full of excitement that I could not find a way to express my joy, other than by clapping my hands! Traditionally, we try to refrain from clapping our hands in church. I never understood why people couldn’t just contain themselves and be joyful internally without clapping. I couldn’t contain myself (nor could anyone else in the church that night). His Holiness arrived and prayed the Thanksgiving Prayer and the night continued with a small spiritual talk. The spiritual talk was simple and to the point. He spoke about the number 5 and how it refers to strength and power. He spoke that, for us as Christians, we need to keep within our hearts, 5 jewels: my faith, my Bible, my church, my purity and my eternity. We must always keep these 5 jewels in front of us as we live day to day. (If you want to hear the actual sermon, link is provided at the end of the post). I was also able to get my first selfie picture with His Holiness!
Day 2 – Clergy Meeting
Over 125 priests gathered for a clergy meeting with His Holiness Pope Tawadros II. I think that was the first liturgy I attended that had that many priests gathered for a Liturgy in one setting! His Holiness allowed for all of us to pray the Divine Liturgy with him. Each attending bishop and priest, prayed a few words of the Divine Liturgy. Usually, in these meetings, it’s a choppy liturgy as you wait for each person to approach the altar and pray their portion. But regardless it was still a great sight to see that all of us were gathered together and praying in one spirit. His Holiness gave a sermon that day on the gospel reading (Luke 11:53-12:12). The Gospel reading mentioned sparrows and he explained that a bird needs two wings to fly and that we also need two wings in everything in our spiritual lives. We need both the Old and New Testament when it comes to our Bible. We need both the Sacrament of Confession and the Sacrament of the Eucharist. We can’t have one without the other. There are many more examples that His Holiness provided which are provided in the links below for more listening. It was a long day, but fun-filled nonetheless.
Day 3 – Youth Meeting
I attended the English Youth Meeting that night with His Holiness. I was on the stage, off to the side, sorting through all the questions that were being sent to him. We decided to use a different system of accepting questions, rather than just using pieces of paper each time. It was decided to have everyone text their questions to a certain phone number to make the process easier and quicker. That night, I had to filter as quickly as I could through 400+ questions! Another priest, Fr. Gregory Bishay, was there to translate all the questions and answers from His Holiness to the youth. It was a funny night watching the two of them interact, as there were many funny jokes about translation that night. Many of the questions that came up were in regards to our spiritual life and celebration of the feasts. His Holiness mentioned to us that he has proposed to Pope Francis to work together on setting a fixed date for the Feast of the Resurrection. It was refreshing to hear the churches working to unite to celebrate together. I do want to highlight on another observation that I saw that night. There was a group of youth (part of a band) who were singing worship songs. But, I noticed in the room that no one was taking part or singing along with them. Although the words were on the screen, no one participated. Shortly after, I noticed that a decision was made to start singing the hymns of the church from the Midnight Praise. Suddenly, the room got quiet and everyone started singing the Coptic hymns of the church. We didn’t have the hymns on the screen for anyone to follow. Most people pulled out Coptic Reader and read from there. I am not here to start a mini-battle about praise, worship, hymns, or songs. I just want to state an observation that I saw and pretty much “put it out here”.
Day 4 – St. Athanasius and St. Cyril Coptic Orthodox Theological School
By the grace of God, I wasn’t sure if my schedule was going to allow me to attend the last event that I would personally be able to see His Holiness at. But, everything worked out, and I was able to attend. It was a day of full of blessings. The presence and blessings of His Holiness Pope Tawadros II had a great impact. CST (Claremont School of Theology), CGU (Claremont Graduate University) and ACTS (St. Athanasius and St. Cyril Coptic Orthodox Theological School) all signed MOUs (Memoranda of Understanding). This signing would now enable all our ACTS students and graduates to take courses in CST or CGU, have access to the libraries including the Ernie Tune Coptic Collection, as well as to pursue advanced masters degrees in both universities. It was a big step for the ACTS theological school. My family and I were also able to snap a few memorable pictures with His Holiness.
Overall, receiving the blessings of His Holiness during that week, though it was hectic, gave me a renewal again. There was no time for in-depth, one-on-one conversations during this visit. But, just the sheer fact of being in his presence gave comfort. His Holiness has this calmness that surrounds him and to be near him, to see his interactions, hear his sermons, you realize that as his name “Tawadros” means, he truly is a gift from God. I hope we get to see him more often and take his blessings soon again.
For those who were unable to attend, I have attached a list of a few of the video feeds that I could gather.
- Reception at Saint Mark – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xv-HKPtE6Mo
- Clergy Meeting Liturgy – https://vimeo.com/142579538
- Arabic Youth Meeting (St. George, Bellflower) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YRyZ7fEdR0
- Questions from the Arabic Youth Meeting – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnQrHGBehys
- English Youth Meeting (The Rock, Anaheim) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hRXfc_MQsRw
- Consecration of St. Mary and St. Athanasius Church (Northridge) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9Dzt669vbQ
- Vespers at St. John (Covina) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u40ybL4DpEA
- General Meeting at St. John (Covina) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rdWGe1emVzQ
- Consecration of St. Pope Kerollos VI Church (Westminster) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mzjQdHLJKKQ
- Saint Demiana Children’s Choir (Bakersfield) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IrJq5hbVHTE
- His Holiness signs MOUs with CST and CGU – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1erRVBj1xE