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Category Archives: Orthodoxy

When I met my girlfriend Tiffany back in September, she could best be described as a melting pot of religious views, with the primary views flipping back-and-forth between agnosticism and atheism, as far as I could tell.

Today, almost 8 months later, she became a catechumen in the Orthodox Christian Church.  And it’s funny, really. After Pascha, she was talking to me about how she had started to feel something that she’s never felt before but has always wanted to feel. She also explained that she had started to fight her doubts against faith which linger in spite of this new feeling. I explained that St. Thomas had a situation where he dealt with a bit of doubt, and that, as a result (long story short), Christ said that those who don’t see and believe are even more blessed than Thomas was.

And, then, we get to church, she gets enrolled into the catechumenate, and I look down at the bulletin to find out that, lo and behold, it’s Thomas Sunday.

God is cool. 🙂

O Lord, our God, Who dwellest on high and regardest the humble of heart; Who hast sent forth as the salvation of mankind Thine Only-begotten Son and God, our Lord Jesus Christ; look down upon Thy servants, the catechumens, who have bowed their heads before Thee; make them worthy in due season of the laver of regeneration. Unite them to thy Holy, Universal and Apostolic Church, and number them with Thy chosen flock. That they also with us may glorify Thy most honorable and majestic Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

You know, it’s funny how you can hear something several times and be moved by it. Then, there is that one time you hear it, and it just knocks you down.

Very early this morning, this officially became the most moving sermon I’ve ever heard.

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If any man be devout and loveth God,
Let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast!
If any man be a wise servant,
Let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord.

If any have laboured long in fasting,
Let him how receive his recompense.
If any have wrought from the first hour,
Let him today receive his just reward.
If any have come at the third hour,
Let him with thankfulness keep the feast.
If any have arrived at the sixth hour,
Let him have no misgivings;
Because he shall in nowise be deprived therefore.
If any have delayed until the ninth hour,
Let him draw near, fearing nothing.
And if any have tarried even until the eleventh hour,
Let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness.

For the Lord, who is jealous of his honour,
Will accept the last even as the first.
He giveth rest unto him who cometh at the eleventh hour,
Even as unto him who hath wrought from the first hour.
And He showeth mercy upon the last,
And careth for the first;
And to the one He giveth,
And upon the other He bestoweth gifts.
And He both accepteth the deeds,
And welcometh the intention,
And honoureth the acts and praises the offering.

Wherefore, enter ye all into the joy of your Lord;
Receive your reward,
Both the first, and likewise the second.
You rich and poor together, hold high festival!
You sober and you heedless, honour the day!
Rejoice today, both you who have fasted
And you who have disregarded the fast.
The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously.
The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.
Enjoy ye all the feast of faith:
Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness.

Let no one bewail his poverty,
For the universal Kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one weep for his iniquities,
For pardon has shown forth from the grave.
Let no one fear death,
For the Saviour’s death has set us free.
He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it.

By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive.
He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh.
And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry:
Hell, said he, was embittered
When it encountered Thee in the lower regions.

It was embittered, for it was abolished.
It was embittered, for it was mocked.
It was embittered, for it was slain.
It was embittered, for it was overthrown.
It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains.
It took a body, and met God face to face.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?
Christ is risen, and thou art overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.
For Christ, being risen from the dead,
Is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be glory and dominion
Unto ages of ages.

Amen.
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CHRIST IS RISEN!

Classes ended yesterday.  Next week, we here at UT will start the journey through the dreaded Finals Week, keeping our eyes set on the release that awaits us at the end of it all: Summer.

As I walked around my residence hall today, I noticed everyone walking around as thought it were just an ordinary day.  And, for many, it is.  I couldn’t help but think of the contrast, though.  For them, it’s an ordinary day.  But, for the Orthodox, it’s at the doorstep of the Feast of Feasts: our Lord’s Pascha.

Just a few years ago, I thought Easter was a really cool holiday.  I mean…duh!  Jesus came out of the tomb, right?  So, yeah…it was pretty big.  But, in reality, for me and most I knew, the Big Deal was Christmas.  The Nativity was at the forefront, giving a back seat (in a way) to Easter.

Since then, however, Pascha has become the new Christmas.  Christmas, of course, is a big deal still.  But, it doesn’t compare to the joy that awaits all who make the journey to Pascha.

And, now, I must go.  For the Bridegroom comes at midnight, and it’s 10:17. So…on to church.

Last night, as I attended the service of Holy Unction, most of my attention was on the service itself and related things: the readings, the hymnography, how joyfully relieved many people looked after being anointed with the Holy Unction, how happy my non-Orthodox girlfriend was after being anointed with oil from the shrine of St. Panteleimon at the Holy Mountain, how it was nice to have _two_ priests instead of just one this year….you get my point.

But, then, as Fr. Stephen began to deliver his reflection on the night’s events, I glanced forward and looked at the icon that we’ve been seeing a lot of this week: the Bridegroom.

I saw Christ, with the reed in his hand, the crown of thorns on his head, the look of sorrow on his face (yet, still glowing with love, somehow), and everything else about it. And I began to choke back tears.

As Fr. Stephen slipped into making announcements about a youth retreat, egg hunt, confessions, post-Pasha BBQ, etc., all I could do was fix my moist eyes on that icon and think, over and over, “My Lord….my Savior….what are they going to do to you?”

They will betray Him. They’ll arrest Him. They’ll flog Him. They’ll hurt Him so much that He’ll lack the strength to carry His own cross. They’ll label Him “King of the Jews”, nail Him to a tree on top of a hill, and leave Him there suspended for all to see and to mock. They’ll cast lots for His garments. They’ll watch—some in sadness, some in joy—as He cries out to the Father and takes His last painful breath.

And we’ll be there, in the crowd, as we continue this “walk through eternity” called Holy Week.

God’s blessings as you continue on the journey toward our Lord’s Pascha.

A few thoughts…

–Last year, I wrote about my Charlie Brown Christmas and the possible end of a 30-something-year tradition in my family. Well, I’m actually quite content in reporting that it ended this year (that is, we didn’t have it), though for reasons different from what threatened it last year. It was brought about by a certain needed movement in our family life, and for that, I’m grateful. I’m also thankful that it precisely isn’t because of the issues I discussed last year. Essentially, it was caused by someone’s personal progress and not someone else’s personal tragedies.

–The 2008 OCF College Conference is coming up in two days. Wow. It seems that just yesterday I was telling some friends that I would be seeing them in 10 days. And now it will much sooner be upon us. Last year, I was a first-time attendee and was awestruck at what I experienced, being so impressed by the love and friendship and spiritual focus and unspeakable “other goodness” (for want of a better term). (Oh…and, did I mention that’s how I was introduced to Sheetz? 😀 ) This year, I’m a member of the OCF Student Advisory Board and someone who is hoping to be involved in an upcoming object called the OCF Podcast (until something catchier develops…), something I proposed to our executive director this past summer. To my knowledge, I was the first person to seriously mention it in as much detail as I did. I assume this because I didn’t hear back, “We’re already working on it,” but “Hey…that’s a great idea. Let’s talk more about this in a few days when I get back home.” For once, I’m in a place where people listen intently to the ideas I have and are brave enough to explore, rather than putting me off and assuring they’ll “get back to me.” I can’t wait to tell this to our fellow students at the conference, because it’s what our organization is built on: listening to the students and shaping OCF to serve them and the greater community to the best of everyone’s ability. If they will listen to me, they’ll listen to anyone. I hope someone is encouraged by this, has some spark of an idea, and runs with it…and ends up blowing us all away. What a joy that would be.

At any rate, we’re going to try and record as much of the talks as humanly possible, as well as gather some photos and other randomness throughout each day and and post it all either to ancientfaithradio.com or ocf.net. If we post anything, I’ll link to it here.

–I’m grateful for super cheap airfare, enabling me to jump down to Florida shortly after my return from the conference so that I can meet Tiffany’s family. Though, the idea of it being warm enough to visit the beach in January slightly weirds me out.

–For the first time in years, the grades I’ve received so far for my semester’s work do not go below a “c”. I still have an incomplete in one class, but that will be dealt with shortly, and I’ll likely do fine. Also, there are no plans whatsoever to change majors or schools anytime soon. In fact, I’m adding a minor–in journalism. 🙂 Couple that with the news I discussed about OCF and the Podcast and so on, and you’ll have an idea of where I’d like to be heading as far as career preparation.

–In semi-related computer comments: If you’re a writer of any type who is easily distracted, and your computer of choice is Mac, I highly recommend a little app called WriteRoom. It makes your entire screen black and puts a little blinking green block-style cursor in front of you, making it easy to just write. No distractions, no menubars, no Firefox windows in the background…just the appearance of typing on an old Apple //e. It’s what I used to write this and my last post on being lost in Virginia, and I’m very pleased with it.

–Speaking of writing, I want to continue to thank the people who read twelve:one, whether regularly or just passing through. And thanks to those who have put me on their blogrolls. Honestly, I am frequently surprised and humbled by the stats that show up in my dashboard when I check it. Someone from China viewed one of my entries through Google translator the other day. How cool is that?!? Also, the fact that I average roughly 20-35 hits daily for one entry alone (“To Write Love On Her Arms“) is indicative of a) the growing amount of exposure for the organization, and b) the aching need many have in our society…and communities and workplaces and households…for signs that hope and rescue can be something they can experience. If you’re one of those people, I hope you can find such signs in the joy of this season—which, I know, isn’t joyous for everyone. If you’re not one of those people, then, please, be that sign to someone. Smile, or offer a hand or an ear or your time this Christmas and into the New Year.

Anyway, back to the writing…:) Thanks for reading and for your comments made both on and off the record. It is through your encouragement that I’ve decided to look into media production for OCF and to minor in journalism. Basically, you’ve helped this writer get a slightly better handle on his future than he would have had otherwise. Thank you.

–It’s Christmas. It’s the celebration of when love and grace and redemption broke into our chaotic world. By the Incarnation—and the Resurrection—we are moved to freely love, serve, and forgive. Even if you’re not Christian, I ask that you consider allowing these things to break into your life. Let go of bitterness and malice and rage and slander and vengeance…and let go of yourself. Embrace the unspeakable wonder that is selfless love. For those who want to lengthen their days, it’s an imperative. (Research actually shows this time and again.) In fact, some say you can live forever if you desire that your life be transformed by Love. But, even if you’ve no interest in true Christianity, give love a shot. It’s amazing how much your existing world, with all its bitterness and cares and worries and vendettas, can crumble, while a new one is built up in the place of the old one. Yeah, you’ll likely still have some of those things for a while, maybe as long as you live. But you’ll be a million times better the more you can let go and forgive in love. Try to be a humble example of redemption to someone you know.

–Ill leave you with this hymn, one that we Orthodox will hear plenty over the next week:

Thy Nativity, O Christ our God,

Has shown to the world the light of wisdom.

For by it those who worshipped the stars,

Were taught by a star to adore Thee,

The Sun of Righteousness.

And to know Thee the Orient from on high,

O Lord, Glory to Thee!

Troparion for Christmas Day

Merry Christmas. Christ is born! Glorify him!

OCF Shadows

Real prayer, of course, does not come readily. It is no simple matter to preserve inspiration while surrounded by the icy waters of the world that does not pray. Christ cast the Divine Fire on earth, and we pray Him so to fire our hearts that we may not be overcome even by cosmic cold, that no black cloud blot out the bright flame.

Of all approaches to God prayer is the best and in the last analysis the only means. In the act of prayer the human mind finds its noblest expression. The mental state of the scientist engaged in research, of the artist creating a work of art, of the thinker wrapped up in philosophy—even of professional theologians propounding their doctrines—cannot be compared to that of the man of prayer brought face to Face with the living God. Each and every kind of mental activity presents less of a strain than prayer. We may be capable of working for ten or twelve hours on end but a few moments of prayer and we are exhausted.

Prayer can accomplish all things. It is possible for any of us lacking in natural talent to obtain through prayer supranatural gifts. Where we encounter a deficiency of rational knowledge we should do well to remember that prayer, independently of man’s intellectual capacity, can bring a higher form of cognition. There is the province of reflex consciousness, of demonstrative argument; and there is the province where prayer is the passageway to direct contemplation of divine truth.

Archimandrite Sophrony, His Life Is Mine, Ch. 6

Fr. Stephen is getting ready for the wedding of his son to his lovely bride-to-be. Today, he reflected on this and on parenting in general. But, as usual, his words reach to deeper territories than the matter at hand:

…it is still the case that grace has a way of trumping both our best efforts and sometimes our worst failures.

I can look at my own life and see any number of places where events could have turned on the spot in such a manner to have changed the entire course of my life for the worse. On the one hand it says that in certain times in my life I sailed a little close to the edge (this is true). But it also says that despite my own efforts to damn my soul, God saved me. And this is the witness of Scripture, that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

Link

When I was in Chicago recently, I was involved in a conversation with a local Methodist lady who happened to decide to come to the ACAAC conference and was asking all manner of questions about Orthodoxy. At one point, a couple of people also engaged in the discussion mentioned the word “feeling.” What it “feels” like to worship in the Church. The “experience” that you have.

I readily admitted that the use of the phrase and the notion of “feeling” and “experiencing” things in the church made me cringe. I saw far too many people get too focused on that aspect in my years as a Protestant. But, I was just as readily reassured that “feeling” and “experience” were meant in a different context. I kind of got what they said, but I guess it was slightly acquiescent for me not to pursue that point further than I did.

Fr. Stephen posted a wonderful reflection on what it means to really want to “know” and “experience” God. I think my befuddlement is fairly defused now. 🙂

Glory to God for All Things: “To Know God”

A timely word (for me, anyway) from Fr. Stephen about not resting on your own abilities to stand up to the tempations and challeneges of life.  May it bless and encourage you, as well.

“On Hope in God Alone and On Confidence in Him”

On the first evening of our trip, we visited St. Athanasius in Nicholasville, KY. It was good to see the priest, who used to serve at our home parish. We were also blessed by the kindness of strangers when the subdeacon offered to take us in for the night so that we wouldn’t have to spring for a hotel room.After vespers, we were hanging out in the parish hall talking to some of the parishioners. One of the members we spoke to that really impressed us was the 8 year-old son of a military chaplain. His name was Ethan.

This kid was sharp. He not only built a submarine out of Legos, but he explained what different parts were and how important they were to the function of the ship. When I asked what he wanted to be when he grows up, he said a paleontologist. He then starting talking about his love of dinosaurs, that he loves them more than any other subject in the world.

As Ethan’s dad and my friend Kevin continued to talk have discussions about military chaplainry and the faculty at St. Vladimir Seminary, Ethan very confidently explained to me that he could build a brachiosaurus out of the Legos. So, I asked to see it.

As he built, I filmed him with my digital camera. Afterward, I sped it up and added some original music. The YouTube video appears below. If you watch it, pay attention to how he’ll stop and describe different things. Also notice his mannerisms when he takes a break from building to discuss something with Kevin.

He’s a very bright and self-assured intelligent boy. He made me wish I was that cool when I was 8 years old. (Or that I was that cool now. 😉 )

I wish we could have stayed longer, but we had to press on to Chicago. Hopefully, I’ll be back soon and be able to meet some of the newer parishioners I didn’t get a chance to talk to, as well as catch up with the ones I’ve seen on other visits.