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Category Archives: Religion

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!

Here’s an ad for an upcoming OCF event at UT.  Come and check it out if you get the chance.  7 pm on Thursday Feb. 21


Profound Despair

Last night, my girlfriend Tiffany counseled a friend of hers who is undergoing a massive personal and emotional crisis.  I won’t go into details.  But, the situation reminded me that many students have been through situations that I can’t imagine bearing.  And it brought to mind this passage from one of my favorite books.

May God have mercy on all those who suffer tonight.

I want other people to be happy. I tell my friends who are religious or spiritual but haven’t yet found anything like this to wait, to pray, to meditate, to try to clear their minds of whatever is blocking them from their own happiness. Often, it’s stress—school, with its homework keeping us up till 3 AM, or people, relationships, parents. And to older people, it all sounds so trivial! Here we are, comfortable, affluent, well-fed, even bored, and we couldn’t be more miserable. Do adults understand this? I like to think that they at least wonder about it, whatever answers they come up with. Most adults seem surprised, even shocked by the depth of emotion that people my age experience. We’re not always eloquent, but we get across the message in scars and suicide attempts and overdoses.

A Tiny Step Away From Deepest Faith: A Teenager’s Search For Meaning by Marjorie Corbman

He walked past the couch to the open window, and held up the drooping stalk of a moss-rose, looking down at the dainty blend of crimson and green. It was a new phase of his character to me, for I had never before seen him show any keen interest in natural objects.

“There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as in religion,” said he, leaning with his back against the shutters. “It can be built up as an exact science by the reasoner. Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its color are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.”

“The Naval Treaty,” from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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”

Virginia Tech Memorial

Amidst all the reflection on what happened yesterday and in similar horrific acts (Columbine, Paducah, etc.), the following poem by Steve Turner came to mind. So, I offer it today.


“Creed”
by Steve Turner

This is the creed I have written on behalf of all us.

We believe in Marxfreudanddarwin
We believe everything is OK
as long as you don’t hurt anyone,
to the best of your definition of hurt,
and to the best of your knowledge.

We believe in sex before, during, and after marriage.
We believe in the therapy of sin.
We believe that adultery is fun.
We believe that sodomy is OK.
We believe that taboos are taboo.

We believe that everything is getting better
despite evidence to the contrary.
The evidence must be investigated
And you can prove anything with evidence.

We believe there’s something in
horoscopes, UFO’s and bent spoons;
Jesus was a good man
just like Buddha, Mohammed, and ourselves.
He was a good moral teacher
although we think His good morals were bad.

We believe that all religions are basically the same–
at least the one that we read was.
They all believe in love and goodness.
They only differ on matters of
creation, sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation.

We believe that after death comes the Nothing
Because when you ask the dead what happens they say nothing.
If death is not the end, if the dead have lied,
then it’s compulsory heaven for all
excepting perhaps Hitler, Stalin, and Genghis Khan.

We believe in Masters and Johnson.
What’s selected is average.
What’s average is normal.
What’s normal is good.

We believe in total disarmament.
We believe there are direct links between warfare and bloodshed.
Americans should beat their guns into tractors
and the Russians would be sure to follow.

We believe that man is essentially good.
It’s only his behavior that lets him down.
This is the fault of society.
Society is the fault of conditions.
Conditions are the fault of society.

We believe that each man must find the truth that is right for him.
Reality will adapt accordingly.
The universe will readjust.
History will alter.
We believe that there is no absolute truth
excepting the truth that there is no absolute truth.

We believe in the rejection of creeds,
and the flowering of individual thought.

“Chance” a post-script

If chance be the Father of all flesh,
disaster is his rainbow in the sky,
and when you hear

State of Emergency!
Sniper Kills Ten!
Troops on Rampage!
Whites go Looting!
Bomb Blasts School!

It is but the sound of man worshiping his maker.

SF in Charlotte

This is in response to a blog posted on MySpace by one of my best friends. I was actually going to respond on his blog, but I decided to just paste it here. So bear in mind that this is a continuation of an ongoing conversation. For that reason, forgive me if anything is unclear.

I ask that you give it a good read before moving on.

Relevantism (Part 2)

Truly, we are aliens in this world. This place is not our ultimate home. Yet, still, here we are. I think that sometimes we lose sight of the fact that this world, in a way, is our home for now. Don’t get me wrong…we (Christians) live in the Kingdom of God. We live for the Kingdom of God. Our every step is to be taken being mindful that we are His body and that we each are to strive to be an image of Him. But, we are still physically in this world. We are surrounded by countless well-meaning and hurting and seeking people who are shut out by the modern “Christian” culture. [Which, as I think about it, isn’t always so Christian…I think of when our Lord said “whatever ye do to the least of these…” I don’t always see those who say they are Christians caring one whit about the least of these, from donations to major charities all the way down to saying a kind word to a person on the street. (Alas, I, too, am guilty of this.) Some only seem to care about doing things so that God will bless them. Ugh! But, I digress…]

So much to say…this cuts to the heart of things that have been going through my head lately. And, not just lately, but for years. But, I’ll try to keep it short.

You talk about loving those who don’t love in return. One of the things that struck me about the attitude of the Orthodox Christian Church very early on was a certain point in the Divine Liturgy (which is what the Sunday service is called). The priest came out and said a quick set of prayers (kind of like brother Toby will in the middle of the morning service, except these are the same every week). Among those prayers, he said the following (or, close to it…I can’t remember all of it right now, even though I hear it every Sunday…I think the first part might be missing):

“Those who love us, those who hate us,
those who’ve asked our prayers, unworthy though we may be,
those for whom we pray,
those for whom we forget to pray,
may the Lord God remember in His kingdom,
always, now and ever,
and unto ages of ages.”

Though it’s seldom heard in modern Christianity, this is to be our attitude. Christ calls us to forgive without any expectation of payment or recompense of any kind. (This would also include even the acknowledgement by the offending party that they’ve done wrong and asking us to forgive them.) Likewise, He calls us to love all in the same way, the just and the unjust, just as His Father causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust, the sun to rise on the good and the wicked.

We are to be the light of the world just as He is. The light that shines on us and in us doesn’t glow from afar, ensconced in some pretty glass container that we can only walk up to and admire the beauty of. Rather, it is freely given and illumines all of creation. It touches us and warms us and, if we allow it to, it melts the ice that forms around our hearts when we become embittered or self-righteous.

We have to engage the culture around us, or Christianity will become more and more of, and only, a separate culture in the eyes of the world around us. The veil of the temple was torn in two when Christ commended His life into the hands of the Father, allowing access to God at any time by anyone (through Christ, of course). Yet, when some Christians give their lives to Christ, almost the opposite seems to happen. They shut everyone out except their church, taking their newly found life and keeping it all for themselves. If we do this as Christians, how then will we fulfill the commandment to go and make disciples of all nations (and cultures, and people groups, and cities, and ghettos, and cliques, and ages, and sexual orientations, and races, etc…)?

I just thought of something…

You remember the old VBS and day care days of singing “This Little Light of Mine” with a room full of people? I would say a lot of people have lost the point-of-view expressed in the song (which also is a teaching of Christ). And, what we’re seeing is a Christian counter-culture…if you will…that is trying to regain that mindset and live it out day-by-day and trust that, in the words of Jars of Clay lead singer Dan Haseltine, “God will call His own to Himself.” If they don’t live it…if we don’t live it…I would say we’re not really taking up our cross, which Christ said we must do to be His followers.

On the website for the organization To Write Love On Her Arms, you find this in the FAQ, and I think it’s a pretty good summation of all that we’re saying here:

Q. Is TWLOHA Christian?
A. We feel that the story (and the rest of this project) speaks for itself. Identifying something (such as a band, store, venue or project) as “Christian” often alienates those outside of the church/christian culture and we don’t want to do that. TWLOHA aims to be inclusive and inviting. This is a project for all people. This is a project for broken people, and it is led by broken people.

And Christianity is the same. As I’ve said before, we should not have to say all the time what we believe, or wear WWJD bracelets, or shout the name of Jesus everywhere we go, or write blogs about youth conferences. Jesus said that we will be known as His disciples only (as this was His only comment on the matter as far as I know) if we love one another as He has loved us. One another. Not just the good, the holy, the believer, the straight, the narrow-minded, the sane, the white, the normal-looking, the middle class, the choir member, the college single, the whatever. But, one another. The man standing next to you on the bus. The lady at the grocery store. The guy who cuts you off in traffic during Friday rush hour. Everyone.

This is a bold statement, but I feel the need to say it. I would say that not, at the very least, desiring to be formed into the image of the One who is Love that we might truly and wholly love one another in the way discussed above is an attitude that is entirely not Christian.

So, the movement toward being relevant is not so much just people wanting to blend in. But they see something wrong with the way things have been done before and they’re trying to remedy that. As my priest, Fr. Stephen Freeman, said recently, “We all need to pray and do the best we can to present God in truth and in love. The world is in crisis.”

Amen.

Icon of the Nativity of Christ

This is one of the hymns I sang today in church:

The Virgin lays Thee
in the manger of dumb beasts,
O Word of God without beginning,
Who in a manner beyond understanding
chooses to begin in the flesh.

Thou art come to loose me
from the fetters of evil
with which the envious serpent bound me;
Thou, O lover of man,
art wrapped in swaddling clothes,
tearing to pieces the bonds of my countless sins.

Therefore, I joyfully praise and worship
Thy holy birth,
for Thou didst come to set me free.

I love the imagery in the wording of this hymn. It’s so striking, the thought of the Word of God made flesh lying in a place used by animals that can’t speak.
Also, the picture of the Babe bound in swaddling clothes, yet He’s the One that came to unbind me from death and sin.

But, more than the imagery, I love the Truth of it, that Christ didn’t come into the world to make bad people good, but to make dead people live.

May we strive each day to diligently seek Him as our only Life and Hope. For, if we do this, we shall surely find Him. (Prov. 8:17)

Merry Christmas to all of you. May God bless, protect, and keep you this season as you travel and spend time with family.

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Jeffrey

Earlier this evening, while I was eating dinner, my mom asked me if I was going to pick up my brother tomorrow afternoon to bring him to a family gathering. I sighed a sorry “Yeah.”

“Well, you don’t have to if you don’t want to,” she said, picking up on my obvious begrudgement.

“Aw, mom, you know how I am with him sometimes.”

I’ll admit. Sometimes, I don’t like being around my brother, or even talking to him extensively. Don’t get me wrong; I love him and would be in agony if anything were to ever happen to him. But, sometimes, he does much to make bearing him difficult. Sometimes his behavior is devisive and can take a sociopathic bent. He’s not a sociopath by any means. But, the tendency lies there underneath a vicious drug habit from which he is currently recovering. It’s usually only when things happen that appear to be the outworking of his illness that his company or conversation irritates me. Yet, that’s not really an excuse, as my mom quickly reminded me.

“Well, what did your blog say yesterday?” she pointedly asked.

I think I shrank to the size of a Hummel figurine. At least, that’s how small I felt. Yet, I’m one to try to make light of many things, including rightful indictment.

“How dare you convict me using my own words. That’s against the rules!” I said, with a semi-genuine laugh.

Then, as she retreated to her room for the night, I asked God to forgive me and to help me love my brother as much outwardly as much as I do inwardly.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.