Lies We Tell Ourselves #10: “A personal relationship with Jesus is a PROTESTANT idea!”

Evangelical Christians have certainly run with the idea of a “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ but this doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

Together with baptism, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the starting point of our life in Christ. This means that when we are asked by our Evangelical friends and neighbors “Have you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?” our should be to say—truthfully—“Yes!”

But remember, this is the first step and the first step isn’t invalid because it is only a beginning.

Think of it this way.

A toddler says “Mommy I love you!” This no less valid, no less true because when that same child, now as an adult, says “It’s okay mom, you don’t need to hang on anymore. Go be with dad. Mommy, I love you!”

All starting points are deficient because they are the first step. But without that first step, our relationship God can’t blossom. We can’t grow and mature in our Christian life until we take that first step and enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ.

“From this time forth, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all.” St Herman of Alaska

For a fuller explanation of this and for the rest of my talk:

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Lies We Tell Ourselves #9: “But my priest is my spiritual father!”

It’s better to think of your priest not as a spiritual father along the monastic lines but as a coach. Yes, the problem we ALL suffer is we are willful but the solution is not to become will-less (i.e., “obedient”) but willing.

We need to become ever more willing and able to say “YES!” to God’s will for our lives.

In this process, our parish priest through celebrating the services, through preaching, teaching, in confession and by the example of his life is there to help us discern God’s will for our lives and then to help us fulfill that will.

But, as a priest, I can’t do this without your participation. This means more than just you, personally, coming to talk with me. To do my job as your coach, I need EVERYBODY to suit up and take to the field.

We must ALL want to know and do the will of God for our lives and we must ALL want to help each other discern and fulfill what God wants from each of us personally.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Lies We Tell Ourselves #8: “Well, all I really need to do is be obedient to my priest!

Let me be blunt, most Orthodox priests have little or no training in pastoral counseling or psychotherapy. Much less do must of us have any substantial preparation as spiritual fathers.

This is important because, in the hands of an inexperienced or ill-prepared priest, obedience is a recipe for great and lasting harm for the layperson, the parish and the priest himself.

So if obedience isn’t a good idea, what do we owe to our priest?

I think we owe our priest–or at least I want as a priest–is not obedience but deference. What do I mean by deference?

In the absence of compelling evidence to the contrary, I think the priest should get his way in the day-to-day administration of the parish. Why is this?

Simply because when things go south, the priest is the one who has to deal with the mess. This doesn’t mean the parish council and the parishioner don’t have a role to play. It just means that, as a rule, it is the pastor who has to keep track of things.

And in our daily lives, in our spiritual lives, what do we owe the priest? We should give due consideration to what our priest tells us. By his education and his role in the community, the priest often has insights into the spiritual life that we don’t have. But this doesn’t mean he should have the last word in our lives.

Does this mean we shouldn’t be obedient? God forbid we think this!

We must be obedient but we owe our obedience first to God, then to conscience, and finally to the Tradition of Church. And priest? His vocation is to help guide us as we learn to be obedient Orthodox Christians. 

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Remembering God

SDecember 2 (O.S., November 19) 2018: 27th Sunday after Pentecost; Prophet Obadiah (9th c. B.C.). Martyr Barlaam (304). Martyr Heliodorus (273). Martyr Azes, and with him 150 soldiers (284). Ven. Barlaam and Monk loasaph, prince of India, and St. Abenner the King, father of St. loasaph (4thc.). Ven. Hilarion of Georgia, wonderworker of Thessalonica (875). Ven. Barlaam, abbot of the Kyiv Caves (1065).

Ss Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Church, Madison WI

Epistle: Ephesians 6:10-17

Gospel: Luke 12:16-21

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Sometimes what Jesus doesn’t say can be as important as what He does say. The parable we hear this morning is a case in point.

The Rich Fool is not condemned for his care and skill as a farmer; he is a good workman “and the worker is worth his wages” (see Luke 10:7; 1 Timothy 5:18). And anticipating a great harvest, he carefully assesses the cost and not only lays a foundation but successfully builds his barns (see Luke 14:28-29).

All of this is to say that, in a different context, the farmer’s actions are not only prudent but commendable. In his actions at least, the farmer is the model of the “wise and prudent steward” who being trustworthy in small things, is judge able to be faithful in great things as well (see Luke 16:1-13).

Nor is there any indication that the farmer failed in his obligation to pay tithes or care for the poor. Jesus doesn’t say of the farmer what He says to the scribes and Pharisees, the hypocrites who “pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith” (see, Matthew 23:23).

Nor is the farmer condemned for the mere fact that he is wealthy.

No by all outward appearances, the rich farmer is a good man and an observant Jew. But God doesn’t judge by appearances (see 1 Samuel 16:7), God knows not only what we do but what is in our hearts (see Jeremiah 17:10, Proverbs 21:2, 1 Corinthians 2:11).

And in his heart, the farmer is a fool. In his heart, this otherwise good man and obedient son of the Law says “there is no God” (Psalm 14:1, Psalm 53:1). Tragically, the Rich Fool loses his salvation, he suffers condemnation, not for what he does but for his forgetfulness of God.

Like the Rich Fool, we are all of us tempted to live as if there was no God. We are all of us inclined to a life of “practical atheism.”

We sometimes imagine that our evangelical task is to correct theological errors. While the teachings of the Church are important, they are in a sense secondary. What is primary is that people remember God.

I know from my own life, it is easy enough to go through my day forgetful of God, to live the life of practical atheism that I mentioned a moment ago.

Living in Madison, we encounter everyday men and women who are generous of heart and who work tirelessly for the betterment of others. Whatever else might be said of the Madison in general and the University in particular, the practical love of neighbor is at the very center of both.

And yet, how many of our neighbors live not such much indifferent to God as unaware of His presence in their lives? As a consequence, they never know that they are loved by the Creator of the Universe?

St John Chrysostom says that when Jesus calls us the “salt of the earth” (see, Matthew 5:13) He means this: While He has redeemed the world by His death and resurrection, it belongs to us keep the world falling back into corruption. We are not the redeemers of the world, we are not called to save anyone.

What we are called to do, is to remind people of the presence of God in their lives. By our words and especially are deeds (see, James 2:14-22), we are witnesses to not simply the presence of God in human affairs but His great love for each and every single human being.

To be faithful to our calling we need to remember not only that everyone we meet is loved by God but that, turning now to the epistle, the opponent in our evangelical work is not other people but the enemy of souls. We “do not wrestle against flesh and blood,” St Paul reminds us, “but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

When we remind people of God’s presence and love in their lives, we oppose no one but the devil who with his fallen angels seeks to distract humanity from experiencing God’s love. In his envy of us, the enemy of souls makes himself the opponent of patience, kindness, and courtesy in our hearts, our families, and society.

In opposing the distractions of the devil, we become not only leaven for a more just and humane society (see, Luke 13:20–21) but co-workers with God for the salvation of the world (see 1 Corinthians 3:9).

My brothers and sisters in Christ! We have one task and one task alone: To remind people of the loving presence of God not simply in the life of all we meet. We are called to remind people that God dwells in each human heart.

By our witness, we invite people to enter into their own hearts and there find there the God Who from before the beginning of the world loves them and called them, even as He has called us, to live lives that are”holy and without blame” (see, Ephesians 1:4).

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Lies We Tell Ourselves #7: “But, we called to interiorized monasticism!”

Monastic life is NOT the foundation of the Church marriage and family life are. In fact, monastic life–like the Church itself–is modeled after the family.

This means that we need are strong marriages which in turn can be the foundation of strong families. And it is from healthy expressions of marriage and family life that we can have strong, healthy parishes, dioceses, local Churches and, yes, monasteries.

St Ignatius of Antioch is a help here:

Do not err, my brothers. Those that corrupt families shall not inherit the kingdom of God. If, then, those who do this in regard to the flesh have suffered death, how much more shall this be he case with anyone who corrupts the faith of God, for which Jesus Christ was crucified, by wicked doctrine? Such a person, becoming defiled, shall go away into everlasting fire and so shall everyone that listens to him (St Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Ephesians 16).

Simply put, we corrupt families and parishes, when we make monastic life the model for our life in Christ.

For a fuller explanation of this and for the rest of my talk:

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory