Lies We Tell Ourselves: #5 “God Wants Us to Be Happy!”

Yes, God loves us.

Yes, God love us, yes, wants us to be happy and yes, He wants us to be successful. 

But all of this comes on God’s terms not my own.

Unfortunately, too many Orthodox Christians have bought into the idea God’s love for them means God wants them to be happy and successful on their terms rather than His. We usually don’t say this explicitly.

But how often have we heard someone say “God doesn’t judge?” when what they meant is “Do what you want”?

Let me offer myself as an example.

I’m the pastor of a small mission on the campus of UW-Madison. Being on campus is important but presents a number of challenges.  Pastoral challenges aside, it’s expensive to be right by the university. This means that my community will probably never be large, never have a great building.  And while we are on campus for students—and my parishioners are enthusiastic about serving students—it is simply hard to get students involved in the life of the Church. 

These challenges help me remember that true and lasting happiness and success only come from fidelity to what God has called us to do. AND NOTHING ELSE.

Lies We Tell Ourselves: #4 “It’s About Culture!”

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Lies We Tell Ourselves: #3 “Just tell the Truth!”

  While religious education and apologetics are both important, we need to be careful that we don’t confuse saying things which are true with “speaking the truth in love.” When Jesus speaks to someone, even when He tells them a hard truth (“Go sell all you have”) He is speaking as someone who has a deep, intimate knowledge to the person. When Jesus speaks, He speaks as the God Who has called that person “out of non-existence into being” (Liturgy St John Chrysostom) and Who knitted him together in his “mother’s womb” (Ps 139:13). And He does all this so that we can grow and become Who He has created us to be. In Christ, +Fr Gregory

Message By His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew On the 85th Anniversary of the Holodomor

 

(UOCUSA) Beloved children in the Lord: May God’s grace and peace be with you.

As every year, we are communicating with all of you with a heavy heart from the historic and martyric Mother Church of Constantinople while prayerfully commemorating the Holodomor of the Ukrainian People, the tragic and inhumane events of the years 1932-1933, when countless human beings lost their lives through deliberate and brutal famine.  This tragedy inscribes itself among other atrocities against humanity and God’s creation committed over the twentieth century, the most violent in history thus far.

As we pray for the repose of the victims’ souls and for the healing of this painful wound in the conscience of your blessed Nation, we remind all people of goodwill that the Church does not tolerate injustice or any type of force that undermines social cohesion.  Rather, it underscores the social teaching of the Christian Gospel and promotes diakonia and philanthropy. Orthodoxy’s responsibility is to serve as a positive challenge for contemporary humankind, a God-inspired perspective of life and an expression of authentic freedom.

When remembering the past and learning from its tragedies, we ought to move ahead into the future with compassion and forgiveness.  For, it is in the Church, the mystical Body of Christ, that we are spared from sorrow and suffering, while at the same time we find strength to forgive and love all people.  Our Ecumenical Patriarchate is strong because it has a sacrificial love and acts through humility and the Cross.  His story is filled with martyrdom and sacrifice for the world, for all peoples and for all nations.  The Church of Constantinople, as the Mother Church, is the incarnation of the free love of Christ, who does not crucify but is crucified, who sacrifices His soul for His friends – for all men.

For this reason, it is inconceivable that the Ecumenical Throne – which according to the Holy Canons is responsible for the unity and stability of Orthodoxy – would remain indifferent when an Orthodox people, such as the Ukrainian people, suffer and seek a solution to the ecclesiastical problems that have tormented them for centuries.  Therefore, we intervene by obligation – always on the basis of authentically ecclesiastical, truly universal and purely supra – national criteria – for the truth and tradition of the Church, the defense of canonical order and the identity of Orthodoxy, all for the purpose of building up the body of Christ, not for ourselves and not for demonstrating worldly strength and power.  By remaining indifferent, we would be left with no excuse before God and history.

This great responsibility of the Mother Church, the Holy and Great Church of Christ, certainly has no limits.  That is why, just as we have granted autocephaly to all local Churches, the Holy and Sacred Synod has similarly decided to grant autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, which is tormented in many ways, so that she, too, may join the plentitude of Orthodoxy in unity and internal peace.  Only the First Throne of Orthodoxy, the Church of Constantinople, holds this high responsibility according to the Holy and Sacred Canons.

May God grant rest to the souls of all the victims of the Holodomor, and may He grant all of you, dear children, patience in trials, as well as love and forgiveness for one another.  May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  Amen.

At the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the 24thof November, 2018

The fervent supplicant befoe God,

+BARTHOLOMEW

Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch

God’s Love Revealed in Us

November 11 (October 29), 2018: 24th Sunday after Pentecost. Virgin-martyr Anastasia the Roman (256). Ven. Abramius the Recluse (360) and his niece St. Mary, of Mesopotamia (397). Martyrs Claudius, Asterius, Neon, and Theonilla, of Aegae in Cilicia (285). Ven. Anna (known as Euphemianus) of Constantinople (826). Ven. Abramius, archimandrite of Rostov (1073). Ven. Abramius, recluse of the Kyiv.

Ss Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Mission,  Madison, WI

Epistle: Ephesians 2:14-22
Gospel: Luke 8:26-39

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Based on how they treated the demoniac, the Gadarenes are not unkind people. Rather than drive him out of their land–or worse, kill him–they made an effort to keep him from harming himself or other people.

The “chains and shackles” they used to restrain him, however, were insufficient. Freed from his restraints, the man is “driven by the demon into the wilderness.” It is here, away from the constraints of civilization that he finds Jesus and the disciples.

The fundamental kindness of Gadarenes is important because it testifies to what St Justin Martyr will teach toward the end of the second century. Just as God prepares the Jewish People through the revelation of the Law, He prepares the Gentiles through philosophy and a love of virtue.

But just as the Law was only a preparation, so too the love of virtue. Both prepare the human heart to receive Christ but neither is, in itself, sufficient. One must still personally and freely welcome Christ.

When we look at the Old Testament as a preparation for the Gospel one of the things we notice is the materiality of God’s grace.

In the beginning, as the late Fr Alexander Schmemann points out, divine grace takes the form of food and drink: “every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food” (Genesis 1:29, NKJV). And even though we rebel against God and are expelled from the Garden, God continues to share His grace with us through the good things of the earth.

Slowly through the centuries, God teaches us the goodness of creation. By steps, we learn that the creation is part and parcel of divine grace. Creation in each of its parts, a physical manifestation of God’s mercy and love. The goodness of creation anticipates the Incarnation of the Son.

What do we learn from creation?

We learn of the goodness of marriage and family life; the joy of seeing our children’s children grow to maturity (see Psalm 126:6, Proverbs 17:6).

We learn the joy of wine–new and old; of festivals and feasts.

And we experience the blessing of wealth, of social prominence and political power. And yes, we even learn the goodness of military might and victory of our enemies when they are also the enemies of God.

But together with this, we learn the limits of creation. Good though all these things are, their goodness is circumscribed. These smaller good things point beyond themselves to the singular Good of Jesus Christ.

Make no mistake though. God prepares us to receive Christ by teaching us the real goodness of creation. Before humanity able to receive Christ, however, we had to learn the joys and sorrows of marriage and family life. We needed to learn the possibilities, limits, and temptations of wealth and power before our hearts are open to receive our Savior.

All that God gives the Jewish People, He gives, as St Paul tells us, to break “down the middle wall of separation” between humanity and God and to create from humanity the Church, the “dwelling place of God in the Spirit” in creation.

And just as God slowly teaches this to the Jewish People through the Law, He teaches these same lessons to the Gentiles through philosophy and their love of virtue.

So why, if God has done all this, do the Gadarenes not receive Christ but instead ask Him to leave? Why of they afraid of He Who is the fulfillment of all the good things in their lives?

The answer is hidden in the heart’s secret place. We can’t say with any certitude why the Gadarenes behaved as they did. What we can do though is suggest a possible answer.

Sometimes in the spiritual life, we become so impressed, so enamored, with the grandeur of God’s revelation that we miss the smaller moments of His grace. This shouldn’t surprise us. It is something that frequently happens to each of us.

We are often so overwhelmed by events in the world around us–say in the political realm–or by all that we need to do in our professional or personal lives, that we miss the small moments.

Let me suggest this. Jesus comes to us in the small moments; He speaks to us not in a loud voice but “a gentle whisper” that we, that I, often fail to hear.

Given all this, it isn’t a surprise that the Gadarenes fail to receive Christ. So focused are they on the large things of life, they miss the small occasions of divine grace and mercy that make up their lives and indeed each human life. Even the life of one possessed by the demons.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! The smallest act of grace in your life is, well, you. Before God reveals His love to you in the grand sweep of your life or even the myriad events that make up that life, He reveals His love for you in a way that is so intimate that you easily overlook it.

You see God’s first word of love to you is you.

The most basic revelation of God’s love for you is you. God’s love for you was first revealed to you when He knitted you together in your mother’s womb (Jeremiah 1:5, Psalm 139:13-18).

The Gadarenes turn away from Christ because they don’t know this about themselves.

And just as with the Gadarenes, we still today turn away from Christ because we haven’t yet come to know that our lives, in all its details, are the first revelation of God’s love for us.

Like the Gadarenes, we turn away from Jesus not because of this or that element of His teaching or witness. No, people turn away from Jesus because they don’t yet know who they are. In not knowing that their life a sign of God’s love for them, they don’t know who they are.

Who are they? Who are we? For all our shortcomings and failures, we are the revelation of God’s personal and superabundant love in Jesus Christ for the whole human family.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory