Just do what you can

In the Old Testament Joshua makes his commitment to the Lord loud and clear: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” How wonderful it is when whole households commit themselves to serving the Lord, not just on holy days, not just in name only, but every step of every day.

The reality for many believers, though, is that in their devotion to Christ, they’re in the minority at home. They might be a minority of one. Needless to say, this can be challenging. Finding a time and a place to pray can be difficult. Stewardship decisions, giving to support church life and to help the needy, can be even harder. Fasting can be feel like pushing a boulder up a steep incline.

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Serving God’s will… one way or another

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Two days before the feast of the Holy Cross, the daily Gospel reading comes from the Book of John. The reading finds the Jewish religious authorities plotting how to deal with the “problem” of Jesus.

John writes that, “Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all; you do not understand that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.’ … So from that day on they took counsel how to put Jesus to death.”

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“All generations will call me blessed”

Today we celebrate the birth of Mary, the Mother of God. In the Orthodox Church, we speak of Mary as “Theotokos,” God-bearer. This honorific emphasizes that the one born of her was the Son of God himself. Christ’s incarnation did not begin on the day of his birth, but nine months earlier, at the moment of his conception. Mary carried God himself in her womb.

The Orthodox Church’s reverence for Mary is grounded in some very important Biblical teachings. First, in the Gospel of Luke, Mary herself prophecies that “all generations will call me blessed.” Those who adhere to a completely literal interpretation of the Bible should take note. Honoring Mary for her singular role in our salvation–the calling to be the mother of the world’s Savior–is a scriptural directive for “all generations.”

Another bit of scripture that comes into play when considering how Christians should view Mary is the Ten Commandments, specifically number five: “Honor your father and your mother.” It is clear from the Gospels that Jesus had a deep love for his mother. At the beginning of his earthly ministry, it is at the prompting of Mary that Jesus performs his first miracle, when he changed water into wine at a wedding feast. At the conclusion of his earthly ministry, in the midst of unimaginable physical and spiritual suffering on the cross, Jesus took the time to entrust his mother to the care of the Evangelist John.

Ultimately Mary is to be honored for her faithful obedience to the Lord’s will. Having heard God’s word for her, that she was called to give birth to the Messiah, she diligently kept it in her life. Mary wasn’t just a passive vessel for Jesus’ entrance into the world, but she was a continuous presence (and we can even say influence) in his earthly ministry.

Christians are members of the body of Christ. We share an intimate fellowship with him, a communion. Through Christ, we call God our Heavenly Father. Does it not make sense that through him we would also honor his mother, Mary, as our own mother?

Mary pondered in her heart all of those things she knew about Jesus and saw unfold in his life. She also holds close to her heart the hopes and fears, the successes and failures, of all those who are her spiritual children through her son.

Without a doubt, the work of Mary’s son, our Lord Jesus Christ, is of infinitely greater importance to us in our salvation. But it’s good to know that we have the “highly-favored one” herself in our corner as well.

At every season and every hour

Prayer for any Hour-sm

The Orthodox Church has prayers for the beginning of life, and for its end. We have prayers at the start of the day, and at its conclusion. We have special prayers when beginning any work, and prayers when our work is done. There are prayers for those who are sick, for married couples, for people starting businesses, and the list goes on and on, covering numerous situations. Then, just to be sure, we also have the above prayer for any time.

There is never a time that is inappropriate to turn to the Lord in prayer. Along with his eternal Father, and his all-holy Spirit, Christ deserves all the praise and worship we can muster. Likewise, every step of the way we need his mercy, granting us wholeness of soul and body, keeping our thoughts on track, and planting us firmly in the faith.

To God be all glory–at all times, in all places, under all circumstances–both in this world and in the age to come. Amen.

Walking the walk

Christians spend a lot of time and resources developing optimum tools and techniques for evangelization.

Back in the fourth century, St. John Chrysostom identified the one critical ingredient. Without it, no amount of funding, programming, or resources are going to be worth a hill of beans.

We have to walk the walk.

Happy New (Church) Year!

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September 1 marks the beginning of the Eastern Orthodox Church’s liturgical year. The day’s Gospel reading comes from the book of Luke, and it centers on a moment (appropriately enough) at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He is in the synagogue and reads the following from the prophet Isaiah, concerning the Lord’s Messiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

After the reading, Jesus says to the congregation, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” In other words, “The Savior that the prophets foretold, and that you’ve all been waiting for, is here… and that Savior is me.” You can imagine that if anyone wasn’t paying attention up to that point, they were paying attention then.

Isaiah’s thumbnail sketch of the Messiah’s work is a promise of what the seasons of the Church year have to offer. Through the cycles of feasting and fasting we discover the possibility of hearing the Good News, of experiencing liberation from the captivity of sin, of being filled with the light of Christ’s grace and knowing the joy of our Lord’s good favor.

Too often people look at church attendance as a chore. This is very unfortunate. When we think like this we end up shortchanging our own spiritual well-being. Attitude is everything.

Whether we look at going to church as a burden or a blessing is all up to us. But as we make that call, we should remember this. Jesus says that “the Sabbath was made for man…” (Gospel of Mark) In other words, going to church is a great gift. Through our worship services we discover an incredible opportunity to commit a bit of our time in this world to something that has eternal implications.