Friday, March 12, 2021

Sharpen Your Sword

 


When a young man or woman joins the military, what does the military do?  They do not send you on a top secret mission into a war zone.  You are sent to Basic Training.  Newer Christians, and some of us older ones as well, can easily fall prey to the notion that, “I am going to save the world from this or that problem.”  We all need to remember to take our humility pill in the morning. 

 In the Orthodox liturgical life, the Church prepares us for the battle we will encounter during Lent by offering us various themes in the Liturgies before Lent begins.  The first one is the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee (Luke 18:10-14).  How easy it is to think we are humble people who lead simple lives.  And yet, beneath the skin, in the hidden recesses of the heart, lies a beast that judges and condemns others while indulging in selfish attitudes towards the self. 

 How do we become humble, or grow in humility?

 Let us take the example of Christ in Philippians 2:5-11.  The first words of St. Paul in this text are: “Have this mind among yourselves.”  The passage is about Christ emptying Himself and taking the form of a slave and to die on a cross in total obedience.

 There are some things at work here.  Christ, in His humility, becomes one with us in every way but sin.  He is united with us.  He is obedient.  He is motivated by love.

 It brings to mind the Greatest Commandment to love God and love neighbor.  Can we truly love if we are stuck in our pride, as the Pharisee was in the story from the Gospel of St. Luke?  If we do not have some sort of love, unselfish love, can there be any hope of unity?  Is there even any hope of sacrificial love?

 Mother Teresa would often tell us that for love to be real, it must hurt, it must cost.  This is easy to see when a mother loves a child.  She gets up, or stays up, all hours of the night for a child that is sick.  Is this kind of love possible when it involves others?  Can we do this? 

 Christ is obedient.  We fool ourselves when we think we can love God or our neighbor without being obedient.  The word itself conjures up images of unjust rulers in our minds.  We reject this injustice and others putting their will over us.  But, do we want to be like Christ?  Do we want to be like Him who allowed Himself to be subject to the will of others to the point of dying on the cross, a very humiliating and painful death? 

 One objection would certainly be true: we cannot be in obedience to everyone.  We must choose to whom we will be obedient to.  We must follow Christ and become like Him as much as is humanly possible.  Here, the Church has much to offer us with her 2,000 years of experience and living examples.  The first example, of course, is Jesus Himself.  If we have any hope to become like Him, we must know Him and know Him intimately. 

 And so for our purposes in this essay, for the purposes of becoming warriors, we must enter a spiritual basic training of sorts.  We come to know the Lord through the Scriptures and through prayer.  Oh yes, there are other ways as we make progress, but we must begin or begin again.  In the Orthodox Tradition, we are encouraged to read the Gospels.  Not just once or three times or 70 times, but always.  Read a chapter every day, or whatever you can manage.  Start with St. Matthew.  When you are finished with St. John’s Gospel, you start over again.  Do this!  As part of Basic Training, I would have you concentrate of Matthew chapters 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount.  Here is the basic principles of the Gospel in one sermon.  I will have more for you on this in future articles.  For now, read it as much as you can.

 I would also encourage you to read it prayerfully and not as a matter of study.  Don’t try to “figure it out.”  Don’t analyze.  Just read.  Take it as it comes.  Pray.  Pick out one or two teachings or commands of Jesus and try your level best to be obedient to it.  Pick something small.  If nothing else teaches us to be humble, seeing our own failures in small things will.

 Be of good cheer and love the Lord!

May He bless our small efforts. 

Peace and joy,

Dionysios

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

The Battle that Lies Ahead

 



Our times are treacherous and troublesome.  Yet, has it ever been different for the believer in Christ?

  

Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble.  He comes forth like a flower, and withers; he flees like a shadow, and continues not. 

                                                                                                            Job 14:1-2

 

When troubles and sufferings come to us, we should not be surprised!  We should expect it.  Nor should we view these problems as punishment from God or something that happened to us only because of our sin.  The Lord uses our suffering in this life to teach us.  Perhaps we had a sinful habit that caused us some health problems.  The Lord will use this to our benefit in the long run.  We need to be faithful.  We need to check our pride at the door and find the humble way.  We need to repent, because the Kingdom of God is near!

 So, what do we need to do?

First, I would caution anyone to do nothing out of an attitude that we are going to change God’s mind about anything.  I know some people who make promises to change their lives or pray specific prayers in the hope that GOD repents from what He is doing in order to make the evil or suffering stop.  But remember, God does not cause the evil to happen.  Evil happens in the world because He has given all human beings free will.  We choose what we are going to do.  God will not intervene in that.  He will not stop it. 

But there is a spiritual battle and we can join in it.  It is a real battle and it is not for the faint of heart.  I will be describing this battle and what you can do in the next many articles.  I will offer you advice from some of my favorite saint friends, some advice from the Church for sure, and also some thoughts from a magnificent book, “Unseen Warfare.”  Most of this will not be my advice.  I only know and do what others have taught me.  I believe that the times we live in call for much action, but not so much the going out and doing things, rather, we need to put more of our trust in the Lord rather than ourselves or the systems of the world.

 

For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.  Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

                                                                                                Ephesians 6:12-13

 

This battle takes place in the heart.  St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain says, “… the warriors who take part in this unseen war are all who are Christians; and their commander is our Lord Jesus Christ, surrounded and accompanied by His marshals and generals, that is, by all the hierarchies of angels and saints.  The arena, the field of battle, the site where the fight actually takes place is our own heart and all our inner man.  The time of battle is our whole life.”

In the next articles, we will learn the weapons we need in this fight and how to use them.  Let us seek the Lord and strive to be like Him.  Let us prepare well.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Being a Prayer Warrior

 



We read the news and often times it really looks bleak!  What is happening to our America that we grew up in?  Well, it is being rapidly replaced by another America, one that will not be too friendly with the values of Traditional and Ancient Christianity.  So, what do we do about that?

Certainly, one could become involved politically, join a grass roots group to advocate for some specific ideals, or we could protest and write letters to our elected representatives.  Of course, there is no guarantee of a specific outcome with any of these.  We can have goals, but they might not materialize in our lifetime, maybe not for many decades, if ever.

That leaves me with what is the last resort for most people: prayer.  Secular people scoff at things like prayer, but there is a power there that many do not understand, even Christian people.

Prayer might not change a given situation but it does change us and overtime that can change things and other people.  The more we pray, the more we are affected inside.  We change.  I would be inclined to add an asterisk however.  For the prayer to be affective, we must allow the prayer to change us.  To me, this means I must use a prayer book or a prayer such as the Rosary or the Jesus Prayer or some other kind of contemplative prayer where we really engage our souls.  Lots of people prayer for better health, or a car, and ask God for lots of things, even to change the culture.  We all do that and it is fine.  There is nothing wrong with praying in your own words.  Over the long haul however, I think we must add the prayers mentioned above, and the Psalms as well, because these prayers work on the inside of us, they give us an example to follow, a standard of behavior to live by.  In other words, a prayer book will guide us to holiness more than asking God to do things for us.

As we become more holy, more people will notice.  This is what changes the world more than protests or politics.  I think I can say this in all truth because if we look at history, this is what has happened time and again when persecuted Christian communities prayed.  Look at the Roman Empire.  The Soviet Union.  Greece under the Ottomans.  Eastern Europe under communism.  In each of these instances, and more, it took a few people of prayer who became a few people of holiness and holy living who became people of holy action and holy resistance. Truly, a few people made a huge difference and they were noticed and eventually they were imitated and things changed.

Yes, there are a lot of Christian people in our country, but are we any different than the secularists and pagans?

When people meet us, not knowing that we are Christians, could they figure it out by our demeaner and actions?  Are we content with what we have?  Are we judgmental towards others?  Do we think we are better than others?  Are we saying things like, “I’m saved and you’re going to hell?”  Are we typically calm?  Do we show love to others in many different ways?  Do we love and respect people who are different that we are, even people who might treat us with disrespect? 

Of course, there are more.  I could go on, but perhaps you get my point.

For now, I’ll leave it at this.  I’ll close with a couple texts from the New Testament.  You are powerful, but not in yourself.  We need to be connected to the Lord and one way we do this is through prayer.

 

“…God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.  God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God,” 1 Corinthians 1:27-29

 

“But He looked at them and said, ‘What then is this that is written:

The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner?

‘Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; but when it falls on anyone it will crush him,” Luke 20:17-18

 

“I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you,” 1 Corinthians 11:2

 

“So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter,” 2 Thessalonians 2:15.

 

Peace and joy to all

Dionysios

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Who Am I? Who Are We?



note: I share a number of posts about Native Americans on Facebook. I enjoy their photos and what they have to say. I shared this one of Cheyenne Chief Wolf Robe a few days ago. (Some say he is the man who is on the reverse side of the Buffalo head nickel.) Anyways, I was touched by this photo and had these things to say to my friends.

Why do I post these pictures of native Americans?
Look at his face. Certainly, here is a man whose name is Chief Wolf Robe. But it’s more than that. His (and others) is the face of a people. He knows who he is. He is part of a people who gives meaning to the person.
Our country stole just about everything we have to satisfy our greed from the Native Americans. But still, you look at his face and you see a pride in his people, that he is part of his people, a people of dignity and a Heritage. Nothing and no one could take this away from this man.
And what do we have as Americans?
We have every material gadget we could imagine. We can define ourselves any way we wish, and under the law everyone else is required to believe it. I can become a woman tomorrow if I want to. I can self identify as a millionaire if I want to. Of course it’s a lie. And lies make the soul sad. If you don’t believe me look at the statistics. Americans go to counselors more than anyone else. We’re living a lie and we need to medicate ourselves to make us believe that we really are happy. And so in record numbers we inebriate ourselves with drugs and alcohol, and sports and even politics. We inebriate ourselves with lies because they give us something to believe in because we can’t bear the truth. We don’t want to believe in the truth. We don’t even know who we are as a people and so we have to follow a lie that tells us who we are.
Our radical individualism has taught us to forget who we are. We define ourselves as who I am and not who we are. We have rejected God and our neighbor. We are obsessed with the self. And that is a prescription to unhappiness. Happiness is found in love, but that love is always expressed to another, to our neighbor. And so it is to our neighbor that we find out who we are. And once I know who we are I can make a guess about who I am.
And of course, Yahweh, is the Great I AM (Exodus 3:14). Somehow, loving God and loving neighbor is one and the same. When we reject God we reject our neighbor. And in rejecting who WE ARE, we reject who I am and also the Great I AM.
Dorothy Day put it this way, “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.”
It is like the Buddhist story about the fish in the ocean looking for the ocean. He cannot find it. Isn’t that strange?
Here we are in a world filled to overflowing with God. He is in air we breathe, He is in every smell, every touch, every sound, and in every face we see and we are blind to him. Isn’t that strange? Worse, isn’t this sad? And it makes our souls sad. Hence, our need to inebriate ourselves. Again, how sad.
Look at the face of the Chief again. What do you see? Do you see a people? Do you see someone who is content with what is? Perhaps, someone who knows who he is and who his people are?
This is what we need. We need to know who we are. We need to look to God to know who we are. And when we do, we will see God in our neighbor and we will be content and happy and know who I am because I will know the Great I AM.
Well, all of my inadequate words come to this conclusion and for this wish alone I give to each of you with all the love in my heart:

Peace to all, joy and happiness. 

Thursday, February 18, 2021

The Doublethinkers

 

Today I have an outstanding article from the Tablet for you to read.  It is  by Natan Sharansky with Gil Troy.  Please read.  It is a most important work for our times.  Natan Sharansky was a poitical prisoner in the Soviet Union and a minister in four Israeli governments.  Gil Troy is a presidential historian at McGill University and a Zionist activist.


Peace and joy in all you do.

Dionysios


click here to go to the article.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Patience and Humility

 


Here is a very important video for you to watch.  It isn’t long, 28 minutes, but I hope and pray that it’s effects will last the rest of your life.  It is about the beginning of our struggle and the virtues of patience and humility.  It narrated by a monk from St. Anthony’s Monastery in Egypt.  Even the story of this monastic enclave is astounding, but please listen to the video.  We have no spiritual struggle without patience and humility. 

Click here for the video.

Peace and love to all

Dionysios  

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

God Forsakenness

 


“He was despised by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not,” Isaiah 53:3.

“I’m sorry, John, but this is it.  We have to let you go.”

“What?!  Why?  During my last evaluation you told me I was the best broker you’ve ever had.  Did I do something wrong?”

“Well, yes, what you said is true, but it is also true that the company has changed directions and we can no longer tolerate someone who embraces traditional Christian values.  This is the 21st Century John.  You believe things that people taught 2,000 years ago.  It doesn’t work anymore.  And it’s best for both of us if we part ways now rather than have something happen to tarnish the reputation of the company.”

Many don’t think this will ever happen in America.  You’re wrong.  It is already happening.  True, it won’t be as open as this because the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion.  You won’t be told that you are being fired for your religion.  You’ll be told that we need to support and defend transgender people, or a witness will surface that says you used the “N” word to clarify a student’s question about the “N” word while on a trip sponsored by your employer.  (This actually happened just last week.  The event happened two years ago.  The employee had a stellar, world renowned record and decades of employ with the company.)  Or, they might bring up something from the past that was wrong, and now they have decided to fire you for it.  There can be lots of reasons to fire someone.  And of course, it will be a lie.  But this is our culture today.  People, especially politicians and business folks, thrive on the lie to gain power, prestige, possessions, promotions, privilege, perks, and position.  It has become the American Way to obtain the American Dream Plus.

My suggestion in this article is that we must prepare for this.  Many of us are in jobs or positions that are not in much danger of this happening, but many people are! What are you doing to do when your boss gives you the ultimatum of supporting ______ but doing so is against what you believe?  Are you going to choose your job or what you believe?  The answer depends on how deeply you believe.

Fr. Richard Rohr uses a very specific definition of “carrying your cross.”  It is what you suffer precisely because of your faith.  How strong is your faith?  What would you choose in that moment?  “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it.  For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” Luke 9:23-25.

I understand.  Many people, for many reasons, will let their faith go “underground” or “under the radar” and publicly renounce their faith or at least adhere to the company line.  Some will do this and I cannot stand in judgment on them.  They have their reasons.  However, if you are a traditional or classical Christian as I am, I would encourage you to decide this ahead of time and prepare yourself for what may come to you. 

If you choose Christ, you will suffer and your family will too.  You might just feel abandoned by God.  So please, stay tuned.  I am going to give you some tools to fight.  No, it will not preserve or get you your job back.  However, I hope that I can give you some tools that will help you survive.  I am hoping that you can still be outrageously happy while trading the American Dream for the Kingdom of God.  In the end, which one is greater, right?

“He was despised by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not,” Isaiah 53:3.  Salvation in the Orthodox Tradition is to conform ourselves (attitudes, beliefs, and actions) to Christ.  Perhaps, many of us will be called to suffer as Christ did.

Peace and joy.

Dionysios