The Lord’s Last Farewell to his Friends

aka, Mecca.April 26, 2019
Great & Holy Friday

I am an art collector. A good painting with an equally good story has a way of catching my eye and heart. But because I have neither the time nor the pocketbook, most of my collecting happens online via Google image searches. And once I find an image that means something particular to me, I like to hunt it down to its source, where it lives, usually in a museum or sometimes in a church.

When I was recently in Chicago for a clergy retreat, I felt compelled to visit that fine city’s Art Institute. I remembered it to be the home for at least one or two of my favorite works. But as I neared the marble steps, I was racking my brain to remember the particular painting there that had stolen my heart the most. It wasn’t Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks or Wood’s American Gothic; neither was it the Paris Street; Rainy Day or any of the museum’s excellent collection of Rembrandt. All of these are undoubted masterpieces, but they don’t tell a story that speaks directly to me. Continue reading

Shepherds Tending Other Shepherds

32597329347_8f227c14d2_kClergy Govenie, April 4-6, 2019
St. Sophia’s Cathedral, Chicago, IL

On the 4th week of Great Lent leading up to the Sunday of Saint John of the Ladder, over 20 priests and 2 deacons from across the diocese gathered in Des Plaines, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, for the annual Lenten Govenie with our father and chief Shepherd, Metropolitan Joseph. A govenie is a special kind of retreat that includes divine services, spiritual talks, and leads up to confession with a celebration the Holy Eucharist. At the conclusion of this year’s govenie, His Eminence pronounced, “This is so far my favorite govenie.” Continue reading

Spring Cleaning for the Soul

198065.pForgiveness Sunday

It always comes as a bit of a shock that morphs quickly into mild panic when we hear,  Let us set out with joy upon the season of the fast and prepare ourselves for spiritual combat. Let us purify our soul and cleanse our flesh; as we fast from food let us abstain also from every passion. (From Lord I Have Cried verses, Sunday of Forgiveness)

I think to myself, “Great Lent is already here? I barely just finished my Christmas ham, and my taxes aren’t done.” Lent seems at first like the last and most recent thing on a very long to-do list, another obligation in a never-ending stream of necessary tasks. Continue reading

Today is the Day

Sunday of the Last Judgment (Meatfare)
I Corinthians 8:8-9:2
Matthew 25:31-46

the-last-judgement-icon-742x445

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Glory be to Jesus Christ. Glory forever. Dear beloved in the Lord, we stand this morning knocking on the doors of Great and Holy Lent. For many of us, this is not only an auspicious time, but one we anticipate a great deal: the solemn, quiet darkness of Pre-sanctified Liturgies, the engaging, spiritual community of multiple retreats, and the bold, loving consolation of a heavenly father who, like the earthly father in last Sunday’s parable, waits for our return home from wandering in the wilderness of sin. So many things to look forward to— they all should help us to understand the terrifying image shown to us in this morning’s Gospel. For the Lord of glory will indeed come again to judge the living and the dead and this knowledge should bring us to repentance. Continue reading

The Universe is My Parish

Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy
February 25, 2018

sunday_of_orthodoxy“A time is coming when people will go mad.” St. Anthony said, “And when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, ‘You are mad because you are not like us.”

This sounds quite prophetic for our day, especially when so many people try to make everything relative, denying the existence of absolute truth. We Orthodox Christians, however, believe in absolute truth because Truth incarnate is Jesus Christ Himself. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and His truth is unchangeable.

Truth is truth, and falsehood is false, no matter what the majority say, and no matter how one tries to dress up falsehood. The Bible describes God as “the Alpha and the Omega, the One who is, who was, and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev 1:8). Our Lord God is eternal and unchanging, and therefore His Word and His teachings are unchanging. In every age and in every culture, the Gospel has to be presented in a refreshing and understandable way, but the truth itself is unchanging.

Today on this first Sunday of Lent, we celebrate the Sunday of Orthodoxy, which is often called the Triumph of Orthodoxy. Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh noted, however, that “The Triumph of Orthodoxy is not the Triumph of the Orthodox over other people. It is the Triumph of Divine Truth in the hearts of those who belong to the Orthodox Church and who proclaim this Truth revealed by God in its integrity and directness.”

The triumph of divine truth. I could choose to focus on many different aspects of truth, but one I will focus on today is the universal nature of our faith. St. John Chrysostom once said, “There are two kinds of bishops (or we could say Christians). One who says, ‘My parish is my universe.’ While the other says, ‘The universe is my parish.’” Continue reading

On the Brink of Salvation

33866143862_a610ba3812_kFebruary 5/18, 2018
Sunday of Forgiveness
Beginning of Great Lent

Romans 13:11-14:4
Matthew 6:14-21

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Beloved in the Lord, This sermon was not an easy one for me to write this week. This always happens to me as we approach the Doors of Repentance, Holy and Great Lent. I am filled with so many lofty ideas about what it would take to fix the world, but that isn’t the point, is it? Lent is an invitation to fix what’s inside of me, and I don’t know about you, but I would far rather be doing something else. But this morning’s Gospel insists that our hearts can be found wherever we find the things we most desire or treasure. And when those desires are fixed on worldly things and not on eternity, our hearts will be restless until they find their rest in God. Continue reading

Deep Repentance, Profound Forgiveness

Great & Holy Wednesday
Holy Week

Heard the Hymn of Cassiani last night in church and today on a wonderful youtube mix. What a profound expression of repentance and grace. May he who rose from the dead, Christ our True God, grant us the same grace, mercy, and forgiveness as we near the day of his most glorious resurrection from the dead:

My Debt of Love

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.      — Romans 13:8

February 26, 2017
Cheesefare & Forgiveness Sunday

seasonally_inspired_7-course_french_style_dinner_with_live_maine_lobster_and_prime_tenderloin_of_beef_main_entreesOn this Forgiveness Sunday, the beginning of Great Lent in the Orthodox Church, with our Western brothers and sisters beginning Lent this coming Wednesday, I need to beg forgiveness for a debt I will never be able to repay. It is a debt of love I owe especially to the Episcopal (Anglican) Church for midwifing me into the Orthodox Church over 25 years ago.

When I was a Christian in College without a church to call home, the local Episcopal church took me in. While the richness of the Orthodox Church stunned me into silence and kept me at an awkward distance, the local Anglican priest shared hymns and church customs that were more familiar. In the presence of an Orthodox Liturgy, I felt like a bum dragged off the street and set before a seven course French meal; Continue reading

God Is With Us

kneelingMarch 13, 2015
Sunday of Forgiveness
Beginning of Great Lent

Lord, I have loved the beauty of Thy house, the place where Thy glory dwelleth. (Psalm 26:8)

Fr. Michael Pomazansky of blessed memory has a wonderful phrase to describe the rich banquet of divine services offered by the Church for the salvation of our souls: He calls this banquet liturgical maximalism. And now as the Orthodox Church begins her 40 days of the Great Fast toward Holy Week and the Bright & Holy Pascha of Our Lord’s Resurrection, the sheer number of services multiplies exponentially. In just the two Orthodox parishes local to us, there is a service offered almost every day in this first week of Lent. What should we make of all this church-going in a month usually dedicated to madness and green beer? Doesn’t all this abstaining and prostrating lead to a repression of life and joy? Continue reading

O God of Too Much Giving

April 12, 2015
Bright and Saving PASCHA
of our Lord Jesus Christ

Come, let us drink,
Not miraculous water
Drawn from a barren stone,
But a new vintage
From the fount of incorruption
Springing from the tomb of Christ:
In him we are established!
(Ode 3, Paschal Canon)

The strongest and most delicious liquor I have ever tasted was made by the hands of monks in a remote monastery in Greece. It brought refreshment at the end of a long and arduous journey and was accompanied by an equally strong piece of candy. Both were inebriating, but not excessive; intoxicating, while at the same time mysteriously bringing the calm of sobriety. Continue reading