A Contagious Conversation

saint-photini-the-samaritan-at-jacobs-well-icon-320x330In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Christ is risen!

Beloved in the Lord, I am grateful today for the privilege of expositing such a deliciously gregarious conversation between our risen Lord and a woman from Samaria named Photini. Our beloved Apostle and Evangelist John delights in recording these deep and sacred conversations and this one is his longest between the Lord and one other person, logging in at a whopping 20 verses.

Consider with me first the setting of this conversation at Jacob’s well in Sychar of Samaria. It is a very public, yet intimate gathering place, akin to the public, yet intimate encounter one has today riding on a bus or flying on a plane— random, yet providential encounters between total strangers that have the capacity to turn quite personal, and even eternal. Some would even call them divine appointments. Such is today’s providential encounter between the savior and a woman whose life up to then was shameful and without purpose. She was the daughter of a race of half-breeds, whose heretical faith, compromised ethnicity, and immoral lifestyle had ensured her membership in a disenfranchised class. Photini was a woman living a dead-end life among a discriminated minority. Continue reading

Newly Illumined!

The following is the text of a toast I gave in honor of my parents’ reception into the Holy Orthodox Church on Sunday, May 12, Third Sunday of Pascha in honor of the Holy Myrrhbearers and American Mother’s Day. My father was received by Baptism and my mother by Chrismation at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church in East Syracuse, NY.

20190512_093841“Nobody knows the trouble I seen. Nobody knows but Jesus.”

These simple, yet profound lyrics from an old negro spiritual express the longing of many a Christian lost in the multitude of denominations and confessions of the Church in this country and in the world. This family alone has experienced not less than 15 in our collective lives. But when I first witnessed the Orthodox Church I could see a church where, “Every generation chanteth hymns of praise to Christ.” Everyone from the smallest infant to the oldest great grandmother, all gather together in one Church. Today this prophecy has been fulfilled in your eyes: Not in a church designed principally for the youth, not in a church designed principally for the elderly, but in the Church where family integrated worship has never gone out of style. Continue reading

Deceiving the Deceiver

christApril 28, 2019
Bright and Saving PASCHA
of our Lord Jesus Christ

I love how the character of Christ is portrayed in the 2016 film Risen. In the movie, a Roman tribune is assigned by Pilate to investigate the alleged theft of the body of one late Hebrew rabbi who claimed to be the Messiah. This same tribune had witnessed Christ’s crucifixion himself, so he knew his man. But upon his first encounter of the risen Lord, he was taken aback. This mighty Roman tribune who had commanded legions of soldiers and put down entire insurrections against Caesar was terrified not so much by Jesus’ resurrectional power, but by the way in which it was manifest: an uncanny sober levity and a peculiar nonchalance. He was smirking like one who had pulled off the most enormous con game ever played. Continue reading

The Joy of Gazing With Our Eyes

blindmanSunday, April 30/May 13, 2018
Sunday of the Blind Man
St. Ignatius Brianchaninov
American Mother’s Day

Acts 16:16-34
John 9:1-38

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen! On this sixth and last Sunday of Pascha, let us take stock of all that we have witnessed in this season of the Resurrection. We are presented in this morning’s Gospel with a most awesome miracle, the healing of a man blind from birth, and we are invited to behold the resurrected Christ in one last and final image, as the Light of the World. These past six Sundays have been a banquet for the senses: In the second (first after Pascha), the disciple Thomas touched His living side; in the third, the myrrh bearing women heard the message of the angel; in the fourth, the paralytic felt the ability to walk again; and last Sunday (the fifth), a woman from Samaria tasted water that satisfied her thirst forever. On this sixth and final week, a man born blind sees Him Who is the Light of the World and he receives from him enlightenment of both body and soul. Through all of these wonderful proofs of his resurrection, our Lord has turned frightened fishermen into apostles, sinful women into bold evangelists, and blind and lame people into those who could see and walk. Continue reading

Unbelieving Belief

Sunday, April 2/15, 2018
Sunday of St. Thomas

Acts 5:12-20
John 20:19-31

altar-of-the-church-of-st-john-the-baptist-chesmenskayaIn the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Christ is risen! St. John the Beloved begins his first epistle, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.” (I John 1:1) And this morning’s Gospel also from St. John confirms this verifying faith through the testimony of another apostle, Thomas. Many identify him as doubting Thomas, a rather unfortunate label which casts a negative light upon his hesitancy to at first fully believe. But the Church in the Divine Services for today’s feast clearly proclaims Thomas’s unbelief or hesitancy to believe as good. So what is it about Thomas’s unbelieving belief that we can and should emulate? Continue reading

Holy Week and Paschal Magic

christ-resurrectionHoly Week and Pascha are definitely the most amazing and wonderful jewels of the Orthodox Christian Church. Holy Week and Pascha are not only incredible but also personal leaving me crying of sorrow and of joy of Christ’s resurrection. Christ died on the cross only because of our sins. He loves us. Only a person that truly loves us would die for us.

Now, let me explain what is so beautiful about Holy Week and Pascha. First, Palm Sunday: The Lord rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, where the people praised and glorified him. Then, Holy Monday: The Bridegroom Matins service foretells of the future sufferings of Jesus Christ. Holy Tuesday: The last musical Presanctified Liturgy, in which the Holy Communion(Eucharist) is pre-sanctified. There is harmonious music in the service like “Let my prayer arise…“. Holy Wednesday: Holy Unction is the service in which Orthodox Christians receive holy oil to heal us physically and spiritually. Continue reading

Eternal Life in Living Color

22857601_1974427522803959_5886353336021549056_nApril 8, 2018
The Bright & Saving Pascha of Christ
the Lord Who Rose from the Dead
Trampling down Death by Death

“So, what what kind of fun stuff have you been up to lately?” I had been engaging my favorite Syracusan barber in friendly conversation about his favorite pastime, hockey, when he politely turned the question towards me and my world. How does one encapsulate the joyful sorrow of Holy Week, the gut-wrenching agony of Golgotha, and the unexpected hope of Easter morning into a 5-second elevator speech? I told him that we had not celebrated our Easter yet and that this was our week to get ready for it. “Wow, that’s cool. So what is it like?” Words fail to describe the rich details of Holy Week and Pascha, yet I wanted to leave a strong impression. Knowing that he had not attended any church for quite some time, I used a comparison that I hoped was familiar. “It’s the one time out of the year that my kids actually drag their parents to church and not the other way around. Who doesn’t like the thought of staying up into the wee hours of the morning for a party that initially lasts until the sun comes up? I mean, what rock concert has ever lasted that long?” Continue reading