Most people miss the epistle reading on Pascha. That’s okay, I miss a lot myself during services. The epistle reading was about something called the Great Commission. In a nutshell, it means that if I really care about Orthodox Christianity, then I must help others care. Here is the end of the epistle reading:
“Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:6-8)
Are you an Orthodox Christian? If so, then “the Holy Spirit has come upon you” and God expects you to be His witness. In the next post we will talk about what this looks like in life and why it was read at Pascha.
When I found out I was contagious, I had to start rethinking all my actions, words, and thoughts. Not contagious with a virus or bacterial infection, but rather my attitude.
This week we are called to be contagious with our joy. Jesus has risen from the dead, conquering death by death. Is my joy over this feat contagious? Or, am I still going through the motions? We are all contagious, all sharing different attitudes. Is your apathy showing, or are people seeing your joy? This week above all others, your joy should be contagious. Looking for an easy way to get started? If so, then try on more smiles for the next few days.
Adam continues the parenting discussion in this episode with Fr. Wilbur Ellsworth, pastor of Holy Transfiguration in Warrenville, IL. In this episode, they discuss respect, reverence, and worship. Listen in as we hear some theory and theology behind the claims made in the previous episode and also how we can teach these three words to our children.
When we read the gospel of John, some if us have come to believe that when Philip said, “come and see, ” that this equates to our responsibility to invite people to church. But Philip was not doing that. Let’s talk about Philip’s invitation and how it applies to us.
Two Peas In A Pod
We know from church history that these two were close. We can read in the scripture that they shared an thirst for the Messiah. Another look and apparently there was some trust and credibility because Nathanael embraces the invitation, coupled with some doubt.
They were two peas in a pod. The pod was their thirst for the Messiah. Unlike many of us, they saw each other as equals. How many people see us as equals when we invite them to church? Or rather, how much have we shared in their pain and longing?
Pain Connects Us
What if we translated Philip’s invitation this way, “I have found that which we have been laboring over together. My thirst is quenched, and I want you to experience the same, because you know how much I care about you.” Nathanael knew that Philip shared in his pain. They were connected through their pain, almost like a support group.
Connecting with someone can only happen when we are fostering relationships. I admit it is difficult to foster relationships in today’s society of shallowness, selfie’s, and regular status updates on social media about how awesome my life is (especially when it’s not). I’m not saying that selfies or social media are bad in and of themselves, but if we are not careful they can replace relationships instead of enhance them.
We Are All Becoming
Sometimes I wonder what Philip and Nathaniel sat around and talked about. Did they gaze into the stars and talk about God and the meaning of life? Do you think they laughed together and had fun, and shared in each other’s tears? How often do I discuss the meaning of life with others (not talk at them, with them)? Am I there for people in their sorrow when they need someone to show them God’s love?
It is easy for us to come across as “having arrived” because “we are Orthodox” and they are not. However, the truth is that I am a fellow human on the search for that which makes me whole. The next time I tell someone to “come and see, ” I hope it will be from common ground.
Adam visits the St. Thomas House in Franklin, TN. The St. Thomas house is a new ministry for young adults (ages 18-25), which will take place in the former home of Fr. Gordon Walker. Fr Gordon, who departed this life in 2015, was a great missionary priest of the Antiochian Archdiocese. Brian Short, the director of the St. Thomas House, shares the background, the goal, and a special message for Orthodox parents. Learn more at www.stthomashouse.org.
This is the first of a several talks between Adam and Fr. Wilbur Ellsworth, pastor of Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church in Warrenville, IL, on parenting. In today’s talk, they discuss the relationship of love, faith, obedience, and different ways we could interpret some popular scriptures on parenting.
Lent is the annual anniversary of asking ourselves, “Who’s The Boss?” Over the next several posts, we will examine the different areas of our lives where we need to ask this question. What does your boss look like?
Under The Surface
For most Orthodox Christians, it may appear that the only changes during Lent are more services and less meat. However, there is a lot more going on, similar to looking at an organism under the microscope. On the surface we are called to “hide our fasting” Matthew 6:16. This means that under the surface, beneath the tip of the iceberg, there should be a lot going on. There should be an internal fight. The winner of that internal fight is the boss.
Gaining Control In Lent
Lent is a gift to help us understand who’s in charge. Sadly, a lot of us are okay with not being in charge of our own lives. Maybe that hamburger is the boss, or cheese is in charge. For others the boss may be resentment or money. These items are not evil, but they should not be the boss of us.
Lent provides a task you can do. Some will only fast from meat because that is all they can do right now. While others may fast from meat and oil, while others will struggle with cheese. The church knows that we are different people on different paths heading to the same place. One of my favorite quotes about the Orthodox Church is this, “The Orthodox Church has high expectations and high mercy.” It is easy to have high expectations, but did you know there is an abundant amount of mercy available to all of us. Mercy is there to help us when we mess up. It is also there to help us recover from losing control and keep trying to be the boss.
Lent is a spiritual marathon, and Pascha is our finish line. I have run a marathon. At the end, it was sheer will power which carried me on. Without control of my will, I would not have finished. For the last eight miles I was the boss of my body. So we will begin Lent this way, by asking “Who’s the boss of you?” After you are the boss, only then can you submit to God’s will.
Did you hear about the Patriarch of Alexandria consecrating several woman to the office of deaconess? You can read all about it by clicking HERE. Readers of this article usually fit one of three categories: indifferent, appalled, or supportive. Which one are you?
I love that we have a history for this in the Orthodox Church. In Romans 1:1, St. Paul mentions St. Phoebe, who is known as a deaconess, and her service to the church. Even in apostolic times we had deaconesses! The Orthodox Church continues to amaze me. The world of Orthodoxy is bigger than most of us can imagine.
It is easy for both cradles and converts to think their own parish is the norm for Orthodoxy. However, I have visited about 100 parishes in the last three years as part of my work for the Antiochian Archdiocese. Most of those were Antiochian, but I have also visited Russian, Greek, and OCA parishes. What we do not realize is that there is a spectrum, and every parish is different in some way. There is no normal way to do the Liturgy, trust me I know. There is no normal way to sing Vespers on Saturday night, trust me I know. Maybe there should be, but I am trying to tell you that every parish is different in demographics, personality, and style.
We are a vast church with people and cultures all over the world. We are also known for incorporating parts of a culture into the worship and Liturgical cycle. Somehow we have almost perfected (or possibly perfected) the art of including culture without watering down theology. Have you ever seen a Divine Liturgy in Ghana? It looks familiar, but it also looks amazing and nothing like the Divine Liturgy at my parish. Click HERE to watch Ghanaians sing Christ Is Risen with amazing joy and passion. The video really takes off at the 25 second marker.
The Deacon And Deaconess
Visit as many parishes as you can. Learn about female readers. Investigate the Western Rite, its validity and value. Explore all the Orthodox churches in your city and when you travel. It’s a beautiful world waiting to invite you in.
Although their presence is rare in America, deacons or a deaconess is common throughout our history. The variety of Orthodox worship and style will stun most of us. This is not a bad thing, but rather opportunity. It speaks to the ability of the church, which is an expression of God’s love on earth, to meet people where they are. Jesus did this with each of his apostles. He met Matthew as a tax collector. Jesus did not accidentally call James and John “sons of thunder.” Peter denied Christ after following Christ for three years. The apostles were not all the same, and after Pentecost their personality continued in their leadership.
Our worship was not all the same in the first millennium. Although 99% of the Orthodox Church now uses the same Liturgy on Sunday mornings, we have still found a way to express our differences and remain united. What unites us is not our worship style or the presence or absence of a deaconess, but rather the truth handed down from the apostles.
My new friend, Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, pastor of St. Paul Orthodox Church in Emmaus, PA, wants to help his parishioners connect with each other and those in Emmaus. I was honored when Fr. Andrew invited me to lead a pre-Lenten retreat at his parish. The topic we settled on was, “Why Do We Avoid Evangelism?”
From my perspective the retreat this weekend went well. And then, I was even more encouraged when I heard Fr. Andrew speak to his congregation about what I was sharing. He told them his summary of the retreat, that we need to connect with people, and when he used the word connect I knew that he totally got it.
Doctrine Is Scary
America is used to have people spew doctrine at them from many different places. The traditional method of evangelism in the Orthodox Church actually saves doctrine for later. The first step is to connect with people through fellowship, prayer, and self-transformation. Eventually people will want to know why we are the way we are, and then we can share the doctrine of Jesus Christ and how it has changed our lives. But the connection must always be there. We cannot start with doctrine, and we must maintain a connection once we start sharing doctrine.
For some of us our children have left the church, or maybe a parent has stopped attending church. The easy way is to ask them, “when will you come back to church?” However, the Christlike way is to say, “how are you? I want to connect with you.” I have been horrible at this, but I really do want to connect with those around me.
Do We Connect Like The Trinity?
When I think about the Trinity and how it demonstrates for us a perfect community, I think about the beautiful connection between the three of them. We are called to have this same beautiful connection with the humans in our lives. Not just friends and family, but all humans. For when we partake of the Eucharist, are we not entering into a connection with everyone else who is partaking?
Rules are good for us, but if there is no love, no connection, then the rules will be empty. I am glad the church teaches me how to live the Christian life, but if I simply follow the rules in a Pharisaical way, then I am missing the point. The rules are there so that I can shed my selfishness and begin to connect with those around me, and therefore connect with God.
Sheep & Goats
Helping people less fortunate than me always establishes a connection. I always hope for more than just, “here is a few dollars” because that is not enough. The dollars will help, or your time at a soup kitchen. However, while you are doing good works, consider trying to connect with the people you are helping.
Yesterday Fr. Andrew read the gospel of the last judgement during the Divine Liturgy. We see in this gospel lesson how to minister to those around us and how to connect with them, and in doing so, connect with Christ.
When we connect through ministry with those less fortunate, we are connecting with Christ. When we avoid the less fortunate in our lives, we are avoiding Christ. We all know what it is like to have a bad phone connection. We walk around, ask the ever popular “Can you hear me now?” until the connection improves. Re-position yourself in your life so that you can have a good connection. Move around, move closer to people, and make sure that they can hear you. Connect.
What should we do when someone leaves the Orthodox Church? John left the church several years ago. After repeated negativity and bickering, he lost interest in the elitism so many in Orthodoxy like to display. He lost interest, not in this statement, but in the arrogance of, “we are the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic faith.”
Leaves Stick Together
Please hear me clearly. John did not stop believing the statement above. He tired of the arrogance people displayed when saying the statement. Especially when these arrogant people lived a different life on Facebook. The arrogance, although said about a true statement, can be a source of division. This division pushes people away from Orthodoxy. I still pray for John and hope you will too.
What can we do when someone leaves the church? First, we need to follow up with people in a loving way and find out why. This does not mean you have to maintain a long term relationship (if you can that would help). Just inquire on how they are doing and that you miss them. Second, avoid anything that will impart guilt or shame. Just “love on them” and tell them you miss them. Spend time listening to their story. Let them know they can still be leaves on your community tree if they ever want to come back. You are a leaf, just like them, and they need to know you want them around. You cannot assume they know that you care.
Loving Thy Lost Neighbors
Several people have asked if they should reach out to John, “Absolutely! I worry that no one will reach out to him besides me.” Not one of those people has followed up. Maybe they are legitimately busy or some crisis took priority. I don’t know. However, I do know that there are many like John who need us to reach out. God uses people to express his love. God wants you to be a conduit of his love to those around you. We need to love our neighbors and our lost neighbors, those who have fallen away.
It can be easy to dismiss someone who leaves as an apostate. John chose to leave so what does that have to do with you or me? What if they left because of a sin you or I committed? Keep this in mind (from Dn. Michael Hyatt), “you are more likely to be hurt by people at church than anywhere else.” This means the opposite is true, that you are more likely to hurt people at church than anywhere else. We could be the very cause of our lost neighbors.
When The Leaves Fall
Many people are leaving because no one cares about them. They leave as a leaf falling from a tree. There were no calls to check on them. No one has even noticed they are gone. In so many of these situations no one cares. Here is the good news. You can.