What If?

WHAT IF? question-mark-2

What if you hadn’t lost your temper last week?  What if you hadn’t told that lie?  What if you had  taken that other job?  What if you had married that other person?  What if you hadn’t quit the high school football team?  What if you had just gotten that one break you needed?  What if you had finished college?  What if ____ (you fill in the blank).

How many times do all of us relive certain past events, saying: “What if I had done that differently?”  Sometimes we daydream about how good life would be if things had gone differently.  Sometimes we try to make wrong things right, finding a “loop-hole” so that we can justify our actions.  There is the very real danger for many of us that we do it so much, we become consumed with the past.

Think about “What ifs”for a moment.  “What ifs” are always the beginning of a false story.  We have our story, our life.  I didn’t become the shortstop for the Los Angeles Dodgers.  No matter how much I “What if” the past, I will never be that shortstop.  That is not my story!!  That “What if” seems innocent enough, but it can lead to dissatisfaction with my life.  I can end up blaming my “failure” to reach the Big Leagues on others, like my wife or my children.  My real story can end up being trashed by a false story.

There is a great quote from C.S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian (from the Chronicles of Narnia) when Lucy is confronted by the lion, Aslan (who represents Jesus), because she didn’t obey him. First she tries to justify her actions and then she asks about what would have been had she obeyed him. Alsan answers her: “To know what would have happened, child? No. Nobody is ever told that.”

“What ifs” can seem innocent, but they are always false and they will cause us problems as we chew on them.  “What if I had married that other person” will not help my marriage!  It is not my story!  “What if I hadn’t gotten divorced” will not change the divorce!  It is not my story!  “What if I had never had a baby” will not help me raise my children!  No matter the “What if”, we will never know what might have happened and the false story will likely do us harm.

The Holy Scriptures advise us: “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward…let us live up to what we have already attained” (Philippians 3:13-16).  God is saying: “Don’t ‘What if’ me with the past, but press on toward tomorrow with who you are today.”

All of us are in a place right now that our past decisions have put us in.  We can questions those decisions for the next 10 years (beating ourselves over the head with “What ifs”) or we can see where we are right now and press on toward the future that will eventually be “our story”!  Sometimes we will need to forgive others or seek forgiveness from God and others, but then we need to forget it and get on to what will become “our story”.  Going back to Prince Caspian, Alsan tells Lucy that “anyone can find out what will happen” if they just begin obeying Him now. May the Lord bless your “real story” each and every day!!

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Saint Anthony: How Is Your Soul Today?

                                        Saint Anthony: How Is Your Soul Today?

Today, January 17th, the Orthodox Church always remembers the life of Saint Anthony the Great. He was born in 251 and lived a remarkable 105 years. His life was so amazing that he is known as “The Father of all Monastics.” The book on his life was written by St. Athanasius who actually knew Anthony.

anthony-the-great

As we celebrate the memory of the life of Saint Anthony, this UpWord Glance concerns some simple quotes from him:

“If we make every effort to avoid death of the body, still more should it be our endeavor to avoid death of the soul. There is no obstacle for a man who wants to be saved other than negligence and laziness of soul.”

Please ponder these words of St. Anthony and then consider the priorities we have set in our lives. Human beings are complex indeed. We have a physical body, a mind that thinks and reasons (perhaps too much at times), and we have a soul. So then…

  • How much of our lives do we spend on improving our bodies through exercise and proper diet?
  • How much of our lives have we spent on improving our intellect?
  • And finally, how much of our lives have we spent on our souls and matters of eternity?

Here’s another quote from St. Anthony concerning our need to be concerned about our souls:

“Men are often called intelligent wrongly. Intelligent men are not those who have great knowledge of the sayings and books of the wise men of old, but those who have an intelligent soul and can discriminate between good and evil. They avoid what is sinful and harms the soul; and with deep gratitude to God they resolutely adhere by dint of practice to what is good and benefits the soul. These men alone should truly be called intelligent.”

Recently, I was speaking with someone about sin and the person was complaining how easily they ran after certain sins. I explained to them that sin was usually pleasurable and that we enjoy it greatly at the moment. It isn’t until later that we realize what harm it has done to our souls. It is when we recognize this truth that we can actually begin to purposely avoid these things. These sins can be very small or they can be gigantic in nature. Either way, they should be avoided. This, Saint Anthony would say, is true intellect…to be concerned for our souls. So then, how do we care for our souls? Saint Anthony said this:

“The truly intelligent man pursues one sole objective: to obey and to conform to the God of all. With this single aim in view, he disciplines his soul, and whatever he may encounter in the course of his life, he gives thanks to God for the direction and depth of His providential ordering of all things. For it is absurd to be grateful to doctors who give us bitter and unpleasant medicines to cure our bodies, and yet to be ungrateful to God for what appears to us to be harsh, not grasping that all we encounter is for our benefit and in accordance with His  providence. For knowledge of God and faith in Him is the salvation and perfection of the soul.”

Is it humanly possible to actually give thanks to God for all that we encounter in each day? Obviously, Saint Anthony though it possible and actually put it into practice as a way to care for the soul. We can indeed begin caring for our souls each and every day. It can begin with our prayers. Here is a simple prayer to begin each day (The Morning Prayer of St. Philaret):

O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace.  Help me in all things to rely upon Your holy will.  In every hour of the day reveal Your will to me. Bless my dealings with all who surround me.  Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that Your will governs all. In all my deeds and words, guide my thoughts and feelings.  In unforeseen events, let me not forget that all are sent by You.  Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring.  Direct my will; teach me to pray; pray Yourself in me.  Amen.

If you have never read The Life of Saint Anthony, it would be well worth your time. There are good copies online and books for sale at most great reads type bookstores. You can read a very nice copy it for free at: http://www.orthodoxebooks.org/node/213

The Invisible Church: A Doctrine That Has Come of Age

The Invisible Church: A Doctrine That Has Come of Age

By Fr. Stephen 

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Have you been around people who proclaim a faith in Christ, yet totally reject the idea of Church? It seems to be a growing belief among folks in our country. It really has its beginnings with a doctrine that came out of the Reformation: “The Invisible Body of Believers.”

The Reformation began with some noble ideas to get the Roman Catholic Church back on the right track with some beliefs the Reformers thought had gone astray. What began as a desire to correct led to a full scale “protest” and a breaking away from the Roman Catholic Church.

Alas, the Reformers couldn’t agree on what doctrines were correct and so the “protest” carried on against each other. As group after group began to separate themselves from other groups, the divisions began to take on the look of a shattered mirror.

As these groups (which became known as denominations) multiplied, they also called themselves by the name: “church”. The shattered mirror sadly continued to grow as more and more splinters took place. Each splinter group believed differently than the one the left behind. So it was that the number of differing “churches” grew enormous with people having friends and family in differing belief systems.

Each group proclaimed loudly that they used only the Bible to prove their beliefs. But, in fact it was their interpretation of the Bible that was really at the core of their differences. Each group believed they were the ones that held to the “Truth” and that the other groups were in error. Some of them simply condemned others and said those who didn’t hold to their beliefs would wind up in hell. Whew…that was a pretty serious belief!

The majority, though differing in beliefs, sought to find a belief that would unite the various groups. Thus was born the doctrine of the “Invisible Body of Believers”. Anyone who believed that Jesus is Lord would be a member. Differences in doctrine were given second place to this wonderful belief. People in differing groups could now be close friends and joint services could be held where doctrinal proclamations would be limited to just “Jesus is Lord.” This became the most important belief that anyone could hold and it was thought to be the doctrine that united all believers together.

Thus was born the concept of the “Invisible Body of Believers” where it was irrelevant which church one attended. The Lordship of Jesus was the key to belonging to the Invisible Church. Over time, most folks continued to attend their own church, but some began to drop out. As the “shattered mirror” continued to splinter, some people either became confused or discouraged. When there are 30,000 to 60,000 groups (hard to pin down the number) proclaiming “Jesus is Lord” but holding to much different doctrines (all supposedly proven by the Bible), confusion or discouragement are certainly possibilities.

People who made the decision to not attend any Church were often asked why this was so. Many folks found this answer seemed to work well and defuse any arguments: “I am spiritual, not religious!” That phrase spread like wildfire as no one seemed to have a good response to it. It grew to the point that many people could confidently say: “I choose not to attend a church, but I am a Christian and Jesus is my Lord! I worship Him when I am outdoors, in fact, up on a mountain is best!” Because membership in the true church of Jesus, that invisible church, requires only belief in the Lordship of Jesus, then all of these people must be “saved” too.

More and more people are seeing the advantages of “being saved” without need of a church: extra sleep, golf, football on television, freedom to do as one pleases… The doctrine of the “Invisible Church” may be reaching the pinnacle of its evolution with an unbelievable growing membership.

But here are some thoughts for reflection:

  • Why would the Bible talk about ordaining bishops, priests, and deacons for an invisible church?
  • Why would the Bible mention that we should never forsake the assembling of ourselves together?
  • Why would the “doctrine” of the invisible church never be mentioned for over 1600 years after Jesus established His Church if He intended it to be invisible?
  • Is there any authority except “self” for proclaiming “I am spiritual, not religious?” Did Jesus desire a “do-it-yourself” belief in Him?
  • For those who prefer to worship the Lord up on a mountain, when was the last time this honestly took place in your life? This cannot mean simply being in awe of God’s creation, but real, true worship of the Lord.

This article is not merely an issue about how someone may spend their Sundays. What is at issue here is the matter of salvation and how people will spend eternity.

Jesus did in fact establish a Church on this earth. It was never meant to be invisible, but it is meant to be a visible witness to the entire world. This Church has been passed on to each and every generation without fail. Christ passed it on to His Apostles, they passed it on to their disciples, and each generation of disciples passed it on to the next.

It is a place where each and every person is meant to be an important part of an overall Body, with each part playing a role. A thumb by itself, not connected to one’s body, is simply dead flesh. Jesus is the Head of a Body, not of individual parts scattered about by their own desire. “I did it my way” should never be the theme song for how we live our lives.

The Church is the very place where all the aspects of salvation are found. All of the Sacraments of the Lord are found within the Church. It begins with Holy Baptism and Chrismation. Confession of our sins takes place within the Church. It is the place where members receive the very Body and Blood of Christ, which then nourishes every cell within a person. Prayers for healing and being anointed with Holy Unction come from the Church. Marriages are blessed by God within the Church; it is something God does, not we through our vows. Ordinations of clergy are done within the Church. And at the end of our earthly life, prayers are said at our funeral which takes place in the Church. Our whole life is meant to be lived as a member of the Church, not as a self-ruled, individualistic journey.

The Church is the place where people come to offer corporate worship. The earliest documented service of the Church comes from the hand of an Apostle of Christ: The Liturgy of Saint James the Apostle. This service and all of the services after him reflect the corporate sense of worship and not some individualistic endeavor. The Church in the Book of Acts also reflects this same corporate sense of worship.

The Church is here today for each and every person. Salvation is truly found within the Church. This we affirm and proclaim to the world today. And with God’s help we will pass this Faith on to the next generation.

 

Why Should I have my House Blessed?

holy-theophany

In my Orthodox parish we will be celebrating Holy Theophany (The Baptism of our Lord) on January 6th. The celebration of this Feast of our Lord actually begins on January 5th, a day known as the Forefeast of Theophany.

Together with the other services celebrating this Feast of our Lord, there is a service of the Blessing of the Waters. This is usually conducted in the church. However in many places throughout the world services are conducted near open bodies of water. As a sign of blessing as Christ blessed the Jordan, Holy Water is poured into the body of water. A cross is then thrown into the water to be retrieved by young folks diving into the water.

Here in Colorado, many Orthodox gather on the Continental Divide for a special blessing of the waters of both sides of the Divide. Frozen crosses of water are placed in the snow on each side. In this way, the water flowing to the Pacific and the water flowing to the Atlantic are both blessed.

The holy water from the church is given to the faithful to consume throughout the year and to use in blessing their homes. In the weeks following the Feast, Orthodox clergy visit the homes of parishioners and conduct a service of blessing using the holy water that was blessed on the Feast of Theophany.

Someone asked me a very good question last year at Holy Theophany:

“Why should I have my house blessed every year? I mean, come on, I had it blessed several years ago and that seems good enough for me.”

Here is my response:

That is a great question and one that every Orthodox Christian needs to ponder. House blessings are not just some cultural tradition, but a very spiritual and important issue for you to consider.

When I was a prison chaplain, I would go around the prison to the cell of each Orthodox man and bless their home. Often other men would see me or hear about it and they too would ask for their cell to be blessed. The reports back were always the same: “Father, I felt such peace after my cell was blessed and I slept so well!” It was something that many men looked forward to each year.

Many years ago when I was a fairly new priest, a family asked me to help them. They were seeing “ghosts” in their home on a regular basis and it had the whole family scared. Being a very inexperienced priest, I felt this was a definitely above my pay grade and called upon a wonderful monastic for his advice. He said he would come and together we would bless their home. We did the entire service for blessing the home and as we went through the house, he told me that he could see the demons were fleeing in front of us. I of course saw nothing. This man is holier than I could ever hope to be! He told me that the Holy Water stings the demons like fire and they flee from it. We continued to bless the home until he said every evil had been removed. The report back from these folks in the following weeks and months was of peace, no sightings of “ghosts”, and very good nights of sleep.

I share these two stories with you to show the need we all have for the peace of the Lord in our homes. I am not suggesting that your home is filled with demons and all kinds of evil. But, throughout the year we may end up bringing things into our homes that we really don’t want there: such as anger, gossip, slander, lying, lust, hatred, envy, covetousness, sloth, despair…you get the idea. Many of the Holy Fathers of our Faith tell us that there is a very spiritual aspect to all of these and they affect the atmosphere around us. So it can be in our homes and often it happens so very slowly that we do not recognize its impact.

So the question you asked really gets reversed: “Why would any Orthodox Christian not want their home blessed each year?” When Holy Theophany rolls around this year and the list for house blessings is made available, be sure to sign up. It may be the best “cleaning” you can possibly give your home.