Fixing Ourselves First

Many have accomplished mighty acts, raised the dead, toiled for the conversion of the erring, and have wrought great wonders; and by their hands they have led many to the knowledge of God.  Yet after these things, these same men who quickened others, fell into vile and abominable passions and slew themselves, becoming a stumbling block for many when their acts were made manifest.
-St. Isaac the Syrian, Homily 4

In my Protestant years, most of the emphasis on being a Christian was outward: street evangelism, acquiring and practicing various “gifts of the Spirit,” feeding the hungry, giving to the poor, prayer meetings, and book and Bible studies.  Great oratory skills were a plus, and those who could utilize their gift of speaking to motivate others could reach celebrity-status in their community, and potentially across the Christian world.

I kept myself busy attempting to acquire as many of the skills and experiences mentioned above.  Outwardly, many thought highly of me.  Inwardly I was a mess. Continue reading Fixing Ourselves First

Our Twopence Fasting

Today’s Gospel reading of the poor woman who places two mites in the temple offering is a good reminder for us as we approach Great Lent.

The passage states:

And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. So He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.” (Luke 21:1-5, NKJV)

There are those who are healthy and able to approach the Great Fast (Lent) with strictness in their ascetic endeavors; they should do so to the degree that their spiritual father has allowed.  They are like the rich men who poured out their offering unto the Lord; it is pleasing in His sight.  The Lord has given them much, so much will be expected of them.

There are others, however, who struggle with their health and find that anything other than very light fasting can damage their already fragile condition.  Such people should discuss their situation with their spiritual father.  If they bear their sickness without complaining, but instead thank God for all things, then whatever tiny ascetical efforts are made will be like the two mites the poor widow placed in the offering.  They perhaps have given more than everyone else, though it does not appear that way on the surface. Continue reading Our Twopence Fasting

Where did the Christian Bible come from?

The convenient “package” of sacred scriptures that we call the Bible did not suddenly appear during the time of the apostles. Numerous Gospels, Epistles, Revelations, and other writings were originally part of the New Testament in various times and places. One might find it strange to know that some of these books are no longer included in our Bibles.

But why were these writings removed from the New Testament? Were they suppressed by Constantine or a politicized church? Was there a secret conspiracy to hide certain writings from Christians?

The long and complicated history of the New Testament is an intriguing subject. I came across an essay that I have “borrowed” by Fr. James Bernstein, a Jewish convert to the Christian faith who was one of the founding members of Jews for Jesus. He briefly tells his story of converting from Judaism to Christianity in his teenage years, and then discusses his in depth journey into historical records to find out where we got our New Testament. It is a long, but worthwhile read, especially for anyone who has had questions regarding the validity or historical merit of the New Testament:

By Fr. James Bernstein

As a Jewish convert to Christ via evangelical Protestantism, I naturally wanted to know God better through the reading of the Scriptures. In fact, it had been through reading the Gospels in the “forbidden book” called the New Testament, at age sixteen, that I had come to believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and our promised Messiah. In my early years as a Christian, much of my religious education came from private Bible reading. Continue reading Where did the Christian Bible come from?

Thoughts on Humility – Elder Thaddeus

God is a mystery to all beings.  God is in us, and that is why we are a mystery to our own selves.  God reveals Himself only to the meek and humble.  He is present everwhere, and He is a mystery.  We may learn a little about Him, or may gather some knowledge from nature, but for the most part, we are surrounded by mystery.

When a person is meek and humble, he will advance in knowledge.   Continue reading Thoughts on Humility – Elder Thaddeus

A New Beginning in Stillness

Abba Poeman said about Abba Pior, “Everyday he makes a new beginning.”

This New Year’s Day, I ask myself, “What is it that keeps me from making a new beginning, not only of 2018, but of everyday?”

When I stop to analyze my habits and my thoughts, I see some areas that need improvement.

One thing that comes to mind is social media.  There have been a significant number of articles floating around on the internet lately that reveal the detrimental psychological effects of social media, not to mention the spiritual damage that is incurred.

In addition to causing depression and increasing suicidal tendencies, it keeps us distracted and unfocused, making it difficult to produce quality work throughout the day and to keep our minds sharp and able to pray.  Years ago, an abbot told me that a large part of the reason we become bored in church is because our minds have been damaged and over stimulated by social media, the television, radio, etc.   Scientific research is now showing that he was correct.

When is the last time we have spent an hour in silence?  No TV, no smartphone dinging its notifications, no radio in the car.

It seems like if we get a moment — the phone isn’t ringing, the kids are being quiet, there’s no pressing urgent item to work on — we reach for the smartphone or tablet. We look to the electronic device that is literally providing a dopamine hit in our brains and slowly altering it, creating an addictive cycle — the same one cocaine addicts are caught in.

We get that feeling of instant gratification.

But then that ebbs away.

Restlessness, sadness, even a bit of depression takes its place.  This is the cycle that many of us are caught in.  We want that chemical-induced instant gratification.

But what if, instead, we reached for the phone and turned it off?  What if we then picked up our prayer rope or a good book?  It seems that such a little gesture would be all that it takes to begin to break the psychological and spiritual trap we are in.

May God give us the strength and resolve we need to make everyday a new beginning this year. Continue reading A New Beginning in Stillness

The Tao of Christ: A Story from the East

Below is an excerpt from a letter I wrote to a good friend of mine who is not a Christian, but who has been on a quest for spiritual truth and authenticity for many years. In it, I try to express the truth of Christianity without getting too caught up in the normal terminology that we Christians use.

I do feel like the past holds the key answers for the present. The more I read the Buddha, Lao Tzu (Taoism), Confucius, and Eastern Orthodox desert spirituality, the more I see that the spiritual giants of the past were pointing humanity toward many of the same things. I’m not a fan of syncretism because it tends to ignore diversity within each system while trying to suppress the differences. But the teachings of these amazing men and women have survived thousands of years because, over and over, humanity has confirmed that their teachings are the closest thing to truth that we have discovered. Continue reading The Tao of Christ: A Story from the East

The Desert of Our Present Life

After passing through the Red Sea, the Hebrews were within a couple hundred miles, or a two week journey on foot, from their destined Promised Land.  Yet it took them forty long years of circling in the wilderness before arriving at the place promised to their forefather Abraham.  The desert met these former slaves with all of its harshness, trials, temptations, scourges, and the occasional oasis.

Why did God lead them in circles in the wilderness when they were so close to the Promised Land?  In short, they were not ready to receive such a great inheritance.  At the first sign of difficulty, war, hunger, thirst, or any other trial, they would throw up their hands and say, “If only we had stayed in Egypt!  There things were safe and familiar; in Egypt our bellies would be filled.”  Continue reading The Desert of Our Present Life