Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What is the Perfect Prayer?

This is a common question among Christians. Instinctively we know that we must pray, but often times we get confused about what to pray? Indeed, when the Lord was asked this, His response was to pray the “Lord’s Prayer,” but sometimes even this prayer doesn’t calm our nerves. I can imagine this must have been the situation for two blind men who approached Christ. I can imagine a life without sight can be very difficult and that they would have needed something more.

So they offered the perfect prayer, “Have mercy on us!” (Matthew 9.27) Why was this prayer so perfect? They knew God. They believed in Jesus Christ as “Son of David,” so they were faithful Jews. They had such a strong need for Him, they went after Him. I imagine they must have rushed to keep up with Him as they cried out, “Son of David, have mercy on us!” Christ, knowing their faith, asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” Do what exactly?

What happened next, I believe is what makes their prayer so perfect. They simply asked for God’s mercy, nothing more-nothing less, and they received their sight. What was lacking wasn’t faith, but awareness that God knew their struggle. In their particular case, God was able to respond to their need by restoring their sight. He was compassionate in their anxiety, and they were comforted.

Sometimes we need simply to be aware of God’s compassion so that our anxiety may pass. In those times consider the perfect prayer, and seek God’s mercy. Maybe your eyes will be opened to your true needs.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Forgiveness of Sins

The foundation of our salvation in Jesus Christ is the forgiveness of sins. Jesus came to save us from our sins, and by becoming one of us, forever conquered the effect of sin. Sin no longer has dominion over us, unless of course, we allow it.

In the Gospel we hear Jesus forgiveness the sins of the paralytic man, BEFORE healing his illness. “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9.2) That means, before we can be healed of our physical wounds, we must first be forgiven of our sins. Our bodies will eventually die and return to dust, but our souls, which will forever bear our sins, will live forever with the burden that comes with sin. By forgiving the paralytic’s sins, Jesus was reminding Him of what was important, the soul.

In our contemporary days, we are preoccupied with our physical health. Our “health care system” is focused on making us live forever. Millions of dollars and thousands of hours are spent and agonized over in hospitals attempting to live forever. But what effort do we make to heal our soul? If we are willing to spend so much effort to heal our physical wounds, shouldn’t we be willing to put at least that much effort into our souls?

We can be forgiven. We only need to ask, and the Church has been given authority by Christ to forgive sins. Schedule a confession with your spiritual father today. Don’t miss the chance to hear the words, “Your sins are forgiven.” 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Hidden Blessings

The other day, as I was leaving Philadelphia after the Clergy-Laity Congress, we decided to stop by the Russian Orthodox Cathedral for a visit. I had heard that it was built by the Czar, and I felt compelled, really, to go. I imagined it must have been an amazing Church if the Czar had invested in its construction. I imagined gilded icons, shining onion domes of various colors and the stench of ancient Orthodoxy in the heart of a modern city. I was NOT disappointed...

When we arrived at the Church, I almost missed it, tucked in between two buildings in what has recently become a “trendy” neighborhood after many years of crime and poverty. I stood across the street to take the first of what I imagined would be hundreds of pictures. When we entered, we were met by Fr Mark, the pastor for St Andrew Russian Orthodox Cathedral. He welcomed us into the most amazing Church I had visited in recent years.

As we walked up the stairs, I asked Fr Mark, “So this was built by the Czar?” “No,” he replied. “The Russian Navy built the Church.” With a lump of disappointed in my throat, and a bit of embarrassment, we ascended the stairs into the Church. The wooden floors creaked as we venerated the Icons of the Mother of God. The icons on the walls were covered in more than a hundred years of smoke and incense. I entered the Holy of Holies to venerate the Holy Altar. Every inch of the Church was filled with the fragrance of incense. I was in one of the simplest and most humble Churches considering its history and location in downtown Philadelphia.

I exited the Holy of Holies to begin venerating the Holy Icons, when it hit me. This WAS the glorious Church I had expected, but not for all the (lack of) gilded icons. As I went from icon to icon for veneration, I began to notice that each one, EACH ONE, had a relic of the Saint. I was blessed to venerate relics of:
  • St. Andrew the Apostle
  • Saints Peter and Paul
  • The Three Great Hierarchs (Basil, John Chrysostom, and Gregory the Theologian)
  • Saint George
  • Saint Elizabeth the Grand Duchess
  • Saint Luke the Physician
  • Saint Tikhon who had consecrated the Church in 1902
  • And at least a dozen more Russian Saints, the names of which I couldn’t read, including the first pastor of the Church who had been martyred by the Communists when he returned to Russia.

As we were preparing to leave the Church, I commented to Presvytera, “Much better than some ‘cracked bell’ isn’t it?” We were in Philadelphia just a few blocks away from the Liberty Bell. It may seem strange, but I have always been the kind of person who chose to visit local “hangouts” rather than famous tourist locations. I’ve been to New York several times, but never to the Empire State Building. I went to Athens and DIDN’T  go the Acropolis. It isn’t that I am against those places. I just prefer, when possible, to visit ‘normal’ places that help me appreciate people who live where I am visiting. But don’t worry, I have been to the US Capitol, The Prada Art Museum, Sidney Opera House, Ellis Island, and many other famous locations.

This has been a long-time tradition of mine which began in 1987 when I was in Australia with my high school choir. While visiting Melbourne, I heard of a nearby Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Catherine, the same name as my home Church at the time. I stopped by for a visit and have been hooked ever since. Visiting local churches during vacations has given me two blessings; experiencing the local people, and the grace of God present in their Church. I highly recommend fitting a visit to the local Orthodox Church into your next (and every future) vacation plans. You won’t be disappointed. I haven’t been.