Thursday, February 11, 2010

Homily for Forgiveness Vespers

Modeled on St John Chrysostom's Catechetical Homily

I thought it might be helpful to us if we began the fast with an exhortation which matched the beautiful Paschal Sermon of our Father among the Saints, John Chrysostom.

May the Lord bless our ascetical effort and sanctify us all thereby!

If anyone be devout and love God,

Let him commence this radiant fast with joy!

If anyone be a wise servant,

Let him, rejoicing, enter into the school of repentance.

We who have wallowed long in sin,

Let us now begin our return.

If anyone has strayed from the first hour,

Let him today repent with zeal.

If anyone has sinned from the third hour,

Let him with gratitude embrace the fast.

If anyone has fled God from the sixth hour,

Let him have no misgivings about his prompt return;

Because he shall in nowise be turned away therefore.

If anyone has indulged the flesh since the ninth hour,

Let him draw near, fearing God alone and trusting in His mercy.

And if anyone has turned away only at the eleventh hour, Let him also not hesitate to turn back with haste.

For the Lord, who is longsuffering and full of compassion and mercy, will accept the last even as the first.

He restores him who repents at the first hour,

As He does him who turns back at the eleventh.

And He shows mercy upon the last,

And cares for the first;

And to the one He gives,

And upon the other He bestows gifts.

And He both accepts the confession,

And welcomes the intention,

And honors the contrite heart and rejoices in the return.

Wherefore, enter all of you into the holiness of your Lord;

Offer your repentance,

Both the last, and likewise the first.

You rich and poor together, repent, for today we stand outside the closed gates of paradise.

You sober and you heedless, prostrate yourselves before your King!

Return to the Lord today, both you who have sinned with knowledge and those who have done so in ignorance.

Your pantries are full; empty them to the hungry.

The belly enslaves us, let no one be dominated thereby.

Enter all of you into the Great Fast;

Stripped of heavenly wealth by sin, all draw near to Gods rich loving-kindness!

Let no one despair in his sinfulness,

For the Bridegroom comes at midnight.

Weep all of you for your iniquities,

And draw near to the life-giving Cross of our Lord.

Let no one put confidence in the flesh,

For the Devil has deceived us all thereby, and therewith enslaves us to sin.

By turning from God, we are made captives.

We have called good evil and evil good, and put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.

And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry:

Woe to those who put darkness for light, and light for darkness!

We are embittered, for we are banned from Eden.

We are embittered, but it is we who have mocked God.

We are embittered, for now we shall surely die.

We are embittered, for we have succumbed to the serpent.

We are embittered, for we are fettered in chains.

We partook of a fruit, and met the deceiver.

We were entrusted with paradise, but we chose Hell.

Our eyes were opened to see the nakedness of sin.

Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver us!

O Lord, make haste to help us!

This is the acceptable time, let us repent!

This is the day of salvation, let us crucify the passions!

The end is at hand and destruction hangs over us!

The end draws nigh, let us come again to our senses!

The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, what first-fruit shall we offer?

Let us delay not, lest we remain dead in the grave, sold under sin!

For God desires not the death of the sinner, but that he should turn from his wickedness and live!

So, let us choose life, and live, for the mercy of God endures forever!

To Him be glory and dominion

Unto ages of ages. Amen.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Pro-Choice Christianity

A talk I gave at the closing rally for 40 days for Life in Charleston, SC, in early November 2009.

Good Afternoon. I wish to thank Cheryle Freiberger who was kind enough to invite me to speak with you all today. I would like to share some extremely heart-felt words with you today—words which I have pondered for some time, ideas I have prayed through for years, but words and ideas, thoughts and suggestions, of whose living out I am quite a poor example. So, perhaps, if the words are inspired, we can somehow work together to put them into practice.

I wish also to extend thanks and to ask God’s richest blessings on each of you, Priests, pastors, friends, and neighbors, who have labored in prayer and vigil, in words and deeds, in an effort to shine the bright light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ into the darkened lots of Abortion clinics, into the hardened hearts of those who perform abortions, and into the confused lives of those who seek such a quote-unquote remedy for their unexpected or undesired pregnancies.

I’d like also to share a few words with you from the Burial Office for a Child of the Orthodox Church. It is common in our Divine Services to sing poetic conversations. And in the Burial of the Child, the child says to us,

“Lament not for me, for I have in no way begun to be meet for weeping. But rather weep always for yourselves who have sinned, O kinsmen and friends,” the dead infant cries out, “that tested you not receive torment.” (Funeral for an Infant, Book of Needs Vol III, p. 166)

Ode 8 (Song of the Three Holy Youths)
“Why do you mourn me, the infant that has been translated hence?” the child cries out invisibly, as he lies dead. “For there is no cause for grief. For the joy of the righteous is appointed unto infants who have committed no deeds worthy of tears. For they sing unto Christ: You Priests sing; you people, highly exalt Him unto the Ages!” (Funeral for an Infant, Book of Needs Vol III, p. 170)

As we begin this afternoon, I will turn my words away from the holy innocents, and direct them towards us who are still in the course of our earthly life. Let us pray to the Lord, that we will know his Gospel, not only in our minds, but in our actions:

Let us pray to the Lord. Lord have mercy!

Illumine our hearts, O Master who lovest mankind, with the pure light of Thy divine knowledge. Open the eyes of our minds to the understanding of thy Gospel teachings. Implant also in us the fear of Thy blessed commandments, that trampling down all carnal desires, we may enter upon a spiritual manner of living, both thinking and doing such things as are well pleasing unto Thee. For Thou are the illumination of our souls and bodies, O Christ our God, and to Thee do we ascribe glory, together with Thine unoriginate Father, and Thy Most-holy, life-creating Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

I would like to entitle my talk, provocatively, Pro-Choice Christianity. Please listen carefully.

There was once a class in a college in Arizona, when videography was just beginning, which was assigned to do a final project and the Navajo students decided to team up and do one on "Navajo blanket weaving." But the video showed only momentary flashes of a rug being woven on a loom. The production began with a sunrise, some traditional Dene arising and saddling their horses, and then more scenery shots, wildflowers, cacti, sheep, mesas, mountains, sheep, cloudburst, rain, sheep, more flowers, a sunset, and finally again that half-finished rug. The professor and the anglos in the class were mystified. They had expected a film detailing the sequential linear process by which a rug might be woven: shearing the wool from the sheep, spinning it into yarn, dying the yarn, setting up the loom and weaving the rug. But nothing of that was in the film.

What were the Indians trying to communicate? Their frame of reference was much wider. Instead of focusing on the wool, yarn, design, loom and weaver, their message was, to make a rug you need the sun to rise, the wind to blow, the rain to fall, the grass to grow, the sheep to graze, the flowers to bloom, and if the cosmos is balanced and operating in harmony, you can produce...rugs!

Like the presumptions of the Anglos in this simple story, I believe we generally have a closed-system approach to dealing with abortion. There are several facets to dealing with the problem: The law and lawmakers, the doctors and clinics, and the pregnant women and those in their sphere of influence, and then “us”, folks who would like, with a variety of energy levels and approaches, to influence the lawmakers, change the law, close the clinics, perhaps punish the doctors, educate the women, and celebrate a total victory.

And yet remarkably, since the legalization of abortion, during these nearly 37 years, while celebrating certain quote-unquote successes—(there are, I believe, many fewer abortion facilities in SC, for example)—the situation remains more or less the same. We still legally allow the killing of several thousand children *per day* in our country. Every day is a 9-11. Every Day.

So, it seems that it might be helpful to look at this terrible situation, this daily terrorism with a new lens, a new perpective. I tire very easily of the same ol’ same ol’ when it comes to political discussions and debates on moral issues—topics which have their fundamental root in divine revelation. My conviction is not based on a desire for the removal of religion from the public sphere—which is the confused action of our prevailing culture—where freedom of religion has been replaced by freedom FROM religion.

Rather, I find that the moral categories are not up for debate or discussion, though they are debated and discussed, and I find that the labels and terminologies employed in these debates on the one hand are inadequate while on the other hand they back us into unnecessary corners. This is certainly true with the grave sin, the mortal evil of abortion.

Allow me to give two examples of what I mean. For starters, the labels are inadequate. Pro-life means what, basically? It means full-court press against abortion. But we who are Pro-life, must, as Christians, be pro-ALL life. This includes prenatal infants, our own children, our neighbors, the elderly man at the retirement home—cradle to grave.

BUT ALSO being pro-life means defending the life of the most hardened killer, murderer, rapist. And then also it would include defending the right to life of our mortal enemy. This, my brothers and sisters, is the Gospel.

Labels and terminology also back us unnecessarily into corners. My main example would be the terms Pro Life and Pro Choice. Every woman who has an abortion and/or every man who insists it be so, is Pro Life. They just either don’t understand what life really is, or they are thinking selfishly about their own life only. And likewise, it seems to me, that every Pro-lifer is also Pro-choice—it is just that we believe in a different set of choices, or at least a different timeline of when the choices are made. For the balance of my talk, I’d like to deal primarily with the question of the 93% of abortions which occur for quote-unquote social reasons—unwanted pregnancies which are *unrelated* to incest, rape, or the potential life-threat to the mother. Perhaps we can, when Christians live, breathe, and behave as Christians, reduce the number of daily abortions from 3700 to 260. (

It is the taking the label Pro Choice and turning it on ourselves on which I would like to focus my words this afternoon. I think it might be worth considering. Some supporters of abortion—who believe that they themselves are Pro-life, believe that we should be called “Anti-choice.” But this isn’t the case at all. Christians, at least Christians who believe in solidarity what has been believed by all Christians at all times, are Pro-Choice. Please listen to why I believe this is so.

I don’t believe we need to reiterate to one another the horrors of abortion; the sick, sad and/or unfortunate circumstances which bring a woman to the point of aborting a pregnancy. Abortion is murder. Abortion is the killing of a child.

Rather, I believe we need to step back and take some responsibility ourselves for the madness.

Did you know that nearly 70% of all abortions in the USA are performed by those professing Christianity? 20% of us profess to be Evangelical/Born again Christians 31% are Roman Catholic. And the leading late-term Partial Birth abortion doctor professes Christianity and claims to pray with his patients.

Statistically speaking, we Christians are responsible for 2590 abortions every day. TODAY—All saints day on the Western Calendar, 2590 self-professing Christian women are killing their children, and again, statistically speaking, 2744 of those abortions are by Christian woman for convenience sake. *WE* are killing our children.

In no case ever, ought we to be self-righteous finger pointers to any woman on the edge of insanity or towards any doctor who suffers from sclero-cardia (hardness of heart).

Rather, we need to label ourselves as we are: each of us the first of sinners, for whom Jesus Christ died. Beggars who have found bread and want to show other beggars where to do the same. Insane humans who have found sanity and life in Jesus Christ.

And we need to ask ourselves: do we recognize how we, in small and large ways, contribute to an abortion culture, to the culture of death?

· I drive a carpool of 10-12 year olds to school—many of whom can sing many Green Day songs—completely vulgar lyrics by a band whose lead-singer pretends to masturbate on the crowd at his concert. Lamentably, I was there long ago. Do we know what our children listen to? Do we know the lyrics? Do we volunteer them for this?

· How about TV and movies? Do we allow the young eyes and tender hearts of our smallest children to see the graphic ultraviolence on television? How about completely open sexual affairs, disordered relationships, one night stands, and overt lust on prime time television which is all openly practiced and celebrated not only with humor (often crude) but also in the conspicuous absence of any consequence whatsoever. Or the same in PG-13 movies?

· How about un-monitored internet access? Have you checked the history tab on your internet browser? Statistically speaking, your teenage son has been exposed to or visits pornographic sites.

· Mothers, what do you teach your daughters about chastity and purity? What do your daughters wear to school? To the beach? How do you model chastity and purity for them? What do you say to them by your dress and care for cosmetics?

· Fathers, what do we teach our sons about how to treat girls? Do we take a “boys will be boys” attitude? How are we modeling respect for women, sobriety, chivalry, and also chastity and purity? How do we model love and tenderness for our wives, that our sons might have a model worthy of imitation?

· How about divorce? Forgive me for speaking frankly: statistically speaking, 50% or more of us here gathered are divorced. What example is this setting for our children with respect to endurance, forgiveness, love, commitment? Of all the abortions in America, the majority are performed on unmarried women in their young 20s—many of whom are the very ones who want to “try out” marriage in living together arrangements or “friends with benefits” (what a horrible euphemism for recreational sex) precisely because they’d rather do this than fail at marriage like mom and dad. It is sick and twisted, but it is reality.

· How about your church? If it promotes or allows for abortion or the possibility of it, you must question its very core. If your church leaves this door open, walk out. Christianity is about Life. True Life in Jesus Christ.

We might not have scraped our children from our wombs, but leaving our children to the wolves our selfish passions and desires or to the vultures of pop-culture and and then writing it off as “they’ll be okay”, we slowly scrape their souls out of their tender bodies. We prepare the next generation of those sons who will impregnate girls, those daughters who will find themselves with quote-unquote unwanted pregnancies, those lawmakers who will perpetuate abortion, and those doctors who will perform them.

Again remember: nearly 70% of all abortions in the USA are performed by those professing Christianity. 20% of them profess themselves to be Evangelical/Born again Christians. 31% Roman Catholic.

How many of us say in our hearts, “It cannot happen to me?” But it can—it does!

We have a choice. But we Christians must train ourselves and our children to see that the choice stops at sexual intercourse. Once that choice is made, there are no more choices (apart from adoption)—only consequences and responsibilities.

If we look at our lives from this perspective, if we can see ourselves as sinners in need of redeeming, sinners on the road to holiness, therefore and thereby we can have a great deal of compassion for those who are on the verge of madness—pregnant and contemplating abortion.

And we can have a great deal of vigilance to teach our children the True Gospel in its fullness.

As Christians, we are indeed Pro Choice because God created us to choose. Choice is what makes Love Love.

Will we choose blessings or curses?
Chastity or promiscuity? Purity or corruption?
Love or Lust? Marriage or experimentation?
Sanctity or Sin? Life or death?

We have other choices too.

Will we choose to forgive 70x7 or do we say, rather “three strikes (or one!) and you’re out”?
Do we choose mercy or condemnation?
Open arms or hard hearts?

We are indeed Pro-choice. We must answer the challenge offered through God’s servant Moses—and we must choose life and live!

In an ironically providential way, though, the choice to live involves murder. Did you know that the Gospel compels us to kill—to be more accurate: to put to death?

I am not referring to the Old Covenant—we are more than familiar with the Levitical commands:

· Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death.
· Whoever curses his father or mother shall be put to death.
· If a man lies with a male as with a woman, they shall both be put to death.
· If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death.

(Parenthesis: The common North American self-professing Christian interpretations of the OT are almost completely vacant and Unchristian, but that is a topic for another day.)

It is the New Testament that I am speaking about. The GOSPEL compels us to kill.

Maybe it even comes as a surprise to you. Searching the memory banks we can think of the Sermon on the Mount—and Jesus’ own words, “ “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.”

But, we say, Jesus reiterated the law to the Young Man—you remember the encounter: And behold, one came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?”  And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”  He said to him, “Which?” And Jesus said, “You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

It is not a command which comes from the lips of our Lord, but rather one that is found in the writings of St Paul. To the Romans he wrote in a passive way: So then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—  for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live (Romans 8:12).

To the Colossians, he wrote it in the form of a command:

 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you once walked, when you lived in them. 8 But now put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices 10 and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all.

PUT TO DEATH therefore what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness. Anger, wrath, malice, slander, foul talk.

The violence to which we are called in the Christian Scriptures is a violence against our own sin. Me against my sin. You against yours. Our violent act is not directed against our neighbor or our child; nor is it directed against our neighbor’s sin(s).

After all, we ought not be “plank-eyes”. “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but you do not see the log that is in your own?” Or as Saint Ephraim the Syrian prayed, “Grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother.”

I am to take my own sin by the throat and strangle it. I am to take my own sin to the cross and crucify it.

What does all this have to do with abortion and our task to reduce and/or eradicate the practice? Well, everything. Because if we Christians live our Christianity, there will be 2590 fewer abortions today, tomorrow, the next day.

945,350 fewer this year. IF CHRISTIANS WILL STOP ABORTING.

We must take responsibility for our sins. How many are the numbers of us who would say “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” And yet we are the leading aborters! Therefore, we don’t need to point fingers: “you shouldn’t do this or that” or “the government should change this or that.” Should we change the law? Of course we should. But the law is permissive. As Christians, can we not make the choice of NOT choosing abortion?

If we are going to point fingers, let them be at ourselves. The blame-game is sufficiently well-played, and even we Christians, who theoretically know better, perpetuate this preferred method of dealing with everything and everyone.

It began in the Garden of Paradise: Adam said, “It was the woman you gave me.” Eve (I love her name in Greek: Zoe—LIFE!) said, “it was the serpent who beguiled me”. Even still, although this is our fallen human nature from the beginning, we are empowered to break the cycle, find life through Christ, who conquered sin and death, and who was born through the New EVE, the New ZOE, the most-pure and ever-virgin God-bearer Mary.

And so, (fathers), brothers and sisters, let us indeed celebrate today that God have granted us even the salvation of one baby, one mother’s soul, in these 40 days.

But moreso, let us remember that every day, we have a choice. A choice to live the way of the Cross of Christ: Denying ourselves and following Him. A choice to demonstrate this true-life to our children and to our neighbors. A choice to live!

And Let us also remember that this choice requires crucifying our sinful passions. Putting to death that which draws us away from God.

Then, we shall also be able, by God’s great grace, also to complete what St Paul was teaching, putting on then,

as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, 13 forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Closing prayer: P. 178 (at bottom) “O Lord, Who guardest infants in this present life…”

Who has a need for Christmas?

He had been extremely wealthy, but something went terribly wrong. By the end, circumstances had become so dire, that not only had his whole business been lost, but there remained not even enough to feed his family of three daughters. In his desperation—who can imagine such desperation?—he figured that his only recourse to feed the girls was to sell them into prostitution for grocery money. No where to turn. Nothing to eat. No option.

Most of us could hardly imagine selling our children into prostitution or slavery in order to have food to eat. Most of us, indeed, cannot begin to conceive of what it must be like to be that desperate, that in need. Most reading this humble article have never involuntarily gone without a meal, much less a week’s worth. Many of us have never ‘needed’ anything. What would drive someone to such an immoral act?

It is probable that most of us have never met someone in these circumstances; perhaps it is fair to say that we don’t even know someone who knows someone who was. We tend to go about our business; we tend to keep to ourselves. We know what we know, we know whom we know, and that is our life.

But Nicholas knew of them. He knew that it was immoral for him to allow such a thing to happen. He had the means to help, and did. Under the cover of darkness, having assembled small bags of money (in large amounts), he made his way into their neighborhood, and seeing a window of their house opened, he tossed the bags in, praying that it would be sufficient to prevent such a sin. Thank God, it was. Overjoyed by such grace, Nicholas repeated his secret efforts twice more for the same family; each time another one of the man’s daughters married.

Nicholas had never known such need himself. He had plenty—more than plenty, as the son of wealthy parents. But he knew the needy, and he helped them. He knew the struggling children, and he helped them. He even helped a city plagued by famine. Saint Nicholas was Archbishop of Myra in Lycia (Asia Minor) in the 4th century. His feast day is December 6, and his life is the basis for the modern day Santa Claus, that plumb, kind man whose task has morphed from bringing profound joy to delivering merely fleeting happiness.

For most of us in the Lowcountry—even still today—needs were long, long ago replaced with wants. During the ‘Christmas Season’ which has come to be known as the ‘season for giving’, we still emphasize the question, “what do you want for Christmas?” Even among the lists of the needy, soliciting the charity of others, are included Wii’s, Playstations, and mp3 players! Is it not finally the time to ask, “What do you need for Christmas?” Shopping and getting “more stuff” will never satisfy our empty souls.

Many of us continue to spend a frantic month searching for the ‘perfect gift’ for that ‘special someone’ who ‘has everything’. Why on earth do we need to buy ‘something’ (which usually winds up begin just ‘some’ thing) for someone who has everything? Someone who has NO need?

It isn’t that we shouldn’t give one another gifts. In fact, this is one way we show love for one another. But couldn’t the gift for that ‘someone who has everything’ be an offering to someone who has nothing? Even in our day of down-sizing and cutting back, we still rent storage units to hold all the stuff we can’t fit in our houses. Some spend up to hundreds of dollars a month for a roof over furniture stacked on top of itself in a metal building (and some climate controlled!). But what about the poor who have no roof and are stacked on top of themselves? Which needs the roof?

Does little Johnny really need another video game? The latest mp3 player? Does Susie really need an 18th Barbie? Does Grandma really need another collector’s plate from the Franklin Mint? Do I really need another tie?

For many, charity is the check we write on occasion during the year to assuage the guilt we have for having too much stuff and continuing to buy more anyway. Such charity does help the needy, and thank God for that much. But moreso, we are called to change our whole view, our whole mind, our whole existence—to reflect the life of Christ like St. Nicholas did. So many of us have so much to give—which is not ours anyway. It is given to us by God to be used by good stewards who in turn show the love of God to those who truly need it. Citing the King and Judge of all, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it [clothed the naked, fed the hungry, visited the sick and imprisoned, etc.] to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40ff). Jesus didn’t give new chariots to people or even grant them new clothing. Rather, he fed them (actually and spiritually), he gave them health, healing, hope, and salvation—and in the end, he gave his life for them, for us. This is our calling.

St. Nicholas was an ardent follower of Jesus Christ. He lived the Gospel, and did so quietly, humbly, and without desire for or requirement of recognition. He didn’t give asking for the new building to be named after him, or to be announced in the news. He gave because God had given to him, and he knew his responsibility as a human being, as a Christian, to help the helpless and to give hope the hopeless. Our call is no different. So, this Christmas, let’s ask a new question. Instead of “what do you want for Christmas?” let’s ask, “Who has needs this Christmas whom we can help?” And having asked the question, let our giving be, like St. Nicholas’, quiet, anonymous, given to the glory of God, that all may see these good works, and give glory to God in heaven.

Fr. John Parker is Priest-in-Charge of Holy Ascension Orthodox Church in I’On. He can be reached at or at 881-5010.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Halloween: Trick Or Retreat?

Trick or Retreat
By Fr. John Parker
(Republished from 2005)

Few of us could say with clarity, certainty, and from memory, which saints we Orthodox commemorate on October 31. For the record, and for our spiritual nourishment, we commemorate the “Apostles of the Seventy: Stachys, Amplias, Urban, Narcissus, Apelles, and Aristobulus”, among others. We read about their appointment in Luke 10:1ff, “After this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to come.” Apparently, according to St. Paul’s epistle, these men were in Rome:Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. Greet my kinsman Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus…Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you (Romans 16:8 11,16).

I personally would like to be much more well-versed in the Saints of the Church, and especially more well read in the Scriptures. To be sure, I need to deepen my prayer life by leagues. Are these not chief tasks of the Orthodox Faith: to know God, to become holy? In nearly every litany that we pray in the Orthodox Church, we “commend ourselves, each other, and all our life unto Christ our God.” Every nook and cranny, every high and low, every joy and sorrow, every intrigue and resolution we are to bring to God to hallow: to make holy. Every thought, every action, every reaction, every word we are to offer back to God. Every dollar we spend, every breath we expend, every minute we save, every night and every day are to be freely offered in eucharist—thanksgiving to God for His generosity, kindness, and endless mercy. We study and learn the Scriptures and the lives of the saints in order to recognize that God has given the grace to do these things throughout all generations, and will give them to us in proportion to the depth of our desire.

Having set the stage, at least basically, it is important for us to recognize that this [holiness, thanksgiving, living “in Christ”] is the lens through which we are to see the world. This is the filter through which we are to address the situations and dilemmas of our daily lives. What about the ‘dilemma’ of Halloween? Several of you have asked me about this ‘festival’ in the past weeks, so is it pagan? Is it Christian? Is it holy? Is it evil? Is it neutral, benign, or harmless?
Conducting a search for “history of Halloween” on, I encountered, as you can imagine, numberless web sites attesting to the history—or better, histories, of Halloween. Some from churches, some from witches (yes, witches. They do exist.), some from county libraries. The Dauphin (PA?) County library site, I believe, is the most helpful for us, in part, because the opening paragraph defines the nature of our dilemma well:

America is a melting pot of cultures from all over the world. Because we are a nation of people from many different cultures, our holidays tend to blend bits and pieces from different cultures into one American celebration. Halloween is one of the best examples of a holiday with a rich tradition of "blending." ((

The DCLS basically defines Halloween as a melting-pot holiday. If you were to browse the web as I did, you would find this to be true: the roots of the ‘festival’ are found in pre-Christian Celtic (pagan) life. Later, as with many feasts including the Nativity, pagan festivals were ‘baptized’ by the Church and became Christian feasts. Most sites note that the word ‘Halloween’ is a contraction of ‘All Hallow’s Even’ or in contemporary English, the night before All Saint’s Day. The Western Church, for many centuries now has celebrated this feast on this day as a means of Christianizing pagan rituals for the dead, etc. (Parenthetically, the Orthodox celebrate All Saints on the first Sunday after Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit. This is theologically appropriate as it is the Holy Spirit who sanctifies us—makes us saints!)

If there is a problem with Halloween, it begins with the very issue that the DCLS celebrates: melting pot. The theological term for this is syncretism. Syncretism simply means blending. Syncretism, besides idolatry (although related), was one of the chief sins and evils of Israel in the Old Testament. Solomon life is a prime example this danger. Having been faithful to the One True God, he then went off and intermarried with all sorts of foreign women whose influences led him to blend faiths and ultimately depart from God. You can read the full story in 1 Kings 11:1ff.

Melting pots are nice for stews, desserts, fashions, dances, learning languages, and the like, but they are not only horrible for, but detrimental to, Christianity. As the DCLS site notes, “halloween is one of the best examples of a holiday with a rich tradition of blending.” But is this blending good? Can we be in it, be a part of it? I would suggest that there are precious few, if any, ways we could completely sanctify a night of trick-or-treating. Remember: we aren’t called to offer “part of our lives to Christ our God”, but rather “ourselves, each other, and all our life unto [Him].”

Consider the following, all normal today. You can find these in Anycity, USA:

Is it okay for a Christian parent to allow a child to dress up as a witch, a warlock, a vampire, an evil monster?

Is it healthy for parents to expose their children to walking through neighborhoods where some folks have actually dug up their yards to make graves and hide in them with chainsaws, axes, and cleavers?

Halloween may have its ‘tame’ side with Power Rangers, tinkerbells, and Disney Characters—these you’ll find on the front page of the costume store advertisment; but what about the costume called “Angel of Darkness”, tailored for teenage girls, which boasts a scant mini-skirt, all black, with a mesh-like, low-cut, v-neck top, complete with cherry red lipstick and a 4 inch crucifix? You might not let your teenage daughter wear such a thing, but would you expose your children to this on a dark night?

What about a haunted maize maze?

Your neighbors may think you are strange. They may even think you are ‘some kind of fundamentalist’. They may suggest, “it’s harmless fun…you did it when you were a kid!” It may be harmless, it may not. The risks not only of frightening young children but doing unseen spiritual damage are frankly too high to take the chance. And yes, I did trick or treat when I was a kid. My parents still have picture of me dressed up as a hot-wheels racecar driver next to my “Casper the friendly ghost” brother, and here I am—normal (so I say!). But here is how I would respond to such arguments:

1. My faith is not what it was then, and while church-goers, no theological discussion was ever had in my family, regarding Halloween when I was a boy. We must consider our faith first when making all of our decisions. Consider St. Paul’s words, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Cor. 13:11).
2. The “when you were a kid” argument is a bad one. What if you smoked pot when you were younger? Would you, now that you know differently and better, say, “well, I did it when I was a kid and I am fine”? I licked a paintbrush soaked in gasoline when I was a kid. I am fine today, but would hardly recommend the practice to anyone, particularly a child.
3. The can be no argument against this statement: Halloween is not what it used to be. Halloween is the second most financially lucrative holiday in the USA. Costumes have become a whole industry, much of which is dedicated to making evil look more evil and scary, scarier.
4. Assume (for only a moment) that the night is “harmless”: I can sing practically every song that came out in the early 80s. Is this wrong or bad? Well, only if you also asked me (now a few years ago) where to find Noah and the Flood in the Bible. Or to tell you who King Josiah, or Tamar, or Rahab were. Or where St. Innocent came from and what work he did, or why we use incense in church. Or how to sit still and pray. Was my time memorizing the radio spent on evil? No, hardly. But it was surely poorly spent by comparison! Have we done all that we can to facilitate the spiritual lives of our family members?

If you feel like you can’t fight the tide of the society—and in the future, we will do this as a parish, with better planning and resources—take your son or daughter to a candy store and let them fill a bag for themselves. Then go home and play some games together. Take the public night away—filled with scary things and unnecessary influences—and replace it with something family oriented—or even more ideally, something directly related to our Faith.
As far as Halloween has ever been “Christian”, it was originally a baptism of pagan celebrations—at least All Saints Day was. Once again it is pagan—perhaps civilly pagan (although it is undeniable that witches, druids, etc. do celebrate this feast)—it is time for us to reevaluate our participation in it, perhaps by scrapping it, perhaps by rebaptizing it in some new way.
Some suggestions:

1. Perhaps as early as next year, we as a parish, can sponsor some sort of faith based, get-children-off-the-streets, Christian evening of fun. Many such parties exist now. Choose one of them.
2. Are your really interested in witches, ghosts, monsters, etc.? Read the BIBLE! It is all in there. Once you read it, then you can discuss it, ask about it, and really see why we put our trust in GOD! Consider the following:

Prohibitions regarding astrology (tarot, palm reading, etc) and witches: Deuteronomy 18:9ff.
Saul and the Witch of Endor: 1 Samuel chapter 28

Isaiah’s glimpse into heaven: Isaiah 6

The whole book of Acts, particularly:

  • Simon the Magician: Acts 8
  • The Magicians Bar-Jesus and Elymas: beginning of Acts 13
  • A slave girl possessed by a spirit of divination Acts 16:16ff.
  • Miracles, exorcisms by use of Paul’s handkerchief and apron: Acts 19:11ff.
  • Angels, demons, Dragons, beasts, fire, swords, battles etc.: The whole book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible. Pick any chapter!

If you are looking for some sort of excitement, and think that Hollywood or society has us beat, think again. Read the Bible. With obvious exceptions (related to technology) whatever you can name, you can find in the Scriptures. (Try me…let’s look!) Learn them instead! Whatever is not explicitly found on the pages of the Old and New Testaments, can be found implicitly, or can be read in the lives of the saints.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Ben and Jerry's

To the Head of Public Relations at Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream
September 2, 2009

Mr Greenwood:

I am extremely disappointed that Ben and Jerry's took the unfortunate and flauntingly public step not only to support Vermont's regrettable decision with regard to same-gender unions, but that the company went full-monty in renaming its Chubby Hubby ice cream and placing two men atop a wedding cake on the package.

I am also disappointed that my email and concern will very likely be lumped in with the equally-lamentable "God hates fags" crowd--who shared the stage in Vermont today--whose members will also have to give an answer for their inhumane decisions and behavior. It is a shame that few will even *consider* an email like mine without immediately writing it--and me--off as homophobic. Believe me, I have no fear of or loathing for those who experience same-gender attraction. To the contrary, I wish every man and woman on the planet earth health, wholeness, and salvation.

Marriage is not a civil right, it is a privilege, a calling, a responsibility. To be sure it is a privilege taken lightly by at least half of our society, a responsibility shirked by more than 50% of us who are married. It is a calling to which, for obvious biological reasons (among others), no same-gendered couples may be called, and indeed an arena into which many men and women ought not to step, despite their biological capacities or credentials.

In truth, it is difficult enough that our society's self-willed freefall into a moral collapse (Rome!) is expedited by married men and women who divorce one another with more vengeance than mortal enemies and more quickly than the ever-revolving door of teenage fashion. Decisions like Vermont's put nails in our culture's coffin by further mocking marriage and by giving an example to children that will only lead them into further confusion, despair, and wrecklessness. It is insidious behavior to promote this sadness on ice-cream containers--for crying out loud: the ice-cream man *was* the last stranger any child could trust.

But now, even the greatest hometown ice-cream makers have endorsed it officially. I hope you'll change your minds, for the sake of human-kind, if not at least for the sake of the children.

Very sadly yours,

Fr John Parker

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

On the Via Media

The Christian life:
Via spatiosa?
Via arta?
Via media?

Fr John Parker

What you are about to read may shock you. It will probably sound arrogant and simplistic. It is blunt. It might be ignored. Maybe it should be! It might cause a fury of discussion. It might be the worthless rant of a former Episcopalian.

It is not, however, meant to be anything other than my reflections on the via media, now seven years removed from it, and now that a “new” Anglican province seems to be emerging in North America—one which is welcoming both His Beatitude, the Most-blessed Jonah, the Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church in America and Rick Warren—to the same meeting this summer, to offer words of encouragement and blessing for this effort.

Some will say—and maybe already even have—“Look at how the Anglican Church brings all of these traditions together”. Beware!

So, if I shock, anger, or concern you, I am sorry, and I ask your forgiveness. Sometimes, however, it seems like a hard word must be said, and I am attempting to say one for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The term via media has always bewildered me. And now it bothers me. Some call it the “meeting ground” between the Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant traditions. The place—the church—where a nominal Roman Catholic can marry a moderately committed Presbyterian and both “feel comfortable”—a place which gives each of them the outward appearance of home without the fuss of dogmas or the ballast of doctrines. (This is a striking blow, I know. I am not saying that the Anglican Churches are free of doctrine and dogma. I am, however, saying that doctrine and dogma are moving targets in the Anglican World—and those doctrines and dogmas may or may not be consistent with the Christian Tradition—and they may vary not only at the parochial level—but even at the individual level.)[1]

The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church indicates that George Herbert was among—if not the first person to use the term via media—the middle way. In chapter XIII of The Country Parson, Herbert says the following:

And all this he doth, not as out of necessity, or as putting a holiness in the things, but as desiring to keep the middle way between superstition, and slovenliness, and as following the Apostle’s two great and admirable Rules in things of this nature: The first whereof is Let all things be done decently and in order: The second, Let all things be done to edification. [2]

Herbert uses the term in the context of describing “the Parson’s Church”—how it should be maintained and honored for worship. The parson keeps the floors well swept, keeps the church in good order, and uses linens, etc. of fine material, “not out of necessity but as desiring to keep the middle way between superstition and slovenliness”.[3]

Some consider that Richard Hooker’s via media was essentially the middle road between Queen Elizabeth’s Church of England and the Puritans’. Other writings define the Anglican “middle way” as the faithful road between Rome and Geneva, between the superstitions and excesses of (especially medieval) Roman Catholicism and the hyper-reforms of Presbyterianism. Still others would argue that the adherence to the middle way in all matters is one of the major identifying characteristics of classical Anglicanism. Today, via media has come to mean “average of the two extremes” even, and perhaps especially, with regard to liturgy, theology, ecclesiology, and Biblical interpretation.

However helpful and comforting this concept was to me as an Episcopalian at the time—this way between the excesses of medieval Papism and the baby-and-bathwaterless tub of Protestantism—it still left something to be desired—something at the time intangible, unreachable, indescribable. In retrospect, I can see the reason: in my lifetime (I was a teenager in the 1980s) the “mean” between the two so-called extremes was ever shifting. The self-professing little-‘o’ orthodox Episcopalians couldn’t become any more little ‘o’ orthodox, without becoming big-‘O’ Orthodox (and some have), but the self-named “progressives”—what others call ‘liberals’—seemed to find more and more opportunity and hope for all sorts of departures from the Christian Tradition—women’s ordination, blessings of same-sex unions, blatant ordination and approval of active homosexual bishops, so-called ‘open communion’ (communing, as the bulletin in one Williamsburg, Virginia, Episcopal Church put it, “all those who love God and are drawn to Jesus” (October 2001). With this ever moving ‘left’ wing, the Via Media also moved left. So far left, that it really isn’t in the middle of anything anymore (if it ever was)—save perpetual controversy and lament.

It turns out that the via media makes perfect sense if the Roman Church and the Protestant Churches are the only ‘choices’ in the world. If one’s only options are to choose from Papism (which is not from the beginning) with its strange additions to the faith once for all delivered (read “filioque”, Papal Infallibility and universal jurisdiction, immaculate conception, to name the major ones) or the plethora of self-justifying pieces of Reformation shrapnel, parts of Anglicanism look enticing. There is certainly a beauty in Anglican simplicity, in Anglo-catholic ritual, in English Church Architecture, in Anglican choral work, and in Thomas Cranmer’s poetic translations into English of the Latin Rite. And these not to mention the King James translation of the Bible, still considered to be one of the greatest treasures of the English language. (Too bad text-messaging and twitter will soon erase literature and beautiful language from our culture!)

But is Via Media the Via Christiana?

Not while it remains disconnected from the root; not while it remains out of communion with the ancient Church, a ‘branch’ of which it claims to be—and often, if not nearly always—without consulting the other two branches (as classical Anglican would refer to the Orthodox and Roman Churches). And certainly not while the via media develops its meaning and grows further and further from Herbert’s description of the Country Parson’s tidy, and simplistically beautiful nave.

It was first in reading Vladimir Lossky (though it may have been Alexei Khomiakov), an Orthodox Christian, that my inward discomfort (and disillusionment) with the via media took clearer form. Rather than the either/or choices I had been ‘offered’ ecclesiologically speaking, he described the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches as flip sides of a single coin. A coin—I would add—which like all old coins, has value due to intrigue, interest, and some age, but one, nevertheless which is no longer in circulation—and one which is no longer legal tender, like the German Mark or the Spanish Peseta. On the whole, the Roman Church has not been in communion with the Orthodox Churches since 1054. The Protestant denominations (including the Anglican churches as they exist today) are twice removed from Orthodoxy, since they are break-aways from Rome beginning in the 16th Century.

The Orthodox—historically, liturgically, theologically, ascetically, and biblically speaking—have continued to travel the Christian Way as simply the Via, and not the media of anything. For the Orthodox, the life of the Church—the very Body of Christ—is as her Lord, “the same yesterday, today, and forever”. The Via Christiana is the Via Arta—the Straight Way. The Porta Christiana is the Porta Angusta—the Narrow Gate.

intrate per angustam portam quia lata porta et spatiosa via quae ducit ad
perditionem et multi sunt qui intrant per eam quam angusta porta et arta via
quae ducit ad vitam et pauci sunt qui inveniunt eam

Εἰσέλθατε διὰ τῆς στενῆς πύλης· ὅτι πλατεῖα ἡ πύλη καὶ εὐρύχωρος ἡ ὁδὸς ἡ ἀπάγουσα εἰς τὴν ἀπώλειαν καὶ πολλοί εἰσιν οἱ εἰσερχόμενοι διʼ αὐτῆς· τί στενὴ ἡ πύλη καὶ τεθλιμμένη ἡ ὁδὸς ἡ ἀπάγουσα εἰς τὴν ζωὴν καὶ ὀλίγοι εἰσὶν οἱ εὑρίσκοντες

Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

The Content of the Christian faith is not subject to adjustment, compromise, or averaging. The Way is indeed hard that leads to life and the gate is indeed narrow, according to our Lord Jesus Christ who showed us the way! The via spatiosa—the wide or spacious way is the way of death. This via media is enticing. It glitters. It looks like a road. It may even be beautifully landscaped.

But it is a trap. It is mirage. It is a disguise.

And according to our Lord, it is the way of destruction.

Orthodox Christianity knows no doctrinal or dogmatic compromise. She knows that one cannot give an inch to a slippery-slope question. The devasting results of the tiniest compromise are evident in the shattered fragments of Western Christianity.

But is there room for a via media of any sort? Orthodoxy says, “yes, of course!” But not where Western Christians typically look—since asceticism is almost thoroughly erased from the Occidental Christian memory.

This via media has a popular Greek phrase attached to it—“Pan metron ariston”—Moderation in all things. This, however, does not refer to a middle ground between Jesus truly God and Jesus Truly man, or between, say, traditional or ‘contemporary’ worship, between sacerdotal vestments and golf shirts. The Lordship of Jesus is not up for a vote, the worship of the church is received, and the vestments of the church are outward descriptions of the words of our liturgies.

No, this via media is a middle ground between teetotalism and drunkenness. The *right* amount of prayer and work. Chaste sexual relationships between a husband and his wife. The proper use of leisure. The necessary quantities of food and drink. Not too much. Not too little.

Most simply, it is the Christian version of the Goldilocks and the three bears. A bed not too hard, not too soft, but just right.

One described this Orthodox via media in apophatic terms—which makes total sense to us, since we cannot so easily describe who God is apart from saying what he is not. Apophatically, the Orthodox via media is this: the absence or lack of imbalance. Not simply “balance”—but the *lack* of imbalance.

It is here that life is found—this is the narrow way. The way of self-denial. The way of the destruction of self-will. The way of the murder of the passions of the flesh. If there is a Christian via media, it is the narrow way. A way certainly open to all—everyone is invited. But the stakes are high: death to self, death to sin. The need for a radical transformation of life by and through God’s grace.

But the result both now and in the age to come is priceless: true life in Jesus Christ.

And as Moses once said,

See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil.  If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you this day, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his ordinances, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you are entering to take possession of it.  But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them,  I declare to you this day, that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land which you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess.  I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live,  loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him; for that means life to you and length of days…” (Deuteronomy 30:15ff).

[1] With flawless predictability, the new Province’s proposed canons apparently accept both the 39 Articles and the Seven Ecumenical Councils. How one can both accept icons as *necessary* so as not to repudiate the incarnation (cf the 7th Ecumenical Council and the writings of St John of Damascus), and to repudiate their veneration (see article XXII, and that blatantly Iconoclastic Homily 2 listed in Article XXXV) is truly unimaginable. Or if this is not the proper understanding of the founding principles of ACNA, then according to whose interpretation of the Scriptures will they accept the “Christological Clarifications” of this council?

Likewise there are now already arguments and defenses from both the Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical streams commenting on the (relative) necessity of the Historic Episcopate in the new province. Again, how one can on the one hand proclaim belief in the “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church”, and at the same time believe that “Apostolic” does not essentially include and require Apostolic Succession is bewildering. Moreso is the possibility that *both* parties could have *their way*. It reminds one of that thoroughly Anglican-Lutheran-Presbyterian-Catholic sentence for the distribution of communion—one that everyone can say, “See, we are _______ (Reformed, Catholic, Lutheran, etc.)”. “The body of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart in faith, with thanksgiving.”

And this not to mention what to do with the perpetual debate on women’s ordination to the priesthood. There is no restoration to the Ancient Church while this is still considered an option.

[2] John N. Wall (editor). George Herbert: The Country Parson, The Temple. (New York: Paulist Press, 1981). pp. 74-75.

[3] Ibid p. 74.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

I Doubt It!

Did you ever doubt? You are not alone!

“And when they saw [the newly-risen Jesus], they worshiped him; but some doubted.”

Not long after Jesus’ resurrection, he began to make appearances to his followers. He appeared to his *closest friends*—“but some doubted”. These are folks who walked with our Lord for three years in a row—personally. They *knew* him. But when they saw him raised from the dead, “some doubted.” Doubt is not new, and it is not foreign even to those closest to Christ.

Today (in the Western church—next Sunday in the Orthodox Churches) some astonishing number of Christians reading this article (40%? 60%?) will have attended church to celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection, not to return today. “Low Sunday” as this day is commonly called, refers to the dramatic drop in attendance from the Paschal services. But its liturgical name is much more encouraging and helpful. The first Sunday after Pascha is Thomas Sunday, the day on which we remember the Apostle best known as Doubting Thomas.

According to John’s Gospel, eleven of the disciples were gathered together in a locked room when Jesus first appeared to them following his Resurrection. Thomas, the only one who was not there, would not believe the eye-witness report of the eleven—that Jesus was truly raised from the dead, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side” (John 20:25). Jesus’ response to this unbelief was a combination of patience and love. He didn’t upbraid him for his faithlessness or his absence the previous week (though he does call those blessed who have *not* seen and yet believe); rather Jesus offered Thomas the most convincing proof: “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.” Thomas’ response is perhaps the strongest confession of Jesus Christ in the Gospels: “My Lord and my God!”

Since we are made for perfect communion with God, since we are all (men and women alike) born to be Sons of God and therefore inheritors of God’s Kingdom, of course God is pleased with those who have faith in Him. This is part and parcel to our existence. These faithful shall be saved, according to the Scriptures, insofar as their faith is rooted in Love and demonstrated by concrete actions of compassion and mercy even, and perhaps especially, to their worst enemies.

But what about the faithless? What about those who doubt? Well, God can work with them too—he did with Thomas! But there are at least two kinds of doubters: Engagers and agnostics. From a Christian perspective, it is the agnostics who actually suffer spiritually the most (even if they are unaware of it)—since they appear most sincerely unable, unwilling, or uninterested to pursue God. It seems that they really couldn’t care less. At least externally, they are not moved by the mercy and love of God. Jesus addressed a whole church suffering from this spiritual malady in the Apocalypse: ‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot!  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.  For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing” (Rev. 3:15).

Engagers are different. Engagers are those who are troubled by their own doubts or unbelief, whatever their root, and are motivated to resolve the tension. This group, I’d submit, even includes staunch atheists. God can work with these! Admittedly or not, able or not, they want to see God, but for whatever reason right now, they cannot. Even the most ardent atheist is looking for God—its just that so far, he’s only had convincing proof that the gods already presented to him aren’t the True God. And I’d be willing to go so far as to say in many cases, I’d sympathize with their doubts! These haven’t—so to speak—found the real nail printed hands yet, or felt the holy hole in the pierced side. Doubt or faithlessness in the case of the ‘engager’ is actually an active path towards belief. And we might even say that having gone through the difficult darkness of doubt by engaging it, the doubter’s faith is made much stronger.

Doubt is not something to be encouraged or content with, from a Christian perspective—but it is clear even from the very day of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, that “some doubted.” Rather, when doubts come, we should all the more devote ourselves to the pursuit of the Truth, who stands and the door and knocks, and says,” if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”

Doubters, don’t despair, engage! As the father of the sick child asked Christ, “I believe; help my unbelief!” and as Jesus said to Thomas, “Do not be faithless, but believing!”

Fr John Parker is priest-in-charge of Holy Ascension Orthodox Church in I’On. To read more visit Fr John can be reached at or at 843.881.5010.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Lent time to repent, repair

By Fr John Parker
Originally published in the Post and Courier, Charleston, SC on Sunday, February 15, 2009
found here:

Zacchaeus was like an IRS agent, only worse. He came to your door. If that wasn't bad enough, he was a native, but had accepted a job as a tax-man by the occupying forces, which meant he worked for the enemy.

One day, his life changed radically. He had heard all sorts of rumors and stories about a notorious fellow who would be coming through town, and for some reason, his soul was stirred. As the time drew near for this mysterious fellow to pass through the village, our IRS agent was frustrated by the large crowds who had also come to get a glimpse of this famed sojourner. To make matters worse, our agent was a short man.

No matter, he thought, and climbed his way up a large tree to see.

Jesus Christ saw short Zacchaeus in that sycamore tree and ordered him to come down immediately, for he wanted to have a meal with him. Zacchaeus followed the command without hesitation. He was stirred to the core of his being that day — this one who made his living by exacting taxes (plus whatever he could score for himself) from his fellow citizens. His response to being in the presence of Jesus? "Half of my possessions I give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it four-fold." Half he gave away. And there was no question about whether he had defrauded anyone: This was his vocation! But he didn't just say "I'm sorry" to those whom he had swindled. Nor did he simply return what he took. He restored it "four-fold."

It is with this reading from the Gospels that the Orthodox Christian Churches see the first signs of the coming of Great Lent — the 40 days of prayer, fasting and alms-giving that precede Holy Pascha (Easter as it is commonly known in the Western Church).

Great Lent is almost always viewed as some sort of endurance test. How long can I go without — fill in the blank. Or else it is seen as some way to pay God back for my sins and misdeeds by going 40 days without chocolate or ice cream or beer. Sadly, these common misconceptions gravely miss the point of the Great Fast, which at its core is precisely an encounter with Jesus Christ like the one Zacchaeus had. It is the annual season during which we can come to our senses, realizing that something is off-kilter in our lives. To find out what it is, one must climb a tree to see, an act that leads to an invitation, and to company with a severe but unquestionably good presence. Off-kilteredness is exposed, and one is moved to repent and to repair.

There is another aspect to Great Lent, subtle and easily missed: that we must fast in order to know what a feast is. For Orthodox Christians, 40 days without meat, dairy, wine and olive oil sets a stage for the Pascha, with its rich foods such as roasted lamb, exotic cheeses and sweets from around the world. Without fasting, Pascha would be just another day. To show it to be what it is — the Feast of Feasts — it is preceded by the Fast of Fasts. It is how we know one from another, and it is good for our soul. It is the road to salvation.

Our nation has come to such a time, it seems. We've gone so long without fasting, without self-denial, without care for our neighbor (near or far); we are used to gluttony, and so the times in which we now find ourselves are a jolt. Will we wield our self-will and say, "No one can force me to fast"? Or will we, like Zacchaeus, realize that our lives are off-kilter? Will we see this season as one of gloom to endure, as punishment? Or will we see it as a National Great Lent, a time to come face-to-face with God in order to be healed?

The troubled times of our present economic crisis, however complicated, are not so unlike that which brought Zacchaeus to the foot of the sycamore tree (which stands to this day) in Jericho. May our inner strength be summoned to cast off concern for what others might think about the spectacle of grown men and women climbing a tree to see ourselves clearly.

Great Lent offers us the 40-day invitation to take a fearless moral, spiritual, emotional inventory of our lives as well as the opportunity to give half of our possessions to the poor, and to restore four-fold to anyone we may have defrauded — all this in order to experience the joy of the Resurrection. And it is just around the corner.

Fr. John Parker is priest-in-charge of Holy Ascension Orthodox Church in I'On. He can be reached at 881-5010 or