Nativity Fast: Vicious Cycle of Unclean Spirits

So, things are so bad that people are getting killed in churches and pastors are committing sex crimes against children.  And let’s not even begin to look at all the scandals among entertainers and politicians.  People think that horror movies are scary.  Heck, the stuff on my Facebook feed makes Freddie Kruger look like Tinkerbelle.

After listening to a podcast with Antiochian Bishop John, I kinda wonder if these horrific acts of sex and violence are due to the fact that people are spiritually empty and fail to fill themselves with holiness.  Consider porn; here it is someone watches that stuff as if the woman is really pleasing him.  The fact is that the viewer is just getting high off of the lady that she doesn’t know and is being used.  The viewer’s soul is still empty as there is no real love being shared.  If this continues, he (or she) will either spiritually starve to death.  Or, Satan may make an example of the viewer and lead him (her) to some form of immorality or crime.  Not all viewers become rapist and molesters.  But, as long as there are some examples of the worst behavior, too many are satisfied with their “not that bad” habits.

Anthony vs demons

The same can be said for gun violence.  It is true that most gun owners are law abiding citizens.  And I am all for people taking self-defense training, if they so choose.  But, one thing that is driving many people to gun ownership is a fear.  When the gun becomes the source of security, the owner is not satisfied with something basic for a well trained self defender.  He (she) needs something more powerful because the bad guys have better guns.  Along with this fear is that someone is out to do them wrong or has done them wrong and they need to pre-emptively attack the enemy, or avenge their self-esteem.  Perhaps some increase of gun control laws, or better enforcement of the checks and balances that are already in place can help prevent more of these crimes.  Then again, a knife in the hands of the fearful and vengeful can still kill someone.  Even if no killing is involved, the fearful and vengeful soul decays and rots into something ungodly as it dies.

Jesus taught that when an unclean spirit leaves a man, it eventually returns to where it came from.  Finding the place empty and neat, it brings back seven other spirits worse than its self.  In the end, the man is worse off than before (Matthew 12:43-45).  Could this be what happened to the three pastors in Ohio who sold girls as sex slaves?  Could this be the case with the man in Texas who killed people who were in worship?  Of course, the criminal justice investigators, law enforcement, even psychiatrist all have their answers.  But, I believe that there are demons who are willing to leave people alone for a while in expectation that the people they lived in will not fill their souls with anything that will lead them to salvation.  And when proven right, they further lead their host to spiritual decay, or destroy them all at once.

This is why it is so important for us to spend time devoted to prayer, reading the Bible and holy writings from the fathers, worship, and compassionate service to others.  When we intentionally take time out of our day to do these things, we fill ourselves up with the Holy Spirit.  We cannot digest something as challenging as St. John Callimachus’s Ladder of Divine Ascent in one setting.  Even the entire Gospel of John is a bit much to take in all at once.  But, Father Seraphim Rose, as well as other monks throughout the ages, recommend that we make time to take a little bit of spiritual nourishment each day.  Each of us can find a corner in a room and cut out a little entertainment time for prayer.  We can surround ourselves with uplifting music, images, and words to counter all of the negativity we have been assaulted with throughout the day.  And there is someone that we can do something good for, often right under our noses.

Marina of Antioch

The vicious cycle of unclean spirits is real.  We can only overcome them with souls full of holiness.  Even if we fall, we have enough of the Lord’s presence that we can repent, get back up, and grow stronger.

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Nativity Fast: Invitation to Spiritual Warfare

I have a friend on Facebook whom I don’t see eye to eye with on politics.   I keep him on my friends list because he is a person of good character, anti-racist, and an Orthodox Christian.  A National Public Raido listener once complained of that station’s liberal perspective on the news.  But, he remained a supporter of NPR because, “you can’t learn anything in a vaccum.”  For us to maintian a few friendships despite political and other differences can be beneficial.

On Veteran’s Day, he posted a picture of himself during his active duty Marine Corps days. Dude was in his BDUs with his sleeves properly shortened exposing a rather impressive pair of biceps holding his M-16.  I remarked that he would be one of the last person I’d get into a bar room fight with.  His reply was a sucker punch that floored me, “that was ‘play time’ compared to the spiritual battle we each face.”

marines

Here is a man who successfully completed a very difficult basic training and had been in situations where he had to be constantly vigilant and maintain deep resolve to complete his missions. But, he counts the spiritual war that we all face to be even harder than military active service.  Perhaps if he was a clergyman, or monk, who had responsibility for the souls of others and to accurately teach the holy tradition handed down to us from Christ and His Apostles; his statement wouldn’t have been as surprising.  This brother is a layman who understands that the battles we face in the spiritual realm are against a more far more dangerous enemy.  Warfare with him and his minions is of the utmost importance.  The consequences of how we face the fight are eternal.

We are at the eve of the Advent season. Orthodox Christians fast as we prepare to celebrate the great gift given to us from the Father, His Only-Begotten Son.  I think that it is good for all Christians to embrace the fact that we should approach this season with seriousness in our struggle against Satan.  This is especially a good time for us to enter into spiritual warfare as there are so many allegations of sexual misconduct in all areas of our society.

This time of year, we are surrounded by the adversary’s most diabolical agents all at once. Among them (and they are numerous) consumerism convinces us to make extravagant purchases, even if we can’t afford them, and that we are being selfish and petty when we don’t.  Envy assaults us as we see desirable materials goods and we crave to have them, or something “better,” without being grateful for what we do have.  Gluttony drags us into eating and drinking large quantities of, often, unhealthy things under the cover of “celebrating the season.” Ingratitude frequently partners with other demons to increase their strength.  Even carnal lust finds some room as self-indulgence makes the air of this time of year quite toxic.  As if a cherry and sprinkles on top of this sundae of evil, our hypocrisy lets us make a little contribution to the same poor people whom we either ignore or blame for their condition the rest of the year without truly seeing them as the image of God and fellow human beings.

Valaam-Now-61

We cannot allow ourselves not to enter into spiritual warfare during this season, or any other time of the year. No matter what form of Christianity you practice, all of us must make time for reflection and self-examination.  We cannot afford to be nonchalant about this struggle as the life and death of our souls are at stake.  No, we must not walk around with a scowl on our faces dressed in sackcloth and ashes.  But, let us consider the great gift God offers us; salvation through His Son who was made man.  We are called to give ourselves to be one with Him.  We must, likewise, lay aside every weight that holds us back from this goal and cast aside every sin that traps us into complacency and compliance with the evil one.  Our struggle is to be one with God.  This is not an easy struggle.

But, we do not fight alone. The presence of the Holy Spirit is with all who call on the name of the Lord.  We have spiritual fathers and mothers to aid us as we confess our sins.  Prayer is essential and maintaining a rule of prayer strengthens us against demonic attacks.  We have the scriptures and holy writings outside of the Bible worthy of reflection and meditation.  There are saints who have walked in our shoes who have left a witness for us on earth and pray for us in heaven.

I urge myself first and all others to take this season seriously. Whatever sins you know are a problem for you, fight boldly and bravely against them.  Even those sins that aren’t difficult to overcome, be watchful as they can become stumbling blocks and traps if ignored.  Talk with your earthly spiritual guide about how best to approach the celebration of Our Lord’s birth so that your soul can gain the greatest benefit and growth.  If you fall in the process, repent and continue on the spiritual battlefield.

Modern Violence: The Mark of Cain

Does anyone remember the story of Cain and Abel in the Bible? Cain, a skilled farmer and tool user, was angry that his offering to God was not accepted.  His brother, Abel, made a living just by seeing to the needs of his flock of sheep.  His offering of the best of his animals and their best portions was accepted by the God he relied on.  In an English translation of the Septuagint (the Greek language Old Testament compiled and translated 200 B.C. in Egypt), God Himself gave comfort and instruction to the dejected brother; “Did you not sin? Even though you brought it rightly, but did not divide it rightly?  Be still; his recourse shall be for you; and you shall rule over him” (Genesis 4:7 from the Orthodox study Bible).  Rather than find comfort and instruction from the One he claimed to serve, Cain took a tool and killed his brother who, like him, was made in the image of God and had every right to live.  Cain would later mock the Creator.  The merciful one heard his cry for survival, as he offered no repentance, and allowed him to live and his descendants to create a society.  But this society was based not on a security from the Holy One.  It was based on wandering and human skill with God seen only as a tool for their dominance.

cain-and-abel

Compare Cain to Jesus Christ. First, Our Lord rejected Satan’s offers of self-gratification, arrogance, and earthly rule.  He made these rejections by strictly adhering to His heavenly Father.  As a result of this, Jesus was able to fulfill the prophecy about Him: “A bruised reed he will not break, a smoking flax, He will not quench” (Isaiah 42:3).  He cured people of all sorts of illnesses, even an unclean woman who should have been stoned to death for appearing in public (Mark 5:25-34) .  He healed people of demon possession, even one whom his society had given up on and preferred to have him kept ill rather than lose their questionable livelihood (Luke 8:26-39).  Rather than wish the worst on His tormentors, Christ asked:  “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do (Luke 23:34).  In a sense, Jesus took the advice that Cain ignored, “Be still; his recourse shall be for you; and you will rule over him.” Indeed, there is no one else we can turn to for the salvation of our souls as our knees bow and lounges confess that He is Lord (Philippians 2:5-11).

As Christian as we want to claim ourselves to be, we tend to base our existence on the mark of Cain. In our anger and frustration with things not going our way, we refuse to be still and wait to rule with (much less rule over) our brother.  We take tools to overcome, even people who mean us no offense, those who are in a weaker position.  In extreme cases, there is murder and warfare.  For most of us, we dehumanize and insult others who don’t share our point of view.  Whether or not blood is spilled; the humble and obedient example of Christ is ignored in favor of imposing and defending our point of view as right and all others as wrong for the sake of what we can gain in this world.

christ temptation

But, the Christian is not a citizen of this world. We belong to the kingdom to come and are to live as sojourners here.  Our tool is the cross with which we offer sacrificial love to those who love and hate us.  Our first and foremost responsibility is to do what Cain failed to do; repent and be still.  Repent because we are all sinners seeking salvation.  Be still because God accepts those who repent and obey His will despite their fallen state.  And if we are obedient even unto death as Christ was, we can fully enter into the fullness of His kingdom.  While still living, we can experience a peace in mind from Christ that goes beyond Cain’s understanding.

Let us expel the mark of Cain and imitate Christ. Through the scriptures, we can reject the roots of sin.  By this rejection, we can devote ourselves to genuine love for others; especially those in need and are disturbed by the evil one.  We can be forgiving no matter what injustice we may bear in this life.  Upholding our mark in this world may give us offspring, land, cities, comfort, and other things for survival.  But, these are temporal and will prevent us from obtaining a place in the world to come if we put too much emphasis on them.  We Christians should know and must do better.

St. Simon’s Day: Calendar & Common Ground

When I launched the idea and gave an explanation of why African-Americans and Orthodox Christians should celebrate the feast day of St. Simon of Cyrene, a couple of criticisms came up from within the church.  One criticism is a reasonable issue.  In most calendars of the saints we honor, this saint is not found.  Indeed, there is a question of whether or not he was canonized in the first place.

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Deacon Samuel Davis who leads the St. Simon of Cyrene Orthodox Mission Parish in New Brunswick, NJ pointed me out to Hieromonk Herman Majkrzak of the St. Tikhon’s Seminary in South Canaan, PA who confirmed the date and canonization of the saint:

Dear John,

God bless you!

I found this information in the Ormylia Synaxarion compiled by Hieromonk Makarius of Simons Petras, which is the most well-researched Orthodox collection of saints’ lives that I know of. In this collection he is assigned to Feb. 27th, with a footnote that says:

“This commemoration is found only in the Lectionary Paris BN gr. 282 (9th cent.).”  (Vol. 3, p. 630)

As this is a saint with almost no history of veneration in the Orthodox Church – no service in the Menaion, no date on most calendars, and no life in the Synaxarion – there is very little information to go on.

I wish I could be more helpful!

In Christ,

Hieromonk Herman

Even though he is rarely honored, St. Simon of Cyrene does have a feast day.

This is not to say that the Orthodox Church has relegates African saints to a “file 13.”  On the contrary, one can visiit any website of any jurisdiction and find where several saints from the continent are honored with feast days.  Looking at my Antiochian calendar, Anthony the Great is celebrated on January 17th, Athanasius the Great on the 18th, Macarius the Great on the 19th, Mary of Egypt is honored on April 1st and  the Fifth Sunday of the very important Great Lenten Fast, Pachomius the Great on May 15th, and  Pimen (Poemen the Shepherd) the Great is on August 27th.  In addition to these great ones, there are many more well and lesser known heroic men and women of the faith listed in our records of the saints.

Many of the other great saints of Orthodoxy acknowledge their debt to the Desert Fathers in their quest for spiritual growth.  Saints Basil the Great and John Cassian spent time among them.  Saints Ignatius Brianchaninov and Theophan the Recluse referred to them in their writings.  The very influential Hieromonk Seraphim Rose taught; “You read the words of St. Macarius who lived in the deserts of Egypt in the fourth century, and he’s speaking to you now. …”* Everyone can find a variety of saints of any race and part of the world to honor.

So, why St. Simon of Cyrene?  Why shouldn’t we highlight some other better known saint to help evangelize and find common ground with African-Americans?  During my last year serving as the pastor of a black Baptist congregation, I did my best to expose my congregation to the African saints.  I brought in icons, introduced prayers, I even wrote a skit where a young man meets some of these great men and women in a dream.  The congregation acted it out as part of our Black History Month program.  But after February, no one wanted to hear me speak of these saints (or anything else about Orthodoxy) because they didn’t see them in the Bible.  African-American Christians are overwhelmingly Protestant and firmly believe in the principle of Sola Scriptura, scripture alone.  The Lives of the Saints, Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Menaions, Synaxarions; none of these mean anything to a people who believe that the Bible is the “Word of God.”

Simon of Cyrene icon

Simon of Cyrene is in the Bible.  He is often depicted as a black man.  His feast day is during Black History Month.  Nearly every black church has some sort of display on a bulletin board that month.  On that board are pictures of Oprah Winfrey (New Age), Malcolm X (Nation of Islam/Orthodox Islam), and others who are everything from African Methodist Episcopal (the oldest black American denomination) to those who are “spiritual, but not religious.”  We can offer icons of the first man of any race to carry the cross of our Lord to be a part of these cultural heroes.  We may generate interest in other black saints.  We may generate interest in other saints and in the Church.  Does that mean we will have 3,000 new converts from the African-American community, or only three?  Shame on us if we don’t try to evangelize with the tools we have been blessed with.  Shame on us if we don’t use the tools we have to find some common ground in this highly divisive society.

And I am not suggesting we do anything new or modern that has never been done in Orthodoxy before.  Saints Cyril & Methodius didn’t ignore the Slavs need for the Gospel to be preached in a language they could understand.  They created Church Slavonic.  Saints Herman and Innocent wait for the Native Alaskans to learn Slavonic before reaching out to them in love.  They translated the scriptures and other religious books in their native languages.  Painting icons of Martin Luther King Jr. or jazz great John Coltrane as saints is out of the question as they were not Orthodox and cannot be canonized as saints in the Church (although we do honor the great Civil Rights leader and can enjoy ‘Trane’s music).  But, Simon of Cyrene is a saint in our records and the most common holy book that black people have access to.  We may not know about his life before or after he carried the cross, which is why he is not prominent on our calendars.  But, we do know that he did it because the Holy Bible that our Church put together tells us he did.  For (we) Orthodox Christians to honor this feast day which is on a day of the month where (we) African-Americans celebrate (our) their heritage is an act of finding common ground.

#StSimonsDayFeb27

*Hieromonk Damascene, Father Seraphim Rose:  His Life and Works,  St. Herman of Alaska Press, Platina CA, pg. 471

A Proposal to Celebrate Saint Simon of Cyrene Day, February 27th

http://sandersonicons.com/st~SimonEvery March 17th, people of Irish ancestry lead the celebration of their patron, St. Patrick. For one day, we all wear something green, eat corned beef & cabbage, look for four-leafed clovers, and drink Irish beer & whiskey.  While we don’t honor him in the black church, we don’t mind joining in the spirit of the day.

Every February 14th, men in particular spend money on cards, candy, flowers, and other gifts to woo their sweethearts in honor of St. Valentine. Chances are that he lived as a celibate monk without candlelight dinners and roses.  Quite a few churches have couples events with Cupid symbols as decorations.

And then there is good ol’e St. Nicholas. His feast day is on December 6th.  But, of course, we delay his special day, turn him into a more Nordic incarnation, and honor him on the same day we do Jesus Christ.  As we confuse the two in the church and get mad when those outside of the church reject the later and embrace the former.

How come the black church does not celebrate a black saint whose example can be embraced by all people? What if there was a black saint who, unlike the fore mentioned heroes of early Church history, is found in the Bible?  And wouldn’t it be great if this saint’s feast day happened to fall on a day during Black History Month?  Well, our “what if’s” are solved by one man, Simon of Cyrene!

We all know the story of this African saint. In the first three (Synoptic) Gospels, Simon is the man who is forced by the Romans to carry the cross for Jesus up on Calvary for the crucifixion *.  Apparently, the cross bearer must have seen something holy in the condemned One.  Perhaps he also bore witness of the Lord’s resurrection.  Looking at both the Gospel of Mark and Paul’s letter to the Romans, Simon clearly raised two sons to be notable sons in the early Church.  And, according to ancient Christian tradition, his feast day is February 27th.

Why do we need to celebrate St. Simon of Cyrene Day? I refer back to the example of St. Patrick.  Every Christian culture needs to honor someone among them who has been an example of holy living.  Simon was forced to carry the cross, yet found the truth of the Gospel beyond the way he was introduced to it.  This is not any different from our forefathers and mothers in America who were introduced to being Christians by hypocrite white supremacist, yet they found salvation in Jesus.  Why shouldn’t we celebrate a Biblical African whose story is like ours?

But, shouldn’t we glorify God and Him alone? Let us consider that we have the pastor’s anniversary, choir anniversary, deacon’s day, dearness’ day, trustee’s day, junior usher’s day, … .  We don’t glorify these people.  But we honor them for the service they provide to the body of Christ.  Name one African or person of African descent that has done more for Christ than literally lift and carry His cross.  Not even his disciples did this.  Even more so, Jesus taught us that to follow Him, one must deny himself and carry his cross.  Simon is the first example of this.  Surely he should be honored like a pastor or a junior usher for a day.

To honor this saint, one need not dig into church history books. Just open up the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke and read the scripture of Jesus being led to Golgotha.  This isn’t a new passage of the Bible for most of us.  It’s in many of our Sunday School lessons before Easter.  We hear the words during Holy Week services.  Incorporating Simon of Cyrene Day during a worship service, or holding a day service in his honor is re-enforcing the Gospel lesson of our Lord’s death that conquered death.  There is nothing wrong with telling the story over and over again.

Referring back to the scripture references in Mark and Romans, it is no secret that there is a high number of absentee fatherhood in our community. Why not then set St. Simon as an example as a role model for Christian fatherhood.  Just as parents are our kid’s first teachers, fathers (laymen as well as clergy) ought to be first preachers and examples of Christian manhood for our children and our sons in particular.  Our boys and young men need fathers who will teach them to pray, read scripture, and lead Godly lives.  Sermons and Sunday School lessons can focus on the role of the man being the head of the house and being the type of man who our women and wives can respect and love and that our girls and daughters will grow to look for in a husband.

Simon of Cyrene is often depicted as a black man. Fr. Jerome Sanderson, and African-American priest in the Bulgarian Orthodox Archdiocese, has produced an icon of the saint.  It was made specifically for the St. Simon of Cyrene Mission Parish of the Orthodox Church of America in New Brunswick NJ, pastored by Fr. Deacon Samuel Davis,  according to the traditional canons of our faith.  You are welcome to contact Fr. Jerome about the use of the icon.  Or, you may use some other image of your choosing.  I understand, as a former Baptist pastor, that you have your arguments against iconography.  I will not debate the point and offer the use of images as a suggestion.

We are in a long-standing battle against white supremacy in this nation. Too often, white skin has been used as a symbol of purity and truth while black represents evil and wickedness.  Yet, here it is; a black man bears the cross of our Savior.  In the scriptures, Simon was forced to bear the cross for the native Palestinian Jewish Messiah who couldn’t have had pale skin, blonde hair and blue eyes.  By one tradition, this same black man helped remove the nails from the Lord’s body.  And obviously, he raised two black sons with a wife considered to be like a mother to the Palestinian Jewish Apostle who brought the Gospel to Europe.  Celebrating Simon of Cyrene is a wonderful counter-balance to the myth of white supremacy as God has shown that our race has been proven worthy of His kingdom from the very beginning of Christianity.

It does us no good, however, to boast that we belong to the race of the first man to take up the cross of Christ and not demand that we do this today. We must raise the bar for ourselves as black men.  Not only to overcome obvious demons of drugs, gangs, and the like.  But, that we must also struggle against hidden sins such as anger, greed, and lust.  As we raise the example of the cross-bearer, we should live his example as well.  Our Lord taught us that if we clean the inside of the dish, the outside will be clean as well.  And we can present this clean dish as an example of the Christian faith.  This clean presentation is not some “hand-me-down” to gain favor among conservative evangelicals.  No, we do this to honor the black man who was the example of cross bearing manhood for all Christians.

The name “Simon” means “obedient.”*** We can clearly see that the Romans forced him to carry the cross.  But, no one ordered him to believe that Jesus was the Son of God.  No one made him raise his sons to be Christians.  Like the Roman soldier who witnessed the crucifixion and confessed that Jesus must have been the Son of God****, so was Simon compelled to belive in the One he carried the cross for.  And doesn’t that sound like the African-American Christian experience.  Frederick Douglass and other slaves had a “Christian” identity placed on him.  But yet the abolitionist leader saw the love and mercy of Jesus Christ beyond the brutal hypocrisy of white Christians slaveholders and their allies.  Bishop Henry McNeil Turner was taught the faith as a boy.  But, surely he came to know that Jesus was the suffering savior of the oppressed and not the God of self-righteous oppressors.  Even Marcus Garvey, the father of black nationalism, had a strong belief in Jesus Christ as he was a critic of lynch mobs.  Black Christians have always had a faith that went beyond our circumstances.  It is only fitting that we honor the first black man, the Biblical black man who did this.

And St. Simon’s feast day is within African-American History Month, February 27th. Among the men and women we honor that month, some were not Christian.  Others were athletes and entertainers.  Others were known for their inventions and innovations in science and technology.  Still others were political leaders.  Of course there are preachers, pastors, and laymen & women among our great men and women of the past.  But, if we can salute these heroes, surely we can salute the Biblical hero who kept the faith, endured a grueling contest, was an example of holy living, gained a portion of the heavenly kingdom, and lived the Gospel.

I propose that every African-American Christian of all denominations and non-denominations celebrate the feast of St. Simon of Cyrene. This can be done on the last Sunday of February as many of us tend to have evening programs during Black History Month.  That Sunday, the Sunday School teachers and preachers can use the scriptures referring to him and his son in lessons and sermons.  The recognition of St. Simon can be a part of the morning worship without an evening service, if prefered.  There can be evening services on February 27th, which falls on a Tuesday.  Orthodox Christians may choose to have Vespers services on the 26th as the liturgical day begins at sunset the day before.  This will also allow us to participate with our non-Othodox brothers & sisters.  We can have traditional (or modern, healthy) soul food meals, have special projects for the poor among us, perhaps a concert of Negro Spirituals.  This need (and should) not be a “black only” event.  Just as we are all Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, we can invite people of all races to be black Christians willing to bear the cross of our Lord, establish Christian marriages, and raise up our children in the faith.   Perhaps this could lead to discussions on race that go deeper than the political rhetoric and counter rhetoric that hasn’t been spiritually productive.

In the coming months and weeks, I will write more on this topic and proposal. There are plenty of things here that I can highlight.  But, for now, let us begin the process of celebrating our identity as a Christian people through the saint that has shown us how to bear the cross.  Let us compel ourselves to live in a greater sense of repentance, self-denial, and holiness.  Thank you for your time and consideration.

#StSimonsDayFeb27

Sanderson Icons can be found at http://sandersonicons.com/

More information about the St. Simon of Cyrene Orthodox Mission can be found at https://oca.org/parishes/oca-ny-nbwssc

 

* Matthew 27:32, Mark 15:21, Luke 23:26

**Romans 16:13; This Rufus is believed to be one of the two sons of Simon of Cyrene

***Orthodox Study Bible, pg. 1412, footnote on Luke 23:26

****Mark 15:39

Where Do We Go From Here: A Reflection from the BSMB Conference

Desert Fathers Dispatch

One thing I can say about being a black Orthodox Christian and among the leadership in the Brotherhood of St. Moses the Black, is that there is always a reason to go forward beyond worldly standards. That my aim, our aim as Christians, is to live as citizens of the eternal kingdom while in the midst of this earthly one.

Circle Panorama

With the recent racial incidents in Charlottesville and other issues, it is so easy to be distracted with wanting to embrace earthly protest and forget that we don’t battle against flesh and blood (as said by the Apostle Paul). Much like Dr. Martin Luther King, we must embrace love even for those who oppose us.  If we adopt a tone of animosity and hostility, we make the Gospel invalid and little more than a worldly tool to achieve a temporal victory.  As African-Americans, we have a tradition of forgiving those…

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The Desert Fathers: A Beacon for Evangelism

Desert Fathers Dispatch

In his autobiography, Malcolm X stated that the Desert Fathers were the founders of Christian Church structure (1).  He also briefly mentioned St. Augustine as a defender of Church doctrine against heresy (2).  While Malcolm said these things specifically in is critique of white racism in Christianity, he does make an incidental point that should not be overlooked.  It ought to be a topic to help the Orthodox Church evangelize to African-Americans and develop a more multi-cultural identity in this nation.  Many of the most heralded saints of early Christianity were Africans.

At the time I read this, I took Malcolm’s words for granted.  I was planning to become a pastor in a black Baptist Church and figured that I shared the same skin color with these ancient Christians was all the connection I needed with them.  I identified St. Augustine with the Roman Catholic Church and didn’t think that…

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Lesson From Lent: King’s Kitchen Table

Imagine being a young black pastor in the segregated south and you have been called upon to lead a movement against injustice. The demonstration is having some success and the supporters of the evil structure have constantly threatened and denounced what you are doing.  One night, a particular threatening phone call shakes you.  Fear quickly invades your heart and mind as you consider the real possibility of death and the death of your young family.  It is at that point where your fine seminary education cannot help you.  Your saintly parents are too far away to come to your aid and comfort.  At that point, you come to a place where you must know God for yourself not through scholarship nor friends.  The only way to know Him at this point is by a deep, honest, and sincere outpouring of one’s self through prayer.  Then, and only by this knowledge of God, are you able to carry on with your life’s mission.  In a speech given in Chicago about a decade after the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made this confession to his audience.

MLK_portrait_fi

In the current political and social climate, it is not unusual for us to speak, write, and demonstrate against the injustices we see around us. This is a good thing.  But, imitating Dr. King in seeking justice for the oppressed and mercy for the poor does come with a price that is often overlooked by an American mind frame that wants to forget that he was a Christian minister.  Indeed, this is a price we all must pay if we pursue the will of God from any religious viewpoint.  In particular for we who claim to believe Him who taught us that self-denial and taking up the cross are the prerequisites to follow Him, we especially must make the effort  to tear our homes apart looking for the lost coin that will cover the cost.  We must come to deeply, honestly, and sincerely know God through prayer.

Too often we don’t try to make such an effort. Sure we may go to church practicing some pious ancient ritual, getting caught up in a spontaneous praises, or some variation of these extremes.  We read the Bible and other religious books and magazines to help us on our Christian journey.  On the surface, we know how to show people what religion we practice and how to apply our faith to just about every social concern.  My concern is that too many of us never try to go deeper than the surface show before men and confront the depths of how much we need God until, like Dr. King, circumstances drive us to a place where we can no longer run and hide.  More troubling is that we don’t even try to reach that point because we fail to recognize our real enemy, Satan and his legions, and how he makes war inside of us.  With our unwillingness to grow closer to God in this critical way, the devil is comfortable with us going through our motions.

in thought

Contemplating this new step in my journey

This Great Lenten Fast, I have added King’s Kitchen Table to my rule of prayer. I typically do this right after dinner keeping in mind a sermon from St. John Chrysostom of how donkeys and oxen eat and go to their work while we eat so much we become useless and unable to bend our knees for prayer.  After washing the dishes, which is a form of service, I offer the first prayer of the Trisagion, to the Holy Spirit, before sitting down to the table.  Afterward, I sit and offer one ode of the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete.  I follow this up with a Psalm, the Gospel reading, and a prayer from The Veil from the Agpeya, the Coptic Book of the Hours.  The final offering is A Prayer for the Children of Africa in America written by the black abolitionist, Maria W. Stewart.  I end my time at the kitchen table by writing in my spiritual journal, examining my thoughts in light of the penitential prayers that I had offered.

Those who wish to pray at the kitchen table need not be as elaborate as this. The following elements are more important.  Timing; again, I keep this practice right after dinner.  So that during dinner, I am mindful that I have to pray after eating.  This mindfulness helps me to reduce my temptation for gluttony, a common sin that I have too regularly overlooked.  Thus, I see that if this bad habit can be overcome, by seeking oneness with God my other evils can be overcome as well.  Sacrifice; any nightly prayer activity means cutting away time from entertainment and rest.  Those who are very attached to watching TV can start by going to the table during commercials while that favorite show is on. In time, intentionally increase the time spent at the table vs. that in front of the screen.  Work; dishwashing is not the hardest labor in the world.  But, praying while working is common among monastics.  If not the dishes, folding clean laundry or some other chore can be done.  Uplifting music is a good addition to this routine.  Repentance; prayer is not simply offering God list of request.  Both John the Baptist and Jesus commanded people to repent for the sake of the kingdom.  Adorations, intercessions, praises; these things have their place.  But, repentance and self-examination brings us to struggle against the real enemy in ourselves.  Unless we struggle internally, anything we attempt, even what we succeed against, externally will be meaningless in our goal of salvation.

 

Piece 5

For everyone who does not have the “white picket fence” sort of marriage. Thanks, Liz.

My Life in Pieces

“Why is she marrying him if he is going to die?”

Those words were muttered on our wedding day. When I learned of that, I must be honest, I was thoroughly offended. How could someone be so superficial and cold? I was upset that was something people were actually thinking about on a day that was supposed to be a celebration of our love and oneness. I let it get to me and began thinking I needed to validate our love to everyone. I felt I had to prove that what we had is real. It was real and has always been real. Chris and I never questioned it, so it surprised me that others did.
I have since had a change of heart regarding my upset over that comment. I realize now that maybe the individual had some insight to the pain I would inevitably feel and the stigma…

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Reconciliation On Social Justice: The Consequences of Low Aim

I will post again from St Basil very soon

Desert Fathers Dispatch

If you wish to be perfect, go sell your possessions and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come and follow me. When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions. —– Matthew 19:21, 22

Although you say you have never murdered, or committed adultery, or stolen, or borne false witness against another, you make all of this diligence of no account by not adding what follows, which is the only way you will be able to enter the kingdom of God. —– Basil the Great, To the Rich, section 1

The problem is not failure. The problem is low aim. —– Dr. Benjamin Mays

Educator Benjamin Mays understood the source of many social ills was a desire to just get by in life rather than to seek to be the best in academics and whatever else we…

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