Apostle Paul

Trisagion: Prayers To Aim With

Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal have mercy on us

The Trisagion (thrice holy) Prayer

Let me confess.  As soon as I got my Orthodox Study Bible, I immediately started using the Morning and Evening Prayers without asking any questions.    Common sense should have told me to, at least, look up what the word Trisagion meant.  This probably isn’t a smart move.  It helps to do some reasearch behind the words one uses before using them.  A lot of people fall into false doctrine over repeating stuff they heard, seen, or read without doing any other background investigation.  Fortunately, I came to find the Trisagion to be in line with the scriptures and sound in doctrine as I made it a part of my prayer life.  But, I will strive not to leap before looking and advise others to refrain from jumping too soon as well.

One thing that lead me to pray the Trisagion (follow along with the link) is that part of it is the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 5:9-13, Luke 112-4) that I grew up with.  If Jesus taught us to pray these words, then why not use them.  Granted, everything in scripture should not be taken too literally.  But, the words of the prayer allow us to put God in his proper perspective, calls us to seek his will, directs us in our petitions, calls us to repentance, ask for His protection, and (through the Biblical embellishment) concludes by giving Him the glory and praise.  The Trisagion ends with this bedrock of Biblical prayer.

The first movement of the prayer is an invocation.  We are to approach God with a calmed spirit, acknowledging Him in His fullness and giving him glory.  With the right approach to God, we then call for his presence.  Please note that as well as giving him acknowledgement of his essence, we are inviting him into ourselves.  That’s right, we want God to dwell inside of us.  It is too easy for us to take for granted that we have the Holy Spirit inside of us and have Jesus in our hearts.  Let us be mindful that “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14).  We are responsible for “working out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).   As none of us who are alive are in heaven, it makes sense for us to ask for our ultimate salvation.

Also note that repentance is a part of this invocation.  The call for repentance is underscored by repeating the basic Trisagion Prayer three times:

Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us

All three Synoptic Gospels teach that the first thing Jesus commanded us to do after his trial in the desert was to “Repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15).  After giving glory to the fullness of God, we are led into humble repentance as the second movement of the Trisagion.To offer up our regular prayers without repentance is arrogant and inexcusable!  In an impromptu moment of great stress or suffering, such an omission is tolerable.  But, when we enter into our regular morning, noon, or evening prayers, repentance is essential.  We do not go to God as if we are sinless.  The Apostle Paul wisely repeats the words of the Psalmist, “There is none righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10, Psalm 13:3 Orthodox Study Bible, Psalm 14:3 Western translations).  Let us remember that if we repent, God is merciful to forgive us.  As a reminder that we must also forgive others if we seek forgiveness, the last movement of the Trisagion is the Lord’s Prayer.

Why do I find this prayer necessary?  The Trisagion is a perfect series of prayers to calm down my mind and spirit for prayer.  I wake up in the morning groggy, hungry, and wondering if Liverpool FC will win their next match.  In the afternoon, my work duties clog my mind.  I get home, I am thinking about dinner and what I have to do at the church.  And at night, sleep.  This is the prayer that helps me put all other things aside and all of my other prayers in focus.  The written prayers make more sense.  My personal prayers are more settled.  C’mon, I irritate people when I rush to them with babble and dribble.  God is forgiving and merciful.  But, just as I prefer to approach people in a calm and orderly fashion, why shouldn’t I do the same for the One we serve?

I encourage all of my Catholic and Protestant friends to pray the Trisagion.  This pattern of prayer has lasted longer than our denominations have been in existence.  I believe if you use it as part of your regular quiet time for a week, you will see how valuable it is and not pray without it.  And to my Orthodox friends, don’t take this precious jewel of a prayer for granted.  Cherish the beauty and power of the Trisagion and share it with others.

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A Diary of the Apostles Fast (Second Saturday): Did Jesus Have A Liturgy?

And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, This is my body which is given for you:  do this in remembrance of Me.

Luke 22:19

 

Daylight Despite Clouds (© John Gresham)

Okay, so far in my self-study and practice of Orthodox Christianity, I can see the logic and benefits.  Take the prayer life; using the prayers written in the Orthodox Study Bible and other sources has reignited a sense of my need to pursue God with discipline and diligence.  I was trying to do that on my own with some measure or another of success.  But, following these prayers that have been handed down from the church fathers has been an extra push for me.  Trying to observe the Hours (I am not too sharp at midnight, but I am trying) reminds me of my need for the Holy Spirit through out my day.  Fasting is the best medicine for the body and it does the budget a world of good too moving from a meat to plant-based diet.  I even see the wisdom of iconography.  I refuse to rush into converting as there is no Orthodox Church within a 30 mile radius of my home and I have much to do as a Baptist pastor to seek lost souls, strengthen the saints, and serve my community.

I also confess that divine liturgy intimidates me.  Seriously, all of that chanting, incense, and prayers is far more than we have in our order of service.  And I don’t speak anything other than American English.  Even the Jordanville Prayer Book has words in it that I didn’t learn in seminary.  Shouldn’t worship be simple and easy enough to understand so that a messenger can read it (Habakkuk 2:2)?  Did Jesus have a liturgy?

He probably did.  Think about it, the Last Supper took place not on any old day of the year.  It was on the Day of Unleavened Bread.  Certain scriptures had to be read and prayers prayed by Jews in order to properly celebrate what God did for his people.  More than likely, Jesus followed the prescribed order of worship that was handed down to him since the days of Moses.  But, then Our Lord did something else.  He redefined that meal with his own body and blood.  That we are to come together with the bread and wine in remembrance of him.  The Apostle Paul handed the tradition down to the Corinthian believers and other church fathers did the same as well.  Liturgy can be described as the public spiritual connection to the God of Israel, connected to God the Son and our Savior Jesus Christ, and all who believe in him.

Liturgy is not a spectator sport.  Reading books and watching You Tube videos are not enough.  I will have to attend before I can make any decisions of if I think this is right for me.  I will have a few opportunities to get away from my church and attend the Sunday morning worship in a couple of Orthodox churches between now and mid-September.  I will also attend Homecoming Services among my fellow Baptist.  May God reveal the truth to me.

A Diary of the Apostles Fast (First Friday): In & Walking

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.

Romans 8:1

Boat and Blade (© John Gresham)

There is a big difference between being in and out of a canoe.  In the boat, I am dry.  With my paddle, I am making progress to my destination.  Being out of the canoe means I am in the river soaking wet.  The paddle can do me little good until I get back in the boat.  There is a difference between walking on and off of the trail.  On the trail, I know my steps are secure.  Wild animals keep their distance knowing the regular human traffic.  When I am off of the trail, the ground is not as stable.  Venomous snakes build their homes where people don’t tread.  The canoeists who spends more time out of than in his boat cannot make an effective journey.  The hiker that spends more time off than on the trail puts herself at risk for getting lost and being bitten.  Anyone can capsize.  But, one must get back in the boat.  Anyone can stray from a trail.  But one must get back on it.

Here is where there is no condemnation; when we are in Christ Jesus and we walk according to the Spirit.  True faith is not “getting your praise on” for sporadic moments.  It is to constantly be mindful of the Lord who loves us so much that he gave his life for our salvation.  This is the boat that we progress in.  True faith is more than being a moral person.  It is to surrender one’s will to that of the Holy Spirit.  This is the trail we walk.  Be in and walk accordingly.

 

A Diary of the Apostle’s Fast (First Monday): Why?

Question:  Why does Christianity have such a bad name today?

Archbishop Puhalo:  The hypocrisy and bigotry of Christians.  The hypocrisy and bigotry we have is, first of all, to think that we have a special righteousness or holiness as Christians automatically simply because we are Christians without any real sincere work to transform our hearts and to transform our inner persons, to transform our being so that we come into accord with the moral imperatives of Jesus Christ rather than the moral laws that people have super-imposed on Christ.

From the documentary, “A Pilgrim’s Way” (0:32-1:10)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bhQ98qolWTE

How sincere is the work we do to “transform our being?”  Do we simply look forward to baby Jesus on Christmas and observe the resurrection on Easter Sunday?  Or, does the Christian calendar have other special observances and practices to help guide us in our pursuit of God? The Apostle Paul taught that whether or not we observe particular days of worship is a matter of conscience and faith.  We Baptist observe the well-known holidays of Christmas and Holy Week.  Other than that, we feel the individual believer should be led by the Holy Spirit daily and that calendar observances are not required of anyone.

It is good to know where you are (© John Gresham)

As an avid hiker, I know the value of a good guide and well-marked trail.  Sure, GPS coordinates accurately give starting and destination points.  But, most units don’t include maps.  Maps point out scenic views, switchbacks, stream crossings, and other features on the trail.  Well written guides give info about wildlife, seasonal conditions, photos, and advice from those who have hiked the trail before.  Trail markers let you know that you are still on the right path.  Some indicate distance and if there are any other paths nearby.  Combine the guide and markers and the hiker has a better sense of where he is, what to expect, how to deal with it, and is better prepared to handle the unexpected.

I am using the prayers, feast, and fast of Orthodox Christianity with the Holy Spirit as my guide and trail markers.  I am not abandoning the church I was brought up in and serve as a pastor.  But, I recognize my need for clearer directions in my life’s journey.  The Orthodox calendar gives me greater indication of the value of the days and weeks of the year.  Fast are like those gruelling switchbacks along a mountain.  We’d rather not deal with them.  But, they help keep us from the risk of steep slopes of gluttony and over-indulgence.  Feast are like those wonderful summit views or valley streams to rejoice in the God that leads us in the journey of life.  Yes, I do lift up my own prayers.  It is also good to read those of saints who have successfully made the same journey.  It is also good to read the shared prayers of those who are also walking the same path.

I am embracing the Apostle’s Fast remembering the faith they spread throughout the world despite the horrific persecution and death that they suffered.  While God does give blessings, we should keep in mind that there can be no crown of glory without a cross of great suffering.  We should also note that the Gospel of our Lord is to be spread beyond our own communities and comfort zones.  The Holy Ghost empowers us to speak “someone else’s language.”  I pray that my fellow non-Orthodox Christians will join our brothers and sisters of the ancient faith and ether give follow the fast or pray for us who are on this leg of the journey as we all seek the same waters and summit.

Getting Our Act Together

The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.

Isaiah 52:5, Ezekiel 36:22, Romans 2:24

I believe President Obama is wrong in his support for gay marriage.  Jesus Christ taught the same standard for marriage as found in Genesis 2:21-24 when he answered the Pharisees about divorce in Matthew 19:1-9.  Male and female … For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and the two will become one flesh.  For homosexuals to choose a life partner and be granted a legal recognition by a civil authority may be suitable for this world.  But, homosexuality is a sin.  Thus, Holy matrimony for a gay or lesbian couple is not possible according to the Bible and Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant tradition.

With that said, we heterosexuals have a hell of a lot to answer for.  If we fear that gay marriage will make a mockery of the traditional family, I recommend that we take a hard look at the way we corrupt monogamy degrade sex on a regular basis.  The Chris Miller/Kim Kardashian “marriage” comes to my mind rather quickly.  Oh, it was a heterosexual union.  But, how serious was it?  Did they marry with a true spiritual bond with each other and committed hearts to withstand good and bad times together?  Or was it a sham based on their egos, sensual pleasure, and making a profit from a celebrity gossip hungry media?  If our nation can accept this perversion of holy matrimony, then two men or two women with a committed bond with one another getting married is not a far stretch.

In the liturgical church traditions; a sermon on the seriousness, love, and committment is a part of the wedding ceremony.  How many of us had a sermon at our wedding?  Weddings have become an industry from high fashion magazines, to professional planners and photographers (and photographers get paid far more than the minister who officiates the service and signs the legal documents).  These ceremonies used to take place exclusively in the bride’s or groom’s church.  At least in the home or on land owned by one of the families.  Today, anyone can go to Las Vegas and have Elvis as the minister backed up by a punk rock band, or just go through the drive thru chapel.  Or, one can spend thousands on one of those story-book weddings which may seem impressive enough to hide the fact that neither the bride nor groom are committed to life long monogamy.  And after the divorce, the bride or groom swears to have a bigger and better wedding than the first one.  If we heterosexuals participate in such shallow marketing of what was a blessed and honorable institution, why should homosexuals be denied the privilege?

And isn’t it strange how the language of sex is used as an insult to manhood?  Think of the particular word for intercourse is a curse word as is the slang term for the female genitals.  With the easy access to hardcore pornography and the general acceptance of softcore nudes and semi nudes in sexually charged situations, what was once to be done naked and unashamed has become an act of ridicule and recreational pleasure.  In fact, the sheer brutality women go through in today’s porn and the rate of sexual abuse against girls has brought the value of the female body in this society to an all-time low.  Should I be upset when two men want to commit to a union where they are unlikely to contribute further to this abuse?  Should I be angry when two women, who most likely suffered sexual abuse at the hands of men, seek solace in a marital bond with each other?

Chances are no one is going to vote for or against the president on this issue alone.  Therefore, I see little value of having a too strong of an opinion about gay marriage one way or the other (although I know where I stand).  We heterosexuals have done far more damage to holy matrimony than one man’s words.  Unless we are serious about cleaning up the mess we made, we look rather foolish trying to put limitations on someone else.

… and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.

Matthew 7:2

The Corruption of Prayer

You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.  …  humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up.     – James 4:3, 10

The first and foremost function of prayer is to connect our hearts, minds, and souls to God.  We may intercede on behalf of others who are ill or in danger.  We can offer up our petitions of practical need.  We may even give God the praise and thanksgiving because He is who He is.  These other purposes for prayer are useful and are based on scripture and tradition.  There is nothing wrong with and we very well should speak to God of these things.

Of Moss, Stone, and Water (© John Gresham)

But, I have heard a bit of wisdom that stems from higher education.  One should not major in minors.  It is important that we seek the Lord to change a drug addicted friend, heal an illness, and give him the glory.  But compared to the first and foremost function of prayer, all other reasons we have for going to the throne of grace are not as significant.  To place one of these lesser purposes ahead of the true point is to corrupt the spiritual communication.  Such corruption can only lead to dangerous and deadly consequences.

In our most sincere prayers for the recovery of someone’s health, what if God does not allow the person to recover?  What if that person either lives for many years uncured or dies?  If one has a prayer life founded and rooted in being connected with the Lord, such suffering can not only be endured.  One can even find great spiritual meaning in the struggle. The Apostle Paul was denied relief of his thorn as the Lord revealed to him the greater truth of grace.  The faithful increase in faith because of a prayer life that majors in its true purpose.

Unfortunately, too many people do not have such a prayer life.  Prayer is treated only as an infrequent exercise to be done only as a need arises.  A quick mutter of thanks for a meal or getting through some task or another.  It is certainly to be done at church.  When the minor (yet important) prayers go (seemingly) unanswered, what becomes of those who are not founded and rooted in communication with God?  Hopefully, someone who is more spiritual will guide them in the direction of true faith and they will heal and become stronger.  But with the decline of church attendance, most become more skeptical of the existence of a compassionate and loving God.

To make matters worse, too many clergy sell prayer as a means for people to get what they want.  Gospel artist sing of such encouraging people to “believe it and receive it.”  Tele-evangelist market “breakthroughs” for a “seed offering” of $273.00 (yes, I heard one of these hucksters say this amount).  The person who majors a the minor purpose of prayer buy the sales pitch, often with great sincerity.  The minor purpose goes (seemingly) unfulfilled.  The unfortunate soul that does not find someone of sound spiritual practice will either continue to wander mindlessly through the marketplace of false doctrines, or become a greater atheist than Darwin’s theory of evolution could produce.

Do not major in the minors.  Offer up intercessions, petitions, and thanksgivings and scripture and tradition encourages us to do.  But, let us constantly seek a prayer life that keeps us in constant communion with God.  This is the first and essential purpose and goal of prayer.  Not sporatic mutterings, but a constant way of being for the soul.

Your Brother In Christ,

Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene

The Value of Relentless Prayer

Rev. Dr. Darrell K. White gave a mantra to Baptist Liberty Church decades ago that serves as a guide for my journey:

MUCH PRAYER, MUCH POWER

SOME PRAYER, SOME POWER

LITTLE PRAYER, LITTLE POWER

NO PRAYER, NO POWER

It is true that we can pray all we want to and some things will not change.  The prophet Habakkuk rejoiced in the midst of  his nation’s wicked society.  Paul preached with a thorn in his flesh.  Yes, there are moments when God does not alter situations based on our wishes.  So, what good is it for us to be ceaseless in prayer?

Of Waves and Stones (© John Gresham)

Prayer is our means of being in communion with God.  Prayer is not our means to make him a flunky beholden to our wishes and whims no matter how significant they may be.  This is a tragic mistake many people make when they pray.  A presumption that the Lord is supposed to do their bidding.  No, it is He that made us and not we ourselves.  Thus we come to God with humble hearts and souls seeking his overall will and not simply our own petitions.

With this communion established, our spirits are aligned with the Holy Spirit.  This is the portion of the Trinity that reminds us that we are children of the Father and have been saved through the Son.  Our value is re-affirmed and cleansing through repentance is confirmed.  An arrogant, or even lazy, heart and soul cannot have such a communion.  But, to the one who is humble, the Father elevates.  To the one who knocks, Jesus opens the door.  This process of divine elevation and revelation is the power we receive in prayer.

According to God’s will, prayer enables us to either change the situation or change for the situation.  In our complex and complicated lives, aren’t we in need of such power?  And if we need something, are we to slothfully expect someone to drop this power in our laps with little effort? Or are we to make the pursuit of this power a part of who we are?

The monastics of Orthodoxy hold to a practice of praying even under their breath, “Lord have mercy.”  Catholic monks and nuns do similar, if not the same.  We modern Protestants who can’t afford to abandon all to move to Mt. Athos or St. Catherine’s can still be relentless in prayer.  Just as we are passionate about a favorite television program, musician, or sports team; we must be as passionate about having communion with God.  Indeed, even more so as these other pursuits are temporal.  God is Spirit and eternal.  Let us be in relentless pursuit of Spirit so that we will have the power to live in the fullness of God’s will.    Make time for prayer as if all depends on it.