Gospel of Mark

African Monastic Wisdom: Rejecting Glory

There is a temptation among us all to gloat when we are proven right.  We especially tend to gloat when we had to endure a lot of criticism and insults until the truth came out on our side.  For some, we just want our opponents to admit their faults.  Others of us want to make a meal out of our “haters.”

St. Macarius of Egypt

To combat this tendency, God provides us with the example of St. Macarius of Egypt.  This well-respected African saint is one that almost all Orthodox Christians are familiar with as his words are in our prayer books.  Despite being sought after and honored by all races of Christian believers in life, he led an extremely austere life as a celibate monk with a simple diet and basic clothing.  From The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, we find this story (my paraphrase of it).

Macarius had taken the life of a hermit monk making hand crafts to support himself.  A local man saw him as a spiritual guide and took the monk’s work to the local village market to sell for him.

A young lady in the village became pregnant.  When asked who was the man she slept with, she lied and claimed it was the monk Macarius.  The people of the village seized him and led him into town to be humiliated, beaten, and spat upon.  The monk’s assistant also was tormented as he stood by the innocent man.  Rather than try to plead his case, Macarius worked harder to make more crafts telling himself that he has to support his new wife and child.

When it came time for the woman to deliver, she went through great pain as she couldn’t give birth.  When asked what was the matter, she confessed that she falsely accused the monk and that the father was another man.  The monk’s assistant quickly went to the outskirts of town to tell Macarius that the woman admitted her lie and that the whole village was coming to repent and honor him for their years of disbelief and abuse.  Rather than stay and receive them, Macarius fled his cave and went even further away to a desert where no one knew of what had happened.

I confess, I think I’d stick around for a few tearful apologies from the most irritating of the bunch.  But, this story is so opposite of myself and most of us.  Even though we may not want to put folk through the same cruelty they put us through, the object of our existence is not earthly glory from man under any circumstances.  St. Anthony died far away from his followers so that his relics would not be found to be venerated by anyone.  St. Moses the Black once disguised himself before a wealthy official as not to be discovered.  Even  our Lord when He had done mighty works in one village, did He not move on to another place to spread the Gospel (Mark 1:35-39).

How many of us strive to make a school honor roll not because we love learning the various subjects presented to us and challenging our minds, but for financial awards and praises from others?  How many of us bust our butts on our jobs not because we find our careers fulfilling our interest and passions, but because we want that pay raise, promotion, and recognition as the best in the profession?  While not every man or woman will be called to live in a cave or monastic cell, the monks and nuns remind us that there is a world beyond this one with greater glories than what this world can offer.  While recognition may come our way in our academics, employment, or community service; we must accept such things with the greatest of humility and make sure our true aim is for the kingdom of heaven.

When we make the glories of the kingdom of earth our true aim, we fall into the temptation Satan tried to offer our Lord.  The more we want earthly glory, the more we will serve the devil to get it.  Which is why Jesus rejected the overt plan of the devil.  Which is why Macarius fled the slippery slope of many praises that would have misled him.  Let us not be fooled into seeking earthly glory.

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Jakes & Perry Circus: An Answer To A Friend

I see the Holy Spirit blessing in this. I don’t believe Tyler Perry was playing. He’s a blessed man of God who told the truth. God wants us to share our riches. People are so use to seeing Perry as Madea, we need to also look at how God has blessed him and rejoice with him. He’s smart, anointed, and trusts God. I don’t know about you, but I pray that God will bless me enough to write million dollar checks. Like he said, God prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies. Don’t hate, appreciate. Anticipate the blessing that God promised. You never know who God may send the blessing through or to.

My Friend,
It is silly ministry stunts like this so common in modern Protestantism that has driven me to the path of Orthodox Christianity. I could attack this ridiculous pep rally in a few different areas. But, let me focus on one major point that we have received from Jesus Christ himself:
“Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.”   Matthew 6:1-4

What our Lord taught on the Sermon on the Mount is the direct opposite of the circus in this video. I don’t curse Tyler Perry and his success. Nor do I have anything against him giving any amount of money to any cause he sees fit. The problem is in the way that he did it. Had he simply mailed the check, or transferred funds to TD Jakes’s account with no fanfare, according to scripture, the Father in heaven would have blessed the gift. Indeed, doing the will of the Father by obeying the words of the Son (Matthew 7:24-27) means that the Holy Spirit blesses the act as well as all three persons of the Holy Trinity are co-equal and consubstantial.

Sermon on the Mount

Yet, look at what happens in the video. A famous entertainer is on a major stage with a famous minister in a large congregation mentioning another large conference also produced by the said minister. So, he is clearly in a place to be seen among the righteous religious leaders even though (to my knowledge) he has no clerical credentials. What does he do? He announced his contribution of money that the average attendee of this service obviously cannot afford to give. The announcement is made with loud praises and tongue speaking. It was as if a whole band of trumpets were sounding. Oh sure, they all may have been saying “praise God, hallelujah,” and other Christian expressions. But, Perry still was disobedient to the commandment of Jesus Christ! He did a charitable deed before men to be seen by them and received glory from men! Thus, as he has violated the word of the Son, he has no reward from the Father. And as this act was against two persons of the Trinity, why would the third person, the Holy Spirit, bless such a thing?
Let me not be critical of Perry’s sincerity. He did a good thing giving money to TD Jakes’s youth center. But, had he read the scriptures, he would have known it would be better for him to do it in private as Jesus instructed. Here is the danger in what he has done. Now the masses that were there looked up to the famous man who gave the large amount. They praise God and celebrate such a wonderful gift. But, what about the person who doesn’t have nearly as much to give nor the ability to give? Perhaps there was a “Tonya Perry” in their midst who despite being on welfare, gave whatever was in her penny jar to help this youth center. In the eyes of Jesus, who gave the most (Mark 12:41-44)?
“Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had, her whole livelihood.” (Mark 12:43-44)
So, what we have is a mass of people (ministers as well as laypersons) who’s praises are more focused on the fame and fortune gift and ignoring the word of the Savior they serve (Matthew 6:19-24). Again, the words of the Son have been ignored. Needless to say, the Father whom He is One with has been overlooked as well. Thus, with the Father and Son being in the co-equal and consubstantial Trinity, could the Holy Spirit be involved in this?
I do not think Tyler Perry is a bad person. Despite my doctrinal differences with him, I respect and honor TD Jakes for his effort to do something for young people. But, this was an unfortunate circus act allowed by ministers who failed to stand on the teachings of Jesus Christ. A left-field, out of context reference to the 23rd Psalm did not impress me (who was stopping Jakes from building a youth center?). Using the name of the Lord and spiritual expressiveness does not hide facts that the wrong method of giving was used and the wrong concept of giving was shown.
I have serious issues with pop-media Christianity, especially as it tends to stray away from the way the holy scriptures had been interpreted since ancient times. Too many of us are being fooled by any and everything that sounds religious and stirs us up. Paul teaches us to be sober as we wait for that Day that comes like a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11). I have no problem with people being joyous nor having plenty of money. But, it is possible for people to get drunk on these things as quickly as liquor or wine. Perhaps I am a bit of a critic, and please forgive me if I have personally insulted you or anyone else I know or don’t know. But if being sober minded in faith and true to the scriptures means being a hater, what is the definition of hate?

Journey Into Great Lent (Day Eleven): Confession and Concerns

Okay, let me first begin with my confession.  With the knowledge of my spiritual father, I did break the fast to celebrate Easter with my family.  Since I am still a Baptist among a deeply Baptist family (my ancestors helped establish churches in King William and Mathews Counties), Father James didn’t have a problem with it as long as I didn’t overindulge.  I did okay for the main meal.  But, cheesecake is a downfall for me.  I hope next year the Gregorian and Julian calendars will be in sync for Easter/Pascha.  Even still, I have no excuse for eating desert with no discipline.  Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.

I am greatly concerned for Louisville player Kevin Ware.  I was watching the first half of the game with my Duke HATING relatives (I am the only Duke fan on either side of my family) and saw when his leg collapsed underneath of him as he was coming down from trying to block a shot.  Looking at the score, one would not know that the Cardinals was without a key player.  Congratulations to them on a very prideful win and may Mr. Ware make a full and swift recovery.

My greater concern is for the sake of a lost sense of spiritual devotion in the Baptist Church.  I remember when Deacon Joseph D. Gresham used to wake up early every first Sunday of the month and cut slices of white bread into little squares for communion.  He also had this bottle with a little bubble pump contraption that used to put the right amount of grape juice into the cups.  I didn’t know Deaconess Mariah Berkley.  But, I understand she used to make the communion wine (yes, it was real) for St. John’s Baptist.  Members could taste it when she used too much or too little sugar.  Years ago, the deacons and deconesses put care, detail, and love into preparing the Lord’s Supper.

While I can understand that with large congregations, the quest for convenience may be a necessity.  But, I can’t help but to wonder about those pre-filled and foil sealed communion cups with the plastic wrapped wafers on top.  What was once a task of loving responsibility has turned into a convenience industry.  What if our faith were to turn into such a communion?  Shall the cups of our faith be filled by cold machines, or by loving saints who are able to guide us along the way as we journey together in the Lord?  Can the bread of life be a tasteless and useless disc, or shall it be the full leavened bread that allows us to grow in His grace?  And if the care, detail, and love from the old days of preparing the Lord’s Supper are gone, how much more is the devotion of those who partake of and serve it?  “Oh John, you are just mad because Duke got their hind parts whipped and you are taking your frustrations out on the church that you are still a part of!  Get over it!”  Perhaps a plausible argument.  But, if given a choice between your mother’s made from scratch home cooked meals, or frozen dinners from the grocery store, which would you choose?  If given the choice of walking with the Lord with fellow devout seekers and a cloud of witnesses, or with the modern pre-fabrications that seek to make a profit, which would you choose?  If pre-packaged food is inferior to food cooked in love, how much more dangerous is pre-packaged faith?

St. Mary of Egypt taking her last Holy Communion

In whatever form of communion that is served in your church, please keep remembering the faith of the saints that have gone on before you who prepared, served, took the Lord’s Supper in reverence and love.   Elements may be pre-packaged from cold machinery.  But, true faith can never become plastic and foil.  Do not take these things in as pasteurized and preserved grape juice and a flavorless disc.  Do take in the bread from heaven and the wine that gives life to mankind. 

‘Take, eat, this is My body. …   This is My blood …’   (Mark 14:22, 24)

Today’s Sermon: The Demand of Self-Denial

I am back in the pulpit this morning.  I thank God for my friends, Rev. Randolph Graham and  Rev. Keith Lewis, who preached in my place and for my college buddy Dr. Wayne Weathers, for his stirring Homecoming message.  We were blessed to have the word of God delivered by Dr. Vincent Smith, Dr. Reginald Davis, Min. Marlene Fuller, and Pastor Willie Barnes for our revival services.

Again, I am most grateful to Fr. David Arnold and the St. Cyprian of Carthage Orthodox Church (OCA) and Fr. James Purdie and the St. Basil the Great (Antiochian) Orthodox Church for the wonderful Divine Liturgy, hospitality, and friendship.  Had I not known Christ or had been a nominal Christian, I would have asked to be a catechumen.  But, I must remain where I am until the Lord calls me to do otherwise (besides, gas cost too much for me to drive all the way out to Powhatan or Poquoson).

Yes, we had a great revival at Trinity Baptist Church.  Now that we have been revived, let us follow Jesus more closely!

Outward (© John Gresham)

 

THE DEMAND OF SELF-DENIAL

Mark 8:34 – 9:1

(introduction) We African-Americans have suffered external denial

(thesis) In the midst of that time, we cultivated lessons of (internal) self-denial to survive

(antithesis) With our liberation, we no longer consider self-denial important to our faith

(propositional statement)  Without self-denial, it is impossible to follow Jesus

(relevant question)  What makes self-denial so crucial?

(points)

  • self-denial puts ego aside (v.35)
  • self-denial holds the soul higher than earthly gain (v.35, 36)
  • self-denial gives us the strength to bear the cross (v.34)

(conclusion)  Shun the shallow theology of Gospel “catch phrases” and let the mind of Christ be in us (Philippians 2:5 – 8)

 

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.

The Stones We Expect

… “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”  Mark 16:10

A Happy Easter to those of us in Western Christendom!  A Blessed Palm Sunday to all Orthodox Christians.  I will write more when I get back from Sunrise Service.  But, here is the sermon in a nutshell.

Deadfall Sunrise (© John Gresham)

Mark 16:3

THE STONES WE EXPECT

(Introduction) In his life’s ministry, we see Jesus having awesome power.

(Antithesis) Seeing him die on the cross, the women had faith enough to see where his powerless body was entombed.

(Thesis) The power of salvation goes beyond the stones we expect will block us from it.

(Relevant Question) What are these stones and why are they such a huge barriers between us and Jesus?

(Points)     1.  Our weakness

2.  Our low expectations

3.  Our lack of understanding

(Conclusion)  Those who are faithful to seek Jesus will witness the power of salvation over the stones.

Yours in Christ

Brother Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene

A Lenten Journal: A Pursuit of the Doctrine of Christ (Holy Saturday)

… “You see these great buildings?  Not a single stone will be left on another; everything will be pulled down.”  Mark 13:2

We are often awestruck by the things we make.  The disciples, some poor Galileans perhaps, couldn’t help but to note the enormity of Jerusalem’s skyline.  There is no crime in noting good craftsmanship or recognizing feats of labor and skill.  Yet, they tried to get someone greater than the city to be as awestruck as they were by it.  The “stone the builders refused” proclaimed an end to the ones that had been erected.

We make such fuss and fanfare over the things we build.  Skyscrapers to shopping malls are our landmarks.  Our homes are our castles.  Churches are being constructed as grandiose “worship centers” with every amenity we can think of.  Those who shepherd in such places can expect to be well housed themselves even as the one in whose name they preach had no place to lay his head.

Path to a Great Stone (© John Gresham)

We need buildings for everything.  Mega-churches are not inherently bad.  And pastors should receive compensation according to the church budget.  But, let us not be distracted by what we have made because it will all come down.  Even, dare I say especially, the things that we make for the sake of holy worship.  The disciples were raving about buildings while their master was about to be put in a grave.  So if Jesus was to be brought down, what is a temple?  The Hagia Sophia and Notre Dame are tourist attractions.  Other great churches of the east and west have fallen into rubble.  Likewise, our storefronts will be stores again while our “praise tabernacles” will one day meet the wrecking ball.

Only one that had been brought low was resurrected and done so with even more power than before the fall.  Only one was the temple that is the temple that makes us temples.  Only one can bring us to a city that can never be ruined by the will of man.  That city is built on the word of God.

Your Brother In Christ,

Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene

 

A Lenten Journal: A Pursuit of the Doctrine of Christ (Holy Thursday)

“You are not far from the kingdom of God.”    Mark 12:14

Standing on the Seat (© John Gresham)

What puts us close to the kingdom of God?  A scribe listened carefully before putting his question to Jesus.  His question was sincere with no ulterior motives.  He asked for the true source and not trivial matters.  And when he heard truth as the answer, he confirmed it from what he knew.

What puts us close to the kingdom of God?  When we stop assigning Jesus to a particular human line and accept him as the Savior.  If the anointed King of Israel is subject to one greater than himself, we must not limit the Christ to any border or boundary.

What puts us close to the kingdom of God?  When we who lead refuse to do so for the sake of honors and power positions.  We are called to reject gain from the powerless.  No amount of prayer can hide such exploitation.  Such self-serving hypocrisy decisively separates us from the presence of God.

What puts us close to the kingdom of God?  When we give all we have out of poverty.  To give out of luxury is no great feat.  To sacrifice when poor shows great faith.

Lent is coming to a close.  Easter and Pascha are approaching.  But, the kingdom of God is near.  Let us always draw near to it.

Yours in Christ,

Brother Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene

A Lenten Journal: A Pursuit of the Doctrine of Christ (Seventh Wednesday)

… “Pay Caesar what belongs to Caesar-and God what belongs to God.”  … Mark 12:17

… “Surely the reason why you are wrong is that you understand neither the scriptures nor the power of God.”  Mark 12:24

Two forces tend to assault our walk with the Lord as much as any sin.  Those who wish to dominate faith by conspiring with a political establishment and those who hold to a an earthly standard of the heavenly existence.  The trap the Pharisees and Herodians set for Jesus was especially odious.  But, it shows the weakness of religious legalism.  It can and will attach its self to whatever earthly authority to gain an advantage.  Just as Jesus did not bow down to Satan for the glory of any kingdom in this world, so we are not to live by a faith of earthly legalism.  We are to live spiritually and seek entrance in the kingdom of God.  We must stand on the true objective of the Spirit and not fall into the traps to the left and right of us.  The Sadducees were no better.  They believed that God’s kingdom was built on human tradition and contracts.  No, says Jesus.  The word of God is life.  No genealogy can give such a gift.  Only faith in the Son whom the scriptures and the Spirit speaks of gives life abundant and eternal.

Cleat and Beyond (© John Gresham)

Avoid the earthly interpretations of human arrangements in the walk with Christ.  Political, religious, and social authority do not enhance our souls.  Instead, they enslave them to ideologies and stereotypes.  Such souls are no better, and perhaps worse, than crack-heads and junkies.

Your Brother in Christ,

Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simo of Cyrene

A Lenten Journal: A Pursuit of the Doctrine of Christ (Sixth Tuesday)

“He will come and make an end of the tenants and give the vineyard to others.”  Mark 12:9

Shame on those who are righteous in their own eyes!  God has done so much for his people.  Giving us his compassion, mercy, spirit and vision.  Our only requirement is to produce the fruit that he has planted inside of us for his glory.  We are to share in his glory.  But, we cruelly reject those who God sends calling us to show the good fruit we have produced.  And to add final insult, we even kill his own son for the sake of our glory.

Mad River (© John Gresham)

Have you ignored, trashed, or even killed a prophet?  Someone who has told you time and time again to do what is right, to love loyalty and to walk humbly with your God?*  Still worse, are you among the crowd shouting, “Crucify him,” toward the one who came not to be served, but to serve?”**  God wants from us what is rightfully his.  To deny him our lives committed to love, truth, and spirit and to reject those who remind us to do so makes us no different from the accusers, mockers, and the ones who nailed him to the cross.  We should not be surprised on the day of judgement that as we suffer outside of the gates that those whom we mock and despise will dwell eternally in the presence of the one we claim to serve.

Let us welcome the prophets.  Let us welcome Christ.  Let us show God the fruit of Holy Spirit filled lives.

Your Brother in Christ

Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene

*Micah 6:8

**Mark 10:45