repentance

The Trap of Little Sins

I have a little print-paper icon of St. Moses of Ethiopia that I use as a bookmark.  It is currently in use as I read My Life in Christ by St. John of Kronstadt as part of my bedroom prayer rule.  On the icon are these words from the African monastic,

Even in little sins, let us force ourselves and not become lazy for truly we have forgiveness of sins

From the Russian priest, I found these words on page 58,

Most men not only bear Satan’s burden willingly in their hearts, but they become so accustomed to it that they often do not feel it, and even imperceptibly increase it

moses and kronstadt

It is not hard for us to wake up and repent of our “big” sins.  We are quick to be offended, saddened, or feel some other emotion when an obvious act of immorality has been committed.  If our vision along our spiritual journey goes no further than what can readily be seen, then Satan has blinded us.  As long as we aren’t observant that we don’t fall for the “minor” temptations and make excuses for us committing them, the evil one is allowing us to rot from the inside.  He is often waiting for the rot to set in so deeply that when faced with a major temptation, we will fall quite easily and not realize how we could do such a thing.

Oh, it is a little thing for a man to “check out” a shapely woman every now and then and consider it harmless.  Yet, our Lord taught us better;

But, I say to you, if a man looks upon a woman to lust for her, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  (Matthew 5:28)

In many cases of child molestation and rape it is not unusual for law enforcement to find the perpetrator had a pornography habit.  Affairs and fornication begin with the eyes and the mind long before the sexual organs are involved.  And rather than confront a son’s (or daughter’s, I suppose) lengthy times in the restroom or alone online, even Christian parents resign themselves to the phrase, “boys will be boys.”  The perpetual laziness in not being watchful against and embracing lust is the cause of men and women failing at relationships as we don’t know how to relate to one another as beings who pursue purity of heart.  Even as we pursue our “soul mates,” lust stains our souls so that we wouldn’t know the “right one” unless an archangel actually pointed him (or her) out.  And even if we do find a good spouse, those little sins left unchecked and well fed are able to rot the best of marriages.

Murder can begin with unchecked anger, theft with envy, hate with pride; every “big” sin begins with a “little” sin, or a series of “little” sins.  Care must be taken that we search them out within ourselves in times of contemplation and prayer.  We who seek God cannot afford to accept the worldly excuses for them.  They must not be tolerated in ourselves.  But, we must repent of them no matter how minor they may seem.

 

 

 

Chief Among Sinners?

“…that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief …”     From Paul’s First Letter to Timothy 1:15

“O God, cleanse me, a sinner, for I have never done anything good in thy sight.”  From the First Prayer of Saint Macarius the Great

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  The Jesus Prayer based on Luke 18:9-14

“I believe, O Lord, that thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God, who didst come into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief”   From the Orthodox Divine Liturgy prayer before the Holy Eucharist

 

It is hard enough to admit one’s wrong doing.  It is harder still to declare one’s self to have committed the worst of crimes, and nearly impossible to still see one’s self continuing to be the worst of offenders.  This is the main problem in America of every race, sex, political opinion, region, etc … ; no one admits to being chief among sinners.

It is easy to look at the story of the Apostle Paul and see what a terrible man he was before his conversion.  He, as Saul of Tarsus, watched the martyrdom of Deacon Stephen with approval and became notorious for persecuting Christians with the blessings of the Jewish chief priest.  After his conversion, Saul rejected the faith of his past and was ordained in Syria to spread the Gospel in Asia Minor, Cyprus, Greece, and Rome.  Despite his universal wisdom in living the Christian life and obviously being a changed man, Paul still addressed himself to his disciple, Timothy, as chief among sinners.  Although the went from being a cruel persecutor of the faith to an apostle of the truth, despite their being no records of any immoral acts or even cross words, this holy and righteous man still considered himself the chief among sinners.

Not much is known about Macarius before he became a monk, except that he was a camel driver.  Early in his monastic struggle, he was falsely accused by a woman of impregnating her.  Rather than try to plead his innocence, he worked even harder to weave baskets to make money to support his “wife and child.”  The entire village was going to his cave to apologize as the woman admitted that she lied.  Rather than stay and relish his deserved “I told you so” moment, Macarius fled deeper into the Egyptian desert.  We see the depth of this man’s humility and lifestyle of repentance as we offer his words in our prayer books,  “I have never done anything good in thy sight.”  Despite being one of the holy desert fathers, Macarius seemed to try to compete with Paul in admitting to being chief among sinners.

Here is the beauty of what Jesus taught in His story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector; the one who is truly humble and repentant before God is the one who received justification from God.  Oh, the Pharisee was a good man who obeyed all of the rules and did no wrong.  At least, he didn’t admit to any wrong, as with those who were about to stone a woman who was caught in the act of adultery.  When Jesus commanded them to look at themselves before throwing condemning stones at her, they all went away realizing they all had sinned.  Perhaps if this Pharisee had heard the same command from God, he would have knelt deeper, beat his chest harder, shed more tears, and cried out in deeper anguish than the tax collector that he thought he was better than.  Here in this parable, neither person of the Holy Trinity speaks vocal conviction to the Pharisee nor the tax collector.

This is how too many Americans are before God.  We don’t hear him convict us.  Perhaps a preacher might step on our toes every once in a while.  But, like the Pharisee, we are deaf to let the sound of God’s presence cry out to us to repent and walk in His ways.  Instead, we speak to God of what we accomplish and how we are better than the obviously sinful.  “God, I thank you that I am not like other people, (racist crackers, ghetto slugs, faggots, bull-daggers, perverts, abortionists, hypocritical Christians, atheist, liberals, conservatives, Tea Party members, Obama supporters, Muslims, or anyone else we don’t like), or even as this tax collector.  I am a tithing member of my church that only listens to Christian music, reads only Christian books, and watches only Christian TV.”  What we fail to realize is that by our self-righteous attitudes, we are making ourselves into Pharisees, enemies of the very Christ who we claim to proclaim.

We need to have the attitude of the tax collector in this parable.  Like the Pharisee, he does not hear a vocal conviction from God.  But, unlike the Pharisee, this man feels the presence of God and is convicted by it.  He is well distant from the righteous people and does not even lift his eyes toward heaven.  The tax collector does not offer one word of the good he has done nor of how much he is better than anyone else.   His words are the core of humility and repentance, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

In fairness, it may be that the Pharisee was as good as he said he was and didn’t do anything wrong.  Likewise, the tax collector may have charged no more than assigned by the Roman and Judean officials declared and collected no more than to keep a simple lifestyle for himself and family.  Let’s just say that neither man did anything outlandishly bad.  But, difference is in their attitudes.  One man exalts himself while the other humbles himself.  Even though we see no direct punishment for the Pharisee’s arrogance, if we believe that our Lord does not lie, we know that his attitude will get him in trouble sooner or later.  Likewise, there is no quick gratification for the tax collector for his humility.  Since we belive the words of Jesus are true, we know he will be blessed at some point or another.

We can raise our voices in anger against the wave of anti-traditional Christianity all we wish.  But as temporary citizens of America and ultimate citizens of the kingdom of God, we have to confront our own demons and live opposite of our own faults.  Paul and the apostles, Macarius and the early fathers and mothers understood the need to point the finger at themselves first and foremost.  This is why the early church fathers taught us to consider ourselves as they did, chief among sinners.  Unless we “good Christians” do and act likewise, any complaining and protest we offer in this temporal nation will fall on deaf ears.  If we prove to be hypocritical, we won’t even make it into the kingdom to come.

Baltimore and the Ancient Failure

I have always enjoyed visiting family in Baltimore.  I remember taking a solo road trip up there.  I visited the Frederick Douglass Maritime Museum, checked out a few local shops, ate a really good steak and cheese somewhere in the Fells Point area.  I had the opportunity to eulogize one of my relatives in the city.  I was warmly received the times I preached there.  Baltimore is really a nice town check out.

What about the rioting?  That is a case of the invisible ugliness becoming visible.  Now, the whole world has seen what happens when a power structure has kept people powerless for decades.  Now we see how some powerless people respond when they feel threatened and vulnerable.  Yes, I am saddened, angered, disappointed, and deeply wounded that yet another black man died in the hands of a few policemen and that some blacks took to rioting.  But, I am also aware that something like this could happen anywhere where there is invisible ugliness.  All it takes is one trigger and a seaside city that is the home of generations of strong, black families can be the home of a violent outbreak in the struggle between the haves and have-nots.  Who knows, tomorrow, we could hear something about Hampton, VA (where I am typing from).

Many will disagree with my point of view.  But, I don’t believe that race nor racism is the ultimate source of the invisible ugliness.  The root of the problem goes back to the very roots of human history.  In an attempt to be like God without direction from God, Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit.  Immediately after their eyes were open, they couldn’t be vulnerable to each other and hid themselves from the God they wanted to be like without Him.  Cain killed his brother, Abel, rather than to listen to God’s instructions to overcome sin.  In both situations, people sought to obtain the heavenly and earthly power on their own terms and the results have been spectacular failures.

The Europeans who came to these shores only wanted more land and opportunity than they had in their homelands.  But, rather than to do so in compassion and humility, they made their gains by inflicting a selfish and narrow-minded judgement on the Native Americans and (by purchase and theft) obtain African slaves to generate the wealth for the new nation.   Many of their descendants feel that they are in their right to do whatever they wish to maintain dominance in a kingdom that they obtained by wrong instead of right.  The Africans, for many years, held a moral high ground as they found the Gospel truth hidden in the wrong-headed doctrines of their slave masters.  But, over too much time and too many broken promises,  too many of us descendants have succumbed to having a heart and mind as mindlessly cruel as any oppressor.  Rather than leave vengeance the Lord, too many of us want a justice that punishes rather than a justice that restores the flesh and blood that is not our real enemy.  Like Adam & Eve, the racist and the rioter are too impatient to enjoy the good things they have and wait for something better.  Like Cain, the racist and the rioter would rather kill his own kind than to admit that he is wrong and live a life of repentance.

To be fair, not every white policeman is hunting Negroes.  Not every African American is running around with a stolen TV set.  But, too many of us replay the ancient failure in our hearts and minds.  We all want more and greater things and positions rather than patience and spiritual correction.  We want the world to revolve around us rather than for us to follow God.  Until this changes, your city and mine have the potential to be a Baltimore.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have Mercy on Us, Sinners.

Great Lent Week Four:  A Life Of Repentance

Our church observed the Liturgy of St. Andrew of Crete and the story of St. Mary of Egypt.  We began service about 6:30 pm.  By the time we were finished, it was a quarter to nine.  I had been in lengthy services at the Hampton University Minister’s Conference.  But, there I was seated and there were breaks between lecturers and preachers.  Standing, making tons of metany (bows touching the floor) through a lengthy series of odes, and prostrations with the prayer of St. Ephrem of Syria and at the icon of The Ladder of Divine Ascent is something I would not have dreamed of doing years ago.  I went home last night thinking that it is a shame that all Christians do not do the same and gather the humble meaning of this service.  In fact, Orthodoxy offers something that modern Christianity often ignores at its own risk.

Prostrating before the Cross

The cannon of St. Andrew and the story of St. Mary reinforces our need to lead a life of repentance.  In a couple of weeks, we are going to celebrate Great and Holy Pascha (Easter) with enthusiastic shouts of praise in different languages and have plenty of food and drink at the end of service.  In my Antiochian Patriarchate, we will not resume the weekly fast on Wednesdays and Fridays until the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord.  We will observe several feast and fast in our yearly cycle and even during our fast, we are to reject gloominess and carry on as normal as to hide our struggle.  No, we Orthodox Christians are not a morbid bunch of ancient religious fanatics that constantly burden ourselves with the knowledge that we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (I have one dear brother who is an incurable practical joker).

St. Mary of Egypt

Yet, our worship services, especially those leading toward (the Lenten Triodion) and during Great Lent, are designed to lead us to repentance and live a life of repentance.  We are to acknowledge that we have separated ourselves from God, the only and true source of life.  This is what Adam and Eve did in the Garden, not so much that they broke a command defying God’s authority.  But, they chose to seek an immortal existence based on the fulfillment of their desires rather than live according to the only life giving Word that is truly immortal.  By separating from that source of life, death came to rule over us.  Corruption, striving to act and hide away from God, infects our being.

Praise be to God that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  Jesus Christ died as a man.  But, death and the grave could not contain the Immortal One as He was (is and always will be) incorruptible.  He taught us that if we are to follow Him we must deny ourselves and take up our crosses.  Jesus came teaching not only love and morality, which are good things that we strive to practice.  Jesus taught us to repent for the eternal kingdom is at hand.  We are to turn and strive to keep our lives turned away from our corruptible desires that lead to death as He has come from heaven, taken on flesh, and conquered death by His death.  We are to be one with our Lord as His body, the Church.

St. Andrew of Crete

This is why we offer the prayer, “Lord have mercy,” from the beginning to end of the weekly Divine Liturgy.  During the week, we follow our personal rules of prayer that include the words of ancient saints of the Church.  Our rules may be as simple as morning and evening to keeping the Hours during the whole day.  This is why confession is not merely something done in the privacy of our own homes.  We come before God with our father or mother confessor in a corner of the Church as others pray for us as well.  All that we practice is a part of living in repentance.  During Great Lent, we add prayers, services, almsgiving as well as fasting and marital sexual abstinence to focus more on the call from Christ to repent.

Is a life of repentance necessary?  Can’t we simply resolve to love more?  Perhaps.  But, love without repentance blurs the standards of holy living to a point where good and evil are conditional and defined by individuals and not by God.  Can’t we simply resolve to be more moral?  Probably.  But, morality without repentance becomes arrogant and self-righteous which erodes compassion and mercy.  Can’t we just praise the Lord?  Yes.  But, praise without repentance is far too easy of a trap for people to fall into. Repentance keeps us humble as we see our own faults before we see those of others. This allows love to grow deeper in the individual towards God and others.  The humble soul knows there is a standard to live by and constantly seeks to live by it.  By humility, a believer can praise wholeheartedly yet not do so any higher than he lives.

So, let us be cautious to live in repentance.  God blesses those of a broken heart and contrite spirit.

Great Lent Week Three: Deeper Than Inside

And when you fast …

Yes, this is the time when Lent gets on your last nerve.  I have seen that Little Cesasr’s Bacon Wrapped Deep Dish Pizza advertised one too many times.  Spring is here and everyone is ready to enjoy the warmer tempereatures and lack of ice and snow.  But, we have a few more weeks of soul searching, intensive repentance, deliberate spiritual reading; our struggle continues.

One of the better known songs by the post-punk indie band (hey, I listen to a lot of different genres) Rites of Spring is “Deeper Than Inside”  I doubt that they meant any spiritual interpretation to their name or lyrics.  But, I am considering a couple of things.  The whole punk rock movement (also early hip-hop) was a rebellion against the huge, corporate monster music industry.  It was a couple of kids who knew how to play a couple of chords and say what was on their minds.  To seriously take on Great Lent, no matter what branch of Christianity you follow, is an act of rebellion against our arrogant and comfort seeking society.  We strip down faith to the sacrificial and repentant following of Jesus Christ as he has called us to do.

Even more so, we stive to know God and confess our sins in a more meaninful way.  Added prayers from the ancient fathers guide our focus to our deeper issues.  It isn’t so much that someone took an ink pen from work, cussed out a stranger, or cheated on their spouse and looks for a legalistic band-aid to cover his/her wound.  We deal with deeper ailments that show themselves when we do not fight against them.  Anger, fear, lust, envy, laziness, greed; these are the passions that monks and nuns have gone into the deserts and forest to fight against.  They have been so gracious as to share with the Church the wisdom they have been blessed with to help us non-monastics with our spiritual journey.  If we settle for a mere, “say 20 Hail Marys,” or “well, God knows my heart,” we have only cut the flower of our weeds.  Perhaps we may have even cut a few leaves and the stem.  Great Lent reminds us to stive to kill the roots of our visible sins.  A dead root cannot  produce a flower.  A wounded root does not readily reproduce.  A root left undisturbed will flourish again.

May God grant us His mercy and strength to continue the struggle.

Great Lent Week One: The Need for Humility

Week one of Great Lent has been completed. Thus far, I haven’t had any hallucinations of Philly steak & cheese tacos with chili & cheese chitterlings on the side. Actually, I found some very good vegan spring rolls at a Dollar Tree. Liquid smoke with beans, corn, and grilled onions is not a bad meat substitute. Thanks to a raise, my hours, and re-financing my mortgage, I can splurge on a pint of oysters every now and then. The fast will pluck my nerves eventually. But, it is good for me and my body feels better.

I have decided to gorge on reading this season. I started reading Confessions by St. Augustine (if it was good enough for Fr. Seraphim Rose, it’s good enough for me) at the beginning of the Triodion. I also decided to re-read On The Incarnation by St. Athanasius and The Mountain of Silence by Kyriacos Markides. A fourth book this season is really making me consider how important humility is to the spiritual life; The Arena: An Offering to Contemporary Monasticism by (St.) Bishop Ignatius Brianchninov.

St. Ignatius Brianchaninov 1807-1867

Monks, like those of us outside of monasteries, can easily fall victim to arrogance and a desire to put our will above humble obedience. Oh, we may think these holy men are so full of the grace of God that they can’t fall for the traps we do. With his knowledge of the Orthodox fathers (African fathers are highly regarded), St. Ignatius teaches aspiring monks to keep a disciplined focus on their spiritual growth. For example, St. Moses the Black warned an elderly monk to remain with the brothers who were tending to his illness rather than go into a nearby town for treatment. He didn’t listen and wound up getting a woman pregnant. Another monk, Nikita was convinced that an angel instructed him to read the Old Testament and spiritual books rather than to pray. Despite his fame and renown, it was discovered by his brothers he was really under a Satanic spell and lost his ability to read anything. Only after many tears and much repentance did God’s spirit come back to rest on he who became St. Nikita of Novgorod. Without humility, the holiest among us are able to fall from grace.

If this is true for monks who kept themselves in the deserts of Egypt and Russian forest, how much more is it true for us who “declare and decree” that we are “blessed and highly favored” and “no weapon of the enemy formed against us shall prosper?” Not everyone wants to go on a vegan diet and read old books for 40 days. But, perhaps all Christians should use Lent as a time for some down time soul-searching. Focusing a little less on praise and a little more on repentance is not a bad idea, especially since Jesus made this an essential part of His preaching after His 40 days of fasting. Pushing one’s self to prayer in overcoming a long-standing bad habit and keeping a journal of spiritual growth can also be beneficial to our souls as we prepare to celebrate our Lord’s resurrection. A nominal Christian, or one who is “spiritual, but not religious” would do well to observe humility as the scriptures and church history proves that the exalted are brought low.

A Standard for Shouting

I was one of Dr. Harold Braxton’s “boys.” Dr. Braxton was the Religious Affairs Director and Dean of the School of Humanities at Virginia State University. After preaching in the Foster Hall Chapel, he served his Pastoral duties at Union Grove Baptist Church. I was blessed to serve under him with the Baptist Student Union and as a Seminary Intern when I was enrolled at the School of Theology at Virginia Union University. Quite a few of young people, especially aspiring ministers benefitted from “Doc’s” steady wisdom and refusal to fall for the latest trends in preaching.

Charismatics were known for seeking out new members among the freshmen on campus. Their ministries were very exciting and upbeat. The lonely and impressionable students often fell to the style and expressiveness of what they had to offer. For a while, I was among those who fell for their doctrines and worship. But, after seeing some faults with this non-denominational movement and remembering the firm foundation given to me by my Baptist parents and community in King William, Dr. Braxton’s “boring” chapel sermons and steady Christian walk on campus made a lot of sense to me.

Virginia State University

I remember a word of wisdom he gave in one sermon that all but killed my flirtation with charismania. “Don’t shout any higher than you live.” To several students, these were words of the devil designed to “quench the Spirit.” “Doc” was a very spiritual man and was known to give a good “whoop” every now and then from the pulpit. But, the words from this veteran campus minister and pastor was a standard for us to avoid making exuberant praise and worship the standard of who we were as Christians. As young adults, we were faced with a plethora of temptations. Shouting, speaking in tongues, and the like may be exciting to participate in. But, true spiritual life meant having the Holy Spirit guide us through these struggles. As we are likely to fall to them, we must not carry some sort of false face of Holiness. Instead, we had to be humble about who we are in the Lord as we are far from who we ought to be. And being in our late teens and early twenties, not many of us could boast about how God brought us out from what we used to be since we weren’t really old enough to be anything to be brought out of.

I think we would all do well to heed the wise words of Dr. Harold Braxton today. Pointing firstly to myself, it is way too easy for me to point a finger at modern churches and stick out my chest as a member of the Orthodox Church. It is easy to be complacent belonging to the 2,000 year old continuous connection to Christ and His Apostles. But, what good is it for me to boast of the greatness of Holy Tradition if I fail to devote myself to prayer and love for others? An icon on the wall is good. But, without using it as a window toward heaven and seeking the presence of God, it is nothing more than an interesting piece of religious art. Sure, I burn incense. But, clouds of smoke mean little more than a fragrance for my home if I do not have compassion on my fellow man. Like anyone else, Satan continues to attack me from all directions. How dare I act or speak as a sinless man. No, my shouting ought not be loud at all. May God bless me not to think of myself more than I should.

St Mary of Egypt: An Antidote for Sexual Addictions

Most people struggle with lust from time to time.  We all aren’t so overcome by it that we have violated anyone else.  But, with so much “eye candy” presented to us in every form of media, we are all guilty of thoughts and actions that we are ashamed of.  Of course, we Christians are quick to say, “Just Take It To Jesus And Pray.”  And this is the ultimate solution to our struggle with impure sexual thoughts, words, and actions.  But, our Lord also gives us forerunners who have struggled with and overcame the same sins which besiege us today as there is nothing new under the sun.  Among such great men and women who have been transformed by the power of repentance and forgiveness is Mary of Egypt.

St. Mary of Egypt

Mary was a sex addict.  She gave into lust at the age of 12.  In her story to the monk/priest Zosimas, she wasn’t forced into prostitution or the victim of rape or incest.  She just loved sex and would give herself simply for pleasure and not money. After some 17 years of her shameless behavior, she joined a group of pilgrims sailing from Egypt to Jerusalem to venerate the Holy Cross.  She used her body to pay her fare constantly tempting men to have their way with her.

When she came to the church, she sought to enter.  Time and time again, she was blocked by an invisible force.  She realized that the force was her own sinful lifestyle that kept her from entering the church.  She grieved  deeply at this revelation.  Seeing an icon of the Theotokos, Mary repented of her lustfulness promising that if she were allowed to worship at the Cross that she would no longer live in her sexual exploits.  After her prayer, she was able to walk into the church and worship.

Mary made good on her promise.  She crossed the Jordan River and went into the desert with nothing more than three loaves of bread and the clothes on her back.  Led by the Holy Spirit, she lived in the desert for 47 years repenting of her sins.  This was no easy feat.  The thoughts of her former pleasures tormented her.  The desire for meats, wine, and other things also tempted her to leave the desert.  Yet, she constantly prayed in deep humility and tears to be free from her lust.  It took some 17 years of struggles to be free from her sexual addiction and lust.

Fr. Zosimas giving the Eucharist to Mary

It wasn’t until she met Zosimas in the desert that she even saw and spoke to another person.  By that time, her clothing was completely gone and he gave her his outer robe to cover her.  He saw the holiness of her story and her prayers.  The following year, he was able to give her the Eucharist.  The year after that, Mary was found dead.

Mary shows us that sexual immorality keeps us from the fullness of Christ.  Oh, we may still go to church and worship.  We may even make excuses for what we do.  “They were just pictures.  I was born this way.  We are in love, so it’s okay.”  Let’s stop fooling ourselves.  The sexually immoral will have no part in the kingdom of God.   Mary shows us that our repentance must be serious.  Casually saying, “well, the Lord knows my heart,” is not enough.  There should be a deep sorrow for what we have done and a serious commitment to change our ways.  Mary shows us that our struggle against sin is not always over in an instant.  Some addictions are stubborn to leave us and can only be overcome by (as our Lord taught His disciples) by prayer and fasting.  And indeed, fasting should be a part of the life of the faithful.  By following Mary’s example of following Christ, we can overcome even the worst of our sexual sins and live in purity.

The icon of St. Mary of Egypt at St. Basil the Great Antiochian Orthodox Church in Hampton

The icon of St. Mary of Egypt at St. Basil the Great Antiochian Orthodox Church in Hampton

Having been a sinful woman,

You became through repentance a Bride of Christ.

Having attained angelic life,

You defeated demons with the weapon of the Cross;

Therefore, O most glorious Mary you are a Bride of the Kingdom!

Contemplating Confession

No,  I didn’t rob a bank, pick up a hooker, or stab anyone.  No, it is none of your business exactly what I am guilty of.  But, I am a sinner and I did sin.  The medication for this sickness is confession and repentance.  In Orthodox Christianity, there is a process of coming forward to the icon of the Theotokos and the Christ child beside the priest in the presence of the church.

It is a bit intimidating of a process.  Granted, with the chanting going on and speaking in a low voice with the priest, no one can hear your business.  Only when the priest declares absolution does anyone hear anything during the sacrament and even then nothing is disclosed about what was done.  Plus, the early fathers never demanded that everyone confess every sin in the church beside the priest before attending Divine Liturgy.  There may (and probably should) be a spiritually reliable person in one’s life to confess to.  Father does not need to hear every time you took an ink pen from work, drove over the speed limit, or fantasized over the new office intern.  We don’t believe anyone should beat up themselves over every sin.  Confession and repentance is an on-going process that we should be experiencing in our daily spiritual disciplines.  A daily and frequent seeking of God’s mercy and salvation from evil should and must be pursued and is enough to absolve us from sin if done in sincerity.

But, there are some things we do because of severity, frequency, and the potential danger that going before God during Vespers, Matins, or completely in private with the priest is advisable for the sake of our souls.  Such a confession can be the first act of recovery from an addiction or prevention of a bad situation from becoming worse.  In some cases, it may be a preparation for one to confess to legal authorities and prepare for civil consequences.  While such things as 12 step programs, anger management, and the like may be useful and effective in correcting outward behavior, sin is the illness of the soul and only the blessing of forgiveness from God can correct it.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9)

There was a time when I would have deemed such a practice as unnecessary.  But, when I think about it, Protestants sometimes have similar practices of confession.  At altar calls people can ask the preacher to pray for forgiveness.  Certainly, a pastor keeps an open door and heart to anyone to confess privately.  Many churches advocate prayer partners and spiritual mentors where one can go to when they can’t reach the pastor, or feel more comfortable spilling their guts with than with the pastor.  And all Christians are encouraged to repent of sins in private as part of their daily prayers.  So, why should anyone go before an icon, beside a priest, in a prayer service, and confess sins?  Let me briefly name three:

  1. The ordained priesthood has the ability to forgive sins through the Holy Spirit and succession by the resurrected Christ and his Apostles (John 20:22,23).
  2. Confession is essential for repentance and cleansing from sin (Mark 1:4,5).
  3. We are a community of people who seek to live anew, not just individuals seeking personal salvation (Matthew 3:5).

I am called to be the salt of the earth.  If I lose my savor to my sins, I am useless.  I am called to be the light of the world.  If I hide under the basket of my failures, I cannot fulfill my purpose to share the True Light (Matthew 5:13-16).    I pray and believe that confession will heal my wounded soul, give me the ability to heal those whom I have harmed, strengthen my Christian journey, and unite me even closer with my fellow believers and humanity as a whole.

Embracing John The Baptist

I am sorry I haven’t worked on articles about my trip to the St. Moses the Black (Ancient Faith Afro-American) Conference yet.  Actually, I did type up a few rough drafts while in and on the road.  I will get on it as soon as I have time and get better.  Unfortunately, I haven’t been well and found out last Friday that my blood sugar level was 720.  I was hospitalized over the weekend and just got home Monday afternoon.  This morning, I tested out at 150.  I feel dizzy.  I’m ready for a morning nap.

I am grateful for the visits, prayers, and phone calls from my Trinity Baptist Church family and relatives on both sides of my family.   Fr. James Purdie came with his eldest children.  I kinda expected him to pray the Trisagion and offer up some other ancient prayers.  He also gave me an icon of John the Baptist.  This was no major surprise coming from an Orthodox priest.  But, the more I sat and looked at the icon, the more I thought of how I need to make my patron saint a part of me.

John the Forerunner

John didn’t eat the most elaborate diet.  I imagine locust and wild honey gets old kinda quick.  Nor was he very fashionable (camel’s hair garment).  I’m not much on clothes since I wear a uniform at work and a suit on Sundays.  A couple of sport shirts, jeans, and khakis round out my wardrobe.  I have to make a change in my eating and drinking.  Deserts are not a big problem for me, except for holidays.  I do okay on my weekly fast.  But, I eat myself silly on non fast days.  I don’t think there are too many juice-based drinks at the 7-11 that I have not tried and liked.  Such beverages have been a major addiction of mine.  On my trip to KC, I drank Hawaiian Punch like a comfort food.  No wonder my blood sugar level was up to ridiculous.    John and the later monastics had the right idea.  We need only to eat and drink what is necessary for health.

Spiritually, John provides a role model of what is most important about the Christian faith.  Repentance, giving to others, and living in expectation of seeing the Christ.  Again, I am no fan of “get your praise on” worship.  I don’t really get into buying stuff because I have little or no disposable income.  I do worry that people see the Christian faith more as a “feel good, self help, get what you want in this world today” religion rather than the “deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me” faith that Jesus calls us to.  Could it be that we have spiritual diabetics who only want the sugar of earthly blessings and no balance of muscle building proteins of self sacrifice?  Could it be that we have people with 720 blood glucose levels of praises instead of 60 to 100 of a prayer discipline?  I think we all need to monitor our bodies and souls and the later is far more important.

Yeah, I honor the saints of Orthodox Christianity.  Moses the Black, Cyprian of Carthage, Isaac the Syrian, Herman of Alaska, and others grace my icon corners.  But, John was the true forerunner not only of our Lord.  Except for the Theotokos (Virgin Mary), he was the role model for all saints.  He is a role model for all Christians as well.