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Journey Into Great Lent (Day Five): Broken

Oh Lord and King, grant me the grace to be aware of my sins and not to judge my brother and sister …

From the Lenten Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian

As with most men, lust is a problem that I struggle with.  In today’s society, it is tolerated as long as one keeps his hands to himself.  In fact, lust is expected, celebrated, and used for commercial purposes (Hooters, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, and the like).  The ease in which one can access the most abusive and cruel forms of pornography on the internet makes this sin even more dangerous.  Since taking up the journey toward Orthodoxy, I have put aside my worst manifestations of this sin.  Yet, I still succumbed to my eyes and imagination more times that I wish to count or share. 

This Lent, I have made it a special point to refrain from such wicked imaginations.  I tell myself that if an Orthodox married man refrains from touching his wife during the fast, what gives me the right to fantasize being with any woman.  My wife suffers from both Bipolar Disorder and Multiple Sclerosis.  Thus, lust has been a great burden on me.  But, I went into the fast believing that God will deliver me from this chronic problem.

Monarchs (© John Gresham)

Monarchs (© John Gresham)

A necessary part of the spiritual healing process is to be made fully aware of one’s sin.  By indulging in lust, I separate myself from the greatest icon I have in my home.  My wife is my greatest icon for Christ counts Himself with the lowly and afflicted:

‘In as much as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”   (Matthew 25:40)

The other icons I have in my home, if I ignore or misuse them, that would be bad enough.  They are man-made widows into heaven.  In fact, I can change windows and move them around as I see fit without any consequences.  But, how many times have I ignored, shut out, been angry with, neglected, and belittled my wife desiring someone else?  How many times have I failed to pray for, pray with, and show affection for my wife?  Again, since being on the Orthodox journey, I have improved.  Praying for her, struggling against my passions, and offering the Lenten Prayer has broken me to see how far I have fallen and how far I have to go.  What I have done to her, I have done to Jesus.  What I do to her, I do to Jesus.  No wonder Paul advises us to “Work out your salvation in fear and trembling”  (Philippians 2:12).

It is no wonder why the Early Fathers (some date back to Irenaeus for this tradition) prescribed the 40 day Lenten Fast.  Once when we are broken by the awareness of our fallen state, it takes time to be moulded into useful vessels of the Gospel.  Orthodoxy calls for fasting throughout the year to help remind us that we are still a work in progress.   In the Trisagion Prayers, we constantly ask for the mercy of the Holy Trinity.  The Jesus Prayer underscores the fact that we are to be the tax collector and not the Pharisee (Luke 18:10-14).   In the Ancient Faith, confession is a sacrament before God with the priest as a witness in the body of Christ as well as a private act.  And that we begin the fast with Forgiveness Vespers where we all ask each other, including the priest and bishops present, to forgive our sins. 

I am broken as I have seen and understand that I have not been a good husband nor as good as others think I am.  It is not my place to compare myself to other men.  I will be judged on my actions, words, and THOUGHTS (Matthew 5:27-30).  I acknowledge my broken state.  I have faith in the healing process.  I have hope that the Lord will restore my wife.  I have hope that He will restore me for her according to His will.

Confession: Accountability, Humility and Trust in the Body of Christ

If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

John 20:23

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

I John 1:9

I spent my final day of vacation from Trinity Baptist by visiting another Orthodox Church.  Today, it was St. Basil the Great Antiochian in Poquoson.  Poquoson is one of few places in Virginia east of I-95 I had never been to.  I never had much of a reason to.  The little bit of town that I did see seemed to be a nice bedroom community.  I didn’t visit the communities of the legendary “Bull Islander” watermen.  The next time I do, I will make it a point to buy some good fresh seafood.  But, today was all about worship at the church of the St. Philip’s Prayer Discipline.  About 20 years ago, the Antiochians opened their doors to some 2,000 Evangelical Christians giving them Chrismation into the Orthodox faith.

Even before the Divine Liturgy, I was struck by the deep spirituality of the ancient faith.  During the 9:15 Matins service, the priest, Fr. James Purdie, gave the sacrament of Confession to any who would come forward.  Yes, Confession.  A few (churches aren’t packed at one hour prayer services where there is more standing than sitting) people, in turn,  came up to the icon of the Theotokos, whispered their confession to Fr. James.   He then whispered back and they seemed to be in a conversation inaudible to the rest of the congregation.  Then he placed a portion of his priestly vestment over the person’s head and proclaimed their sin.  The forgiven believer kisses the icon, makes the sign of the cross, and takes their place back in the congregation prepared to receive the Eucharist (Communion).

Now, I can hear my fellow Baptist turn their noses up in disdain.  “You ain’t gotta do all that to repent.  Jesus knows your heart.  All you got to do say is, “Lord, I’m sorry.  Please forgive me in Jesus Name.  Amen.”  And there was a time in our rural congregations that a young lady that was pregnant or had a child out-of-wedlock had to repent before the whole church before she could take communion again, change membership to another church, or get married.  Rarely did the guy she slept with have to go through such an ordeal and many other sins didn’t require such a process.  So, the way it was practiced, confession was unfair (especially since some ministers and deacons were known womanizers) and burdensome.  As more and more children were being born out-of-wedlock, the sacrament seemed to be a hindrance to church attendance.

Yet, there is something to be said for the accountability, humility, and trust that I saw today.  Not that every sin needs to be confessed to a priest in Orthodoxy.  But, he is the spiritual Father of the congregation and is responsible for giving the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist.  So, if one is troubled by a serious or recurring wrong, he or she has the responsibility to let the priest know of this and repent with the priest offering an understanding ear, encouragement, and practical solution to the sin as well as a proclamation that the sin is forgiven.  To come and confess one’s sin is a sign of humility and spiritual maturity.  That one doesn’t play off his or her missing the mark as something to be nonchalantly brushed aside in private or in some little box in a corner.  Orthodox confession is done where people cannot hear what is being said, but they know that something is being said and forgiveness is proclaimed.  It takes courage and a sense of trust in one’s priest and church family that the confession will not be material for gossip and speculation.  If I had to leave before the Divine Liturgy, Matins and the Confessions were enough for me to praise God for.

“So Rev., are you trying to say we ought to have confession in the Baptist church?”  I am not sure how it can be introduced or reintroduced.  Nor do I dare say that all is perfect among the Orthodox with this sacrament.  But, let us consider what we have in our lack of a sacrament of Confession.  We are accountable to no one.  I don’t have to tell pastor nothing.  All he is supposed to do is visit grandma in the nursing home and get his shout on so I can pat my foot and feel good about myself.  We are not humble.  We would rather talk about how “blessed and highly favored,” we are than to express any sort of public humility.  And we continue to perpetuate an atmosphere of mistrust by not having the courage to trust.  And if pastors aren’t challenged with the responsibility to forgive sins, they can be tempted to be irresponsible with their own sins.  We can put on great performances of “whooping” sermons and “sanging” choirs and soloist.  But without accountability, humility, and trust in the body of Christ; we are missing something in our walk with the Lord that is far more valuable than cultural expressiveness.

I don’t know.  I will work on the Sunday School lesson and my sermon this week and be back serving at Trinity next Sunday.  Maybe I should keep silent and just chalk this up as a “grass looks greener on the other side of the fence” episode.  Or, perhaps the Lord will bless me (or someone else) with a way to explain Confession so that my fellow Baptist can understand it’s value even if they don’t agree to do it.  And if we want to do it, how do we bring such a sacrament to a church that doesn’t even see Communion as a sacrament?

A Diary of the Apostles Fast (Second Wednesday): The Mind

For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.

Romans 8:6

My Icon Corner (© John Gresham)

How many clichés and quotes are there that teach that a man will wind up where his mind is?  My late grandfather-in-law and mentor, Rev. Carter Wicks, used to say that “A Man Is His Mind.”  If his and other similar words are true, I think it pays for us to do more than periodical reality checks.  We need daily monitoring and adjusting.  Because there are so many strong temptations to keep us thinking about the things of the world rather than the things of God.  This is not to say that we should all become strict monastics and leave everything we have to live in a cave the rest of our lives for the sake of prayer and contemplation.  But, unless prayer throughout the day becomes a part of our lives, we risk our faith eroding into spiritual uselessness.

I am not simply talking about the obvious sins that hold us down such as lust, anger, hate, greed, and the like.  Anything that separates us from the love of God and love for our fellow-man is carnal.  Take politics (and throw it in a cesspool where it belongs), conservatism and liberalism are two sides of the same coin of our need for earthly government.  We will all take a different stance from one another for various reasons.  But, in order for a coin to have any value, it has to have both a head and tail.  Both sides must work in cooperation with each other.  Due to the presence of wealth and winner-take-all power hyped up by the likes of Fox and MSNBC, we have harsher polarizing arguments than constructive agreements.

What saddens me is that Christianity is buying into this earthly coin and the argument that we must staunchly defend one side or the other.  As people of this nation, of course we will have opinions of which direction this nation should take.  But, we who have been given the Gospel of God’s redeeming love should never give into vilifying those whose political opinions do not match our own.  If anything, we should be a mediating force between (no, above) the right and left and seek Godly solutions to our national, state, and local problems.  As Martin Luther King Jr noted in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” rather than being a thermostat that controls the temperature in a house, the church has become a thermometer that only measures and reflects the temperature.  And when we spend more time reflecting our chosen sides rather than seek after something of far greater value, we make ourselves useless (and sometimes harmful) to the Gospel.

So, to my brothers and sisters to the left and right, I make this suggestion.  For every minute you spend watching Fox News or MSNBC, spend a minute and a half in honest and sincere contemplative prayer.  For every moment listening to Beck or Maddow, spend a moment and a half in self-reflection in light of the Lord who created and loves both equally.  Most of us who are in our 40’s have, perhaps, another 30 to 40 years to call ourselves Americans.  Where we go after that depends on where we have put our minds.  If we have set our minds on earthly divisiveness and strife based on one side or the other of a political coin that will eventually be destroyed, that is where we can expect to spend eternity.  If we have set our minds on seeking spiritual purity and loving others, we will be in that place of eternal wholeness.

 

Each One An Icon

Then God said, ‘Let us make man in Our image, according to our likeness, … .’   So God mad man. in the image of God He made him; male and female He made them.

Genesis 1:26, 27

How foolish I am!  How can I venerate and give honor to the saints on the wall and not show like love to the person on the street?  How dare I honor the Holy Theotokos and harbor lust for the girl I did not marry? 

What is a holy icon but a window and portrait of God’s greater glory?  Was it not by the hand of the painter that we have these windows?  Perhaps by the skill of a wood-carver and other craftsmen that we possess such items as reminders of the love of our Lord?

And yet God made the perfect icon when he made men and women.  In his image and likeness we are fearfully and wonderfully made.  With his breath of life we are all living souls.  Here is the icon I should honor and kiss in holiness.  Here is the image I should hold as evidence of God’s compassion and mercy.

Yet this is the icon that I hold in contempt.  I suspect it a thief and liar.  I condemn it for its flaws and imperfections.  I abuse it as a toy only fit for my pleasure and whims.  This icon which was not made by a man’s hands.  This image of God and made by God.  This likeness of which I am.  I am their brother and I have shown them fear, hate, and lust. 

Lord, have mercy!  Lord, have mercy!  Lord, have mercy!  I am the chief of all sinners! 

Forgive my calloused thoughts and harsh words toward my fellow-man.  May the power of the Holy Spirit cleanse my heart and mind of wicked desires.  Let me hold high the value of each man, woman, boy, and girl.  We are the icons that you made.  Let us honor and love one another as such.

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

“If anyone says to you, ‘What are you doing?’ say, ‘The Master needs it and will send it back here at once.'”  Mark 11:3

Jesus was only borrowing the donkey.  He would return it before nightfall.  All of those who followed Jesus to Jerusalem praised him loudly.  “Blessed in the coming kingdom of David our father!”  But, there would be no restoration of Davidic-Solomonic Israel.  Jesus was going to Jerusalem to die.  The crowds declared a human parentage and earthly nation.  How sadly shortsighted.  The purpose of the savior was not to maintain such earthly standards.  He would soon return that borrowed donkey.

Flowing on Rocks (© John Gresham)

The Gospel of salvation means more than “family values” or “God Bless America.”  We can shout these things all we wish.  But we are overlooking one main point.  Christ did not come to save anyone because of heritage nor nationality.  He died to rise again to save whomever would deny himself, take up his cross and follow him.  Jesus returned the donkey.  Had he kept it, he would be a thief.  If we keep Jesus on these donkeys, we are making him into a criminal.  He took care of the animal.  But, gave it back.  Let us act in ways to nurture our households and communities.  We should obey just laws and be good citizens.  But Christ has a greater purpose than riding on borrowed donkeys.

Your Brother in Christ,

Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene

Ego is the Enemy of the Soul

 

I think we have seen too much fear and hatred recently.  In Afghanistan, Florida, and Kansas City people have died because of these things.  The disciples were no different.  Jesus shows us a better way.

Douthat Reflection (© John Gresham/Virginia DCR)

 

WHERE GROWN-UPS LACK GREATNESS

Mark 9:30-37

1.  introduction

  •  Twelve grown men gave up their livelihoods and lifestyles to follow Jesus.  This was noble and honorable
  • Their egos won’t let them be satisfied with being a part of the inner circle.  They discuss who is the inner of the inner circle

2.  Propositional Statement

  • We must adopt the characteristics of small children to truly serve Jesus and one another.

3.  Relevent Question

  • Why is the character of a small child superior to that of an adult in being a disciple?

4.  Points:

A).  Inquisitive

– grown-ups are often too fearful to ask God about the things they don’t understand (v.32)

– little kids are full of and never stop asking questions

B).  Trusting

– grown-ups resist the will of God when we find it upsetting (8:32)

– little kids trust those who love them

C).  Hopeful

– grown-ups can be timid about the will of God (10:32)

– little kids follow those who love them expecting something good at the end

5.  Conclusion

There can be no love and service as long as we are ignorant and  fearful.   Therefore, let us not stop being curious and joyful.

 

 

A Lenten Journal: A Pursuit of the Doctrine of Christ (Fifth Friday)

… “What were you arguing about on the road?”   Mark 9:33

Isn’t it funny when children are proven to be more mature than adults?  Please consider the text.  When Jesus teaches them about his coming Passion, the grown men are too scared to ask about what they don’t understand.  They are fearful to make a sincere inquiry of the one whose mercy and power exceeded that of anything they have ever experienced.  Instead, these who are ignorant and fearful debate among themselves.  This only maintains the state of ignorance and fear.  Service cannot be born in such  a condition.

Children know that they don’t know.  They also know that grown-ups seem to know everything.  Thus, they ask questions.  Sometimes it seems they ask too many questions or do so out of playfulness.  But, almost always, they do so realizing their significantly lower position.  The loving adult answers the child appropriately and trust grows.   Where there is trust, there is faithful service.

Baptism (© John Gresham)

Perhaps this is why we use boastful words and deadly weapons on each other in the name of religion.  We are to scared to humbly ask the God we profess to believe in the things we don’t understand.  Out of fear, we would rather try to make our case above others when none of us have a leg to stand on.  We do a disservice to God as we are unwilling to serve each other.  Small wonder we have atheism in the world.

Let’s stop being grown-ups and revert to spiritual childhood.  Never stop asking questions of God and our elder, knowledgeable saints.  Even in light-hearted moments, they who love us will reveal truth.  Truth makes us free to serve God and one another.

Yours in Christ,

Brother Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene

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

… “I have faith.  Help my lack of faith!”   Mark 9:24

The boy’s father is so much like most of us today.  Our distress seems incurable.  Our ailments are traumatic and have lasted for years.  The best representatives of God fail us.  Thus, when we are in his presence, we don’t expect much.  We believe in Christ.  But, we have been accustomed not to expect much.  Marriages fail, addicts relapse, friendships remain broken, goals are unfulfilled, and hope is dashed to pieces because we have been accustomed not to expect much.

Cleat on the Creek (© John Gresham)

Jesus gives rebuke and retort with restoration in this case.  He bemoans faithlessness.  Not just the father, disciples, and scribes.  The entire generation is criticized for lack of faith.  A blind man believed with no doubt.  So did a lame man who may or may not have been seeking a physical healing.  Yes, Jesus was merciful and healed the son.  But, mercy should not be taken for granted.  We must come to the presence of God believing in him for who he is and that he is able.

Along with faith, let us also be dedicated to the power granted to us through prayer and fasting.  A disciple must be disciplined to grow in communion with God and be disattached from the things of this world.  Faith alone may be enough for some peace in mind.  But, without strong communion with God and disattatchment from the world, adverse spirits will confound us.

Yours in Christ,

Brother Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene

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

Elijah appeared to them with Moses and they were talking to Jesus.    Mark 9:4

Law and prophecy are important elements of any established religion.  One to set guidelines for moral behavior.  The other to give us the current and active voice of God.  The Jewish religion was firmly founded on these separate concepts.

Glory in Growth (© John Gresham)

After a few days from Peter’s correct definition and failed attempt of rebuking his mission, Jesus reveals the glorious supremacy of his divinity.  The Christ is the embodiment of law and prophecy.  He is the standard of righteousness and the current voice of holiness.  True faith must never separate the two.  A standard uninformed by a God who speaks at the present is stagnant and dying.  A constantly moving voice without a standard is easily misled to death.  Jesus is the foundation of Moses and the voice of Elijah.  He is complete.  The transfiguration confirms that he is purity, spirit, and the Son of God.  His very being is too great for us to bear.  His compassion allows us to draw near and follow him.  So much for Peter’s attempted subversion.  Alas for anyone who is ashamed of him.

If one’s walk with Jesus can be co-opted by human ideas or cast aside by worldly fear, the walk is false.  No, true faith sees the fullness of the mysterious power of God.  With reverent fear we are to embrace and follow Jesus as he is so much more than we can imagine.  His synthesis of law and prophecy is the reason we carry the cross.  His love and compassion gives us the strength to do so.

Your Brother in Christ,

Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene

 

A Lenten Journal: A Pursuit of the Doctrine of Christ (Fourth Monday)

“Get behind me, Satan!  You are thinking not as God thinks, but as human beings do.”  Mark 8:33

At this point, we Jesus not afraid of death.  He speaks about what he will go through openly with his disciples (perhaps not just the twelve).  In mentioning his death, he also makes it clear he will be revived.  So, even though his ordeal will be dreadful, he will rise victorious.

View of a Cliff (© John Gresham)

The same disciple who proclaimed him the Christ now seem bent on subverting his mission.  Consider that Peter doesn’t speak openly with Jesus, but pulls him aside to attempt to rebuke him.  It is hard to imagine one so great and holy to have to suffer rejection and execution.  Peter thought it nonsense that the Son of God should have to go through such trauma before triumph.

The hard rebuke Jesus gave to Peter was public for a purpose.  No one should assume to know better than God what his will is or should be.  Following Christ means a willingness to suffer.  It is a call to listen to the complete story that victory is the end for those who faithfully go through tragedy.

“And you say, brother preacher, that you want great power to move among men’s heart-strings.  You cannot have that without great sorrow.”

Gardner C. Taylor

Continue through your struggle in faith.  Where there is a cross, there is a crown.

Your Brother in Christ,

Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene