Lent

This Journey of Great Lent: My Pre-fast Intimidations

I knew that fasting was a part of my learning process in Orthodoxy when I first became an inquirer.  Going vegan twice a week didn’t frighten me one bit.  I did the Apostle’s and Dormition Fast with some difficulty in the first few days.  But, by the sixth day, it was a bit of a cakewalk.  As for the Nativity, it was kinda rough avoiding Christmas parties and the day after Thanksgiving turkey and ham sandwiches.  I have had my occasional slips and made a couple of loopholes for myself at times.  But, for a rookie, this Orthodox fasting thing really hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would be.

Fr. James Purdie, Priest of St. Basil the Great Antiochian Orthodox Church.  My guide int this journey.  (C) John Gresham

Fr. James Purdie, Priest of St. Basil the Great Antiochian Orthodox Church. My guide in this journey. (C) John Gresham

Great Lent, however, is more intimidating both in diet and spiritual expectation.  Clean Monday arrives about the same time the shad start running in the Mattaponi and Pamunkey Rivers.  I am not allowed to eat any fish with bones in it and there is no fish with more bones in it than shad.  Ah well, at least I can salt a few down for the winter.  But, my old man will be smoking his from day one.  Kicking red meat for 40 days this time of year will also be more difficult since it is the beginning of backyard barbecuing season.  Granted, oysters will still be in season and crabbers will start pulling pots again.  But, shellfish will not be cheap with this economy.    I had better learn to love tofu.

What really scares me about Great Lent is the significance of it all.  The Forgiveness Vespers where everyone, including the priest, ask each other to be forgiven for what they have done wrong to the other?  First of all, about the worst thing I can think of that I did wrong to anyone at St. Basil is that I forgot their names.  And then they also asking my forgiveness?  Who am I that any of these kind people should want such a blessing from me when they have always welcomed me with open arms.  And Fr. James to ask me for forgiveness?  We aren’t even in the same denomination.  Who am I to participate in such a practice?  It is at this point that I probably could and should go back to my comfortable corner of Christianity.

I can’t help but to see the beauty and power in such a pre-fast preparation.  When we face each other and ask for forgiveness, we will be facing the ultimate icons.  The ones God made in his image and likeness.  Even for those who have not directly said, done, or thought harm to one another; all are admitting their human problem of sin and seek forgiveness from Christ and each other.  I am scared because I know of my own sinfulness.  I am intimidated also because I am unworthy to have someone who I just met ask me to forgive them.

Yet, I believe I need to go forward with preparing for and observing Great Lent.  I can’t help but to think that there is something very special at the end of this journey at Pascha.  Not bragging rights.  No, boasting is not the goal here.  One of the saints said that if you fast only to boast of your own righteousness, you may as well eat meat.  This journey will probably not mean that I will leave my role as Pastor of Trinity Baptist Church.  There is a bit more work I need to do in my community and I have a mortgage to pay.  Besides, I have not yet been on this Orthodox journey for a full year.  Many converts don’t take the plunge until two or three years.  Fr. James has told me that the church will be here when I am ready. 

Yet and still, there is bound to be something special at the end of this journey of Great Lent.  Just like pledging my fraternity and doing my first overnight backpack trip  alone on the Appalachian Trail go through this process, I will only kick myself for not having the nerve to do it.  Any time a spiritual journey brings us to a point of absolute humility with Forgiveness Vespers, the end must be an incredible celebration of the soul. 

I imagine this will not be easy.  Easter Sunday, my father will have baby back ribs coming out of the smoker fully infused with apple wood or hickory.  Tofu will not be able to compare to that.  Knowing that I will have no excuse for not, at least, calling someone who is ill and homebound other than my wife will be a challenge as well.  I admit, my pastoral care could be better.  Although my prayer life has grown by leaps and bounds since joining the St. Philip’s Prayer Discipline, it isn’t as tight as it could be.  I will have to read and study when I want to waste time with mahjong and You Tube.  Nope, this isn’t like my good old, “do it yourself” fast when I could just give up caviar, champagne, filet minion, and lobster. 

But, I remember the way I felt when my Dean of Pledges declared, “You Are Now Brothers” and was presented with the letters “Alpha Phi Alpha.”   I remember the way I felt when I reached the intersection of the Old Hotel Trail and the AT at the Hog Camp Gap parking lot where I resolved to go through with a journey that I could have easily chickened out of (especially seeing the bear on the side of the road).  In both cases, it wasn’t just a feeling.  I had a unique change of perspective.  The change I am about to go through will be more profound.

Advertisements

No Greater Hell

… and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites.  There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 24:51

But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly I say to you I do not know you.’

Matthew 25:11

And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 25:30

“Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. …”

Matthew 25:41

Crossing (© John Gresham)

Is there a worse version of hell than the descriptions Jesus gave to his disciples during the eschatological discourse?  Can the reasons for going to such a hell be more frightening?  Note, if you would, the ten virgins who were locked outside of the banquet hall being told by the bride groom, “Assuredly I say to you I do not know you.”  These women are left disowned and vulnerable.  The wicked servant fares no better being counted among the hypocrites for abusing his fellows and carousing with drunkards.  He and the virgins did not live in expectation for something greater.  They mistakenly believed they had plenty of time before being in the full presence of the bridegroom and master.  The unprofitable servant made no effort to increase the wealth the master gave him, not even to give the gift to those who could make some sort of profit.  He too goes to the place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

In these three examples, the graphic punishment is not some demon in a red suit armed with a pitchfork.  To be disowned by the Lord Jesus Christ and left vulnerable in great tears and agony goes beyond any sort of vengeful torture.  This is why the martyrs endured the wild beast, burning pitch, and other horrors of earthly cruelty.  They chose to die brutally rather than be separated from the source of life and life eternal.  And the source of life is to do well to one’s neighbor, practice self-control, increase love and spirit, and to anticipate a glory beyond what this world can give.

Indeed, to ignore the plight of the least of humanity is the apex of being separate from Jesus Christ.  The Lord identifies himself with the “least of these.”  The cursed are to suffer the same total separation as the ultimate rebels against God not because they committed some act of immorality.  They are punished for their lack of compassion and mercy.  Morality is good.  But, it is no substitute for the love that gave it’s self to our unworthy humanity for our salvation.  If we do not love likewise, we have missed the whole point of the crucifixion and resurrection.  If we miss the point, we will miss his return.   There can be no greater hell than that.

Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect

Matthew 24:44

Let us live in his presence believing that his greater glory will come.

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

 

Seeking Thirst (Good Friday)

“I am thirsty.”  John 19:28

It would seem more reasonable that we seek refreshment than thirst.  Any trip to a convenience store or grocer will provide us with a wide range of beverages from upscale fine wines to bottled water.  Our consumption of high calorie sodas and juices is responsible for much of our diabetic and obesity issues.  In fact, often what we seek is not refreshment.  Rather we indulge in our taste which results in problematic consequences.

Living Water (© John Gresham)

Here we have hanging on a cross an innocent man who without proper clothing cannot enter 7-11 or Food Lion to buy a drink.  He has been unjustly condemned, brutally beaten, and assaulted with insults.  And now, after showing mercy to the woman who bore him, Jesus gives this one complaint of torment in John’s account of the Gospel.  “I am thirsty.”  I offer you tonight that the thirst of our Lord has nothing to do with not having change for a vending machine.  No, this thirst comes from completing the task God had for him and a desire to fulfill the word.  I challenge you that our true calling is not to over-indulge in this worlds offerings.  But, to seek Thirst.

Jesus knew that everything had now been completed.  He said all and done all he was called to do as the Messiah on earth.  He humbled himself to be baptized by one he could have baptized himself and kept wine at a wedding party.  His compassion went to a Pharisee and Samaritan woman who were willing to listen and learn.  Where there were ill and infirmed people, He gave healing.  Where some built walls with legalism, he tore them down with the word of love.  He proved that God gives life in resurrecting Lazarus, gave his disciples the example of faithful service, and has combined all of the lessons, love, and power into one simple sentence.  Jesus was thirsty.

The prophets declared his way would be made straight  by a voice crying out in the desert.  He offered living water so that no one would thirst again.  His food was to do the will of the one who sent him.  His very flesh became bread and blood became wine so that anyone who ate and drank of him would have eternal life.  Where as the religious authorities taught only from a handed down tradition, Jesus taught as he was the word, the word was with him, and the word was him.  And now the embodiment of the law, prophecy, and the pre-existing truth makes one last claim on the world that knew and received him not.  “I am Thirsty.

Thirst is the condition of completion and fulfillment of God’s will in our lives.  Too often we settle for foretaste of God’s glory in worship on Sundays, Wednesdays, or special conferences and concerts.  And yes, the foretaste is divine.  But, if we are to claim his name, we must aim for the same.  The true pursuit of Christ has nothing to do with our sporadic moments of “getting a praise on.”  We are called to complete his will in our lives.  That is to be done with the utmost diligence and persistence.  We are called to fulfill the word of God in how we live.  Not being moral fearing God’s wrath.  But, living in the Spirit because He is Spirit and gives his Spirit to dwell in us.

The point of thirst cannot be reached easily.  It requires us to be pierced with thorns and climb a difficult hill.  In spite of what we endure, we must still have compassion and seek the preservation of humanity even as ours has been shamefully mistreated.  And even still, the best the world can give us is sour wine.  Let us seek this thirst.  Those who are thirsty shall have a refreshment and restoration that the world cannot give and never take away.

John Robert Gresham, Jr.

Pastor, Trinity Baptist Church

Moderator, Pamunkey Baptist Association

PBA Division of Clergy Good Friday Service 2012

Rock Spring Baptist Church in Manquin, Virginia

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

 

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

“And when you stand in prayer, forgive what you have against anybody, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your failures too.”    Mark 11:25

The second and third entrances in Jerusalem had no parades nor fanfare.  We instead see a somewhat cruel use of power (the cursing of the fig tree), defiant rabble-rousing (the expulsion of the traders from the temple), and a logical defeat of the opposition (the authority of Jesus questioned).  Coupled with the concept of having a personal relationship with Jesus, some Christians act as if we are thus granted to act as he had during the Jerusalem ministry.  No doubt that we must speak of holy displeasure and speak truth to power.  But, Jesus gives us a caveat to our no doubt in his hear, but believing that what he says will happen, and believe you have it already and it will be yours. 

Rev. Sylvester Bullock (© John Gresham)

The fig tree was a sign that the Jews should have had fruit of the Spirit ready for the Messiah at his very presence.  Cursed to all who are beholden to such law and tradition.  The point was made further as the worship was corrupted by money-changers in the temple and a clerical leadership that failed to acknowledge the Spirit of God among them.  These are the mountains that we must pray, in faith, will be cast into the sea.  But, we must also pray in forgiveness.  If we make such prayers with this element of mercy, mercy will be shown to us who also stand in need of it.  For we all fail to bear the fruit of the Spirit as we should in the presence of Christ.  We are all corrupted by the things of this world.  We all become complacent in faith and are dull to the movement of God even when we are faced with him.  If we command the mountain to throw its self without these considerations, it can and will fall on us!

There is great and divine power in prayer.  The heart of forgiveness prevents us from using the power foolishly.

Yours in Christ

Brother Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene

 

He Was Only Borrowing the Colt

Today is Palm Sunday.  The first Sunday in April is also my anniversary as Pastor of Trinity Baptist Church.  If I had to write a list of people who helped me along the way, I must include Louise Kersey.  As a boy, I knew her as “Aunt Oppielee.”  She was known for her beauty and kind heart.  Her wisdom and devotion to the word of God was also well-known.  She attended many Christian Education seminars and was one of the most well-respected Sunday School teachers in King William and neighboring counties.  Under the leadership of our young pastor from Louisiana, Rev. Darrell K. White, Oppielee was ordained as the first female deacon in the county in 1986.  She never served for the sake of making statements or breaking barriers.  She only served because she loved the Lord and her neighbor.  Praise God that she still does.

Deacon Louise Kersey with Sister Ernestine Kersey (© John Gresham)

HE WAS ONLY BORROWING THE COLT

Mark 11:2,3

1.  Introduction

Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a valuable animal,  a young donkey that had years of service ahead of it.

Rather than keep the colt, Jesus returns it to the owner.  There are practical reasons as to why he did so (Christ was going to be crucified,The Lord keeps his promises, The owner needed to make a living, Jesus couldn’t keep the donkey with him).

2.  Propositional Statement

WE MUST NOT LEAVE THE HEART OF OUR FAITH ON THE VALUABLE THINGS OF THIS WORLD

3.  relevent Question

What are the colts we leave Jesus on?

4.  Points:

a) Human Praise (v. 9,10)

– The crowd of disciples cheering him on

Sunday abandoned him on Friday

– Jesus kept moving to do the work of God

– Praise is good (Psalm 147:1), Don’t let

the rocks do your job (Luke 19:40).

– Praise is a valuable colt. But

don’t let your faith stay on praise.

There is something greater.

b) Human Lineage (v.10)

– His family members, also of the house

of David thought he lost his mind

(Mark 3:21)

– His real family consist of all who do

the will of God (Mark 3:35)

– A good family is a valuable colt.  But,

don’t let your faith stay on relatives or

friends.  There is something greater.

c) Human Nations (v.10)

– Jesus did not restore Davidic/Solomonic

Israel as many had hoped

– He has rejected ruling over any nation in

this world (Matt 4:8-10, Luke 4:5-8).  To

do so would be selling his mission to the

devil.

– Yes, love your country and support

whomever you feel is best.  We have

valuable colts.  But, don’t let your

faith stay on your country nor candidate.

there is something greater.

5.  Conclusion

Sit on a colt for a while.  But, you still have

to walk up Calvary and hang on a cross in order

to sit on a throne forever.

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